[Carrion Crown] Who Lops the Lopper?

Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone coverCarrion Crown continued this week with Annie (Grift), the Dan (Darius Carfax St. James), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi), and Hunter presiding as GM.

This being the Dan’s final night with us, and an abbreviated night for him at that, we were eager to get down to business. After a night of rest at the Lorrimor manor, the adventurers are back on the road to Harrowstone Prison, arriving there almost before they know it.

Returning to the second level of the keep, inspection reveals nothing of interest in the remaining cells — save the last. This one holds a dusty skeleton weighed down in chains and leaden replicas of holy symbols. This must have been the cell of Father Charlatan, going by Vessoriana’s indications. Carfax St. James probes the cell first, expecting a haunt to occur, as it had so often before. Nothing happens. Solis sent Gea the eidolon in. Again, nothing happens.

Gunderson suggests breaking open the shackles, as perhaps they prevent Charlatan from manifesting himself. Solis senses nothing magical about the irons. No one’s knowledge of religious practices indicates that replicas of holy symbols would have any binding effects on a ghost, either. The general consensus is to leave the body as it lies, rather than stirring up ectoplasmic hornets.

“There goes the element of surprise.”
— no one took Improved Shin Rope

The stairs to the basement level prove blocked by a deadfall, so the only way is down the shaft used by the destroyed lift. Grift handily shins down his silken rope. Sir Horace follows suit. The rest of the group has a bit more trouble. Solis, Gea and Darius all take a stab at emulating Grift’s athleticism, but fall one by one into what proves to be murky water flooding the lift chamber of the lower level.

When Darius makes his doomed attempt to descend, something curious happens. Figures moving in the gloom of the lower level catch the archivist’s attention. As he calls out warning to those below that ectoplasmic entities are on the move, Alexandros notices Darius’ fingers curl away from the rope, almost as though they’re pried away by an unseen hand.

“St. Elmo’s fire in the hole!”
— Grift

Carfax St. James plummets through the air. As he falls, strands of burial shroud and chains materialize out of thin air, wrapping and encasing him before landing in the murky water. The clear signs of a haunt in progress goad everyone to action. Callimachi stands at the top of the rope, overlooking the scene below. He pops the top on his haunt siphon and drops it straight down into the brewing fracas to minimal effect.[1]

While Grift and Sir Horace contend with ectoplasmic beings rising up out of the water, Darius’ singular experience continues. He awakes to find himself on a bier in a temple. A priest on hand informs him that he died and was brought to the temple of Pharasma by his friends to be raised, but they could not stay for the process to conclude. When Darius attempts to stand up, he’s wracked with pain, as though he’s being violently compressed on all sides.

“We rid you of this turbulent priest!”
— Annie paraphrases oral tradition

Back in the prison, Horace hefts the spectral bundle to keep Darius from drowning.[2] Grift activates his own haunt siphon. The chains and shroud cocooning Carfax St. James begin to burn away. Within what must be an illusion, Darius struggles against the invisible compression holding him in place. As he breaks free of the forces pinning him to the bier, the kindly priest of Pharasma blows away like smoke on the wind. Father Charlatan is, seemingly, vanquished without ever having materialized in the physical world.

“A power ballad about the man who loved his stick too goddamn much.”
— Darius Carfax St. James[3]

The flooded lift chamber leads into a four way intersection, presumably connecting subterranean cell blocks. Skeletons scattered around the ground rattle as they clamber to their feet. Darius lunges about with a handy bit of charred timber. Calliimachi puts the disrupt undead spell recently granted by Iomedae to good use. Solis summons a dire rat to do his bidding. It’s all a great deal of effor to little effect, as no one can seem to land a substantial blow. Meanwhile, the skeletons begin to smolder, clearly preparing for the kind of conflagration seen in the outer yard. Sir Horace is nearly beaten down to his knees, but quaffs a potion and, revitalized, vanquishes the flaming skeleton menacing him, even side-stepping the inevitable explosion.

“He may be hiding behind the very particles of the air!”
— Darius Carfax St. James

The north passageway out of this junction finally brings closure to Carfax St. James’ preoccupation with the Lopper and his many potential hiding places. A headless skeleton wielding an axe lurches out of the cell block, already smoldering. Once Darius determines this is not the Lopper himself, despite the axe in hand, Solis shatters the skeleton into fragments with but a single bane arrow.[4]

Beyond the now-still bone shards, they find cells ringing round a barred pit in the floor, what must be an oubliette. Roaring up from the pit comes a spectral form wielding an axe. Indeed, this must be the Lopper himself. The wraith goes for Grift, but a ghost touch bolt from Alexandros throws it off the mark. Solis and Horace follow suit with enchanted missiles of their own.

