[Carrion Crown] The Story So Far

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

Trial of the Beast cover

  • 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,[1] 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. Continue reading

[Carrion Crown] Schloss Caromarc

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Auberon Crane),[1] Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter took a moment to catch their breath from the breakneck pace at which business concluded in the previous session.

The body of their fallen comrade twitches, then begins to drag along the ground in some cruel parody of Horace joining the retreat. It is, of course, the unseen Solis doing his best. The hound seems perplexed as to how its kill is moving, but the eidolon keeps it sufficiently occupied for Solis to get Gunderson’s mortal remains away and place them in the care of Callimachi as he makes for the safety of the factory.

The third day of the trial passes in a blur. Callimachi has to step up as the lead junior justice defender in the absence of Horace. He is rough-mannered in his attempt at oratory, but what he presents does much of the work. The heap of evidence from the chemical factory not only shows the Beast was never at Karb Isle, but puts the testimony of previous days into question, such as the mongrel man suit with wounds matching those as described as being inflicted by the Beast by a blood caiman. Grine hollowly confirms much of it, assenting to every charge laid at his and Vorkstag’s feet. Without his master, the dark creeper seems to have lost any spark of life. By the end of the proceedings, the gallery is in an uproar at the effrontery of this motley assortment of wanderers in disproving the incontrovertible guilt of the Beast.

The triumvirate of judges elect to recess for the day to consider the torrent of new evidence before them. The next morning, the courtroom is packed with more onlookers than seems possible. The judges are brief. Given the evidence presented by the defense, it’s clear everyone involved has been saved from a tremendous miscarriage of justice. Even as the crowd rages, the Beast is released from custody and escorted from the courthouse.[2]

At the edge of the city, where the Dimplemire Swamp begins, the Beast turns and acknowledges his defenders for the first time: “Father… doesn’t much like visitors… but… come… visit. Soon. Soon, come see me at… Schloss… Caromarc.”

“Did we — ? Did it — ? Did we just get snookered by a golem?”
— Alexandros Callimachi

Callimachi is rather non-plussed that the Beast has chosen now to start forming complete sentences. Everyone else is somewhat choked up at the flesh golem wades into the reeds, rapidly disappearing from sight completely.

The rest of the day passes in a blur. The investigators meet Judge Daramid at home, where she transfers the payment for the rendering of their services in ferreting out the truth about the Beast’s guilt. While there, they cross paths with a human who’s very interested i the final disposition of Grine, currently in the custory the Lepidstadt city guard. The three who’ve dealt most recently with Grine try to disabuse the stranger of this notion, but he is unflagging in his resolve to attempt to save Grine’s soul, as he’ll surely be executed for his crimes. He introduces himself as Auberon Crane, a traveler from Absalom who came to observe the trial of the Beast. Shaking hands in greeting, everyone notices the day lily tattooed on his palm.

Leaving Daramid’s home together, the four see an angry-seeming crowd hustles by, being not at all subtle about its intention of following the Beast to Schloss Caromarc to ambush it en route.[3] This doesn’t sit at well with the people who just watched some die in the creature’s defense and Auberon’s not too down with mob justice in general. Additionally, Count Caromarc sounds like an interesting customer, what with crafting flesh golems and other servants, living atop a cascading waterfall and being one of the few nobles in Ustalav to abdicate his title in the face of the democratization of the northwestern counties.

The group splits up to take care of some shopping, now that they’re flush with cash. Crane visits Grine in his cell. The dark creeper is reluctant to forsake his faith in Norgorber, no matter how grim a picture of the afterlife Crane paints for him. Grine seems mildly thoughtful as Crane departs, at least.

Reconvening after scouring the market and shops of cunning artificers, purses are lighter and backpacks heavier. Callimachi’s step is noticeably lighter thanks to the rustic haversack he sports. Thus provisioned, the four strike out on the road to Schloss Caromarc. Kreitov leads the way, taking the most common route of a road that skirts the Dimplemire Swamp. Unlike the Beast, the adventurers can’t slog their way across the bottom of the swamp without breathing.

It’s a two day journey, even by horse. Early morning finds Callimachi and Crane competing in their dawn-time devotions. Stripped to his breech clout, Crane shows off a great deal more flower tattoos, including the sunflower, beloved of Sarenrae.

Midday finds the travelers entering a rocky gorge. They hear the thundering cataracts long before they come into sight. And what they spy is even more staggering: an enormous manse leaning out over the waterfall, thousands of gallons of water cascading over the precipice to the river below. Jutting out from the waterfall, there’s a tower with rather interesting stained glass windows and another, taller spire reaching up from a rocky crag in the midst of the torrent.

Before them, however, is a stout gatehouse, blocking the only means of access to the manor proper. It’s closed up tight with no sign of occupation, save the pair of troll hounds guarding the front gate. Count Caromarc’s reputed to have a number of curious creatures in his employ. All the same, weapons are readied as Crane and Callimachi approach. The troll hounds catch their scent, beginning to howl. As the two approach closer, they rush forward. One hound knocks Callimachi completely off his feet while Auberon tussles with the second.

Then the trolls appear on the gatehouse parapets. They hurl boulders down, as trolls are wont to do, while goblins caper around their feet. Once the troll hounds are dealt with, the travelers briefly toy with advancing toward the gate. An even bigger troll clambers up on the gatehouse roof. It begins the laborious process of cocking and loading what might be a siege-grade ballista. The huge troll is completely unfazed by the spiritual weapon Alexandros casts before it; the cut it leaves closes almost immediately. Once Gea confirms the gate is soundly barred, everyone assents to Kreitov’s increasingly impassioned suggestion they fall back to consider their options.

Under cover of the rocky landscape, the group concocts a plan. First, Kreitov and Callimachi scour the countryside for comestibles and fuel. Andris comes back with a brace of coneys; Callimachi finds some swamp plants suitable for binding into torches and something that will double as smokesticks. Further, Andris reports running across the tracks of the Beast. It seems he trudged out of the swamp, watched Schloss Caromarc from cover long enough for his enormous feet to settle rather deeply into the group, then turned around and went right back into the swamp with no indication of where it went from there.

Over a quick meal, options are discussed. With the trail of the Beast gone cold, there is still the pressing issue of Count Caromarc. He and his household may besieged, imprisoned or otherwise imperiled by whatever force to which these trolls belong. So a plan of attack is devised. They also have time to reflect on the oddity of multiple trolls working together. Trolls are typically solitary creatures, from what the group mind knows about their habits. What could bring them together to do something as orderly as guard a gatehouse?

Once night falls, Solis renders everyone invisible. Using the rope of climbing as a guide, they move as one across the open expanse to the gatehouse, scale the side with the rope, then descending to the first level to scout out and deal with any threats. To that extent, the plan works perfectly.

Reaching the gatehouse parapet, Andris finds a lone goblin passing the night by throwing small rocks at larger rocks. He cursorily slits the creature’s throat — becoming visible in the act — which leads to an extended exchange about the morality of killing the enslaved of evil creatures between the rough hunter and Crane while the rest of the party dangles from the rope below. Once everyone has ascended, they take stock from the new vantage point.

On the far side of the gatehouse, leading to the bridge and the manse beyond, there’s at least one troll guarding it — from approaches from the manse? In the distance, they glimpse what can only be another flesh golem hound at the doors of the manor house. Gea slithers down below to scope out the interior of the gatehouse. It’s a regular den of trolls, with goblins cowering in corners.

With the duration of the invisibility spell ticking down for everyone but Andris, who must be feeling rather exposed at this point, the next step is clearly using the element of surprise to catch the trolls off their guard. Solis proposes lobbing a thunderstone into the center of the ground floor. The trolls will run upstairs to check. While they’re hampered by the narrow turns of the spiral staircases, the adventurers can spring upon them unseen to get the drop. Auberon points out the importance of keeping the slaves alive so they might be saved, which may or may not sink in with everyone else at the moment.

