Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ravenloft session #3: Marais d'Tarascon

Last night's session began on the banks of Marais d'Tarascon. While the hour was barely after midday, the storm clouds made the sky seem as dusk. The PCs dragged ashore their raft at the edge of the swamp and proceeded toward the village, noting a sprawling plantation to the east. In the town proper, no people were about, and signs on shop doors read "Closed for funeral." The PCs, with Luc still trailing obediently behind them, soon came upon the village church, where a throng of people was gathered outside, listening to a priest give a funeral liturgy for a poor dead man named Jeremiah d'Gris.

Or was he? As the priest rambled on, banging sounded from inside the coffin, which was bound tightly with chains. Whispered questions to the crowd were met with suspicious glances and evasive answers. After much debate, the PCs chose not to disrupt the interment of the coffin, which was sealed inside a large vault within the gated hilltop cemetery nearby.

Through questioning villagers and particularly Shaman Brucian (the priest), the party learned of strange events transpired of late in Marais d'Tarascon:

  • Villagers have been dropping dead in their places, then rising again as undead and terrorizing the populace.
  • Such deaths are said to be preceded by a terrible odor, like the stench of rotting flesh.
  • Coffins of the deceased are bound with chains to keep the bodies safely locked inside.
  • In addition to the unexplained deaths, Marais d'Tarascon has also begun to be plagued by grisly murders over the past several days.

The PCs also uncovered that Luc and Marcel's last name is Tarascon, Marais d'Tarascon's founding family, which still owns and operates the plantation to the east. Though Marcel is said to have died three weeks ago of unknown causes, a third brother, Jean Tarascon, still resides at the plantation. Strangely, the companions noted that Marcel's coffin was not interred inside the Tarascon mausoleum in the cemetery - the most recent addition was a woman named Claudine, nearly twenty years prior.

When asked specifically about Luc, Shaman Brucian referred to the boy as a "lost one" of the village, which the PCs tied back to the cryptic words of the young gypsy woman, Valana. Brucian explained that Luc had been ousted from the village, but would not explain why, adding only that he had made a few trips to the swamp to check on the boy and replenish his provisions.  Nearly everyone the PCs met, including Brucian himself, was unable to suppress a wide-eyed look of surprise at the return of Luc Tarascon.

After securing rooms for the impending night at the Full Moon Inn, the party returned to the church, and once there confronted a cloaked figure who had been following them since the funeral. To their astonishment, the figure revealed himself to be Elias, the missing boy from Chatain. Elias had arrived in Marais d'Tarascon two days prior, after walking for an equal number of days through the swamp, and claimed the village to be "cursed," recounting much of the same information that the PCs had already learned about the recent murders and unexplained deaths.

Moreover, Elias implicated a town eccentric named Mordu as a possible person of interest. In addition to his bizarre and morbidly upbeat demeanor, Mordu was frequently seen eating red licorice from the bakery, pieces of which had been found by the village constable beside the bodies of murder victims.

At long last, the PCs, along with Captain Rapacion, Luc, and now Elias, returned to the Full Moon Inn to settle themselves for the night, but as they took to their beds, screams resounded from below. The companions ran for the stairwell but lurched and vomited as they reached it, for the rotten odor in the hall was unbearable. Clasping hands to their mouths and noses, they entered the common room to find Duncan d'Lute, a traveler from the northern town of Port d'Elhour who had offered up room and board to Elias the previous night, dead on the floor, with not a mark on his body.

Aginot and Rapacion went for Shaman Brucian, and in their absence the body rose up and attacked Alaric and Leilana, tearing at the companions' flesh and laying Leilana low. Patrons panicked and fled the inn, and just as reinforcements arrived on scene, Alaric decapitated the fiend with a swing of his mighty blade. Brucian could offer nothing but a promise to inter the corpse, stating that d'Lute "may not be of Marais d'Tarason, but he will be buried as one of its own."

When finally affairs were in order with the priest, the companions retired, very much unsettled and their minds clouded with questions.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ravenloft session #2: The Swamp

Last Wednesday, we picked up in Chatain's village square mere hours after the band of Talons was defeated. The PCs questioned the captured soldier but received little more than accusations of treason to their King. Fearful of repercussions against the village, Alaric, Aginot, Leilana, and Captain Rapacion bade Karsten to arrange for any and all blame to be cast squarely upon them, if and when more soldiers returned. Imparting to Elias's family that they would find the missing boy even if he might never return to Chatain, the companions made haste into the night, delving into the forest and following nimble Leilana into Souragne.

