The Hook Mountain Massacre, Part 1

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On a Boat!

At the guardhouse where we last left the Saviors of Sandpoint, Sheriff Hemlock explains that the man in the cells was apprehended trying to run short cons down at the Hagfish. When they brought him in, the guards noticed a Sihedron rune tattooed on his shoulder. As the resident experts, Hemlock leaves it up to the heroes to find out whether that’s significant.

The man in question is obviously a jaded grifter, terse and unwilling to give up any information without some benefit to himself. The party tries intimidation, diplomacy, and even Detect Thoughts, but only gets pieces out of him without acquiescing to letting him free to run. They eventually decide to put him on a boat to Riddleport if he cooperates, and that’s fine with him. He then spins a tale, corroborated by Balekh’s mind reading, of a casino riverboat plying the large lake near Turtleback Ferry, far to the east. The mark was put on him by the owner of the boat, a pretty woman named Lucretia, as a mark of favor for casino regulars to avoid the cover charge. He suspects, though, that several people on the boat have them. Balekh explains the significance of the rune, and that the man has likely been conned himself, but does manage to discover that the mark can be Erased from an unmurdered subject without any apparently harm.

Deciding that this far-flung Magnimarian territory may be the next breeding ground in whatever Sihedron-related plot they’re dealing with, the heroes pack up their bags again and head south to catch the postal boat on its way to Turtleback Ferry.

A week on the barge gives them ample time to learn about the region from the two postal boatmen that ply the route. The area is apparently situated in a rough and rugged territory, bounded by ogres, reclusive gnomes, fairy swamps, and an ancient Thassilonian dam that holds back the Storval Deeps. They initially suspect that the heroes are monster hunters trying to get a look at Black Magga, the sea monster said to wander the deeps and sometimes surface near the dam. They also prove helpful about the casino, claiming it rolled in late the previous fall and shows up on the weekends for a night of gambling and drinking that has quickly become the central vice of most of the town. Apparently, many wives in the town don’t know just how much their husbands are losing at the boat.

Arriving at the town a few days before the boat is due, the party seeks to kill a few days. Haggor pays a local fisherman to teach him to fish and then finds himself dragooned into helping at the inn based on his latest cooking experiment with a caught gar. Balekh, Shayliss, and Taeva spend a few days shopping and preparing for the casino. Veshenga quickly realizes that she’s not far from the Black Arrow ranger outpost, Fort Rannick, and begins planning a daytrip. The innkeeper cautions her that it’s actually a bit of a trek, especially since the snows haven’t completely melted to the north, but she does mention a ranger that’s on leave and staying at the inn. She also learns in passing that many of the rangers at the Fort are essentially paroled convicts, working off death sentences or life imprisonments defending the country.

Veshenga marches upstairs and meets the ranger, a roguish man named Kaven. He seems interested to meet her, and they discuss Magnimar and the business that brought her and her friends to the town. He suggests that he’s not leaving until the next week, so if she wants to finish her business with the riverboat, he’d be happy to have her along when he returns to the Fort.

On schedule, the riverboat arrives at the town’s docks on the first evening of the weekend, and the party, all dressed up and smuggling in what weapons they can hide, follows the line of citizens to the party. Haggor is suspicious about a man leaving the boat, but these worries are quickly forgotten as the sound and light of the casino wash over them. The guards at the dock take their cover fee, including a first-timer’s charge for a minimum amount of chips. With gold already invested in gambling, the party begins to play various games while looking for clues.

Dragon Age-style Buffs for D&D

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One of the cooler ideas from the Dragon Age video game, in my opinion, is the Sustained abilities. Unlike in most games with maintained powers, these abilities aren’t a constant drain against the user’s refresh rate (though some do drain extra stamina or mana when in combat). Instead, they reduce the overall size of the character’s resource pool. A character can very usefully be built around running a large series of constant buffs instead of using resources for one-off powers.

Something very similar could be done in D&D 3.x/Pathfinder without drastically upsetting the rules base:

Any spell with a range of Personal or Touch and a duration greater than instant and less than permanent can be Sustained. A Sustained spell uses up greater casting energy than normal, but lasts until the caster rests or otherwise falls unconscious.

  • Spells with a duration of 1 hour/level can be sustained with 1 additional spell slot of the same level (2 slots total).
  • Spells with a duration of 10 minutes/level or 1 hour (unmodified by level) can be sustained with 2 additional spell slots of the same level (3 slots total).
  • Spells with a duration of 1 minute/level or 10 minutes (unmodified by level) can be sustained with 3 additional spell slots of the same level (4 slots total).
  • Spells with a duration of 1 round/level or 1 minute (unmodified by level) can be sustained with 4 additional spell slots of the same level (5 slots total).

