Sunday, January 20, 2013

RL #5: Night of the Walking Dead

A marathon Saturday night session wrote an end to the mysterious deaths in Marais d'Tarascon. Despite a number of out-of-game interruptions, the party forged through and defeated the zombie lord, Marcel. Read on, if you dare...

After speaking with Lillin, the PCs headed for the cemetery in search of its caretaker, Pierot, but first found Shaman Brucian outside the church. In the privacy of its walls, Brucian explained that, after Marcel died, Jean Tarascon quickly fell from grace: once a noble overseer of the Tarascon plantation, Jean's mind became poisoned by the loss of his two brothers. With Marcel dead and Luc seemingly void of all consciousness, endlessly reciting scrambled verses of unknown origin, Jean was increasingly plagued by fits of rage and violence. In light of this, Brucian and others exiled Luc to the swamp for safety - until the PCs retrieved him a few days earlier.

Outside in the cemetery, Pierot shunned the party's questions, intent on preparing for the funeral of the waitress who was murdered in the early morning hours. The group remained for the interment of the deceased, and was relieved to see that the coffin remained quiet and motionless through the end of the service.

As evening approached, the party headed back for the inn but was ambushed en route by the black-cloaked assailant, who stabbed Luc twice before Rapacion slew him grimly. The corpse was revealed to be Jean Tarascon himself, and Brucian pilfered a key and dagger from the dead man's robes before ushering the PCs away to speak in private, urging them to find Marcel's body.

The party opted to replenish at the Full Moon Inn for the evening and begin their search at daybreak, though they considered it paramount to acquire the key from Shaman Brucian before the night's end. Together, they accompanied a handful of villagers back to the tavern, where Brucian confided yet more of his frightful tale. Jean, he explained, had brought Marcel's body - torn nearly limb from limb - to the church on the night that Marcel was slain. Brucian attempted to raise the twin with a magic scroll, but tragically, the spell failed. Jean fled the church in anguish, taking the body of poor Marcel with him.

Suddenly, the storm clouds - having loomed over Marais d'Tarascon for several days - finally broke, pounding the inn with putrid drops of rain and racking its walls with thunder. Simultaneously, Luc's sporadic verses became unprecedentedly clear and unmangled. Within moments, a villager at a nearby table fell dead as a deathly odor settled in the air. Alaric leaped to his feet and buried his sword into the body of the fallen, determined that he not rise as undead. Then Luc recounted a new stanza, a verse not before heard by the PCs in any form:
Look for the scroll where the old rest fine, behind the stone where six stars shine. The finding, however, will cause much pain; beware the time of the falling rain.
Before anyone could react, a rain-drenched villager burst in from outside, yelling, "The dead! The dead are approaching Marais d'Tarascon! An army of the walking dead!"

Constable Gremin quickly began to organize a defense, leading willing patrons outside. Brucian, however, urged the party to accompany him to the old cemetery, where he vaguely recalled an insignia bearing six stars from decades earlier. Ignoring Gremin's demands for help, Brucian and the party fled into the village, blanketed by the night and drowning in the downpour.

As they ran, shambling corpses lumbered toward them in throngs. Brucian and Aginot turned those they could manage while the others aptly slew those they could not. When finally they arrived at the cemetery, Brucian led the group to a chained iron gate enclosing a ten-foot high stone wall, guarded by twin gargoyle statues that eerily seemed to move with every flash of lightning.

Alaric and Rapacion pounded at the chain with their weapons, finally severing it and gaining entry to the old cemetery, an untended portion of the graveyard that supposedly hadn't been entered in years. Overgrown with trees and vines and the ground beneath them turned to mud by the rain, the PCs trudged amid the mausoleums until they came upon two buildings of interest: one was the grandest of all the tombs, towering in size and boasting a stained-glass dome ceiling, the other was a smaller and plainer structure whose entry was adorned with a cryptic, six-star insignia.

Luc refused to approach the latter, shrieking and cowering and nearly fleeing away in terror. Half of the group opened it and scoured its interior, finding recent boot tracks and a half-dozen disinterred coffins that, thankfully, were empty. Dismayed at the lack of anything to validate Luc's recitation, they turned to the larger mausoleum, which Brucian knew to harbor the long-dead ancestors of the Tarascon family.

