Just so you all know, it isn’t that I don’t have stuff to talk about, I do. I just don’t feel like this place I’ve constructed as a safe haven for what is going inside my mind is currently a place where I can do that. Is that weird? For the longest time I treated this and Podcast(s) as a place to be candid, to vent, to just let those screaming voices in my head have free reign to just say what they needed to. I think it was because I truly felt like I had so little to lose. Cassandra and I were/are beyond rock solid and that was all I cared about.
That has changed. I have tried to be a better person, a better Friend, and overall to be smarter with what I do and say, in doing so I have ALL these ‘things’ to lose now. Sometimes I feel like life was simpler when I just didn’t care as much. Now I have ‘ALL’ the ‘cares’. All of them. I’ve traded simplicity for more Happiness than I knew possible or have ever thought I deserved. In doing so though I’ve also realized that some things in my life are NOT for mass consumption. Really it is the best trade I’ve ever made.
It feels weird that I’m sort of pseudo-confessing this to the ether, but then again I’m about to talk about a bunch of other weird stuff so I guess my strange internal struggle is just par for the course. So while I can’t really talk about what is bugging me right now, what has me stressed, or how I’m trying to cope, I can tell you that I am coping. I can tell you that I am Happy. And I can tell you that even though reading this might be a bit less entertaining of a personal car wreck it doesn’t mean I’m done writing.
In order to have something worthwhile to post I decided to look at something that I feel pretty good about, but at the same time feel like it failed in execution. I’m going to pull back the curtain on my DMing, and show the 10 of you who care to read it just how I put together an adventure. In addition I’ll leave notes as to just why I think it didn’t work in italics. Here you go, our first ever installment of…
PEEK BEHIND MY SCREEN!
A Bitter Harvest – 2nd Group Intro Adventure
This was 2nd Group’s first 5E adventure so I really wanted to do something to capture the rip roaring High Seas Adventure vibe. Instead I watched ‘Bride Of The Gorilla’ & ‘Island Of Lost Souls’ too much and ended up with an adventure with a horror bent. Also I thought the name was clever.
The Plot is simple, the PC’s arrive bringing supplies from Raven’s Point an island port. They’ve been sent by a Halfling named Quinn, who claims to be in the ‘Import/Export’ business. He wants product moved to and from Savin’s Cordon without paying the Collus Shipping Guild its taxes, and figures the PC’s and their fast little ship is perfect for the job. He’s paying 25GPS apiece to take the gig, and another 75GPS upon delivering the items from Savin’s Cordon. If they haggle he’ll throw in an extra 25GPS for ‘Hazard Pay’. He’s never been to Savin’s Cordon nor does he have a lot of info on it, because most of the time the folks he gets to do the ‘Savin Run’ don’t really ever want to do it again. He does tell the PC’s, “…Stay off the Bog at night, that’s one thing I do know. A few months back I lost a whole shipment because the idiots ran late and ended up on the Bog at night. Even the Savin’s damn wagons weren’t salvageable…” He’s sending a Porter, Reginald a Dwarf who likes his spirits, and 2 Teamsters, ‘Young’ David (is balding, round at the middle, and smells awful) & Harris (is missing his thumb on his left hand and speaks monosyllabically) two hard looking humans in their late 30’s. These three work for Quinn regularly, but have never done the ‘Savin Run’. If the PC’s pry a bit they find it out they are only on it due to being caught embezzling booze and selling it on the side, they tell the PC’s, “…it were either the Run or the short Swing…” Quinn’s having the PC’s move a trunk of ‘Fragile’ items (Alchemy/Wizard Components), 2 cases of top notch Elven Wine, 5 cases of Dwarven Brandy, a barrel of Greek Fire, a sedated primate in a cage, a cask of Black Powder, and a large crate of weapons. The weapon crate contains a Crossbow +1, a +1 Shield Of Fire Resistance, a +1 Rapier, and a +1 Black Powder Pistol. If the PC’s are caught smuggling these items it would be three years hard labor on The Troll’s Limb, an archipelago that the Collus Shipping Guild uses as a prison/labor camp.
I don’t know if you can tell or not, but I LOVE building. I seriously love it. There is far too much information here, but it really doesn’t matter. I wanted Quinn to be an on-going NPC, and sort of tried to play up the Porters & Reginald to a decent effect in play that way when I ‘offed’ them there would be some sort of reaction. Seeing as we only play once a month the PC’s had basically forgotten about them between sessions so when they died they were just another problem to overcome. That is the cost of playing at the frequency level we do. I added the magic items and the like to see if the PC’s would steal them. I like to put temptation out there especially in a group full of Neutral PC’s who tend to skirt that line more towards Evil at times, I’m looking directly at you THE Karl. And Master Ked 4.0. And even occasionally, you Cassandra. The ending sentence was to set a tone when getting across the danger of the run, if they get caught then there are consequences. Also the Collus Shipping Guild is going to be a campaign long menace or potential ally/employer, depending on the PC’s, and I want them to be in the background until as a living, breathing part of the world.
