Carrion Crown - by Nicolai Grunnet

Appendix: Carrion Crown Music

(This guide was originally written for Ravengro, but keeping with the general theme of Ustalav, it’s certainly useable in pretty much every chapter!)

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 : )

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Shadows of Gallowspire pt.3

In the final Carrion Crown-video, I sit down and talk about the campaign as a whole, plus how I would write the sixth chapter to be more fun and consistent with the other five.

Also, credits!

Music by: http://www.malukah.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhWSU_7GmrY&feature=player_embedded

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Shadows of Gallowspire pt.2

I return home after session and sits down with some thoughts and disappointment of SoG. Seemingly, the weakest link of the Carrion Crown campaign.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzxFwaCtYiI&feature=player_embedded

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Shadows of Gallowspire pt.1

(This session included Galfur the dwarven inquisitor, Mutt the human barbarian, Kia the vampire-sorceress, Colin the halfling paladin and Edgar the human cleric. The average party level was 13)

As the world was slowly crumbling away into pieces, the party swiftly set out from Caliphas, being aware time was likely growing late. The sky had darkened and the black clouds gathered over Ustalav. Red lightning storms erupted and the crackling energies sizzled out into the distance, from the towering construct of Gallowspire.

Lots of citizens ventured to greet the heroes and bid them the best of luck on their way. As they left the tavern in the rain, a mob of people were watching them in silence, bowing their heads and letting The Watch escort the heroes to the main gate. Several members of the governing elite met up with them as well, asking them to do whatever was in their power to save the country. Mutt told them to look for the green pillar; once it had been quelled; they would know there were safe.

Travelling is half the journey!

Setting out the heroes decided against using any kind of teleportation devices, being rather sure the area of Renchurch and the surrounding Virlych had been fortified to resist such basic means of invasion. On horse, it was five-day travel, which they knew was a notorious long time as they raced against time to secure Count Galdana. Still, they had very little choice in the matter.

On the fourth day, a Feather Token bird arrived. It carried a small message for them from Addivion, boasting they were too late, although he would recommend them on getting this far and as a reward present them with an offer. A last chance to get out of Ustalav, go somewhere else, and leave the rebirth and the Carrion Crown to him. Needless to say, the heroes declined.

(I wasn’t really sure whether there should have been more random encounters along the way, but honestly, this chapter throws more than enough encounters at the players as it is.)

They were shown the official map of Virlych, which Mutt had drawn from research back in Caliphas, and decided to set up along the river west, and make heading north through the Hungry Mountains, eventually reaching Renchurch. They decided to travel throughout the forest on the northern bank, as they could often hear the distant screams, which somewhat resembled those of a dragon.

Summoning a stone bridge from Wall of Stone they crossed the polluted river and headed through the withered branches and trees. Barely a sound was heard, besides a few looming crows screeching, as they entered a clearing containing an odd archway made of bone. Kia identified this as a witchgate. A device able to displace anyone wishing to utilize any kind of teleportation within its limits; meaning teleportation would likely be very dangerous in these areas. They had to admit this was an unexpected hindrance.

Neither had they expected the grove of huge Hangman Trees that suddenly jumped upon them with a roar. While Colin and Mutt were both enthralled by their spores, the rest of the party took up arms. Edgar unleashed a Repulsions spell, keeping all the trees at bay, while the ranged weapon took them down from afar. (This encounter was trivial at best; and as a GM you will find plenty of other like it in this adventure. Some of them will hardly seem challenging. This, I assume, is intended. After all, evil is as evil does; it wants to better its odds by having the heroes throw away resources at the waves of minions, leaving them all the weaker for the final confrontation. Depending on whether you wish to play it generously or not, this has some very serious impacts on the chapter. If you feel they’re up to the task in heroic mode, you might limit them to have only one rest during the adventure, of even; none at all.)

With their first victory in hand, the heroes moved onto the mountains. Their spirit was high, and after a couple of hours, they trekked up a narrow path and found a shortcut leading them into a large cave, reeking with the stench of death. They decided to enter, arms drawn. Not long did it take before they were jumped by a howling being; a mighty linnorm hurling itself at them as they intruded on its domain.

Flying over them, it had a brilliant chance for a fast breath attack, and sprayed them with a burning fire. Kia, now with her vampiric powers, charged in to do a vampiric touch, sadly not estimating the linnorm’s combat reflexes bringing her health even further down. Joining in was Mutt on his flying broom and Galfur on his flying carpet. Colin and Edgar moved to safety and set up for a bunch of ranged attacks. The linnorm stubbornly remained airborne and chopped away at Mutt, while Kia very carefully decided to back out. As the breath attack ticked for the second time, Edgar managed to get in a powerful amount of channeling, turning the tide of the battle eventually, and as Colin joined in, the powerful arrow-shots helped bringing the evil dragon to its knees soon enough. Now the long ascend towards Renchurch awaited them.

A WITCH!!… AGAIN!

Their journey took the high and further into the mountains. After a couple of hours they saw a column of smoke rise in the near distance and decided to check it out. A small, quickly made camp was placed against the cliffs, complete with a couple of tents. What was more important was the mumbling shade of an old woman tied up to a sturdy pole; she was gagged and desperately eyed the heroes with pleading eyes. As Colin attempted to free her, a stern voice shouted “Halt!” and an elderly man clad in armor approached him with four guards. The heroes identified them as paladins and inquisitors; Knights of Ozem, led by their captain, Sir Garvis Karst. Karst warned the heroes that this woman had been possessed by a demon and was to be brought home to the cathedral to be purged. While Kia chose to remain in the background, Colin and Galfur was allowed to investigate her closer. They kept mainly with Heal checks but only identified bruises and wounds. The woman begged them for help, pleading innocence desperately, when they removed her gag. The heroes however, were in doubt and decided to leave the witch to her fate and ask the paladins for further information about the mountains. They could only provide little information about the journey north; it was dangerous to travel and would lead them dangerously close to Gallowspire, the final resting place and prison of the Whispering Tyrant.

Somewhat in doubt whether they’d made the right choice, Colin and Galfur returned to the troupe and moved on.

(Right, I handled this a bit differently. As written, this encounter is almost certain to end in a fight. I decided to keep it as a purely moral choice, which meant the heroes decided to simply skip out on it entirely. Ah well; can’t all be winners it seems.)

The cloister of Renchurch

The heroes arrived at the cathedral later that evening. Everything was eerily silent, as expected, and they had the sinister feeling of everything watching over them. A great evil nested here and lay in wait. From what they could see, the entire cathedral was surrounded by an old wall, containing structures like an old watch tower, a swampy lake, stables and a graveyard. For a while, the heroes considered where to go and what approach to take, and in the end they agreed they needed to conserve their resources for the upcoming fights, and instead head directly through the front doors of the Cathedral.

As they did this, from the tower sprang a howling Banshee and a bloody struggle began. She began screaming and the heroes noticed how soaked swamp-driven mummies started raising. Soon after the doors swung open and an athach burst out to join in on the fray, while a rain of arrows started hammering down from an unseen point atop the cathedral.

It was a fierce struggle; especially when Mutt failed his fortitude save against the banshee’s wail, blasting him for 140 damage. The Gate Tender grappled Kia and hurled her through the trapped main doors of the cathedral, triggering the Reaper Door and piercing her with a barrage of knives.

(Individually, these encounters might seem kind of underwhelming for a 12-13th level party so I decided to pretty much hurl the entire bunch of them at the players at the same time. After all, they should know better by now than to walk straight for the obvious route. I did alter a bit of these events as well, for example – All my players have more than 100 hit points now, meaning that the ooh-so-scary-door-trap of 3D8+3 damage is downright pathetic. I ended up upgrading it to 9D8 instead. Besides that, it seems reasonable to throw as much stuff at them as you think they can handle at this point. After all, this is the welcome committee!)

And so, they looked at the open doors, ready to step inside and face the dangers of Renchurch Cathedral…

To be continued this Wednesday.

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Ashes at Dawn pt.6

As we completed the fifth chapter of Carrion Crown, I got out and got myself a webcam. I’m random like that. This means I decided to sit down and do a small talk about Ashes at Dawn – what worked, what didn’t and what would I like to change? Check it out.

PS: Sorry for the wet hair, the buzzing computer and the scratching hedgehog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKJErallVn0&feature=player_embedded

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Ashes at Dawn pt.5

(This session involved Edgar the human cleric of Gond, Mutt the human barbarian, Kia the human sorceress, Colin the halfling the paladin of Lathander and Galfur the dwarven inquisitor. The average party level was 12).

The heroes wiped up some of the mess around the stables and got their bearings together before advancing into the abbey. They were even so lucky as to be greeted by Kia, who now returned from her wounds suffered at the tailoring store. Being on their track for some time, the sorceress had finally found her way to the abbey and was ready to jump back into action.