The marshland quickly gave way to knee-deep swamp waters, and the PCs' calls for Elias yielded nothing. As the night darkened, the mists grew thick and the cloud cover eclipsed the moon. When direction seemed all but lost to the PCs, they came upon a raft, wedged between two jagged trees. They waded in to dislodge it, and found it to be in good repair - and large enough to carry all four.

Alaric conversed with Captain Rapacion during the pair's watch as they floated along. When questioned, Rapacion explained that in the villages of the Balinok Mountains, the mark of the Talon was far less common, as Drakov's soldiers ventured there less frequently, and with greater hardship. Alaric came away satisfied with the captain's motives and history, even if his allegiance to the companions might prove short-lived.

The next morning, the sky barely brightened, blanketed by a thick gray curtain of storm clouds that threatened to break at any instant. The raft drifted past black logs and fallen trees; in their midst, a crocodile, twice again the size of a man, emerged from the waters and assaulted the party. The PCs paddled to escape, and Leilana's entanglement spell held the creature fast, wrapping it in swamp vines until the raft was a safe distance away.

Throughout the afternoon they drifted along, unsure of their direction and seemingly devoid of any hope of finding the lost boy. At night, the four travelers bore witness to a sea of ominous, flickering lights, like distant candles, in nearly every direction. They watched them for hours, unsure of their source or meaning, as the raft floated in eerie silence. As the sun rose, the lights faded into the murky daylight.

Still the storm had not broke, but yet the nearly black clouds cast grim shadows over the swamp. The companions felt far from home, and further still from finding the missing boy. Without a raft of his own, he surely could not have made it this far.

On this third evening, the companions sighted the burning light of a campfire in the distance. As they drew near it, they saw a family of gypsies amid a colorful wagon, tethered to two old mares. The wagon was perched on a small island of dry land; how it came to be in the middle of the impassable swamp was a mystery.

The eldest gypsy, a thin and frail-looking old man, introduced himself as Scarengi, and bade the lost travelers to seat themselves beside the fire. The family explained that the companions were close to a town, only a handful of miles away, called Marais d'Tarascon, though they cryptically noted that it was not a place to visit "on a night such as this." As the PCs began to ask questions, a beautiful, shapely young woman emerged from the wagon, captivating the men with her stunning red lips and dark eyes. Scarengi proudly proclaimed her to be his daughter, Valana, and that she was gifted in the ways of fortune-telling. "The trouble began when I cast the runes for that quiet and lost young man," she explained sadly. "Perhaps it will end with another casting."

The PCs learned little else throughout their meal with the gypsies, their questions deflected by answers in the vein of "To speak of evil is to invite it to dinner." Finally, Valana took up a set of small stone tiles and cast them into a pan. As her captivating eyes bore into each companion in turn, she gasped. "The lost one has called you! The dead will walk with the coming storm, and you must find a way to put them to rest. If you cannot, the rain will turn to blood! It will drown you-you and all of Marais d'Tarascon."

Clearly unsettled, the gypsies retired hastily inside the wagon; only the strongest-looking man remained outside to tend the horses. Accepting that no further information was forthcoming, the PCs settled themselves to sleep; as they did, Valana's silhouette appeared in the doorway, whispering, "Beware the madman; beware his blood."

Tried as they might to stay awake in shifts, eventually the four companions all fell asleep. When they awoke the next morning, the wagon was gone.

Around midday, storm clouds dark as ever, they came upon a house on stilts. Many lanterns burned brightly from within, and as they attempted to peer inside from down below, a rope ladder fell to the base of the raft. Inside the house sat a young man, thin and gaunt, eyes milky white and vacant. In his hands he clutched a book of poetry with an inscription on the inside cover that read "To Luc, my beloved brother."  It was signed "Marcel."

Luc seemed to not acknowledge his visitors, intermittently reciting mangled verses to the open air:

The on descend shall evil of night the land, at
near are signs of hexad this when hand.

The mother stern of child lifeless found, heralds
evil of night a time unbound.

The "house" itself was but a single room, and in addition to a circle of burning lanterns was stocked with a barrel of fresh water, crates of provisions, and fresh clothing. As the companions made to depart, Luc suddenly attempted to climb down the rope ladder, plummeting into the water. Together the PCs dragged him to safety aboard the raft. Thereafter, numbered five, they left the empty house behind them, rowing until they saw a plume of smoke on the horizon, emanating from a distant village.

On they rode until they washed ashore at the swamp's edge, along the outskirts of what they could only assume must be Marais d'Tarascon.