The PC’s see some Merchant Marine ships on their one day voyage, but are not threatened as they head to Savin’s Cordon. It is an inhospitable island that sends especially prized rice, cranberries, and excavated items from the reaches of its Snakehead Bog. There is a landing by an old abandoned Lighthouse where wagons and horses have been left. Then it’s a trip on the Servant’s Road through the Bog.
Again this is simply foreshadowing to later events &/or adventures. It also allowed me to do the sailing montage, or ‘screen wipe’ so I didn’t need to examine the minutia of the journey.
The Servant’s Road - Halfway on their trip they come to a spot where there are the remains of another two wagons; there are some chunks of rotted human flesh if the PC’s look for a bit. A DC 13 Investigation or Medicine reveals that these body parts were dead before they were torn apart. These wagons have been thoroughly devastated on a stretch where the road is very narrow and in danger of being washed out by what has become actual swamp. This is where the Giant Crocodile (CR 5 – Build Off Giant Croc) will erupt through the water and attempt to get an easy meal, this is DC 14 Perception to avoid surprise. The Croc goes for the horses first. It attacks for two rounds and then slinks back into the murky water. The rest of the way the PC’s should be periodically shot at by some Lizardfolk (CR ½ - Build Off Lizardfolk) from within the woods, but never outright confronted. If the PC’s rush into the jungle the Lizardfolk flee. In the Bog there is also a tribe of Lizardfolk, and in some sort of sunken structure, a large violated cairn, a tribe of Troglodytes. They should hear distant drums, smell smoke tinged with scent of unknown meat, and see odd pictograms carved in the weeping willow trees, which if any of the PC’s can decipher they say “Beware The House Of White Bone Devil” along the sunken, soggy road that indicate something bad ahead.
Here is where the PC’s first took me off the rails. I figured they’d run from that damn Giant Croc. I really did. However in their Heroism/’Stubbornism’ they looked at it as a HUGE, shiny XP slot machine. The combat itself was really fun. I took it easy on them by giving them two free rounds of attacks as the Giant Croc went after the wheels of the cart and the horses. Once they had thoroughly engaged me I couldn’t flee, and I had to be careful not to kill them. Really they did a fantastic job playing inventively and working as a team. I added a small Lizardfolk encounter as well here which added some much needed tension and sped up their ‘repairs’ on the wagons. Also as you can see SO much more foreshadowing. I tried desperately to be clever and subtle with this adventure, and I think what I realized is my Players, for the most part, aren’t those types of Players, and maybe I’m just not that good at that DMing skill.
The Plantation - Since Savin knows that the PC’s don’t know him or his practices he hides his ‘servants’ from their prying eyes. Upon arrival the supplies, two large carts are unloaded, it is getting towards night, and the PC’s were heavily warned to stay off the bog at night. Savin offers them and the 3 Porters/Drivers lodging for the night. The home is beautiful, but feels old, and slightly stale. The PC’s and their ‘co-workers’ are given a common room on the 2nd of 3 above ground stories. The NPC’s are as follows;
At this point I was building towards this big reveal, setting more tone, and trying to replace the tensions PC’s should feel when going through ‘enemy controlled territory’ with real dread.
Savin Romero is a Necromancer who has a large plantation in the middle of Snakehead Bog. The vast majority of his labor force is Undead. Early in life he studied the Transmutation school with Dr. Korvin before shifting his attention to Necromancy after the loss of his first wife. He and Dr. Korvin studied together at the University Of Dunnwich. They both also worked with a Dr. Grubb and Dr. West at the Deraleth Asylum. All four remain in contact with one another working on something vaguely referred to as ‘The Circle’. He is a jovial man who appears constantly exhausted. He does have a tendency to be arrogant and bossy to those beneath him, but dotes on Celeste. He is very pale and thin.
Whenever I make an NPC for a game that has any resonance I end up writing about a paragraph. I figure that these shouldn’t be card board cut outs in a 3D world, but rather characters in their own right who have histories, wants, needs, motivations, allies, enemies, etc. I want my PC’s to have personalities. I really felt that when I got to role play Savin, two scenes I think, I played up his tired aspect as well as his somewhat fatherly attitude, which again was simply foreshadowing. That, by the by, didn’t really work, lol.
