Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Scarecrow Festival (02/22/2013)

The party had made it through the previous game night without a single combat encounter, and although there had been a possibility of combat, the module was set-up in such a way that the real point was that the players could spend some time investigating the gruesome set of murders. The schedule being what it was it had been three weeks since our last gaming session so we started the evening by recapping where we had left off last time. Questions ... so many questions.

That evening the party tried to reconstruct the events of the past two days. A note lured the three con men and their bodyguard to an abandoned barn where the three were killed and the bodyguard "coached" to deliver a message to a specific member of the party. Then a second murder with a penny-pinching mill worker and another note left behind - again having to do with a specific member of the party. Was the undead smell from a ghoul? Even if so, who was writing the notes - they had the same handwriting and were certainly from the same person - His Lordship - whoever that was? What - or who - was The Misgivings that Grayst Sevilla had mentioned in his ghoul fever induced rantings? And who was The Skinsaw Man?

And who was trying to get the party involved in these murders. The party had certainly become well known around town because of their recent heroic exploits -  had they made enemies somewhere along the way? What was clear was that something evil was lurking in Sandpoint and it had the party clearly in its sights.

Aldren Foxglove

If there was one of the town nobles involved, exactly which town nobles did the party even know? Ameiko Kaijitsu? With her family now dead she had assumed the role as the lord of the manor, but she had always been most grateful for the assistance the party had provided her. Had the party been fooled? And what about Aldern Foxglove? The party assumed he was a bit of a twit, but he had certainly been grateful to the party for saving him during the initial goblin attack on Sandpoint. The last the party had heard he had been out of town for several weeks, living in his townhouse back in Magnimar.


Built nearly 80 years ago by a Magnimar merchant prince named Vorel Foxglove, Foxglove Manor was one of the first homes raised along the Lost Coast by wealthy citizens looking to move beyond the capital city of Magnimar. At that time Sandpoint was not much more than a wide path in the road, but Foxglove building his country estate here put the town on the map and was certainly instrumental in the growth and importance of the town over time.

But alas, the manor has grown to have a bit of a cursed reputation. After having lived there for several years something terrible happened to Vorel and his family. After a period when nothing had been heard from Foxglove Manor for days visitors found the family and servants dead of a mysterious disease. Disposal of the bodies was handled with utmost secrecy by the surviving Foxgloves of Magnimar, and they shunned Foxglove Manor for decades to follow.

The building stood vacant for nearly 40 years before Traver Foxglove decided to move his family into the manor to reclaim his heritage and expunge the sour taint of the house's reputation. His wife Cyralie gave birth to Traver's only son Aldern not long after they moved in. For six years it seemed as if whatever was wrong with the manor had corrected itself. Traver's son and daughters were growing into fine young aristocrats and his fortunes seemed to be booming.

But then the curse of Foxglove Manor struck yet again. Smoke from the fire could be seen as far away as Sandpoint and when townsfolk arrived to investigate they found the servants' outbuilding burnt to the ground and Traver dead by his own hand. His wife's body was found burnt and dashed against the rocks below. Cowering in a second-floor bedroom the townsfolk discovered the Foxglove children. Aldern and his older sisters spent time in a Magnimar orphanage before they were claimed by Traver's second cousin and brought to the city of Korvosa to be raised.

Fifteen years passed before Aldern, now a grown man and a successful merchant in his own right, returned to the Lost Coast. Rich and popular, he secured a townhouse in Magnimar and set into motion his claim to the family manor. But Aldern had trouble finding skilled laborers and servants from among the locals to aid him in restoring his family estate. Foxglove Manor's reputation as a bad place had had decades to take root in local superstition, and the locals had given the manor their own name - The Misgivings.

Worse, the manor's cellars were infested with rats - horribly diseased and aggressive rats that kept to themselves as long as no one ventured too far into the basement. The job of restoring the manor to its former glory was enormous, from the need to patch the leaky roof in dozens of places to dealing with the strange and repugnant fungus that grew so tenaciously in the basement. Much of Aldern's recent efforts had been to raise the necessary additional funds to complete the task, but many in town doubted the glory days of Foxglove Manor would ever return.


