Saturday, February 16, 2019

Terrinoth #24 - The Beast of Graenseskov

In the lair of the werewolf

Campaign Diary

Their mission in Nerekhall completed, our heroes departed for Greyhaven.

(Click here for PC profiles)

As they neared the town of Nornholt on the afternoon of the fifth day, they noticed that a small settlement of tents had formed outside it walls. A quick enquiry revealed that the occupants of the tents were peasants from the surrounding villages - a number of attacks by a werewolf had made the villagers flee their homes for the safety of the town. When the town guards learned that the party were Gio Gerber and his companions, they were brought to the burgrave's residence. However, after being made to wait for several minutes, they were told that the burgrave would not meet with them, and so they made their way to an inn.

While they ate dinner at the inn, they learned more about the recent events from the townsfolk: several huntsmen had been sent to slay the werewolf, but none had returned except for one, whose body was discovered outside the town gate one morning, his throat ripped out.

Then a child approached them with a message: they were invited to a meeting at Mama Clay the astrologer's place. Arriving at the place, they found Steward Gleeson waiting for them.

The steward revealed that the werewolf was actually the old burgrave; the old burgrave had not died in a wolf attack two years before as claimed, but had in fact been wounded by a werewolf which he slew. Aware that he had been infected by lycanthropy, the burgrave ordered his loyal steward to tell the town that he had died. Since then Gleeson had met with his old master at the ruined tower in the forest on the night of every full moon to bring him news of the town. However, over the years the steward noted that the old burgrave had gained a more bestial nature; he also began to blame his fate on the old prophecy that the town would be cursed if the eldest son of his line did not hold the position of the burgrave. Finally, a few months ago, he bade Gleeson to lure his younger grandson out of the town so he could murder him, on the hope that his older half-brother would then take his place and release him from the curse of lycanthropy.

Gleeson tried to stall his old master, but the old burgrave began to slay innocent villagers, thinking that it would cause the younger burgrave to come out of the town to calm the populace. Now, on the night of the full moon, Gleeson found himself at wit's end, until he heard news of our party's arrival. He called our heroes to meet in secret to do what was unthinkable to him: to slay his old master.

Our heroes took up the quest, and together they hatched a plot to lure the werewolf out: Entana would disguise himself as Montford by dressing in the clothes of the young burgrave. The party will follow Gleeson as he traveled to the ruined tower for his meeting with the old burgrave, giving the impression that the young burgrave had decided to trail his steward on his secretive journey.

Gleeson agreed with their plan, and bade our heroes to meet him at the town gate in an hour, where he would hand them their young burgrave's clothes.

At the appointed time, our heroes arrived at the town gate to find Gleeson waiting. As they waited for Entana to put on the borrowed clothes, Percy felt a hand grab her arm from behind: it was Reynard, the burgrave's half-brother and chamberlain! Reynard had followed Gleeson when he saw the steward acting suspiciously, and was glad to see Percy once more. His gladness turned to puzzlement when he noticed Entana dressed in his brother's clothes, he began to ask Gleeson what was happening, but before he could raise an alarm, Entana stepped forward and punched him on the nose. Now smarting and even more confused, Reynard fled, and the party hurried out of the gate and headed to the forest.

For two hours our heroes trekked through the winter forest, following the light from Gleeson's lantern in the distance. As they neared the ruined tower, a mist began to surround them, and the howl of wolves could be heard in the distance. Then, out of the mist, the werewolf and his wolf companions attacked.

Our heroes put up a stiff resistance, and when the werewolf realised that the "burgrave" was in fact a wizard, he vanished once more into the mist. Arriving at the ruined tower, our heroes found Gleeson gravely wounded. He had been attacked by wolves, but managed to drive them off on his own. He handed the party his lantern, and bade them to pursue the werewolf.

Under the light of the full moon, our heroes followed the tracks of the wolves to a cave. Entering the cave, the party followed the winding tunnels within, coming across a cave filled with bones of beasts and men, then a cave with bestial and human hand prints upon its walls, before arriving at a large cavern filled with rock pillars.The pillars of rock made a maze of the cavern. As they moved deeper into the cavern, our heroes heard the low growl of wolves around them. Then from behind the rock pillars, or the darkness of the shadows cast by the light of their lantern, wolves darted out to attack them, then disappearing again before our heroes could retaliate.