As mentioned, falling unconscious ends the effect, whether through incapacitation or sleep. Additionally, if any short rest rules are in effect that allow recovery of spell slots, a sustained spell’s slots are not recovered if the spell remains active. Spells cast on other individuals cease functioning if the individual moves farther than Short range (25 ft + 5 ft/2 levels) from the caster, though they resume functioning at the beginning of the caster’s next turn after returning to the correct range.

This system is primarily intended for buffs, but shouldn’t be game breaking if applied to the few offensive spells with the correct range and duration, given the cost in spell slots and the ability for enemies to break range. However, GMs should disallow any spells to be sustained that seem too good even with the additional rules.

The Hook Mountain Massacre, Prologue

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Game Time: Late Winter, 4708
Real Time: September, 2009

A Violent Interlude

While Balekh busily turns the party’s reward into magic items, the others finish their business in Magnimar. As the winter starts to thaw, they’re finally able to make their way back to Sandpoint. Taeva hangs back for a few weeks to help police the Bazaar of Sails, newly revitalized by rich people no longer afraid to leave their houses, but the rest of the group rides back up the coast in good spirits.

Just as they’re riding into town, Sheriff Hemlock meets them at the gate and tells them they’ve arrived just in time. He’d like their help protecting some nearby farms from a band of goblins that was spotted marauding up the newly ice-free coast. Balekh gives him a big hug, happy to be back in a town with a law officer that’s nice to them. The party quickly checks gear and then follows the town guard to intercept the goblin attack.

The heroes of Sandpoint take up positions on a field opposite the projected route from the town guard. Sure enough, it’s only a couple of hours before a small horde of goblins rush screaming over a hill and down towards the heroes, with another batch rushing at the town guard. A dozen goblin archers support a similar number of grinning monsters with makeshift weapons, and a trio of big and important looking minor chieftains follow behind. Veshenga begins raining down arrows, Balekh and Shayliss launch magic missiles and flame into the throng, and an enlarged Haggor soaks up arrows and crushes tiny goblin heroes. The entire warband is finished off in less than thirty seconds, and the party has time to relax and watch the entire town guard take slightly longer to defeat their own assault. Hemlock congratulates them on a job well done, and they return to town to recuperate.

A week or two later, as they’ve begun to settle in and consider what they should be doing come Taeva’s return and true Spring, Veshenga is surprised to find Zif drinking in the Rusty Dragon where she’s picking up a few waitressing shifts. After some consideration, Zif remembers that he came with a letter for Haggor, so the two of them wander up to the monk’s cave. When they arrive, Haggor is cooking lunch for himself and the two animals Veshenga previously helped him befriend: the bear that originally owned the cave and the tiger they rescued from the Magnimar hippodrome.

Haggor unseals the letter and finds a missive from the Hellknight, Valeria, suggesting that she’s been unable to identify the leak in her organization, but has confirmed that another of her subpoena targets has become a murder victim. Rather than watch the rest of her targets die behind her, she suggests that she’ll be coming to Sandpoint next to speak again to the Mayor. She figures that the remote location from Magnimar will force the assassins to strike soon after the meeting, allowing the party to catch and unmask them. Tiger is sent to retrieve Balekh and Shayliss from their nature walk, and the party puts together a plan.

A few days later, Valeria comes into town once again with her two dour lawyers, and heads to the Mayor’s office, argues briefly with her again, then retires to the Rusty Dragon for the evening. A few hours later, Mayor Deverin closes down the office and walks home, whiles away the evening, then retires to bed. Darkness rolls in, and then a small noise heralds the cautious entry of mantis-masked assassins through a nearby bedroom window. They creep across the floor, line up their attacks, and slash at their target with vicious, sawtooth blades. She lets out an unladylike growl before reaching up for a chokeslam just as Balekh, Shayliss, and Veshenga come rushing into the room.

Flash back to earlier in the afternoon. Haggor adjusts the Hat of Disguise they’d borrowed from Taeva and carefully mimics a somewhat-disapproving Kendra Deverin. The illusory mayor then waits with Balekh in the mayor’s office while she finishes her day. Balekh casts invisibility on the Mayor and has her hurry to the guard station for protection in the evening. The illusory Mayor then walks home, trying very hard to not set off any red flags in the populace.

Haggor doesn’t drop the illusion while pounding the mantis-faced assassins and bleeding on the bed, though, amused at the thought of improving the Mayor’s reputation if the assassins escape. That looks unlikely, however, as a fine red mist begins evaporating out of each of the wounds inflicted on the killers. The first assassin falls to the ground, perforated with arrows and spells, and he quickly billows into a cloud of foul red steam, leaving no body behind, and his equipment follows soon after. Half-afraid that these are vampire assassins, the party switches tactics and has Haggor restrain the remaining assassin, disarming him of his sawtooth blade and unmasking him to reveal one of the lawyers that had accompanied Valeria to town. The man regards them with the calculating expression of a hardened murderer, realizes that he has no hope of escape, and, himself, erupts into a mist.