[1] With Sir Horace gone to his great reward, Dan seized the opportunity to bring a new character into the story, who will join the action shortly.

[2] Which will never be renamed the Horace Gunderson Memorial Palace of Justice, much to Dan’s regret.

[3] Because apparently we are still not done with this damn module. I was really hoping we would move on from the trevails of this beleaguered flesh golem lacking in personality.

[4] Which led to the tidbit that tattoos on the palm require regular touch-up work, according to Toby. The cells there wear away pretty rapidly in the course of daily life.

[Carrion Crown] A Hero Falls!

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter were in a bit of a crooked pickle, as the rustic Ustalavian adage puts it.

Sir Horace and Solis have Vorkstag cornered on the balcony overlooking the chemical factory floor, with Callimachi covering the dark stalker from below. Andris and Gea guard the ground floor door from Grine attempting flight into the walled yard — although with Grine’s spider climb-fueled nimbleness, the odds of stopping the dark creeper from going wherever he likes seem frustratingly slim. Andris can’t wait, however, and leaps down, providing Grine with an opportunity to slash from the shadows.

A combined volley drives Vorkstag off the balcony, landing hard on the jury-rigged plank catwalk between chemical vats. Callimachi presses the advantage, another bolt driving Vorkstag back again. The stalker bursts into phosphoric flame as he plummets, singing Lightwarden and leaving only smoking garments to crumple in a heap on the flagstones.

Recalling Solis’ warning they need at least one of this horrors alive, Kreitov begins to pull his punches with Grine and gets a bicep full of poison-laced hatchet for his trouble. The Ustalavian hunter takes hit after hit from the creeper as his allies race to assist. Callimachi pivots to rain down bolts from a distance as Horace races to the melee. The flat of Gunderson’s blade knocks Grine out for the count. Callimachi and Kreitov truss the little troll, wary he may play possum to lodge another poisoned blade somewhere inopportune.

After patting Grine down, Horace heaves him over one shoulder, eliciting a liquid gurgle. Alarmed, Callimachi checks Grine to find he’s drowning in his own blood from the inside. Iomedae’s faithful can’t do much, but the eidolon Gea knows her way around humanoids as well and stabilizes Grine before he expires by drowning.[1] Investigation of Vorkstag’s stinking remains turns up a handful of curious black tubes, a number of which Grine carried as well.

While Andris keeps an eye on the prisoner, the other three adventurers check out the rest of the factory. Vorkstag’s chambers teem with books and bell jars of anatomical specimens, including the head and shoulders of someone who clearly has relatives in Morast. Ever conscious of the threat of the Lopper, Horace checks the closet. It holds an anonymous cabinet, which Solis notices has a faint aura of necromantic energies radiating from a small point within. Then the Taldane and the elf notice the faint “plip! plip! plip!” as something dark and sticky runs down the side of the cabinet.

Within, lined up as neatly as a row of fine suits, are nearly a score of skins, treated by some horrific alchemical process. Among the victims, they find what can only be Dr. Vilt, an old friend of the Lightwarden family, which sends Solis into a dead faint.[2] Further, there is the skin of an eight foot tall mongrel man, displaying the same wounds described by the Morast villagers as inflicted on their assailant by the blood caiman. Tucked away in a drawer is a syringe holding a curious silvery gray mercuric liquid. Next to that is a ledger of customers, items and costs. This one not only names more influential people in the city, including Dr. Brada of Karb Isle and one Aron Vrood, previously linked to the cabal of the Whispering Way, but it definitively ties to the vivisectionist trade to Vorkstag and Grine. Plus the handwriting matches that of the ledger found in the chamber off the city sewers.

Revisiting Grine’s chamber with a less rushed eye reveals a strongbox beneath his bed. Gunderson attempts to disable the mechanism he finds, getting a faceful of poison gas for his trouble. A nearby bell jar full of acid holds a golden key, which a handy length of wire procures. The strongbox, opened by the golden key, hid what must have been Grine’s nest egg: a purse of cloudy diamonds.

“Gunderson, did you kill something? I heard a thump.”
— Alexandros Callimachi

Pressing up the tower ladder proves problematic. The snapdragon homunculi lay in wait. It’s almost farcical the way their bites put victims to sleep, only to pop awake again, as when, say, Callimachi falls down the ladder shaft to wake on hitting the floor, or Sir Horace moves in to press his attack. Gea puts an end to the matter, biting one in half and smashing the other with her tail. The homunculi sorted, the tower room yields up a few choice objets d’art, including a painting that Horace slices from its frame to roll up for easy transport and an enormous scrimshaw work made from a mammoth tusk, which Solis recognizes as a magical scroll of sorts, holding spells of bull’s strength, ice storm and phantom steed.

Opening the trap door to the next level of the tower triggers a sonic trap, leaving everyone clinging to the ladder as they recover their wits. At the top of the tower is a belfry covered in homunculi droppings because of course there’s a third of the nuisances up here. Gunderson falls asleep immediately, Gea goes to bite the thing in two and Callimachi, tired of playing exterminator, climbs back into the tower. Once Gunderson and Gea put an end to it, they descend as well.

The door to the courtyard of the compound beckons. Beyond the door, they can hear the clinking of a disconcertingly hefty chain. Everyone readies weapons while Callimachi blesses them all. The yard is empty at first glance. That clinking chain runs from the ramshackle kennel off around the corner, out of sight. Andris charges forward and around. A second later, the blade of his sword veritably clangs off something heavy and metallic. As the others race to catch up, they find Kreitov locked in combat with a horrendous amalgamation of rotting dog parts. Yes, it’s a canine flesh golem. Everyone’s stomach turns in revulsion and pity for the abused animal(s).

But pity does nothing to ablate the hound’s ferocious bite. First it savages Kreitov, then turns to Sir Horace as he weaves through the conflict to reach the other side of the flesh golem, ripping out a massive chunk of flesh as he passes. The benighted hound lunges again at the Taldane noble, burying its jaws deep in his neck. A fleeting expression of shock barely registers on Gunderson’s face as he crumples to the ground beneath the hound’s bulk, never to move again.

There’s no time for mourning as the hound snaps its rancid jaws, looking for fresh meat. Solis shouts for everyone to fall back before turning invisible and hastening away. Gea remains engaged with the golem, allowing Andris to break away. Callimachi launches a few token bolts as he retreats, but they do nothing against the adamantine-like hide of the monstrosity.

The body of their fallen comrade twitches, then begins to drag along the ground in some cruel parody of Horace joining the retreat. It is, of course, the unseen Solis doing his best. The hound seems perplexed as to how its kill is moving, but the eidolon keeps it sufficiently occupied for Solis to get Gunderson’s mortal remains away and place them in the care of Callimachi as he makes for the safety of the factory.

“Maybe I could lure it into a vat of acid.”
— distraught, Andris has a terrible idea

Feeling every blow as he feeds his companion vital life force to keep the hound at bay, Solis briefly peeks inside the ground floor of the storage building. The three sleeping mongrel men convince the elf not to press any further. He rejoins his compatriots in the factory. Bearing the body of their comrade and the evidence for which he died, they make their way back through the depths of the factory. They keep up a running conversation of what to do next throughout.

