The Misgivings of the Skinsaw Murders
Somewhere, I think there’s a pun or bit of clever wordplay or even an inside joke that explains why Paizo chose to title the ancient Foxglove Manor the way it did. Calling a house ‘The Misgivings’ is an interesting idea, but it really seems forced, no matter how they pass it off otherwise. I love the idea of the named manor house, and the concept of the shunned haunted house that the locals whisper various myths and legends about intrigues me. I’m just not sure that I buy this particular appellation.
Here. Try it out for yourself:
“I hear there’s some foul happenings up at The Misgivings.”
“According to the farmer, there were strange lights at The Misgivings.”
“And to this day, no one who has ever spent the night at The Misgivings has been heard from again…”
Personally, I can’t take it seriously, as it varies between seeming like the name of an intrusive married couple that tries to throw fancy parties on every occasion, just so they can bring out their fondue pots, or the world’s worst sort of holiday. “What are you having for Misgiving Dinner?’ “Probably ham.”
And yeah, it’s sort of a petty quibble in the broad scheme of things, compared to some of the other problems I’ve had with the Adventure Path thus far.
As adventures go, however, it’s really pretty good. This is your standard haunted house scenario, filtered through the D&D or Pathfinder lens, with some fascinating ideas at the core of things. The history of the house recounts the failed attempts of its founder to ascend to lichdom, only to fail dramatically in the final stage. This serves to give the house itself the weird powers and locales, explaining away the supernatural effects in the dungeonpunk era that the module was written in. Any other era of gaming would likely have left the origin of the house’s powers intact and mysterious, rather than trying to make sense of the process required. I don’t begrudge this, though, as it’s a really neat idea that I’d be tempted to make further use of later. Namely, the house itself functions as a truly bizarre form of pseudo-lich, with the essence of the aspirant fused into the structure of the house itself and corrupting all that cross its threshold in one way or another. To be honest, I’m surprised that this didn’t end up back in Carrion Crown, since they’re fond of recycling ideas, and there was an entire module devoted to the idea of liches in general.
With the house as its own distinct entity, Paizo found themselves with a new mechanic (which did show up in Carrion Crown) in the form of Haunts. Haunts exist as a form of spiritual trap, differing only in the way that they have to be disarmed and dealt with. Haunts went on to play a huge role in the haunted prison scenario of Harrowstone that opened the Carrion Crown series, and it’s interesting to note that they underwent minimal modification over the years. A Good-aligned Cleric is still the best way to deal with any of these horrors, and without such, they become extremely dangerous particularly fast.
They’re also very evocative of the haunted house motif, offering a quick and simple method to populate a locale with supernatural effects. On a meta level, I loved the idea, even if they ended up largely destroying most of the party that went to investigate the horrors of Foxglove Manor. (See, even there, it would sound pretty ridiculous to term it as ‘The Horrors of the Misgivings.’ It really doesn’t work.)
The haunts work to play out the events that brought the ruin of Foxglove Manor. One room has the characters reliving the death of the villain’s wife, another sees her in better times as she dances in the parlor, where a third has a long dead murderer contemplating the weight of his actions. As each image flits past, the characters are forced to play through the sequences that brought the fall of the family, bearing their wounds and horrors as the images work to drive them mad.
These traps were what brought our character party to downfall, as we moved through the decaying halls of the manor house. The Sorcerer who was consumed with pride and lust was attracted to the haunts that dealt with the death of Foxglove’s wife, some months back. As each event played out, he was driven progressively closer to madness, as he saw the death of beauty and the betrayal of love. (The original player was out of the area when these events took place, and this was what made it interesting, as he wouldn’t have bothered to explore the ramifications of the haunts on his character’s psyche. As it happened, he was actually very irritated that his character might have to experience anything that wasn’t as shallow and superficial as he’d hoped. He left the group for unrelated reasons, but it ended up being for the best in the long run, really.) In the end, his mind snapped, and he found himself with a Nick Cave inspired outlook that ‘All beauty must die’ in his madness.
Another character, the erstwhile Rogue that one of our group had recently made up, ended up finding himself utterly overwhelmed by the desperate thoughts that another room evoked, plunging a sharp stake of wood into his throat as a means of suicide. This was doubly unfortunate, as the character had joined the group for the sake of the expedition to Foxglove Manor, and he managed to live for a single session only.
The Druid became obsessed with the concept of transformation, something that eventually leveled out into being convinced that his true form was an animal form rather than his original human shape. This persisted all the way through the character, however, so it became less of a derangement than just a defining character trait.
In the end, the scenario details the madness and betrayal that brought the end of the Foxglove family, hearkening back to Poe’s House of Usher as it does so, talking about the decay and mold that persists throughout as symbolic of the decline. The module provides ways to cleanse the house of the influence of the original master of the house, whose spirit is infused with the very structure of the place, but it misses the obvious mark by having the manor remain intact once it has been exorcised.
For our purposes, once the foul influence had been destroyed, the foundations of the cliffside mansion began to shiver and crumble, as the only motive force that had kept it intact was now gone. In a mad panic, our characters fled the roaring destruction, emerging into the first light of dawn as the house fell away, breaking on the rocks below as it slid into the sea.