The hail of missiles continues until the supply of enchanted ammunition gives out. Callimachi transforms Gunderson’s blade Corvelle into an enchanted weapon, then hands off the wand of cure light wounds to Grift. The Lopper swirls around the chamber, failing to injure anyone, before finally cleaving through Solis and Alexandros, gaining vitality back in the process.

From there, it’s a not terribly exciting battle of whittling down the Lopper’s spectral strength with now well-tested attacks: cure light wounds, disrupt undead and whatever else people can throw at it. Grift finally lays the spirit to its final rest with a tap of the wand.

Gunderson takes the lead investigating the oubliette. He rappels down the shaft, finding a veritable trove of items scattered around the mortal remains of the Lopper. Gold, a stone of alarm, a masterwork sword and broken masterwork crossbow — which Solis mends shortly after — and a ring of keys. Everyone’s eyes light up at the discovery of keys to open some of the locked doors in Harrowstone. None of the keys are small enough to fit the safe in the warden’s office, but the property room, now that’s an enticing prospect.

“Is the first intra-party throwdown going to be over wooing a woman?”
“She’s got money!”
— Tyler and a Dan[5]

The property room yields a mix of objets d’art and exotic weaponry, presumably confiscated by adventurers of a chaotic, feckless bent. Mixed in with a war medallion from the Shining Crusade and portrait of Stiven I are a silver war razor and shuriken. The last particular catch Grift’s fancy and he scoops them up.

Scrupulous ransacking of the long dead’s seized possessions reveals a secret chamber adjoining the property room. This space holds only five things: a bloody handaxe, a tangle of holy symbols, a moldy spellbook, a smith’s hammer and a tarnished silver flute. Solis’ arcane senses suggest these objects are linked to their former owners, the five notorious ghosts of Harrowstone. Darius goes so far to suggest that damaging the objects in their owners’ presence could have a deleterious effect on the ghosts.[6][7]

“I’m a motherfuckin’ ninja!”
— ninja squee

Reinvigorated by the glory of acquiring stuff, the adventurers troop back down the hole to Reaper’s Hole, the western passageway of the basement level. A portcullis bars access to the cell block. Searching for the mechanism, they find three fractured skulls in the guard room, with a fourth built from fragments. This and the synchronized strike of headaches among everyone but Sir Horace portends the Mosswater Marauder’s presence, which manifests in due course. Solis immediately pops his haunt siphon, debilitating the deceased dwarf’s dweomer. Gea gets the notion that damaging the skulls may resonate with the ghost, and so leads by example.

Unsure what to do to damage the Marauder’s hammer, Gunderson bathes it in holy water to no effect. Darius then casts cure light wounds on it, which has a noticeable effect on the ghost. Finally, Callimachi finishes the ghost off with disrupt undead.[8]

In the opposite guard room, they find the portcullis’ winch mechanism. Sharp-eyed Darius rejoins the party with a gem in hand and news of a secret room. Inside is a cache of weapons and a rope of climbing.

There, the adventurers paused to catch their breath. Only the Splatterman remained of Harrowstone’s most notorious prisoners, but he was obviously the most potent of the bunch, his influence stretching outside the prison’s walls to the village of Ravengro. Should they press the advantage, while luck was on their side, or retreat to rest and gather resources?

[1] Not super-bright, as it meant the siphon was lost in the water during the battle, but I swear, it looks cool in the mind’s eye.

[2] Again with drowning in a few inches of water. One more time and it will be an official thing with us.

[3] The context is lost, but it might have to do with the wave of healing actions taken after the flaming skeleton battle.

[4] Also known as a triple damage critical hit.

[5] Again, the context is lost. It came out of bickering over who could woo Kendra with gifts best or get her to cover the party’s bills or something of that sort.

[6] I think it was about here that the Dan had to leave us to complete preparations for his big move. Adieu, Dan, till we play again!

[7] Much as I may hate to say it, Darius became frighteningly competent once Hunter started rolling for him.

[8] Continuing my tradition of rolling little but 1s and 3s with that spell. This time, it was a 1.

[Carrion Crown] The Piper of Illsmarsh

 Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone coverCarrion Crown continued this week with Annie (Grift), the Dan (Darius Carfax St. James), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) gathered with Hunter as GM. The Dan confirmed this would be his penultimate session before moving away, so there was a sense of urgency that we conclude The Haunting of Harrowstone chapter of the campaign in the remaining. Frankly, it’s going to be tough.

As Sir Horace Gunderson inventories the supplies scattered around the infirmary, a dark phantasm rises up from the floor behind him. Its spectral guise chills Solis, Horace and Darius to the bone, sending them fleeing out into the corridor, as fast as their legs can carry them. The eidolon Gea, concerned about losing her connection with Solis, follows the elf. Callimachi invokes Iomedae’s blessing as this happens, catching some of the fear-stricken adventurers before they pass out of range.

The poltergeist raises up a hail of surgical tools and other sharp implements, creating a whirlwind of potential lacerations, one of which rockets at Grift. The oracle lashes back by channeling positive healing energy at the entity.