Solis wants to take Horace’s body directly to the temple of Desna. Ensuring they cast gentle repose sooner rather than later will be an advantage to bringing him back, depending on any instructions he left and their collective ability to afford such services. On arrival, Lightwarden practically throws himself in the arms of a surprised Aurosan, seeking a balm for the ache in his soul.[3] Among his belongings, the Desnan acolytes find Sir Horace’s will,[4] dating to before his arrival in Ravengro, stipulating the disposal of various heriditary belongings, including Corvelle, the Gunderson family blade. There are, however, no instructions in the will with regard to raising or otherwise restoring the Taldane to life.[5]

Kreitov and Callimachi peel off on their own, heading straight for Judge Daramid’s home. They burst in, not bothering with the bell pull or any other niceties, to find her in dressing gown and slippers, with a cup of coffee. The breakfast table overflows with evidence: the ledgers, the mongrel man suit, the syringe, even the bound form of Grine himself, everything accumulated in the course of tracing the many depredations back to the dark stalker and its servile creeper. The barrage of evidence goads Daramid to action. Not only will she endorse the investigators’ actions, but call for an immediate investigation of the chemical works. Given the presence of the flesh golem in the yard, this could take some time, so the start of the trial will delay for at least a few hours.

The early morning noises of the city filter through the air, everyone slumps a little. The future looks much brighter for the Beast, but it was hard won at a cost no one was prepared to pay. The life of an adventurer is fraught with peril from the first step outside their door, but knowing that never prepares one for the shock of loss and the pain that carries on afterward.

[0] A quasi-hero? An opportunist? Some might quibble, but it’s not kind to speak ill of the dead, particularly in the former realm of the Whispering Tyrant.

[1] Hunter kept the combat time going throughout this development, so clearly something was up. Apparently putting someone down with nonlethal damage leaves them open to death from bleeding out anyway.

[2] Indeed, Toby found the whole grisly revelation exceptionally squicky, so kudos for channeling it into Solis.

[3] Ever the opportunist, that elf. Horace would be proud.

[4] Of course he left a will. This is Dan’s character. Remember the last will and testament of Lothar von Fasselstein?

[5] “What would Horace want?” was asked a few times — also “Did he leave ‘do not resurrect’ instructions?” — but it ultimately came down to Dan’s decision. The party certainly had the resources to swing a raise dead and restoration of the negative levels — especially if they leveraged rendering golem disposal services for the city against the cost of the raising. In the end, some time after the game broke up for the night, it was determined Horace preferred his afterlife, probably through use of the brass planchette or speak with dead.

[Carrion Crown] The Acid Factory

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter picked up right where they left off. The pickle farmers of Lepidstadt put to rest and with the support of Judge Daramid given on the down-low, it was time to unravel the final loose thread: the connection of the chemists Vorkstag and Grine to the body-snatching in Morstag and the Karb Isle sanctuary.

While Solis replenishes his mystical reserves, the others catch whatever fitful rest they can in the dark hours before dawn. The sky is only beginning to lighten as they descend into the sewers under Anatomist’s Alley. The journey underground is swift yet pungent. About where their collective sense of direction reckons the Vorkstag & Grine compound resides overhead, they find an attached chamber not part of the sewers themselves. The room appears to be a distribution center for most grisly wares. It teems with glass jars holding preserved body parts. Dull eyes stare blankly from the head of a drow. The skeletons of owl bears are heaped in the corner. A coffin still holds its occupant, seemingly the beneficiary of a nearby wand of gentle repose. There’s even a ledger detailing buyers and sellers of vivisected body parts, but nothing indicating who’s doing all the brokering or lays claim to this distribution center.

Sharp-eyed Gea detects a secret door leading on from this antechamber. It’s a storeroom of coffins and vials of various substances: bloodblocker, weapon blanches of cold iron and adamantine and blade guard. From there, the group has two options. Through one door they can hear gurgling pipes, machinery and shuffling footsteps. Through the other door, they hear nothing. Beyond the quiet door, they find steps leading down to a heavily secured iron door, beyond which water sloshes. Inside, they find a chamber of icy water, filled with corpses. Disturbing the surface causes the bodies to bob in the water, bumping against each other and the walls. It’s a gruesome sight, even as they are semi-preserved in the cold. The adventurers beat a hasty retreat to try the second door.

Once Sir Horace finesses the lock of the second door, Andris peeks in. Everyone but Gea is too preoccupied with the room beyond to hear footfalls ascending the stairs behind them. A pair of shambling forms, identified by Callimachi as juju zombies, lurch into melee. The alchemical zombies are swiftly put down by Andris and Gea, though not before one hits Solis so hard, he’s shaken into immobility for a moment.

Beyond the second door is a wide, tall cavern of a room, presumably the factory floor as it is filled with seven tall vats, heated from below by gas jets. Planks run overhead from vat to vat in a makeshift catwalk system. Snooping around the floor stealthily, Horace leads the way. He sights hideous mongrel men going about the business of the factory. Sneaking up on one, he fails to hit, but Gea and Callimachi follow up. Once Horace guts the first mongrel man, the other two take notice and combat is engaged. Andris easily slips among the vats, popping around corners to snipe at the remaining mongrel men from a distance. Even Solis gets a shot in before all three mongrels are put down.

A ladder on the wall leads up to a balcony two stories above the factory floor. Immediately off it, they find a storeroom with a cargo door and crane giving access to the compound’s courtyard. Solis notices a ramshackle kennel in one corner of the yard. What sort of hound dwells there? The storeroom also offers up vials of acid and nushadir, tanglefoot bags and thunderstones. As Gunderson, Callimachi and Lightwarden sift through the storeroom, Andris keeps watch outside. This sets him up nicely to take a hatchet in the back from the creeping little gnome swathed in layers of rags and an oversized cloak that can only be good old Grine. As the hatchet lands home, Grine shouts for assistance. Up close, Andris recognizes this is no gnome at all, but a dark creeper. The rancid little creature leaps off the balcony to land on the plank scaffolding and bound away. Gea follows by slithering down onto the planks while Andris heads for the ladder to reach the factory floor. The creeper continues hurling hatchets, which turn out to be poisoned. The eidolon is wracked by debilitating waves of pain that seemingly won’t end long after Grine stops landing hatchets.

Overhearing the commotion, Gunderson and Callimachi rush out to join the fray. Andris finds Grine clinging to the side of a vat, presumably thanks to spider climb. The dark creeper shows off its talents by moving almost faster than the adventurers can track it — until Alexandros pegs him with one of the tanglefoot bags, slowing him long enough for Gea to move in. Solis takes advantage of the ruckus to check another door on the balcony, finding what may be Grine’s personal chambers. As he does so, the third door opens and a figure leaps forth, bashing the unwary elf with a mace. Surely this is Vorkstag himself? Horace charges the newcomer, his gaze arrested by its inhuman eyes peering from behind layers of bandages. From the floor, Callimachi makes out Vorkstag well enough to identify him as a dark stalker and thus bring Iomedae’s bane[1] down on him and his diminutive counterpart.

Solis breaks away to penetrate deeper into the compound. Grine’s bedroom is a combination alchemy lab and abbatoir. In the corner, a ladder beckons upward, an invitation which Solis accepts.

Andris rises to Grine’s level, climbing up on the plank scaffolding. As they haltingly close to melee — Grine keeps hanging back, clearly waiting for the foolish human to rush in — Andris realizes he left his huge honking sword down on the factory floor when he switched to his bow. This is a bit of a tactical error, but it doesn’t stop Kreitov from pushing onward. The dark creeper proves surprisingly strong, as he knocks Andris into the vat of acid over which they tangle.[2] The hunter’s heavy armor drags him straight to the bottom of the ten foot vat.

Elsewhere, Solis continues his exploration. The ladder leads up into the tower looming over the factory courtyard. On the second level, a pair of winged red beasts beset Lightwarden. They wheel overhead and snap with a surprisingly nasty bite. Heavy injury plus the discovery that these snapjaw homunculi’s bite can put him to sleep motivate the elf to flee back downstairs, slamming the trap door shut behind him.

On the factory floor, Callimachi searches for a drainage mechanism on the vat in which Kreitov enjoys his full body exfoliation. Given the options of a level, a wheel and another mechanism, Callimachi opts for the wheel. Turns out this turns up the flame jet beneath the tank, which is probably not to Kreitov’s advantage. Fortunately, the hunter recovers his wits well enough to swim up out of the acid even as his flesh falls away.