Grabbing the mask and blade that are all that remain of the assassin’s death, the party rushes down to the Rusty Dragon to make certain that the men are not vampires returning to their lairs. They wake Valeria and explain the situation, and she shows them the lawyers’ room, where unslept-in beds are all that await. Some consideration of their habits brings them all to the conclusion that they were not vampires, merely possessed of an effective assassins’ magic to remove all traces of a failed mission. Valeria is righteously angry that assassins were slipped into her mission from the very beginning and under her nose, and asks the party to sell her the mask and blade as proof for her superiors. They agree, and she promises to send them both gold and blades of similar quality to the adamantine assassin’s sword for Taeva. She departs the next day to finish her mission and return to Cheliax.

The Mayor is quite grateful that the party managed to save her from assassination, but otherwise, things in Sandpoint go back to normal… until Hemlock calls the party into his office a few days later. He shows them a criminal that was apprehended the night before—a criminal with a sihedron rune tattooed intricately on his shoulder.

D&D: Items of Myth


This system is for D&D/Pathfinder. It’s an extension of the idea from Trailblazer to remove item crafting from the game and go back to all items being found items, as well as its idea of letting items level with the characters. It’s ideal for low-magic games, as many of the non-flashy effects of magic items can be described with minimal, subtle, or completely nonexistent magic.

The Shield and the Sword

Fear the hero, the adventurer, the man who is a legend in his own time. Not only does he have the skill to take on many foes at once, but the power of his convictions seems to flow into his tools. His blade cleaves through steel as easily as flesh, but even a simple leather jerkin seems to turn the mightiest blade. Do not take his tools for magic, easily removed; he is become magic, and his tools merely reflect his greatness.

Every heroic character gains a proficiency with weapons and armor that blurs into the supernatural. As the character grows, any weapon wielded, armor worn, and shield carried gains an enhancement bonus based on level. This bonus should be +1 per 3-5 levels (rounded down), depending on how powerful the GM wants the characters to be.

The basic assumption is that it applies to all gear, but, if more appropriate to the game, it might only apply to masterwork items and/or items the character has grown accustomed to or bonded with in some way.

If taken from the character, the item behaves in all ways like a normal item (though, obviously, it gains bonuses based on the level of its new wielder) unless it has become an item of myth.

The Blade of a Hero

This sword was carried by my father throughout the hell wars. They say that, when he drove it through the eye of the demon prince, it sung with a brilliant white light that caused the creature to writhe and burn. He died shortly thereafter, and it’s all I have to remember him. I’ve never seen it glow, but I’m not nearly as great a man as my father… or maybe I just haven’t needed to fight any demons, yet.

Any weapon or armor that becomes a signature item of a hero may develop a Special Ability, becoming an Item of Myth. In general, abilities are gained near the end of a hero’s adventures, either at the cusp of the story in which the item will be known, or upon the character’s death in battle. Most abilities are +1 equivalent, but some of the more expensive abilities may manifest for truly epic deeds.

When a special ability manifests, note the level of the wielder (it can replace Caster Level in most cases). Subsequent wielders of the item that equal or exceed this level may use the Special Ability. If these heroes also do something epic with the item, enough to write their own myth into its history, it may gain another ability to match the new deed (record the level of the new hero separately: characters may unlock the abilities successively as they gain levels).

In some cases, an ability may activate for someone technically too low level to use it, if the circumstances match the legend or the ethos of the original owner. For example, a Holy sword wielded by a 20th level Paladin may activate in times of direst need for a young peasant lad of pure heart.

Epic Raiment

This scarf was my grandmother’s. In her day, she was the most beautiful woman in the city, and had the ear of knights and lords. I like to think that, when I wear it, I gain a little bit of her poise and confidence… it’s seemed to work for me so far.

In addition to weapons and armor, Items of Myth can be other magic items as well. These are somewhat less exciting to the sages, but every hero has favorite tools other than a blade and a shield. One or more of the character’s accoutrements may become a wondrous item, staff, ring, etc. if it is sufficiently distinctive and beloved by the hero. Unlike weapons and armor, these items often gain their powers in the hero’s own lifespan. When giving the character a mythic item of this sort, the focal item should gain powers appropriate to his character, the nature of the item, and around his level (using the caster level as a gauge). Some items (particularly items with enhancement bonuses) may continue to scale, while more specific items may simply retain their original power.

