(This session was completed only with three players, as the remaining two were abscent for various reasons. They consisted of Edgar the human Cleric, Galfur the dwarven Inquisitor and Colin the halfling Paladin. They were all level 8)
The heroes had now conquered the horrors of Shudderwood and bravely set out to meet the upcoming dangers that undeniably awaited further down the road. As they had learned from Auren Vrood’s apprentice, two dark riders had set out mere days ago, riding with haste towards the south and the coastal town of Thrushmoor.
As they gathered their belongings they took one final sweep of the old tower and Vrood’s corpse, and discovered an old and strange poem. It read:
‘Upon the ashen pathways tread
Softly, as the whispered dead.
As mortal flesh doth rot and frail.
Unhallowed words cannot be spoken,
With whispered oath, death lies broken.
Shed fear, shed life, shed pain, shed time,
Eternity seized shall soon be thine.
First spirit torn from the Death Keeper’s grasp
Be rent and sown as soured ash.
Soft the spiral song reverses,
Judgement lost, damnation surges.
Keeper of the damned’s soul take,
With packlord’s heart the beast shall wake
And flesh be wrought in disarray-
Stillborn cocoon, to blessed decay
A hundred slain lie innocent,
Grind bone and marrow to cement.
Craft now a skull of splintered graves,
Unmake life, unmake the slave.
Where history churns dream to blister,
Necrophagous secrets whisper
Through chronicles of Raven’s tongue-
A legacy of fear unspun.
Blood spilt atop the Iron Thorn
Invokes that which cannot be born.
Arise the Tyrant now unbound,
Bearer of the Carrion Crown
(Minorly altered from the Grave Lady’s grasp to the Death Keeper’s, since it’s Forgotten Realms (Kelemvor) and not Golarion (Pharasma).
The heroes were swift to realize that this cryptic piece of poetry had to be important (especially because it contained the name of the campaign) and even though their two allies, Mutt the Barbarian and Vincent the Sorcerer had been severely injured during the fight with the demon wolves, Edgar and Galfur set off alone.
The journey to Thrushmoor was a long one, in which the two spent several days contemplating on the next move of the Whispering Way. Apparently, the cult had been gathering various sorts of ingredients for some sinister purpose, and it seemed like now was the time to make the final delivery. Even though they made great speed, they always seemed to be one step behind the dark riders who, correctly, made their way decisively towards Thrushmoor.
As the two heroes arrived, Thrushmoor greeted them with open gates and a lively, bustling trade life. Being placed on the northern coast of the Moonsea this settlement thrived on the ever active trade life and thus it was a wealthy source of information for the curious traveler. Nobody showed much attention to the two newly arrived adventurers, who in turn decided to take a stroll around the city while inspecting the shops and the wharf.
Along their way, they suddenly heard a man saying “Why yes, I know of the dark riders. Yes, arrived here just a day ago – really sinister looking buggers, if you ask me. I believe I saw the replacing their pale horses at the stables for two fresh ones. One of the rode east, down the coast, towards that filthy little settlement they call Illmarsh. Nasty place with nothing but musties, if you ask me.’
In front of the fat man stood a stout and strong halfling wearing armor and a mighty bow on his shoulders. He radiated holiness, had a shining smile and hair flowing gently in the breeze. From their position, Edgar and Galfur noticed his holy symbol of Lathander, indicating his position as a paladin of the church.
“What do you mean? What about the other rider?” the halfling asked in a charismatic voice.
“Not sure ‘bout the other one, sire. But Illmarsh is nothing but swamp as far as the eyes can see. The stench of rotten trees there is unbearable, clings to the clothes. We can always tell when an Illmarsher comes through here. The musties.”
The halfling thanked him and paid him some gold then immediately set off. He was stopped quickly after by Edgar and Galfur, who were interested in knowing about his business with the dark riders. Colin smiled as he had heard of the heroes’ mighty achievements and immediately showed interest. He had been sent to hunt down the cult as well, and it didn’t take long for the heroes to join forces in their crusade (as it rarely does). They decided to shop for supplies and horses and then immediately set out towards Illmarsh.