XP

No XP to award for this session - I'll wait until we hit a more appropriate stopping point to add up rewards and level any characters as needed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ravenloft session #1: Chatain

A new campaign is finally underway - we played our first session Wednesday night, using AD&D 2nd Edition as the rule set, with Ravenloft (probably my favorite all-time setting) as the backdrop. The game is rooted in the military-oppressed kingdom of Falkovnia, ruled by the reviled, mercenary king, Vlad Drakov (more commonly known as "Vlad the Impaler"). Falkovnia's rolling fields and valleys are blanketed by deep forests and spotted with towns and villages whose downtrodden citizenry live in fear of their rulers and the dangers that lurk outside their homes.

The adventurers number three: Alaric, an overly moral sod and would-be holy warrior; Aginot, an unconventional man of the cloth; and Leilana, a half-elven woman whose racial heritage is well-concealed for fear of the harsh prejudices within the kingdom. The PCs each bear the mark of the Talon on their foreheads, a brand brutally imparted by Drakov by way of his soldiers (called "Talons"), claiming the Falkovnian inhabitants as his property.

Our session began in the isolated farming village of Chatain, a northeastern hamlet surrounded by thick woodlands of vigila dimorta, towering black trees whose name in the old language means "sentries of death." For its part, Chatain is self-sustaining and not oft happened upon, its most frequent visitors wayward travelers and caravans, or (less commonly) small military units, scouring Falkovnia's towns and villages to viciously brand, capture, and occasionally even slaughter those who "rightfully" belong to their King.

On a crisp, cool evening in mid-autumn, Alaric, Aginot and Leilana were gathered inside the Winter Wolf tavern, a small taproom on the southeast corner of Chatain's modest village square, when in trod a rugged, dark-haired man brandishing sword and shield, weathered and weary from the road. He introduced himself as Alec Rapacion, a county militia captain from a cluster of small settlements in the foothills of the Balinok Mountains to the east, traveling the countryside on a peaceable mission of recruitment. Rapacion explained that he had warned the tavern's proprietor, a strong-armed middle-aged man named Karsten, that a band of Drakov's Talons was roaming the forested trails nearby.

As if on cue at that moment, screams sounded from the village square. Patrons flooded to the tavern's windows and entryway, and onlookers could see four mounted Talons outside, several yards away. In the center of the square, their apparent leader had impaled a villager on his glaive, letting the man slide grotesquely from his weapon and fall lifelessly to the ground.

The horsemen turned at Alaric's call, and when they did, a lithe form could be spotted to the northwest, escaping from the village square into the foreboding night. Alaric and Captain Rapacion blocked the doorway to the tavern when one of the Talons was directed their way by the leader. Alaric refused to engage the soldier, but Rapacion slashed the man's cheek before Alaric could restrain his new ally. Fearful for the patrons, Leilana began ushering taverngoers out the taproom's rear exit while Aginot played drunk in an attempt to create a distraction.

A melee ensued inside the tavern, with Rapacion, Leilana, and Karsten working together to slay the Talon.  An utterance of cause fear by Aginot sent a second mounted soldier fleeing into the darkness after he'd circled around back to block the villagers' escape. The companions outmatched and subsequently bound and captured the rider upon his return to the village square after Leilana deftly impersonated the boy that had been seen running from the shadows. Conversing briefly with a handful of townspeople who'd gathered 'round the impaled man after the Talons had dispersed, the PCs learned that the slain man had been protecting his teenage son from the soldiers when he was felled. Presumably, the son either was yet unbranded with Drakov's mark or had otherwise provoked the riders.

The PCs gathered what villagers they could safely in the tavern, and when the two remaining soldiers made their return, the frontrunner was laid low and the leader, having lost his contingent, rode swiftly off to the south, fleeing the village with all haste.

Thereafter, Chatain was in uproar over the night's events, the villagers prideful of the manner in which the Talons were defeated, yet gravely fearful for the possible repercussions from the Kingdom. Of foremost concern to the slain villager's family, however, was locating the dead man's son Elias who, by multiple accounts, had fled Chatain to the northwest, and toward the treacherous swamp that in the old language was known simply as Souragne.

XP

Player character XP totals are posted on the sidebar of this page. The experience awards for the first session are as follows:

  • Defeating four Talon soldiers (two slain, one captured, one driven off into the night) @ 50 XP each: 200 XP
  • Story award for successfully protecting further villagers from harm: 500 XP
  • 700 XP total
  • 233 XP per character (before any applicable XP bonuses)
The session ran well and got us off to an exciting start. Everyone's looking forward to learning what happens next...