Meanwhile, Gea wrestles[1] with Solis, trying to keep him from fleeing the prison completely, a task at which Gunderson is succeeding admirably. Darius recovers himself enough to re-enter the fray. His first ghost touch bolt winds up flung back at the archivist, lodging in his chest. Callimachi follows Darius’ example and begins the laborious task of loading his jurist crossbow with an enchanted bolt.

“What does singed ectoplasm smell like?”
— Grift

Seemingly displeased by its victims fighting back, the poltergeist flings a vial from the swirling storm of objects. It crashes into Darius’ face, blinding him with smelling salts. Grift drenches the poltergeist in holy water, finally putting it to rest. All the levitated objects crash to the floor, scattering glass shards everywhere.

In the aftermath, Gea identifies previously unknown substances in surviving vials as soothsyrup, antiplaque and bloodblock. Alexandros conjures up water to wash the worst of the smelling salts from Carfax St. James’ eyes.[1]

” . . . large enough for a child to climb inside.”
Or the Lopper.”
— Darius sees the Lopper everywhere

Once everyone has caught their breath, maybe refreshed themselves a bit with healing magic, the final room of the ground floor awaits inspection: the furnace. As he examines everything in the room with his monocle, Darius Carfax St. James notices first a burning smell, then a low, disquieting rumbling laugh. The furnace turns red hot, giving off waves of heat. A red tendril rears up in the heart of the furnace, preparing to strike as Darius prepares his haunt siphon. It hardly manages to lash out at all before crumbling to cold, gray ash. Once the haunt subsides, Grift pokes around in the furnace to find a human leg bone, still warm, half-buried in the ash.

With only one unused haunt siphon remaining among the adventurers, they proceed up the second floor, reckoning that the two ghosts Vessoriana claimed were upstairs were better than the three in the subterranean level. The second floor proves to be mostly open, with a block of cells to the west and mess hall to the east. A stray bump of a table disturbs a swarm of stirges,[3] which boils up into the air.

Solis, Grift and Callimachi are all immediately set upon by the gargantuan mosquito-like things. One lodges its proboscis in Callimachi’s shoulder, drinking deeply.[4] Grift dispatches one with ease, Gunderson dislodges the second from Callimachi — eviscerating the stirge in the process — and Darius puts a bolt through the third cleanly and fatally.

The first point of order in checking out the cells is Darius examines the privy. That sorted, the group moves along the cell block. Ahead, they spot a skeletal arm reaching out from a cell. Close inspection reveals every cell hosts a skeleton, presumably all the victims of smoke inhalation during the great fire fifty years ago. As Horace stomps on the bones, Solis’ ears prick up at reedy piping in the distance. Down the hallway comes a full-figure floating apparition, bearing a cage of spectral stirges.

Forewarned, Solis manages to lob a vial of holy water at what must be the piper of Illsmarsh before its discordant music seizes control of his muscles. Skeletons in every cell rise up as everyone else prepares for battle.[5] Grift recognizes this encounter is also a haunt, having noticed the holy water sizzling as it flew through the air before it ever touched the piper. Callimachi activates his haunt siphon, which has seemingly minimal effect on the piper or its ghostly stirges.

To counter the piper’s paralyzing charm on Solis, Darius declaims a great speech of independence and defiance.[6] While it frees Solis, the speech’s efficacy dwindles to the point of ineffectiveness when Darius tries to free himself from the piper’s thrall immediately following. The piper’s grip on the archivist tightens. He weeps blood as his companions struggle to do something to vanquish the piper. Finally, Horace manages to make his vial of holy water connect with the spectre, vanquishing it, hopefully forever.

Their resources depleted and their magic-workers running low, it seems wisest for the cadre to return to Ravengro for rest and resupply. They emerge from the tottering ruins of Harrowstone to find gray clouds still drizzling rain. Having spent most of the day in the prison, it seems more like weeks since they set out from the village that morning.

On the way back to the Lorrimor manor, they pick up the tome of interest from the Unfurled Scroll. It was once the property of Lepidstadt University, going by the large “LU” inscribed on its endpaper. They also consult with Father Grimbarrow, who grudgingly[7] provides them with a new stock of holy water, recharges their haunt siphons with positive energy and even rustles up some potions of cure moderate wounds.

Looking back, it’s surprising how much has been accomplished in so little time. It’s been mere days since five travelers converged on Ravengro for the funeral of a friend and found themselves embroiled in fifty year old mysteries and the machinations of a necromantic cult.[8]

[1] Proving once again that the human mind is incapable of storing knowledge of grappling rules. It’s like processing non-Euclidean geometry.

[2] Which led to a side discussion about whether shocking grasp could make do as impromptu defibrillation. Verdict: probably not.

[3] Three. Thank Iomedae.

[4] Doing CON damage again. It seems to be Alexandros’ lot in life.