Savin is married a beautiful Bard named Celeste, who used to be a dancer. He is 25 years her senior. If the PC’s dig they find she also is learning some herbalism/botany from Trustin, she seems especially fond of plants with a more dangerous bent, i.e. poisons. There is an obvious chemistry and attraction between Celeste and Janjak.
Celeste is more of a Plot Device in this adventure, had she lived she may have become more.
Doctor Landri Korvin is a longtime friend of Savin and now his personal physician. She is well versed in Transmutation magic, although no longer practices except to maintain her youthful appearance. This half-elf looks much younger than her age and carries a torch for Celeste, dislikes Janjak’s overbearing nature, and has a Halfling assistant named Trustin. She is friendly enough if not distant and appears to be carrying a heavy weight on her shoulders, whether that is due to the ailing health of her friend or her unrequited love of Celeste only she knows.
Dr. Korvin ended up being far more important than I originally intended and is now part of the next adventure, due to her negotiations with the PC’s. She now has excellent motivation as an NPC as she owes her life to the PC’s, but blames them for Celeste’s death.
Trustin is a Gnome herbalist of no small skill, and chafes under the watchful, and in his mind, glory stealing eyes of his mistress. Secretly he has formed an odd friendship with Janjak. He also has been teaching Celeste about botany, with focus on the local herbs of the Bog.
Trustin was a Plot Device and Exposition Drop, but the PC’s took the interaction and ran with it. Or in Master Ked 4.0’s character’s case slept with it. Trustin was meant to die a horrible death that further pushed the horror that things had escalated. Instead the PC’s used some tricky casting and my inability to keep things on a strict time table to save him. He didn’t affect the way the finale of this adventure turned out at all, and better yet he is now an NPC of importance. Trustin, aka Pookie, is now in a relationship with Ked’s character Fookin and I am intrigued to see how it’ll turn out.
Janjak is Savin’s Overseer on the Plantation and he and Celeste are carrying on a torrid affair. He oversees ten living men, and the 60 + Zombies/Skeletons that do the majority of work on the plantation. He’s a beast of a man, almost with a Half-Orcish appearance in build. He seems quick to answer and petulant, but has animal magnetism about him. He constantly paws at a necklace with Savin’s family crest on it.
Janjak served a number of purposes. He was to be extra muscle if needed, a romantic rival if Celeste came into play that way, an exposition drop for further information, and in the end a Moral Quandary. I feel like I had a decent handle on this NPC and he served his purpose. I do wish I would have taken more time to have had him build a bit of a rivalry or friendship with one of the PC’s in order to make the inevitable ending mean a bit more.
Dinner Party Of The Damned - At dinner the shock comes when the food is served by 5 zombies all dressed in human clothing and in decent shape, they all look relatively ‘fresh’. Savin is a gracious host, but seems to take a bit of glee in making the PC’s uncomfortable. There is an obvious tension when Janjak arrives with a bustle. He’s sweaty, bruised, and has a hastily cared for gash on his forehead. After some scowling from Savin, and some meaningful glances from Celeste Janjak angrily asks if the PC’s are the ‘Hired Guns’ he’s been asking for to handle their Lizard problem. Savin tries to shut him up about that, but Janjak angrily throws out that none of this would have happened if he couldn’t have just left those Tharump forsaken cairns alone! At that point Savin stands, and all 5 of the Zombies drop their dishes and stare at Janjak. Dr. Korvin then steps in and says that Janjak is just injured and needs medical attention, and that an altercation between business associates is fruitless. They two stare hard at each other before a now very tired looking Savin dismisses Janjak with a gesture. After they leave, Celeste looks disapprovingly at her husband, he responds with a ‘What!’, and she excuses herself. At this point Savin looks exhausted. He looks up at the PC’s with a tired grin. “Welcome to my humble home…” He then proceeds to ask the PC’s about Raven’s Point, the journey on the Servant’s Road, and if they had any trouble arriving to the island. These are just general questions and small talk. He will answer most of the PC’s questions as long as they are asked in a respectful manner. Eventually he wants to get down to ‘brass tacks’. He ensures that the delivery paperwork Quinn required is signed and given to the PC’s. He then asks the PC’s what it would cost to venture out into the Bog and either deal with his ‘Lizard Problem’ one way or another. He’s willing to pay no more than 300GPS per PC, but will start at 200GPS. He’ll chit chat with the PC’s but won’t go into detail about the cairns, just that he made a mistake ten years ago.
