Monday, November 28, 2011

PC: Arkham City


You could blame me for being rather late with this review, but taken into consideration how long Rocksteady delayed the PC-version, I’ll actually say I’ve been pretty quick. And I’m not even going to touch upon the directx 11-issue. Just say that since I was anyway forced to play the DX9 version, I sure could’ve used it just a week earlier.
A blessing in disguise revealed itself to me, though, as I caught the flu this Friday and therefore had to lay really low for a while. Even as I write this, it’s pretty bad. But it’s something to pass time with and also explains why this will likely be rather short. That, and the fact that this game has been reviewed so many times already that I don’t know why I even bother. I suppose I owe it to myself, seeing how much I loved Arkham Asylum (AA).
Again, this is solely for the PC-version. I don’t own any consoles except a NES and a SNES.
Snappy remark about my background and how much I love Batman
Batman is my number one hero of them all. Basically because he’s tough as steel, brilliantly gifted on the intellectual side and compared to the majority of heroes he has an interesting psychological profile. And; he’s somewhat pretty mortal and ordinary. Especially after watching the eminently good Nolan-movies, you could hypothetically argue that someone like Batman COULD rise in these modern times.
Keeping this in mind it’s obvious why I loved AA. This was the first game I ever played that actually let me feel like Batman. And I’ve been at those games all the way back from the Commodore 64 version of the first Burton movie. The sounds, music, atmosphere, voices somehow all fell into the right slots in this game. Attention had been shown to the details in a thorough world of Gotham’s darkest side, presented as a flexible sandbox-environment you could easily explore at your own pace and leisure. If you were driven solely by the unfolding story you could easily strive in its tracks all the way through, and if, on the other hand, you wanted to turn over every rock on the island to find the Riddler’s trophies; no punishment there.
Truth to be told, I never cared much for the trophies. During my second playthrough I really tried to care for the riddles. I’d hang out in an area till I either got it or went to youtube to find the answer. It quickly became tedious and I gave up. After all, the rewards were kind of tame, since I didn’t care for the challenge-maps. The artwork and biographies were somewhat nice but not big enough for an incitement.
Still, the story of AA kept me glued to the screen for a long time. There were some minor flaws, such as not meeting all the villains I’d hoped for (but then again, my favorite bad guy Scarecrow had the best scenes beyond doubt) and a lot of confrontations were pushovers.
In a bitter battle you were better than the batters. But is it better?
In his review, Yahtzee Croshaw makes a valid point about bigger but not necessarily better (if you haven’t seen the Zero Punctuation review of this game, you should do so). The thing is; Arkham City (AC) is by all means bigger than its predecessor in sheer volume, which doesn’t really work that well in my eyes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, what is the deal with AC?
The story in AC is easily elaborated. Since confining the raving lunatics on an island didn’t work wonders, the next logical step is to isolate them in their own quarter of the city. In there, they are free to roam, murder, torture and pillage to the full desire of their little black hearts. This initiative isn’t embraced by everyone, however, including our alter ego; Bruce Wayne who sadly gets abducted during a political speech and then tossed into the cesspit with the lowlife scum.

(Mandatory cat-related pun)
Of course it’s only a matter of time before he once again dons the bat-suit and sets out to fight crime and discover the whole purpose of Arkham City. Needless to say, something is not quite as it seems.
You, the player, once again have to navigate our caped crusader through rooftops and narrow alleys as you lay down the law, brutally, upon any criminals in your way. This time around you even get some allies, provided you were daring enough to preorder or cough up the Microsoft points. Catwoman (the girl with a thousand representations) joins in on the fun, and besides her feline-related puns (seriously, stop it. It’s never going to work!) she’s not all that bad. They’ve even managed to differentiate the respective playstyles of her and Batman to a noticeable level. This counts for the general controls (in which you clearly feel more speed and agility with the cat) and progressions (for example; Batman can upgrade his armor double as much as Catwoman).
But if you don’t care about cats there is plenty more to say about AC.

What I’d like to point about to those of you (like me) who only care about this game for the story mode; it is indeed rather short. I’m not really sure whether it is or just feels shorter than AA, but I completed it in around 12 hours. Maybe less, as I did take in a good handful of sidequests. In addition, besides from the ending of the game, don’t really expect to see that many surprises plot-wise. The story isn’t what carries this game in my optic.
On the other hand, I’d imagine a positive correlation between your level of perfectionism and joy found in this game. As I said, there are in fact sidequests in this game. Lots and lots. Whereas straying from your task at hand was something you’d only undertake in order to hunt trophies in AA, here you are in fact encouraged to respond to various events and plots taking place all throughout the city. Some of the are timed and triggered upon your arrival, others seem more random. Their depths vary a lot, though. Some of them can barely be called tasks and involve a series of skydiving exercises to be completed in order to achieve certain upgrades for Batman. Others are quite more sophisticated and loads of fun, the most memorable being the telephone-chase in which you have to race across the rooftops in order to reach a ringing telephone, otherwise a psychotic murderer will finish off his hostages. Some of these quests also mean that you will end up meeting other notorious villains, such as Bane.

There is a great emphasis on this element of the game. Compared to AA, you are much more encouraged to detour and sidetrack to your heart’s pleasure. And leaving just said sidequests alone, there is plenty of riddler-trophies to hunt and puzzles to solve. Around 400, last time I was told. To make matters more interesting, some trophies are uniquely placed only for Catwoman whereas others are for Batman. Additionally, some of them can only be reached after you acquire certain upgrades to your gear.
So if scouring through a neighborhood with detective vision on is your thing, you’ll love AC. If not, well… things might be a bit different. Although to be fair, there is a better incitement for puzzle-hunts in AC as you can in fact stand face to face with the Riddler himself, should you solve all his challenges. It’s not a big and impressive bossfight in the slightest, but still, a nice detail.
The long ironfist of justice
Combat. Why change a working system? AC doesn’t really make any bad modifications to the simple and addictive system from Asylum. There are some nice new tweaks and ideas, such as the fact that you’re now able to take out two opponents standing close and drop smoke-bombs to avoid gunfire.  In addition, Batman has learned new maneuvers and is now able to summon bat swarms and utilize whole new gadgets.  Bombs of ice can provide paths across running water and sinister devices can jam opponents’ guns from a distance. It’s all very inventive and the game makes sure that none of these really become obsolete, although you will likely find your own personal toy and stick to that in most fights.