It turned out the be the case rather quickly, as not long after the heroes spent some time talking – looking out at the heavy rain, and then noticed a swarm of spiders making its way across the floor towards the door. Immediately remembering their research, Galfur pointed it out and shouted “Kia! Blast it!”

Not really sure about the fuss, Kia fireballed the swarm and blew half the smithy to pieces along with it. The heroes pretty much assumed that this had to be part of Oothi and that this part was pretty much dead by now.

Ring, ring, ring goes the trolley

They decided to move swiftly from there and head towards the small door. On their way they heard the sound of nervous footsteps and speculating voices saying “Be careful, that explosion was rather huge. They must be right out there!”

The heroes moved out of the stables and tried one of the other doors, realizing it was locked. Instead, Kia turned invisible with greater invisibility and moved down to check. Six armed mercenary-guards were moving out, armed, nervously looking around. Judging from their clouded gaze they were dominated.

The first one of them to spot the heroes yelled “Halt! Lay down your weapons and surrender!”

With Kia still invisible, with an empowered fireball left, things pretty much went:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zIS2b7EOpB4

(Paizo, you made my players very happy by placing this bunch of CR 7 guys here for my level 12 party to play with : ) )

One they managed to capture alive and dragged him off to have a little chat. As they cured him up, he immediately punched the cleric in the face and ran away, screaming for reinforcements. Mutt and Galfur immediately tried grappling him but smashed into each other with a thud, meaning he got a strong head-start. Eventually they tracked him down in the forest and brought him back in shackles. At this point, Kia dispelled the dominate person spell, meaning he instantly panicked and flew into a rage once he heard the heroes had killed his friends. Through some sweet talking he softened up and told them he and his friends had been ambushed by the witches, appearing as innocent young ladies at first, up the coast. They had then been brought here and charmed to keep the abbey clear of intruders, along with the glabrezu outside. He could describe very little besides the first of the abbey. Some rooms upstairs, two witches, and a monstrosity clad in darkened armor, dripping with blood.

They afterwards decided to let him go and head back into the building, actually through an unusual entry: Skipping most of the base-floor and instead going right up by the green terrace.

Well, she turned me into a newt!

As they arrived up there they took in the scenery for a bit. Apparently, someone had made sure to keep this place well maintained with potted plants, some trees and even a small stone-table with benches and a tiny chess-board. The rain was dripping happily away on the patches of grass, but didn’t manage to elude the inquisitor’s gaze that instantly spotted a swarm of spiders trying to hide (my party in general has very, very good perception-checks, making the spider-game somewhat meh). Repeating success, he ordered Kia to take care of it and another fireball tore up a massive hole in the wall along with splattered spiders across the terrace.

Going inside they found themselves in a small study-chamber along with several books and three doors. Investigating the eastern one first, they found only some old guest-chambers and bed-rooms along with a couple of secret doors between them. Nothing spectacular and they wondered it was so very quiet up here.

The answer revealed itself when they stepped into a large alchemist workshop in the west-wing. Three large tables with vials dominated the middle of the room, whereas a bubbling cauldron with a red substance was placed far to the northwest. The heroes pondered this for a bit and then went to investigate the cauldron. Immediately, another four mercenaries appeared from hiding and attacked, while a cackling erupted from above the ceiling as one of the sisters revealed herself.



Hetna REALLY likes riding her broom…

The heroes scattered out for cover, and on her first turn, the witch used her waxen doll to take control over Mutt, making the barbarian jump through the window with his poor will save and crashing to the ground outside. In her surprise round she also unleashed her elemental gem and summoned a large air elemental to aid her. Galfur drank a fly potion and Kia made use of her overland flight to meet in an arcane shoot-off with the witch. She cast a disintegrate at her, which was saved on a well rolled fortitude save. Colin, however, with his smite evil inflicted plenty of pain, making the witch order her minions to fully focus on him. Soon after, all four piled on top of the poor halfling in a bundle-grapple.

The witch decided for Kia to be too dangerous and hurled a baleful polymorph at her. As her fort-save was very low, Colin instantly used his paladin-sacrifice power to take the fall, and was immediately turned into a turtle.

The air elemental charged up and caught Kia within its whirlwind and Mutt climbed back up and through the window with his grappling hook and rope. As he entered, Egdar blocked off the windows with a wall of stone to avoid any more thrashings. Kia made her best to escape from the whirlwind but to no luck at all, and Galfur charged in to beat on the witch. As her cloak of dreams popped he made his save nicely and inflicted a moderate amount of wounds on her. (In general, neither her cloak of dreams or prepared poison-spell did that much in this fight).

On her turn, the witch hexed Kia with bad luck, took some more beating from Galfur and ordered her goons to grapple Edgar instead. Mutt came to his rescue and started mowing down some of them, while Kia kept struggling with the whirlwind. Following that, another baleful polymorph set in, now with forced dual rolls for lowest result on the fort-save, instantly turning Kia into a sheep. Luckily, she maintained her mental-state, which dramatically altered the course of the battle on her turn. With a still silent dispel magic the sheep managed its caster level check in the whirlwind and dispelled the turtle’s state, bringing back the paladin. As Mutt was well on his way making short work out of the thugs, the witch soon received a barrage of do-good’er arrows, which brought her to -18 hit points. Not long after, the party mobbed it up and celebrated.

They tore down the stone wall and poured out the remaining blood brew, outside the window. As they searched the lab they found some bottles labeled “Youth Tonic” and as Kia picked one up she had the sudden urge to drink it. Resisting with her willpower, she gently decided to put it down again and instead concentrate on a special flask with a few drops of golden liquid. Mutt recognized this as the vial of youth inherited down in the Caliphvaso family. As far as they could judge, the remaining content would be able to grant the one imbibing it a solid handful of additional years. They decided to simply bring it along for now.

The mood was good as both the witch and her companions had brought along some good loot.

(If you’ve played or read this part, you will likely notice I changed the witch’s spell selection a bit, such as giving her two polymorphs and so on. I’ve never tried using witches in my campaign, so I didn’t know that much about them, and with very little time to read up, it mostly involved what spells she was going to throw at my players. I’ll have to say that the mass pain strike approach seemed not only weird, but also useless against my group. It would do so very little difference, compared to everything else I could throw at them. So instead of adding spells to her which I was unsure about her even having access to, I stocked up on some she already had. It was a very interesting and to me surprising fight. She seems like the stronger one of the two sisters so far, but it’s too early to say. The fight also states, I believe, that she shatters her gem upon escape, which again seemed odd as the whirlwind was an awesome factor in this fight. I was very curious to see what would happen if the sheep didn’t get the chance to turn spells, with a grappled cleric, a barbarian out of reach and only the inquisitor against her in the air. She could very well have won, as he didn’t hit that hard at all.)

…I got better?

To the south the heroes found the sleeping quarters in which the soldiers had resided and to the north a very interesting study-chamber containing an old skeleton of a hag, apparently stitched together by several small pieces of string. From what Edgar could judge, only the skull was missing. On the shelf, the heroes found an old tome of necromancy and blood magic, apparently describing the process of reviving dead tissue and notes on inflicting vampirism upon oneself. Kia was immediately interested.

With focus on the skeleton, the heroes agreed this was likely the remains of Oothi; now to decide what to do with her. They agreed someone should take a finger bone from it for starts. Colin had the honor. As soon as he did, four invisible blades cut deep into his back.

Panic erupted, everyone flailing wildly with their weapons, Galfur attempting to invisibility purge without luck, Kia flying to the ceiling and casting, yet another, fireball with selective blasting. The skeleton was smashed into a million pieces and the invisible foes immediately turned their attention to her. Colin, near the brink of death, healed himself while Edgar cast True Seeing on the inquisitor who saw four invisible stalkers hovering around Kia near the ceiling (Interesting topic, does true seeing enable you to see invisible stalkers? I’m not entirely sure, but decided yes). The dwarf jumped on to his flying carpet and Mutt on to his newly acquired flying broom and raced up there. Kia took a full round worth of invisible slams and with a shriek encapsulated herself in a resilient sphere. With a true seeing and Mutt’s blind-fighting feat, the stalkers were downed quickly.

With the skeleton out of the picture, they only needed to terminate the remaining spiders.

Ding, ding, ding went the bell.

In the final chamber the heroes found the old bell-tower in which stairs led both up and down, and of course the immediately spotted a spider-swarm on its way up the stairs. Kia, this time thinking reflectively, hurled a fireball at it and tore up the tower. Including the bell that instantly came crashing down. With everyone but Mutt failing their reflex-save, the entire party crashed to the floor below for a smashing amount of damage.

