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I have decided to post the campaign journal of our merry band of heroes for which I am the GM. Since we do not get to play that often I use a Wiki to keep all records and the journal for my players so that important events are not forgotten between sessions.
A little background information: since I love the Ravenloft setting, I decided to place Ustalav and Carrion Crown there. I heavily modified the whole setting, trimming it down, cutting most of the redundant or downright silly domains, advancing the technological and social cultural level in parts of the Core to a steampunk'ed Victorian Age.
I started with four players:
Catalin Nueva, a Tiefling Inquisitor of the Raven Queen (think Pharasma) and huntress of demons.
Elias von Kronemann, a Human Alchemist from Lamordia. Cold and calculating, he considers most people to be intellectual inferior to him and treats them accordingly.
Konstantin, called Kostja, a Caliban Fighter. Warped by fell magics before his birth, Kostja hides his deformity with complex disguises.
Lucretia Vantrova, an Aasimar Oracle of Life, diplomatic, sincere and sensible.
Later on, four more players joined the campaign:
Anna-Katerina, a Shifter Ranger with the blood of werecreatures in her veins.
Federico Cristadero, a Human Clockworker (think Summoner with Constructs) who is a genius when it comes to mechanism and clockwork.
Gisela, a Human Rogue, who is related to Professor Lorrimor.
Lazar, a Human Cavalier, cousin to Gisela and a veteran of several battles.
Unknown to them, each carries upon them a relic of old, an item of spiritual significance that was used in the ceaseless struggles against the Whispering Tyrant. These relics bind the heroes to events long past and to those yet to come.
Since we never play at full strength, the large group poses less of a problem than I feared. Most of the players do not care for rules that much, and I reduced the dungeon feel of HoH for that reason, focussing more on the investigation parts. I introduced links to the Whispering Way and even collaborators in Ravengro to get the players invested in the overall story-arc as soon as possible.
The journal is written for my players so some parts might be might be a little difficult to understand. A final warning: English is not my first language, so I apologize for any grievous errors on my part in advance.
Without further ado, the exploits of our heroes:
In which we learn of a great man and his untimely death.
Professor Petros Lorrimor was a true polymath. While his main body of studies was concentrated on arcane and alchemical mysteries, he was a man who cherished knowledge for its own sake. During his lifetime, he studied such fields as Akirology, the study of all things pertaining to the ancient history of the Amber Wastes, Nephelogy, the study of the Mists, and other, even more esoteric interests. He was known as a friend to Rudolph van Richten, a stout enemy of the evils that stalk the lands, and he travelled all of the Core and several Clusters. A known ladies' man, his charm and wits opened many a door to him, and his fame preceded him wherever he went.
His death was a shock, as he was spry and full of life even at his advanced age. A tragic accident took one of the most brilliant minds of Ustalav and indeed of all the Core. Now trusted companions of many a dangerous journey gather to pay him their last respects.
Act One or The Haunting of Harrowstone
In which we meet our heroes and hear of tragedies long past but not forgotten.
Our story begins with a stagecoach ride. Four passengers are on this coach, all hoping to reach the hamlet of Ravengro before the sun sets. They all have mysteries to hide, and their lifes are already stories of their own, but today it is the one thing they have in common that drives them towards Ravengro: they all are travelling companions and friends of the late Professor Petros Lorrimor and intend to reach his home in time for his burial. The Lamordian gentleman with the large luggage is called Elias von Kronemann. Next to him sits Konstantin, a sickly looking man with broad shoulders who likes being called by his nickname Kostja. The two women are Lucretia Vantrova, pale and blond, and Catalin Nueva, who hides her face in the shadows of a dark cowl.
As the night draws closer, mists rise in the dark woods of Ustalav, and the mournful howl of wolves can be heard in the distance. The coachman pushes his horses to a faster pace, and the coach reaches Ravengro just before night sets in. The four passenger disembark and find their way to the Lorrimor Estate, where they are greeted by Kendra Lorrimor, daughter of the late Professor. They are assigned guest rooms and spend the night in restful slumber, except for Catalin, who visits the pub The Laughing Demon and drinks some ale. She overhears a group of farm hands complain about the Professor before leaving.
The next day is the day of the burial. Kendra Lorrimor entertains her guests until midday, when they go to the town hall and meet several of Ravengro's inhabitants. Our heroes are chosen as the pallbearers and together they hoist the coffin on their shoulders and march towards the restlands. Just before the cemetary, they are stopped by a dozen angry persons who demand that the Professor, whom they call a vile necromancer, should be buried elsewhere. A heated discussion erupts, as our heroes stand up to defend their late friend's honour. The situation degrades fast, and Konstantin is forced to trade blows with a farm hand, but in the end, Lucretia's diplomacy and Catalin's intimidating stare defuse the conflict. The fact that Kostja managed to knock one assailant out cold with one finely executed uppercut might have helped, too.
After the distasteful intervention, the burial is held without further problems. The aged Father Grimburrow of the Church of the Raven Queen holds a touching ceremony. The funeral party moves to the Lorrimor Estate and attends the wake. All of the Professor's friends share stories about his exploits. When the last local guest leaves, Councilman Vashian Hearthmount opens Petros Lorrimor's last will and testament and reads it to the attendants. Our heroes are asked to return a cache of possibly dangerous and surely unwholesome tomes to the University of Lepidstadt but only after spending one week in Ravengro to help Kendra settle her affairs. They agree to the terms.
Our heroes search the Professor's study and find the tomes he specified: Manual of the Order of the Raven's Eye, On Verified Madness, Serving Your Hunger, The Umbral Leaves, Daemonolatreia by Nicholas Rémy, Of Evill Sorceries done in Mordentshire of Daemons in no Humane Shape and Van Richten's Guide to the Mists. They also come across Professor Petros Lorrimor's journal and find some disturbing entries. Obviously, the late Professor was engaged in studies of a secret cabal of necromancers called the Whispering Way. He feared that they had some interest in the ruins of Harrowstone, a great prison that was given up after a deadly conflagration more than three decades ago. His journal strengthens the belief of our heroes that the Professor's death might have been more than an accident. They decide to investigate.
Unfortunately, the people of Ravengro are less than trusting, and the investigations start slowly. A hint in the Professor's journal leads our heroes to a secret cache of the Church of the Raven Queen in an abandoned crypt. While searching for it, they disturb two giant centipedes, but Catalin's sword makes short work of them. The cache holds several items of use for those who hunt the walking dead. Among them are four Haunt Siphons and a Spirit Planchette, which allows communication with the spirits of the dear departed. Lucretia uses the Planchette in conjunction with a quija board near the Professor's grave and determines that he, in fact, did not die in an accident.