Vorkstag attempts to escape the tender ministrations of Gunderson’s sword by quaffing a potion of invisibility. The Taldane noble is undeterred and keeps the dark stalker pinned in the corner of the balcony. Once the stalker reappears, Gunderson blinds him with one of the weapon blanches found in the sewer access.[3] From the floor, Callimachi wheels to begin planting bolt after bolt in Vorkstag.

As Grine disappears again around the rim of a vat, Andris and Gea team up to block his escape. They make their way to the ground level exit, where they keep watch for the dark creeper. If the little beast tries to make a break for it, they’ll spot him. Gea enjoys the breather as an opportunity for the poison that’s been debilitating her to finally stop making things worse.

Battered and disoriented, Solis lurches forth from Grine’s chamber to survey the chaos below. The group is scattered, in various states of gross disfigurement and hard-pressed to keep a lid on the scampering, jumping, tumbling Grine. Spirits are low and flagging.[4] Can they prevail against these two dark folk? Is anyone going to realize it would be very helpful to bring in at least one of them alive?

Find out next time!

[1] +2d6 damage is frigging awesome.

[2] This is another one of the moments where everybody at the table freezes and cringes to hear what’s happened.

[3] This was Horace’s first dirty trick of the game. It’s a neat set of abilities that the GM decided are ineffective against the myriad of undead we’ve fought up to this point.

[4] This battle took much of the night. Even with the battlemat, translating the book’s depiction of the multiple levels of the factory from the mat and Hunter’s descriptions into everyone’s minds was a trial. It was tactically interesting and in retrospect we had one or two resources that could have helped keep up with the dark folk, like our own potion of spider climb, but at the time it was frustrating and a source of contention as conceptions of the space clashed and affected choices in a negative fashion.

[Carrion Crown] Interlude with the Judge

Trial of the Beast coverOr: Heroically Covering One’s Ass

Still soiled slightly[1] from their undignified tussle with a surly mob of drunken pickle farmers, Sir Horace Gunderson and Alexandros Callimachi slip off into the darkened streets of Lepidstadt while Andris and Solis retire to the Lightwarden estate — the latter badly in need of rest and mental recuperation to bring himself back to spellcasting trim in time for the early morning burglary of Vorkstag & Grine chemical works.

Even in the pitch dark, Lepidstadt never truly sleeps. Dogs bark, beggars grumble,[2] lovers . . . love. The two adventurers move silently, however. Sneaking would attract attention from those with the wits to notice, so they move directly and with purpose, but silently.

At length, they arrive at one of the finer homes in the city. Ringing the bell summons a figure to the door, words are exchanged. They wait, eventually they are admitted into the chambers of Embreth Daramid, the judge who discreetly hired the group’s services in the first place. Gunderson goes over the items pointing to the involvement of Vorkstag or Grine in at least two of the crimes attributed to the Beast. Unfortunately, it’s all too circumstantial to serve as grounds for issuing a search warrant or writ or cocktail napkin of poking around or whatever it is the laissez faire legal code of Lepidstadt calls for.

However, Daramid does offer this alternative: a pseudo search warrant she keeps in her possession, one that shows she signed off on the adventurers searching the chemical works. This is, somewhat surprisingly for the frontier justice of urban Ustalav, considered illegal. If the investigation of the chemical works reveals something substantive, Daramid will reveal the warrant to her fellow justices to keep the investigators[3] and any evidence they uncover in the clear and admissible in court.

The judge goes so far as to throw them some further bones in the form of a tip to check out sewer access to the factory through Surgeon’s Flats or Anatomist’s Alley, plus a sampler pack of potions, including invisibility and spider climb. Thus armed with knowledge and goodies, Gunderson and Callimachi depart into the night. They can grab an hour or two of shuteye themselves before rousing the others to descend into Lepidstadt’s aromatic labyrinth of waste.

[1] Well, not so much Callimachi. He stayed above the rabble wielding a disappointing wand of hold person. I wonder how Iomedae feels about that.

[2] “Millennium hand and shrimp.”

[3] “‘Junior Force Four’ (or whatever the fuck you call yourselves),” as Hunter phrased it.

[Carrion Crown] Drunken Pickle Farmers

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter faced the unenviable situation of a courtroom full of angry Ustalavian citizens. The junior volunteer defense squadron having poked still more holes in the prosecution’s case — and with the indecency of calling up the ghosts of children to do so — those looking forward to the roasting of the Beast in the fiery punishing man could perhaps be expected to react poorly to the subversion of their expectations.[1]

Instead, after a few bits of thrown trash, the gallery viewers all filter out into the plaza. Andris, having been observing covertly from the gallery, notices one knot of citizens who seem especially disgruntled by the day’s turn of events. The tracker follows at a distance, after giving his fellow junior justice defenders the high sign from the gallery. Callimachi catches the signal and leads the way from the courtroom itself.

As Andris leads the quartet through the streets of Lepidstadt, Horace airs his concern about burning daylight on drunken Ustalavian pickle farmers when there is still the sanctuary on Karb Isle to investigate. Karl warned them of ghouls and ghasts infesting the island since its abandonment. Confronting those monsters in the dark holds little attraction for anyone. However, given the simmering rage in the courtroom gallery, Callimachi argues it can’t hurt to spend a little time observing them. Finally, the ruffians pick a seedy tavern to drink and sulk.

The nominal defense team of Gunderson and Callimachi decide to wait outside. They were at the front of the courtroom all day. These toughs stared daggers at them long enough to surely remember their faces. Andris and Solis enter the tavern separately.[2] Inside, the alpha of the pack of clods is loud and unsubtle about his dissatisfaction with the prospect of the Beast being acquitted. With little hope of the city guard arriving in time to quell any outbursts, Andris takes matters into his own hands.

Kicking over a table with a resounding crash catches the attention of everyone in the tavern. Kreitov excoriates the gang of toughs for presuming to subvert the course of justice. The truth will out, which is the correct course of action. Mob justice is no justice at all. This sounds great, but then the leader of the ruffians recognizes Andris as a witness for the defense. He leaps up and charges Kreitov. The hunter doesn’t even blink, punching him straight in the nose, sending the goon spinning into the crowd. With their leader so easily taken down a peg, everyone else shuffles their feet and studiously avoids eye contact with anyone else.

Meanwhile, Solis observes all this from his position by the bar. As the confrontation builds, he presses the bartender about a back exit to the place. Once Andris has made his show of force, the elf and he both hustle through the kitchen, meeting Horace and Alexandros in the alley beside the tavern.

Having gone above and beyond their civic duty in maintaining the peace of a city surprisingly short on law enforcement officials, considering its size, the adventurers take advantage of the remaining daylight to visit Karb Isle. Given the warnings of Karl, they enlist the assistance of Aurosan, priest of Desna and rather handier against the undead than, say, an inquisitor of Iomedae. Callimachi points out that as a respected member of the Lepidstadt clerical community, Aurosan’s testimony will lend weight to whatever they find in the remains of the sanctuary.

In fact, little remains at all of the sanctuary. Just as Karl told them, the entire place burned that night. There’s little left on Karb Isle to search. The most recent traces of activity are the graves of the patients and Dr. Brada — and those are merely memorials, the bodies themselves never having been found. Slithering through the rubble, Gea finds a hatch opening into a shaft heading down into the earth. An atrocious stench wafts up from the hole, worse than anything mold or slime could produce.

Callimachi tosses some light-enchanted pebbles down the shaft. Surprised hissing and scrabbling over stone betrays the presence ofsomething down there. Alexandros informs everyone that ghouls are diseased and to watch out for physical contact, as they might contract ghoul fever. And ghasts are even worse.

