When last we left the junior justice defenders of Lepidstadt (ret.), they stood poised to ambush a gang of trolls in the gatehouse of Schloss Caromarc. A lot has happened since then. Briefly:
Trial of the Beast
- They forced their way through building after crumbling building of Caromarc’s cliffside estate. Where decrepit architecture didn’t threaten their lives, the count’s experiments or “gifts” left by the Whispering Way did. At the pinnacle of a perilously slanty tower, they found the Beast itself joined in battle with another monstrosity of a golem while an electrical storm raged over head.
- After dispatching the golem they cared for less, the adventurers find Count Caromarc himself stashed away in a cupboard. Crane takes the tactic of blaming Caromarc for everything that’s gone wrong, as there would have been little to threaten anyone if not for his innumerable experiments in alchemy and fleshcrafting.
- Perhaps feeling a little guilty about the whole affair, Caromarc offers gold and a lead in the further doings of the Whispering Way: an exclusive hunting lodge deep in the Shudderwood.
- Armed with a letter of introduction from Count Caromarc, the adventurers hire a coach, complete with the most dryly humored driver ever to come out of the backwoods of Transylvania, to take them deep into the Shudderwood. Along the way, they find signs of trouble among the werewolf tribes that call the forest home, namely a corpse strung up from a tree, stuffed with wolfsbane.
“Come on, sphincter. Hold together…”
— Geoff knows Duristan’s inner thoughts
- Ascanor Lodge hosts a variety of colorful characters, including a self-proclaimed werewolf hunter, Duristan. A late night expedition with the hunter proves far more deadly for his hirelings than any beasts in the wood. Andris is unimpressed.
- An encounter with a living werewolf, then one of an ethereal variety further suggest much is awry in the Shudderwood, as well as pointing to somewhere called the Stairs of the Moon.
“Were you aware you would do anything for me?”
“Belloq, get the good paddle.”
— Auberon Crane doesn’t mess around with inferior tools
- Much investigation with game keepers, courtesans, a sexually active sextagenarian and every other thing in Ascanor Lodge that seems to speak finally reveals the lodge master, Lozaroff, is in cahoots or at least vague alliance with the Whispering Way.
- Lozaroff eventually tips his hand, setting a giant spider loose and fleeing the lodge. Ransacking his quarters reveals enough information to finally put them on the trail of the Stairs of the Moon, a former temple of Desna that has been taken over a meeting place of the werewolf tribes.
- At the Stairs, they find werewolves at each other’s throats. One faction is reluctantly convinced the other has been conniving with the Whispering Way. There is much baring of teeth, battle and snooping. Eventually, the adventurers get a lead pointing to the village of Feldgrau, several days away.
- Dealing with a gallows tree along the way, they arrive in the abandoned hamlet to find it’s overrun by Whispering Way cultists, Demon Wolves and the undead.
- Fighting building to building in Feldgrau, they slowly build up a picture of the situation: cultists are digging up a mass grave for an artifact. The hope is to lure Demon Wolves into more extensive conflict, distracting the cultists from their task, maybe getting some of the undead crawling around the village involved.
- At the final confrontation, Duristan reappears out of nowhere, revealing he’s been turned into a werewolf of his own volition. The throwdown was inevitable.
- Feldgrau is eerily silent once again, but it hasn’t given up all its secrets yet. Probing the pain of a restless ghost reveals not only the village’s violent past, but that two dark riders made from here toward the town of Illmarsh as part of some bargain with entities there.
- In the course of regrouping and resupplying before embarking to Illmarsh, Solis coerces his BFF Aurosan and fellow Desnan clerics to visit the desecrated temple in the Shudderwood. Communion with the Dusk Moth changes everyone visibly: their eyes turn silver.
Wake of the Watcher
- The road to Illmarsh is as hazardous as every other byway in the whole of Ustalav. Andris, not having learned the importance of not wandering off by oneself, endures interrogation by a Whispering Way agent verging on torture before the others catch on that the ranger’s been gone far too long.
- No one thought it would be possible to be less hospitable than some of the creeps encountered in Lepidstadt and the Shudderwood, but the people of Illmarsh pull it off. No one wants to say anything about anything, except the occasional well-placed “fuck off.” Except the local loon Kroon, who’s built a submersible device and needs guinea pigs to ride it down to certain dea — scientific exploration.
“Your pickle wife, while beautiful, is a gopher.”
— Auberon Crane puts the mayor in his place
- The house of Undiomede lurks in the swamp outside Illmarsh. It’s abandoned by civilized folk, but far from empty: ticks, spores, a marsh giant, a vicar of the Indomitable Sea, even a baby. This is one happening joint.
- In fact, who wanders by but Thadeamus Straw, a wizard of the evocation strain who’s come to investigate the standing stones at the heart of the Undiomede house. With his expertise, they discover the standing stones are dedicated to one Shub-Niggurath, one of the elder gods from beyond the Dark Tapestry.
- Returning to Illmarsh, they visit the temple of Gozreh, which is a pretty flimsily disguised house of Dagon-worshipping blackguards. In hidden chambers, it becomes clear that the people of Illmarsh’s “neighbors down bay” are a tribe of skum who take their first born children for procreation. The baby Solis and Crane struggle over tending was clearly meant to go to them as tribute. They rescue the baby’s parents and rapidly ship them all off to Lepidstadt via the Solis Express to the Lightwarden estate, lest the Illmarshians react badly to a tribute going wrong.
- The baby now safe, the group returns to the Undiomede estate to follow up on the mysterious phase door, leading from the standing stones to an underground complex. More eldritch horrors from beyond time and space beset them — particularly a color out of space-like entity — and evidence points to the skum under the lake.
- Finally, Horace Kroon happens to be home. They secure the use of his diving bell and make for the lake bed, fending off a squid by way of baleful polymorph on the way down.
- An eerily glowing dome of rock lies silently at the bottom of the lake. It’s guarded by skum, modified with bizarre bio-arcane-like devices. They don’t present much of a problem.
- Within the dome, however, is a warren of passages and chambers infested with horrors. Dimensional shamblers, more skum, a trio of mi-go, a cerebric fungus and more. They all take their toll, especially on poor Andris, who suffers the surgical ministrations of the mi-go as they shed his arms tendon by tendon.
- Fatigued, debilitated and drained of mojo, the investigators face a decision: push forward or attempt to rest for a while? And where could they rest? Then someone recalls Thadeamus idly wondering what happens if one casts rope trick under water…
And thus we are up to date with the tale of Carrion Crown. One of my resolutions for the year is to keep up better with this game — almost a year old! — and Skull & Shackles. I let my recaps get too long and too involved, to the point it took almost as long to write up a session as it did to play it. I don’t plan to make every entry a list of bullet points, but I will work on capturing more the essence of the action than a blow-by-blow. And I hope that will let me become more mindful of good pull quotes again. My notes for the last few months are sparse when it comes to choice one-liners, in part because they wound up buried in Twitter rather than in my notebook.
 Guess which one. We were sick to high heaven of all golems by the end of that module.
 Which we became convinced was more of a secret sex lodge than a base for affluent hunters. Much was made of looking for the hidden dungeon and spanking benches. It pains me that I can’t recapture more of that improvisational magic.
 Played by Joey, he of Lady Viola in Skull & Shackles, as sort of the Rick Moranis of wizards: super intelligent, none too swift, particular when it comes to questions like, “If I cast rope trick under water, will the extradimensional space fill with water?”
 We’re starting to see how hard wizards rock at this point in the game.