All clues point to the ruins of Harrowstone, and further investigations reveal that four especially notorious criminals where imprisoned there during the time of the fire, and that the fire itself started during a riot incited by at least one of those criminals. The four murderers were Vance Saetressle, called the Lopper; the so-called Piper of Illmarsh, whose real name nobody knew; Ispin, the Mosswater Marauder; and finally the brilliant but insane Professor Hean Feramin, the infamous Splatter Man. Suddenly, the skipping song sung by some children of Ravengro makes sense.
Delving deeper into the archives of the Temple of the Raven Queen, our heroes piece the story of Harrowstone together bit by bit. The Warden of the prison, a man called Lyvar Hawkran, perished together with his wife Vesorianna and twenty-three guards while trying to contain the riot and stop dozens of dangerous criminals of the worst order from escaping. Authorities built a statue near Ravengro to commemorate their sacrifice, which some of our heroes visit. Afterwards, they pray for their souls in the temple.
On the second night of their stay in Ravengro, some unknown culprit desecrates the statue. A huge V is written in blood on its base. At first, our heroes are aghast, but then their resolve strengthens even more. Our heroes turn their gaze towards Harrowstone. The populace of Ravengro believes that the ruins are haunted, and Professor Lorrimor knew that something sinister went on there. He paid with his life for this knowledge, and his friends are determined to honour his memory by keeping up his work. They prepare to descend into the gloomy depths of the ruined prison.
In which our fearless heroes set out to explore a ruined prison and encounter the unquiet dead.
Armed with weapons and steely resolve, our heroes approach Harrowstone. It is a twenty minute walk to the dark ruin from the southern border of Ravengro. The prison complex has not been used in more than thirty years. The shadows seem to cling to the masonry, and time was not kind to the buildings. The outer wall is covered in ivy and one part of it is completely broken down, where a large pool seems to have filled a sinkhole. The Warden's house is all but a ruin, and has been plundered decades ago. Markings on its walls betray its use as a test of mettle for Ravengro's youth. As our heroes search the yard, they notice runes along the walls of the main building. The runes are written in the magical language of Draconic, and they seem to be part of a necromantic ritual. The name Lyvar Hawkran is written between the runes.
With a growing feeling of dread our heroes enter the prison itself. Despite the sun shining brightly, the air in Harrowstone is cool and chilling. They venture through a dark hall into the foyer, where fell energies begin to form! The doors move of their own accord, but Lucretia banishes the haunt and instructs Elias to use some Holy Water to break its hold over the foyer forever. All four of our heroes grip their weapons even tighter as they walk through long abandoned halls where the shadows themselves seem to watch them. They find the offices of the guards and retrieve old paperwork for further investigations into the history of Harrowstone. The warden's office is adjacent, and our heroes break open a safe, thereby destroying some magical potions. The washrooms and privy are empty, so our heroes return to the entrance, from where they start a new expedition into different parts of the prison. They come upon the property room and find a secret vault containing the possessions of several criminals, amongst which they discover a bloody handaxe belonging to the Lopper, a tarnished silver flute used by the Piper of Illmarsh, the smith's hammer used by the Mosswater Marauder in his killing spree and finally a mouldy spellbook, once the most prized possession of the Splatter Man.
As the sun is setting, our heroes decide to return to Ravengro to study their findings and prepare for an even more thorough excursion the next morning.
In which new allies arise, old problems emerge and a love stronger than death is encountered.
At Kendra's manor the heroes discover a group of new arrivals. Four of Professor Lorrimor's relatives and friends missed the burial due to being delayed by bad weather. While having a hastily prepared supper, our heroes acquaint themselves with the newcomers, which include the clockworking genius Federico Cristadoro, and give an account of their exploits thus far. They all agree to work together in the investigations and return to Harrowstone first thing in the morning.
During the night, Lazar, a stout fellow, has a nightmare of himself as a prisoner in a coach bound for Harrowstone. As he recounts his experience at the breakfast table, bad news reaches our heroes: the statue of the warden has been desecrated again. This time, the letter E was spelled in blood. With mounting apprehension, our heroes set out to Harrowstone again, sans Elias and Lucretia who feel sick and decide to remain behind.
A short investigation of the remaining guard towers does not reveal anything of interest. Our heroes examine the murky pond and realize that it occupies a space where there once was a cemetery, probably for those criminals who died in Harrowstone. While they ponder the consequences, half a dozen shambling, algae-covered skeletons climb out of the water. A fight ensues, in which our heroes realize that not all weapons are equally effective versus these malicious undead. Still, our heroes dispatch the monstrosities and continue exploring the outer perimeter of Harrowstone. They reach the western balcony and use its stairs, only to find the place of execution, all of which took place in full view of the cells in the first floor to show the criminals their ultimate fate should they not repent their sins and find the path of the righteous. The executioner's axe rises suddenly, grasped by ghostly arms, and attacks. The battle against the bloody weapon is long and arduous, but in the end our heroes prevail.
They break down the door and enter the prison's first floor. Gisela sees something move in the shadows of the rafters and warns her companions. Six stirges fly towards our heroes. Some latch themselves onto them and begin their sickening blood-drinking. They are quickly dealt with.
In some of the cells, movement can be heard. Suddenly, a sombre tune springs up, a mournful dirge that paralyses Catalin. Tiny puncture marks open on her skin, as ghostly energies drain her life-force. Our heroes frantically search for the source of the dark music, while Kostja battles two skeletons to keep them away from the helpless Catalin. The others come upon the Piper of Illmarsh, a spectre of great power and evil. Gisela quickly picks the lock of the cell and our heroes charge the evil-doer. Unfortunately, their weapons prove to be less than effective, but the quick thinking Federico uses the piper's own silver flute to respond to his dirge. Both suffer: the piper looses form while Federico begins to bleed from nose, eyes, mouth and ears. But the piper gives in first, disappearing with one last dreadful note. Federico cannot stop playing, but Lazar finally talks him out of it.
The rest of the first floor proves to be empty of evil, so our heroes take the stairs. Anna-Katerina hears something move behind a wall. Our heroes approach the room with great caution and find a chapel, once consecrated and devoted to the Raven Queen. Three spiders make their lair here, almost as big as dogs, but Gisela jumps in their midst and slays them in a flurry of steel. Our heroes find a cache of holy supplies in a cabinet and wander on. This section of the prison was used to induce new prisoners and brand them, while also housing the laundry room and a workshop.