Having learned for whom the bell tolls, it took them some time to heal up and get back on track. Luckily, none had been killed. Instead they decided to investigate the ground floor fully, seeing as they were there and all.

Not that there was much to find except some old rooms, a kitchen, a larder and some very old flasks of wine for the heroes’ cellar. Two stairs, however, led downwards to the basement and they decided to take the first one, on their way naturally spotting another spider swarm being blasted into oblivion.

The halls downstairs were covered with bloody runes and symbols, a strong presence of evil emanating from every direction. As they headed south they arrived in a very old, large room containing skulls and desecrated tombs all over. In their midst was a desperate, pale soul digging and mumbling to himself all the time. They recognized the almost faded symbol of Tyr on his breast-plate and concluded this was the paladin mentioned in Radvir’s journal. Calling him out, the almost deranged human revealed his vampiric features and clumsily stepped towards them. Before he could get that far, however, Edgar noticed his obvious signs of dominance and cast dispel magic. As he returned to conscious, he presented himself as Halloran and thanked the heroes for freeing him from his bonds. He also told them how he had eventually been caught by Radvir and turned into this monstrosity. Already now he had been feasting on several of the guards and lived the unholy life of the nocturnal. His shame had overpowered him, and now he wished for nothing more than to redeem himself before suffering his final death.

He pledged himself to Edgar, the holy father, asking whether he would grant him a quest so he might die with a pure heart. Edgar reluctantly instructed him to accompany them in the fight against the remaining witch and whatever this towering, metal-thing might be. The paladin eagerly accepted and offered to take them north to the creature.

Bloodbath!

As soon as they entered they saw the grim monstrosity stand before them. A towering blood knight clad in armor, dual wielding bastard swords and constantly bleeding in a slippery cascade, ready to take them on in a challenge.

Kia flew up towards the low ceiling, Edgar buffed and Galfur did some more; then he charged in and unleashed his blood-fountain on the entire party, with only Mutt and Galfur saving. Everything now covered with a slippery substance didn’t interfere with the heroes. Colin unleashed a series of shots, shaving off the top of the blood knights hit points, and in a sudden burst of extreme aggression, Mutt scored a critical hit with his x3 undead bane halberd while fully buffed up and in rage, for a well total of a 100 damage.

And thus the blood knight was no more.

(Seriously, what a let down! With everyone making their second saves against the poison and nobody failing the reflex save on the greased weapons there is just so little one can do. Especially with a power crit like that. Ah well, at least he got to save himself a sweet reputation beforehand.)

At this time the heroes and their vampiric companion heard a faint clapping up in the end of the room. A vampiric witch stepped out of the shadows, ready for battle…

To be continued next week.

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Ashes at Dawn pt.4

(This session included Edgar the human cleric, Galfur the dwarven inquisitor, Mutt the human barbarian and Colin the halfling paladin. The average party level was 11.)

Dress this!

So the heroes had finally made their way through the nocturnal murderer’s basement and finally stood face to face with the culprit. Much to their surprise, after bashing down his basement-door, they realized it was none other than Radvir Giovanni greeting them; the otherwise respected and well-known vampire-tailor. His spawns stared hatefully at the newly arrived heroes and their master, well aware of the alarm the heroes sprung earlier, had prepared his defenses well in advance.

”You should never have interfered with this!” he hissed ”It doesn’t concern you!”

And thus he charged.

Nothing like beginning a session with a good fight!

Colin got the upper hand of initiative and unleashed a hail of arrows at the advancing vampire. He noticed how he moved gracefully through the air, avoiding slashes and arrows alike almost as if he was displaced from his apparent location (remember, Radvir drinks his potion of Cat’s Grace and Displacement before the battle, if he’s aware of the heroes approaching). A few of them connected and burned into his skin and thus the rogue leapt a long way to the flank with his bladed scarf (I’d never heard of this beforehand, my players had a hard time taking this guy seriously, I have to admit), and just as he was to slice through the air, a spawn which had readied its action charged in and provided the vampire with a flank. Not only did Colin take a neat beating with 7D6+8, he also suffered two negative levels due to the slam.



Damn rogues!


Damn rogues!

The rest of the party joined in, but without their sorceress there was very little offensive ability left, besides from Mutt who fiercely tried taking down Radvir with a full attack. Due to the vampire’s now buffed AC of 32 and displacement-spell, it wasn’t easily done. In fact, he danced for some time even when the inquisitor joined in and instead decided it would be easier beating up the spawns. The remaining two remained stationary in the back, prepared to aid their master for his fleeting tactical advantage.

Colin had a really good round on the following turn, bypassing the displacement and scoring three hits with smite evil on the vampire, bringing him notoriously down in hit points, even with his previous fast healing. He went into a blood-rage and five-foot stepped into full attack position of the paladin, immediately having another spawn flank up to his side, and unleashed his barrage of blades on him, hitting with two out of three. After 14D6+16 damage the spawn also got lucky, resulting in three additional negative levels in one burst, instantly slaying the halflfing paladin.

(Thus, session was off to an even greater start!) Radvir, however, was getting dangerously low on health and prepared to escape the following round through gaseous form and let his minions be mobbed up. Chance never came, however, as Mutt and Galfur with a flank-attack got through his displacement and thus slew the foul being where he stood, only to deal swift justice on the remaining spawns.

(Radvir was a surprisingly lethal fight, but he works largely on his spawns in my book. And of course, being the hallmark of the higher levels in D&D, who wins the initiative. Him being so dependent on his sneak attacks for being dangerous makes it even more important to get the first strike and move out on the flanks, so remember that Cat’s Grace potion. It ups Radvir’s initiative to 13 and his AC to a full 32. If buffed out, it might be perfectly viable to let him move up close and personal to the entire party and start slicing, holding his spawns prepared to charge in and flank on the condition of him full-attacking something they can flank. In this way, Radvir hits with +21/21/16 for a potential 21D624 in one turn.. If you feel he still needs buffering, give him some poisonous attacks, or even read up on Ice Titan’s ”Heroic Mode Radvir” as I like to call him: http://paizo.com/forums/dmtz3me4?Ashes-at-Dawn#28 This version replaces Radvir with a very lethal monk-build which is very unforgiving, especially for ranged casters and grouped up people.)

”Dear evil diary; I totally foiled the heroes’ plans toda— wait, there is someone at the door?”

Being the megalomaniac villain that he is, Radvir of course keeps a journal of his exploits. As the heroes searched the small basement room, they found it lying conveniently on the desk, next to some staked vampires who were apparently paralyzed and unable to move for now. They decided not to take any chances, and instead return everything to Siervage and letting him decide what to do with them. They also decided not to execute Radvir by themselves, but instead pacify him and hand him over to his betrayed community.

In his journal, Radvir mentioned some very interesting things. (Sadly, this is one of those things I would have loved for the adventure to include as a hand-out, but sadly it is only summed up. I therefore have made up my own excerpt from Radvir’s journal, explaining of recent events and his involvement with them. Feel free to use at your own leisure!)

Journal1

A lot of things started making sense for the heroes as their eyes went through this. Not surprisingly, Radvir had been a close ally of the Whispering Way all along, wishing nothing but throwing the vampire-society into turmoil and thus unable to stand against the Whispering Tyrant, should the cult be successful in creating the Carrion Crown. Apparently, for this very purpose, the mentioned sisters in the old abbey seemed responsible for the odd concoction; the Blood Brew, which somehow warranted closer investigation. Another thing that quickly caught their attention was the mention of their friend Adivion Adrissant, the scholar, merchant and aristocrat they met during Countess Caliphvaso’s ball. He’d been very friendly to them back then, very interested in establishing some trade-connections and listened dearly to their stories and heroic moments. But for now, it seemed like his interest ran much deeper than that. Him bearing the title of Lord in connections with The Whispering Way was certainly an ill omen.

The heroes decided to do a quick sweep of the remaining basement, including the adjacent room which contained nothing but silence and four coffins; likely the resting place for the now former owners. Eager to inspect, Mutt went to the first one which immediately sprang to life and grappled him.

It’s a mimic!!!

The coffin mimics all animated in the narrow room, effectively sending Edgar and Galfur running screamingly away, while the third dragged off with Mutt to munch on him in the corner. Edgar cast Freedom of Movement on Galfur and ran to the far side of the room, while the inquisitor kept shooting arrows at the things. The only thing Mutt could rely on at this time, was his own brute force and whatever daggers he could produce and punch it up with..

(This was one of those Benny Hill fights, really… It took for god damn ages, with two thirds of the players being terrible damage-dealers. In the end they would have won, but I actually ended up lowering the mimic’s hit points to something which could be completed in one night. They don’t hit really hard and by the time the barbarian had smashed the first up, he made good progress on the second one as well.)