Upon the return from Erin Habe's sanitorium the party dutifully reported back to Sheriff Hemlock with a full report, including details of the odd behavior of Habe and the suspicion that there was more going on at the sanitorium than met the eye. Hemlock scoffed at the concerns about the sanitorium, arguing that Habe was working with the insane and it was a tricky and dangerous calling. Indeed, that was why Sheriff Hemlock had personally taken Grayst Sevilla there to begin with - dangerous people like that need to be locked up, and Habe had the necessary resources and skills to handle the situation. Even the identification of Sevilla's illness as ghoul fever did not dissuade the sheriff. After all he argued, how was a disease such as this to be overcome without someone as qualified as Habe to study it.

As the party discussed the days events with Hemlock the town guards brought in a farmer, breathless, and covered with mud and sweat. The man identified himself as Maester Grump and he stated that he needed to see the sheriff.
Maester Grump
Maester Grump broke into frantic babbling, nervously muttering about walking scarecrows, screams in the night, and other mysterious sightings. To calm him down required a few minutes of work, at which point he told a short but harrowing story, speaking of how the southern farmlands have become plagued by foul walking scarecrows that stalked the night. All the farmers knew that the problems were coming from the old Hambley place - "things just ain't been right there for a few days now" - but when a group of locals paid the Hambley farm a visit the previous evening they were attacked by folk that looked like corpses but fed like starving animals. At this point in the telling of his story Grump worked himself up into a lather again and shrieked, "They even ate the dogs!"

The guards explained that they had picked up Grump as he ran into town screaming wildly about walking scarecrows. The sheriff asked the party if they could investigate and agreed that he would provide four of the local watch to accompany them - he would provide more, but dared not leave the town any more exposed than it already was. He also privately confessed to the party that he hoped that Grump's story has not been enhanced by the booze that he could smell on the old farmer's breath, but worried that the moonshine may actually have dulled the man's memories of the grim fate that has been visited upon the Hambleys and that the situation there was even worse than Grump knew.

DM Note: Each player was essentially given a 2nd level fighter (redshirt?) to play along side their regular character.

The day was starting to run long so the party of eight spent a few minutes checking their gear and quickly assembled and moved out towards the southern farmlands. Over three dozen farmsteads dotted the fields and vales southeast of Sandpoint, the farthest being some six miles from town. Plenty of farm families could be seen working in and around their farms but rather than ask questions the party pressed on towards Hambley's farm. but as the party moved south of Ashen Rise and approached the Soggy River it became clear that indeed something was wrong.

Footpaths, dusty tracks about ten feet wide hemmed in by fields of corn and other crops connected the farmsteads. The Hambley farm was nestled at the western edge of the Whisperwood, a forest said to be home to capricious gnomes, pixies, and other fey, but now overshadowed by a new and mysterious menace. As the party moved south of the Ashen Rise and crossed the Soggy River the farms were noticeably deserted, the absence of their owners adding to the overall spookiness of the area.

After two hours the party finally reached the area of Hambley's farm. The gentle rolling hills of the area were filled with tall rows of corn, all ready for harvest but curiously left unattended. With none of the party members specifically familiar with the area, it was obvious they would have to wander around the fields on the footpaths until Hambley's house and barn could be found.

As dusk began to take affect a stiff breeze picked up, rattling the stiff stalks of of corn. The party moved forward into the maze until they saw a scarecrow - it wore a loose fitting tunic, baggy pants, had burlap sacks for hands and a head, and had a flimsy looking hat attached to its head. The scarecrow was attached by strands of twine to a pole, the pole itself being 8-10 feet in height and secured in the ground atop one of the gentle rises, meaning the scarecrow was probably 10-15 feet higher than the footpath where the party stood.

The scarecrow twisted and twitched, as if fighting its bonds. The party spread out, Kheo nailed the scarecrow with an arrow, but after the arrow appeared to have no affect Stike snuck up the hill and cut the twine that held the scarecrow to its pole. The scarecrow fell to the ground, and moved no more. Further inspection showed the scarecrow to be filled with old straw and nothing more, its twitching most likely just caused by a combination of the baggy clothing and the strong breeze that was present this evening. The decision was made to disassemble the scarecrow (it's legs were over there!) in hopes that it wouldn't comeback to attack the party later.

