Sunday, July 7, 2013

Runebearer Session One -- Advanced Scouts

A Quick Background

In the year 512, an explorer named Rothchild started a settlement in a faraway land called the Caigenhurst. Two years later, a strange natural phenomenon called the Black Rains brought disease and famine to the land. Rothchild's colony has not been heard from for some time and it is feared that the settlers have perished. Baron Pelgrim, who funded the original expedition, has now tasked the honorable Lady Sophia Riga with exploring the Caigenhurst, learning the fate of Rothchild and restoring civilization to the wild region.

The PCs have all been contracted by Lady Riga's steward, Wallace, to act as advanced scouts. Their mission is to explore and secure the docks, the village of Roth, and the manor house in preparation for the arrival of the Lady and her entourage. The group starts the game having traveled for three weeks on two boats, the Swan and the Sparrow, both led by Captain Quillan.

The Old Rotten Docks

It has been nearly three weeks since you set off. Three weeks on the cramped boat, an arm’s reach from the angry sea. The Mother has kept you safe and given you the wind you needed. More importantly, She’s kept the storms from you, for though the sky has been thick and grey your entire journey, you have been subject to nothing more than gentle rain. And indeed when you finally spot land, it is through squinted eyes and the obscuration of a cold, soaking rain.

The boats come within 200 or so yards from shore, but then raise their sails and drop anchor. Quillan has been here before and is still not comfortable navigating the dangerous shoals. He directs the PCs to take the Sparrow (the smaller of the two vessels) in by oar. Wallace, the PCs and 3 men-at-arms row the Sparrow toward the Old Rotten Docks.

The group has quite a bit of supplies -- enough for several weeks here. They also have 4 kits of alchemy equipment designed to clean up areas where the Black Rain still lingers.

(GM's Note: Because of the weeks at sea, and the poor weather, the PCs are suffering the status effect Bad Morale (-1 to all skill checks) until they can find shelter and dry off.)

You row the boat toward land, being mindful of the rocks that glide just inches below you. The shore is close and you proceed toward the mouth of a small, shallow river and what remains of a rotting dock and few structures that have been battered by the recent storms. To the west, you can see the remains of a small fishing vessel stuck on some rocks.

This location consists of the dock, wrecked scaffolding, a couple sheds, some small huts that are not much more than piles of stones now, a warehouse with half its roof caved in, and a small stone house further inland that looks to be mostly intact. The Sparrow pulls up to the dock. Wallace's men start to tend to the ship and supplies while the PCs begin exploring...

Our Protagonists

So, who are these stout adventurers trusted by the cream of Bostonian nobility to engage on the most important of missions? Well, just the usual band of random, rag-tag misfits and miscreants, as adventuring parties often seem to be.
  • Sir Avery Fitzwilliam Sedgewick -- a nobleman scholar from Boston, schooled in various ancient and magical subjects. He is also a mage with the First Equation and the Virtues of the Mind runes bound. His dogged search to find material about which to write scholarly papers leads him into considerable danger.
  • Anatoli (Toli) -- A grunj warrior armed with spear and shield. He travels with Sedgewick and bails him out of the trouble he invariably gets into.
  • Timotheus Sylvanus -- grew up as a member of a nature-worshipping pagan sect, but converted to the Church after having dreams of Stratus, The Father. He has lived several years as a monk. He is a tracker, outdoorsman and doctor, and has the uncanny ability to call upon the Bostonian saints for aid, even though he is not ordained clergy.
  • CJ -- A warrior who uses sword and shield. Somewhat straightforward and blunt, but has a heart of gold.
  • James Darrington III -- Former street performer turned burglar and now scout.
  • Vitro -- A mysterious mage with an extraterrestrial origin. Has powers of summoning and divination (namely the runes Portal and Vault) and a hawk familiar. He is also quite attractive and charming and has the bulk of the group's social skills.
We'll get into each character a bit more as we go. For now, it's probably enough to just know their names.

The Weepers

Once the group hits the beach, Vitro sends his hawk familiar to scout the area. The hawk reports back that there are a number of humans "feeding" behind the stone house. That immediately gets the party's attention and CJ, Toli, Sedgewick and Vitro move to investigate. Meanwhile, Sylvanus and Darrington are helping the sailors take care of the supplies.

As the PCs approach the house, they hear the sound of raspy breathing, greedy lip-smacking and clattering bones. CJ turns the corner.

As you round the corner of the house, you see a pack of humanoids crouched around a large pool of stinking black liquid in which you can see the remains of several partially eaten corpses. They alternate between gnawing at the bones of the unfortunate villagers, and greedily lapping at the vile liquor. Their hands and clothes are stained in blood and gore, and their eyes are welling up with black tears that run down their cheeks.
When they see you, they are momentarily confused and for some reason look at their hands, then the pool, and then back at you. Their eyes flicker for a second and they try to speak. But when they do, only the tar bubbles from their lips. Then they are overcome with rage and they charge to the attack.

The pool of liquid is a festering remnant of the Black Rain. The creatures are Weepers, a special kind of ghoul created by exposure to the rains. These weepers are the remains of the Fishing Master and his family, and though they are overcome by their insatiable hunger, they do retain some tiny recollection of their former life, evidenced in the way they try to disable their next meal -- namely the PCs.

