Friday, May 29, 2015

Cult of Undeath template, part I

In order to both decide what needs to be included in my bowdlerized version of the Ustalav setting, and how to modify the modules to be what I want them to, I need to go back through them and keep less unwieldy summary handy.  For this post SPOILERS ALERT I'm going to summarize the modules, both for my own benefit, so I have a template on which to work, and a guideline for where this campaign will go.  It also gives me a guide as to what locations I need to include in my homebrewed up reflection of Ustalav, so I can go on a hunt for names.

Keep in mind SPOILER ALERT that I'm writing this from the perspective of a GM running this thing.  If that's not you, and especially if you're possible to play this adventure path, you should avoid this post.

Enough SPOILER ALERTS yet?  Don't read if you might play the Carrion Crown.

First, The Haunting of Harrowstone is the module that kicks this whole thing off.  It starts off in a small rural town (Ialomita) that is infamous as the site of the worst prison in the entire realm (the Hellstone).  However, about fifty years ago, the prison was destroyed in a fire during a prison riot, and the prisoners, warden and many of the guards were all killed.  As you can imagine, the place is haunted and no small part of the adventure includes an exploration of the Hellstone and the putting down of five infamous serial killers who are now ghosts.  There are no other locations necessary for this adventure, but it makes reference to the larger city with a major Academy that's also in the Realm somewhere (Mittermarkt.)  It also introduces, via shadowy hints and clues, that there's a sinister force, the cult of the great Necromancer (Naggazz) also known as the Dweomer Lich, that's running around causing trouble, although at this point, little of their goals or even their presence will be detectable.  The PCs show up for the funeral of a friend, which involves them, via a somewhat contrived railroad, to stay in town for a month, and have to deal with the failing of the barriers that keep the ghosts of the prisoners confined to the ruins of the Hellstone.  They'll almost certainly also pick up on clues as the nature of the death of the friend--who was murdered by the cult of Naggazz--and they're also obligated as a stipulation of the will, to return some sensitive books to the Academy mentioned above.

So to kick all of this off, I merely need to name two places; the village in which they start, and the city in which the Academy is located.  I also need to decide if I'm going to stick with Naggazz as the name of my Great Necromancer, and give some kind of name to his cult (which I think I'll keep simple and just go with the Black Path.)  I discovered, or at least guessed, that Nagash is an alternate spelling for Najash or Nahash (or Nachash) is the Hebrew word for snake, and is thus the word used to describe the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  It seems most likely to me that the good folks at Games Workshop meant for Nagash to be a subtle reference to the Devil himself.  That makes me like the name even more, of course, although I won't necessarily stick with the Naggazz corruption.  I also don't want to be obviously doing the exact same thing as Warhammer, though.  Melek Taus, the name of the devil to the devil-worshiping Yezidi is another option with a real world origin.

Because I'll be setting the tone for the entire Realm, I'll also need to just establish some minor backstory.  I've called it a county already, and the reason for that is that I want to emphasize that it's a small, Ruritanian-style realm.  The ruler is an Elector Count, and the character of the country should be like that of the eastern Austro-Hungarian Empire; a combination of rural eastern Europeans (i.e., I'll re-use my Romanian name list) combined with German names as well.

The second module, Trial of the Beast, will require more work on my part.  It only takes place in and around the city above with the Academy; Mittermarkt, called Lepidstadt in the original.  It's basically Frankenstein's monster who is captured and due to a quirk of someone's idea of justice, rather than simply being put to the torch, it's put on trial.  The twist in the plot here is that the beast is innocent--at least of these specific murders for which it's being put on trial--and its secret creator is the real monster, although he's supposed to be sympathetic too, because he's sad about his family or something.  Yeah, yeah, yeah--I've read Mary Shelley and I know that's kind of the point (at least to some degree) but the whole thing feels a little too White Wolf: The Impotent Whining to me.  I don't want to run a module where the PCs are running around trying to keep a monster from being framed for murders.  I mean, I guess I could go all Primal Fear on them and keep it interesting, but I'd rather just rework the entire thing.

From a meta-perspective, the point of the module is that the Black Path has come after the creator of the beast in their standard "collect enough McGuffins" quest, which is where the PCs get their next clue which is meant to lead them into the next module.

For Broken Moon, the PCs, now actually directly trying to track down the cult, find themselves stuck in a wild forest where the assassination (by the Black Path) of the most powerful werewolf in the region has thrown the entire werewolf community into disarray.  Here the PCs must negotiate politics between evil demon werewolves and... slightly less evil regular werewolves, or something.  Again; lots of fighting of werewolves, but there's a kind of sympathetic ring to at least some of the "misunderstood monsters" that doesn't ring like it belongs in any kind of horror story.  This may need some reworking too.

Of course, they also get sent out to an old battlefield where the cultists are digging up bodies to reanimate them to have an army ready for the Dweomer Lich.  Here they fight undead/necromancers and get the next clue.  For locations, I need a reasonably large, dark Mirkwood-like forest (again; let's keep it simple (the Bitterwood), and a haunted area that was once the site of a great slaughter and which has now been salted and cursed into complete uselessness (the abandoned and deserted village of Dragomiresti.)  This one may require some rather significant rework as well.

Next time; the next three modules.  This post is longer to write than I expected because I have to skim through all of the modules to summarize them, so I'll split it into two.

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