The footpath split off in different directions, so the party decided to keep moving south. After another 100 feet or so they saw three scarecrows, one on each of the left and right sides of the path, the third straight ahead. They all wore similar attire - loose fitting tunics, baggy pants, burlap sacks for their heads and hands, and had a flimsy looking hat attached their heads. All three of the scarecrows twitched and writhed as if they were fighting to be free.

The party spread out in preparation for inspecting the scarecrows when with a mighty surge the scarecrows on the left and right side of the path tore themselves free from their ropes and rushed down the slopes to attack the party. Stike killed one with a single blow and the other was killed before it could do any damage. The party moved forward to inspect the third, only to find out it was just filled with straw, like the very first one they had encountered.
Scarecrow Ghoul Attacks
So what different about the two that had attacked? The burlap sacks were removed and revealed - ghouls! The party had seen Grayst Sevilla just that morning at the sanitorium and there was no mistaking the greenish-gray skin, the distended features, the wild looking eyes and the eerie looking teeth. Why were some of the scarecrows filled with straw? Did the straw scarecrows transition into ghouls somehow, and if so what would trigger that? With more questions then answers, the party moved cautiously deeper into the maze of the cornfield.

Around the next corner the party found two more scarecrows, again dressed in similar attire and as before they both flailed and twitched as if looking to escape. Reynard used his Mage Hand to reach up and remove the burlap sack from the head of one of the scarecrows to reveal a living woman with a gag on her mouth - living, but also obviously infected with ghoul fever, the fever not yet having taken its full toll on the lady. Reynard's Mage Hand removed her gag and she screamed and raged, spit and sputtered, and talked incoherently about monsters in the night, how they had taken her family, and could the party please just loose her so she could find her family. The party tried to question her further but in her gibberish were only able to further discern that she and her family had been attacked just the previous night.

The party first decided to inspect the other scarecrow - it turned out to be one of the harmless straw scarecrows, so the party then next tried to put together what they knew so far. If a bite from a ghoul introduced ghoul fever, and it took a few days for the ghoul fever to fully take its victim, then perhaps this farm really was, after all, a ghoul farm, the victims bitten, infected, and tied up here to wait for the affects to finally and fully kick in. If the unfortunate woman had only been bitten the previous day then the ghoul fever wouldn't have had a chance to run its vicious course yet.

But even so the party had no cure for the disease, and if they were to cut down the poor woman and set her free there was no telling what havoc she might cause somewhere else. The decision was made to not kill her, but to leave her where she way for now. The party tried to tell the poor woman they would be back for her, but in the screams and rantings it was not obvious she got the message.

The party continued their sweep through the eastern end of the cornfields, finding and killing seven more of the hideous ghouls. There were several of the real straw scarecrows as well, but in the search the party also found one more infected human, likely the husband of the poor infected woman. He too raved and cursed and begged to be set free so he could find his wife, but like before the party opted to keep him secured where he was, at least for now.

As the party moved into the western portion of the cornfield they came across a darkened house and barn. The barn was the larger of the two structures, an L-shaped building constructed around a unique feature - a 12-foot-high stone head, canted slightly to the left, depicting a helmed warrior, his face a stern model of determination. Moss has grown over much of the weathered figure, making his features hard to discern. This head, known locally as "the Stone Warrior," was a remnant of an ancient Thassilonian statue that once stood in the area. Realizing the statue was too large to move and too unique to destroy the original builder had decided to use it as a support for his barn and incorporated it into the building's structure.

The party approached a set of large doors, Stike kicked the doors open, and Reynard threw in a light spell, only to reveal a pack of six ghouls rushing out of the barn and into the midst of the party. Until this point only Reynard's minion had taken any serious damage, but this time the minions were able to get in several successful attacks. Reynard's minion was killed, and Reynard, Selinor, and Stike's minion received bites, while perhaps as many as five of the remaining seven party members were temporarily paralyzed by the ghouls claw attacks.