In this said workshop, the ghostly image of a beautiful woman appears. She is the wife of warden Lyvar Hawkran, Vesorianna, and she has not taken well to undeath. Her form is glowing blue and wisps of smoke surround her. She mixes her experiences in life and death, but our heroes are able to piece together the story of Harrowstone from her words:
The most dangerous criminals were imprisoned in the cellars. The only connection was an elevator. At some point, the criminals staged an attempt to escape en masse, probably being goaded by the most notorious monsters in the dungeons, like the Lopper and the Splatter Man. They took twenty-three guards, the warden among them, as hostages, but her husband managed to sound the alarm and block the elevator by using an emergency switch to lock it in place. The remaining guards panicked. Vesorianna tried to get them to lower the elevator and try to save their colleagues, but they refused and locked her in the workshop instead, citing her 'hysteria' as a reason. Some prisoners tried to climb the elevator's ropes, but the guards poured oil on them, threatening to burn them if they persist. Somehow, a fire started, and the prisoners and their hostages burned to death or suffocated. The surviving guards fled the prison, leaving the prisoners in the upper floor and Vesorianna to die of smoke poisoning.
Since that time, Vesorianna could feel the presence of her husband nearby, and she knew that he kept the malignant forces, that rose from the pain and death, at bay. They were always close but always separated. Then, a few weeks ago, black-robed persons arrived. She took them for a new detachment of guards in the beginning, but they performed some kind of ritual. An old man observed them, but they discovered and killed him with fell magic. Then they smashed his head with a gargoyle and finished their ritual. At that time, the presence of Lyvar Hawkran vanished.
Vesorianna tries to perform his duty as good as she can, and has been able to contain most of the evil spiritual energy thus far, but she has no official hold over the prison, and something is slowly sapping her strength. She fears that she cannot contain the vengeful ghosts for much longer. She believes that the essence of the four criminals haunts the prison, keeping the other dead in unquiet rest. If they are banished, the former prison might become a simple ruin, or at least Vesorianna should be able to keep the evil inside. Their belongings are somehow linked to them even in death, but she does not know more.
The tale of death and love and duty beyond the shroud moves our heroes' hearts. They promise the fair lady to aid her. As the sun is setting and the mists are rising, they travel back to Ravengro, vowing to return ere the first light of dawn to descent into the darkened depths of Harrowstone and confront the evil that lurks there. As they approach the village, they discover a small camp of travelling folk; the Vistani are feared and reviled by the common folk, but their goods and services are highly sought after. On arriving at the manor, Kendra informs them that the burgomeister has called for an assembly at the town hall in the morning, to discuss strange happenings in the village.
In which a dark betrayal is brought to light, the Path of Whispers is discovered and a Vistani speaks a dire prophecy.
While most of our heroes decide to get some needed rest, Anna-Katerina and Elias prepare an ambush for the desecrator right at the statue of warden Lyvar Hawkran. After hours of waiting, a figure lurches forward in a gait unseeming of a man. It turns out to be Gibs, the leader of the mob which tried to stop the funeral. He slashes his own arm with a razor and starts to write on the statue with his own blood. Elias storms out of hiding an confronts the man, but Gibs just smiles evily and says:
Elias. A strong name, a good name.
Then he tries to attack the brave alchemist. Anna-Katerina and Elias put the man down with bow and gun. The sounds of the fight alarm the people of Ravengro, and soon thereafter their companions arrive with sheriff Benjan. He takes Gibs into custody, but our heroes plead for the innocence of the man who clearly was possessed.
During the night, nightmares trouble Elias, who sees a bloody E written on his a wall in his room, which is gone when he awakes. Other heroes experience dark dreams, too, and they suspect that the evil influence of the murderers is seeping into the village.
Early in the morning, our heroes visit burgomeister Gharen Muricar and talk to him about their findings. He promises to let them speak at the assembly. While the village gathers, our heroes question several people about strange happenings in the last few weeks. They are told of an old abandoned lumber camp some twenty minutes into the forest and decide to take a look at it.
At the assembly, Elias makes a precise yet non-emotional speech. The council allows our heroes to continue their work, while most of the villagers are afraid and full of misgivings. Anna-Katerina notices Zokar, the proprietor of the Laughing Demon giving Elias a dark look before his usual jovial smile returns. She decides to question Gibs who tells her that there was a strange guest for one night at the tavern about four or five weeks ago. Our heroes remember that Zokar told them that he had no guests for some weeks now.
After some researching at the temple archives, Lazar wants to explore the lumber camp and our heroes comply to his wishes. They come upon some clues that a group of people stayed at the camp not so long ago, but has been gone for some weeks. Our heroes suspect that they were agents of the insidious Whispering Way and return to Ravengro with dark troubles on their minds.
They come by the Vistani caravan and are greeted by a boy who promises them wonders over wonders for just a few silver pieces. They decide to let a Vistani woman provide a Harrowing for them and are led to Madame Rebecca, the blind leader of the caravan. She makes them draw cards from her Harrowing deck and tells them the meaning of the cards, which all point to dark secrets and mortal danger. While some heroes seem to shrug off the dire portents, they are all troubled by them. And then the Vistani rises and provides another prophecy:
You are in grave danger, for you cross the path of the Gagged Skull. It is no coincidence that found you all here in this forsaken village. The key lies in your past, it lies in your possessions which tie you all together, soulbound in defiance of darkness unspoken of. Look into your past to discern your future. Find the treasures of your forebears and use them well.
Our heroes leave the Vistani without partaking in their manifold pleasures and curiosities, each pondering the implications of these words whose truth rings loud and clear in their ears. They head to the Laughing Demon to subtly interrogate Zokar, but the tavern owner is adept at evading questions and telling tall stories that entertain his guests. But their questions seem to have made Zokar nervous, as he sends out a flying messenger late at night; presumably to warn his compatriots who seem to be in the direction of Lepidstadt. Our heroes decide to take more drastic action, and force the man to reveal any links to the Whispering Way. Their approach fails as he seems to see through their deceptions, and Lazar and Federico lose their cool and break into his house. They manage to subdue him, but the commotion wakens half of Ravengro, and the sheriff takes them all into custody. Fortunately, Federico manages to procure some evidence against Zokar when he finds a badge with the image of a gagged skull on it just before being led away by the deputy.
The rest of our heroes use the remainder of the night to break into Zokar's home again, but use stealth instead of brute force this time. They uncover the hidden truth: a secret room in the cellars contains an evil grimoire and components for dark rituals. They take the necromantic grimoire to Father Grimburrow who exorcises its evil power by suffusing it in holy water, casting holy spells on it and finally driving a blessed stake through the book. Quite satisfied with his work, the cleric hands the dripping tome to our heroes, who run to call the sheriff.