Bosses are likely one element of the game that has taken a massive leap. While AA certainly did have a few highlights, most of the AC-bosses had me go “…oookay, this is going to be nasty” at the start of almost every big fight. There are more of the big, fat, strong opponents that hit like trucks and less “dodge them and hit them when they smash into the wall”. A particularly joyful encounter is basically metaphysical and will keep you on your toes most of the time.
This is a dual edged sword, however. Or, what I prefer to call The Simpsons Movie-Effect. Once you start filling up the plot with personages you will eventually run out of space. Once you start stomping and pushing to fit them all in their, there is so little air and room for everyone that it doesn’t matter anymore. AC features a lot of villains. More than AA, for sure. Sadly, some of the otherwise great ideas have way too little time, such as the Mad Hatter, who appears in a nicely disturbing sequence that could otherwise make up for the absent Scarecrow (no, he’s not in it, sadly).
"So, does the poster in the back catch my evilness properly? What do you guys think?"
And then again, not so much to say;
It’s somehow hard to point out much more, I think. This game is AA, just bigger, with more exploration and more villains. It’s a working formula, that once again provided us with a great game, but on the other hand, what you make of it is up to you. I didn’t care much for the challenges, as mentioned. Neither for the riddles, except those I just picked up along the way. The story is great, though, as can also be said for the sidequests. There is so much to see and do around AC that you will likely spend several hours just looking at it, as you swing from rooftop to rooftop. The story; take it for what it is. The ending might surprise you (I know I was) and if you’re familiar with AA, you’ll feel right at home with AC.
Verdict:
8.5/10

+
Everything you know from Arkham Asylum and quite a bit more. Arkham City is big and contains countless of quirks and secrets. Bosses are significantly more interesting. Great graphics, music and voice acting establish the true feeling of being the Dark Knight once again. Gadgets are interesting, combat is fast and mostly smooth. Interesting ending. Great sidequests.
-
Main story is not especially original and feels short. Too many villains leave out precious little time to each of them. No Scarecrow aka. Not enough ‘messed up’ scenes.
Is it worth the money?
This really depends. If you’re into puzzle-hunting and combing every tiny inch of the map for clues, then this is definitely a yes. If you just want the story mode and see what happens next, I’d say you might as well wait for a sale. It’s definitely worth money, in the general sense, and such great games should be supported.
Will I play it again?
Likely. I still need a few of the extra missions done, but to be honest, I’d rather complete Asylum again.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Carrion Crown: Short musical intermission

On a short intermission between sessions, I wanted to write up a little guide for all my fellow-GM’s out there, who might be about to run the first installment of Carrion Crown. If any of you are, by chance, considering adding in musical scores to your game, I thought I might as well share my personal playlist for the various events this far.
I’ve aimed for a very depressing and moody version of Ravengro, meaning I often used silent, eerie tracks. Most of these are disturbing and unsettling in nature (or at least, try to be). It’s certainly possible to have a more light and adventurous version of the town, which I will address in the end.
In town:
Silent Hill 2 OST: White noiz: This is used for the introduction in the game and serves equally well as background if you wish to describe the player’s arrival at Ravengro. It might be a bit too aggressive for some GM’s though.
Silent Hill 2 OST: Forest: I use this for Kendra’s Theme. It catches her sadness and frailty very well.
Silent Hill 2 OST: World of Madness : I use this mostly for the Restlands, but it’s great overall for Ravengro and even Harrowstone.
Silent Hill 2 - Promise (reprise) : For me this was THE theme whenever I was reading from the Professor’s Will or Journal. It fits so well, I think.
Arkham Asylum OST – IP V2 01 : I’m not sure whether this has a real name, but on digital downloads it seems to be the rather anonymous title. The players I’ve watched might have fucked it up. Either way; this is a really nice and subtle track for whenever the heroes are sitting in a dark room, candlelight and listening to the rain outside. Happens a lot in Ravengro. In my campaigns at least.
Orcs Must Die – Battletheme 2 : Some GM’s won’t like this because the style is too fast paced, silly, out of theme, etc. But still, it’s great for one specific encounter: The one in the Town Hall. In this a lot happens all at once and the music should reflect something hectic. At least consider it.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST –Auldale: An ideal track with lots of sound from a small village at night.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Church of the Hammer: For a darker twist on the temple. Might be too aggressive for some GM’s.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Inn : For inns with a darker tune. This track is eerie in general and good for many settings. You can use it in various encounters and meetings.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Pulses: I mostly use this for stores.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Seaside Manor: A great track for the Lorrimor estate. A personal favorite of mine.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Store:  For inns and stores (duh).


Harrowstone Prison - Exterior
Silent Hill 2 OST – Forest Trail: Excellent for the journey to Harrowstone.
Hexen 2 OST – 04 “The Forgotten Chapel”
Hexen 2 OST – 13 “Demetriu’s Baths”
Silent Hill 2 OST - Prisonic Fairytale
– Mary’s letter theme: I mostly use this for the outskirts of the prison.




Harrowstone Prison – Interior
Silent Hill 2 OST –Dirty Outskirts: This theme is very ‘Prisonous’ somehow. And very gloomy. The alternative version ‘Abandoned Streets’ is just the same only with added metallic noises.
Arkham Asylum OST – Sacrecrowloop : If you want to put a psychotic twist to some of the haunts (the one of Father Charlatan comes to mind…) this is your track.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Breaths : This track is disturbed. And very unsettling.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Haunted: Need I say more? This is THE track for Harrowstone.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Lair: A track that tells danger is near.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Prison: Need I say more? Not as great as Haunted but definitely a viable alternative.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Wind and Stitch: This is an aggressive track. Yet, it’s very unsettling due to its creepy sounds.
Thief – Deadly Shadows OST – Zings: As above, just lighter.
A more adventurous Ravengro:
It’s certainly possible to achieve a more classical gloomy town that is merely moody instead of unsettling. A possible idea in this regard is to get your hands on the ‘official’ soundtracks made for the old Sierra Game – Quest for Glory 4 – Shadows of darkness. Even though it was originally in midi-format afaik, there are a lot of revamped versions out there. Some of these tracks are REALLY good for this setting.

I hope this could be of some use to those of you out there considering music. As you all know, I’m a fierce defender for musical sessions and if I’ll be able to help you in this regard, let me know : )

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Painting the Druchii

As mentioned earlier, I've decided to give Dark Elf painting a go. Without any clue as to what minis I should buy, I decided to go for something simple and elegant. Something I figured would be a good addition to most armies. In this case, crossbow men.

As for the next project, the only thing I've understood by far is:
- Hydras are TEH haxx
- Executioners not so much
- Lord on cold one
- Sorcs
- Black Guards
????
Profit?

Anyway; Just look at the pictures. Click to enlarge.





Carrion Crown: Haunting of Harrowstone pt.3

They're heeeeee-- TURN!!! *splat*

The following day the heroes awoke to the sound of muffled sounds and chatter below their windows. It was another grey day in Ravengro, the mood on the street was still sour and the distrust so immense they could practically slice it into pieces. Yet, something else had caught the citizens’ attention.
Posted around town was a notice saying that this night, there would be an official meeting in the town hall regarding the odd events of late. The council wished to inform the inhabitants of Ravengro that they were indeed aware of the recent sights of the living dead and sudden uprising of stirges, combined with the desecration of the official Harrowstone memorial. Everything, the poster promised, would be discussed that night.