“They’re about to be killed by a Gunderson, the finest honor a monster can receive.”
— Sir Horace

The prospects below the adventurers are grim. Sir Horace and Andris go first, of course. At the bottom of the shaft, they find themselves encircled by ghouls and ghasts — and which is which, no one can tell in the gloom. Landing on the balls of his feet, Kreitov neatly cleaves a ghoul in twain. Together, Kreitov and Gunderson carve a swathe through the undead beasts as the other descend the shaft, assisted by one of Solis’ summoned dire rats. All things considered, the battle is a bit of an anti-climax. No one thinks they may have contracted ghoul fever — though it’s slow-acting, so that could yet take someone by surprise.

Inspection reveals the ghouls’ chamber is by itself. There are no obvious passages or other means of egress aside from the shaft. The spartan chamber is decorated by a sort of chandelier of decapitated heads, hanging over the remains of their bodies. One of the heads looks to be that of Dr. Brada, going by descriptions of the man. In addition to personal effects among the bodies, they find a strongbox, inside of which are charred papers bearing the Vorkstag & Grine letterhead at the top, as well as a vial bearing the firm’s mark. Any more information the papers might have offered is since lost to the flame. The few traces of writing still visible in the ash and char suggests these were more than simple invoices. And what would a sanctuary for the deformed have been doing with the chemicals manufactured by Vorkstag & Grine?

Brada’s head is wrapped up to be brought back to the city. During the journey back, the debate centers over what to do with the head. Aurosan can arrange for a priest of Desna to cast speak with dead on Brada, but they’ll only get a handful of questions before the spell terminates. Additionally, that will preclude the spell from being used on Brada’s head again for the following week, too late to do any good in tomorrow’s court proceedings. And as prosecutor Otto Heiger was quick to point out, testimony from the dead is only admissible when presented in front of the open courtroom by a certified cleric. So they can know what Brada may say in the privacy of Desna’s temple, or they can take their chances and find out along with everyone else tomorrow in the courtroom.

As they pass through the city gates, the conversation becomes more hushed as the topic turns to burgling the Vorkstag & Grine factory. They are now linked to two of the Beast’s alleged crimes, as surgical instruments sold to Grine were found in the Morstadt boneyard. But is that enough to warrant breaking into the factory? Callimachi is resistant, wanting to run down all possible legal avenues of investigation before resorting to climbing over the wall.

The knots of people slowly growing and wending their way through the streets of the city put the question of Vorkstag & Grine to the side. People trickle out of alleys and homes carrying torches, pitchforks and other implements of mob justice. And they all head in the direction of the Lepidstadt courthouse. The wave of vigilantism the adventurers glimpsed gaining speed this afternoon seems to be coming to a head. Bidding Aurosan well and ensuring he’ll be in court tomorrow, the adventurers race ahead to the courthouse.

The rent-a-guards at the courthouse are singularly unimpressed by the news of a mob convening on their post. In face, they seem rather serene about the notion of quietly stepping out the back door and letting the mob get on with its business in peace. Sir Horace practically twists the arm of the lead guard to lead him out on the portico as the first line of defense with Solis and Gea. Callimachi and Kreitov take the high ground of the second floor balcony over the portico.

The night is still and quiet. But only for a moment longer. A mob seventy people strong surges into the square. In addition to torches and pitchforks, there are cudgels and crossbows. Toward the rear, one can spot ladders bobbing above the crowd, their price tags flapping in the breeze. Horace addresses the mob, calling on them to let justice be served properly. This grand experiment of a palatinate ruled by its citizens must not be marred by the consequences of short tempers and heavy hands. His words sway some and they melt back through the crowd to go home. But far more of the mob stays than departs. Then the leader steps up, shouts a bit and the crowd surges forward.

As self-respecting adventurers of a reasonable level of skill and might, the following is kind of embarrassing. While the mob has no qualms about using deadly force, the junior volunteer defense squadron restricts themselves to the flats of their blades and non-injuring spells. Callimachi is more than a little frustrated by the seemingly paltry dweomer of his hold person wand, though it does keep one crossbowman out of the fight for a while. Gea and Horace merrily wade into the fray and have at whomever happens to be at hand. Solis summons fire bug after fire bug[3] to slow the mob down.

“Get in here!”
“Why? We’re winning!”
“Nothing I do makes you happy.”
— Andris and Horace

The lead guard decides his skin would be better served on the far side of the courthouse’s thick portal, which he bars behind him. Fortunately, Andris comes vaulting down the stairs seconds later. He angrily shoves the guard up against the wall before unbolting the door and calling to the others to fall back. However, too many interesting things are happening on the portico. There, the ladder-bearers approach the building. As ladders are planted in the ground, Horace cuts through their bearers. The one ladder whose holder isn’t cut down finds hot cinders raining from above as Callimachi smashes a flask of alchemist’s fire on its upper rungs.

After more mop-up in that manner, the remainder of the mob realizes they’ve all left the kettle on, which is a tremendous fire hazard and really the number one cause of fire in Lepidstadt. They disperse immediately. Horace rounds on the lead guard, but rather than bitch him out for cowardice, demands to know if he recognized the ringleader. The guard’s uselessness continues uninterrupted. Something about the mob seems premeditated. There were crossbowmen in the crowd, not just the usual rock-throwers. But they’ve gone now and there’s nothing more to be done.

As everyone cools off, the burglng of Vorkstag & Grine comes up again. If they’re to cast any doubt on the Beast’s supposed atrocities at Karb Isle, the evidence will have to come from that chemical factory, which was somehow linked to Dr. Brada and the sanctuary, given the vial and burnt papers found earlier in the evening. The party is exhausted, however. Solis’ complement of spells is completely spent. And Callimachi is still unconvinced it’s acceptable for them to take on the role of vigilantes so lightly, especially when they just beat back a whole mob of vigilantes.

It’s decided there is just enough time for an early morning attempt on the Vorkstag & Grine compound. If Solis gets his much-needed rest starting right then, he’ll be ready to go shortly after dawn. Meanwhile, Gunderson and Callimachi plan to make one last attempt at doing this on the up and up. Vorkstag and Grine seem to have most of Lepidstadt’s high society and law enforcement communities on their side, or at least afraid to oppose them directly. There is, however, Judge Daramid, the one who secretly commissioned them to investigate the Beast’s case more closely in the first place. If she’s impartial enough to recognize when a golem gets the bum’s rush, perhaps she may be able to grease a few wheels in getting the city guard on their side, or maybe some kind of writ of inspection.[4]

[1] I assumed the yokels would launch into a riot right then and there. Before we got the game going that evening, Hunter drew out the courthouse on a battle mat, which was a total first in this campaign. But no, it didn’t quite go as I expected.

[2] Once Solis found a hat of sufficient brim area to hide his ears.

[3] We joked it was the same fire bug summoned over and over. “Oh, goddammit, not this elf again!”

[4] And with the close of the session, we dinged fifth level!

[Carrion Crown] Adventurer’s Holiday 2: Weekend at Vorkstag and Grine’s

Trial of the Beast coverDue to the demands of real life on a couple players, myself included, we weren’t able to meet this week to continue playing Carrion Crown.

I’m on the edge of my seat, personally. When we paused last time, the unruly spectators in the courtroom seemed on the verge of moving from “unruly” to “rioting” as the junior volunteer legal defense squadron punched hole after hole in the prosecution’s circumstantial case against the Beast. The likelihood of making it to the third day of the trial looks mighty slim, unless Lepidstadt has some truly exceptional crowd control measures — mass hold person, maybe?

Also, someone came to Held Action on Monday with the search query “beast of lepidstadt as a follower.” Is that not the best idea you’ve ever heard?

[Carrion Crown] The Seven Victims of Brother Swarm

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter picked up the action in the twilight of the swampy village of Hergstag.