And thus the heroes made their way quickly through the rest of the basement, wrestling with a few mechanics and challenge before finding the secret door into Radvir’s personal chambers, in which they found another letter.

Journal2

From his knowledge, Mutt had heard about this old Abbey that once was dedicated to a saint of Tyr but later converted to vinery. As far as he knew, it had been abandoned through time, so it was likely these supposed witches were there in the utmost secrecy.

As the dark times fell…

The party handed over the evidence to Luvick Siervage who was most pleased with the results and yet quite unnerved to realize the evil forces mobilizing against him. He promptly instructed the heroes to journey to the north along the cliffs, where they would find the old abbey. They were to put a significant end to this threat once and for all, making the witches pay for their blasphemous mockery of his society. As for Radvir, the traitor was bound to the tallest spire of the city with enchanted links, unable to escape his impending doom in a few hours. The heroes, who had of course made sure to loot him of all vital possessions first, were invited to stand by as spectators.

As dawn cast its golden hue on the city, even down on the streets they could vainly hear the frenzied tailor wail and cry in anger when his flesh began searing and shortly after caught fire. It was with a roar Radvir became engulfed in flames and after some minutes was reduced to tiny pieces of ash drifting off into the wind. It would have been a grand moment indeed, had it not been for the fact that a strange gathering of grey clouds had started in sky. It looked like an unusual large amount of rain was on its way.

The heroes went to recuperate and after 10 hours raised Colin from the dead. Being briefly updated, they immediately went to the city gates to set out in pursuit of the Abbey. As they moved out they noticed how the heavy rain had started and how the clouds nearly grew darker and darker for every hour. The faint sound of thunder in the distance roared, almost as if some gigantic beast was making its way to their location. Colin had an inner sense of an unholy presence starting to settle all throughout the land. Definitely, this was a dark omen of things to come.

They spent a significant amount of time reading up on the names they’d been given, to learn that these witches had once been part of a coven led by a vicious Hag known as Oothi. Oothi was destroyed a long time ago by an inquisition and burned to the stake, however, it is believed she managed to escape in one form or the other, meaning the church scattered her bones all throughout the world. It was said, however, that her remaining sisters were now eagerly searching for her remains as through foul necromantic rituals, it would indeed be possible to make her walk this earth once more.

During their research, the heroes encountered yet another dire event. Apparently, their old friend and ally, Count Lucinean Galdana, who was also introduced to them along with Adivion Adrissant, had gone missing this very night, which had now put the town in an uproar. Being a very respected member of society, searches were going on at all gates and the heroes were questioned about their knowledge of his last location. They only knew that he had invited them to see him after the ball, and that Adivion had expressed an interest to join. While the Watch assured them they would go and investigate, the heroes knew all too well that Adivion was no longer in town. They’d checked.

In the name of the demonic rose

As the heroes neared the abbey they shielded themselves from the rain the best they could. It was pouring down, sometimes making paths and trails dangerous or unstable. What they couldn’t help but notice was the occasional red lightning striking at random places out in the distance. Whenever it happened, it almost seemed as if something red and glowing was hiding in the nearby clouds. Not exactly sure why, they just knew that this somehow signalized that time was about to run out. Evil forces had been set in motion and if they didn’t act swiftly it might spell a very bad future for Ustalav.

They arrived around noon at the old abbey and noticed its surprisingly fine condition. It was located close to a small bay with plenty of water at the foot of the tall cliffs and the abbey itself was in two floors, the upper one housing a prosperous balcony with green vegetation. Besides from his they noticed a small, closed, stable, an old tool shed, a well and the vineyards themselves. Further down the path they would return to the grasslands.

From where they stood, they couldn’t spot any sign of life, but a faint sound of someone working and humming lowly emanated from the stables. Colin, not wanting to take any chances by now, detected a strong evil presence coming from within, which in adventurer-language roughly translates to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJoM7V54T-c

Back on plot, however, Mutt decided to add a twist to it and politely knocked, a short moment later being greeted by a young stable boy. Mutt told him he carried an important message and smiling the young boy asked who it was for?

Not really that far into the plan, Mutt decided it was more trouble than it was worth and pounded the boy with his halberd, only to see him laugh with a twisted unearthly laughter and warp into a towering, drooling demon. Before them stood a glabrezu.

It immediately cast a mirror image which was torn apart by Galfur and Mutt. It also saved the demon from some nasty shots from the zealous paladin. On its next turn, the demon cast Power Word: Stun on the paladin, well aware he was too far away from the cleric, and retreated to gather up the party as much as he could. Taking a bit of beating, he managed into next round and created a field of reverse gravity sending Edgar and Colin flying up in the air, more or less defenseless as the cleric had no luck getting spells through in his current state and failed his one dispel magic attempt. He attempted to confuse Mutt who luckily made his save. Both the barbarian and the inquisitor got to hang on to the door, but had to rely on their one-handed weapons to harm the demon, who now turned to fiercely tearing them apart with his close combat attacks.

In the end, Galfur hurled himself at it and got out of the gravity-zone, thus finally able to finish off the foe with a well-aimed lethal blow.

As the demon gurgled and fell to its dead knees, the party took a deep breath and looked at each other. Certainly, this was not going to be easy…

To be continued this night!

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Ashes at Dawn pt.3

Finally back from a very long holiday came the mighty heroes of Ustalav, now ready to continue their journey and battle against the Whispering Way. This session consisted of Edgar the human cleric of Gond, Mutt the human barbarian, Colin the halfling paladin of Lathander, Galfur the dwarven inquisitor and Kia the human sorceress. The average party level was 11.

The heroes had done a fair amount of sidequestion up till this point, including a royal ball with Countess Caliphaso in which they got to meet some of the upper crust of Caliphas, such as Count Lucinean Galdana, count of Amaans who eagerly listened to the tales of the heroes’ deeds. Present was also Dr. Trice of the local asylum and Adivion Adrissant, a wise scholar and trader in the arcane arts who gladly spoke with the heroes about their journey and upcoming challenges around town. The Countess threw in a party to remember, in which the heroes got themselves hammered and high on drugs, thus starting a long sidequest of redeeming themselves. More about this in the side-quest update post of chapter 5 later on. For the same reason, this blog entry is rather short.

Thus we go back on the main plot.

To catch a killer when much is at stake!

The heroes had long argued whether the best way to catch their target would be to trail his few tracks back to wherever he got his supplies. From the vampire Kote they had received additional stakes found in the victims, all witnessing the same craftsmanship behind them, revealed by the twisting burn-marks around the bottom. From their conclusions they had likely been part of furniture once.

They therefore decided to snoop around for some information and finally realized that this solid handiwork originated from a carpenter by the name Willum, who resided in the north-eastern part of Caliphas. They arrived at sunset and were politely greeted by the halfling-carpenter and his two sons, who quickly identified this sort of tree as very sturdy and durable. They could easily recollect selling a bunch of chairs to a certain customer within the last few weeks, a man with a crooked nose and grey eyes, who always ended up dragging them down the street and disappearing. (In the original adventure, the carpenter is placed directly opposite of the tailoring-shop, but let’s not make things TOO easy. As one of my players remarked, why would the killer buy all his stakes at the same place anyway?)

The heroes thanked Willum and departed, trailing their suspect’s footsteps as closely as possible, till they reached a street with several small shops. They ended up asking around in the local tavern, in which the inn-keeper quickly pointed out their suspect and said that he was employed at the tailor’s further down the street; “The Nobleman’s Stitch”.

Dressed for the occasion

The heroes had a short gathering outside as to whether kick in the door, guns blazing, or taking the talkative approach. They settled for something in between, keeping a very nervous finger on the trigger. A quick walk around the house revealed a small set of stairs down to a tightly locked basement and the showcase windows revealed only illuminated mannequins in the dim streetlights. It wasn’t long till the tailor would close down for the night, so they decided to make a late visit.

Inside they were greeted by four shop assistants, one of the behind the counter bidding them welcome to The Nobleman’s Stitch, asking whether he could help them with something? They spoke casually for a bit, and Galfur and Kia quickly noticed his twitching movements and strange gaze, concluding that this man was dominated. Not wanting to waste precious amounts of time, Kia unleashed hell with a dispel magic and snapped the servant out of the trance. He screamed and ran, immediately resulting in spellcasting coming from behind the counter; more precisely – from the showcase-window. They identified the sound of invisibility spells being cast, and Galfur on his turn immediately cast an invisibility purge. As the remaining three dominated workers rushed to the intruders, three vampires flew out from the window, no longer posing as mannequins. (I made a woopsie here as this fight should more than likely attract some of the other encounters nearby in the shop, so after a couple of rounds I provided all the vampires with a couple of more caster levels to even stuff out. If you’re running this as a GM, remember there are additional encounters in the side-rooms and upstairs that would likely come to their aid : ) )

Edgar hastily cast a Death Ward on Mutt who flew into rage and hurled himself at the first vampire, his halberd of undead bane drawing glowing circles as it sliced through the air. It connected with the first vampire’s chest in a gory mess and soon after Galfur’s strike landed heavily in its back. As the two remaining vampires flew into position well above the floor they unleashed barrages of scorching rays towards the halfling paladin, severely crippling his hit points. To make matters worse, one of the dominated thralls succeeded in grappling him on the following turn, keeping the much valued smite evils out of the battle for some time. Inspired by the success of his colleague, the second shop-attendant made the same move and grappled Kia in the corner, while the third picked up an improvised weapon and started hammering on Galfur.