The paralyzation quickly wore off, but those that had received bites were properly concerned. It was decided that the best thing to do now was get things finished here and to get back to town - perhaps Father Zantus might have a Cure Disease that would help. It had been the party's observation that it took several days before the ghoul fever would reach its completion, so at least for the moment they were likely OK. The party decided to inspect the barn and found that the ghouls themselves had likely made the barn their primary lair, and the place had become a macabre tangle of bones and partially eaten carcasses (in most cases livestock, but in some cases, well, not livestock).

With that the party moved towards the farmhouse. The house was dark, so the party arrayed itself in preparation for another attack, and again Stike kicked open the door and Reynard threw in a light spell. With no immediate attack forthcoming. the party stepped through the door. The farmhouse was in a terrible state as well. It was here that the party found Hambley's mutilated body as it lay in the farmhouse's kitchen. Although the corpse was already decaying and swarming with flies, the Sihedron Rune was still plainly visible upon the man's chest, as was a single scrap of parchment pinned to his tunic. The parchment bore the name of Selinor and read as follows:
With nothing more to see in the kitchen the party opened the door on the opposite side of the kitchen and moved into the living room. It too was in a shambles, with broken furniture scattered about the room. From out of a dark corner a ghast quickly moved to attack, but but was quickly cut down before more damage could be inflicted.

The party noticed several things - first of all the ghouls killed outside had likely been farmers from the "empty" farms the party had walked past on the way here, but the ghast wore a nicer set of clothes - the clothes had been ripped and shredded, but it was still something that was noticeably different. Further inspection revealed there was a leather cord with an iron key around the neck of the ghast. The key had a distinctive heraldic symbol on it - a flower surrounded by thorns. The party knew they had seen that particular symbol before - it was the symbol that Aldern Foxglove had worn. But this certainly wasn't Aldern Foxglove - who was it?

The party inspected the remainder of the house but no remaining monsters were found. A rusted key was found on the body of Farmer Hambley, and Kheo was able to pry up a loose floorboard in one of the bedrooms and found a lockbox. The rusted key fit the lockbox perfectly, revealing small leather pouches, each pouch meticulously filled with 100 SP, 34 pouches in all. Hambley had been known to be a bit of an old skinflint, and this was likely the small fortune he had accrued over the years.

The party was pleased with their discovery when one of the minions asked what the party was going to do with the treasure. Realizing that this wasn't exactly like claiming treasure from goblins and that Hambley likely had family somewhere the party announced it would take the treasure back to Sheriff Hemlock. (DM Note: Well, that's what they told the minions anyway. Although, for their own cut of the treasure maybe the minions ... we'll see).

The party still wanted to inspect the western portion of Hambley's farm, but before they left they needed to decide what to do with Reynard's dead minion. On the one hand, he was dead. On the other hand, he had been bitten by one of the ghouls, so he might not be completely dead. Rather than risk a "midnight miracle" the party decided to burn the corpse. A safe spot was found, fire wood piled up, and a bonfire started. As the flames reached high into the darkened night several wrenching screams could be heard from the west.
Uh-oh. The party assumed that starting the fire had alerted whoever - or whatever - was out there to their presence and they were likely to be headed toward the farmhouse right now. The party quickly assumed defensive positions around the barn and farmhouse and after a few minutes three ghouls stumbled and shuffled out of the corn fields. Selinor loosed his spell (the one he didn't get to use previously due to being paralyzed) and killed one of the ghouls outright, and the party took out the final two without further incident.

The party finished their inspection of the western portion of Hambley's farm, but only found three empty poles with torn strands rope on the ground around them. With the horror of Hambley's farm likely quelled, the party considered next steps. The three party members that had received bites still felt good (i.e., made their saving throw), but were not convinced they were completely safe just yet.