Once the item is left behind by the hero, subsequent users cannot master its abilities until their level is equal to or greater than the caster level of the item. However, if the bearer knows the item’s history or simply has a compatible personality, he may receive a scaled down version of its power or unlock its ability a few levels early.

Heroes that carry a Christmas tree of the relics of past adventurers find it hard to imbue their own legendary item, and may have to rely on finding further treasure to increase their powers.

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 15

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Finally, not long before dawn, they notice movement over the edge of the tower. A beautiful woman with a long, undulating, snakelike lower body flys onto the tower and begins going about her morning routine. Deciding that there’s no time like the present, the party leaps out of various hiding places and begins assaulting the creature, getting in several hits before she can react. She spares a moment to reach for her illusory spear, and grimaces as it is not there. Balekh taunts her about melting it down.

Unfortunately, that is where the party’s momentary advantage ends. Xanesha simply drifts away from the roof with her still-active flight magics and turns herself invisible. Balekh counters with a spell scroll, allowing himself to see her, and he directs the party where to shoot. Unfortunately, she is agile and hard to hit even when not invisible, and begins to armor herself even further in magics while taunting the party and floating around the roof. Taeva and Veshenga are having little luck hitting her with arrows and crossbow bolts, and her demeanor indicates that she’s just getting ready to do terrible things to the party. The first of these, finally removing her invisibility after her leisurely buffing period, is to attempt to turn Balekh to stone with a mask she has donned.

Realizing that this creature can simply plink away at them all morning, Haggor decides to try something drastic. Scooping up the rope they’d used to climb the tower, he ties a makeshift lasso and, unexpectedly, manages to get it around the floating lamia… now the world’s evilest balloon. He leans against the angel statue and tries to pull her down, but she is supernaturally strong and doesn’t quite drift low enough for the rest of the party to get her in melee. As she begins to slip her long tail free of the rope, he decides on even more drastic measures, loops the rope around the statue, and pushes it over. The floor creaks but doesn’t break until Veshenga and Taeva leap on the angel and barely manage to bound free as the statue plummets through the floor, crashing down towards the bottom.

Unfortunately, Xanesha is only pulled down to the level of the belfry before managing to extricate herself the rest of the way. The statue crashes to the floor below, and she hovers beneath the party. Balekh steels himself, quaffs the potion of tree form they’d long ago taken from the goblin druid, and falls down on top of the matriarch. With the weight of what is now a ten foot tree trunk bearing down on her, she and Balekh crash to the ground; the tree resists much of the impact. However, Haggor can still make her out struggling below, about to extricate herself and continue the fight or flee, so he also prepares himself, takes a running leap, and begins a 160 foot elbow drop onto the pinned lamia.

That’s it for the creature, and almost it for Balekh and Haggor. As Balekh wills the magic to fade, they both stand, and the women begin their long trek down from the roof via the intended method of the stairs, a huge and lumbering shape cries out and rushes towards them. Swinging a massive scythe, the creature seems distraught at the death of his mistress. Haggor takes a swing and barely affects the beast, suddenly realizing that they’re in no state to fight a golem. The two men rush up the nearby stairs, betting that they won’t support the golem’s large weight, as Veshenga begins to launch arrows at it.

Realizing it’s in a bad place, the golem rushes into a closed room to escape the rain of largely ineffectual but still-painful arrows. After a few moments it seems to realize that it’s no longer affected by whatever magics Xanesha had used to bind it into her service, and barters a deal with the party to leave them alone if they leave it alone. Not wanting to free an evil golem but without too much choice in the matter, the party agrees and the terrible creature slinks back out into the city. The party recovers loot and evidence, and then leaves as well.

Within a few days, the city is made aware of the terrible threat that has been stopped and the perfidity of one of its justices. For his part, Ironbriar manages to escape with most of his apparent henchmen, such that a raid of the sawmill turns up evidence but no evildoers. However, the Lord-Mayor is grateful enough after the revelation of the plot on his life and the thwarting thereof that he invites the heroes to a lavish dinner and rewards them even more lavishly for their service.

However, for their parts, the saviors of Sandpoint are impatient to leave behind the big and treacherous city and return to the small town that made them feel welcome.

Revenants: Alternate D&D Healing Rules

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This system is designed to limit the effectiveness of magical healing in D&D 3.x/Pathfinder. It can be used to make a game grittier without altering all the healing spells directly, or to make a game rules distinction between PCs (who tend to shoot through up in level as soon as gameplay starts) and NPCs (who seem to take years to level).

Unnatural Healing

The energies created by healing magic aren’t, in the long term, compatible with the mortal form. Being healed by the grace of the divine is overwhelming, even painful, as tissues are knit together not by the natural processes of the body, but by the mandate of a god. Healing pushes the body past its mundane limits, and can be very dangerous: magical healing exists on a different plane, and beneath this divine health is a body wracked with injury. Masking the body’s natural limits is dangerous: even a small mending by magic is enough to keep a person from knowing his own point of expiration.