[5] By Annie’s count, we got to six 23 results at this point in the evening.

[6] “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down . . . ”

[7] Because he never does anything ungrudgingly.

[8] As in: we leveled. Boo-yeah! The group had been fading as the clock crept towards 10:00pm, but the prospect of shiny new abilities and spells gave everyone enough gas to start flipping through books and picking their new toys.

Spring Meltdown 2012

Spring Meltdown, a tabletop game day, comes to Lyndonville, Vermont on April 21st. From 10:00am to 10:00pm at the grange, game enthusiasts gather for some tabletop action. It’s a free-for-all of open gaming, so bring something to share or come eager to try something new among the myriad games other participants make available.

Hosted by Green Mountain Gamers, a group of which I’m a part, Spring Meltdown is one in a series of quarterly game days traveling around the state of Vermont. We’ve had a lot of success with the traveling model, meeting gamers from all over the state who we might not have otherwise met. And now we’re headed back to the Northeast Kingdom!

[Carrion Crown] Deconstructed Constructs

Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone coverWednesday may be the new Carrion Crown game night. Annie (Grift), the Dan (Darius Carfax St. James), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) gathered with Hunter as GM.

In the midst of Harrowstone Prison’s ground floor, the adventurers catch their collective breath and take stock of the situation. With the chapel scorched and ransacked, a number of other chambers await inspection. Darius insists on visiting the privy first, which proves a fragrant, though uninteresting destination. Next is the prison laundry, filled with moldering laundry. While poking around with a discarded washerwoman’s truncheon, Darius finds something attached to the end of the wooden implement. As he attempts to bludgeon it against the floor, the thing pushes back against his efforts before launching into the air. A grimy, blood-stained straitjacket flaps before them like an over-sized bat.

Callimachi frantically hurls a flash of holy water, neglecting to uncap it in his haste. It rolls away in the dirty laundry. Sir Horace slashes at it with Corvelle, leaving great rents in the animated object, earning his sword the deed name “Seamripper.”[1] After a misdirected acid splash from Solis spatters both Horace and Alexandros’ swords, the mindless construct engulfs Grift in its folds, wrapping his head so stringently, his smoked goggles and facial features appear through the fabric stretched tight over them. The oracle can’t possibly be able to breathe, everyone realizes as he begins to thrash.

It’s Darius who comes to the rescue, exerting his unassuming thews so as to peel the straitjacket away, giving Grift the opportunity to gasp for air. Gunderson and Callimachi flail helplessly, unable to get a grip on the demonic garment. After toying with the notion of snatching up scissors scattered in the work room, Solis comes in with a simple dagger for some impromptu tailoring. “By Iomedae’s grace!” shouts Callimachi as he finally finds his range and rends the thing in twain. The now-lifeless scraps fly across the room. As the adventurers quit the laundry, Grift pauses to spit on the straitjacket.

Slipping through a hidden panel, they find the workroom, strewn with the detritus of prison work details. And, in the corner, almost hidden in a heap of cloth, there is a skeleton, its arm reaching out. When Grift and Alexandros approach, an ethereal blue mist rises up and coalesces into the form of a woman. She speaks, sounding lost and confused. Solis and Grift gently press the spirit for details. She is Vessoriana, Warden Hawkran’s wife. The night of the fire, she ran in to help, sending the elevator down so the trapped warden and guards could escape. Instead, the prisoners began to climb the ropes. The guards on the ground level threw down barrels of oil to deter them. Then a torch fell.

Vessoriana herself was sealed in the workroom by guards to keep her safe. Instead, she died of smoke inhalation as the prison burned around them all. Now, her spirit lingers in Harrowstone, trapped with others. She vaguely points out around where she senses other spirits, who appear to be five most infamous prisoners. The blue ghost makes obscure references to her husband’s badge containing spirits, while she can barely hold them back herself. The adventurers infer that recovering the warden’s symbol of authority could be the push needed to allow Vessoriana to contain them completely.

Sobered by the knowledge that Harrowstone holds innocent spirits as well as those of the damned, the cohort goes forth with a new goal: find the warden’s body, and thus hopefully his badge and keys. But it may not be that easy, as Vessoriana also mentioned figures in black cloaks who came recently to the prison, who killed the nice old man who must have been Lorrimor. Their leader wore bone armor and carried a staff topped by a gagged skull. It all fits with what they already know about the cabal of the Whispering Way.

The search continues. The branding room triggers another bout of disturbing phenomena. As the smell of burning flesh and moans of misery rise, Solis rips the stopper from his haunt siphon, bringing the episode to an end before anyone can become too unnerved.

