Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Skinsaw Murders (02/01/2013)

Our previous game night had run a little long so we started off this week's session by running through any questions or close-outs items the players might have had. As the DM I had taken the liberty of walking the players through the last few rooms of Thistletop as if we had done so on game night because it was the end of a chapter and I knew there wasn't much more there than exploration, plus I wanted to start of tonight's game night with the new chapter.

But before the players could leave Thistletop they had to decide - what to do with this horse? How did it get here? Why was it here? If goblins hated horses so much ... so many unanswered questions. Once the party got the horse calmed down and got the horse fed and cleaned up a little they began to deliberate on how exactly the horse got here and as to how they were going to get him out of here.

Once it was determined the horse was absolutely not going to be forced to walk over the bridge, and even if it would cross the bridge it was too large to be able to walk through the briar and thorn laden tunnels in the ticket, the party decided that the only way the goblins could have gotten the horse here in the first place was to have knocked it our somehow and drug it through the thick and over the bridge, which would explain the curious tracks the players had seen on the ground as well as the plethora of scratches and scrapes on the horses back.

After scrounging through the stockade again the party found a bottle of something that Reynard determined was some sort of elixir that would sedate the horse. Once the horse was unconscious the party placed the horse onto some blanks and then drug it over the bridge and through the thicket. While the horse recovered that party reclaimed the treasure they had found on the island and eventually returned to town with their bounty and a happy-to-be-home horse that was soon returned to its owner.

Once back in town the party told Father Zantus the story of Nualia's fate - Zantus knew that the evil that Nualia had become had to be struck down, but he was still heart-broken that the little girl of his best friend had befallen such a fate. Zantus was also happy to receive the gift of the Lamashtu relics and assured the party they would be kept safe in the temple.

Sheriff Hemlock was similarly pleased and happy to know that the town of Sandpoint was safe once again. Hemlock was also happy to redirect some of the town funds to acquire many of the extra weapons the party had found. The party then spent much of the next few days divesting itself of the miscellaneous (but non-magical) items, netting each individual character a nice tidy bonus of 1400 GP.

DM Note: This brings to a close Chapter 1 (Burnt Offerings) of Rise of the Runelords.

The Late Unpleasantness

The Late Unpleasantness was the name give to a period that occurred about six months previous when three unfortunate occurrences rocked the town of Sandpoint. Nualia's Father, Ezkarien Tobyn, was killed when a fire burned down the original temple, the wife of local nobelman Lonjiku Kaijitsu (and mother of Ameiko and Tsuto) fell off a balcony that overlooked the Gulf of Varisia and died on the rocks below, and when a madman known as The Chopper made his brief but deadly appearance.

When Jervis Stoot made clear his intentions to build a home on the then-nameless tidal island just north of the Old Light, many worried that he'd break his neck climbing up and down the isle's cliffs. Jervis had already garnered something of a reputation for eccentricity when he began his one-man crusade to carve depictions of birds on every building in town. Stoot never made a carving without securing permission, but his incredible skill at woodcarving made it a given that, if Stoot picked your building as the site of his latest project, you seized the opportunity. "Sporting a Stoot" soon grew to be something of a bragging point, and Jervis eventually extended his gift to include ship s and carriages. Those who asked or tried to pay him for his skill were rebuffed - Stoat told them, "There ain't no birds in that wood for me t'set free," and went on his way, often wandering the streets for days before noticing a hidden bird in a fence post, lintel, steeple, or door frame, which he'd then secure permission to "release" with his trusty hatchets and carving knives .

Stoat's excuse for wanting to move onto the isle seemed innocent enough. The place was a haven for local bird life, and his claim of "wantin' ta be with th' birds" seemed to make sense - so much so, in fact, that the guild of carpenters (with whom Stoat had maintained a friendly competition for several years) volunteered to build a staircase, free of charge, along the southern cliff face so that Stoat could come and go from his new home without risking life and limb. For 15 years, Stoat lived on the island. His trips into town grew less and less frequent, making it something of an event when he chose a building to host a new Stoat.