Edgar blessed himself with another Death Ward, the power of Raven’s Head crackling through his incantations for every word, and to his pleasure noticed how the first vampire seemed unable to act against Mutt with its Vampiric Touch. Instead it turned to Galfur and unleashed a devious slam attack. It was to no avail however, and the vampire didn’t get far enough to evade the retaliation of steel which soon disintegrated it into a cloud of mist seeking towards its coffin.

Cleverly flying to a better strategic position, the remaining two vampires flew to the counter and unleashed two Cones of Cold on the party, making sure not to hit the valuable silk-drapes in the process. Both Edgar and Kia felt the pain from the chilling cold, but Colin was brought to the brink of death, with less than 10 hit points left. Luckily he managed to free himself from the grapple and move in on Edgar while channeling. The thralls close on their tails, Kia remained grappled and then unleashed a still fireball with selective targets, burning the vampires for a modest amount of damage. Mutt and Galfur knocked out a thrall and continued their approach, while Edgar cast a Heal spell on the paladin, allowing him to get off some well-earned holy shots. The vampires shifted their attention to Kia now and hurled a round of scorching rays against her, knowing she’d not be likely to reach the healer in time. As Kia was severely injured by the first barrage, Mutt managed to interrupt the second casting with his reach weapon and impale the nocturnal monster with a howl.

Not long after, the third vampire was killed by returned scorching ray along with some well-aimed arrows.

Silence then settled on the shop with spools of string and pieces of burned/frozen cloth slowly descending from through the air.

Colin went to the door and switched to the “Closed” sign.

Clothe one!

As they rummaged through the store they found some coin behind the counter and some valuable cloth on the shelves. The heroes noticed an old set of stairs going up along with some old curtains covering doorways to other parts of the house. From outside they had noticed the two-floor structure of the building and therefore knew they had a lot more to cover. From some searching they went through the dressing rooms with their mirrors and also found an old kitchen along with some small rooms with supplies. They couldn’t help but notices, however, the presence of something sinister and evil from the south of the building. The part that had been turned into an old warehouse.

As they moved closer they did indeed find a rather large hall with plenty of barrels and crates, but most interesting was the dot of total darkness above them, from which the presence of evil originated. Colin, blessed with True Sight from the cleric immediately noticed three Nabasu demons and took initiative by shooting one of them. With a shriek the bat-like infernal beings dropped to the floor and another battle swiftly ensured. The demons unleashed their death-stealing gazes, but luckily the party had been swift enough to make sure the two Death Wards were still in place. Galfur, however, suffered negative levels in this approach. The demons then barraged them with mass hold person and in the process ended up holding Kia, Galfur and Edgar, leaving Mutt and Colin to deal with the rest. To make matters worse, a handful of foul ghouls made their way up through the floor, clawing at the heroes. (To be honest, I’m pretty sure Paizo mostly put them here for the slaughter. They’re great in regards to threatening the heroes who fail their saves against hold person, but that seems to be about it)

The demons split up in a triangle from the heroes, leaving them to bash away at their ghouls and breaking free from their held state. Most of them succeeded doing so on a full-round action, but poor Galfur wasn’t so lucky. Instead the demons hovered and unleashed Enervation spells on the dwarf. Rolling double 4’s the dwarf was….



Dead

Edgar invoked the power of his deity and with Raven’s Head tore apart all the ghouls. Meanwhile, Colin had the time of his life unleashing shots from his holy bow with plenty of smite evils to go. The three demons fell quickly and the party survived with only minor injuries. Deciding not to waste anymore time, Edgar cast Raise Dead on the dwarf and got him back on his feet, ready to explore the rest of the building. Behind the second curtain they found more changing rooms and a long corridor leading to a set of stairs down into the basement.
*
*Getting to the bottom of this!

They arrived in a large chamber, dimly lit and several doors. One of them led back out into the streets, whereas the others seemed very anonymous. They could, however, notice the faint sound of movement behind the southern one and a sense of sinister evil, so Mutte immediately kicked in the door.

There, in front of an iron grating upon which several dead vampires rested, stood a familiar face with his fellow conspirators. Radvir Giovanni looked at the heroes with an annoyed expression and snarled “You should NEVER have gotten yourself involved in this!”…

And that is a battle for the upcoming session next week.

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Ashes at Dawn pt.2

(Attending this session was Mutt the human barbarian, Edgar the human cleric of Gond, Galfur the dwarven inquisitor, Kia the human sorcerer and Colin the halfling paladin of Lathander. The average party level was 11)

The heroes gathered their belongings and decided to push onwards down into the underground. They had the feeling they were about to stick their hands into one, huge, ugly hornet’s nest, but since Quinley hadn’t shown up yet it seemed like the only option.

Behind the door was a long hallway bathed in a red hue, showing strange tapestries of predatory beings decorating the walls. It was obvious that someone called this place home and the sweet smell of blood was thick in the air. On their way, the heroes discussed their most prudent course of action, which ended up being diplomatic and talkative. After all, there would be no reason to run in, guns blazing, into a city swarming with the undead. (Seemed reasonable enough. The adventure actually makes it a possibility to simply storm the place and gather the clues by hand, although this really seems to be the boring approach in an RP-aspect…)

So they reached a door and heard muffled voices on the other side. Slowly opening it, Galfur and Mutt looked inside and were greeted by four vampiric guards, getting to their feet. They drew swords and one of the sneered “Who are you?”

Galfur immediately stepped onwards, grunting “I’M YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!!”
(So much for the talkative approach, I see…)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T2S8GHzxqc

Luckily, his team mates stopped him from going Sir Lancelot on the vampires and told them they wished to parley with their leader and that they were sent by Quinley. Quinley was well known to the guards and they took an instant fascination of Kia (formerly known as Vincent until Wild Magic got the better of him) assuming her to be the headperson of the group, with her highest charisma score. They let her and her cattle onwards down the halls for almost an hour, asking them about their errand and informing them that Sir Luvick Siervage would likely wish to see them if they were hunting the vampire-killer. Things had been on edge of late in the community.

In the end they entered a huge underground complex consisting of several houses, settlements and various homes. The streets were bustling with minions, enthralled beings and spawns all eyeing the possibility of fresh meat. An unholy cathedral was placed to the far north and a salon richly decorated in red shiny lights rested to the west. An old pumphouse was to the east and to the south a grand hall towered up against the ceiling. This was where they were going.

Inside they were met with a court of elderly looking and yet savage vampires, sitting at their thrones in the far end of the room. On the biggest throne, a charismatic gentlemen eyed the party with an almost calculating gaze. He nodded lazily with his head as they entered and the guards provided Kia, the mistress, with a chair. Her slaves, the rest of the party, was ordered to stay, behave and only speak when spoke at.

Luvick was at his good behavior, greeting the heroes and bidding them welcome to his domain. He also wished to know why he should ever let them leave? Kia told him about the group’s quest and their wish to track down the Whispering Way. Something they understood he would be easily able to help them with. To this, Luvick nodded with a sly smile, although he certainly didn’t understand what anyone would wish with such a group of deranged necromancers. When explained about the heroes hypothesis that the cult might be dangerously close to bringing back the Whispering Tyrant into this world, Luvick considered it for a second and then offered to settle for an agreement. If the heroes could bring the murderer to him, he would gladly tell them everything he knew about the whereabouts of the cult. They were not to slay the killer, merely bring him to justice at the hands of the nocturnal. In return the heroes would have safe passage in the vampiric community.

They agreed to this and were told that the vampires held one suspect in custody in the old pumphouse. A nosferatu who apparently had carried evidence when caught, that some of the minor noble houses of Caliphas had in fact hired him to carry out three of the murders of important vampire nobles. However, as the killings were still proceeding, they assumed there were more out there waiting to be found. Luvick suggested the heroes spoke to the nosferatu and also Desmond Kote, the vampire inquisitor, and Lady Evgenya, owner of the salon.

(There are a few pointers that seem unclear in the original adventure, such as whether the killings have stopped after they captured the nosferatu and exactly how many killings there have been. If you have very inquisitive players, like me, better prepare some more detail than ‘vampires have died!!’)