“Cold, everybody. Has anyone seen a cone thereof?”
— Solis is woefully unprepared

The next room is the “induction chamber.” There, they trip over another animated construct, a set of manacles. Embarrassingly, it’s a fairly even match as every moving thing in the chamber flails at each other without making significant contact, despite the manacles’ brittleness and vulnerability to cold, an elemental force[2] no one present happens to command. After what seems a marathon swatting contest, Grift lands a hit with his steely talons. The manacles shatter and fall to the ground.[3]

After two strikes in the branding and induction chambers, attention turns to the final room of the ground floor: the infirmary. On entering, Horace’s gleaming eyes rove across vials upon vials. As he gleefully catalogs antitoxin, smelling salts, healer’s kits and magical potions, a shadow figure issues from the paving stones and rears up behind the blissfully unaware warrior.[4]

[1] Also raising the question whether constructs, as this straitjacket was deemed to be, are immune to critical hits. Happily, they are not.

[2] Or absence thereof, I suppose.

[3] Possibly Hunter killed the thing out of sheer impatience.

[4] And we ended the session early there, probably because that thing would take more than an hour to deal with — assuming it didn’t just knock us flat right off the bat.

[Read ‘Em ‘Cause You Got ‘Em] GURPS Egypt

After a long trip into fiction and other casual reading, I came back to the role-playing stack with GURPS Egypt, yanked almost at random from the shelf. I think I was motivated by the desire for some crunchy history combined with some campaign frames, which tends to be the formula of the GURPS history worldbooks.

As a condensed history of ancient Egypt and summary of the culture, GURPS Egyptdoes its job. The culture section briefly covers the details of daily life in “ancient Egypt,” a period which covers about 5,000 years, so there’s got to be a lot of glossing over here, particularly for those elements of life that weren’t recorded or whose records didn’t survive.

The history section runs the span of the old, middle and new kingdoms, right into the common era and the last of the Ptolemaic pharaohs. It covers the aforementioned five thousand or more years in thirty-seven pages, which is not a task I imagine any writer would relish. As it is, the history section reads like a litany of pharaonic rules and the reasons they were deposed, with some breaks to focus on especially interesting figures — like Hatshepsut, the former pharaoh’s half-sister, who became regent on his death and took on a male aspect in matters of state.

The remainder of the book covers character types in a straight historical GURPS Egyptgame, some magical elements, supernatural creatures, the Egyptian pantheon of gods and some pages on role-playing scenarios and seeds. And this is where I was let down — maybe because I wrongfully expected more than one typically gets in a historical worldbook — in that nothing in the latter half of the book leapt out at me as especially “gameable.” Gameable meaning campaign or scenario frames that allow for the usual expectations of role-playing: a group of characters with a common tie or reason to work together, extraordinary action or storylines, and so on. Everything was just sort of enh. I thought for sure GURPS Cabal would get some kind of sidebar coverage, but no, not even that — though certainly the sidebars had some of the most interesting content, including paragraphs suggesting crossover with various other worldbooks. Just not the one I wanted, which is my own selfish desire.

While GURPS Egypt is a perfectly laudable effort in giving an overview of ancient Egypt, such as one can compress all those dynasties and thousands of years into one hundred twenty eight pages, I didn’t find anything in it that said, “Yes, this is a one-shot or campaign framework that brings it together.” So that was disappointing.

Held Action Actual Play Index

This weekend, I set up an actual play index for Held Action. It’s a page to collect all the actual play entries scattered through the posts of the blog. Right now it’s a series of lists of entries, linking to each one. I’m undecided about whether to comb through for one-shot write-ups. In general, they’re not as narrative focused as those I write for campaigns.

What would you want to see in a more fleshed out, informative actual play index? Dates when the sessions happened? Brief capsule synopses of the campaigns?

[Carrion Crown] Harrowstone Prison Blues

Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone cover The fourth session of Carrion Crown saw Annie (Grift), the Dan (Darius Carfax St. James), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) take the exceptionally bold step of exploring a dangerous environ bounded by stone and inhabited by hazardous beings opposed to letting bygones be bygones. In short, they went dungeon-delving.

The session began with some retroactive continuity. Our GM, Hunter, decided “V O O R D” would be a more interesting answer to Grift’s interrogation of the spirit board. Further, the offerings of the Unfurled Scroll passed around the room for the two arcane spellcasters. We had been so taken last time by the shiny, enticing tome Allendru had for the professor, our casters forgot about base commerce. At any rate . . .

Smarting from coming up dry twice before, Solis attempts to identify the four vials found in Lorrimor’s cache of weapons in the false crypt. This time, he recognizes them as haunt siphons, capable of absorbing a haunt into the vial. He goes on to caution his companions the siphon then becomes a powerful vessel of negative energy and probably ought not to be lobbed at anything also brimming over with that sort of power.[1]

Having exhausted the apparent opportunities of Ravengro, the group decides it’s time to explore Harrowstone, which ties into so much they’ve learned about Lorrimor’s death and the longstanding mysteries of the town.[2] Despite Gunderson’s protestations of “Nine-thirty for eleven!” they all rise early the next morning and set out for the ruined prison.