The imprisoned heroes hear Gibs trying to claw his way out of the prison with bare hands and wake him, thus freeing him from the malignant influence.
In the morning, the hidden room is thoroughly searched. The sheriff begins to interrogate Zokar with Father Grimburrow and Alendru Ghoroven present. The tavern keeper proves to be quite resistant, even when the interrogation takes a more physical turn. Another bloody letter is found at the statue of the warden, and our heroes realize that time is running short. V - E - S have been spelled, and at this rate, the power of Vesorianna will last only another seven nights before she is overcome by the power of the Splatter Man. The agents of the Whispering Way are weeks away, and they seem to have taken the essence of the warden with them. Hope does not lay that way. Our heroes believe that the freeing of the evil spirits was a side-effect of the vile cults doing; they seem to have been interested only in the warden's essence. Elias muses that it could be part in a dire ritual that might free the dreaded Whispering Tyrant, but none of our heroes dare to think of the consequences should that be the case.
While pondering their options, Lazar is struck by inspiration: maybe Vesorianna needs some kind of badge of authority. He remembers seeing the warden depicted with an actual badge on his statue. As he tells our heroes his thoughts, their resolve, already steely, hardens even more. They decide to descent into the depths of Harrowstone to face the ghostly remains of the most dangerous criminals in all the history of Ustalav. They will put them to rest and bring Vesorianna the warden's badge of office, thus granting her power over the prison and all those that are kept there.
In which our heroes descent into the mists of the past and face terrors long thought vanquished.
After a healthy and wholesome breakfast our heroes set out to Harrowstone. The old prison greets them with chill airs and blind windows. Undaunted, our heroes make their way to the elevator room, fasten a rope and climb into the prison dungeon below. While they explore the damp and dark rooms, Anna-Katerina notices rising mist. While our heroes debate, the strange fog grows ever thicker, and as it fills the whole dungeon, our heroes lose their consciousness.
They wake as prisoners in Harrowstone, destined to live through the final hours of that place. They witness how the Splatter Man and the Lopper work together to free the prisoners and start a rebellion. The Splatter Man is able to cast some spells even though his spell book has been confiscated, and the Lopper is a most vicious creature. Our heroes experience the brutality of the criminals, see how warden Hawkran is tortured to death, how the prisoners fight the guards and finally how the Splatter man inadvertently sets the oil-soaked room ablaze with a fiery spell. They are caught in the dungeon, burning to death or suffocating in the acrid smoke, like the rest of the criminals.
When they open their eyes again, they are back in the ruins of the prison. With the knowledge of their visions, they find the warden's body and his badge. But as they try to make their way to his wife Vesorianna, they realize that their rope is gone. While trying to fix another one, they are attacked by a spectral, misshapen creature - the ghost of the Lopper attacks! A vicious fight ensues, in which the Lopper cuts grizzly wounds through clothes and armour, but our heroes are able to disperse his ghostly body. With renewed hope and energy they manage to get a rope up, but a strange figure crawls across the ceiling and cuts it. They shoot it, but their arrows and bullets do not seem to do much damage.
Suddenly, a dark and booming voice erupts around them: I know your names. You are mine now!
Shaken, but not panicked, our heroes turn to face Professor Hean Feramin, the infamous Splatter Man! Letters of their names appear on the walls, written in blood. The apparitions sap the strength of our heroes, but they attack nonetheless. His spells are deadly, and his touch corrupts the living flesh of his assailants, but with spell and blade, with courage and determination, with hope and light he is brought low.
Without a rest, our heroes fasten their rope yet again and climb it as fast as they can. They come under attack by the Mosswater Marauder, but this spectre proves to be less frightening and potent than the Lopper and the Splatter Man. Victorious, they pay Vesorianna a visit and give her the badge of her husband and a ring of his possession. She thanks them and promises to keep the prison safe and its inhabitants powerless. Before she vanishes into thin air, she grants them access to a cache of magical belongings, to express her gratitude. Our heroes spend the rest of the day recovering the mortal remains and possessions of those who died in the burning of Harrowstone to grant them a proper burial. Warden Lyvar Hawkran is buried with all honours below the statue, while the criminals get their own patch on the cemetary. Some villagers show their relief by presenting gifts to our heroes.
Despite feeling that the menace of Harrowstone has passed, our heroes stay the rest of the week. As nothing of note happens, they know that their deeds have been well done. Kendra informs them that she will move to Lepidstadt, and together they charter two coaches and begin the journey to the city.
Each scene corresponds to one session. We started ToB at the end of the last session, and when (or if) we get around to completing the adventure, I will post the journal here. As mentioned before, I made some changes to the AP based on the playing style and tastes of my players, and the further the AP goes, the greater these changes will become.
Great journal! I am also running Carrion Crown (currently starting Broken Moon), and I chose to adapt the setting to a approximate a low-magic, high-gothic feel. From these and other posts, it sounds as if you've done something similar. I wonder if you would care to provide specifics about the changes you've made to keep CC close to its gothic roots?
I wonder if you would care to provide specifics about the changes you've made to keep CC close to its gothic roots?
Sure. As I said, I use a modified Raveloft as the overall background, but I advanced the general theme of the setting to a more 19th century feel. This means technology, which I decided was low-steampunk, but also much of the society in general. At least for the more "enlightened" part of the setting. Ustalav is more backwater and clings to some medieval structures. I wanted it to be like the Transylvania of Bram Stoker's Dracula in this regard.
To threaten Pathfinder PCs - which can be quite heroic even at low levels - I use both a Taint and a Sanity rules system. Taint is not easily gained, but the mechanic allows for PCs to slide into evil, gaining powers but also losing "humanity" along the way. I use it rarely, as I want the threat to be subtle and not just a simple mechanic to be played. I tied it to CHA, so PCs with higher CHA are better at resisting Taint, which grants that ability score a higher value, something I consider a nice side-effect. Sanity reflects one of the common themes of gothic literature, the unspeakable horror that breaks the minds of its witnesses. The aim is to create a constant aura of fear, not only for the characters' lives but also for the less tangible integrity of their personalities. It is possible to physically survive the horrors but still be traumatized by them. Again, I use it sparingly so that the effect is greater when I do.
The low magic part is introduced in two ways: first, magic is seen as unnatural and the target of many superstitions by the general populace. It is rather rare and its practitioners are even shunned and hunted in some domains. Second, magic items are rare as well, and those that are found are usually "cursed" in some way, having one or more negative effects along with their bonuses. For example, the Headman's Axe (I changed it from a scythe as I cannot picture someone trying to execute a victim with a scythe) prompts its users to kill even if they want to stop, and it always goes for decapitation.