Here we get the Reveal! This didn’t turn out exactly as I wanted in play, but it went relatively well. The PC’s were so hardline in their stance to not handle the ‘Lizard Problem’ that I had to bribe them with a LOT more GPS than I intended. It helped me to know that Savin wouldn’t be alive to pay them by the end anyways, plus I felt it gave him an air of a desperate man. The scene was also set up to give the PC’s a look into the relationship dynamic of the NPC’s, as the potential powder keg that is the love quadrangle was very important to how things were to play out.
The Nightcap - That night Trustin sits down to share a bottle or three with the PC’s. In the process he’ll gossip about the house, if they get him drunk he’ll reveal additional information, too drunk and he passes out;
I just ‘winged’ the mechanics for the drinking, and hot damn did it go well. The PC’s had a blast playing out this encounter.
Savin is in bad health, but he does love Celeste, in his own way. Most of the time he is tolerable, but when he gets all ‘high and mighty’ it makes sense why Janjak would want to shut him up permanently. If the PC’s get him drunk enough he reveals that he truly feels like maybe the whole Plantation would be a much better place if Savin did just pass and Janjak ran things.
I didn’t want the PC’s to go Necromance = EVIL(!), so I tried my best to make sure they understood that Savin simply used his powers as a means to an end; profit.
Doctor Korvin is like a sister to Savin, they’ve known each other for 50 some odd years. She is the only person Savin fully trusts. If the PC’s get him drunk enough he reveals that it’s a shame Savin doesn’t realize just how much Korvin pines for his wife. She keeps a locket with her that inside has some of Celeste’s hair in it.
There was the rub, the pseudo-siblings in love with the same woman. It also was meant to get across that while Dr. Korvin pines she would never betray the trust or ‘familial’ relationship she had developed with Savin.
Trustin has been in the service of Doctor Korvin for 8 years; he owed money to her family and signed a ten year servitude agreement. He was brought in to help identify, and accumulate herbs from the area for both Savin & Korvin’s ‘work’. If the PC’s get him drunk enough he reveals that Korvin is always going back and forth to some room in the basement, that only she and Savin have keys for. He followed her down there once, and he heard something “Unnatural” from behind that door. He doesn’t go down into the sub-basement anymore.
I dropped the basement hint here, but no one remembered it or wrote it down. Playing Trustin up as a somewhat disgruntled, slightly sad, and even desperate servant worked out well. Well, well enough for he and Fookin to hook up anyways.
Celeste knows way too much to be a student of herbalism, especially about poisons. That woman has a past of some type or another. If the PC’s get him drunk enough he reveals that Savin’s health has only gotten worse in the five years since they married and she moved to the Plantation. He suspects something, but dare not speak it.
Here again we get some foreshadowing of ‘Future Badness’. Celeste isn’t what she seems, and that is important in the climax, especially when it comes to the Moral Quandary.
Janjak is salt of the earth. Sure he’s quick with a fist, but he’s just as quick with a pat on the back, a belt of whiskey (the good stuff), and would do anything to get out from underneath the thumb of Savin. And he loves Celeste. Trustin even thinks she might actually love him. He hit it off with Janjak after the man saved him from being eaten by a Giant Snake. Two times previously he and Janjak thought about just running for it, but both times Janjak changed his mind last minute. Then Celeste came and the point became moot. If the PC’s get him drunk enough he reveals that sometimes Janjak spends a lot of time with Dr. Korvin’s primates and it spooks Trustin a bit as Janjak gets a weird look in his eyes.
Again I wanted to use this to set the table for the betrayal and the murder later. Janjak & Trustin were supposed to be ‘Best Friends’, which way when the end comes it was to be far more awful. It didn’t play out that way for a few reasons. The first is I had to explain it in a heavy handed manner, which sucks. The second was the PC’s unexpectedly saved Trustin. The best part about that is there was NO debate about it. All the PC’s agreed that it had to be done. To me that meant I had created an NPC worth a damn because the PC’s wasted time and resources in the middle of a crisis to save him without need or prompt.
If They Don’t Take The Job - If the PC’s don’t agree then speed the process up and have Savin die that night, and the Zombies turn on the plantation. Savin catches Janjak and Celeste in the throes of passion up on the third floor and all hell breaks loose. Just go to the end and run it basically as is.
It took some convincing, and me really just giving up the proverbial fiscal farm, but I didn’t even need to use this option. That’s the thing, I try REALLY hard not to ‘Railroad’ the PC’s, so I have to write a bit more in these adventures to give them options that I’ve actually fleshed out a bit.