And what to do with the husband and wife still twisting in the wind, still tied to their respective poles back in the cornfield. The three minions, obviously having seen enough ghouls for the night, offered up that they should be killed immediately. Since there wasn't a cure, and since they would eventually become ghouls, they would likely free themselves and start the whole ghoul process over again. The party agreed that may be prudent, but it was still apparent that they still hadn't found who - or what - was responsible for creating this horror. The finger of suspicion point toward Foxglove Manor, and when that name was mentioned one of the minions spoke up to say that he knew where that was - Foxglove Manor was just about a mile away from where they stood.

The concern about the bites and the two ghouls-in-transition not withstanding, given the proximity of the Manor it was likely the best choice to go investigate now. Stike and Kheo provided their injured minions with a Potion of Cure Light Wounds to get them healthy and the party took off cross country towards Foxglove Manor.

The route leading out from Sandpoint to Foxglove Manor was normally a three mile hike along a narrow path that followed the Foxglove River from the covered bridge where it flowed under the Lost Coast Road to the dark sea cliffs overlooking the Varisian Gulf. There wild sea birds called out to a roaring ocean that churned a hundred feet or more below. As the party neared Foxglove Manor it seemed as if nature herself had become sick and twisted. Nettles and thorns grew more prominent, trees were leafless and bent, and the wind seemed unnaturally cold and shrill as it whistled through the cliff-side crags. The path slowly rose, bending around a steep corner in the cliffs, and then Foxglove Manor loomed ahead, seemingly at the edge of the world.

The strangely cold sea wind rose to a keening shriek as Foxglove Manor came into view. The place had earned its local nickname of "The Misgivings" well, for it almost appeared to loathe its perch high above the ocean, as if the entire house were poised for a suicide leap. The roof sagged in many places, and mold and mildew caked the crumbling walls. Vines of diseased-looking gray wisteria look to be strangling the structure in several places, hanging down over the precipitous cliff edge almost like tangled braids of hair. The house was crooked, its gables angling sharply and breached in at least three places, each hastily repaired by planks of sodden wood. Chimneys rose from various points among the rooftops, leaning like old men in a storm, and grinning gargoyle faces leered from under the eaves.

As the party surveyed the estate they could also seem the remainder of what must have been the servants quarters that had burned so many years before. The few remaining burnt timbers that still stood simply added to the overall eeriness of the area. It was impossible to tell how many floors the outbuilding that stood here once had, for all that remained were the sooty, scorched stones of its foundation. To the east a four-foot-wide stone well sat, partially collapsed, in the corner of the ruins. A few sickly looking ravens were perched atop the foundation stones, but they flew clumsily away as the party approached.

The party moved up towards the house, Kheo peaked in a window, and Stike forced open a door. Decay abounded inside Foxglove Manor. Ceilings sagged, plaster swelled, and timbers rotted. Inside, doors were often wedged shut by dampness and rot. Mold and stains marred walls and floors, often in strangely unsettling patterns. Rooms were unlit; during the day the grime and mold encrusting the windows filtered the sunlight to dim light within. The smell of decaying wood, the periodic groaning of the house's joists reacting to unaccustomed movement within, a dusty mound of dead flies on a windowsill, and the overall air of ancient neglect brought to mind one overarching question - what was going on here?

And we will pick it up from there the next time we meet - March 15th, back at Corky's.

There was one major combat encounter tonight, but the party spent most of the night wandering the farmlands and figuring out the scarecrow/ghoul attacks and their horrific transition and seemingly inevitable outcome. For tonight's efforts each party members earned 1950 XP, giving them (13,645 + 1950) 15,595 XP earned so far, meaning they will start off next time as 5th level characters, with 23,000 XP required to reach Level 6.

DM Note: I neglected to mention previously that the party had also worked to remove the huge golden crown from the dungeons of Thistletop Island. When the party next return to Sandpoint they will be able to finalize the sale for 2000 GP. Reynard will be able to enchant weapons and armor at this point, and the general discussion was to use the proceeds from this to start buffing up equipment for the party.

Also, Selinor had previously found a +1 Holy Symbol, although we later came to find that, strictly speaking, there aren't magical Holy Symbols in the world of Pathfinder. Uh-oh. The DM will come up with a solution before next time.

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