But the lack of magic items is countered by the introduction of relics. Basically, I designed one special item for each character, an item with a backstory that was used against the minions of the Whispering Tyrant. These items are not magic items in the common sense, but are powered by the deeds that have been done while wielding them. They also grow with the PCs, gaining powers as they do. Most PCs started with the item, and it ties their stories to that of the campaign, and later on ties them together in their quest to stop the Whispering Way. The relics can also be used as plot devices: some have granted visions of their history, showing the PCs a glimpse of the threats they face.
I use an E7-system, because I believe that capping the power curve creates more opportunities for horror. At higher levels, the game changes considerably, and many of the higher spells and abilities can detract from the feel I am aiming for. The greater dangers of the world are meant to be avoided or defeated by using special tactics, exploiting their weaknesses and so on, not by overpowering them. I also use a very simple system to allow PCs to fight unarmored, as gentlemen in tuxedos wielding pistols to ward of werewolves fit my idea of the campaign better. I allow PCs to add their BAB to their AC as a dodge bonus if they wear no armor at all.
Great ideas, thanks for sharing.
My CC game is likewise set in a post-medieval setting, with Ustalav as the superstition-laden Transylvania analogue. One of the changes I felt most necessary was the elimination of wide-spread divine magic (in fact, there are only two churches permitted to operate, and their clerics do not have spells or channeling). This, obviously, leads to difficulties surrounding hit point recovery. Do you have any similar problems (or suggestions to compensate)?
I had forgotten about the Taint system, and now that you've reminded me, I wonder if it may be possible to introduce it mid-stream. The PCs have started to amass magic items (which are rare, as in your game), and I feel that some of them should contain curses, but I'm having trouble finding mechanics-based penalties that can lead to role-playing (as opposed to player griping).
I'm using character-specific relics, too. The system is adapted from the 3.5 splatbook Weapons of Legacy, although I've tweaked the "penalties" system considerably. I had hoped that the characters' individual relic items would keep them happy throughout the campaign, but now that they are hitting 7th level, they are beginning to yearn for some of the standard stuff, ie. AC-boosting items, +1 weapons, ability-boosting gear, and of course healing potions.
And yet, I can't quite justify going E7 (especially not mid-stream, but maybe not ever). I find my players take so much joy in watching their power levels increase, it would feel like taking the wheels off their toy cars if I stopped their progression. I realize that Pathfinder above level 10 is so magic-heavy and epic-flavoured that no trace of the gothic may remain, but I feel like that's my compromise for getting the tone I wanted in earlier sessions.
Maybe there's a middle ground between armour-shunning gentlemen vampire hunters and magic-soaked knights of badassery?
Well, my main PF campaign is already set in a world in which only the bad guys have access to divine magic (the setting is FFG's Midnight), so I never really thought about that. Still, divine magic is rare, as most members of any given faith are laypersons. There are only a handful of religions anyway, and even most organized faiths are not that influential.
I have played in a few systems without magical healing. One way is to strengthen more mundane means of healing, like skills, herbs, alchemy, potions and so on. But I have not done that with Pathfinder, and I guess that the quite complex rule system might pose problems.
I am going to give the players the less potent magic items without penalties. A lot of that is not worth the hassle of designing a curse anyway. They will receive less, as their relics already cover some basics; they will become quite powerful. I will keep curses and the like for the important pieces.
Switching to E6 after a campaign started does not sound like a good idea. My players would not like that either. I really think that you can do horror even at higher levels. It depends on your players and their acceptance, of course. If they are willing to play that mood and theme, it is still possible even with high powered wizards on flying carpets summoning celestial beings.
There should be a threat. It must be palpable and serious (of course, it often is already). Not just the good old "evil rises again", but something that touches the characters' lives. It would be great if they are actually bound to it, maybe by descent. Give them stuff to care about, NPCs, places, organisations. Now have the evil guys threaten to take it away, destroy it. The players should be open to invest emotions in this, so that losing it is actually horrific.
Doing sequences of dreams or visions in which the PCs actually lose or even die can work, too. Showing them the consequences of failure, actually letting the players think that they have failed/died, should stir up emotions. You can encounters which are not about winning by using the resources at hand, but by using secret knowledge or guile. Gothic heroes are not superhuman; actually, they are quite human. Overcoming the evil should not always be just about the numbers on the sheet, but about doing the right thing at the right time.
My personal experience is that horror in RPGs relies on the group to accept it. It is easy to destroy any hint of horror with a quick joke or just ignore it and treat anything as mundane obstacles to be overcome. Even with systems that try to evoke horror with their rules, it can be nigh impossible if the players are unwilling to cooperate. Horror can be very rewarding, but it is also difficult to pull off.
We played another session. As two my players are going to work on the side of the world for at least two years, I have asked two friends if they would like to join the campaign. They did.
Sarah Guyro, a Sylph Clockworker with deft hands and a deadly crossbow.
Pat Haycox, a Dhampir Gunslinger who lets his gun do the talking.
I had to fiddle with the rules a bit since I am using my own rules for firearms and I had to mesh them with the gunslinger class, but I think it worked pretty good. I changed some of the adventure to fit the needs of my gaming group. We managed to complete the trial, and that will be the last part of the AP that I can use almost as it is written.
Without further ado, the campaign journal:
Act Two or The Trial of the Beast
In which our heroes reach the great university city of Lepidstadt, hear of the capture of a dreaded beast, meet learned women and men and discover a strange happenstance.
On their way to famed Lepidstadt, Elias picks the lock on the Manual of the Order of the Raven's Eye, but discovers that it is written in code. Federico, a natural linguist, manages to decipher the code. The Order of the Raven's Eye is a relatively young secret society intend on battling the growing influence of the undead and of the Whispering Way. The folio is a primer for newly initiated members, containing basic information about the order and its beliefs. Apparently, there is some kind of connection between the rise of the Whispering Tyrant and the Amber Wastes. The order was founded by a group of early scholars of Akirology who found these links in ancients tombs long thought lost to the shifting sands of the desert. The order stays secret because its enemies seem to have influence even at the highest levels of society, and agents of the Whispering Way are known to work ceaselessly towards their great goal: freeing the Whispering Tyrant!