If They Take The Job - If they do agree the next morning the wagons head out, nervous with no protection and Janjak waits for the PC’s outside. Get across that there is a LOT of Zombies (CR ¼ - Build Off Zombie) out and gathering rice, getting cranberries out of bogs, and even excavating what looks like an old sunken church. There are also 4 Giant Skeletons (CR ¼ - Build Off Skeleton, but make adjustments) who seem to be standing at the perimeter of the plantation, all on one knee as if bowing in silent reverence to the plantation house. Janjak has three dogs with him, one is an Iron Defender Construct that is rusted and has seen better days. Foreshadow that Janjak is good with a rope as he almost lazily throws the leashes on the dogs, but gently tightens them. Overall, Janjak is pretty quiet, unless the PC’s can get him talking. He generally avoids the subject of Celeste, bags on Savin while aimlessly taking what looks like a small very delicate piece of rope and making knots in it, if Trustin is brought up he smile broadly and speaks glowingly about his ‘little friend’, and if asked seems sort of indifferent about Doctor Korvin. If asked he almost giddily tells the tale of him informing Savin “…not to go digging around the Lizardfolks burial cairns even if we do sorely needed ‘Raw Materials’, but Savin said it wasn’t about that he was after something else. We lost 10 good men, friends, some like family…We lost them going down into that cairn. It pissed the ‘Locals’ off something fierce and since things have only gotten worse. He should have left that damn thing where he found it.” He turns and looks at the PC’s with a pleading look, “Some things are buried deep for a reason…” He goes on to explain that Savin’s power grew greatly after their excavation, so much so that he raised the 4 Giant Skeletons to keep the more zealous ‘Locals’ from doing too much.
Janjak fulfills his roll here as an Exposition Drop, as well as some foreshadowing with the whole rope and knots. I also wanted to foreshadow that if things go bad with that many Zombies and those 4 Giant Skeletons then the PC’s were not in a situation where they could just charge into it ‘guns blazing’. After all they were going to be at best 3rd level at that point, even at that level they wouldn’t have survived that number of Undead.
The Open Cairn - There is a rustling sound off in the distance, and the dogs all look expectantly. Janjak lets the dogs go out ahead as they move deeper into the Bog finding more signs of the ‘Locals’. A loud yelp erupts and the two dogs come bolting back towards the party, one with a pronounced limp. The Iron Defender is nowhere to be found. If they follow the tracks the find the remains of the Iron Defender and the entrance to what looks like some type of dug out cave. To the side are three large rocks that have elaborate carvings in them. Janjak, looks to be getting his orientation, and states, “We didn’t open this one…Well I didn’t at least…” He places the little rope he’d been playing with in his pocket, grabs his amulet and mutters something, before unsheathing his sword. There is an intense smell coming out of the hole. He asks the PC’s how they would advise proceeding.
We began session 2 with more foreshadowing, and building of mood. I think that it really worked rather well.
If They Enter The Cairn - If the PC’s enter play up that there is a lot of refuse, half eaten meat rotting (upon investigation a lot of it Lizardfolk), and a lot of tracks of unknown origin coming in and out of this cave. This should come off as terrifyingly ominous. There are periodic noises coming out of the hole, but they sound distant. This is an entrance to the underground caves/formally burial cairns of a particularly brutish tribe of Troglodytes. There are three open areas in the cave complex/cairn. First is the entrance area that is currently an abattoir filled with refuse and half devoured chunks of ‘things’. Going down 5 feet of roughly hewn muddy steps is what looks like a ransacked burial area. The primitive sarcophagus has been looted. The largest in the room though has been moved and behind it is another set of steps going 10 feet further down. There are the sounds of cracking bones coming from below. In this hidden tomb the PC’s will fight 4 Lizardfolk Zombies (CR ¼ - Build Off Zombies), 1 Troglodyte Warrior (CR ¼ - Build Off Troglodyte), & 1 Troglodyte Caster (CR 2 – Build Off Cult Fantatic) who uses an amalgamation of Lizardfolk bones as a staff. If brought to 3 HP’s or lower, if a PC falls, or if the battle appears to be getting away from the PC’s then Janjak calls for a general retreat and flees. If the PC’s win they find a Lizardfolk chained on an alter who is bleeding out as most of his non-essential innards are laying in a clay bowl beside him still attached, they find human clothes that have obviously been worn recently by these Troglodytes, and what looks like a crude alter to Orcus. The dying Lizardfolk is surprised to be saved by the PC’s. He lets the PC’s know he is the last of his tribe, the rest have fallen to the corruption of these Troglodytes or to the blades of the ‘White Bone Devil’s slaves’. He musters the energy to spit in the general direction of Janjak who looks utterly shocked, and then mutters that he pities his ‘saviors’ for he dies quick and he fears they will die slow. It begins to mist and then slightly rain. It is humid and there seems to be no reprieve from the heat. Visibility is lessened by 10 feet.