Where there’s one wraithspawn, there’s likely to be more. The adventurers unanimously elect to fall back to the village. It’s too dark for running around in the swamp, courting the tetanus-laden embrace of further bear traps. Once in the boundaries of Hergstag, the chapel calls for attention. The small, white structure stands in the middle of the settlement. And the three sisters alleged one of the ghostly children was prone to hanging around the chapel grounds. Approaching the house of Desna, Solis discerns some sort of magical aura within. It’s bright and golden and of a variety unknown to the mage.

Meanwhile, Andris splits away from the main group to take a circuit of the chapel. Stalking through the headstones of the churchyard, he finds those of the murdered children. Only Elise and Karin’s show signs of interment. The other four stand as memorials to the lost. The broken strains of childish singing drift through the night air to Andris’ ear. He can’t place the language, but the tune itself is rather like a hymn.

“Mom wouldn’t allow it to be spoken in the house.”
— Andris never learned Varisian

The singing catches everyone else’s attention as well. They catch up with Andris to proceed together toward the source. In the cornfield beyond the graveyard, glimpses of a pale figure can be caught between derelict cornstalks. She idly sings a hymn to Desna as she runs, though her voice never wavers with the exertion. Solis casts light on Gea’s head and send her into the field to clear the way. As Gea approaches, the girl casts a glance in their direction. The empty black pits of her eyes betray nothing in the magical light.

Drifting through the cornstalks, the wraithspawn reaches out for Gea. Its dolorous touch misses the eidolon by mere inches as Gea happen to twitch just the right way. Perhaps the error throws the shade off-balance, as she flees into the depths of the cornfield — or, everyone silently considers, this is another baiting maneuver, like what caught poor Kreitov by surprise.

The sensible frame of mind taken earlier holds firm. The investigators fall back to the chapel. Trudging through the open grass, they can see the white streak of the wraithspawn cut ahead of them, angling to reach the chapel first. The casting of the timely gained haste by Solis puts them right on the spectral heels of the former little girl.[1]

Smashing down the front door, they burst into the chapel to find the sanctuary overgrown with plantlife. The overhead beams and pews sag from decay and humidity. Two figures dominate the scene. In mid-air hangs the wraith child, writhing and silently screaming in agony. Before her, on the floor, stands a man with white tattoos bright against his dark skin, clad in a blue surcoat. And he is very confused about what’s going on right now.

Andris and Callimachi leapt to the fore of peppering the undead spirit with magical fire. After a beat, the figure in blue joins in. In short order, the restless child of Hergstag dematerializes, hopefully never to be seen again.

“Can you heal us?”
“And he’s pretty!”
— Andris and Solis value different qualities in a cleric

The man in blue introduces himself as Aurosan, a cleric of Desna from Lepidstadt. With all the attention the ongoing trial has brought to the crimes of the Beast, the temple sent him to Hergstag to reconsecrate the village chapel. He was just completing the rite as the wraith child flew through the wall, neatly trapping her within the grace of the Great Dreamer.

Aurosan points out that the wraith that spawned these fiendish child shades likely still haunts nearby. Callimachi brings up that given wraithkind’s weakness in sunlight, its lair is probably underground. In this swampy area, there aren’t any cellars or subterranean structures. There is, the group realizes, the hill, the only raised mound of earth in this swampy expanse is just outside the village.

Scouting the road out of the village, Andris finds what first seems to be a fallen scarecrow. Closer inspection reveals a gruesome sight: a traveler who fell prey to another bear trap. Moreover, the remains are nearly mummified. That’s not the kind of decomposition action one finds in a swampy environment. It’s more like the victim of having one’s life force drained, which Aurosan confirms.

A shadowy figure awaits at the foot of the hill. From this distance, it looks like a scarecrow, much as the last did. To be safe, Andris puts an arrow through its head — which turns out to be rotten pumpkin. Aurosan takes advantage of the pause to provide spiritual support in the form of bless and aid.

“You guys all need to make Will saves to avoid being enamored by Aurosan.”
“I fail deliberately.”
— Hunter and Toby

Probing the scarecrow’s remains reveals a plank-covered opening down into the hillside. Below, in a small chamber, light from above picks out four crumpled forms on the earthen floor of the crevasse. Andris jumps down first to inspect the cave, but lands badly, having locked his knees instead of folding with the impact. As he staggers to his feet, he looks up. Silhouetted against the moon is a ragged mass of shadowy fluttering tendrils. Within the mass of darkness languidly blink six pairs of eyes. This must be the swarm referred to by the spirit moving the planchette. The wraith swoops down on Aurosan, which he handily dodges.

Solis enacts a new casting of haste — and spends the rest of the battle hucking acid bombs, having exhausted his complement of spells. The hail of arrows, bolts and positive energy bursts makes short work of Brother Swarm.[2] The black form lashes out at the adventurers, landing wounds, but it’s for nought. Andris in particular made an impressive showing with his archery skills. Perhaps the worse his legs are injured, the better marksman he becomes.

As the group catches its breath, the question is now what to do with what are indeed the remains of four young children, mummified in a similar fashion to the corpse on the village road. They were all victims of Brother Swarm. Interment seems the proper thing, but the prospect of utilizing speak with dead to compel testimony in the courtroom tomorrow comes to the fore. There’s concern about the sheer gall of such an action provoking the already agitated people of Lepidstadt to rioting fury, but the lure of truly exceptional testimony proves much too enticing.

“‘We don’t clean. We add new wings.'”
— Andris on the Lightwarden estate

Despite the darkness of the hour, they hie it back from Hergstag to Lepidstadt, the way illuminated by light spell upon light spell. The soft beds at the Lightwarden home are blessed comfort after a long day of tromping around the swamps of Ustalav. Solis in particular is concerned about Aurosan’s well-being — and ensuring he appears at the courthouse tomorrow, having offered to provide testimony about the distinctly non-golem-like nature of the ills plaguing Hergstag.

The next morning, Gunderson goes out extra early to procure the services of coffin maker. Four platinum pieces later,[3] everyone arrives on time and whole at the Lepidstadt courthouse for the second day of proceedings in the trial of the Beast. Aurosan is present, to Solis’ delight.[4] The gallery is once again packed with onlookers, many of them glaring down at the volunteer junior defense league squadron. The judges saw fit to bring forth the Beast itself today, secure in an immense iron cage.

After the prosecution’s witnesses give their account on what they saw in Hergstag, Sir Horace gets to work. Through cross-examination, he points out the holes in the story Heiger’s attempting to weave. The undisturbed nature of Karin’s home doesn’t mesh with the Beast’s immense size. No one saw the Beast do anything but carry Else’s body into the village. No one can definitively describe the Beast as laughing. In fact, at the sound of Else’s name, the Beast makes a shuddering, sobbing sound. At Gunderson’s prompt, the sisters admit it is very much like the sound they heard seven months ago.

“Do you swear to tell as much of the truth as someone paid you to tell?”
— Solis Lightwarden

Once through with the prosecution’s witnesses, Horace turns to his own. Andris provides his opinion as a man of the wild about the rundown nature of Hergstag, the untouched state of Karin’s home, and the presence of the wraith and its spawn. Aurosan’s testimony augments the defense’s case for wraiths. Prosecution objects to relevancy, but Horace promises all will become clear shortly, at which time he moves to the discovery of the children’s bodies in the hillside.

On the conclusion of cross-examination of Andris and Aurosan, Gunderson approaches the bench with prosecutor Heiger for a short sidebar. He outlines the plan for a court-appointed cleric to cast speak with dead on the children — after an appropriately sensitive viewing and grieving period for the bereaved — asking that the courtroom be cleared for a private session in deference to the families of the deceased. Heiger rather gleefully jumps in to point out that evidence rendered in a private session isn’t considered valid in Ustalavian law. Any channeling sessions must be performed in view of the public.