Whenever an individual is healed by magic, begin a separate record of his unspelled hit points. All healing magic only cures the modified total, but further wounds adjust both the mortal and magical totals, and natural healing restores both as well. If the character’s mortal HP are negative, but magical are positive, do not track dying and stabilization—the magic at least prevents the character from unknowingly bleeding to death.

For example, a 2nd level mortal with 20 HP takes 10 points of damage. He is granted a healing spell that gives him 8 HP… his actual HP is recorded as 10, but his magically modified total is 18.

He takes a 14 point wound, reducing his totals to -4 and 4. As far as his body is concerned, he should be dying, but the magic allows him to act as if everything is fine.

He is again healed for 8 points to -4/12. If he takes 6 more points of damage, he will be dead even though the magic allows him to walk around as if nothing is wrong.

However, if he escapes the fight without further damage, he will begin to heal naturally at his normal rate of 2/day (discounting the Heal skill). In 4 days, he will feel perfectly fine, but he actually needs 12 days to even his mundane total to his magical one (and remove the distinction).

Death and Resurrection

If a character’s mundane HP ever reach -10 or lower, he is dead, even if magical healing keeps him from realizing it. Crossing this line permanently ends his life, and he begins living on time borrowed from the gods. As soon as mundane hit points reach -10, cease tracking them as they no longer matter. Instead, the character is now effectively a Revenant, though he gains no undead traits, instead suffused with magical life. He no longer heals naturally, and can only be restored with magic. He must immediately decide on the goal that is keeping him moving (with the GM’s input or control; see below).

Characters that are reduced below -10 without previously acquiring healing (or even after becoming Revenants) can be restored to Revenant status with simple healing magic if healed back above -10 before their soul departs at sunset (or other short-term, setting-appropriate limit). Those that had not previously become Revenants must also gain a Revenant goal or the healing cannot restore the body. After sunset, only magics such as Raise Dead can restore a dead individual, and these, too, create a Revenant, not a true mortal, forcing the target to take up a goal or remain forever dead.

Once a Revenant completes his goal, no further magical healing is possible and the divine energies quickly bleed out of his system (at a rate of HD per round, hour, or day, depending on how much time the GM wants Revenants to have to say goodbyes and tie up loose ends). Once the Revenant drops below 0 HP, it is the final end for him: further healing or resurrection magic does nothing unless something changes to invalidate his success at his goal and a great hero is needed again.

Goals of Revenants

For most Revenants, the goal that drives them should be to avenge their death by killing the being responsible. In general, this should be either the individual that dealt the killing blow or the being responsible for the attack (i.e., the mastermind behind the combat that killed the Revenant). This mastermind should be someone the Revenant is aware of or, if the leadership of the murderer is secret, only a step or two removed from the killer. Additionally, the target of the goal should not be more than a few HD greater than the Revenant. Essentially, if the Revenant’s death was part of a plot, the mastermind should be within the Revenant’s power to kill within the short term. If it is unrealistic for the Revenant to achieve his goals in a short period, the target should fall upon the most responsible leader that the Revenant can get to.

Other goals should be similarly short term, if the GM lets the dead character define his own agenda. They should be concrete, measurable, and obvious to the character to keep him going. Example goals could be evacuating a village before it is destroyed, destroying an artifact, defending an item or location from a specific assault, and so on. Any goal that would reasonably take several months or more to achieve should only be approved if the GM wants the character to stick around for much longer.

However, even with longer term goals, the Revenant is essentially geased by his own agenda. If the character has made no measurable progress towards his goal since the last sunset, he cannot be healed. If the character goes more than a day without making progress, he begins to bleed HP at Level/Day until he once again begins working towards his goal. Without constant focus on the force that allows the hero to transcend death, the divine energy cannot be retained by his spirit.

Revenant’s Speed

A possible benefit of being a Revenant, for games where it makes sense, is an increased rate of leveling: as an essentially magical being with a razor focus on attaining a goal, the limits of mortal learning do not apply to the character. Essentially, a Revenant levels faster than true mortals, quickly accumulating experience that would take a regular character years to achieve. Give the Revenant up to 10 times as much XP as you give a regular character (exact rate should vary based on how long you give the Revenant to live, whether you have a mixed party, and how fast characters normally level in the world… it may be reasonable to drastically cut the exp awarded to still-living characters if you want a world where only those on borrowed time achieve high level in the course of a single adventure path).