A one hoarse town
Edgar was trusted with getting the party fresh horses and thus went to the official town stables. There he was greeted by the stable master who remarked upon ‘the new face in town’ and where he was going with three horses. Edgar told about Illmarsh and the master looked surprised. He said that this was a dangerous time to go, and that anyone with just a slight hint of reason would stay away. People disappeared from Illmarsh – one would be heading to his doom should he dare approach!
Edgar wasn’t put off by this and instead insisted on going. The stable master smiled, whistled and drew a small dagger from his sleeve which he plunged into Edgar’s shoulder. Then three ghoulish killers dropped from the rafts with a hiss. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that” the stable master said.
Edgar won initiative and ran away screaming. The assassin and the three ghouls decided not to follow through town in broad daylight but immediately get the hell away from there as the screaming alerted city guards.
Edgar made his way through town and found Colin and Galfur shopping, he hastily told them about the encounter and they agreed to get out of there as soon as possible. On the way they checked out the stables once more and realized they’d been deserted. Only a small ledger remained, in which it was apparent that the riders had been in town a mere day ago and swapped for fresh horses. Apparently these new horses carried the stable-logo; an eight with wings on the side. Another interesting note, was that the last page of the ledger had been torn out.
So the party set out, purchased horses from the wharf and made their way towards the small fishing community out in the east. Already on their way, they noticed bleak, grey clouds hanging heavily above it. The faint rumbling of thunder didn’t bode well for their journey.
Into the eye of the scorn
The journey took four days and was quite uneventful until the third, in which the heroes encountered an old man down the road. He was having great trouble with his cart that had apparently tipped slightly in the side of the road and lost a wheel. He grumpily tried putting it back on, but it looked way too heavy. The heroes stopped and got off their horses, asking if there was anything they could do to help?
Galfur noticed, however, that the old man wore a false beard. Being prepared, he listened to his pleas; would they please just help him put the wheel back on and he’d gladly assist them on their way. While Colin and Edgar considered this, Galfur insisted that the old man should at least do his part and bend down to lift it. There was quite an argument back and forth, and Edgar also noticed that the wheel didn’t seem like it had fallen off by accident, but rather removed intentionally. As he pointed this out, the old man sneered ‘Fine!’ and drew a dagger. Galfur was prepared for this sliced the assassin with a sinister blow. The three ghouls emerged from underneath the cart and viciously sneak attacked everyone in close distance.
As the battle progressed they flanked up heavily around the inquisitor and went into blender-mode. There was a ton of damage going on during the first turn (the Death Attack from the Assassin is a mere DC 14 which, for a cleric, paladin and inquisitor isn’t a big deal) so Colin smote the assassin with holy energy. A couple of arrows later he fell and the rest was cleanup duty.
On his corpse they found a tiny wooden egg containing a symbol of the whispering way, indicating they were definitely on the right track.
On the fourth day, not long before arriving at Illmarsh, the heroes made their way past a strange sight out in the ocean. It looked like an old fishing boat struggling violently to stay afloat on the rough waves. On the deck was a confused old man, sprinting around wildly as he attempted to secure his precious, albeit odd-looking, cargo. As he saw the heroes he cried for help.
They got off their horses and realized that swim checks weren’t their cardinal trait and instead decided to shoot an arrow attached to a rope out into the side of the boat. “Climb on to it!” they shouted but the old man reluctantly looked at it and refused. As they were screaming for a bit, he testily tried it and with a thrush of a wave was swept overboard in a scream. Galfur immediately sprang in after him, and through a mighty struggle got him back on to dry land (that’s truly a long story of several almost horribly failed swim checks made short). The old man coughed and harked, while introducing himself as Professor Horace Croon. He didn’t get much further before his boat crashed onto the beach, sending debris and flasks flying everywhere. The professor yelled and manically started searching the wreck while muttering ‘It has to be here! It has to!’
A short moment later he found an oblong metallic object looking like an iron fish. He presented it as his ‘subaqueous exploration and research vessel’ although it was by now only in beta. The heroes asked him about Illmarsh and his connection to it. Through a series of mumbling and distractions, the professor told them he lived there, yes, but spent most of his time out of town. The local hooligans and young people wouldn’t stop pestering him and sabotaging his research, and he had no love for the local Umberlee-church. One couldn’t even hire decent people for an expedition without them abandoning ship as soon as they thought they saw the ‘beast in the ocean’. Apparently some mythical being that had been spotted in the bay lately. He hadn’t recognized any dark riders, though.
