Carrion Crown - by Nicolai Grunnet

Broken Moon pt. 6

(So, today we’re finishing up the third chapter of the Carrion Crown Adventure Series; Broken Moon. As should be no surprise to anyone at the moment, most of the second half of this installment has been some of a grinder and not much changed during our final session. It was a rather short and admittedly not entirely constructive session, but I do believe we had our share of fun. At least, it was one of those sessions in which the GM, as in me, had a blast. As for the players…not that sure. Let’s buckle up.
This session involved Mutt the barbarian, Edgar the cleric, Vincent the sorcerer, Galfur the inquisitor and Lee the bard)

Are they…zombie-ninjas?
The heroes clumped together in the damp armory, as the undead monks dropped from the darkened ceiling, and from their respective corners of the room hissed and went into position for battle. One of them, an especially notoriously looking monk named Acrietia, clenched her fists and whispered ‘You shall never leave this place alive. Come. Join us in darkness!’

And then initiatives started (the best way to begin any session, am I right??).
Acrietia went first with her high +9 modifier and sprinted directly to Vincent the sorcerer, punching him with a stunning fist. He failed his fortitude save and became stunned, making him a sitting duck for four wights closing in.
The heroes began unleashing hell, when they suddenly noticed a young man sprint down from an old set of stairs in the back. He wore dark clothing and praised the adventurers for being here. In fact, he did with such a passion and spirit, that the heroes couldn’t help but feel very inspired! (Thus Aldarion’s player had entered the campaign with his new character, Lee the Bard. As he was a motivational speaker, the dark clothes somehow got me thinking of Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’.) The wights all closed in on Vincent and banged him up pretty badly for five negative levels in total. Mutt and Galfur moved up and dropped a wight, whereas Edgar attempted to channel energy against them. On her turn, Acretia full attacked Vincent but made some pathetically weak rolls, inflicting just enough punishment to drop him, without killing him though.  Mutt then struck her with a confirmed critical hit on his X3 weapon, and with a whopping 60 damage she went down instantly. The rest of the encounter was merely wrapping it up from there, as the remaining three party members wiped out the wights.

The party spent some time talking to Lee, who presented himself as an agent of The Harpers. He’d been trailing the heroes for some time, as his organization had become ever more concerned about the recent cultist activity from the Whispering Way. If they would allow him so, he would join forces with them in their battle against the cultists? They happily agreed doing so.
(Some people have complained about the lethality of said encounter, but in all honesty I don’t find it to be that bad. It really depends on how much you want to rub it in and make it devious. The best performance the undead can give, in my opinion, is to let Acrietia attempt to stun a weaker party member and from there on gang up with all the wights. With her flurry of blows and four minions it’s a potential seven negative levels in a round, which is still unlikely to happen. It’s very viable to kill a player in this way, but my group was at no time in collective danger).

Confronting Auren Vrood
 (Allow me to make a short comment here: I had officially ordered the fourth chapter, Wake of the Watcher, from E-bay. But sadly the seller couldn’t be bothered telling me it was out of stuck for at least a month, not before I contacted him last week. Meaning I was, officially, out of adventure if the players rushed through the remaining part of Broken Moon. I figured that they could potentially spend some time and fun seeing the rest of Feldgrau and prepare for their next expedition, all it would take was for them not to charge directly into the old tower next to the armory).
Needless to say, this was exactly what they did. Sticking to classical conventions, they figured the main antagonist would sit in his dark tower, scheming, and decided to cast all buffs they had and storm the place. Most of the tower had collapsed, but a lot remained intact for them to explore. They didn’t make any attempts at stealth, busted right into the main hall and began looking around in the debris. As they entered a large, round room, a booming voice out of nowhere suddenly yelled at them that their doom was at hand.
Strapping in, the heroes witnessed the angry dead rise from their graves in the ground, staring at them with rotten, hollow eyes. Skeleton champions began lurching towards them, and as they did, a dark and sinister mage flew down from the ceiling; howling and cursing at them in an eldritch tongue. They’d found Auren Vrood, the grand necromancer.
(In the original book, Vrood has some crawling hands as minions, which I sadly realized were included in Bestiary 2. I see the commercial point of this stunt, but could we please, please have two less pages of that boring, unnecessary story in the back of the adventures and instead make room for the actual stat-blocs? Or at least provide them with original stats. So I turned them into skeletal champions instead, it worked fine.)