Sandpoint was no stranger to crime, or even to murder. Once or twice in a year passions flared, a robbery might go bad, a jealousy grew too much to bear, or one too many drinks were had and someone would end up dead. But when bodies began to mount the town initially had no idea how to react. Sandpoint's sheriff at the time was a no-nonsense man named Casp Avertin, a retired city watch officer from Magnimar. Yet even he was ill-prepared for the murderer who came to be known as The Chopper. Over the course of one long month, it seemed that every day brought a new victim to light. Each was found in the same terrible state: body bearing deep cuts to the neck and torso, hands and feet severed and stacked nearby, and the eyes and tongue missing entirely, having been plucked crudely from each head.

Sheriff Hemlock
Over the course of that terrible month, The Chopper claimed 25 victims. His uncanny knack at eluding traps and pursuit quickly wore on the town guard, taking a toll on Sheriff Avertin in particular, who increasingly took to drinking. In any event, Sheriff Avertin himself became Chopper's last victim, slain upon catching the murderer in a narrow lane - known now as Chopper's Alley - as he was mutilating his latest victim. In the battle that followed, Avertin landed a telling blow against the killer. When Belor Hemlock, then merely a town guard, found both bodies (Avertin's and the penultimate victim) several minutes later, he rallied the guards and they were able to follow the killer's bloody trail.

The trail led straight to the stairs of Stoat's Rock. At first the town guard refused to believe the implications, and feared that Chopper had come to claim poor Jervis Stoat as his 26th victim. Yet what the guards found in the modest home atop the isle and in the larger complex of rooms that had been carved into the bedrock below left no room for doubt. Jervis Stoat and Chopper were one and the same, and the eyes and tongues of all 25 victims were found upon a horrific altar.

DM Note: The start of Chapter 2 (The Skinsaw Murders) of Rise of the Runelords

Part 1 - Murder Most Foul

With the horrors of Nualia and her minions behind them the party took advantage of some quiet time back in Sandpoint in which they were able to discard themselves of the no longer necessary weapons and the beads and baubles they had recovered over the past few days, each party member now finding themselves with a nice little bankroll in hand. With no immediately pressing assignments the party used this time to rest and to re-stock in preparation for whatever their next move may be.

A few days after the party returned a message came from Sheriff Hemlock asking them to please join him at the garrison. Upon their arrival Sheriff Hemlock called in the party and began to relay the gruesome news: "First, let me thank you again for all you've done for Sandpoint. It's fortunate you've proven yourselves so capable, because we've a problem I think you can help us with - a problem I wish I didn't have to involve anyone with, but one that needs dealing with now before the situation grows worse.

"Put simply, we have a murderer in our midst - one who, I fear, has only begun his work. Some of you doubtless remember the Late Unpleasantness, how this town nearly tore itself apart in fear as The Chopper's slayings went on unanswered. I'm afraid we might have something similar brewing now.”

"Last night, the murderer struck at the sawmill. There are two victims, and they're ... they're in pretty gruesome shape. The bodies were discovered by one of the mill workers, a man named lbor Thorn, and by the time my men and I arrived on the scene a crowd of curious gawkers had already sprung up. I've got my men stationed there now to keep the mill locked down, but the thing that bothers me isn't the fact that we have two dead bodies inside. It's the fact that this is actually the second set of murders we've had in the last few days.

"I come to you for help in this matter - my men are good, but they are also green. They were barely able to handle themselves against the goblins, and what we're facing now is an evil far worse than goblins. I need the help. But I'm afraid you'll need the help too. You see, I'm afraid that this particular murderer knows one of you as well."

Sheriff Hemlock explained that the note was found pinned to the sleeve of the latest victim by a splinter of wood. Hemlock was quick to comfort the PCs with his belief that this note was left at the murder scene to throw suspicion onto them, and that while he certainly doesn't believe the party had anything to do with the murders, if word of this note were to get out he was afraid the town's reaction might not be as understanding. For this reason, and since he doesn't want to start a general panic, he asked the party to keep as quiet as possible about the murders.