This didn’t go at ALL like I thought it was. First I used an Abandoned Temple map as the entrance, and tried really hard to set up that not only were the PC’s being watched, but that whatever was down beneath the ground was now free and was nasty. Secondly, I decided to just ‘wing’ the battle. I used an Underground Cave Complex map, and just decided to throw waves of Troglodytes at the PC’s who thought they were possibly Undead Lizardfolk. The initial interaction between the PC’s and the Troglodyte who was using Lizardfolk viscera on his drum ended with Tiffany using Draconic to try and communicate with the nasty critter. Of course this went poorly! I had no intention of letting the PC’s go without a fight here, a fact I thought they would and did enjoy. The thing was I mixed tougher Troglodytes into the fray, just using a much higher HP total, and awarded more XP. I didn’t use a Trog Caster at all, cut out the Orcus connection, as well as the dying Lizardfolk Exposition Drop. The fight was nasty enough, fun, and invested the PC’s into wanting to see the Trogs killed.
If They Don’t Enter The Cairn - If they don’t explore the cave and head back, they feel the eyes of what may or may not be the Lizardfolk upon them, following them back, but not attacking. It begins to mist and then slightly rain. It is humid and there seems to be no reprieve from the heat. Visibility is lessened by 10 feet. A soft chant of an unknown language echoes through the bog, and it is unsettling. Right before the PC’s gets to the cleared area they are attacked by 2 Skeletons (CR ¼ - Build Off Skeletons) and 6 Zombies (CR ¼ - Build Off Zombies). A well trained eye can discern that these are not the well-kept Undead of Savin, but rather something far more savage and crudely animated. If the PC’s get into the clearing of the plantation the Undead cease their chase and stay just behind the tree line. The PC’s can look back and see the glints of steel spear tips, smell death and decay wafting in off the humid breeze, and see hateful red eyes staring back at them in droves. Janjak is irate and thinks that Savin sent them into an ambush; he mutters “I warned him…I WARNED HIM! He set us up! I’ll kill him for this, curse or no curse…” He sprints towards the Plantation House with grim determination.
This just didn’t come into play at all, but at least I had it set up.
Back To The Plantation - When the PC’s arrive they are stopped by Doctor Korvin who tells them that the house came under attack just over an hour after they left. She asks the PC’s to accompany her to Coach House to ring the bell and call all the ‘Living Staff’ indoors. The sky is overcast and slight rain is begging to fall. The sound of the Zombies working is the only noise. Upon arriving in the Coach House they find a strange set of cages full of now deceased large primates, all 10 men dead, all of them have been severely mauled and gnawed on, three toed foot prints are fresh in the mud coming out of the wood to the Coach House and back, and the bell has been ripped from the wall. At that point an ear piercing, blood curdling scream is heard emanating from the Plantation House. A few seconds pass and then all the Zombies turn and look at the PC’s. The mangled corpses on the ground start to reach and rise towards the PC’s. Get across that things have turned deadly quickly. The plantation house is 200 Feet from the Coach House, and the rain has begun to pick up. Visibility is now cut in half. The Zombies are moving slow, but there a LOT of them, and they are converging towards the rough cobblestone between the two ‘houses’. Make sure the PC’s get there, but the Zombies are coming, en masse. In the haze of the rain and heat the PC’s should see torches on the edge of the wood and a contingent of Lizardfolk and Troglodytes watching. The downpour hits in round four after the scream, and four rounds later movement is halved. So the PC’s have 8 rounds to get inside the Plantation House if they are going to go.
I am horrible with in game time management so the PC’s got back early. I added an extra building, Dr. Korvin’s research shack, that gave the PC’s another spot to slow down, investigate, gather info, and keep them from the main house until it was time. This also allowed me to foreshadow the Monkey shenanigans with Dr. Korvin euthanizing some primates. Eventually we got to a ‘version’ of the Coach House scene and things took off from there. I used a four round Athletics check coupled with a subsequent Perception check to make the sprint from the Coach House to the Main House eventful. It worked as PC’s failed rolls, other PC’s had to pick them up, and there was a massive amount of tension as they barred the door from the oncoming horde.
The Nitty Gritty – The adventure then shifts in tone to the PC’s defending the house from the horde that is now under the control of a different entity. Every round 2 Zombies enter into the house. Every 10 minutes or so one of the Giant Skeletons does structural damage to the upstairs.
In the end I didn’t use this, instead I went a far more esoteric route and just played it by ear using it for storytelling and tension effects, such as once the upstairs events ended the Zombies began knocking through the front doors. I then gave the PC’s the opportunities to use Skill checks to rebar the door, which they didn’t, then to escape. I followed this up with a check at every door, which ensured that with every fail the PC’s got more desperate. It worked out really well.
