Thursday, November 01, 2018

Terrinoth #15 - Retribution

The heroes fail to stem the tide of zombies...

Campaign Diary

Giso and Tom's recent adventures had earned the attention of Abbot Kostel, who decided that it would be best if the two priests did a spot of penance at St Olfryc's Priory until after the Winter Solstice mass. They would be accompanied on their journey to the priory by Whisper Blackmane, who had been employed as a guide.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Our reluctant priests headed north from Tamalir, with a mule carrying winter supplies in tow. St Olfryc's Priory, our priests knew, was founded as a hermitage several centuries ago, and was later expanded to a priory when a childless noble obtained permission from the Baron to bequeath the land to the church upon his death. For a period the priory was home to a sect of the church of Kellos known as the Order of the Cleansing Flames, whose members practised self-mortification by branding themselves. The practice gradually fell out of favour, and had stopped in the past few decades.

On the third day of the journey, as the party climbed the hill to reach the priory, a snowstorm began. The trio struggled on, but found their path ahead blocked by two large wolves. The wolves growled menacingly at the party, but would not attack. Faced with a long trip back to the nearest village or a long detour, the party chose to attack, and after a hard battle managed to kill the wolves and continue on their way.

The winter sun was close to setting when they finally arrived at the priory. They were welcomed into the compound, and introduced to the monks who lived there: Prior Ruan, his assistant Dean Leland, Brother Rosen who ran the scriptorium, Brother Enthel who did most of the cooking and cleaning, and the young novice Brother Malven.

The party reported their encounter with the wolves, and were told that the woods had been strangely quiet the past week. With the storm showing no signs of letting up, Whisper was invited to stay at the priory until the weather improved. Giso and Tom were assigned to work with Brother Rosen to copy scriptures during their penance, while Whisper volunteered to help around the place.

Th next morning when the monks left their dormitory for morning services, they found five dead ravens on the snow-covered garth in the middle of the priory. The birds were frozen solid, with no signs of injury on them, and there were no tracks leading to or from where they were laid.

At the scriptorium, Tom did his best to impress Brother Rosen with his calligraphy, while Giso, protesting his exile to the priory, deliberately did a mediocre job, and earned the disapproval of Dean Leland. Whisper meanwhile earned the attention of the dean when he found out that she was not a follower of Kellos, and found herself being proselytised to at each meal time.

Later that night, Giso and Tom were awakened from their slumber by a repetitive knocking sound. Tom dragged the reluctant Giso from the warmth of his bed, the two followed the noise to the door of the scriptorium, where they found a dead fox hung by its tail over the door - the winter wind slammed its frozen body against the wooden door periodically, creating the irregular knocking sound. Closer examination of the carcass showed a jagged wound on the chest of the animal, and that its heart had been ripped out. Again, there were no tracks leading to the door. Giso recalled from his reading that cultists of Nordros removed the hearts of the animals that they sacrificed to the evil god of Death and Winter. Tom and Giso alerted the other monks, but with no clue as to who the culprit was, there was nothing to do but to return to bed.

The mood at the refectory was subdued the next day. Dean Leland behaved coldly to Whisper, perhaps suspecting that she was responsible for the events. Brother Melvan suspected the villagers, whom he believed to be protesting their tithe to the priory.

Work continued at the scriptorium for our priests, while Whisper took a walk outside the priory walls during a lull in the storm, eventually chancing upon a nearby graveyard, where the deceased monks and worshipers were buried.

Thankfully, nothing strange happened that night.

On the third day, the priests were interrupted in the work at the scriptorium when Prior Ruan came to ask for help: someone had left the window to his chambers open, and the snow had blown in, wetting the floor and furniture. While the party helped the old man clean up, they noticed that he had brand marks over his forearms. Prior Ruan revealed that he had been an adherent of the Order of Cleansing Flames in his youth, and that he had been a zealot who forced self-mortification onto novices, which eventually resulted in his transfer out of the priory. It was only with the death of the previous prior of St Olfryc's that he had been reassigned to the priory. Age, he said, had mellowed him, and he now regretted his actions.