Horace hems and haws briefly, but decides the value of the testimony outweighs the danger of inciting a riot. Once a cleric of suitable prowess is secured and sworn in, it transpires that of the four sets of remains brought back from Hergstag, only one is a suitable candidate for the spell, that of Rachel. The others’ existence as wraithspawn was never terminated, so they are still undead. The child’s spirit, once brought forth, essentially confirms what the defense team suspected: she was lured up to the hill by her “friends,” really already wraithspawn themselves, fell down into the cave, where the wraith set upon her.

The courtroom erupts in furor at this revelation. The gallery is filled with shouting, catcalling citizens. Handy debris starts flying. Judge Kard bangs his gavel, shouting for order. Suddenly it seems as though the trial may not make it to the third day.

[1] During the alacritous walk, Toby let us in that she found out from Hunter that spirits contacted through the brass planchette can lie. “Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

[2] As Hunter let slip the creature was called.

[3] We are so beneficial to the Lepidstadt economy, what with 10 gold piece ladders and platinum piece coffins.

[4] Solis probably never let him out of bed.

[Carrion Crown] Barristers by Day, Wraithspawnbusters by Night

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter convened for the first day of the titular trial of the Beast.

Given the lateness of the hour and the next day’s proceedings, Sir Horace, Solis and Callimachi dissuade Grift and Kreitov from their quest to break into the facilities of Vorkstag & Grine. Everyone has to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to impress the panel of judges. The group disbands to their lodgings: Kreitov to the inn, Gunderson, Solis and Callimachi to the Lightwarden[1] home, and Grift to the abode of one of his many Lepidstadt contacts.[2]

“… Upholding this fine Ustalavian tradition of allowing uneducated yokels to conduct legal defense.”
— Sir Horace Gunderson

The next morning at the courthouse, Gunderson intercepts the defense counsel, Gustav Kapel, as he enters the building. The lawyer is flushed, disheveled and still wearing that ratty wig. While Kreitov and Callimachi make pointed comments about Kapel’s piqued complexion and suggest he’s too under the weather to properly defend his client, Gunderson fast-talks Kapel into faking a fainting spell. Once Gustav is down for the count, Sir Horace approaches the bench to volunteer as the Beast’s defense. He also secures an hour’s delay to review Kapel’s notes — which are paltry, coming in at half a disorganized opening statement, possibly written on a kebab wrapper — and visit a tailor.

Ever mindful of the effects of appearance and form, Sir Horace uses most of his extra hour to find and procure barrister’s garb, both for himself and his legal aide Alexandros of House Callimachi. He even goes so far as to ensure it’s of finer quality than that sported by the prosecution, Otto Heiger, and his team. One must outdress the competition, particularly when lacking in the legal department.

Judge Ambrose Khard begins the trial by reminding everyone that despite the many people the Beast has killed, only the crimes at Morstadt, Hergstag and the sanctuary of Karb Isle are to be examined. As far as setting a tone goes, that lays it all out on the table. Sir Horace takes the opportunity to remind everyone that while the crimes are true tragedies, it would be a greater tragedy to unfairly unnecessarily condemn the Beast. A miscarriage of justice diminishes everyone.

“A golden thread runs through the justice system.”
“From palm to palm.”
— Horace and Solis

The prosecution calls villagers from Morstadt, then the village elder Lazeen. The story is exactly the same as Lazeen related to the adventurers previously. During cross-examination, Gunderson takes the opportunity to point out the discrepancies between Lazeen’s account of the “marauder’s” appearance and behavior and the Beast currently held in the gaol below. Not only was the unknown marauder significantly shorter than the Beast and far more vocal in its promises of vengeance against the villagers, but the Beast shows no sign of the horrendous injuries inflicted by the blood caiman on the creature driven into the swamp that night.

While the prosecution brings up technicality after technicality, complaining bitterly about Horace’s cross-examination, there’s nothing substantive to which Heiger can object. That doesn’t stop him from blowing wind at the judges for a while.

Once the prosecution subsides, Gunderson calls his own witnesses: Solis Lightwarden and Andris Kreitov, both of Lepidstadt. They testify about their finding in the boneyard pointing to activity not connected to a golem like the Beast: the missing bodies, the year old campsite and the nightvision extract,[3] both of which suggest someone other than a golem lurked in the swamp. Throughout all this, Heiger seems unconcerned by the evidence presented by the defense’s witnesses. He’s still confident having the trial in the bag.

Watching the gallery, Andris notices the angry faces glaring down at them. The crowd doesn’t take kindly to their open and shut burning being disrupted by a high falutin’ Taldorian noble and his grubby witnesses. Something’s going to burn at the end of this trial. That much is clear. Whether it’s the Beast or a swathe of homes and storefronts may not concern the mob overmuch.

On the trial adjourning for the day, Kapel emerges from the conference room where he spent the morning “recovering.” He shares the next day’s agenda for the trial: the murder of the children of Hergstag, as well as some details about the settlement. With the afternoon half gone, there’s precious little daylight left to snoop around an abandoned farming village. And somehow they cram in a visit with the prosecution’s witnesses, the spinster sisters Flicht, Garrow and Starle, who live just out Lepidstadt.

Careful questioning reveals that their description of the Beast matches that of the flesh golem imprisoned in the city. The sisters contend the Beast stole children, presumably murdering them, then carried one, Else, into the center of town, laughing as it did so. Gunderson and Callimachi quiz them carefully on the purported “laughter,” but can’t tease out whether it was genuine laughter or some misinterpretation of another sound, say, crying.

By the time they reach Hergstag, it’s nearly dusk. With the information gained from the sisters, the group makes a beeline for the home of Karin, the child who died in her home. The house is securely boarded up and in surprisingly good condition, particularly given how the swamp has become to reclaim the settled spaces of the village. The interior of the house is equally undisturbed. Given the Beast’s twelve foot frame, the lack of signs of forced entry or even uncoordinated movement is rather telling.

“I’ll save you!”
— Solis and Callimachi

Gunderson pulls out the brass planchette used to such grotesque effect by Darius and Grift back in Ravengro. Only this time, Callimachi acts as the conduit.[4] Fortified by a host of odds-improving spells cast by he and Lightwarden, Callimachi lays his fingers on the planchette, resting lightly on the crude talking board scrawled on the floor of Karin’s bedroom.

“Who killed you?” he asks. Instantaneously, Callimachi is ridden by another being. His eyes change color, his body goes rigid. S-W-A-R-M the planchette spells out. “Swarm of what?” elicits N-O-T-H-I-N-G. “Who killed the others?” brings the conversation back to S-W-A-R-M. “Is the swarm nearby?” MAYBE.

Scanning the horizon outside the farmhour, Andris notices a black silhouette in the cornfield. Gea casts dancing lights on the field to illuminate the figure, but it disappears just as they play across the untended plants. Kreitov and Gunderson dash out into the field. Solis and Gea hang back to mind Callimachi, still channeling the spirit of the dead girl.

While Gea’s spell distracts Kreitov, Gunderson can see the figure lurking on the edge of the swamp bordering the farmland. The silhouette retreats further into the swamp, soon swallowed up by the twilight gloom. The two pause for a moment, wondering whether the figure is entreating them to follow . . . or luring them into a trap.

“One of those possibilities involves me hitting things with my sword.”
— Andris Kreitov

Kreitov takes the lead now, following the dark figure into the swamp. When it stops in a clearing, he and Sir Horace slow to approach more cautiously. The figure’s features become more apparent: black hair, grave white skin, shadowed eye sockets. Kreitov’s caution is justified when the rusty teeth of an aged bear trap snap shut around his leg. To the tracker’s credit, he doesn’t howl too loudly and keeps a solid grip on his bow at all times.