Galfur encouraged Croon to move on with his invention, likely produce it on a grand scale or something? Croon was thrilled with this idea.
We don’t take kindly to disbelievers around here. No, siree.
Illmarsh was, just as expected, not much of a welcome committee. The stench of rotten vegetation hang heavily in the air, and even as they approached town from the northwest, the few fishermen and villagers on the streets (which mainly consisted of sand) eyed them narrowly. Most buildings were old and decayed, built from poor materials and whatever had been found scattered around. A grand sight to the south, however, indicated the local temple of Umberlee, the bitch queen (Again, we’re playing Forgotten Realms. I’m sure there is some obscure other god that would make better sense for this adventure, but we’ll just have to manage).
Edgar stopped a local villager, asking what there was to see around town. In his glum voice he pointed out the few places to stop. The inn, the tavern, the apothecary, the general store, the temple and the mayor’s office. He didn’t want to answer any questions and sourly wandered off, shaking his head.
Heading to area D4, the heroes found ‘The Bountiful Catch Inn’. As they entered they realized they were all alone in the old windy structure, only greeted by a tired-looking old man named Rube Dreely. Rube had the same cold expression as everyone else in town, telling them it would be wise if they left in a hurry. At this time Edgar had enough and went to the counter where he slammed 100 gold down in a small bag.
“Speak,” he said. (In my optic, this constitutes a very successful diplomacy roll, and Rube lit up significantly)
Rube told them that no dark riders had been through town of late. Perhaps the one they were looking for had headed somewhere else? In fact, before the heroes, the only new guy in town showed up about a month ago and went by the name of Lucas. Some business entrepreneur of sorts. He had stuck mostly to himself, and even though he had a room here at the inn, Rube had rarely seen him or ever spoken to him. It had been some days since he had last been seen, in fact.
It was indeed true, people had gone missing of late. Only one problem among others, the fishing had been really poor, almost non-existing, threatening the town’s survival. Even the church and the priests couldn’t explain these sad events, and the local sheriff had no clue about the disappearances. Some villagers interpreted this as them falling out of favor with ‘the neighbors’.
The heroes pondered on this for a second, before Edgar asked “Who’re the neighbors?”. Rube cautiously looked around for a bit, before leaning closer and talking in a hushed voice.
“It’s an old tradition around here. They are foreign folks, down bay. I haven’t really seen them, but they’ve taken care of us for gods know how long. Something about them bringing us the fish, I hear. Good tidings and prospering. All they required back were a few tokens of good will from us.”
“…do I really want to know what you mean by ‘tokens’?” Galfur asked.
“It’s rather simple, really. Around here, having a boy is a blessing indeed, but more than one girl causes trouble. Just one more mouth to feed for little gain. So, when parents give birth to their second girl, she’s sent to live with the neighbors and never comes back. In return, they take good care of us.”
“It’s how it has been for centuries around here. But now we haven’t heard from the neighbors for a long time. Almost a month today. Some say we’ve fallen out of favor with them. That they have deserted us, due to the recent income of…strangers.”
“What is the church’s stance on this?”
“They say this is a test of faith. That we must simply wait it out and continue our duties to Umberlee. But if you ask me, they have as little clue as to what is going on as everyone else!”
The last part of the sentence was nothing but a whisper. Then silence settled in the room.
The heroes went to their dorms to contemplate. As the dark rider hadn’t been seen, they had to find out more about this Lucas –person. From their window they could see, way out on the ocean, a small gathering of cliffs upon which a lonesome, half naked man sat. It looked like he was screaming. Likely some sort of local justice.