Thus the heroes bid him goodbye, promising with news.

(GM’S: REMEMBER; The heroes get XP in this adventure whenever they successfully interact with the vampires, as if they had killed them in combat. I tend to forget this all the time, so might spare some of you the headache!)

Going Magnum vamPIre (fuck it, they can’t all be winners…)

They immediately headed to the old pumphouse in which they were greeted by a brooding nosferatu sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by vermin and insects crawling on the floor. As he noticed them enter, he smiled and got up. “Ah, more of Luvick’s servants, yes? Have you come to gloat some more? No? Oh, no, now I see. You’re not slaves. Yet. You are here with a purpose. Would it be to set me free? I assure you, I would be most grateful!”

This was Ramoska Arkimnos, skilled alchemist and practitioner of the arcane. When asked about his involvement with the murders he shrugged, denying any kind of involvement. He was well aware of their happenings but assured the heroes he had nothing to do with them. The vampire community claimed to have proof of him being hired by nobles to carry out the deeds, and if they wanted to see for themselves, he was sure that Radvir the tailor, and second hand of Luvick, would gladly present to them any ‘evidence’ they would have. Ramoska had no idea who could be behind such an act and neither didn’t really care. The heroes spoke to him a bit about the motivation of such; perhaps wishing to split up the vampire community before an invasion? The nosferatu merely nodded and mumbled ‘Yes, yes, very interesting!’ along the way.

Edgar asked about his involvement with the Whispering Way and to this the vampire smiled. He’d indeed had a clash with them some small time ago in which they contacted him to test out a very potent potion, apparently able to cause Lichdom. Although he was no supporter of the Way’s goals, this was too tempting an opportunity to let go and with a very small sample, he had indeed been able to verify its potency. Also the fact that it was more like a poison than a potion. It was supposed to be administered to someone. Who? That was beyond his imagination.

Alas, the Whispering Way had neglected to pay him his fee, which would ordinarily be of no big concern. However, in the principles of things, Ramoska didn’t approve of being scammed and therefore wished nothing more than to get out of here and get back at the cult. He therefore promised the heroes to divulge any information he had, could they prove him innocent.

Without any further questions they left him and decided to head for the Mr. Radvir, the tailor, who apparently held the hard evidence for the nosferatu’s crimes.
*
*A tailor to a jailor

The tailoring shop was small but well stocked. The dresses and handiwork in here was nothing short of amazing. Dating back thousands of years there was an immense amount of time put into each and everyone of them, reflecting a man dedicated to his work. Greeting them with a huge smile, Radvir Giovanni shook his long blonde hair and bowed deeply for Kia as she entered, asking whether she’d prefer a lovely dress this day?

Considering it for a second, Kia decided to go against her urge and instead asking about the murderers. Radvir frowned and agreed this was indeed a tragic chain of events, and even though they’ve managed to lock up the nosferatu things certainly hadn’t improved much. He was, however, certain of the nosferatu being the mastermind behind the scenes and whoever was out there likely was a minor concern that would quickly be brought to justice by the vampire authorities.

Kia told him that they too were on the case and wished to bring whoever responsible for trial. Radvir nodded and presented her with papers found on the nosferatu as they seized him. That vampire had been playing a strange game for some time and they’d kept their eyes on him for some time. And for good reason, it seemed. The papers confirmed three noble families of Caliphas hiring him to perform three of the murders on some of the most esteemed members of the community, which was pretty solid, Radvir thought. Kia agreed on this and asked whether Radvir had any other suspects to go on, which he admitted wasn’t the case. Perhaps it was a mortal or enthralled minions of some kind?

As they left the store, they spoke about these papers. Mutt and Edgar, however, realized that the three mentioned noble families had left Caliphas months ago?…
The mystery grew thick.

(Again, for some really strange reason there are no names given of nobles in the adventure. You might do yourself a favor and come up with some of your own.)

Drinks and Devils

The heroes went to investigate the vampire community for a bit. They began by visiting the cathedral of Zaebo, the infernal duke of arrogance, nobility and perversion. Both Galfur and Colin refused to enter this unholy place, leaving Kia, Edgar and Mutt to themselves.

Inside they met up with Desmond Kote, the inquisitor, along with two of his priests. Kote didn’t care much for their presence and initially was quite dismissive. As they spoke more about the killings he couldn’t tell them much they didn’t already know, except for his agreement when they presented to him the stake they found earlier. Kote had been gathering stakes from previous victims as well, noticing the all too similar patterns on them, as if they came from the same carpenter. He had been unable to track this person down, however. He suggested the heroes spoke to Lady Evgenya if they wished to know more about patterns in regards to the victims.

(There is a skill challenge involved here, but I frankly hate them, so I skipped it)

A group of very curious nobles met the heroes as they entered Lady Evgenya’s Salon, bidding them welcome in a very sly way. One of them who seemed to be the main man at the door asked them thoroughly for their purpose of being here, and Kia expressed the urgency of meeting the Lady and that they were working for Luvick.

The heroes were ordered to wait for a while in which they inspected the room. Several thralls were resting in the room, drinking, smoking and eyeing them eagerly. It was obvious that Lady Evgenya was a vampire with plenty of people at her side. At one time, a small undead girl came to the group, insisting to dance with some of them. Kia immediately sent Edgar to do it. After all he was the slave now. This was done with some reluctance and fierce gazes from the cleric.
Also, an elderly vampire with an appetite for small people insisted on burrowing Colin for a dance on the floor. While considered for some time, Kia agreed, sending the halfling dancing, well knowing that any kind of turmoil would likely result in their deaths.

(I strongly considered having ‘Confusion Pump’ playing in here. Just saying)

Lady Evgenya arrived in a burst, slamming open the door and with a sob hurled her arms around Kia, crying. She knew Luvick would never abandon her; how fortunate he’d sent capable minions to protect her in these times of danger!

(I played the vampires quite a bit more eccentrically than they were likely intended. Lady Evgenya was histrionic drama queen on the verge of borderline. Period.)

Kia gently calmed her down and agreed dancing with her. While they did so the vampire kept sobbing and telling how much she feared for her life. She was absolutely sure that the murderer would come for her next, just as he had already taken the lives of three of her very best friends. She’d noticed a very strange pattern in the killings; for example that many of the murders had happened around Restoration Park. Another interesting fact was that the murderer seemed to only go for vampires with large amounts of thralls and spawns below them, which only gave a stronger indication of her being next, as she was the one currently holding the most thralls in the community. In addition, there had been a strange tendency among the spawns left behind from their dead master. They had started acting weird, almost as if they had become…secretive and covert.
She was so afraid to go out that she had fortified herself inside her salon, refusing to leave before the murderer had been brought to rest.

She insisted that Kia and her slaves would stay with her for all eternity. Kia managed to talk her way out of this, stressing that there was no need for any drastic measures. They needed to get out soon so they could bring down the murderer and avenge her friends, after all. But she did promise to come back and be her plaything very soon!

The heroes left the salon quickly and got their bearings together.

(Edgar’s player, Silverglass, made this lovely piece of art from the scene. I think she nailed it quite well!)

Bloody right!

Acting on rumors the heroes decided to seek out some spawns and stick an ear to the unholy ground. Apparently, according to the few spawns that wanted to talk to them, there was a gatheringplace in the community not far away known as the Blood Cellar, in which many of them came to ‘get their thrill’. When asked, they described it as a feeling of ecstasy, like utter freedom they had never encountered since they were embraced into the vampiric society. It reminded them of mortality.

The heroes, curious to find out more, headed to the Blood Cellar to find out more.

(Again this adventure is horribly vague on this part. All it says is that the spawns and thralls are ‘acting weird’ which is then left for you to interpret. I decided to run them like junkies, finally tasting what it was like to live a free and mortal life without the heavy mantle of undead hanging on their shoulder. I suppose it’s entirely up to you how you wish to run it).

At the cellar, several spawns were gathered and the party sent in Mutt, pretending to be another junkie in need for his extract. Two kind vampires in the cellar provided him with a vial of red substance for almost no money, and he staggered back out quickly. As none of the heroes had any knowledge of alchemy, they decided to get out of town for now, and find someone who’d know about this substance.

You have been waylaid by enemies and must defend yourself!