“Has someone befouled the truncheon?!”
— Grift expresses concern for a civic landmark

Almost immediately, they are side-tracked. Everyone in Ravengro gathers around the Harrowstone memorial, making quite the hubbub for a bucolic morning. Closer inspection reveals a giant V daubed across the memorial, painted in some dark brown, crusty substance. While Solis determines there were no lingering magical traces, Grift and Horace sidle up to the ubiquitous Father Grimbarrow[3] and a new face, Benjen Caeller, sheriff of Ravengro. The general mood is one of “Beats the crap out of me.”

On learning the group’s destination of Harrowstone, Grimbarrow signals for the acolyte Aramis to retrieve “supplies.” About everyone present manages to find somewhere to look other than Grimbarrow’s rosy visage, thinking of the supplies retrieved from the cemetery. So there an audible gust of wind whispers past as five adventurers sigh in unison to see “supplies” means vials of holy water, even as Solis cobbled together a plausible story.

“But what does it mean?”
— Solis and Alexandros on the big red V

It very nearly passes from thought as a random event of almost no significance before the flash of realization[4] dawns collectively that the Splatter Man, that scholar of anthroponomastics, was known to slowly spell out his victim’s names before closing in for the kill. The realization is quickly followed by relief, as none of the present parties has a name beginning with V — none they’re admitting to.

Thoroughly puzzled and feeling a bit bad for whoever V may be, because surely the poor soul would be in a lot of trouble sooner rather than later, the adventurers carried on to Harrowstone, a foreboding edifice of crumbling rock swathed in creeping ivy. Grift crossed the threshold of the broken gates first, preternaturally struck down by some sort of fit, clawing at the air and writhing. He sprang back to his feet with almost the same speed, brushing the episode off as nothing. Grift strides back across the threshold, which Callimachi had prodded tenatively while Solis and Gea considered the prospects of scaling the wall.

“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so did Grift return to the yard.”
— Darius drafts a verse

The prison walls encompass the keep, a manor house, a fetid pond and not much else. Sir Horace notices arcane runes etched around the foundation of the keep, colored a disturbing shade of red. Archivist Darius copies them down. Solis recognizes elements of necromantic and abjurational magic. And it’s apparent to everyone, all speakers of Varisian, that long dead warden Hawkran figures prominently in the carvings. Callimachi takes a scraping of the red coloring for identification later by someone skilled in the alchemical arts.

The manor house seems like a dead end, so they move on to the keep itself. Rubble and standing water block the obvious approaches. Solis, Gunderson and Grift are all nimble enough to mount the debris, while Carfax St. James and Callimachi detour through the water to a break in the wall. This proves fateful.

Neither the archivist nor the inquisitor notice anything untoward, right up until the power were the flaming skeletons rise up from the water to assault them both. Callimachi immediately goes down for the count. Carfax St. James fumbles for the lore of burning skeletons, warning everyone to their propensity for exploding on expiration, and fends them off while the three others inside scramble into the fray.

“I scream like I fight, y’all.”
— Grift and Gunderson

Grift decides to take the gloves off. He reveals steely claws for fingers, which regrettably don’t do a lot of injury — or any — in the initial flurry. A second pass debilitates one skeleton to the point of exploding in flames. Realizing the effect words will have on these foes, Darius falls back to sticks and stones.

Once all the flaming undead are dispatched, the cadre mops up. Callimachi regains consciousness and is grateful he didn’t drown in two inches of water. Something about the prison seems to impede healing magics, as attempts at cure light wounds produce lackluster results.[5]

Attention returns to the interior of the keep. In a room of scorched training dummies, a pit opens to what may be the lower level of Harrowstone. Doors lead into an courtoom-like space, with benches arrayed before a podium behind a wall of bars. Horace leads the way. With every step, the stentorian cry of “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty” grows louder and the temperature drops. Gunderson feels the cold such that he begins to freeze in place. Grift leaps to the fore, snapping open his haunt siphon, which promptly restores the courtroom to its normal state.

Probing beyond the courtroom reveals a whole array of doors and avenues to explore. Before anyone can move, every door slams shut, sealed. Smoke issues forth from everywhere and the temperature rises. Voice are heard in the distance, screaming for help, to be saved. Sir Horace leads the escape, breaking through one door. And suddenly all is normal again.

While what signage indicates the property room — at which Gunderson’s eyes gleam and he nearly rubs his hands in delight — is locked tight, other rooms are more easily penetrated. The records room yields up information about Father Charlatan and the Mosswater Marauder. In the warden’s former office, a safe refuses to give up its contents without the key. Grift uses a detect undead scroll, learning the whole prison is essentially overrun with some form or other of undead, save the warden’s office. They seem to fear Hawkran even in death.