Even before reaching the city, our heroes hear tales of the dreaded Beast of Lepidstadt, some kind of flesh golem, and its capture by brave guards. When they arrive in the early evening, they call upon Embreth Daramid, an old friend - some say even lover - of Petros Lorrimor. She welcomes them warmly and invites them to stay at her mansion for as long as they like. Over dinner, pressing matters are discussed. Embreth has been called to sit in tribunal in the strange case of the Beast of Lepidstadt. Despite being a golem, the beast seems to have developed an intellect of some sort, a living consciousness. This has prompted the people of Lepidstadt to conduct a trial, as the beast is regarded as a person and not as a thing as a golem would be. Embreth is troubled by this trial, as the verdict of guilt and subsequent execution are seen as a foregone conclusion. Alas, her sense of justice does not allow her to disregard the traditions of the law, and she asks our heroes to associate themselves with the advocate Gustav Kaple, who has been called upon to defend the beast. He is up against the ambitious prosecutor Otto Heiger, who is said to be gearing up for the next election of the burgomeister. While discussing the case, our heroes discover strange links between the events at Ravengro and the events that lead to the capture of the beast. Not believing in circumstance, our heroes agree to at least take a look at the case and meet Gustav Kaple and the beast.
First in the morning, our heroes visit the scene of the last crime and capture of the beast, the great university of Lepidstadt, one of the most renowned colleges of learning in all the Core. Embreth brings the books to the library and negotiates a deal that allows our heroes to visit the closed part of the library and study the locked-away tomes of dangerous contents. While they search for clues, they interrogate one Montagnie Crowl, a professor of history and antiquities, who is head of the department where the theft of a strange statue, the so called Raptor Effigy took place. The beast forced its way into the well-guarded storage room and was found standing there as if dazed. The statue is the only thing missing, despite not being the most powerful or even valuable item. In fact, nobody really knows its purpose and use. Our heroes are appalled by the lackluster investigation conducted by both the prosecution and the defence, but this only confirms Judge Daramid's words that the trial is only meant to prove the beast's guilt.
At this point, Elias mentions that he came across a special book, a Flesh Golem Manual in Ravengro, where the proprietor of the Unfurling Scroll, Alendru Ghoroven, offered it for sale. He remembers the name in the exlibris: Montagnie Crowl. Our heroes debate the significance of this finding and decide to subtly confront the professor. As it turns out, he was the official owner of the book, as he tried to pierce the mysteries surrounding the beast, but he gifted it to the library of the university years ago when all his work came to naught. A quick research in the library records reveals the truth: the book was stolen! In shock, our heroes ponder the consequences. Meanwhile, Professor Crowl sends servants to fetch the book from Ravengro.
Finally, our heroes decide that it is time to pay the beast a visit and talk to dreaded golem themselves. They return to Embreth's home where several surprises are waiting for them. Unfortunately, Anna-Katerina and Federico have to depart as they have duties to attend to. But there are new guests at the house, friends and companions of the late Professor Lorrimor. Two of those, the silent man named Pat Haycox and the young engineer Sarah Guyro, decide to join our heroes in their quest for justice. The third, the middle-aged noble Adivion Adrissant, a well-known friend of the professor, has eyes only for Kendra, and the two of them seem very close.
After a heartfelt farewell to Anna-Katerina and Federico, our heroes accompany Embreth to the courthouse of Lepidstadt. A huge pyre in the shape of a man - Lepidstadt’s famous Punishing Man - is being erected in front of the courthouse, and locals eagerly add fuel to the effigy in preparation for the Beast’s execution. The atmosphere is that of a funfair, with the people of Lepidstadt already in the mood to celebrate the burning of the dreaded beast.
Judge Daramid takes our heroes inside the heavily guarded courthouse and to the office of Barrister Gustav Kaple, the appointed counsel for the defence. After a few words our heroes realize why he was chosen; he is prone to stutter when nervous, becomes nervous very often, and his recent track record is rather dour: of his ten last clients, one was sentenced to ten years in prison, three were sent to life-long hard work in the quarries and six were hanged. He is a defeatist, believing the beast to be guilty and the case already lost. His defence will only centre around the effort to change the mode of execution to something more humane than burning. His opponent, the famed Otto Heiger is the best prosecutor of the whole Palatinate and supported by an extensive staff of legal advisers. Barrister Kaple tells our heroes that nobody in the city was willing to help him build his case, and that the trial is set to begin in two days, giving him barely enough time to prepare. While Embreth is one of the associate judges and well known for her compassion and sense of justice, the other one, Kasp Aldaar, an ex-General famed for his impalement of four-score deserters, is a hard-liner in the extreme . The chief justice, the honourable Ambrose Khard, is known as a fair and impartial man who follows the law to the letter.
While the barrister's aide copies some of the records for our heroes, they follow Barrister Kaple down the stairs into the dungeon of the courthouse. All cells except one have been emptied, and half a dozen rather nervous soldiers of the Lepidstadt militia guard the sole incarcerated - the infamous Beast of Lepidstadt, bound by a dozen heavy chains. Even a cursory glance reveals several marks of abuse or even torture, which infuriates our heroes. They try to communicate with the beast, but are only met with silence. Even their offerings of aid fall in seemingly deaf ears. But just as they are leaving, they hear whispered words:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
The guards try to silence the beast with their long spears, which prompts Kostja and his companions to threaten them until they stand down. Some of the heroes recognize the poem, and Elias visits the library of the university to confirm their thoughts. The poem was written more than five decades ago by a famed writer from Mordent. It is called Unconquered and signifies a man's will to live despite the cruelties that fate may lay at his feet. Our heroes decide that the beast may be more than simply that - there seems to be a kind soul hidden somewhere below the monstrous appearance. They ask for an audience with the Magistrate Khard who has decided that the flesh golem can be tried.
The audience only last a few minutes as Magistrate Khard is a busy man. He confirms that he has spoken to the beast and that it proffered its innocence and even called one of the dead children of Hergstag its friend. As his communication with the beast confirmed its sentience, Magistrate Khard decided that it was not to be regarded as an item but a being, and thus has to stand trial for its crimes. After a short discussion he allows our heroes to actually enter the cell, but only after they sign a waiver relinquishing all claims of compensation if they are hurt in the process.
While the guards do not really like the idea of opening the cell, our heroes brook no insolence. Lucretia and Sarah enter the cell and try to heal the beast while their companions distract the guards. Lucretias magic works, but her magic is seen by the leader of the guards the women are removed from the cell. But their efforts seem to have gained the trust of the beast and it now answers their questions.It relates that Ellsa from Hergstag was its friend, and that it found her dead near the old scarecrow. It took her body to the village in hopes of finding help and warning the villagers of some unknown danger, but they droveit off. The beast mourns the death of Ellsa, and our heroes promise to find the real culprit and bring him to justice.