The heroes pondered a bit whether they should attend the meeting or head out to Harrowstone prison. They weren’t that interested in finding out more about the memorial on which the letter “E” now followed the”V”. They were quick, however, to draw a connection to The Splatter, which rewarded them some experience. (Truth to be told, only because one of them read my recent blog about it, but hey…)
They decided to poke around town for a while. This was a great opportunity to pick up on the few loose ends that yet needed exploring. They got to see the general store in which they bought a bone for Old River (the stray dog and official mascot for Ravengro) and the Plot Cube (a recurring mysterious object in my campaigns). They visited the Forge and looked at some expensive items they couldn’t afford and also made it to the Town Hall in which they spoke to councilman Heartmount. As they arrived, they witnessed an argument between him and the councilwoman Shanda Faravan about hiring the players for help. Shanda was clearly opposing the idea, judging from the sheer amount of trouble following in their heels. It would seem much more prudent to simply kick them out of Ravengro and hope for the problems to disappear by themselves.
Shanda
The heroes entered and were greeted by a cautious and yet relieved councilman. He offered them a seat, and as the conversation went along it was evident that he was greatly troubled by the recent events. The public demanded a victim. Someone to focus their eyes on. And the heroes were already the prime suspect among several of them. Heartmount wasn’t in any way sure that he could trust them, but as he said; “You guys are the only one left, capable of handling a crisis such as this. With the professor gone, who else should we turn to?”
After some diplomatic rolls Heartmound confessed that he would indeed like to hire the heroes to put an end to the occult madness. In addition, he would much welcome if they wanted to attend the meeting that night. They agreed to do so.
(The Trust score of the players was a low 16 at this point, so according to basic rules they shouldn’t have been invited. Yet, they did go to some length to do so. And they needed to provide the citizens with a positive impression.)
Burning for the cause
The players prepared as best as possible. They even made a cake (yes, seriously). Once they arrived they noticed that about 60 townspersons had showed up.
The meeting began shortly after and the atmosphere was harsh from the very first word. The citizens demanded action from the councilmembers and if they couldn’t come up with a plan what to do, there would be blood. Luckily for councilman Heartmount, he could proudly present his newest champions, the four travelers and foreigners. Albeit met with shock and silence, he plead for the audience to trust him in this matter. The heroes themselves attempted to explain their situation to the citizens and even though Vincent’s main argument was that “the people in this city were simply too dull to fully comprehend the magnitude of their plan” they made an impressive case. Councilman Heartmount prepared another impressive speech when suddenly an eldritch blast went through the room and shattered five oil lamps against the floor. They instantly caught fire.
Additionally, two burning skulls flew through the windows, in an explosion of glass and brimstone. Panic ensured among the citizens, who all headed maniacally for the exit. Two of them had been caught in the fire and had started burning to death, and the grinning skulls were gazing towards the heroes with glowing embers. And, needless to say, the inferno had started growing bigger.
During the first round they managed to organize the crowd through diplomacy (they really liked that Halfling, he seemed to know so much about fire-safety procedures!). Additionally, they doused one of the fires and saved the victim, and dragged the other one out. The skulls attempted to wound the heroes but failed to do so.
Sheriff Caelen assisted the citizens as best as he could, but the fires really started spreading by now. Leaving two heroes to take care of the skulls in the north of the room, the remaining players started dragging out the unconscious citizens. The evacuation was done in mere rounds, thanks to good diplomacy. The skulls weren’t a big issue in this fight, although they did manage to inflict some burns before shattering. The fire, on the other hand, spread quickly, and even with the help of the Sheriff and a bucket chain, it took well over 15 rounds before the fires were finally out for good.
On the other hand, the heroes had not only assured the survival of the town hall, they’d also made sure nobody came to harm! This rewarded them with a healthy load of Trust points and experience enough to reach level 2.
(This is one of those classical, great encounters in which it’s imperative everyone does something productive. It might go tremendously wrong in a hurry, especially if the players are only first level and get caught in the fire. The skulls aren’t extremely dangerous but if they get in some good hits and the players aren’t able to focus on what to do, this encounter is really easy to mess up. One of the reasons it took my group so long is that they started coordinating which fire to put out a bit late. They did end up successful in the end, though. I advise that you monitor the progression as a GM and consider whether you call it a fight when there is only one fire left standing. The encounter is very long as it is and easily risks getting tiresome if you drag it out too much.)
Set in harrowed stone
The players received much praise from the citizens. (Remember, I found there were way too few possibilities to earn Trust, so I increased some income. Meaning with seven points, they reached a nice score of 23 again. This hardly seems unfair, as the players can lose a LOT of Trust by bad luck in just mentioned encounter.)
After a good night of sleep they set out for Harrowstone.
Harrowstone was an eerie, silent ruin before their eyes. Not quite as foggy as before, the atmosphere was still unsettling. Unseen eyes watched them from afar.
As they made their way through the gates they managed to upset a swarm of angry rats that quickly descended upon them. While not a big obstacle they did make sure to inflict Vincent with filth fever.
The Harrowstone Prison-Ruins
Pushing onwards into the courtyard they did some snooping around. There wasn’t much left to see in the old home of the Warden. It was hardly safe to enter the place at all. A large part of the former compound had been destroyed by a sinkhole now full of murky water, and the stairs leading up to the various balconies were bare and with no traces of life.
Most interesting were several glyphs inscribed with blood, running in a long trail at the base of the building. They were quite fresh and they concluded that they had been used for some kind of ritual, likely involving necromancy and abjuration-magic.  It was hard to say much more.
Vincent attempted to contact some of the spirits with the spirit board found in the false tomb. Sadly, this brought him into contact with a trickster spirit that not only lied to him about being the professor, but also managed to posses him and cast burning hands on his group.
After being grappled for a minute, Vincent was finally allowed to go.
Upon entering the prison through the main door, the heroes noticed that it did indeed carry several traces of decay and to some degrees, minor burns. The stench of smoke was eerily obvious on the air.
The heroes soon encountered their first haunt as they entered the main hall. They managed to discover it in good time and destroy it through channeling (since it was a Locked Door-haunt that would simply slam the doors for some time, this might’ve seen like an overkill. But the experience is always nice).
As they progressed through the prison, they came across the auditory in which another haunt failed to manifest (this time, one casting chill touch) and later on they found the way down to the basement level. Fighting their way through three burning skulls, they realized a 20 feet drop down into water. Wishing to clear the place floor by floor, they decided to leave it alone.
In the workshop they encountered their third and final haunt this night. And guess what, high initiatives, holy water, lots of turning and dead it was. Guess it really does pay off to be prepared. (To be fair, this haunt is really deadly. In its manifested form, it happily throws out scorching rays for 4D6 points of damage. Even on level 2 this is something. And the good/bad news is; it keeps doing so as long as some tool is standing in the room). Things got dicey in the next room, though. The infirmary. The heroes didn’t get to search much before they were ambushed by a poltergeist. They weren’t welcome on its domain, and the scare effect enforced this rule more than nicely. Sending the wizard, sorcerer and rogue running for the hills, the poltergeist immediately turned invisible and started hurling piece of broken glass and furniture at them. The heroes had to retreat back to the furnace, but since the rogue and the cleric were the only ones not running in the third turn, they managed to localize the poltergeist and kill it.
Clerics...who needs haunts anyway, right?
Among the remaining loot they found some nice remedies such as antitoxins and potions of cure light wounds. As they recuperated, they started preparing for their next push, deeper into the prison.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm still alive!