Less Gritty Option

As written, the rules reduce healing pretty much to +10 HP before a swift slope to Revenancy. If you want healing to matter a bit more, use the following options:

  • Number of dice of healing is actually applied to mundane HP. For example, a roll of 12 on 3d6 heals 3 mundane HP and 12 magic HP.
  • Character level is added to negative HP required to die. A third level character dies at -13, not -10.

These rules should allow magical healing to scale a bit more with level so it actually remains viable while still increasing the risk of Revenancy and reducing the efficiency of trying to heal to full after each encounter.

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 14

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The World’s Evilest Balloon

Based on Ironbriar’s suggestion that Xanesha tended to spend nights in the city, Taeva and Veshenga decide to try scouting the clocktower. On arrival, they find that it’s even more run-down close up. Veshenga coaxes a nearby rat out and uses magic to speak with it, hearing a tale of terrible monsters in the tower, including a giant beast at the bottom and more faceless stalkers near the roof. He especially warns them about the “snake-woman” that lives there during the day. Taeva carefully climbs the outside of the tower, avoiding rotten masonry but letting her magical slippers do most of the work.

At the top of the tower, she finds a strangely comfortable-looking nest of silks and satins built up against an ancient statue of an angel. Moving very quietly to avoid alerting the stalkers below, she investigates and finds a woman’s makeshift boudoir in one corner of the rooftop room, a vicious looking longspear propped against the angel, and, with careful investigation, a scroll secreted amongst the pillows. She takes this document and heads back down. Over the rest of the evening, she and Veshenga transcribe the scroll and find that it’s a list of names. Many of them are crossed out: victims of the local murders in Magnimar and Sandpoint. Others Taeva recognizes from her research at the tax office as rich and potentially greedy. The jewel of the list is none other than the Lord-Mayor himself, and the back of the scroll features extensive details about his daily routines, guard schedules, and the fortifications of his home. After copying as much of the list as is practical, Taeva sneaks back to the tower and plants it back as closely as possible to the way she found it.

The next morning, the group gathers and begins sharing information and planning. Suddenly, a creepy feeling settles on the party, and Balekh is able to isolate it to Taeva. They bring out the Sihedron Medallion that she took from Nualia, and the sensation suddenly ends as if someone scrying on them had cut off the connection. Taeva sets the amulet on the table and immediately feels a weight lifted from her; she had been sensing a low-level foreboding and feeling of being watched for weeks. Balekh pockets the medallion for later inspection. Convinced that it is, once again, safe to speak, the party discusses the information they found. They decide that it’s too soon to bring this to the attention of Grobaras, and that it’s a bad idea to attack during the day. Instead, they plan to wait for that evening.

During the day, Taeva and Veshenga decide to watch the Lord-Mayor’s house just in case, and eventually notice a handful of men that seem shady and out of place that are turned away from the gate. They follow these men across the city and eventually track them to a sawmill. A nearby mole is accosted by the gnome, and it tells them that it has no intention of scouting the mill, as it smells of sawdust and blood. Reasonably certain that they’ve found the sawmill that is Ironbriar’s base of operations, they head back.

Meeting again that evening, the party decides that the clock tower is still the bigger threat, but intend to check out the mill later. They detect another wave of scrying from the medallion that is in Balekh’s pouch, and he manages to spin a tale for the listener (presumably Xanesha) that they are at loose ends and having a hard time figuring out what to do next. Once the scrying ends, they set out to invade her house.

At the clocktower, Taeva ascends with a rope and, after several false starts, they’re all able to get to the top. Unfortunately, Balekh is not the stealthiest of climbers, and shortly after he makes it to the top, faceless stalkers begin boiling onto the roof. Haggor flings one off the building to splatter on the ground below, another is exploded on the floor, and the third runs but is shot to death by Veshenga before it can make it far into the tower. It balloons up and then pops in a fountain of gore that falls to the bottom of the tower.

Taeva uses magic to clean up the signs of their struggle on the roof while the rest of the party collects the dangerous-looking spear and the notes that Taeva had planted the night before. The spear gets hidden underneath the roof, but Balekh plans to create an illusion of it to hopefully buy them time during the inevitable fight. The party settles in to wait: Haggor and Balekh hide in the belfry below, watching the roof through the ladder hole, Veshenga hides behind the statue of the angel, and Taeva snuggles in beneath the pillows and silk of the lamia’s nest.

D&D Skill Challenge (w/New System): Survival

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See last week’s post for the new skill system in question. Summary: skill rolls are made against a static DC with no Margin of Success. Skill ranks add to skill “damage” instead of skill “attack roll” and are a bonus to 1d6.

As mentioned, I think this system, using an attack and damage concept, may make it a lot easier to do 4e-style skill challenges by breaking them down into something that feels much  more like a fight. Here is an example skill challenge, with more to follow if I’m inspired.