On the 2nd floor Savin is dead, he has a bruise on his cheek as if he was struck hard, and Janjak’s necklace in his hand. A keen eye reveals he wasn’t killed by the blow, but was poisoned. Across the room there is a spilt goblet; further examination reveals that it is clumsily poisoned with a local plant. In Savin’s bedroom Celeste is in shock, she just keeps muttering, “A beast inside and out…” over and over again. She attempts to either hide or scrub her hands. A thorough examination shows that they are stained slightly with the local poisonous plant residue that was in the thrown goblet. Janjak has fled, his clothes appear to have been ripped to shreds and lead towards a now off the hinges door into the complex beneath the House. Korvin gasps when she sees Savin’s dead form. She instantly drops and wraps her arms around Celeste, trying to comfort her. It takes a moment but her attitude quickly shifts as Korvin becomes visibly terrified. “GAWDS, if Savin is dead…Then ‘It’ is awake…Oh Gawds…It’s AWAKE!” And she sprints toward the basement, leaving Celeste in a heap.
This played out reasonably well. The details didn’t get across well, but they were there for those paying attention to them. I liked that the PC’s felt safe enough to grab Korvin before she could run and force information out of her. If you couple this with the saving of Trustin then you have some interesting monkey wrenches in my plans that I had not foreseen. In hindsight I should have had Trustin grabbed by Zombies and killed. Just kidding Ked!
The ‘IT’ is a Troglodyte Wight (CR 3 – Build Off Wight) that Dr. Korvin and Savin had been using as an Arcane Implement to raise and control so many dead. Now it is awake, and its will is the driving force behind the Zombie force overwhelming the house itself. He is in the Sub-basement of the house, where a small force of Troglodytes of have dug in and freed him.
I liked the Wight in theory, in practice I rolled atrociously and Edgar dropped a MONSTROUS Turn Undead on me that made the ending a bit less than the epic fight I had envisioned. I built the room with a lot of covering terrain so I could move out and get my Life Drain off as much as possible, but the PC’s just played it really smart. So smart in fact that I gave the Wight a spell that allowed him to make a zone of Stench making the PC’s roll at Disadvantage. It worked ok, but in the end that damn Turn Undead that hit my Wight and two of my supped up Trog Zombies just was too much. Live and learn…
It appears that Trustin has hung himself, and now has re-animated. He’s struggling to no avail, just swinging and staring at the PC’s with dead eyes. A keen eye, DC 11 Investigation, reveals that he didn’t hang himself at all; someone threw a rope around his neck, and then tossed him over the balcony.
Since subtly was not working I just had them find Trustin newly dead, which was a time mistake on my part, and had to lead the PC’s by the nose as to what happened, and really I don’t think they cared too much.
What Lies Below - In the first Basement there are 2 Mastiffs (CR 1/8 – Build Off Mastiff), 2 Apes (CR ½ - Build Off Ape) and the transformed Janjak, who is a massive War Ape (CR 2 – Build Off Orog). Janjak is dragging a limp and apparently lifeless Korvin. A DC 10 Medicine reveals she is hurt badly, but not dead. There are 7 Rooms, 5 of which hold awakened Zombies who are scratching at the doors. If Celeste is with the PC’s Janjak growls, thumps his chest and gestures for her to be given to him, he even offers the limp form of Korvin. Celeste is almost catatonic and muttering, ‘Never wanted a beast, never wanted to kill, never wanted his life, never wanted this life…’ over and over again. Let the PC’s try to figure out what happened, if they do give them Advantage on the final Encounters for their rolls.
This was the Moral Quandary that I had waited to drop on the PC’s. The PC’s didn’t really stop and work together to figure out what happened at this point, instead it was bits and pieces of information being shared while others just prepped for combat. This is the thing with this type of adventure, you need to get all the PC’s or at least the majority to buy in to the story itself, and I failed at that.
The REVEAL - So Celeste had been poisoning Savin. She grew impatient and finally upped the dose enough to kill him. She quickly blamed it on Trustin, when Janjak arrived the dying Savin attacked him, thinking that he was the one who turned Celeste against him, and in the scuffle removed his amulet. He started to devolve quickly thereafter. With Celeste’s blaming of Trustin & Janjak’s rage upon him he too blamed his tiny Gnome friend and killed him with a rope, allowing him to hang slowly and then change. Celeste had no idea that Janjak was a transmuted Ape and her mind broke.