The sheriff then filled the party in on what he knew of the murders:

The Lumber Mill: The most recent murders took place here - the bodies were still present, and little had been done with the crime scene itself. Sheriff Hemlock suggested that this should be the first place the party investigate since he would like to get the mill cleaned up right away and the bodies buried.

Ibor Thorn: Sheriff Hemlock had interrogated Ibor, the man who discovered the bodies at the lumber mill, and doesn't suspect the frightened man knew much more.

Ven Vinder: This merchant was Sheriff Hemlock's only suspect, although the sheriff was fairly certain that Ven was innocent and that the murders were committed by someone else.

The First Murders: Three con men from the town of Galduria were found murdered in an abandoned barn south of town a few days ago - their bodyguard survived the assault but has gone insane and had been sent to Habe's Sanatorium - a privately run respite for the insane.

The Rune: The star carved on one victim's chest certainly had significance to the killer, but Hemlock was at a loss as to what it could mean. It was the Sheriff's opinion that perhaps an expert on runes (such as local sage Brodert Quink) could be consulted?

Sheriff Hemlock confirmed that one of the mill's operators, a penny-pinching man named Banny Harker, has been engaged in a semi-secret affair with the daughter of a local shopkeeper. He and Katrine Vinder had been meeting at the mill often of late, using the noise of the logsplitter to cover sounds of their trysting. But as to why they had been killed, Sheriff Hemlock could offer no theory.

The Lumber Mill stood on the shore of the Turandarok River. A sizable crowd has gathered outside by the time the party arrived and groups of nervous looking town guards stood at the mill's entrances. A few questions were enough to reveal that the mill was working last night - Harker and Thorn, the two millers, often worked late into the night which had become a bone of contention around town as the noisy mill and its infernally creaky log splitter kept neighbors awake. The guards had already been informed by Sheriff Hemlock of his intent to deputize the party members and even if the sheriff didn't accompany them to the mill the guards were to step aside allow the adventurers entry.

The mill was a well-built wooden structure with very thick walls. The roof was of wooden shingles, and doors were simple timber and unlocked. The mill machinery inside the mill was noisy - if someone wanted to sneak up on somebody it would be rather easy, Within the mill the party found the following items:

The Timber Pier: Timber was cut down upstream and then floated down the Turandurok River and delivered to the mill via a small pier that extended out into the River. The machinery then pulled the logs out of the water and onto the water saw where the logs were cut into boards.

The Murder Scene: The mill interior is coated with sawdust strewn with footprints and splashes of blood. It was obvious that a desperate struggle took place here several hours ago. Harker's body, Katrine's body, a bloody axe, and a bloody footprints constituted the primary clues here.

Katrine's Body: Poor Katrine was killed instantly when she had fallen (or been pushed) into the log splitter. Her mangled, ruined remains lie on the mill's lower floor amid heaps of bloodstained firewood. The log splitter itself was powered by a waterwheel and consisted of a chute in the floor with rotating saw blades that cut logs as they are fed in - a gruesome death indeed.

Harker's Body: Harker's body had been horribly desecrated. The poor man had been affixed to the wall by several hooks normally used to hang machinery. The body was mutilated, the face carved away and lower jaw missing entirely. His bare chest was defaced as well, bearing a strange rune in the shape of a seven-pointed star.

The Bloody Axe: A hand-axe was embedded in the floor near the log splitter, as if it had been dropped there.

The party attempted to step through what had happened here during the previous hours. They determined that someone - or something - had been able to sneak up on Harker and kill him, and that likely poor Katrine had simply stumbled onto the scene and had paid for her mistake with her life. The party started by investigating the foot prints when they noticed a distinctive and particularly foul odor. Further investigation revealed the same odor was on the handle of the axe and was present in some of the wounds on Harker's body. With this additional information the party was able to trace the footsteps containing the foul stench out of the mill and to the swamp where the trail ended.

The party determined the foul smell was likely from some sort of undead creature, but weren't sure what kind. And what kind of undead creature would write a note to implicate someone else? And who exactly was "your lordship?" With no more investigation to do at the mill the party returned to the garrison and to let Sheriff Hemlock know what they had found out.