A flight of stairs lead to rooms with names fraught with portent like the branding room and induction chamber. Everyone opts for the chapel of Pharasma instead, which is completely swathed in cobwebs. Only Gea and Alexandros spot the chapel’s inhabitants, giant spiders hanging from the ceiling. The inquisitor heaves a torch at one and the eidolon readies its constricting grip.

“Where’s the torch? We’ll have to cauterize.”
“The branding room is over there.”
— everyone thinks they’re a medieval barber

Carfax St. James’ wealth of bardic lore falters at this moment — and then a spider sinks its venomous fangs in his hand. “Suck it out!” he cries only briefly before common sense flees before the warm euphoria that settles across him like a heavy blanket. In spite of the venom’s effect, the archivist dispatches the spider handily. Meanwhile, Grift brandishes a steel talon. Without even touching the beast, a spider falls dead as a sickly green vapor transfers from it to the young man.[6]

Exploration of the chapel in the wake of the battle reveals holy water and a wand of cure light wounds, which Callimachi pounces on immediately. Initial appraisal suggests nothing about how much efficacy the wand has left to offer, so Callimachi immediately expends a charge on himself, just to be sure it still works.

We paused the game there, to return in a week and a bit’s time.

[1] Doing 3d6 of damage to a haunt, and then inflicting the same as a sort of negative energy grenade if the occupied vial is ever ruptured, not unlike a grenade.

[2] As in Hunter not at all subtly prompted us, “So, next morning you’re heading to Harrowstone?”

[3] Now played by Alan Rickman.

[4] Hunter again. Subtlety is for the weak.

[5] We both rolled crappy, the minimum two points of healing each.

[6] And in the process, Annie realized she’d mistakenly taken a 7th level revelation for her oracle. But the spider stayed dead, so that was a relief.

FlashCon on March 25th in West Lebanon

The second FlashCon is already on the horizon for March 25th at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Like the name implies, FlashCons are spry and nimble, appearing almost unexpectedly wherever there are tables and chairs for gaming hobbyists to enact their pastimes.

This FlashCon follows the manner of the first with a two hour block for shorter games or teaching sessions, then a longer second block in the later afternoon for the full-on tabletop experience.

Organizer Gordon Spaeth is looking for people share and teach games, so if you’ve got a favorite board game or a role-playing adventure in your pocket, get in touch with him through the Facebook page or via Green Mountain Gamers. If you come from the other end of the spectrum and are curious about all this tabletop hoo-hah, FlashCon is an ideal opportunity to dip your toe in.

[Carrion Crown] Scenic Downtown Ravengro

Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone coverScheduling demanded we play Carrion Crown on Wednesday this week. The third consisted of Annie (Grift), the Dan[1] (Darius Carfax St. James), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gia) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi); Hunter ran herd as GM.

Reconvening with the false tomb robbers at stately Lorrimor manor, Darius and Grift share the information they learned from the archives at the temple of Pharasma about the fire at Harrowstone prison, how warden Hawkran and guards died keeping the prisoners from escaping.

A knock at the door reveals Zokar Elkarid delivering provisions for the scullery. Solis takes the opportunity to inquire about the emotional state of the village after the confrontation at the funeral and its cause. Zokar allows it may have something to do with the manor of the professor’s death, having been crushed by falling masonry out at the abandoned prison. No one really visits Harrowstone according to Elkarid, except teenagers taking the “Harrowstone dare.”

“Mr Wizard!”
“Mr. Wizard? All right…”
“It’s better than Bill Nye, magic guy.”
— Toby, Hunter and a Dan

The group seizes the opportunity for a guided stroll into Ravengro. Elkarid points out sites of civic interest: homes of citizens of note, the notice boards, his own tavern the Laughing Demon and other places. They come across the Harrowstone memorial to those who died in the fire. Solis inquires about the warden’s wife, Vessoriana, and her involvement, but Zokar doesn’t have anything much to say — which is a similar reaction to when Grift wonders if he knows anything about the Whispering Way, besides the name of the Whispering Tyrant.

With all the splendors of downtown Ravengro before them, arcanists Grift and Solis make a beeline for the Unfurled Scroll, Ravengro’s ye olde magick shoppe. They meet the proprietor Allendru, who somehow makes a living selling minor magic scrolls in a farming community that no longer supports a charred wreck of prison.[2] He also happens to have a tome of exceptionally indecipherable content that he hoped to sell to Professor Lorrimor before the accident, which brings Darius to the counter as well, his bookhound’s nose sniffing the air furiously.

“Ravengro doesn’t have a wizarding academy?”
— uncertainty about how Allendru passes his days

Solis attempts to discern something of the tome’s dweomer. The best he can make out is it carries the mark of transmutative and necromantic energies. While the text itself is not legible by anyone on hand, the book happens to fall open to the diagram of an arm in the process of dissection. This piques Sir Horace’s interest curiously, of all possible parties. Perhaps in light of such evident interest in the book, Allendru declares he can’t possibly let it go for less than a thousand gold pieces. Solis extracts a commitment that the mage won’t sell the book to another customer without at least allowing them the opportunity to counter the offer.