I had to spell this out. Two of the PC’s had the idea and the basics of it, but otherwise this fell flat. When a game goes well it is because the PC’s made it fun, I’m firmly convinced of this. If I set the table for fun, and it turns out that way then it is because the PC’s made it that way. Therefor when it falls apart it is on me as well. It was a nice concept, but my execution and my assumptions about investment, memory, note taking, etc. by my Players was beyond flawed.
The Coward’s Journey - Janjak and his Apes will leave the PC’s alone IF they give her Celeste. He’ll then drag her into one of the open rooms, the Mastiffs will sit in front of the door, and the last things the PC’s will hear are Celeste’s screams. This will cause an alignment shift for all PC’s who allow this to occur.
The thing is the PC’s blew me away here. At some point, because the PC’s were SO beat up and I put them through such a ringer with no reward in the cave I gave Celeste a belt with six gems on it; three contained poison, one was an antidote, and two were Heal potions. The PC’s used the Heals after deducing what they were by slamming them down in a hope that blue wouldn’t mean poison, they also wasted the antidote. This left them with 3 poisons. They had all, besides LG Edgar, decided to give up Celeste since she had murdered her Husband and tricked her now gorilla lover into killing his best friend. I was set for the alignment shift, but then Cassandra had the BRILLIANT idea of slipping Celeste one of her own poison capsules giving her an out. I really felt like they served their own sense of justice, stayed true to their characters, and avoided another combat. It was a damn fine idea suggested and the plan they used to implement it was perfect. Kudos to Edgar, Tiffany, THE Karl, Ked, & Cassandra there.
The Hero’s Journey - If they fight the Mastiffs charge first and try to work behind the PC’s in this 10 foot wide hallway. This then allows for the 2 Apes & Janjak to charge. Janjak attempts to charge and grab Celeste. The Mastiffs & Apes fight to the death.
For a while I thought this was how things were going to go down, but the PC’s proved to be FAR more pragmatic and Neutral then I had ever thought.
The Undying Evil - Whatever occurs the Troglodyte Wight (CR 3 – Build Off Wight) still waits through another door and a stairwell down. There the Troglodyte Wight sits. It has slain it’s would be worshipers, 3 Troglodyte Warriors, it has defiled Savin’s shrine to the Uwain, God of Death, and it is awaiting what it thinks will be its original captors. Instead it gets the PC’s. It is the only thing between the PC’s, and any other survivors, and escape from what is the ever escalating Zombie issue in the house. The Zombies continue to pour into the house and attempting to find the PC’s. Once the Wight is killed the Zombies all just stop their manic search and start milling about. However the ability to go back up is closed off as the house is on fire. Where the Troglodyte Warriors dug in there is a crude tunnel through the soft mud. The PC’s come out on the edge of the Plantation land where they can see Zombies milling about in the fields and the Plantation house burning in the distance. It is a half-day’s journey to the pier, but finally the bog is quiet. The treasure of this room - Dr. Korvin’s notes make reference repeatedly about ‘The Circle’, a ‘Tablet Of Life’, and a Dr. West & a Dr. Grubb who now live and work on the Isle Of Dawn.
As I stated earlier the battle was good, but not great. The aftermath was cool as Trustin aligned himself with the PC’s, Dr. Korvin negotiated her safe passage via a contract, and PC’s emerged out into the remains of the Plantation to a scene full of ambling, directionless zombies. I didn’t go with the Trog bolt hole either, I just basically put in the fact that Savin & Dr. Korvin had an exit to the Couch House, this felt less clunky. The PC’s got their goods, Dr. Korvin re-animated the dead horses, and the PC’s made it back to their ship with no real issues. I made sure to let them know that in their slow crawl across the Snakehead Bog that the Lizardfolk were putting every sign of Savin’s Plantation, Undead included, to the torch. In the end the PC’s accomplished their mission(s), gained an ally, and were transporting Dr. Korvin back to Raven’s Point.
All in all not a bad two sessions, but as I learned last week you can have a ‘bad session’, see 3rd Group’s one combat clusterfuck, which is also insanely fun. These two sessions were fun, but didn’t really go the way I had hoped. I feel like I had a genuinely good 'Horror' tale, but in the end I just didn’t play to their strengths. If I can continue to 'learn' one rule of DMing it is 'Know Thine Players, And To Their Strengths Of Play Be True'. That is something that I have to keep working on while I hide behind my DM’s screen.
SOOoooo, that was long. If you liked it let me know, all 10 of you who read the whole thing, and I’ll occasionally do more of them. If you have ideas, feedback, suggestions, etc. also leave them in the comments or message me. I’m always looking at ways to make the games I run more fun for the people I’m lucky enough to play with.