Reviving Ravenloft – A look at the Carrion Crown Adventure Path (Part Four)
When I left off a week ago, I was finishing up the details of Broken Moon, the third module in the Carrion Crown series. The characters work through the mini-dungeon of the Stairs of the Moon, either negotiate with the various factions of werewolves that use the ancient temple of Desna as a moot, and head off for the final confrontation. The main villain of the Shudderwood part of the adventure has been dealt with, and the full agenda of the cult becomes the next item to deal with. As the characters learn, a necromancer has set up shop in an infamous battlefield, raising the dead to build an army for the cult.
There’s a bit of a strange subplot that runs through Broken Moon, in the form of one of the guests of Ascanor Lodge. Where the lodgemaster is the primary adversary, there’s a vaguely clownish NPC that the characters have to deal with, an aristocrat that’s obsessed with hunting werewolves. For the most part, he’s there for flavor, but he can help the characters with introducing them to the other guests. And being an aristocrat, he’s mostly incompetent when it comes to actually hunting werewolves.
When the confrontation at the Stairs of the Moon takes place, he’s summarily pushed to the background while the PC’s take care of the main plot. Off screen, he ends up getting infected with lycanthropy and promptly abducted by some of the ‘evil’ werewolves. When he next shows up, he’s a full werewolf, chaotic evil, and willing to take the characters apart for the sake of his new werewolf brethren.
Being Paizo, there are notes on how to resolve the encounter without killing the aristocrat, curing his lycanthropy, casting atonement, and letting the guy go on his way peaceably. Which would be all fine and good, were it actually possible to cure the lycanthropy. The module makes a special point that there will be a four day lag between the point that this NPC contracts lycanthropy and the characters will next encounter him, which makes the actual cure that much more problematic. Since the most opportune window of treatment has passed, the simpler cures like wolfsbane are assumed to be no longer effective.
As a side note, I’ve been going back over the details of curing lycanthropy, and it seems like the methods are weird holdovers from earlier editions. If the afflicted character is treated within a few days of being infected, they can be cured by using a 3rd level spell, cast by a 12th level cleric. If not, they need to be cured by using … a 3rd level spell, cast by a 12th level cleric.
Maybe I’m missing something, but there’s seemingly no penalty to waiting on a cure. Or more to the point, there’s no real incentive in trying to get a character cured within the first few days of infection, other than the story-based bit of not having the character rampage and savagely kill innocents. Yeah, that’s bad, but this is D&D we’re talking about.
For my part, I loosened up the rules a tich, offering the players the ability to work some Diplomacy checks while talking their friend down from his rampage. They managed to distract and subdue him long enough for the Cleric to work her magic and run him through a Remove Disease and a longer ritual to Pharasma for an Atonement. Being that the characters were a mere 9th level, there was no way that they could swing the high level Cleric stuff without a long and protracted journey into town. They were already on a timetable, and it seemed unnecessary to saddle them with a weird moral choice they didn’t have the time or resources to monkey with.
Again, this goes back to my contention that the characters in the scenario need to make a conscious choice to be good. If their options were to kill their friend or agonize over the decision to kill their friend, I wasn’t going to put them through that particular Hobson’s Choice. They should have the ability to be heroes, even when the adventure isn’t written to let them. Besides which, his role as an ally of the characters seemed a lot more interesting than having him brought back into the plot as yet another werewolf to kill off.
The village of Feldgrau has some interesting plot elements built into it, many of which remain unseen by the player characters themselves. This is a peculiar habit of Paizo writers, to the point that I’m left to assume the editors insist upon such elements. In Kingmaker, for example, there’s a bandit leader that shows up in the very first encounter that’s likely to be killed off when the PC’s set up an ambush. In the text of the module, he’s given a paragraph of deep and intricate backstory, revealing his life of petty crime while serving as a city guardsman, the wife and children that he abandoned when he fled the city one step in front of the local constabulary and the broad motivations that he’s currently working towards as a minor bandit leader. It’s pretty interesting stuff, to be honest, but there’s no real good reason for this much detail on a guy that, in all truth, is probably going to be killed off before he has a chance to say anything to the player characters.
There’s a similar case in play with the final necromancer villain in Feldgrau. The module details how the character has been broken by circumstance, recruited into the ranks of the cult that’s behind all of the main motivations in the Adventure Path, and how he’s finally come home to enact a strange sort of ironic vengeance. And there’s almost no way for the heroes to learn anything of this. Our group has jokingly decided that the Pathfinder exclusive spell, Blood Biography, exists to detail out all of the hidden module text, just so it isn’t wasted space.
For the purposes of the module, I made a point to use bits of biographical details as the shuddering aftereffects of the audience with Desna, an encounter that offered a bit of prophecy to foreshadow the the events of the second half of the Adventure Path. With the weird arcane magic that had come to infuse the environs of Feldgrau combined with the residual divine aura of Desna, I revealed the tragic backstory of the necromancer in abrupt cut scenes. It was a bit strange, but it held up as a cinematic technique. And if nothing else, I was able to make use of some of the extra text within the module.
The module ends with another series of disjointed scenes, a scattering of images pulled from the memories of the now dead necromancer. For the first time in the module series, the characters have a sense of the larger plot that’s taking place, with something of a final goal to look towards. Admittedly, they’re still fruitlessly chasing the Dark Riders that have been a couple of steps ahead of them thus far, but it’s something, at least.