They entered and ascended a set of stone steps, and as they did, the rain suddenly stopped. The moon's light cast a sickly yellow pallor through the stained glass upon the tomb's floor, a carpet of bones and half-eaten carrion. A nauseating odor filled the main chamber, further lighted by two burning braziers with a finely-crafted throne nested between them. On the throne was seated a hideous creature who resembled Jean Tarascon, but with rotting, pale-gray skin.

The creature proclaimed itself Marcel Tarascon, Lord of the Undead, and demanded an item it called "the scroll of the six signs." Before any could answer, corpses lumbered from recesses in the crypt's stonehewn walls, attacking with their vicious claws. The undead lord looked on as the zombies assailed the PCs, who struggled grimly as first Leilana, then Alaric were laid low. Companions rushed to the aid of the fallen, all the while slicing and stabbing at Marcel's undead minions. When finally Marcel joined the battle in earnest, a great thunderclap rattled the chamber and lightning exploded the dome overhead. Above, the moon turned blood red; its light bathed the tomb in a veil of deathly crimson before fading away and then disappearing completely - a full lunar eclipse.

Marcel gazed to the sky and cried out in abhorrence, and as the last of his minions burned at the end of a newly lighted torch, Aginot, Brucian, and Rapacion hoisted up the zombie lord and buried him onto a fiery brazier, igniting the undead body in a sea of red flames. Thereafter, the crypt fell silent; Luc instantly regained coherence, and those that were able helped carry the more grievously wounded out of the cemetery and back to the church.

The undead army, it was learned, dispersed aimlessly when the zombie lord was killed, though it had left Marais d'Tarascon with many dead and wounded. The sun rose early the next morning, shining its glorious rays upon the village with no storm clouds anywhere in sight. The Tarascon manors were searched by the villagers; Brucian brought word that the Tarascon servants were all found dead, and a mysterious scroll was discovered in a bookcase in the upstairs floor of the townhouse. The scroll held many of the verses recited by Luc when the storm broke:
The night of evil shall descend on the land
When this hexad of signs is near at hand. 
In the house of Daegon the sorcerer born
Through life, unlife, unliving shall scorn. 
The lifeless child of stern mother found
Heralds a time, night of evil unbound. 
Seventh time the son of suns doth rise
To send the knave to an eternity of cries. 
Inajira will make his fortunes reverse
Dooming all to live with the dreaded curse. 
 -- [Missing verse, torn away] --
The light of the sky shining over the dead
shall gutter and fail, turning all to red.

Post-session Details

In addition to showing them the strange scroll and allowing them to copy it if they so choose, Brucian offers the party the dagger and ring of Jean Tarascon (both magically enchanted), a scroll from Brucian's own collection containing two raise dead spells, and an offer to remain at the church until the time they are fully healed of their wounds. At that time, the PCs must seek refuge elsewhere, preferably nowhere near Marais d'Tarascon.

(Out of game, the dagger is a dagger +1 and the ring a ring of protection +1. Brucian explains that Marais d'Tarascon has no desire to harbor the implements that helped murder a number of its villagers, and asks that they be taken somewhere far away. The scroll, too, the priest wishes no remembrance of, given that its failing led to the near-total devastation of village.)

XP and DM's Commentary

Last night's session seemingly spells an end to the first major chapter in our campaign. This time I was well prepared to DM and despite some out-of-game delays we managed to grind out the most fruitful adventure thus far. With that, XP awards are as follows:
  • Rescuing Luc from the swamp: 100 XP
  • Slaying the zombie of Duncan d'Lute: 40 XP
  • Saving Lillin from the black-cloaked assailant: 100 XP
  • Defeating Jean Tarascon: 150 XP
  • Zombies (10 in total) slain/turned en route to the cemetery: 400 XP
  • Marcel's undead minions (5 in total): 363 XP
  • Marcel Tarascon, the zombie lord: 650 XP
  • Dagger +1: 400 XP
  • Ring of protection +1: 1,000 XP
The total award of 3,203 XP is divided four ways between the PCs and Rapacion. Though Shaman Brucian also aided the party in the cemetery, it can be assumed that the value of the raise dead scroll effectively negates his portion. The contributions of Elias and of course Luc were negligible and not counted; therefore, in the end, 801 XP is awarded per character. Furthermore, Aginot receives an additional 50 XP for his recent in-character journal, bringing the party's current XP totals to:
  • Alaric: 3,534
  • Aginot: 3,584
  • Leilana: 3,534
Aginot hereby gains 3rd level immediately, though he should plan to spend several days training and paying reverence to his faith at the next opportune point. Aginot will be allowed no additional level advancements until this occurs.

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