When they asked Prior Ruan about who had access to his chambers, the party also learned that the monastery had been missing some gold and silver candlesticks and goblets, and that the remainder had been kept under lock by the Prior.

At this point they all heard a loud sound followed by a scream coming from the nearby kitchen. Rushing there, they found that the lintel over the kitchen door had fallen, nearly missing Brother Enthel, who spilled the pot of pottage he was holding. Examination of the broken pieces of the lintel showed signs of sabotage, and our heroes volunteered to help investigate, which would also conveniently take them away from their duties in the scriptorium.

The next day our trio kept a close watch on the monks. Giso spied on Dean Leland from outside his office, Whisper feigned interest in the scriptures to spend time with Brother Rosen, and Tom watched Brothers Enthel and Malven from a discrete distance.

In the middle of the morning, Tom noticed Brother Enthel leaving the compound surreptitiously. While he trailed Brother Enthel, he noticed Brother Malven behaving around the tool shed in a suspicious manner. Making the decision to check on Brother Malven first, Tom crept next to the tool shed and saw the young novice rummaging in a corner. After Brother Malven left, Tom entered the tool shed to search it, and found the lost gold and silver items buried behind various tools in one corner. Leaving them in their place, Tom left to try to track Brother Enthel, but the falling snow had covered his tracks.

By now our heroes were on edge and suspected something bad was going to happen. They knew not what it was, but they resolved to keep a watch over the priory all through the night. Whisper stood watch in the scriptorium, while Tom and Giso guarded the two entrances to the priory: the door to the antechamber that led to the garth and the prior's chambers, and the door to the chapel respectively.

At around midnight the storm abated. Then Brother Enthel opened the door from the garth to the antechamber and walked in nonchalantly. Surprised but not suspecting anything sinister, Tom thanked him for the nice dinner he made earlier. Brother Enthel walked slowly over to the door and replied:" I'm glad you enjoyed it... because it was your last meal."

Then he lifted the bar across the door, opened it, and zombies spilled in.

Tom's cries alerted Whisper and Giso, who rushed to aid him. In the confusion Brother Enthel managed to slip past our heroes to enter the chapel and open the other door to the outside - more zombies entered.

While Whisper and Tom fought to contain the zombies in the antechamber and Giso faced off against several zombies alone in the chapel, Brother Enthel led a few zombies into the garth, heading towards the prior's chamber by a different route. The party despatched the zombies, sustaining grievous injuries while doing so, and chased after them.

Tom threw the throwing knife he had found in the wyvern's lair at Brother Enthel, imbuing it with the holy flames of Kellos as he did so... the knife missed its target and stuck in the door to the scriptorium, setting it alight. Tom called out to Brother Rosen, who had thus far been hiding in the dormitory with Brother Malven. Alerted to the fact that his beloved scriptures were in danger, the monk overcame his fear, rushed out, and began shoveling snow onto the burning door, eventually extinguishing the flames!

While Whisper and Giso held off the zombies in the garth, Tom entered the kitchen to find Brother Enthel strangling Prior Ruan - like the older man his forearms bore brand marks too. Tom struck at Brother Enthel's neck, killing him. Searching his body, they found more brand marks, and a tattoo of a skull, marking him as a worshiper of Nodros.

As the party gathered around him, Prior Ruan revealed that Brother Enthel suffered under his tutelage when he was a novice and was made to brand himself many times. When the two met met again on Prior Ruan's return, the older man had apologised and asked for forgiveness, which was given - but now it seemed that Brother Enthel had never forgiven his erstwhile mentor, and had plotted a terrible revenge.

In the aftermath of the chaos Tom took Brother Malven aside and questioned him about the stash in the tool shed. The young monk, already shaken by recent events, spilled the beans: he was a wanted thief who had joined the priory to escape from the law, and was plotting to return to civilisation now that he thought things had blown over. Tom flipped the young man a Gros, and ordered him to depart, which he quickly did.