I tend to loathe this kind of post, but I am going for it nonetheless.
I just want to say that, yes. I am still alive and kicking. The avid reader has likely noticed a slight decrease in posts since July, and the only thing I can say about it; I’m sorry. Like so many other bloggers writing the same thing – Life has been really busy lately, and I wish I could write a whole lot more than I currently do.
What I really hate about this kind of post is that, you can’t really use it for anything. It’s like putting your blog on life support. In a way, it’s like begging (in my optic) for readers not to forsake you, but keep checking in every day for updates. So I want to come clean with you with some info about what to expect and not to expect in the near future.
My current situation is that I’m about to start in a new job in just a week. It’s a whole new clinic, whole new patients and it’s no exaggeration to say that I have to travel…for some distance. Two and a half hour each way. That’s five hours in a bus per day ~ 25 hours drive each week. Luckily I’ve found someone to drive with, bringing it down to only one hour most days. Such is the burden of limited experience within your field. It will certainly provide me with plenty of opportunity to ponder upon subjects and PNP. Initially it's for half a year and then we'll see what happens.
The people there seem really nice, however, and whereas the place is new; the method isn’t. I’ve got some experience with this group (anxiety patients) from previous work. I therefore hope to find at least some reprieve amidst madness to keep you guys updated on my childish life.
I’ve also become ‘father’ of a tiny, African hedgehog named Mr. Tanglefoot. This has taken up a surprisingly large amount of time, getting him adjusted, bonding, and fretting out in the extreme as soon as he as much as sneezes at the wrong time. Parental hysteria, you know. On the other hand, I love the little guy so insanely much, and the great news is that he’s grown a lot closer to me during the last weeks. I never knew Handle Animal was a class skill for me.

Mr. Tanglefoot
And then there is Skyrim. You might’ve heard of it. It’s going around these days. I was frankly almost going to write a nice review of it. But a lot of people have done so already, and I pretty much agree with them. This game is friggin near perfect. I love it. Whereas I found Morrowind to be an okay game and Oblivion so-and-so; Skyrim takes home the grand medallion. Seriously, give this game a chance if you’re into RPG’s.
I'm so popular in Skyrim that even Mudcrabs come to my aid

There is also Christmas coming. Somewhere in the near future.
I’ve been busy painting more Warhammer lately. For a while I totally lost interest, but it’s resurfacing. I’ve started collecting my fourth army; Dark Elf. Expect to see more on this subject as I grow and learn.
Additionally, I’ve made sure to keep my weekly Pathfinder group going and I WILL do my very best to provide you guys with updates on their journey, likely every Thursday or so. We play every Wednesday, so some time around there. Carrion Crown is an awesome, awesome adventure path, and even though my players have just begun, I think it will be very interesting to see them progress. Due to time I will have to keep them rather short and leave out most side quests, though.
Articles and essays will likely take the biggest punch for now. I still need to catch up on a lot of stuff, such as the continuation of D&D Romances and The Gm'ing and Music-guide, but these really take a lot of time. Whereas "Project Orgrimmar - Gold Never Sleeps" was really fun and "A Healer's Journey" was beyond inspiring, I’ve left WoW alone for quite some time now. That’s a whole other explanation, but whether I continue those articles purely depends on me returning to the game or not. Don’t expect miracles in this department, sadly. The thing is; when making gold started becoming boring, it was a sign to stop. I feel that I’ve had my time in WoW for now. I’m not excited about MoP at all (and neither hating it, mind you).
I will try to jot down thoughts about new games I play, of course.
In other words; things are pretty much floating in Limbo as it is. December is always hard. Time will tell how much I’ll get around doing, and till then I only ask of you to have some patience with me. Trust me when I say that I’m doing the best I can!
Regards.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Carrion Crown: Haunting of Harrowstone pt.2

Strange days in Ravengro
After the heroes had defeated the four zombies in the Restlands they had a short discussion whether to continue with their operation.  After all, their original mission was to enter the false crypt in the search of a lost stash of holy weapons. However, not long after they noticed approaching torchlight from the town and decided to bail. Additionally, both Vincent and Aldoriel were low on spells for that day.
The party made their way across the graves, to the east end, before heading down the river and finally to the old Lorrimor estate. Using the key provided by Kendra, they silently entered the house and went to sleep.
The next day they were awakened by Kendra knocking on their doors. Apparently, Sheriff Caellen was in the living room, eager to talk to them. Besides some minor concerns involving a side plot, the sheriff wanted to know how the players spent the night. They reluctantly admitted being in the Restlands, but were surprised to hear allegations of grave robbery. As Caellen explained, four corpses had been dug out in the middle of the night, their graves now open and desecrated, and the culprits even had the guts to leave the rotten bodies scattered around. At this point they came clean and explained him about the undead incidence. He listened closely and thought for a long time with narrowed eyes. The sheriff was a stern character but he knew when people lied to him. And there was an unsettling amount of truth in their voice.
He also wanted to know whether the heroes knew anything about the grotesque desecration of the Harrowstone Memorial down at the river? They hesitantly looked at each other and asked him what had happened.
“If you don’t know you should go see for yourself,” he gloomily answered. “It isn’t a pretty sight and it reeks of bad news…”
The Harrowstone Memorial is a testimony to the heroic effort by Warden Hawkran who sealed the prison during the riots 50 years ago. Still a solid statue depicting him and his trusty men, the monument reminds all of Ravengro of the immense sacrifices that had to be made back then.
When the heroes reached the site there was more gory than glory, sadly. During the night, someone had splattered blood all over it and the surrounding area. At its base, the letter V was written in blood.
During some basic investigation with one of the deputies the heroes learned there were no witnesses or suspects. Well, they were actually the prime suspects. The common man argued that they were both grave robbers as well as profane scoundrels. Being new around Ravengro isn’t easy.
After some snooping around they noticed some interesting facts. Besides the obvious prints in the ground there was another set of tracks more distinguished than the rest. Sadly the rain had washed out a lot of them and they weren’t able to track them.
Additionally, all the blood wasn’t from a humanoid. It was animal blood, likely from a cow or rats.
Mmmmmmmmminding the coooowssss
This was an excellent opportunity for the heroes to investigate Ravengro a little bit further. There was no doubt that they were, in fact, not very welcome. Stern gazes, intense stares, subtle mumblings and even superstitious people drawing wards in the air as they passed by; they all became more and more common.
(At this time the players had lost 1 Trust point from the funeral, 1 during to plot elements and an additional due to being caught stealing a minor object from a tavern owner. Items had increased in price and they suffered a -2 on all socially related checks).
They began with the taverns, first visiting the Outward Inn. The owner, Sarianna Vai, bid them welcome and told them to enjoy themselves while she got their drinks. The Outward Inn was the more sophisticated place to stay in Ravengro. It offered exquisite rooms, good drinks and often had entertainment in the form of minstrels. Some of these were present this day, playing drums, flutes and strings, which created a nice atmosphere. They spoke to Sarianna for a while, asking her whether anyone in town had a cow stolen or killed?
(My players are fucking Columbus’es) 
She had never heard of such a thing. She could tell them a bit more about town, how long she’d been there and that she found ‘The Laughing Demon Inn’ a bit too frivolous to her taste. She too had noticed their rather cold welcome and that something in Ravengro was just…not right. The desecration of the old monument only reinforced this belief.
At the very same instant, both windows in the inn exploded as two shapes busted through them. It was to stirges, normally occupying the marshlands far to the northwest. The minstrels and remaining customers screamed and headed for the exit, but the heroes noticed how the stirges moved almost rhythmically to the music and seemed confused once it stopped.
The battle was short. Whereas the rogue and the sorcerer were punished by the blood sucking vermin (color spraying vermin is not a good idea). It was the cleric, however, who kicked major ass in this struggle. At first with the domain-granted acid arrows (since this is a cleric of Gond, we’ve decided them to manifest as small acidic throwing stars) and second by the sheer force of the warhammer.
Stirges - Don't fuck with the clerics
It didn’t take long for the players to realize that stirges reacting to music like this, was likely a sign of the Piper of Illmarsh. Searianna Vai offered them 100g as payment for their heroic effort, but they only needed 20  leaving her the rest. (Why 20? No idea. But I decided that would earn them 1 point of Trust. It’s the classical Bioware-Light-side-gain mechanism)
Keeping up with the investigation the players went around town asking for missing cows. The owner of the Laughing Demon didn’t know much either. The people at the Town Hall weren’t of much help either, except they could point out both Mr. Gibbs and another farmer on the outskirts of town, who were active in the livestock trade. (You might wonder why I chose to mention Gibss so soon, but frankly, the players were keen on him being involved pretty much from the start, due to his close location to the memorial)On their way through the town they suddenly noticed a strange set of footprints, starting in the middle of the street. Following them, they realized that they were actively made by an invisible being heading south out of town, towards Harrowstone Prison. The peculiar thing was that the heroes seemed to be the only ones to notice.
They followed the tracks outside town, all the way into the mist, in which they turned into tracks made by a carriage. They could hear the faint sound of whimpers and tormented screams, shackles being dragged and desperate cries. The sounds grew louder the closer to the prison they got, and eventually the sound of executions and heads being lopped off became prominent.
The heroes saw Harrowstone as a sinister black shape in the mist. It was eerily silent. They decided to throw a quick gaze at the courtyard, before quickly heading back to town.
The players decided to wait till nightfall before setting out for the false crypt once again. This time there were no interruptions except some minor difficulties picking the lock on the grating. Once down, two giant centipedes attempted to chew on the heroes, but except for some dexterity damage they made it through alive. The secret stash contained some oils of magic weapons and ghost touch, plus holy water and restorative potions. (In the original writing there is a truck load of arrows here, which I somehow fail to comprehend? Why should we assume every party has an archer, and why give him so much fun? In my case none of the players used bows, so I altered it a bit)
Thereafter they went to the memorial and waited for some hours, attempting to ambush the culprit, should he make another attempt that night. He didn’t. Instead they decided to investigate Mr. Gibbs more closely.
The Gibbs-farm was silent and dark at this time. The players decided to investigate his tool shed first but ran into severe problems opening the lock, since they took a -5 penalty not to leave any obvious traces on the lock. In the end things went well, though, and they rummaged through his belongings, old plows, piles of firewood and sacks. It was about 10 minutes later that the discovered some empty water skins and a bloody razor beneath a pile of wood. Shocked by this gruesome finding, they closely put everything back and left. Sadly, due to a very bad roll, Gibbs heard them and woke up, meaning they had to make a run for it before they could cover all tracks. What possible repercussions this could lead to, only future will tell.
Pondering on their next move the heroes returned to the Lorrimor estate to sleep, but as soon as they reached their rooms they heard a loud pounding on the door. It was slow, continuous and steady. Carefully they looked out the window and saw a dark shape outside, which left them prepared for whatever they would face.
Whatever it was, it ran away as they opened the door, leaving only the rain. They attempted to follow it and backed it into an alley.
“Who are you?” Edgar shouted.
“It’s me…” a sneering, drooling voice said from the darkness “…don’t you recognize your own professor? I’m here to protect my daughter!”
From the shadows a hideous reflection of what was once Professor Lorrimor appeared. It had burning red eyes and fangs and claws coated in dirt. Without hesitation the heroes attacked.