Sheriff Hemlock stated that he had no answers for the party's questions but did fill them in on the details of the murders that had happened two nights previous. A patrol of guards along the Lost Coast Road were assaulted by a deranged man near an abandoned barn south of town along the banks of Cougar Creek. The man was obviously sick and insane, his flesh fevered, eyes wild, mouth frothing, and clothes caked with blood. The guards subdued him, but when they checked inside the barn they discovered the mutilated bodies of three men. Although all three bodies were far too disfigured to identify, one of them carried a piece of parchment:

The note identified the bodies as Tarch Mortwell, Lener Hask, and Gedwin Tabe, three notorious con men and swindlers known well to Sheriff Hemlock as local troublemakers. He had personally forbade the three men from operating their con games and barely legal operations in Sandpoint, and wasn't particularly surprised at the time to find them murdered - it was only a matter of time before they tried to swindle the wrong person, someone worse than them, after all. But in light of the mill murders and the fact that Mortwell, Hask, and Tabe all bore the same seven-pointed marking on their chests that Harker did, Hemlock was convinced there is something worse than revenge afoot.

The Sheriff led the party into the basement where the bodies of all three men lie in state in a cool basement room below the Garrison. Although decay had set in a quick check revealed that all three bodies bore marks similar to those that the party had discovered on Harker's body.

Sheriff Hemlock stated that the insane man has been identified as one Grayst Sevilla, a local Varisian thug. He had been given over to the care of Erin Habe, caretaker of an independent sanatorium south of town; if the PCs wish to speak to Grayst to learn more Sheriff Hemlock welcomed them to try but warned them that Grayst was "a bit off his rocker" and they shouldn't expect much. He also stated he would provide the adventurers with a letter of introduction to Habe if they wanted to try to interview Sevilla.

Ibor Thorn
The party then wanted to speak with Ibor Thorn and Ven Vinder while they were held at the garrison. Harker's partner Ibor was a young man, handsome if a bit narrow-faced. He was still in shock after having discovered the bodies when he arrived at work that morning. Although the sheriff had already interrogated Thor the sheriff admitted that the party might be able to get something out of the young miller that he could not. He cautioned them to be gentle in their interrogation, though - Thorn had been through a lot in the last few hours. Ibor's initial attitude toward the questions from the party was indifferent - he refused to say anything more, claiming nervously that he's already told the sheriff everything he knew. The weary young man shut down even more when the party attempted to bully further information from him.

Ven Vinder
In another holding cell was Ven Vinder. Ven was the first person Sheriff Hemlock visited after learning of the murders, but after he informed Ven of his daughter's death at the mill the man flew into a rage. Sheriff Hemlock had taken him into custody to let him cool off in a cell, but even though Ven fought like a devil Hemlock was sure that his rage was born from the death of his beloved daughter and not from guilt at being caught. Hemlock added he was prepared to release Ven, but if the party wished to speak to him first he would let them do so. As the party started to question Vinder he broke down into sobs at the remembrance of the death of his beloved daughter. He then turned to rage and implored the party to find the monster that had done this, and then just as quickly settled back down in to a heap of muffled sobs.

Before the party left to go to the sanitarium the Sheriff insisted to the party go visit Brodert Quink and find out more about the mysterious seven pointed star. The party already knew much more about the Sihedron Rune than Hemlock, but were curious to see what else the local sage might be able to add.

Sihedron Rune
The old man was eager to let the party members into his house and to talk with them about the Sihedron Rune and ancient Thassilonian history. Much of what Brodert talked about seemed to be nonsense - who cared who married who's daughter from a civilization that had died 10,000 year ago -  but eventually Brodert was able to confirm much of what the party had learned about the seven pointed star being related to the seven virtues and the seven schools of magic. With a twinkle in his eye Brodert also pointed out that much of what is understood about Thassilon indicated its leaders were far from virtuous and he believed the classic seven mortal sins (greed, lust, pride, gluttony, envy, wrath, and sloth) rose from corruptions of the Thassilonian virtues of rule.