CJ fires an arrow into the group of creatures and hits one of them in the shoulder. The Fishing Master throws a net and tries to subdue CJ, but the net hits part of a nearby fence instead, missing its target. The mother ghoul moves to the side to get a clear sight line to the party and then throws cleavers (of which she seems to have an infinite supply in her apron) at the group.

The "kids" charge the party. CJ drops her bow and draws steel. Toli moves up to support CJ and Sedgewick falls in behind and start casting buffs. Vitro summons a portal through which steps a giant rat ready to defend its master. Finally, the folks at the docks hear the commotion and start running to the house.

Once the groups engaged, the battle was pretty quick. The main scary moment was when a couple of the kids flanked the group and got to Sedgewick, but he just pulled his rapier ("Top of my fencing class at Uni, you know!") and he and the giant rat held the flank.

After the battle, there was a discussion about "saving" a couple of the weepers who had not been killed in the battle. There were one or two of the unfortunates who had just been incapacitated and Toli brought up the idea that the doctor (everyone has taken to calling Sylvanus "Doctor" by now)  could use one of the group's clean-up kits to save the weepers. Though the doctor has no alchemy skills, he does have physician, and I ruled that with a good enough physician check, he could determine a process by which the kit could be used to purify someone who had become a weeper. The doctor considered his chances and refused to make the attempt, being unwilling to waste one of the valuable kits in a failed attempt.

CJ showed the incapacitated weepers the ultimate mercy and sent them to the Father.

Vitro is interested in how the people became flesh-eating ghouls and so he uses a spell that gives him visions of the past and touches the stone house, hoping to get an idea of what happened here.

You see everyone huddled in the house riding out a brutal storm. The mother looks worriedly out the window, but is relieved to see her husband coming up the beach path. He is soaked, covered in the tarry, poison liquid falling from the clouds, but he is home. But then, he kicks in the door. His eyes and mouth seep with black tears, as though he has been filled with the toxin and can hold no more.

Cut to him dragging his wife by the back of her neck, out into the storm, behind the house, where a pool of the filth has accumulated. She struggles, but is no match for his strength as he forces her face under the surface... The scene repeats with the children and then fades.

The group settles down in the house to rest and recuperate. Wallace and the rest of the NPCs join them. Darrington searches and finds mostly junk, but a couple of interesting pieces:
  • A large fish scale (almost the size of a shield) labeled "Grunnich"
  • Some fine fishing gear (+1 to skill checks)
  • 4 doses of some unknown herbal ointment
  • Some petty cash
Anatoli is annoyed at Sylvanus, and humans in general, and so sleeps outside. He makes a lean-to in the broken warehouse and beds down there.

The Survivor

The next morning, Toli has set up a fire on the beach and is cooking breakfast when a rock flies past. "Hey" says a weak voice and another rock skitters on the sand. It is coming from the shipwreck. The wreck is the remains of a fishing boat that got loose from its moorings during the storms and was dashed against the rocks.

Toli calls for the others and they investigate. After crawling on the rocks to get to the wreck, they find a fisher woman named Camille. She was trying to secure the boat when it crashed. Her legs are broken and she has been hiding here for weeks, subsisting on crabs and fish that would stray too close to her makeshift spear. She is near starvation and her legs are mangled and will need surgery to heal normally.

The group debriefs Camille, but she knows very little. She saw the Fishing Master and his family scour the beach and pick off corpses and survivors, but she does not know how he turned into such a monster. She knows that a few people escaped and headed inland toward the town of Roth, but does not know their fate.

She asks if the group happened to see another boat, like the one she was on. Her brother was on that boat, trying to save it, when it was torn out to sea. Vitro starts consoling Camille, when CJ blurts out, "Well, if he was on that boat, then he is almost certainly dead."  Vitro facepalms.

The Surgeon

Sylvanus examines Camille and determines that he will need to rebreak and reset her legs if she is ever to walk again. This is a risky procedure and will require pretty good skill rolls to complete successfully. He sets up a makeshift surgery in the house, then knocks out Camille and goes to work.

He succeeds! Camille will walk again. However, she is going to be unable to travel for some time. Wallace indicates that he and his men will remain behind, secure the docks, and watch over the girl while the PCs head to Roth.

Onward to Roth

The group heads to Roth and travels for the better part of a day. They get to Roth just after sunset and though they are convinced they are going to find a ghost town... or worse, they see lights in some of the windows. Someone is here!

They head to the nearby chapel and meet Father Grimm. Grimm is delighted to meet the PCs and takes them to the village reeve, Bordas. Bordas and Grimm tell the PCs that they thought the mainland had forgotten about them. The group tells about Lady Riga's mission to reclaim the land and find Rothchild and exchange info with the NPCs, learning the following:

  • The people of Roth think Rothchild is dead.
  • His manor (miles away from Roth) has been taken over by White Ratlings led by someone named Grimjaw.
  • Grimjaw has sent a message to Roth offering the humans peace so long as they do not interfere with the ratling's ownership of the manor house and its nearby lands.
  • There is a puddle of black goo in the field outside of Ingrid's house.
  • Ingrid is the town baker and since she has the largest house, she often acts as hostess for visitors.
  • Unfortunately, a few of the townspeople have turned into weepers, and have been rounded up and deposited in Ingrid's basement.
  • One of the weepers is Ingrid's mother.
We'll see what they do with that next session...