Once its deception pays off, the creature moves in to attack. Kreitov and Gunderson flail at it with mixed results. Once Solis, Gea and Callimachi burst upon the scene, the inquisitor blurts out that it must be a wraithspawn. Regrettably, its key weakness is sunlight, which will be in marked short supply for the next ten or twelve hours. Failing that, the adventurers fall back on time-tested methods. Unfortunately they’re all short on ghost touch-enchanted ammunition on this outing. Callimachi’s one remaining magical bolt goes wide into the swamp, never to be seen again.

In spite of the bear trap secured around one leg, Kreitov punches arrow after arrow through the wraithspawn. The final one tears away whole etheric strands of the full torso apparition. As the wraithspawn lunges at Kreitov in retaliation, Horace slices it in twain with Corvelle Seamripper.[5]

As the investigators regroup and tend their wounds — the wraithspawn did an exceptional job draining the lifeforce of those it touched — questions abound. The presence of a wraithspawn suggests that of the wraith itself. And is that wraith part of the swarm to which the spirit in Karin’s home — which was never absolutely identified as that of Karin — referred? How will the adventurers get back to Lepidstadt in time for the morning session of the Beast’s trial with a ten mile ride ahead of them?

With the night black as pitch, the group decamps for the village chapel. Not only is it reputedly a haunt of one of the murdered children, perhaps its hallowed ground will offer some modicum of protection until daylight arrives or they must depart for Lepidstadt, whichever comes first.

[1] Retroactively amended from Lightwatcher, because Toby liked it better.

[2] And we never saw Grift again. What fate befell that poor, bespectacled oracle of bone, we’ll never know.

[3] Hunter let us in on the fact that golems see in the dark naturally, and thus wouldn’t need something to bestow the ability.

[4] Because herp derp, he’s got the best Will save. Apparently somewhere along the way he realized Iomedae’s probably got not beef with channeling ghosts.

[5] And with the slaying of a wraithspawn, we dinged for fourth level! This is the first time a character of mine has earned its way to fourth level in a Dungeons & Dragons-esque game of any kind.

[Carrion Crown] The Manticore and the Gnome

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, Annie (Grift),[1] a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter returned to the table to resolve the question of the shadow figure soaring towards them in the midst of Morstadt’s marshy boneyard.

Andris signals the creature’s approach, drawing and nocking arrows as well, all in one smooth motion. As it nears, it becomes clear to anyone who wasn’t already certain they’re about to tangle with a manticore. Everyone takes cover. Some dive into open graves, heedless of the murk at the bottom. Others scramble into the shelter of scrubby pines.

Rather than landing or harrying from the air, the manticore banks hard. The slingshot maneuver gives a healthy amount of oomph to the hail of needles that launch from the monster’s tail. Some find their marks, but the “shit, let’s hide!” tactic pays off very well.

“Gone in a puff of glitter.”
— The passing of summoned allies

The encounter is somewhat reminiscent of the grim slog against one of Harrowstone’s haunts. Solis calls up an eagle to bring in some aerial firepower on the group’s side, but it is handily eviscerated by the manticore. It’s grim work all around. Andris, Horace and Grift take a number of grievous wounds in particular. Nothing takes the wind out of one’s sails quite like a giant spine through the shoulder.

Once the manticore touches down to engage in melee, Grift uses forbid action to keep it from taking off again. Gea moves in to tangle. It doesn’t go well for the eidolon. Solis has to focus on feeding his companion his own vitality to keep her present on the material plane. While the manticore is engaged, Andris takes the opportunity to check out the beast’s nest up in the pine tree. It also affords him altitude and vantage if the manticore manages to lift off. That never comes to pass, as Grift delivers the coup de gras without too much gloating.

“Didn’t do him much good.”
“Well, he saw what happened to him.”

In the manticore nest, Andris finds the body of a dwarf, dead a week or more, swathed in a multicolor patchwork cloak. Some personal effects — in particular a very nice flask of brandy and a purse heavy with platinum pieces — suggest this was a dwarf of some means. Elsewhere, in an old firepit that suggests someone was camping on the bone isle at some point, Andris stumbled across an empty glass vial. Trace remains in one smell of an extract of darkvision.

The hired boatmen slowly emerge from their hiding places. Lazeen recognizes the flayed face as that of Nan, a local poacher. His attitude is remarkably more subdued than the simmering cauldron of backwoods rage that had everyone biting their tongues previously. Andris reminds Horace of the discrepancies in Lazeen’s description of the thing that terrorized his village and the Beast they interviewed in Lepidstadt’s courthouse earlier that day. Solis supposes the raven sigil on the bag of surgical instruments might be the maker’s mark. There are twenty or so such artisans on Lepidstadt who might make such tools.

Before leaving the island, Callimachi conducts some basic cleansing rites of the malign influences hanging over the place. The body of the dwarf is consigned to a pyre. Then it’s an eight mile ride back to the city.

The group hits the cobblestones almost immediately to track down the maker of the surgical instruments. Surgeon’s Flats is a whole district of the city given to supporting the many forms of the medical and other less savory trades. Following leads and tapping Grift’s social connections, they go from the maker, Zbraslav Hora, to an auction house, to Radniche, a dealer in surgery supplies. His shop smells of pickled things. The usual sweet words and bright faces don’t do a lot to move Radniche. Finally Grift slides a pouch of gold across the counter; the merchant allows he remembers selling them to a dapper man all in black. That’s the only detail he can recall — until he’s reminded how unfortunate it would be for his name to be linked to the flaying of a villager. Radniche gives up the goods completely, pulling out the ledger showing that the set was sold over a year ago to Vorkstag & Grine, a chymical works here in the city.

The firm is a well-respected one. Nothing seems to stick to Vorkstag or Grine when it does manage to come to public attention. The factory is bounded by a high stone wall topped with glass shards. A gnome with bushy red hair, perhaps Grine himself, answers the first ring of the bell with hostility and a suggestion they all bugger off. It gets no better from there.

Daring the broad daylight, Horace finds he can’t jimmy the front gate open. Andris and Grift prowl the grounds; the ranger thinks he hears something big moving around on the other side of the wall. Solis and Callimachi split to consult their respective resources about the practice of flaying skin. Lots of evil things in Golarion like to wear skin suits, it turns out. It looks like they need more information to narrow down what’s going on here and if what happened in the boneyard is actually connected to the Beast is anyway — whether it committed the crimes or is taking the fall for someone else. At the university’s chymistry department, Solis learns Vorkstag & Grine trade mainly in acid and bleach in bulk. Horace’s inquiries with the police reveal no one is interested in poking their nose into those two gentlemen’s business.

As darkness falls, Grift and Andris fall back on the classic approach. Grift throws his duster up on the wall, then tries to scrabble up, boosted by Kreitov. That doesn’t work. Then Kreitov tries to climb up. That doesn’t work. By the time Callimachi strolls along, the two are leaning dejectedly against the wall, perhaps trying to climb it with their lips.

“Can I come back to the point that you seem to have found the world’s only ladder salesman?”

Then the Chaotic Quest for the Ladder begins. In the absense of a handy dray of kegs to commandeer, the adventurers go tromping off into the evening to find a supplier of tools. After rousting the shopkeep from his bed over the shop, shouted negotiations between the second story and the street net them a brand new ladder, for the modest sum of three gold pieces.

Enheightened, Grift ably scales the factory wall, where he reclaims the duster left to him by Professor Lorrimor. Peeking down in the courtyard, he can’t make out anything that might have made the sounds Kreitov detected earlier in the afternoon.

The night grows late. With the first day of trial proceedings tomorrow, it seems best for the junior volunteer justice defenders squadron to get some rest. After all, they’ve got an incompetent public defender to shore up in the morning.

[1] And this turned out to be Annie’s last week in the game, as she embarks on the traditional summertime ritual so many others share with her. Goodbye, Annie!