(In the original setting they recommend using a zombie for the professor, but a ghoul was just as fine for me. I could only imagine saving the more powerful undead for the special NPC’s)
The professor fell to a well aimed sneak attack, mixed up with an earth sliding spell from the conjurer. While swift it also managed to draw the attention from some of the kids who had snug out at night. They were all very insistent on following the heroes and watching the corpse, and instead of sending them home and risk alarming the city, the heroes brought them along as they re-buried the professor. As they did so, they refrained from stealing any of his possessions in the grave (actually setting a good example for the kids, so I rewarded them another Trust point).
At this point the party decided the time would soon come to confront Harrowstone prison, so they took a day off to recuperate. The cleric needed to shake off the ghoul fever and the rest of the party needed some dexterity points back. On the final day, once they got up, things had turned worse…
Another letter had been inscribed unto the statue. This time the letter “E”. Additionally, stories had spread around town that the children had seen the walking dead rise from their graves. A lot of people were growing worried, even more so suspected the heroes or sinister forces from the beyond.
For the same reason, the councilmembers had decided to have a public meeting in the town hall this very same night. Whether the heroes will attend, we shall see next week.

And that was the end of this session.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Carrion Crown: Haunting of Harrowstone pt. 1

(Carrion Crown spoilers ahead. You are hereby warned.)
As some of you may know, I recently finished ’Savage Tide’ after two years of dedication with four of my friends. It was an awesome ride. One that I really wanted to elaborate further on, but regrettably a lot of the final showdown consisted of side plots that would take a long time to explain in writing. Instead I hope that I will eventually finish my long overdue journal of the players’ adventure.
I think it was Stephen King who once said that the best time to start a new book is the moment after you finished one. The same counts for campaigns, in my opinion. That’s why I, shortly after, decided to begin a whole new adventure.
Namely; The Carrion Crown.
Finding the Path
I’ll admit it took some persuasion beforehand. For a short moment I truly considered shutting down my longstanding GM-career and focus solely on being an entitled player. But my eternal problem is; I want other campaigns to be like my own. Which usually means I either quit or annoy the hell out of my GM’s.
I therefore sat down and gathered a whole new team of players. Then I reflected upon the hard earned lessons from two years of D&D 3.5. What did I like and what did I loathe?
There were several points, but they could all be summed up as the insane degree of power play the campaign eventually took. Of course, the one to receive the majority of the blame was me. The game was my responsibility and it was stupid of me to allow the players so much freedom, especially when they were as proficient as they were. Allowing ‘Book of Nine Swords’ was a bad decision too. A lot of people have had heated discussions about this, but I’ll be honest and say: I absolutely fucking hate it.
I understand that there is an inherent problem in the system that tends to make many melee-oriented classes much less desirable than their arcane/divine counterparts. But the step this book took was in some sense way too much, especially in the hands of seasoned players. My advice to any aspiring GM out there who (like me) is too busy to study every book and/or combination the players want to utilize; if in doubt, don’t use it. But I’m drifting off the subject. That is, truly, for another article.
I therefore decided that we would go back to basic, hopefully with some minor adjustments. Another severely annoying factor for Savage Tide was the fact that my players utilized so much new stuff, whereas the adventure path seemed designed mostly for core book-parties. It often left the monsters utterly devastated. In addition, I loathe 3.5 because of its many mechanics by which you can bypass the weapons of the enemies. Once you start popping those death wards, freedom of movements and heroes’ feasts, you need to find the creativity in you, in order to keep encounters challenging.
I’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder lately, and I like how they’ve dealt with a lot of the issues that plagued me in 3.5 (certainly not all, but we were at a point where every little bit helps). This seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to actually GM in it as well.
Now, this is starting to look like a party!
I have four players, three men and one woman, and gave them 20 points to shop stats for. They’re all seasoned players, so I decided: This time it’s my fucking turn. They were allowed to use the core book and the advanced players’ guide only. Not (only) because I’m a douche, but I didn’t want to fall into the Savage Tide trap again.
On the monster-side; I plan on using the newly released and redesigned Tome of Horrors, featuring 800 pages of horrible monsters for side quests. In other words, I am playing with forbidden books this time.
The party setup is;
Aldoriel, the elven conjurer.
Egdar, the steampunk-inspired cleric of Gond
Grendell, the halfling rogue
Vincent, the human sorcerer


Allow me to say; there are some REALLY nice adventure paths out there and I had a hard time finally deciding. In the end it was a tie between Council of Thieves, Serpent Skull and Carrion Crown (CC). Back then I already played in Rise of the Runelords and I’m about to play in a Legacy of Fire campaign soon, so those two were ruled out quickly.