The heroes decided to head for the village hall, along the way passing the church. (We spent some minutes discussing Umberlee. According to one of my players, Umberlee is just like Judge Dredd. I think that’s important to remember.) There they met with the city mayor, Early Greedle. Greedle was initially calm and measured them carefully as they sat down. He listened to their questions and told them that he certainly hadn’t seen any dark riders of late, and that yes, the town had indeed seen its fair share of problems in the last month. And now it certainly didn’t need anyone to stir up more trouble. The heroes volunteered to help out with the investigations, but he turned them down instantly, urging them to leave or otherwise speak to Sheriff Anders for further assistance.
When asked about the neighbors he shrugged and carefully explained this was a local custom he didn’t expect them to believe and that they would stay out of it if they knew what was good for them. When they pointed out the man on the cliffs he explained he was a murderer, sentenced to be taken back by the sea. When pressed, Greedle said he had attacked a priest earlier and he was most likely mad. (This is not the official explanation in the adventure, but I frankly forgot all about it and had to make something up on the fly. So I decided to let the insane murderer be the breadcrumb trail instead of the mayor. Originally, this adventure is much more railroaded in the sense the mayor immediately sends the heroes off to their next destination. A good idea, if you just want your party to progress. Me, I like to let them find things out for themselves, so the mayor was a source of repetition).
Talking to Sheriff Anders didn’t provide much. The sheriff, a most dedicated follower of Umberlee, dismissed the nosy heroes quickly but through some coercion coughed up with the names of the latest victims. This sent the heroes around town, investigating their old houses only to find nothing but sour villagers telling them only those weak in faith would be abducted.
Realizing there wasn’t much to go on, they instead decided to check out the local tavern.
It came from the depths…
In “The Walleyed Kraken” the heroes met the beautiful Laurel Sinns, long time owner of the establishment. She was somewhat of a loner and had spent some years in Illmarsh. She couldn’t tell them much they didn’t already know, but did have the chance to speak with Lucas a couple of times in which he tried to impress her. He had presented himself as a businessman of some standard.
Both of Laurel’s parents were dead and her two younger sisters had been given over to the neighbors. For the same reason, she had sworn never to get married or have children in this hole of a town, and she didn’t care much for its system nor church. When asked about the murderer on the cliffs, she told them his name was Cartus Scrint and that he had indeed been judged for attempting to slay a priest. She made a smug remark about the mayor certainly not being involved in that trial.
So the heroes set out and decided to question Cartus. They borrowed a boat from the professor and in the cover of night began making their way out to the tern rocks. However, as they did so, a roar penetrated the silence and a giant flailing forest of tentacles made its way to the heroes, grappling them.
They screamed and immediately began chucking away. Colin for a feeble amount of damage with his dagger, and Edgar unable to act. Galfur on the other hand evoked the power of Judge Dredd and Baned his dagger, stabbing the beast repeatedly in the face. The giant octopus tore and bit them with its nasty poison (but again, paladin, cleric, inquisitor all with good con scores…) but in the end retreated back into the depths. (A great idea that didn’t strike me then, if you want to be bitchy GM about it, consider letting it dump the plate guys into deep water and watch them drown. This is one of those encounters that really say ‘I GRAPPLE YOU AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!!’).
Quickly the heroes got into the boat and roved out towards the cliffs.
|Umberlee. Like Judge Dredd.|
They found Cartus tied to the cliffs, delusional and screaming. They managed to calm him down and provided him with water. It was obvious that he had been out of his mind for some time, scratching his nails off on the cliff, banging his head against it and his eyes eagerly avoiding the sky. Cartus rambled on, crying, whispering and stuttering that, yes, he had attacked the priest. He was going to finish it. The whispers from beyond. What he was told from the stars and the eerie voice behind them. Something urged him and had come down, pointing him in the direction. The high lord on the holy throne didn’t see, didn’t know. Someone had to tell him, otherwise it was too late. They had to finish what he started. He had seen what happened, what had come to pass and what would finally spell their doom, just like it did for their opponents.
Listening to him for some minutes, the heroes interpreted his divine hinting and decided to head for the church of Umberlee next. They pondered for long whether they should free him or let justice be done, but in the end agreed he would prove too much danger when loose and in the end had been committed for a foul act. Thus they said their goodbyes and headed back to the mainland.
There they knew their next target was in the temple of the Bitch Queen.
Which will be continued this Wednesday.