At first, the fight was rather uneventful. The skeletons shambled onwards, blocking the door out, and Vrood’s Eyebite spell induced panic into Vincent the sorcerer. Luckily, Edgar provided a remove fear for the situation.
The necromancer had made sure to remain well in the air, and on his turn decided to get serious. Sneering with a hateful gaze, he cursed them and yelled they would never reach his master or foil the plans of the cult. He cast a circle of death, detonating between Vincent the sorcerer and Lee the bard, stretching outwards towards the rest of the party. Edgar, having been clever enough to cast Death Ward happily popped his immunity card, but Vincent, Lee and Mutt (with a natural 1) botched their saves. Vrood rolled his D4’s for hit dice and summed up a nice 17 in all, instantly slaying Vincent and Lee.

From there on the battle seemed much more challenging. With two party members down right off the bat, Galfur, Mutt and Edgar faced Vrood alone. The mad necromancer laughed evilly and moved closer, taking cover behind his minions. The heroes had started chopping their way through them, so the mage decided to bolster his ranks with a nice Animate Dead on Vincent’s corpse, adding a zombie-adventurer to his repertoire (was this a tactical smart move? Hell no. I just fucking love zombifying my players). As they tore up a large hole and destroyed Vincent, Mutt charged Auren Vrood and put in a solid strike on him, but noticed the necromancer’s stone skin spell taking off a lot of the edge. Galfur activated his Bane ability and joined in on the fray, putting in another small dent in their opponent. Vrood retreated, hurling an enervation against the barbarian, slamming his for a critical four negative levels. From his advantage point, he started moving up in the air once more, only to realize Mutt had brought a potion of Fly. As he saw the rest of his skeletal army crumble, Vrood growled and hurled another enervation at Mutt. It hit, and he rolled another 4 on his dice. With his 8 hit dice, Mutt was dead.

Screaming with hysterical laughter, the wounded Vrood went to the skies again, preparing his next barrage. Edgar hurled a searing light at him and Galfur launched volleys of Bane Arrows from his bow. The necromancer felt the sting, and immediately dropped a cloudkill on them, seeking cover behind it. They were both drained for a little handful of constitution and got the hell out of there. The necromancer then prepared to utilize his telekinesis and vampiric touch spells to mob up the inquisitor, before making short work of the cleric. Galfur, however, leapt out from behind the cloud and pierced the necromancer with a barrage of well aimed shots, sending him to his knees with a final sight.

For Vincent and Lee, fighting necromancers was a bad move.
As everything slowly settled once more, Galfur and Edgar dropped to their feet in exhaustion. Silence filled the room now, but they noticed the sound of running feet behind them. Getting up, the dwarf immediately tackled the young cultist trying to make a run for it. Dragging him back into the room, they beat some information out of him, revealing he was the former apprentice of Auren Vrood, and that he would tell them everything he knew, if only they’d let him live.
The two heroes gave him the chance, and besides from a cryptic poem they found in Vrood’s belongings, the young apprentice Sharod explained that only a short time ago, two dark riders set out towards the town of Thrushmoor. They both carried valuable cargo, and Sharod was sure the heroes could reach them in time if they hurried. As to what the poem was talking about of the cultist plans, he didn’t know. In the end, they decided to let him run for it into the forest and attend the fallen warriors.

This was Auren Vrood.
I’ll be honest and say he surprised me, especially since I thought most of his encounter would go down the drain as I had totally forgotten preparing for him in a proper way. Of course, you could argue that there were a lot of freak accidents here. Players botching their saves, the fact that they only buffed one guy with a deathward, really bad luck on those enervations, etc. etc. It turned out to be one of those fights in which the party gets really silent afterwards, but as a GM you can’t help feeling that this is how the end boss SHOULD be. And as we walked home that evening, we actually agreed about this.
Vrood is the first face the heroes get for real on the Whispering Way and besides from having an absolutely badass portrait he’s supposed to be mean. Even when spending most of his initial nukes, he also has his familiar and some solid touch effects. I’ll be honest and say that this was one of those encounters in which I expected a party wipe, as we entered the second round.
Vrood also set a new record for speed-killing a new character in the campaign. Roughly 20 minutes of game time. Lee’s character decided to retire him very early, as he had barely been introduced, and instead decided to roll up a paladin for the upcoming sessions. In this one, he played as his backup ranger for the rest of the session.
You will also notice that Vrood didn’t flee and return to strike once more, as written in the original adventure. I was going to, but the epic battle felt so…epic, at the time. There was a now-or-never mentality going with the inquisitor and the cleric, it felt wrong to interrupt it. In addition, Vrood doesn’t have an apprentice in the original scenario. Instead, without going into TOO many spoilers, the heroes have to gather their information about the next target in a REALLY strange and odd way, involving the ghost of an inn-keeper. It felt way stupid and out of proportion for me, so I played it classical).