In all situations, non-standard skills might substitute for standard ones with an appropriate description (though they may take a -2 penalty). Particularly interesting descriptions of using appropriate skills gain a +2 bonus.

Crossing the Wilderness

Use this skill challenge whenever the PCs must travel overland for more than a day without the benefit of roads. It’s used to track how long the journey takes, how much food the PCs consume, and how many random encounters they have. Each round of rolls represents one day of travel.

Goal: Distance

DC: 10 for fairly clear terrain with a map, 15 for obstructed terrain or clear with no map, 20 for obstructed terrain with no map or truly confusing terrain

HP: 1 per mile between starting location and goal (special: the goal cannot take more damage in a single day than the slowest character/mount’s movement rate)

Standard Skills: Survival, Knowledge: Geography

The main goal of this skill challenge is distance traveled. Once this goal is defeated, the PCs arrive at their destination.

Goal: Food Supply

DC: 10 for well stocked forests with plentiful game/berries, 15 for a normal area where foraging is possible, 20 for areas that are desolate (special: +5 for areas where water is hard to come by)

HP: Base HP equals days of rations carried by the PCs (special: success at this goal actually heals it, as it represents the party’s food resources; it has no upper HP limit; double the base HP if you regard rations as enough for the whole meal rather than intended to supplement foraging)

Standard Skills: Survival, Stealth (for hunting)

A secondary goal of this challenge is to keep all travelers fed. The HP of this goal decreases by 2 per traveler per day. If it hits 0, all travelers become Fatigued. If it hits -10, all travelers become exhausted. If it stays below -10, begin applying starvation rules. Uses of food-creation magics do not use the day’s action and heal this goal by +1/day of food per person created.

Goal: Obstacles and Bad Weather

DC: 10 for small streams, rocky footing, or light weather; 15 for long streams, large hills, or heavy weather; 20 for long rivers, impassible mountain ranges, or torrential weather

HP: 6 per “instance” (this may be increased for multiple hexes of bad terrain or days of bad weather)

Standard Skills: Survival; Acrobatics, Climb, or Swim (obstacles); Various professions or knowledges (weather)

These goals appear at set locations or times of the journey, based on the map or a weather table. While in play, they heal the Distance goal by 2d6 per day per obstacle/weather goal, representing having to go around the obstacle or being slowed down by the weather. Defeating this goal indicates getting past the obstacle or coming up with ways to counter this particular set of weather.

Goal: Random Encounter

DC: Highest Stealth score of encountered enemies

HP: 1 HP for each enemy to be encountered

Standard Skills: Survival, Perception, Stealth

Whenever the GM rolls a random encounter for a day, the players should be informed before making their rolls, in order to allocate rolls to dealing with the encounter. If the PCs do not defeat the encounter goal, the random encounter proceeds normally, and receives a surprise round at whatever time and location it normally would have happened. If the PCs do defeat the goal, they can choose to ambush their attackers (getting a surprise round and arranging themselves on the battle map after the enemies are placed) or bypass the encounter entirely (though some encounters may pursue them for multiple days if bypassed).

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 13

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Just as Balekh stands to retreat, Beech springs. In a grotesque ripple of flesh and muscles, the form of the man shifts instantly into a hulking, faceless aberration. This beast quickly slams Balekh in the face across the table, and readies itself for another strike. Thinking fast, Balekh expends a spell to calm the creature’s emotions, and it finds itself bound from aggressive action while Balekh considers his options. Penned in and concentrating to hold the beast in check, his only escape is the window next to his table. He exchanges a few strained taunts with the beast, gathers up his papers and belongings, then smashes through the window and into the street. The beast howls and takes another swipe, but doesn’t appear to want to reveal itself to the city. This doesn’t stop Balekh from high-tailing it anyway.

By this point, Haggor and Veshenga have both reached the tax office where Taeva is waiting, and Veshenga’s story about Ironbriar’s strange behavior gives them further impetus to hurry back and regroup. When Shayliss rushes around a corner and tells them that Balekh’s in trouble, they believe her. It’s only when they’ve rushed after her down an alley that something seems strange, but Taeva’s the only one to realize that this woman looks like Shayliss but moves and speaks strangely compared to the Chelish girl that they’ve been traveling with lately. Not one to wait for confirmation, Taeva bolts forward and stabs the young woman in the back, just as she turns and rips out of her dress into a hulking, faceless aberration. Between the three of them, they put down the beast rapidly but not without taking a few blows. As it dies, it explodes into warped skin, rubbery bones, and foul-smelling goo. Veshenga recognizes the creature as a Faceless Stalker, and is able to give some basic details about the evil race of swamp-bound mercenaries.

