Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 23 [RPG]

[5 Neth 4707 continued]

A vision of Foxglove Manor
The rainclouds over Sandpoint have not abated when Bey finally emerges from her mystery, finding herself in her room at the Rusty Dragon, Sandpoint’s most popular inn and tavern.  She remembers undergoing an intense apocalyptic vision of dozens, even hundreds of ghouls swarming over the town, all of them linked to, or even directed by, some malevolent intelligence housed in a decaying mansion of unspeakable evil somewhere high up on cliffs overlooking the ocean below.  Bey hurries to the common room of the inn to find her allies and share with them her vision.  The common room is packed with townsfolk bored by the inclement weather, and swelled beyond normal by dozens of farmers from the southern hinterlands who have fled to Sandpoint.  Bey sees Arnald there, eating lunch and massaging his joints and muscles which are still sore from the paralysis which has finally worn off.  The two don’t know where Ome and Artemis are, and Bey decides to trust in her patron deity Desna by embracing pure luck: she and Arnald start randomly knocking on doors all over Sandpoint!

Meanwhile, emerging from a far more disreputable tavern named the Fatman’s Feedbag, Ome talks to Artemis and summarizes his encounter with Jubrayl Vhiski.  The tengu says Jubrayl is almost certainly implicated in the arson somehow, but that she wasn’t able to glean any hard evidence.  The two decide to walk over to the Sandpoint Garrison, home of the Town Watch.  When they arrive, they see a distressing sight: the small force that Sheriff Hemlock sent to the southern farmlands to sweep up any ghoul stragglers after the adventurers cleared the Hambley farm has returned, and its members are in poor shape.  Many of the soldiers are wounded, and two are incapacitated, though alive.  Ome and Artemis ask the group’s leader, Jodar Provolost, what happened.  Jodar, who is far from his usual jolly self, explains that at first things went well: the expedition force found a ghoul here or there, often disguised as a scarecrow, and dealt with it, destroying a total of five.  The fact that Sheriff Hemlock persuaded experienced former adventurers like Ilsoari Gandethus and Deverin Hosk to accompany the group was a real asset, Jodar explains.  But then, he continues, the ghouls started appearing in bunches of twos and threes and the Sandpoint contingent risked being overwhelmed!  They managed to withdraw with no fatalities, Jodar concludes, but it was a near thing.  He says he plans to report to Sheriff Hemlock and suggest declaring that portion of the Lost Coast Road off-limit to travellers until the problem can be dealt with.

Artemis and Ome decide there’s one person who might just be able to help them understand why this ghoul infestation is growing:  Caizarlu Zerren, the necromancer they subdued at Habe’s Sanatorium!  The town jailer, a bald Shoanti named Vachedi, shrugs when the pair ask to interrogate his prisoner.  Caizarlu is hostile and uncooperative at first, until Artemis promises to slip the old wizard’s spell component pouch through the bars if he talks.  Caizarlu says he started noting the ghoul outbreaks in recent weeks and that he believes they originally started from a single location near the coast.  Caizarlu says he’s willing to tell more once Artemis fulfils his end of the bargain, but the guardsman on detachment from Magnimar has tricked him!  Artemis slips the *empty* spell component pouch through the bars, leading Caizarlu to fly into a rage.  Vachedi happily unlocks the cell and subdues the prisoner with his cudgel.

Over near the Rusty Dragon, Bey’s decision to knock on random doors bears fruit, but not in the way she expected.  She finds herself drenched from the rain and turned away from house after house, often with angry muttering, as she asks about her friends and shares the “news” about an impending apocalypse.  When she comes across a tall woman wearing a mithral breastplate, carrying a greatsword, and bearing the distinctive facial tattoos of a Shoanti, Bey gets a glimmer of inspiration.  She asks the stranger if she knows Ome and Artemis, and, indeed, the stranger does!  The stout warrior, whose name is Briza, has spent recent months working as a bouncer at the Pixie’s Kitten and made Ome’s acquaintance through the tengu’s frequent visits there to sing or speak to the brothel’s owner, Kaye Tesarani.  Briza admits she’s at her wit’s end as to what to do now, since the Pixie’s Kitten will be closed for a couple of weeks due to last night’s fire. When Bey invites her to come along to “stem the tide of apocalypse,” the Shoanti woman shrugs and agrees.  They meet up with Arnald and after some more time spent talking to townspeople, they finally hear word that Ome and Artemis were spotted near the Garrison.

The adventurers are reunited in the rain-swept courtyard of the Garrison and Bey introduces Briza to Artemis.  The sanguine seer shares with Ome and Artemis her vision of the foreboding mansion which she believes could be the source of the ghoul attacks, and the decision is made to see if anyone in Sandpoint recognizes the place from Bey’s description.  As Sheriff Hemlock is quite busy with planning how to contain the ghouls, which now threaten to spill over to the northern farmlands, the group turn to Bosk Hartigan, the oldest member of the Town Watch who has served since Sandpoint’s founding over forty years ago.  From Bey’s nightmarish account, Bosk says the place sounds a little like The Misgivings—the nickname given to the long-abandoned Foxglove Manor several miles southwest of Sandpoint.  Bosk just shakes his head when asked for more information, saying the place is well-known to be haunted, and that even vandals and squatters know enough to stay away.