At first our heroes spread out to try to track the wolves, but they soon realised the danger of doing so and closed their ranks. They called out to the old burgrave, claiming that Entana had a cure for his lycanthropy.

For a while all was silent. Then the werewolf and his wolf minions attacked with ferocity, but sparing Entana. Strigoi took on the werewolf with the enchanted bronze sword he gained from the ancient king's burial, while the rest despatched the wolf minions. Outnumbered and wounded, the werewolf disengaged and fled deeper into the cave system.

Our heroes pursued the werewolf, until at last they came upon a cave which opened into the night sky. Propped against the wall in the far end of the cave they found the old burgrave, now in his human form.

The old man forced a smile and asked: "There never was a cure now, was there?"

Percy pleaded with the old burgrave to think of his duty to his people and do the honourable thing. At last the old man raised his head and offered up his neck.

"End it, orc!", he said to Strigoi.

Strigoi stepped forward and beheaded the old burgrave with a single stroke, and the party burned his remains.

It was past midnight when the party arrived back at Nornholt with Gleeson. They escorted the steward to the burgrave's hall, but declined the invitation to rest there that night, returned to the inn, and left early in the day before they had to face Reynard again.

Arriving at last back in Greyhaven, they gave an account of their deeds in Nerekhall to the University Council, and were given the rewards they were promised: a Masters degree for Entana, a full scholarship for Percy, 1500 Gros for Gio, and a suit of enchanted armour for Strigoi.

In the ensuing weeks Gio departed to pay the weregild to redeem the freedom of his family, Strigoi had a suit of armour measured and made, while Entana tutored Percy in rune magic.

Then, in the middle of the month of Wintar a letter arrived in Greyhaven for Entana: his father had traveled to the lands of Al-Kalim, and had learned of something of great importance, and he bade his son to join him there.

Taking leave from the Council, our party began the journey south.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was based on the module The Beast of Graensekov, available from DMs Guild. Although the module was written for Ravenloft, the storyline can be used for any fantasy setting with a dark or Gothic streak.

I had promised my players I would tie up the loose end of the story they started when they first came to Nornholt, and I knew it would end with a confrontation between them and the old burgrave. However, I struggled to find a way to make this something other than a straight fight, so I searched for a module which would give me some ideas.

During the prep for the session I toyed with the idea of using the whole storyline from the module, and making the burgrave's lycanthropy be due to a curse by a hag, and making a confrontation with the hag an encounter; perhaps this hag was the third member of the coven of the hags that B Team had met? As it turned out the hunt for the werewolf was enough to fill the session.

How the players would approach the problem was left pretty open, but the module offered several possibilities, including setting traps and luring the werewolf to them. I had expected my players to spend some time putting a plan into action, but as it turned out the day their party arrived in Nornholt was the day of the full moon (I keep a campaign calendar), and they decided to improvise a plan on the spot.

I was thrown off guard by this - I had hoped to roleplay some more interaction between the players and the young burgrave and his amourous brother, so I had Reynard make an unexpected appearance at the gate. Then I was thrown even more off when Entana's player decided to solve the problem with his fist. After the game I rationalised that Reynard may have thought that Entana was a jealous boyfriend, and that he had committed a faux pas.

The tracking of the wolves to their lair was again a skills challenge, and once again my players struggled to think of ways they could use their skills narratively. I think this will be the last time I use skills challenge, at least in this form.

The final fight was inspired by the map in the Battle Mat Book I owned. To let the wolves attack from a hidden position and then disappear again, I gave them the Nimble Escape trait. I was secretly happy when it looked like the players would separate in order to chase the wolves down, but they quickly realised the danger of doing so, forcing me to launch the attack.

The ruse to make the burgrave think they had a cure for lycanthropy was unexpected, and I decided that the burgrave would try to kill or incapacitate the other PCs and capture Entana, but the NPCs were no match for the PCs.

The final scene was a bit of a prepared 'cut-scene', and I was happy with how the players roleplayed it.

The next arc of the campaign will be based in Al-Kalim, although the party will have to stop-over at Lorimor along the way. I have seeded this possibility when I made Entana's father declare that he wished to go there several sessions ago.

I plan to let the PCs pass through Nornholt again on their journey south and have them interact with Reynard, Gleeson, and the young burgrave again. Perhaps I will use their relationship with the PCs to launch another arc of this campaign.

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