On their way out, our heroes come across Arlash, a red wizard from Hazlan who demands to be allowed to examine and vivisect the beast to learn its secrets. After a short talk our heroes determine that the self-professed expert is mostly inflating his ego and decide to leave the clerks of the court to deal with him.
In which a trial is held, and our heroes visit places of great tragedy and must deduce a terrible truth while facing adversaries born of shadow and night.
Fuelled by a desire to see justice done and by compassion for a creature that displays heart in a heartless situation, our heroes begin their investigations in earnest. Out of the many dreadful events that are attributed to the beast, the court decided to allow three cases: the disappearance and murder of six children of the small farming community of Hergstag, the abductions of several people from the aptly swamp village Morast and the burning of Doctor Brada's Asylum for the Lunatic Afflicted. All three events happened in the last six months, in all cases witnesses have seen the beast and will be called to court. As some of these witnesses now reside in Lepidstadt, our heroes decide to visit them first.
Karl, who used to be the groundskeeper of the asylum, lives in a small hut on the outskirts of the city. He lost his eyesight in the attack, but swears that the last thing he saw was the beast running out of the burning asylum and knocking him out. He seems earnest and believes in his account, but knows little of the asylum itself and its inner workings. Doctor Brada inherited a small fortune when his wife died and used the money to build the asylum just outside Lepidstadt. He believed that lunacy and madness could be cured instead of just locking the afflicted away, and conducted many experiments to help the poor souls. He died in the fire and was buried at Lepidstadt cemetary.
On the other side of town, three spinsters, the sisters Starle, have bought an old windmill and are very happy to entertain our heroes. They relate the tale of Hergstag, where four small kids went missing within the span of one month, and even the beadles of Lepidstadt in league with the best hunters and trackers where unable to find them. Then one day the beast walked into the village, the body of Ellsa in his arms, laughing maniacally. The villagers drove it off, but decided to abandon Hergstag as they believed it to be cursed. While the sisters are friendly, our heroes believe that they might be holding back some information, and a little questioning brings out the truth: the sixth victim, a girl named Karin, was found two days after the incident by her father, lying peacefully in her bed without any mark in her body.
The two visits only confirm our heroes' suspicions, and they make haste towards Hergstag to investigate the scene, as this case is to be tried the day after tomorrow. On their way they stop at the asylum which is situated on the isthmus knows as Karb Isle. The fire has destroyed most of the evidence, but they manage to find an iron lockbox, heavily damaged which resists their attempts to open it for quite a while. Finally, a concerted effort breaks it, and they find badly burned pieces of paper which turn out to be records of the asylum. Only the name Vorkstag and Grine’s Chymic Works can be read several times. It seems to be a factory supplying mostly alchemical products. Our heroes discover an entrance to the cellars and climb down. Sarah sees movement out of the corners of her eyes, but just as she warns her companions, half a dozen undead monstrosities ambush our heroes. Sarah is bitten and paralysed, Lucretia shares this fate, and Elias is wounded to within an inch of his life, but before the ghastly attackers can kill the helpless trio, they are struck down by sword, axe, bolt and bullet. Our heroes discover the gnawed bones of victims of the fire, some of which bear the marks of surgery, and a little treasure - and an empty bottle of Vorkstag and Grine, Chymickal Bleach.
As the ruins of the asylums refuse to release its secrets, our heroes travel to Hergstag which was little more than half a dozen farmsteads huddled together. The villagers abandoned their homes about half a year ago. They left the traps that they placed to catch the beast behind. Our heroes discover one of those, a wicked bear trap. They come across some tracks, but the village seems empty. As Catalin approaches the shrine devoted to the Raven Queen, she hears a children's voice singing a hymn, but it stops before she reaches the shrine which turns out to be empty. Our heroes decide to visit a small hill to the south-west, as there is a scarecrow on its top. As they advance on the hill, they find more tracks and then see a fallen figure in the overgrown fields. It turns out to be the corpse of a man, obviously some kind of looter, who went into the village, but then moved into the fields and straight into the trap. His path is puzzling, but without further clues our heroes begin to search the hill. Lucretia comes across a small hole, looking like a badger's burrow, near the scarecrow. After some debate, Elias drinks a potions that shrinks him to half his size and enters the hole. He soon finds a small cave and several human bones, but before he is able to examine them, he is attacked. Small claws hit his back, and he feels as if some malignant force is draining his life away. He whirls around but cannot see his assailant. Again he is struck, and already begins to feel faint, so he decides that caution is the better part of valor and flees, suffering a last attack from invisible claws. Lucretia and Catalin heal his wounds, and our heroes devise a plan to capture the creature in the burrow.
With tools from the village they dig towards the cave. Pat and Elias craft a smoke bomb using gunpowder and alchemical ingredients. Our heroes place one of the bear traps in front of the only exit. Digging a hole deep enough takes until sundown, but then they drop the smoke bomb into the cave. Something flees the attack but fails to avoid the trap. It is smaller than humans, and the vicious trap nearly cuts it in half. It turns out to be some kind of fey creature, a Lurker in Shadows, evil and known to steal the souls of the living with a mere touch, collecting and binding them to itself. The light of the sun melts its body away, but Kostja places the remains in a box to preserve them for the trial.
Our heroes return to Lepidstadt where they are met with anger and scorn. The people of Lepidstadt have been told that the strangers are helping Barrister Kaple, and they do not cherish the thought of the beast receiving aid. Nonetheless, our heroes remain unfazed and spent the night at Embreth's mansion. In the morning, they speak with the beast and with Karl, visit the alchemical factory to ask for their records of Doctor Brada's orders, and then leave the city early in the morning to visit Morast. They travel through the swamp and reach the village before noon. Lazne, the village elder, greets them enthusiastically, as he believes they were sent to escort him to the city as he is, in his own words, the “star witness”. Our heroes use his enjoyment of his moment of fame to get him to talk about the alleged crimes of the beast, which he happily does. People wandering the swamps alone disappeared, which in itself is not that remarkable, but it soon became obvious that there was more than the dangers of the swamp at work. Then the beast became bolder, even attacking villagers in their homes and abducting them. Lazne organized his brethren and laid a trap for the beast. They attacked it as it entered the village and drove it into the swamp, following with their coracles. It went to the boneyard, at which point the villagers caught up again. It tried to escape by jumping into the waters, but a blood caiman attacked it, bit into its shoulder and dragged it down. Lazne believed the beast to be dead until he was called as a witness in this trial.