Suddenly on their way out, the party was ambushed by spell casting coming from up the tunnel. Two fireballs roared towards them and brought them half to their knees. The invisible vampires won initiative and boomed them repeatedly, slaying Galfur and being damn close having serious impacts on the remaining party (Galfur had three negative levels at this time, so it wasn’t really his day…)

The heroes quickly rallied, healed and got off a True Seeing spell on Colin, who localized the two vampires from the Blood Cellar. Kia moved into position and cast a Glitterdust (YES! WE FRIGGIN GOT OUR SPARKLY VAMPIRES!!). They cried out “You should never have interfered with this!” and hurled scorching rays at Kia, bringing her to -3 hit points (One ray missed on a natural 1. It made all the difference.)
Edgar brought her back up and Colin began pin cushioning the vampires, who in exchanged hurled scorching rays back at him. Mutt broke the tie by charging in, tearing the first vampire apart. The party then focused fire on the second one who tried dominating Mutt into finishing off Kia. (That natural 20 sure came in handy on that save!)

With the vampires slain, the heroes set out from the tunnels quickly and returned to the surface. With their dead companion needing a raise they had important business to see to first. And then decide how to best track down this mysterious killer.

To be continued next week.

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Ashes at Dawn pt.1
(This session involved Edgar the human cleric, Vincent the human sorcerer, Colin the halfling paladin, Mutt the human barbarian and Galfur the dwarven inquisitor. The average party level was 10 and they reached level 11 at the end of the session.)

After one long track of side quests and cancelled sessions due to Diablo 3, we’re finally back in business with the Carrion Crown adventure path; this time flinging ourselves right into the thick, cold midst of vampire societies and profane rituals. The last time we left our heroes they had defeated the horrors of Illmarsh, regained their sanity, and set course for the Ustalavian capital of Caliphas. Will they finally track down the remains of the notorious cult known as the Whispering Way, or perish along the way?

(We spent roughly four sessions sidequesting in between Illmarsh and upon arriving in Caliphas and none of these are included here as I don’t intend to bore my readers down. I assume most of you are here to simply get a feeling for the Carrion Crown series but otherwise I hope to bring you a short article of the side-quests I used, in case you want to spice of Caliphas a bit).

None shall pass!
As the heroes returned to Thrusmoor for some much needed supplies and rest they planned for the next step of their journey. They would travel directly west, following the main road along the coast and hopefully reach the gates of Caliphas within a reasonable time. In the end, they joined up with a travelling caravan that was heading down the coast. Needless to say, most of them were pretty excited about this journey, especially since it involved something else than desolate, small, corrupt settlements. (Come to think of it, besides from Caliphas and Lepidstadt they hadn’t seen any major signs of civilization at that time. And after all they had some gold to spend.)

The heroes travelled with the caravan for several days before parting ways and heading the remaining journey towards Caliphas on horse. It took them through some minor hills obstructing the quite peaceful grassland, sparsely dotted with fields and small houses. But they suddenly came to a halt when they noticed a giant, headless rider mounted on a nightmare-steed further down the road. As they approached he called out for their names and demanded to know who he was facing before letting them pass. There was some debate and speculation but eventually they provided the horseman with the information. Laughingly, he attacked.


 Flying around above them, charging straight into the heroes with his lance and utilizing the nightmare’s obscuring breath, the knight inflicted some severe damage on the heroes before they were finally able to take him down. Not the toughest of challenges, but enough for them to take him seriously. On his corpse they found a few items, including a new amulet with strong indications of connections to the Whispering Way. As the heroes pushed on they agreed that the knight was likely a guardian left behind to blog their passage.
(It’s quite some time since we had this encounter and I therefore remember very little about it. I do recollect, however, that it all depends on how much flying your group has access to. In case of a very earthbound party this could drag out for a very long time, otherwise the rider is not the hardest match if the players are organized. He gets a slight boost in case he manages to drag their names out of them, so do your best to play him in a diplomatic or curious way to get the information he wants).

The Gates to the City
Upon arriving at the gates of Caliphas, the heroes noticed a large queue waiting to be let in. Several of them were merchants but also peasants and farmers being inspected as they went through the main gates to this magnificent, albeit gothic, metropolis. As they waited in line, the heroes overheard some mumbling and pondering further up about the current state of things in the city. The merchants shook their heads and grumbled about the so horrible killings and the lack of initiative from the governmental side.
The heroes asked the guards at the gate and were told that they had indeed chosen a poor time to visit the city. Several bestial murders had been committed of late, all of them also quite mysterious. All the victims had been found in the early morning before sunrise with a stake through their hearts, and as soon as the first light of dawn approached, they would crumble and disintegrate into nothingness. Of course the guards weren’t afraid to say what everyone was thinking; someone was making the vampires bite the dust. But yet, the captain of the guard and several of the high-standing members of society displayed a curious ignorance, bordering denial, in regards to the problem.
So far, nobody had been able to find any evidence or the slightest hint as to who the mysterious killer could be, but it certainly was on everyone’s lips these days. From what the guards could tell, the local temple of Lathander was deeply engaged with the case.



(As you may have read in my previous blog on Trial of the Beast, my players never ever got the chance to become acquainted with the Order of the Eye, represented by Judge Embreth. As they almost fled town with the not-so-good-graces it was quite difficult to fit in the order without it feeling shoehorned, so I decided to leave it out entirely and replace it with the Church of Lathander. This can be very easily done with another deity; I only chose Lathander because he seemed fitting and because the paladin worships him. In this case, simply use the same NPC’s as introduction. I even think you can make it work with the same events as described in the original adventure, but I chose the direct route and simply let them walk to the temple and begin their investigation of the cult. Alternatively, you can use The Seekers-organization, more closely described in Savage Tide, as this also explains what all the old antiquities and reliquaries are doing in their basement. The important thing is merely to have someone stash away the old gargoyle which will lead on the players to the old mausoleum).

So the heroes set out to experience the rich cultural, and yet dangerous life, of the grand city of Caliphas. At this point they ran into most of the side-quests I designed for the adventure, and for the sake of simplicity they have been left out from here. To put it short, they found a small poster from a child needing help slaying a revenant, overthrew an evil priest, visited the alley of fortune tellers and bought a haunted mansion from a swindler. They also received an invitation to one of the Countess’ many grand balls, as she’d undoubtedly heard of their grand accomplishments.

(Why side questing? Is it even necessary? No, far from it. Ashes at dawn is more than capable of standing on its own feet, but if you’re remotely like me, you love side quests and sometimes feel self-destructive towards your own campaign for throwing in so many. As Caliphas is really a huge city with plenty of mystery and opportunity for adventure, it seems prudent to add them at this time of the adventure, in which the pacing is rather slow. Compared to Lepidstadt, in which the heroes are pretty much working around the clock, now is your time to introduce something you’d like to try out or catch up on some of the XP, in case they’ve fallen behind.
The final part of the Ashes at Dawn-adventure adds some great information about Caliphas, which inspired me to write up some of my plots. Alternatively, you can throw in a lot of stuff here. Compared to my original expectations, Ashes didn’t really live up to my hopes in regards of originality, at least not in the first part of the book – So let your imagination run wild and do something you find to be fun! )

They decided to find an inn, but on their way found another macabre scene by the unveiled killer. Apparently there was quite a center of attention, as several others were gathered, mumbling and pointing at the corpse occupying the sidewalk of a small alley. Several city guards were carefully inspecting it, about to carry it outside. From what the heroes could see, its heart was pierced by a wooden stake. The captain of the guard, a sour looking man, brashly swept people aside and ordered his men to take great care to keep it out of the sun this time. Of course, as they dragged it along, one of the men tripped and part of the body was exposed to the morning sun, immediately setting it ablaze and crumbling to ash (it usually doesn’t work this way, but cinematic are always great). This instilled great rage in the captain and fear in the citizens who immediately hushed and whispered about the evil that was surely walking amongst them.

The captain, Boverde Hoptler, didn’t bother to speak much to the heroes, sticking to his belief that this was mere nonsense and someone playing tricks on the city. Vampires had left Ustalav thousands of years ago! The guards, however, once he was gone, were all quite convinced that this could very well be the very first move towards a greater, upcoming conflict.

After finding an inn, the heroes visited the local temple to Lathander and were greeted by two priests in charge. Father Modd and Father Chalest both were glad to see a holy pilgrim and bid Colin welcome (again, simply reskinning the order-members here). As they sat down to talk, Father Modd did indeed confirm the heroes’ suspicion; there had always been rumors in Caliphas about vampires residing somewhere in the city. Not just a small coven of them, but an entire society all by itself. Of course one could argue that the slaying of such vile beasts was in fact a good deed, the clergy were all interested in unmasking this mysterious vigilante, at least for the sake of identification. In addition, as Father Chalest pointed out, it was no surprise that such acts would have caught the eye of the elder vampires in the city, one especially rumored to be very old and go by the name Luvick Siervage (in the original adventure, Luvig is not mentioned till later, but name dropping is always good and doesn’t hurt the story). If this provocation went unchecked there was no telling what acts of retaliation the vampires would utilize. 