The long trek back home
Egdar and Galfur decided to drag back the corpses to Edgewood (the tiny trading post I added just on the edge of Shudderwood) which took them a week. There they decided to revive Mutt and Vincent, who had to receive a Ressurection (you could argue that it would seem odd to find a level 13 caster in such a small place, but then again, he was a drunken priest who didn’t like humanity. It seemed plausible for him to live in a simple settlement like this.)
They set out that very same night and began their seven-day-long journey back through the forest. On the second night, however, Edgar sat watch and was shocked as Galfur and Vincent suddenly began shuttering in wild spasms, growling and tearing flesh off their bodies. Long black hair grew on them, and as the cleric watched the sky, the silvery full moon glared back at him. The two werewolves leapt to their feet and hurled themselves at Mutt and Edgar.

Bad fort saves – Haunting inquisitors since 2004
Through non-lethal damage, they were both defeated. During the fight, their old ally ranger joined the party once more, after his stay at Ascanor Lodge. They decided to shackle up their former allies for the next morning at which they reverted and barely remembered any of it. For good measure, they returned to Edgewood to receive a Remove Disease from the cleric, removing the contagion Edgar had contracted during the fight. They now had to face the fact that Galfur and Edgar were lycanthropes and what to do about it. (To all geeks out there; we spoke a lot about; when Lycanthropy crosses the 3-day-limit for restoration, as described in the bestiary 1, is it then permanent with no hope of removal? We interpreted it like that, but I’d like some input).

They returned to Feldgrau, which was now strangely deserted, and decided to head directly for the old mill. At this time, the heroes had a full rage-bar due to their maximum level of frustration; kicked in the door and literally hurled fireballs as soon as they saw contact (too bad the demonwolves have fire resistance 10, lololol). Immediately, two of the werewolves and their leader, Adimarus Ionacu, threw themselves at the heroes. (One could again argue, why the hell they didn’t leave in the 14 days, but on the other hand it seemed prudent of them to wait for the players to return with the uneaten hear of the packlord).
It wasn’t a spectacular battle. I won’t spend too long talking about it here. If you want to beef up their tactics, simply have them all go crazy with smite good on a single character and then move on. The werewolves stand a lot of punishment, but for a fully rested group with a hot temper for tearing something apart they are not really a big match. 

And so, the heroes returned to the Prince’s Wolves with the heart. They thanked them thoroughly and their leader Rhakis greedily consumed it. Before they left, the heroes inquired them about a cure for lycanthropy (it was the players’ idea, and I like to reward unusual initiatives like that) which originally made the wolves a bit confused. In the end, however, Rhakis told them of one certain individual who might know of such, should the heroes not have access to the most powerful of restorative magic (I’m thinking Wish and Miracle) , would be a strange beast living to the north of the small village of Illmarsh, far out into the swamp. Apparently, he’d named himself ‘Hopper, the King of Frogs’ and didn’t take well to strangers. After some consideration, the heroes thanked the wolves and set out towards Thrusmoor in their next pursuit of the Whispering Way.
But that is a tale for next Wednesday.

This was chapter 3 of Carrion Crown, neatly completed by my players in six session, exactly like Haunting and Trial. You might notice that the deal with Hopper and the cure of Lycanthropy was my own doing. As I’ve read up on Paizo-forum, I couldn’t help but notice this topic: which presents several arguments. As Wolf Munroe states, there are a couple of ways presented in which you can cure it beyond the first three days, including eating more wolfbane, but truthfully I haven’t been able to find this information in Broken Moon. It might very well just be me not looking properly, and since we’ve went on with the side-quest stuff, we might as well stick to it. 
The important stuff for me wasn’t the cure of the affliction, but to start the player’s ‘Relic Quest’. I always include a relic quest in my campaigns, in which the heroes get the chance to fight three or four really powerful ‘bosses’ and gather pieces for a very powerful relic for a specific class. It’s entirely optional, of course, but many like this aspect of the campaign and I love tweaking around with boss-encounters like that. So I might include this aspect in the following blogs; but don’t worry, it won’t take up very much space.