With this knowledge, our heroes decide to investigate the boneyard. They find a small isle with a grove of willows. Their keen eyes discover hints that some of the graves have been tampered with. Further investigation reveals a small camp a few months old, with the remains of an alchemistical extract of Darkvision and half eaten rations. Suddenly, Lucretia explains that she could imagine a person sitting there, using some kind of mask to make him look like the beast, and that there could be a box with the letter V next to him. Her very detailed imaginations astonish her companions but she does not reveal her source. Nevertheless, our heroes conduct their search with renewed vigour and find a place where someone fastened a small boat and a lost scalpel marked with a V. Knowing that the beast neither has use for extracts of Darkvision nor for a surgeon's tools, our heroes return to Lepidstadt with the intent of finding the artisan who crafted the scalpel.
They arrive well before dusk and proceed to ask around until the stumble upon the crafter's shop. But he himself refuses to tell them his client's name, so they bribe one of his apprentices who prompts them to Vorkstag and Grine’s Chymic Works which lies on the fringes of Lepidstadt. Before they can investigate any further, they hear loud screams from the courthouse. They hasten towards it, finding a large mob on the market square. The guards are gone, and there is a priest of Belenus whipping the townspeople into a frenzy. He wants them to kill the beast which he calls an abomination. As our heroes try to intervene, the priest accuses them of being in league with the beast and being creatures of darkness themselves. Only by working together can our heroes disperse the mob, but the priest swears vengeance for their sinful acts.
Finally, our heroes decide that they must take more vigorous action as the trial will commence tomorrow. They infiltrate the Chymical Works, dispatching some kind of alchemical guard dog. Inside the factory, they see zombies driven by alchemical concoctions. With this proof of illicit behaviour, they alert the city watch which arrives half an hour later. The captain, distrustful of their motives, wants to wait until dawn and arrest the owners, but our heroes fear that their intrusion will be discovered and evidence destroyed and they offer to act as deputies and carry the risk of facing the zombies themselves. After a short negotiation, the captain agrees and our heroes begin their assault.
The fight inside the factory is brutal. Vorkstag and Grine are accomplished alchemists and fight like cornered animals. Their bombs wound many. The toxic fumes and hazardous environment make every step dangerous, but after a long, hard fight and a final chase, our heroes knock out Grine who falls to his death and subdue Vorkstag. Then they discover the terrible secret: the respected business owners are actually otherworldly creatures, and their business only a front for their real activities: bodysnatching. A dozen corpses are preserved in alchemical fluids in the cellars. Grine was a dark creeper and Vorkstag is a skinstealer, a creature that can wear the skins of flayed humanoids to impersonate them. Our heroes discover his cabinet of skins and faces, containing more than two dozen of the grizzly exhibits. Among them are the victims of murder - some of those have been attributed to the beast! - but also the skins and faces of respected citizens of Lepidstadt, both male and female. And one skin taken from a creature known as a mongrelman, that could be and was used to impersonate the beast.
Knowing their discoveries will help Barrister Kaple make his case, our heroes find some much needed rest. Early in the morning, they attend the first day of the trial. Lucretia presents their findings and deductions to the court, and in two glorious days the defence smashes the prosecution's every accusation. The beast is acquitted on all charges and released. The enraged people of Lepidstadt are loath to accept the verdict, but the beast escapes before the gathered mob can act.
Our heroes are now reviled by many in the city, but their minds are at ease as they have helped seeing justice be done. The only troubling thought that remains: neither Vorkstag nor Grine had anything to do with the theft at the university, and this remains an unsolved mystery.
I managed to get the players together for another session. This is the first one with many big alterations to the AP. A new player joined us this time, while one was absent.
In which a murder is committed, a investigation is conducted, a trio of evil-doers is brought to justice and a terrible secret is brought to light.
Despite the misgivings of the people of Lepidstadt, our heroes are of high spirits. Judge Daramid invites to dinner, promising a taste of the regional cuisine. They visit a small tavern that Embreth calls the best restaurant for traditional Lepidstadt dishes. There they meet Professor Wilhelm von Eisenberg, a friend of the late Petros Lorrimor, who seems to have taken his friend's death to heart; he is busy drinking himself into a stupor. Our heroes decide to invite him to their table and commence their meal, which turns out the huge amounts of black pudding, lamb, potatoes, dumplings, black soup, all dripping with fat. Afterwards they return to the judge's house and get some much needed rest, secure in the knowledge that they saw justice done.
Only to be woken by a servant of justice early in the morning. There has been a grisly murder, and our heroes are wanted for questioning! The priest of Belenus has been shot and stabbed, and the wounds match the weapons of our heroes. Together with Embreth they go the the courthouse and face Otto Heiger, the grim advocate, who relishes in breaking the whole news to them. They are the prime suspects in this case and are questioned and told not to leave the city. Although Judge Daramid assures them that Otto Heiger may be harsh, but not unjust, our heroes feel uncomfortable with the direction of the official investigation and decide to conduct one of their own.
They gather clues, experiment with alchemical precision and gather information. Fortunately, Professor Wilhelm von Eisenberg joins them. He is good at asking questions and not yet reviled by the good people of Lepidstadt. This leads them to the townhouse of Count Alpon Carromarc. They break and enter it stealthily and discover the dead body of the caretaker. After alarming the city watch, they search for more clues. This leads them to believe that agents of the Whispering Way spent several nights in the house, right at the time of the theft at the university. Most have left several days ago, but three remained behind. Exchanging knowing glances, our heroes deduct that these three are responsible for the reprehensible murder. Since the assassins are unaware of the discovery of their hideout, our heroes spent the night in the townhouse.
And almost catch a shadowy figure trying to sneak in. They give chase and follow the fleeing person out of the city, on the northern road along the Moutray. While they are sure that they are right behind the culprit, they do not seem to able to close in on him. And while traveling through a small wood, they are ambushed! Three deadly assailants attack, a crossbow-sniper hidden in a tree, a two-gunslinger and a fierce warrior woman. The fight is short, but very brutal. Our heroes manage to slay the sniper and the gunslinger, while knocking out the warrior.
Afterwards they question their captive. She does only know a little, as the main connection to the Whispering Way was the gunslinger. But she does know that some of the insidious necromancers are at Schloss Carromarc! Our heroes gather their loot, some of it rather quickly, and return her and the bodies to Lepidstadt. Otto Heiger is not happy, but just as Embreth said, he respects the law. Our heroes buy horses and race onward to Schloss Carromarc.
They reach it at dusk. It sits atop a waterfall, a large, fortified manor connected to the either side of the river by two narrow bridges. Our heroes approach the gatehouse with trepidation, and rightly so, as they are promptly assaulted by skeletal fiends and minions of the Whispering Way. A fierce combat ensues, but our heroes emerge triumphant!