Continuing on, the trio runs right into Balekh on his flight from the cafe. All of them compare notes (though they neglect to mention that the beast they fought looked like Shayliss), and head back to the restaurant. On their return, they find no sign of the beast, but do find the owner and a waitress looking greatly put out at the destruction of the window. Veshenga, however, notices a trail of strange footprints into the back and into a large pantry closet. Pointing their weapons at the closet and steeling themselves for another fight, Haggor throws open the door only to see a body slump out: a naked young woman apparently strangled to death… a young woman that looks very much like the waitress that is behind them.

The beast that was previously posing as Sergeant Beech rips free of the new facade it had created for itself, and once again attempts to smash Balekh to death. It, like its brother, is swiftly put down and explodes all over the kitchen. The restaurant owner, retreated behind an oven, begins to gibber. The party confirms that the rest of the staff is safe in the alley outside, and that the creature must have killed the waitress in order to take her form and clothing. Nothing they can do seems to calm the owner, so they leave him in the hands of his staff. Taeva mentions that she remembers a body that could have been Sergeant Beech was dredged from the bay a week ago, so it’s possible that these things are killing those that they’re replacing. She then lets it drop that the one they killed looked like Balekh’s girlfriend.

That’s all it takes for him to tear out of the restaurant towards his home, with the rest of the group on his tail. He reaches his loft a few minutes later to find Shayliss safely home—though the interaction between himself, an oblivious Shayliss, and the rest of the party in the hall is somewhat awkward. He suggests that they could all be in danger if there are more of these things, and Veshenga offers to try to get rooms in the Arvensoar while they finish this. Taeva pipes up that they should also collect Zif, as he is one of the other contacts in town that might be killed to infiltrate their group. Everyone else is surprised by this concern, as they had last heard she’d held a knife to the smitten gnome’s throat to get him to leave her alone.

They find him at the post office as usual, and explain the situation. He is less interested in hiding and more interested in helping, despite their protestations that he could get hurt, until Taeva smashes him in the back of the head with the flat of her sword. She claims that she was just trying to knock him out so they could take him somewhere for his protection. Shocked and suddenly both terrified and hurt, the normally ebullient gnome slouches away rubbing his head and suspiciously watching Taeva until he gets out of eyesight. Taeva seems confused at what she did wrong as the rest of the party looks on in dismay.

Eventually, they get Shayliss squared away at the Arvensoar with the Black Arrow rangers, and beat feet for the Mayor’s office to turn over their substantial findings of conspiracy and betrayal. Yet, who should they see walking out of the front door of the palace besides Ironbriar himself? The elf begins winding up a speech about what they need to do, but suddenly cuts himself off and races inside as Balekh whips out a spell scroll and mean expression. Rushing in after him, they’re detained by guards who are very suspicious that the scroll was just Detect Evil. A tense impasse begins, with the guards unwilling to get the mayor or accuse a justice of the city on the somewhat unhinged sounding testimony of four adventurers.

Finally, they convince someone to retrieve the cleric of Abadar that had checked them previously and the man quickly arrives to mediate the dispute between the party and Ironbriar. The elf consents to being detected by the official priest, and nothing is found. While the party suspects this is because of a nondetection spell of some sort, they nevertheless consent to converse with Ironbriar politely. The justice begins to tell them that it’s not safe to talk and that they should meet him at a sawmill, later, but Haggor is having none of it. He begins throwing the events of the day at the elf, asking pointed questions about the clocktower, and Ironbriar realizes that the game is up. He gives them a thorough villainous rant about their word against his, destroyed reputations, and the foolishness of bringing this to the Mayor without proof. He suggests that they both retreat from the Mayor’s office so they can settle this without mutually assured destruction. However, Haggor, still a keen judge of character, feels something off about they guy that should be a completely smooth bastard: with some of his twitches and deviations it almost seems like he’s under some kind of Charm effect.

The party breaks for a moment, catches the attention of the cleric, standing nearby, and asks him to detect magic on the justice. With the elf’s confused permission at this second round of divination—as Ironbriar thinks he has nothing to hide—the cleric fires off the spell and, within a few rounds, seems to suddenly notice the strong aura of enchantment. With a look for confirmation at the party, the man sucks up his courage, casts a dispelling at the justice, and strips off the Charm. The elf goes from rising anger at being targeted by an unapproved spell to sudden rage at realizing that he’d been controlled by magic. He begins ranting about the woman in the clocktower that had used him to run interference for the murders she was responsible for, warns them about her schedule and great powers, lists all the creatures they might encounter on the way, and in all ways appears to be as much a victim of the situation as they were…

Except he doesn’t volunteer any further information about the sawmill.

Strongly convinced that the justice is still a villain, even if he was only allied with the woman he calls Xanesha due to magic, the party convinces the cleric to detain (“protect”) him for the rest of the evening. They then try to decide what they should do next.