Further conversation with Allendru about Harrowstone and the Whispering Way provoke very different reactions. Blase about the prison fire — after all, it was fifty or so years ago — he does recall that the prisoners had seized control of the lower level, in which they had been sealed with the warden and guards. The fire came about from the guards trying to retake control.[3] Allendru strongly refuses to entertain any discussion of the Whispering Way on his premises.

The tour of Ravengro continues with the town hall. Callimachi makes casual conversation with a clerk, yielding a surprising amount of detailed information about the Whispering Way and their practices.[4] Conducting research in necromantic magic and haunted locations, the members seek to raises the Whispering Tyrant. The Way’s members pass on their teachings only via whisper. Their secrecy extends so far as to destroy the mouths of deceased members, so they cannot give up their secrets through spellcasters treating with the dead.

Darius’ ears prick up at that last fact, prompting him to inquire about Lorrimor’s manner of death. The falling masonry just so happened to crush his head, conveniently obliterating his mouth and speaking-related apparatuses.

From there, the adventures make the rounds of Elkarid’s tavern, the Laughing Demon and the village blacksmith, a dwarf of considerable skill. The Laughing Demon’s board of fare is stuffed to the gills with corny names for dishes — as Elkarid believes the best way to deal with a grim world is to keep laughing — like “corpse stew” and “liquid ghost” ale. From the smith, Solis acquires a short bow, to better utilize the magic arrows from Lorrimor’s cache.

“I admire the way you take advantage of the grieving process. I’m going upstairs right now.”
— one con artist to another

Their business concluded, the group returns to the Lorrimor home, finding Kendra returned from her own doings. Grift bats his eyes real pretty-like and mentions to Kendra there’s a thousand gold piece tome at the Unfurled Scroll that her father would have bought. Before Solis can even interrupt to propose a slightly less ruinous plan, Kendra signs off on using household funds to buy the book.

Solis turns his attention to the remaining as yet unidentified items recovered from the false crypt. The crossbow bolts are sovereign against spirits.[5] Darius and Alexandros split the five bolts as best they can.

Horace focuses on the spirit board. He badgers people in turn to take up the brass planchette. Callimachi refuses to truck with spiritualism. Darius steps up to the challenge. He rests his hands on the planchette and asks to whom he is speaking. The archivist’s body seizes, his eyes glow white. The planchette slowly spells out “H E A N F E R A A” before Darius is released from the possession and is literally knocked out of his chair.

Inner reflection and outer discourse[6] reminds the group that is most of the given name of the Splatter Man, one of the notorious prisoners at Harrowstone, a scholar obsessed with anthroponomastics. Emboldened by the promise of more information, Grift takes up the spirit board while Darius stumbles away with a handkerchief to nose, in search of brandy.

“Who killed Lorrimor?” the youth demands as the spirit takes control of his body. The board replies “W H I S P E R I N G W A Y” before ejecting him similarly.

Solis’ turn at the board reveals that not all of the five inmates of Harrowstone died in the fire. With no more takers for a seat at the spirit board, everyone elects to retire for the evening.

Except Grift. He takes a side trip to the scullery for a midnight snack. Passing through the kitchen, a bundle of papers catches his attention. They’re the rubbings taken in the graveyard the day prior. Shuffling through them, Grift shrieks in fright, loudly enough to bring the whole house running.

“How did you know my real name?” he demands, brandishing the sheaf wildly.

“As I am, so shall you be.”
— smug epitaph

When Horace flips through the rubbings brandished in his face, he can’t find one with Grift’s name on it. Solis and Alexandros both aver there were no headstones with Grift’s name when they took the rubbings as part of their deception.

Disquieted by this unsettling occurrence, the household breaks up and retires for the evening.

[1] The Dan came this week bearing the happy-sad news that come April, he will move away to take up a new profession. It’s a tremendous bummer, because he’s a hell of a role-player and all around neat guy, but there are few jobs that suit someone like him quite so much as this particular one.

[2] There was a great deal of discussion about how a village of 310 souls could support two magic shops — the other being the apothecary and his alchemical preparations, I suppose.

[3] This is about when I start wondering how anyone knows what happened in Harrowstone, if they all died in the fire. And why was Mrs. Warden, Vessoriana, in the prison at all?

[4] I didn’t have to work at all for that information. It was one of those moments where everyone rolls a check because they happen to be in the room, regardless of who’s been talking to any non-player characters — or if specific characters were introduced at all.

[5] +1 ghost touch bolts, as it happens.

[6] Also known as Hunter reminded us of the man’s actual name, because all anyone recalled were the colorful, pro wrestling-like appellations: Splatter Man, Marshwater Marauder and so on.