Part Two - The Thing in the Attic

As promised the sheriff provided them with a letter of introduction to use at Erin Habe's sanitorium. The building itself was a squat, stone building of three floors under a stout, stone-flagged roof, and was built in the lee of the limestone escarpment known as Ashen Rise. All doors the were stout wooden ones and a brisk sense of cleanliness fills the place - floors are scrubbed and walls are freshly painted white. Narrow windows, no more than 4 inches wide, allow for air circulation but are too small to allow access into the building. The somewhat sour smell of burning incense abounds  - it wasn't the sickly smell of death the adventurers had discovered back in the mill though.

The party promptly walked up to the main doors and knocked. After a brief time a voice could be heard inside saying "Go away. We're busy." Several more attempts were rebuffed as well, and only after waving the Sheriff's letter and threatening to get the sheriff involved the door was cracked open so the letter could be inspected. Finally the door was opened and the party bade to enter.

Erin Habe
Habe himself was dressed in everyday work clothes, although the man himself appeared to be a bit on the nervous and twitchy side. Behind Habe stood his two orderlies - two tieflings he introduced as Gortus and Gurnak. They stood in what appeared to be a larger parlor area, with several sets of doors leading away. The party drew an assumption that likely the first floor was a residence area for the three occupants.

The party explained that they wish to speak with Grayst Sevilla, the man Sheriff Hemlock had brought here two nights hence. Habe argued back that the man was sick and was in no condition to talk with anyone. After some more discussion and a threat to get the sheriff involved Habe agreed to let the two orderlies go upstairs and get Sevilla and bring him down here for the party to question. The party assured Habe that they didn't mind questioning Sevilla in his room, but the little man suddenly became a little more twitchy and insisted that the party let his orderly' bring the man down here. "We have sick people here," Habe claimed. "I don't want them disturbed."

Grayst Sevilla
The orderlies soon appeared with Grayst Sevilla. His skin was pale and looked gangrenous, his hair wild and eyes milky white. Anyone that saw him quickly realized he really was quite sick and close to death. Selinor assessed that he likely had Ghoul Fever, likely delivered via a bite from a Ghoul. Sevilla was mostly non-responsive, wrapped as he was in a snug fitting straitjacket. The party attempted to question Sevilla, but he has little to say apart from incoherent mumblings about "razors" and "too many teeth" and how "the Skinsaw Man is coming."

This all changed as soon Sevilla laid eyes on Selinor. Sevilla's eyes bulged and he spoke in a shaky voice, saying: "He said ... he said you would visit me. His Lordship. The one that unmade me said so. He has a place for you. A precious place. I'm so jealous. He has a message for you. He made me remember it. I hope I haven't forgotten. The master wouldn't approve if I forgot. Let me see ... let ... me ... see ... "

"The master said that the bodies you are finding are signs and portents, that when he is done, you shall be remembered forever and the Misgivings shall be your throne!

At the climax of his speech, the message delivered, Sevilla collapsed and issued a low moan. Then the moan rose to a shriek and as he lurched to his feet and his arms tore free of the old straitjacket. The man has nearly succumbed to ghoul fever, and although severely ill, remained as strong as he ever was. He lunged at the the party, specifically at Selinor. The orderlies did their best to get him corralled and quickly hustled the sick man back up the stairs.

After Sevilla's outburst Habe begged for forgiveness. He stated that he had no idea that the man would react in such a manner. But he also insisted that he had lived up to his end of the bargain and he insisted the party must leave immediately. The sense of fear in Habe was palpable and certainly gave the party the thought that there was likely more here than met the eye but a deal was a deal and the party headed back to town.

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 Sevilla had mentioned? 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.

The party made it through an evening without any combat encounters, but they did spend a lot of time investigating this newest spate of murders. For tonight's efforts each party members earned 1200 XP, giving them (12,445 + 1200) 13,645 XP earned so far, with 15,000 required to reach Level 5. Our next session will be in three weeks (Friday, 02/22/2013), same time, same place.

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