Why Carrion Crown and…what is it; TLDR?
 

Roque, however, ran some of Council and warned me against it. Whether or not he’s right, he didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to take the chance. I was REALLY keen on Serpent Skull, but if you compare it to Savage Tide… I don’t know. It seemed like more of the same, setting-wise at least.
I’ve heard so many good things about Carrion Crown. And I love undeads. Ever since I took up the GM-mantle at the age of 16, the necromantic armies caught my fascination like nothing else. And they most often make the players utter the ever amusing “Fuck you…” statement.
In a nutshell, CC takes place in the far away Immortal Principality of Ustalav, an RPG counterpart to the ever classical dark Transylvania. Ustalav has seen its share of misery through the times, including an invasion and the bleak outlook on life that is so dominant for the average citizen. Still, whereas you certainly couldn’t call it optimism, most folks in Ustalav are as solid as the rock under their feet. The farmers know that even though things could be better, they certainly have been a whole lot worse.

On the political scale, the western part of Ustalav is currently seeing a governmental reformation as the ruling organ is slowly changing to a more democratic model.  Not that it’s of much concern to most honest men making their living in the rural areas, mostly by farming, peat and livestock.
Everyone in my group knows a lot about Forgotten Realms and very little of Golarion. We therefore decided to place Ustalav just to the north-east of Zenthil Keep, to the east of the vast swamp.

One of these rural areas is the city of Ravengro. With its measly population of 311 souls it has certainly eluded much of the outside world, much to its satisfaction. People in Ravengro don’t take kindly to strangers.
Which is sad news, as they’re soon about to greet four new faces in town…
Chapter 1: Harrowstone Prison – Arriving in Ravengro.
HSP is the first chapter of six that make up the CC adventure path. During this installment the heroes are all invited to the funeral of Professor Petros Lorrimor, by his daughter Kendra Lorrimor. The professor was a man of some renown, not only around town, but also in the lands around the Sea of Shooting Stars which he often travelled during his young years.

Professor Lorrimor
All the heroes had their respective reasons for attending the funeral. Edgar the cleric had a debt to settle, as he once won a particularly rare flask of brandy in a game of poker with the professor. Grendell, who was originally raised by a griffon, once found the professor lost deep inside a cave and led the poor man to freedom. Aldoriel was a long standing co-researcher, who was sad to see the early demise of his good friend, and frankly, nobody knows Vincent’s connection to the professor…yet.
The players all arrived at the rocky areas around Ustalav, and I read the following passage to them:
“They call the town ‘Ravengro’… The origin of the name has been long lost in the mists of history. And who would mind? Not that many people care. Very few foreigners would spend a fleeting thought, let alone a gaze, about this place. In truth, Ravengro is not a place you want to look at for long, if you even manage to spot it as you traverse the sharp cliffs. You’re often too busy minding the chasms or avoiding the countless of wild animals that creep out at the darkest hours.
Not that darkness is an unknown guest in these areas. Some say that the years after the invasion only brought an eternal carpet of grey clouds and bad weather, cursing generations with heavy rain and a bleak mood. People would scuttle towards the shelter of their houses or the overarching cliffs above them, as they saw the few remaining colors of the gardens drown out in an impossible battle.
If you’re one of the desperate, unlucky or just weird strangers in town, you’ll notice the trodden road leading you down the cliffs, heading towards the tiny settlement in the far distance. It’s a solid road. Not one that takes you there quickly, but things in Ravengro have never been hasty. And you’re likely not missing much in the other end.
The feeling of subtle rain against your face is cold, as you check your belongings once more. You notice an old sign, heavy with decay. Through the raindrops you barely make out the name of the city and you can’t help wondering whether this is truly a place you want to be in?
A few miles up the road you see the landscape elevate and carry a small clump of houses. A sorry excuse for a city wall has been erected, but it’s more like a fence. Like their citizens, they have likely stood for eons in the rain, storm and hailstone. Silent and untouched.Behind the city a sinister dark shape rises against the sky. You’ve heard of the ruins of the old prison that once made Ravengro famous in its own peculiar way. Today it’s nothing more than a monument of former glory. It’s appropriate that the only remaining attraction besides it is the vast graveyard in the other end of town.
As you journey up the road, you notice several peasants eyeing you while they gather the last peat for today. Their signals are cold at best. Their eyes narrow and hostile. The recent influx of strangers has not been received well. You know that your presence will be monitored closely, till you prove your worth. For good or ill.
The path into town is not guarded. Neither is it decorative or inviting, as people around these parts don’t need that fanciness. Instead, you see an old map outlining the highlights of the town, and an old creaky sign spelling “Welcome to Ravengro. Spellcasters will be shot.”
(I added the spellcaster thing myself. The average citizen is deeply distrustful of the supernatural, so it seemed logical. In truth, Ravengro houses a few casters, but they’re either trusted or simply too old and confused to pose any appearing threat)
Ravengro at a gaze consists of:

A: Town Square
B: Posting Poles
C: The Laughing Demon Inn
D: Town Hall
E: Temple of Kelemvor
F: General Store
G: The Forge
H: Jominda’s Apothecary
I: Jail
J: The Silk Purse Loaners
K: The Outward Inn
L: The Unfurling Scroll
M1: Vashian Heartmound’s House (Councilman)
M2: Mirta Straelock’s House (Councilwoman)
M3: Shanda Faravan’s House (Councilwoman)
M4: Gharen Muricar’s House (Councilman)
N: The Lorrimor Estate
O: The Harrowstone Memorial
P: The Restlands
Q: Mr. Gibbs house
R: Ruins of Harrowstone
Edgar the cleric and Grendell the rogue arrived first. They’ve met outside the professor’s house and exchanged a few words that were more like statements. Edgar is the strong and silent Clint Eastwood type, all about no bullshit unless it involves inventions and construction. Grendell, on the other hand, had a really hard time connecting with the citizens, most of them either ignoring him or shoving him off (‘go away, child!’).
Not long after, Vincent and Aldoriel both arrived at the gates of the town. They were suddenly stopped, however, by a stern man blocking their way. “I don’t fancy the looks of you,” he said. “Why should I allow people of your kind to enter town? You knew the old professor?”
As they confirmed his suspicion, the man leaned closer and looked at them menacingly “Here’s a free piece of advice” he said “don’t do anything rash. In fact, it would be great if you just turned around and left. Soon. Your kind is not welcome here!”
Vincent, wearing sparkly clothes, necklaces, a tall, pointy hat and glittering staff, flamboyantly smiled. “My good Sir,” he began “I assure you there is NOTHING to fear from us. Allow me to introduce myself, I; am Vincent Chrommagus. Runs in the family, if you know what I mean, eh? Haha!”
“You’re one of those fancy smarty types, ain’t you?”
“Why yes certainly, I—“
“I hate your kind even more” the man spat as he began walking away “mark you my words, I’ll be watching you. You too, knife-ears!”
When he was finally gone a huge bunch of kids had huddled up and gazed curiously at the two strangers. They exchanged shocked statements before arriving at the professor’s house, at which they formally greeted to two other guests, Edgar and Grendell. It seemed like nobody else had shown up.
After knocking, Kendra Lorrimor opened the door. Her eyes were red and rested in a face clearly depraved of sleep. A feeble attempt at setting her hair straight had been done.
“Oh it’s you!” she whimpered “It’s so good to see you! Where is the others?”
“There are no others,” Edgar said. “We’re the only ones…”
Kendra looked down both streets nervously but only saw curious faces from the citizens. She leaned back towards the door with a deep sigh. She told them that she had hoped for more attendees but made sure to express her gratitude to the four travelers. Preperations had been made so the funeral march could start any time, in which they would carry the coffin to the Restlands, where Father Grimburrow awaited. However, it appeared that she had to hire a few hands to carry the other side of the coffin, so she excused herself for a moment.
The travelers spent some time getting to know each other meanwhile. None of them had a great impression of the town and they had to admit that none of them actually knew about the cause of death for the old professor?
However, during their talk, they noticed a small group of children playing not far away. They were singing some kind of rhyme that quickly caught their attention:
“Put her body on the bed.
Take a knife and lop her head.
Watch the blood come out the pipe.
Feeds the stirge, so nice and ripe.
Drops of red so sparkly bright.
Splatters spell her name just right.
With a hammer killed his wife.
Now he wants to claim your life.
Tricksy father tells a lie.
Listen close or you will die.”
They decided that this town had some sick kids and waited for Kendra to return.
(I really don’t get it. I got to run this event twice with different groups and NONE of them thought about stopping and asking the kids about this rhyme? Wouldn’t you do that??)
Kendra returned with some hired hands that helped carry the coffin to the Restlands. On their way, several citizens were watching the funeral march from their windows.
The funeral and the last Will of Professor Lorrimor
Just before the march reached the Restlands they were stopped by an angry mob of people, led by the stern man who stopped Aldorien and Vincent at the gate. Kendra coldly addressed him as “Mr. Gibbs…”
“That’s far enough, Kendra” he said “we’ve talked and we decided that you can’t bury the old man here in the Restlands. You can take him up river and do it.”
“What?” Kendra stuttered “What are you saying? I’ve made arrangements with Father Grimburrow. He’s waiting at the—“
“You don’t get it woman! We don’t want necromancers in our holy ground!”
“Necromancers? What are you talking about? Are you an idiot?”
“Cease this madness,” Edgar said “who are you to deny this dead man his final rest? Have you no respect for the dead at all?”
“You dare talk back to me on what authority?” Gibbs sneered.
“None other than that of what is right and holy! Everyone here is attempting to sabotage a most sacred ritual that has stood beyond ages. Can’t you see the folly of this?”
(Edgar had a really bad Diplomacy roll)
Gibbs laughed heartedly and gave his men the signal to attack. Six of them, however, didn’t really want to risk upsetting Father Grimburrow and fled, leaving the six most drunk (and bloodthirsty) behind.
(Compared to Savage Tide the first battle of CC is downright easy. The peasants are trivial at best and the only danger is how the PC chose to handle the fight. On one hand, if they simply rush into battle with no concern for the coffin, they might very well drop it. This results in the professor tumbling out on the ground, horrifying everyone. This damages the heroes’ reputation in town. On the other hand, they’ll also get very unpopular if they kill any of the drunkards. They might be out for fights, but certainly not for killing. It’s very easy for the players to lose a lot of reputation here.)
The battle was over quickly. Two goons were knocked unconscious and the rest quickly fled with Mr. Gibbs.  The march continued to the restlands, where Father Grimburrow waited. He was infuriated to hear about the events and healed Grendell’s wounds from the fight.

Father Grimburrow
The speech went smoothly and the heroes were allowed to say a few words as well. Whereas both Aldoriel and Grendell held decent speeches, Vincent made an attempt of bursting into tears at every opportunity. Sadly some bad bluff rolls secured them the scorn of every attendee, meaning the heroes lost their first Trust point for disrespectful behavior. Kendra, mildly confused about the eccentric performance, told them they should get back to the house, as the will was about to be announced.

(CC operates with Trust-points. Whenever the heroes do good deeds and put themselves in a good light, they receive points. If they act badly or make idiots out of themselves they lose them. Starting at 20 the players can advance up to 36 at which they receive free healing, 20% discount at stores, gifts from citizens and even their own personal henchman. Alternatively, the lower you go, the more expensive everything becomes and eventually an angry mob will chase them out of the city. It’s a brilliant system.
I advice every GM to look over the system, though. There are several ways to lose Trust but few to gain it. I suggest either doubling the gains or award them ad hoc, based on good deeds. Otherwise it’s very hard to reach a high level during this adventure.)
On their way out they met Sheriff Benjan Caeller with two of his deputies, busy bringing the two unconscious thugs into custody. He stopped the foreigners for a quick chat about what happened. The heroes made a good impression on him and he admitted that lately things had been stirring in a most unusual way in Ravengro. There was something about the death of the professor he couldn’t put his finger on. And it bothered him.
He told them that he was found dead 17 days ago, at the outskirts of old Harrowstone Prison. Apparently, his skull had been smashed by a piece of a broken gargoyle falling on his head. He had no possession when they found him.
Benjan Caeller
The heroes asked him about the old prison, and the sheriff’s face turned gloomy. That was a grim tale indeed. He told them that Harrowstone used to be the most famous prison in Ustalav, even in the countries around it. Housing some of the most dangerous criminals the world had ever seen, Harrowstone received new inmates twice a year and kept them under lock till their death sentence could be carried out.
About 50 years ago, five particularly dangerous criminals were brought to the place. Known as Father Charlatan, The Lopper, The piper of Illmarsh, The Mosswater Marauder and The Splatter Man these five brought the nerves of the guards to new heights. And with good reason. Only short time later there was a riot. A bloody riot.
Luckily, Warden Hawkran isolated himself along with his most trusted guards, with the rest of the criminals in the lower compound. The only escape was a lift that was operated by the guards upstairs that quickly reacted by rising it. The criminals attempted to bargain with the life of Warden Hawkran, but the guards were stalwart.
Only later, when Hawkran’s wife, Vessoriana Hawkran, started wondering about his absence she went into the prison.  When she was confronted with the truth she panicked and managed to lower the lift, screaming to her beloved to jump unto it. In fact she managed to kill several guards and inmates below it and, even worse, destroy the mechanism. The guards placed the hysterical woman under lock and bar, while considering what to do next. The maddened criminals started climbing the chasm, fueled by rage and insanity, and in a final attempt to drive them off, the guards poured lamb oil over them.  While initially effectual to scare them off, things got dicey once the Splatterman arrived and began casting spells at the guards. Blind panic kicked in. One of the guards threw a torch down the chasm and a moment later a roaring inferno detonated throughout the prison. Flames engulfed every corridor and hall. The entire lower complex was a howling pit of hellfire as every living soul succumbed in the smoldering sea.
Panicked, the guards fled the prison, never to be seen again. Sadly, nobody remembered Vessoriana, who was still locked in her cell. She, as well as everyone else in Harrowstone, died that night.
The ruins were now undisturbed. They hadn’t been touched much in the last 50 years although they were the source of many great stories and rumors. A lot of people claimed them to be haunted whereas others insisted upon a great treasure being buried beneath them. Either way, the sheriff preferred not to become too involved. As long as the town was safe he was happy.
The heroes thought about the story while heading back to Kendra’s place. There was something quite disturbing about it.
Once they arrived they were greeted by an obviously bored councilman. His name was Hearthmount and he eagerly got up once everyone had arrived. Having confirmed the intact seal he unrolled the scroll, letting an iron key drop on the table. The will read:

Councilman Hearthmount
“I, Petros Lorrimor, being of sound mind, do hereby commit to this parchment my last will and testament. Let it be known that, with the exception of the specific details below, I leave my home and personal belongings entire to my daughter Kendra. Use them or sell them as you see fit, my child. “Yet beyond the bequeathing of my personal effects, this document must serve other needs. I have arranged for the reading of this document to be delayed until all principals can be in attendance, for I have more than mere inheritance to apportion. I have two final favors to ask.
“To my old friends, I hate to impose upon you all, but there are few others who are capable of appreciating the true significance of what it is I have to ask. As some of you know, I have devoted many of my studies to all manner of evil, that I might know the enemy and inform those better positioned to stand against it. For knowledge of one’s enemy is the surest path to victory over its plans. “And so, over the course of my lifetime, I have seen fit to acquire a significant collection of valuable but dangerous tomes, any one of which in the wrong circumstances could have led to an awkward legal situation. While the majority of these tomes remain safe under lock and key at the Lepidstadt University, I fear that a few I have borrowed remain in a trunk in my Ravengro home. While invaluable for my work in life, in death, I would prefer not to burden my daughter with the darker side of my profession, or worse still, the danger of possessing these tomes herself. As such, I am entrusting my chest of tomes to you, posthumously. I ask that you please deliver the collection to my colleagues at the University of Lepidstadt, who will put them to good use for the betterment of the cause.
“Yet before you leave for Lepidstadt, there is the matter of another favor—please delay your journey one month and spend that period of time here in Ravengro to ensure that my daughter is safe and sound. She has no one to count on now that I am gone, and if you would aid her in setting things in order for whatever she desires over the course of this month, you would have my eternal gratitude. From my savings, I have also willed to each of you a sum of one hundred platinum coins. For safekeeping, I have left these funds with Embreth Daramid, one of my most trusted friends in Lepidstadt she has been instructed to issue this payment upon the safe delivery of the borrowed tomes no sooner than one month after the date of the reading of this will.”

Before anyone had time to talk he wished them a goodnight and left. Kendra was staring out the window. The sky was still grey.
“I don’t know what to” she said meagerly “I just don’t know. Now that it’s over, I’m not sure what to do now…”
“Well, we’re here to look out for you, at least” Aldorien said “you should have plenty of time to think about it”.
“And in the meantime, couldn’t we see those tomes?” Vincent asked.
After rummaging through the study chamber of the professor the heroes found a collection of old tomes, well hidden beneath piles of paper. What was more interesting was their discovery of an old journal, clearly labeled “Read me! Now!” And when they did so, they noticed several passages marked with red ink. The latest one dating 17 days back. The day the professor died.
“Ten Years Ago:
The Whispering Way is more than just a cabal of necromancers. I see that now. Undeath is their
fountain of youth. Uncovering their motivation does not place me at ease as I thought it might.
Their desire to be eternal simply makes them more dangerous.
Two Months Ago:
It is as I had feared. The Way is interested in something here in Ravengro. But what could it be?
One Month Ago:
Whatever the Way seeks, I am now convinced their goal is connected to Harrowstone. In retrospect,
I suppose it all makes sense—the stories they tell about the ruins in town are certainly chilling
enough. It may be time to investigate the ruins, but with everyone in town already being so worked
up about them, I’d rather not let the others know about my curiosity—there’s plenty of folks
hereabouts who already think I’m a demonologist or a witch or something. Ignorant fools.
Twenty Days Ago:
It is confirmed. The Way seems quite interested in something—no, strike that—someone who was
held in Harrowstone. But who, specifically, is the Way after? I need a list of everyone who died
the night of the fire. Everyone. The Temple of Pharasma must have such a list.
Eighteen Days Ago:
I see now just how ill prepared I was when I last set out for the Harrowstone. I am lucky
to have returned at all. The ghosts, if indeed they were ghosts (for I did not find it prudent to
investigate further) prevented me from transcribing the strange symbols I found etched along the
foundation—hopefully on my next visit I will be more prepared. Thankfully, the necessary tools to
defend against spirits are already here in Ravengro. I know that the church of Pharasma used to
store them in a false crypt in the Restlands at the intersection between Eversleep and the Black
Path. I am not certain if the current clergy even know of what their predecessors have hidden down
below. If my luck holds, I should be able to slip in and out with a few borrowed items.
Seventeen Days Ago:
Tomorrow evening I return to the prison. It is imperative the Way does not finish. My caution
has already cost me too much time. I am not sure what will happen if I am too late, but if my
theory is right, the entire town could be at risk. I don’t have time to update my will, so I’ll
leave this in the chest where it’ll be sure to be found, should the worst come to pass.”

It now seemed certain. There was definitely something not right about the professor’s death…
Spending time in Ravengro
The rest of the day the heroes spent investigating the town. They visited the Temple, the Unfurling Scroll and the Harrowstone Memorial. Using the professor’s old notes and the Scroll’s library, the heroes uncovered information about the Whispering Way. It wasn’t that useful but still something to go on. It seemed like an ancient cult of necromancers who were seeking…undeath. By either allying with or becoming undead themselves. The records specifically mentioned their most powerful member, The Whispering Tyrant and the fact that all information about them was conducted in whispers. Their symbol seemed to be a gagged skull.
By researching the five prisoners they learned of their sinister pasts. The Piper was a man who took pleasure in poisoning his victims with lich dust, while controlling Stirges with his flute, compelling them to attack his victim. The Father was a con artist, an imposter representing several religions at once. The Mosswater Marauder sought the perfect skull fragment, having murdered his wife by crushing her skull. Hoping to bring her back, he sought the perfect chip to complete her fractured head. The Lopper was a sinister being, hiding in the most unlikely places for several days, before striking his victims. Finally, the Splatterman dwelled in the arcane arts and was fascinated by the power of names, often spelling out his victims names in blood before horribly murdering them. All of them were assumed to have died in the fire.
At the end of day the heroes decided to set out for the false tomb in the Restlands. They waited until nightfall, at which heavy rain began, and made it to the innocent looking small crypt. As they were attempting to pick its locks under the cover of darkness they were interrupted by a sudden dark shade approaching. When they looked up they realized they were surrounded by charred zombies, risen from their graves and craving mortal flesh.
It was a fierce battle. Four zombies against four level 1 adventurers is not to be taken lightly. They did, however, utilize brilliant control and lived through it. The session ended after the battle, and the heroes now have to decide what to do next. Proceed down the crypt with limited resources or head home early. And they don’t know whether anyone in town heard the struggle and will come to investigate.
To be continued next week.