When asked about the Whispering Way the priests nodded in recognition. It was, after all, an old story. In regards to the vampires of Ustalav, it was well known that when the Whispering Tyrant walked this earth and waged war against the forces of good in the Shining Crusade, the vampiric knights of hell abandoned the tyrant to his fate. The reason being that allying with a cult wishing to turn all living things undead when you need their blood for sustenance hardly seemed like a wise thing to do.
The vampires had since been in exile but the cult kept itself busy, even though Father Modd had thought them gone for good. When explained about their journey here, they both grew solemn and gloomy, agreeing it was indeed a sign of great evil to come if they did not act soon. Sadly, none of them had any ideas as to where the cult could’ve headed next, although they could recommend browsing through some of the old confiscated, unholy literature kept for safe-keeping in the temple storage. There were also a few old artifacts recovered from their former bases of operation, which could perhaps be of use to the heroes.
Later that night they went down into the storage chamber.

HEY, FREAKSHOW! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE DEVIIIILLL’S REEEADYYY!
The storage was a myriad of ancient and strange items stored in everything from crates to glass boxes to massive iron vaults. By direction the heroes quickly found an old bookshelf against the wall and started rummaging through the musty books. In the dim light, Vincent and Galfur took a look around the room, noticing the shiny, bright treasures.

(In case you wish to make this really exotic, to the point of temptation, drop in some major confiscated major magical items for the heroes to drool over. Of course they could never have them. They’re confiscated, after all. Trap them with some nasty crap if they don’t know that.)

The texts didn’t reveal much, but one of the old crates was particularly interesting. Originally this stuff had been recovered and sealed away from one of the old hideouts the cultists used several years ago, now kept away from them. In the crate was an old, grinning stone gargoyle staring right at them. There was an unholy and unsettling feeling to it, but just as they were about to close it up they noticed the small imprint on the statue. It looked like a small round object would fit in and it didn’t take long for the heroes to find the medallion from the headless horseman and click it into place. The eyes of the gargoyle were instantly illuminated and a faint voice, coming from the inside, asked:
”What is the fifth catechism of the Whispering Way?”

The heroes, all failing their Knowledge: Religion horribly, stood around like sheeps for some seconds, before a pack of bone devils instantly warped into place, hurling themselves at the ignorant fools.
The battle was long but definitely more devastating to the environment than it was to the heroes. After defeating the devils they returned to the gargoyle and noticed how it projected the image of an old maosuleum, likely somewhere in town. They quickly figured out this to be their next destination and set out.

(I had an off day that evening, after a really long day at work. Didn’t play those bone devils the slightest bit correctly, so I can’t really comment that much on what to do with them. Spam a lot of ice walls, which seems to work out nicely, and take care of those annoying individuals with invisibility purge and the like).


The mausoleum was at the other end of town and getting into it wasn’t as hard as imagined, especially not with the use of a well aimed dimension door. As they made their way down, the heroes quickly realized that this place had been evacuated some time ago. Besides from a few pieces of broken glass and scattered, torn papers, nothing was left here. It seemed like they were too late.

Colin, however, noticed a dark presence in the corner of the room and immediately a gloomy figure stepped forward. He was clad in armor and wore the chilly feel of death, although he held up his hands in surrender.
”Don’t attack me,” he said ”I wish to speak with you. I am in severe need of your aid!”
He presented himself as Quinley and that he had been expecting the heroes to show up here. He knew they were on the trails of the Whispering Way and likely needed help to find their next destination. Quinley, on the other hand, needed help as well and just so happened to know someone who’d be able to point the heroes in the right direction. For a price.

Colin didn’t approve of this, dismissing the very possibility of working with a creature of darkness. He was sure the heroes would be able to find out this information by themselves, but Vincent wanted to hear Quinley out. The stranger told them of his vampiric heritage and that there was no need to deny it. Still, one dear and very close to him had been slain by this mysterious killer and all he wanted was for him to be put to justice. What he could offer the heroes was a pointing in the right direction, towards the elder vampires of Caliphas, who undoubtedly would know of the cult’s whereabouts. If they didn’t wish to associate with him that would be fine. Hell, if they wished to go down there and exterminate the lot, he would have no issue with it, as long as they brought the murderer to justice.

The heroes had some reluctance in this regard, but in the end settled for an agreement that they would at least hunt down the killer, but from thereon make no guarantees. A lot of this was due to Colin’s straight out refusal to work with the creatures of the night, so this was a good a deal as could possibly be made. Quinley then nodded his head and said that was as good as he could hope for. For now. He then told them that there was a well-known entrance to the vampire-underground at Restoration Park and that, if they asked him, he was certain the killer was vampiric himself. There was a huge concentration of vampire-murders around the park, which was hardly a coincidence. Also, the attacks seemed too organized and structured, often targeting the vampires with several thralls. If the heroes could gain access to the complex and an audience with Luvick Siervage he would likely be able to assist them in their investigation.

Park of the living dead
The heroes agreed to meet Quinley later that night, after sunset, at the park. They needed some rest and preparation.
That night they went to the old railing around the lush park and made their way on to the trails and had some looking around. At night the park was eerily empty with the tall, dark statues staring empty into the thin air. At the far end of the park, and old greenhouse was placed. But there was no sign of Quinley.
Instead the heroes searched around a bit and to their surprise found some old drains outside the greenhouse, apparently leading down a bit before being heavily blocked by iron bars. They pondered about this for a while but Colin could sense the faint radiance of evil coming from within the greenhouse. From what Galfur could identify with his darkvision, a group of shriekers were also placed right inside the door to the greenhouse, so the heroes decided to dimension door in, in the far corner.
They appeared successfully and attempted to orient themselves to the surrounding. The vegetation was dense, several plants and vines covering the floor, some of them very high. Silence dominated the room and as they carefully stared down the vegetation, Mutt noticed a bat hanging from one of the branches. It looked at him, almost as if smiling.

Then he was told to make a will-save.

And failed.

Mutt was instantly dominated and commanded to chop up his nearest ally. As this was against his nature he was allowed a second save and failed that too (gotta love those barbarian will saves).

A female vampire dropped from the branches, hissing with thirst for blood, and great deals of the vegetation suddenly came to life.

(In the original book, this encounter is not particularly challenging for a well organized group. As mine also included a fifth player, I constructed it for heroic-mode and added three giant fly-catcher plants instead of just one).

In the first round, Colin, Galfur and Vincent were all grappled. Mutt chopped off a huge part of Edgar, who immediately cast Freedom of Movement and got the hell away from the plants. Vincent dimension doored to the far corner of the greenhouse and Galfur used his dimensional step to teleport to his aid. The vampire flew to Vincent and slammed out some negative levels, eagerly wanting to grapple-suck his blood soon. Colin failed his grapple check and got pinned inside the mouth of the plant for the rest of the fight.

The plants followed Edgar and kept hitting him for moderate damage, now they weren’t able to grapple him. Mutt charged the cleric and landed a power attack, downing him in one fell swoop.
Vincent dimension doored out to reposition himself, leaving Galfur with the vampire who immediately began tearing at him with energy drain. The plants moved up and began pounding.

In the third round Vincent cast improved invisibility and prepared to move in. Galfur took a full round of beating, watching his health dropping rapidly and on the fourth turn, in which Vincent dimension doored in, Galfur was slain by the overwhelming amount of damage.

In a desperate attempt, Vincent dispelled Mutt’s domination effect. The vampire aggressively attempted redominating him but this time the barbarian made his will save and began tearing things a new one. Vincent unleashed lots of aoe-damage, enabling his Wild Magic as he did so.
 
(Vincent has a personal plot in which he has developed Wild Magic; an element that can potentially pop up whenever he rolls a 3 or lower for every spell he casts. When this happens, one of the 100 wild magic effects from Baldur’s Gate, including a few personal ones, will set in. Some of these are really good, some harmless and some downright bad.)

Popping an additional lightning bolt and some other good stuff, Vincent and Mutt killed the vampire along with the flowers and brought their fallen comrades back to their feet. Galfur had to be raised from the dead, and as they did so, Vincent noticed that his wild magic surge had this time turned him into a woman.
From here on in the campaign, he has taken name-change into Kia.
Although we all agree that Vinnie might be just as good.

They cut off her head and anointed it with holy water, which destroyed the infernal being once and for all and from there on agreed to go home and rest it out till the following day.
The Descend…
When they arrived on the following day, they all teleported through the drains outside and ended up in some old sewers underneath the greenhouse. They had clearly been lived in for a bit, which was clearly represented by the two symbols of stun and their associated alarms. The heroes made sure to trigger them both, of course. They encountered a bunch of vampire spawns as well and killed them, before they found a mighty wooden door opening up to a long tunnel, apparently leading further downwards to the vampire warrens.
And thus the heroes glared down into the darkness. They felt it glared into them as well.

To be continued next Wednesday.

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