With only three members left, Prior Ruan realised that the priory could not sustain itself any longer. Packing their scriptures and as much supplies as they and the mule could carry, the monks and our heroes left the priory, and made their way to the nearest village.

Prepping and Running the Game

As this was the Halloween game, I thought it would be a good time to run Retribution by Raging Swan Press, a mystery-horror scenario. This is probably the third or fourth time I have run a "stranded in a monastery in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm with suspicious monks when murder and fire happens" scenario. It is not an innovative premise, but Retribution excelled in laying out how the GM can slowly rack up the tension in the game.

The original scenario has more content than the scenario I ran, with some details on the village near the monastery, and a whole dungeon section which I left out. It also has more combat encounters and a larger cast of villains and NPCs. The scenario as written would probably require more than the three hours we had, so in the interest of time and make it easier for me and the players to keep track of the NPCs I cut out most of the combat encounters, locales, and trimmed the list of NPCs down to five.

With a mystery scenario it is always difficult to strike a balance between giving the players enough clues to allow them to pinpoint a suspect, and not giving them so much information that the solve the mystery in the first hour. Retribution takes this into account, and has advice on what to do in case your players correctly identify the suspect early in the game.

In this case I think I did too good of a job making Brother Enthel low-key, such that the players suspected Brother Rosen, Dean Leland, and even a Prior Ruan with a split personality, but not Brother Enthel. The last one is an interesting idea which I may actually use for my next monastery mystery game.

For the layout of the priory I chose to use the beautiful 30" x 30" St Olfryc's Priory from Heroic Maps, specifically the winter-themed one, which was perfect for my purpose. I adjusted the plot to the map, which almost proved catastrophic at the critical moment in the game: there were only two main entrances into the priory which Brother Enthel could let the zombies in, and they were each guarded by a PC! If a PC attacked Brother Enthel before he could open the door, the game's climax would not happen.

The scenario had not predicted that the PCs would be guarding the route by which the zombies would attack, no did I expect them to stand guard all night. I literally stood hunched over the map with the figurines placed on them for a whole minute before I decided to let the dice fall where they may be and let Brother Enthel make his entrance. The seconds when I casually moved Brother Enthel's figure across the antechamber to the door and then uttered his line was the high point of the game for me.

I think the players were genuinely surprised by the suddenness of the zombie attack. Giso's player was so taken off guard that he did not think to turn undead until several turns into combat, when the PCs had all taken heavy damage.

The comic moment of the game happened when one of the players noted that the flaming throwing knife might set the scriptorium door on fire. I went with the suggestion and had Tom's player roll for fire damage. When they called to Rosen to help put out the fire, I decided that the natural thing for him to do would be to shovel the snow on the ground onto the burning door. I rolled to see how effective he was, and rolled high: he was a human hurricane, as one of the players put it!

I had not thought about how to end the game, but when one of the players made the remark that the priory would probably be too understaffed to continue, I went with it and had them abandon it for the season. This actually provides me with another site for a possible "holdings" campaign, so if either Giso or Tom's player do decide they want to "settle down", we have a site which they can feel a certain connection to.

Over all it was a fun session with plenty of opportunity for roleplaying. If you are looking for a horror-mystery scenario based in a monastery, I recommend you check Retribution out.


Phil Curran said...

A nicely written story which accompanied my lunchtime coffee and biscuit. If you don't mind me asking where does that battle mat come from? Many thanks

captain arjun said...

Hi Phil,

The mat is from Heroic Maps. It's a pdf file which I printed on my own printer and then taped together.

SteveHolmes11 said...

Hannibal form the A-Team (The television ones, not your adventurers) used to "Love it when a plan comes together".

It looks as though you achieved the same level of satisfaction with your game.
* Beautiful game map.
* Tension and mystery.
* That moment when the bad Brother opens the door.
* Comedy blooper with the flaming knife.

An outstanding report from a quality campaign.