Back to Broken Moon; I think it’s safe to say this was another round of start out great but slowly degrades. My players agreed with me pretty much (and I think they’d do so, even if they hadn’t splattered so much to Auren Vrood) and thought; it became too much of a grind.
Ascanor Lorde is an awesome part, I really liked it immensely, especially since my players spent so much time there, gathering all the encounters and clues. If you’re running this as a GM, I do recommend to NOT let Duristan know about the location of the Stairs of the Moon, so your players won’t rush out there immediately. If they do, they will really miss out on a lot of content. I let them find the location of the Stairs in an old book in Estovion’s library which worked fine.

My players were in general quite trusty of Estovion, which was nice. They did suspect him, but didn’t react much to it, meaning they skipped out on some of the clues as they didn’t get to his personal notes. It might be worth mentioning, that the adventure presents the heroes with preciously few reasons or proof against Estovion, at one time making me wonder ‘How are they supposed to act against him besides from “because we can”?’
That being said, I really enjoyed playing out the various NPCs in the lodge. It’s recommended to focus on a few of them, in my case Duristan and Delgros, followed by Estovion.

If you’re going to GM this I highly, highly, highly, highly HIGHLY!!……..highly….. recommend this sheet as a helper:  
(The general site with material for Harrowstone and Trial can be found here: )

This sheet is made of pure awesome. Besides a look at the event-chain of the adventure, there is a complete and very helpful list of the NPC’s, what they know and all the facts of the investigation. This made my job so much easier, I can barely tell. So thank you, Windspirit on the Paizo Forum. Your work is greatly appreciated.

So, what did I like and what didn’t I like as a GM?

On the <u>pro-side</u>; I loved the Ascanor Lodge-part, as said. The transition into Shudderwood felt good and the NPC’s in this chapter sprang remarkably to life before me. I always love it when my players start referring to NPCs with their first name and remember them distinctively, and the bond they shared with both Duristan and Cilas Graydon. Even sadder to see them both succumb along the way.
The adventure doesn’t seem as punishing as some of the encounters in Trial and Harrowstone, but there is still plenty of punishment to go around. My players, however, didn’t have such a pressed time and enjoyed it a lot, spending time to investigate the lodge. We likely spent almost two sessions entirely at the lodge, speaking and interrogating various people.
Oh, and the illustrations in this adventure pretty much kick ass. Especially the one of Vrood is purely made of win! 

On the con-side; well, pretty much my biggest beef is with the second half of the adventure. Feldgrau is somewhat lackluster and one enormous grindfest. Some of the houses make up for interesting encounters, such as the haunted inn, whereas much time is spent Final Fantasy style, walking around the world map and into random encounters. I do see the need, however, as the players are expected to go from level eight to nine at the end of the adventure, and that’s some amount of XP needed through pure combat. If I could redesign something (read: had more time) I would’ve included more interesting side-haunts or events in the houses throughout the city and cut down on the patrols.

There is a lot of talk going around with the werewolf-tribes but you can’t help feel they’re just a tiny part to make the setting work. My players were absolutely sure from the very start that they would go on a wild trek through all the tribes, visit them, learn of their culture and get heavily involved in deep satisfying, interpersonal plots, forcing them to pick and swear allegiance to one of them. Betrayal, valor and heroism on a bleak plane of horror!
Sadly, this never becomes the case.

 Instead the players are bombed with tons of information on the tribes, their origin and relations to the Whispering Way, and have it pretty much on definition who of them are the good guys and who are evil. No place for blurry, grey zones there. In fact, it became common practice at the table, to refer to Adimarus’ wolves as ‘The evil wolves’ and the Prince’s wolves as ‘The good puppies’. Sad, but true. It doesn’t really help with the frustration, that all four tribes have two names which are used interchangeably
I have read very little of Wake of the Watcher, the fourth chapter of Carrion Crown which we are about to unleash this Wednesday; but from what I’ve seen so far there is more roleplay and some more interesting encounters up the road. I don’t blame D&D for being D&D, really. Encounters constitute a huge part of it, and if we loathed them, we wouldn’t be playing it. Instead, I hope it utilizes more of the same mechanics as Castle Caromarc, in which battles felt varied and more unexpected than “Hey, look…more cultists with minions we’re about to faceroll?”

I suppose only time will tell. All in all, Broken Moon didn’t disappoint and Carrion Crown still holds a very high regard from me. Now let’s see what lurks beyond the stars, in the deep recesses of insanity.



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