Entering the Third Act of the Skinsaw Murders
So, when we last saw our intrepid heroes, they had escaped the ruin of Foxglove Manor (improbably known as ‘The Misgivings by the locals) as it fell in upon itself, breaking into pieces as it fell from the cliff it had so precariously been perched upon, its foul influences now cleansed from the Varisian Coast.
Or at least, that’s how we ended it.
I’ve been wracking my brain in the last day or so, trying to figure out why the writer chose to leave the house more or less intact when the characters finished with the haunting and the ghastly serial killer who had been so fatally warped by its unwholesome influences. All right, so you have an old manor house filled with a myriad of decay and ruin, that no one in the surrounding area wants anything to do with. As the characters were to figure out in the process of their adventures in the house (as in, they have to find this out to pick up the next thread of the plot), the last contractors were a cult of murderers that worshiped the god of murder and secrets.
To borrow from Kevin Smith, are these really the guys you want to have plumbing a toilet in your house?
If the house doesn’t crumble into the sea, the characters are sort of stuck with it. I can’t imagine too many characters that would voluntarily move into a house with such history, unless they’re the kind that is jake with serial killers, the occasional murderous cultist, and a legacy of pain and terror that has been fused into the walls since the death of the original family by misadventure. Most Good-aligned groups would want to burn the place down, just to be done with the damned thing. At that point, it’s a better idea to just have the action sequence of fleeing the house as it falls to pieces around the characters, escaping as it finally destroys itself. At least then, it’s dramatic.
And for me, this is where the adventure should have ended. I keep going back to this idea, where the confrontation with Aldern Foxglove, the friend and ally established in the first module, is revealed to be the dreaded Skinsaw Man that has been murdering people around Sandpoint. But it isn’t, and I find that weirdly unsatisfying.
Instead, the characters are drawn to Magnimar, the teeming metropolis to the south, built on the ruins of an ancient Thassilonian city from thousands of years before. They’ve discovered notes on the Skinsaw Cult that has been the source of Foxglove’s specific murders (he’s been directed to kill particularly Greedy individuals, which feeds the main purposes of the end villain of the Adventure Path), and they’ve got the key to Foxglove’s townhouse in Magnimar, where they can search for more clues on the larger conspiracy.
Following the trail to Magnimar, the characters quickly discover specific notes that will lead them to another sawmill in the area, where payments from Foxglove are apparently dropped off periodically. (What’s interesting about this part is that there is a single encounter and a single puzzle, but the module sees fit to include a rather detailed map for the GM to use. I realize that this is for the sake of combat, but even so, this seems fairly extraneous.) From there, they find themselves at the home of the Brothers of the Seven, also known as the Skinsaw Men.
The cult’s headquarters is a pretty straightforward series of encounters. It’s a working sawmill, which adds some detail to the events, but it comes down to a room by room dispatching of low-level cultists as the characters look for the man in charge. Somewhat unusually, the head of the Cult isn’t actually behind the series of murders, as he’s been played as a cat’s paw by another manipulator. This has the effect of allowing the PC’s to negotiate with the head of a cult of murderous thieves, once they manage to dispel the Charm Person he’s been laboring under.
It’s an interesting idea, but at the end of the day, he’s still a cultist of the god of murder and a corrupted city justice as well. I’m not really sure why the players are given the option of sparing him.
In some ways, I would love to play the module with wholly Evil characters calling the shots. There were options for this all through the early parts of Savage Tide, and it seems like the focus of the game would be wildly different with this series, even though it would seem to take a fair amount of jiggering to get the outcomes to make any sense. With the now-empty manor house and a cult of murderous thugs on your side, the characters would be quickly rising up in the world, I would guess. It just makes you question why they’re killing off the established villains in the first place. Is it a case of professional rivalry or something? Was the Skinsaw Cult encroaching on the home turf of the player characters?
Good ends up being the default setting in these modules, but there are strange edges where it seems like the writers were willing to throw a bone at the occasional Evil character that wandered through.
As it shook out for our group, we actually had two Evil characters as part of the adventuring group by the time they reached the sawmill. One was the Pride and Lust aspected Sorcerer who’d been driven mad by the revelations of the house and its various haunts. At this point, I had taken over the character for my own use, not wanting to lose the main operant spellcaster from our regular group. Another player had built a rogue, who was immediately lost to suicide in the manor, who was then replaced by a wizard. That player hadn’t made it that week, so the character was more or less being played by another person, who’d decided to play the Evil version. (When the Wizard’s actual player was in attendance, he ended up playing the Wizard as Evil, so it didn’t really matter.) And the Ranger was going closer and closer to Evil, simply because he was becoming more intent on his anger issues while he was losing his sense of remorse for the accidental murders he’d committed earlier.
The effect this had was that the various horrific loot that the characters were amassing as a result of fighting a cult of murder wasn’t being thrown away or sold to shopkeepers. This meant that the various razor-aspected weapons were being used regularly, as were the enchanted masks that highlighted the flow of blood in a living creature.
So, yeah. There’s a lot of neat toys to be had in this module, but most of it only has utility to the most depraved and antisocial members of a given group. Good times.