Artemis, who did a lot of research on the area around Sandpoint prior to his secondment there, says he remembers a little about Foxglove Manor.  He says the building is over eighty years old, and confirms it certainly has a bad reputation: sightings of strange lights in the attic windows, muffled sounds of screaming from above and below, and even rumours of a huge, bat-winged devil living in the caves are just some of the stories passed around campfires by superstitious travellers who see “The Misgivings” from a distance.  Artemis says that the house has been lived in only sporadically by members of the Foxglove family, with the most recent time about two decades ago when Traver Foxglove, his wife Cyralie, and their children Aldern, Sendeli, and Zeeva moved in for a few years.  But after Cyralie was found dead, burnt and dashed on the rocks below the cliffs behind the house, Traver committed suicide and the children were sent away to be raised in Korvosa by distant relations.

Discussion turns to whether anyone else in Sandpoint might have more information, and the answer comes quickly:  Ilsoari Gandethus, local historian, former adventurer, and Headmaster of Turandarok Academy.  The group’s entry to this orphanage and school for local children is, at first, blocked by Head Mother Dorienne Vilch, a prim woman with grey hair wrapped into a tight bun.  However, Ome has a way with words and manages to persuade her of the importance of the group’s visit by mentioning ghouls.  Eventually, the group is led inside, past children playing, and into Ilsoari Gandethus’ study.  Ilsoari, a stern-looking man in his mid-60s, welcomes the group in but quickly loses interest when he learns they’re not here about his planned expedition to track down the Sandpoint Devil.  Still, he’s reluctantly persuaded to talk about The Misgivings and it turns out he knows an awful lot.  He confirms most of what Artemis said, but explains that Foxglove Manor was actually lived in much more recently: about a year ago, Aldern Foxglove, newly returned to the Lost Coast from his time abroad, set about refurbishing the manor.  Aldern had an extremely difficult time finding locals to work on the old building given its reputation.  As work was slow and intermittent, Aldern had the place looked after by Rogors Craesby, a retired innkeeper.  Once enough of the major rooms were inhabitable, Aldern moved in with his new Varisian bride.

Ilsoari Gandethus
Ilsoari shuffles through some old papers in a cabinet and says that Foxglove Manor was originally built in the year 4624 by Vorel Foxglove, a merchant prince from Magnimar.  Vorel and his family lived in the place for about twenty years until the entire family perished from disease.  The place was then deserted and shunned for almost forty years until Traver and Cyralie moved in.  Ilsoari concludes by saying he’s heard rumors the Foxgloves were associated with a “semi-secret” society (really a gentlemen’s club) in Magnimar called the Brothers of the Seven.  When asked about caverns under the manor, he says ancient Varisian legend (whose details are lost to history) say that the land may have been consecrated to a dark god or demon lord.  Having finished his task, Ilsoari is anxious to get back to his plans for the Sandpoint Devil.  He shares with Arnald his intention to set forth on an expedition to the Devil’s Platter and confirm the existence of the legendary creature once and for all.

The adventurers decide that the key to preventing Bey’s vision of ghouls overrunning Sandpoint is to set out towards Foxglove Manor that very night with plans to stop and rest at Habe’s Sanatorium.  They spend the afternoon buying supplies for the trip and selling items both magical and mundane acquired from earlier adventures.   The sun is starting to set behind grey rain clouds as the defenders of Sandpoint set out on foot south.  The first few miles of their journey along the Lost Coast Road is uneventful, though they notice several travellers racing to get within the safety of the town by nightfall, while local farmers have almost barricaded themselves in their homes.

 As the group leave the wide road and start to follow a narrow, winding trail between farms, over hills, and through patches of wild forest, they come to a place where a narrow stream is bridged by a wide log.  Just as they’re about to cross, their vigilance against attack fails: ghouls emerge from the cover of twilight all around them!  Caught flat-footed, the adventurers are sorely pressed by the first wave of attacks.  Artemis is paralyzed by sharp claws and starts getting dragged into nearby bushes!  Ome tries to fight back but is knocked unconscious in the fighting; fortunately, her giant wasp emerges from her backpack and hovers protectively over her.  Just as the battle seems like it might be lost, however, the tide suddenly turns!  Artemis receives the luckiest stroke of luck in his life, as a tentacled creature from the stream grabs the ghoul that was about to feast on him.  Bey calls upon her divine gifts and bursts into flame to burn the ghouls surrounding her, while Briza and Arnald set to work with their greatsword and greataxe, respectively.  Buoyed by the two professional warriors, the adventurers survive the harrowing encounter and the ghouls are destroyed.

Jodar Provolost’s report that there’s far more than occasional ghoul stragglers to deal with has been confirmed.  Will the adventurers be able to survive the journey to Foxglove Manor?  And if they do, what fresh horror will they find there?
Director's Commentary (August 6, 2017)

Bey, an oracle with the apocalypse mystery, had a trait that gave her a prophetic dream each night.  I went all out this session with a description of a foreboding mansion.  I intended my description to be quite figurative and more about setting up a mood of impending danger, but the PCs took the description quite literally and cleverly used it to figure out where to go next!

Speaking of apocalypse, I did increase the urgency of the PCs' mission by accelerating how quickly the ghouls spread through the farms.  The AP left a lot of it to GM discretion, so I chose what sounded like the most exciting way of portraying the story.

Briza!  The group expanded to five players this session, with the new PC taking the role of a Shoanti barbarian.  Briza was a really fun, good-natured character who, in many ways, was the compassionate heart of an otherwise cynical group.  She and Arnald made a great team as tough martial characters who could stand toe-to-toe with a lot of threats and buy time for their squishier allies in the back ranks to cast spells, etc.

Artemis came *very* close to meeting an untimely end in this session.  Fortunately, Bey's player used her once per chapter plot twist card, which was "Tentacles".  It was a fun and clever way to save a PC, and I don't begrudge it at all.

No comments: