View Full Version : DM Help Watching you from between the pines -- A Horror "module"

2016-02-23, 05:33 AM
Firstly let me start and say that the system we are using is Pathfinder and that anyone in the Barrier World campaigns ought to stay out (Due to horror-based spoilers. Seriously, they're the most destructive of spoilers). Also, this mission/module (As it's not really an entire campaign but more of like...a quest chain you sorta get locked into) has some time for work as I won't be able to DM it until at least June when my work schedule gets more agreeable. This is mostly so I have all my ducks in a row.

Okay, so short background (I'll try to keep it short as I tend to be long winded). Location the players in the setting will be headed to this micro-continent called the Geistwood. 'Bout the size of Madagascar and rotten with pine trees, fog, and old elven ruins. Like a metropolis worth of ruins. There's also a failed colony, a mysterious lone chapel on the coast, an abandoned dwarven prison, and most importantly, a fortified bastion crewed by paladins and similar holy, militant people. Thing is, nobody goes to the Geistwood save for one reason: Lumber. Again, the place is a sea of trees and some of the trees have unique magical properties (tend to make containers that are slightly bigger on the inside) and the aforementioned bastion also houses a very lucrative (if questionable in method) lumber company. Other than that, nobody goes to the Geistwood because people that go there unprepared tend to never be seen again. Or commit suicide shortly after.

What I'm looking for: Comments, critique, ways I could make this better, make the horror work better (barring OOC atmosphere), ideas for interesting encounters, holes filled, etc.. After some bleary-I-really-ought-to-sleep, I'm also kinda looking for ways to make this less raildroady, though I suppose if the party opts to pick up this plot hook then there should be a sort of order to said plot...

Atmosphere: Dim lights, enforce a no-OOC-At-The-Table rule (not sure how), have the Fragment album by Musica Cthulhiana playing on repeat just loud enough to hear (Good ambient horror music/sounds), and most importantly make sure everyone is on board with horror from the get-go. Last thing I need is someone in the wrong mindset.


Note: Get basic stats from the players beforehand. AC, saves, etc.. If you need to, claim it's so you don't have to constantly ask them for the stuff. In truth, it's so you can apply the given saves (See: Will) and just ask a player to roll.

So the lumber company is looking for some muscle after a rash of disappearances. Not only of people but also of tools and equipment. The payout is exorbitant and is sure to draw the player's attention (Mission's for ~lvl5-6, payout is ~10k-15k a person) and hopefully they set off. When they get to the bastion (the only viable port on the continent) they notice several things:
1) It's foggy as hell. Like Silent Hill pea soup fog.
2) The paladins (and clerics and warpriests and such) are all in uniform and have weapons in such a way that they are prepared to use them.
3) Apparently there's a sickness going around (unusual seeing as there are divine casters), though the only symptom seems to be a hacking cough-a-lung-up cough that, while annoying, doesn't call for bed rest
4) There are undead walking the streets. Like legitimate zombies and skeletons. And, while the holy warriors look a bit unnerved/upset/wary, nobody is stopping them.

So the players (hopefully) ask for directions and they're pointed to the Von Logging Company, run by a mister Arteris Von, resident necromancer and all around swell chap. If questioned about the undead, he explains that it's really the only way to get any logging done on the Geistwood. People that tend to go out into the foggy forests either don't come back or come back changed. Stories of ghostly tall figures that snatch people up in the night, of things half seen in the mists, things in the shape of a man but clearly not, etc.. Undead however are not affected and are actually contracted laborers that sign up for a several year contract and get not only all their wages in full at the end but also a paid-in-full Resurrection.
When inquiring about the job at hand, Von tells the party that a few of the foremen have gone missing, as well as a good number of woodworking tools. The only lead was a dropped weapon at the scene of the last crime. Upon investigation, the weapon turns out to be made by the nation that owned the failed colony up the coast (unique markings, make, etc.)(Alternatively the players can ask about and someone will mention seeing someone skulking about, yadda yadda yadda head up the coast).

Well if the players are smart, they'll follow the coastline which is....generally safe. The interior is where the bad stuff is after all (Disenchanters that feed on the magic trees, an unholy amalgam of Rust Monsters and Phase Spiders, etc.). So the players head up to the colony and it's a straight up Roanoke Colony situation. Granted it's been a few years and the food's either gone or rotten but the players get the impression that, given the general state of things (and taking into account weather and whatnot) that there was no struggle or fight. Basically everyone just up and either vanished or (with a rather hard check) walked as one towards the interior of the island.
Tracks are found as they explore the town. Fresh tracks, but ones where it looks like the maker tried to cover them. Cue locked cellar. Players investigate and go in, they get jumped by an emaciated and very insane man whose clothing and species denote him as the last survivor of the colony. In the likely event that the players kill the man, they find notes and crude maps amidst the trash. A lot of it is madness (haha or is it?) but most of the big clues and maps will point the players to the abandoned Dwarven Prison on the north coast. Likely the players will pick up the clue and decide to head there.

Upon exiting the cellar, they find that it's night time. Which is a bit strange as it was perfectly light out when they went down.

One of the characters is overcome with a coughing fit.

Well if the players are smart, they'll head back to the Bastion and get information about the prison (Like, say, the location from a NOT insane source) along with proper "hey we're going underground" gear, potions, scrolls, etc. Usual stuff for an extended underground expedition. There's a couple odd side jobs they can pick up (Rust Spider silk, Ghost Stone from the prison, etc.). Proper current information on the prison is scarce, but records/Knowledge: History will inform the players that the prison, Khazdul-Var ("Happy Shores Home for Reform" in Dwarven) was a maximum security prison with a rumored research lab in the lower levels. It's been abandoned for a few hundred years and there's not much up there so nobody really visits.

Abandoned locale + creepy atmosphere = Undead, maybe big spiders as well.

So, depending on what the players opt to do (Personally I'd love it if they went overland), they arrive at the prison with various degrees of violence and pain.

Players get there and enter, full of bravado and gumption. They go through a few rooms and down a hallway and come to a dead end. No encounters so far, just a dank old prison (and curiously small). They turn around and head back down the hallway and...wait, was this intersection always here? And...We didn't pass through this cell block on our way here. I could have sworn...

Wait, what's that noise? Something's here. Something's all over here. The sound, whatever it is, seems to suffuse the prison and dampen the party's meager light source. An unnatural gust blows through and snuffs the flames, both magical and mundane. The party hurries to get back light and when they do they are greeted with handprints and words all over the walls, declaring that there is no escape, that the party will die here, tortured and alone, and that the things in the prison, the remainders of the convicts left to rot in their cells, know they are here and they are coming.

But nothing does come. Not immediately anyway. Encounters would be mostly incorporeal undead for the most part. Spooky? Yes. Scary? Not so much, not after the second or third encounter, and they tend to keep their distance from bright lights. The party gets the feeling like the spirits, while hostile, are more...violently herding the players somewhere. Cutting off exits and not pursuing them when the players go the correct direction. All the while, more handprints and writing on the walls. The tone begins to shift from the sense of "We gonna getcha and wear your skin" to "Please you have to get out of here". The party comes to an intersection, one path leading down to "Solitary", the other to "Cell Blocks".

Solitary: Upon heading down to the Solitary section, the spirits seem to stop. In the center of the main intersection is a carved stone pit that stretches faaaaar down. Like break-into-the-top-of-the-underdark-caverns far down. Hanging down into the yawning pit are chains and, if one were to send down, say, a Dancing Lights spell, they'd see cages at the end with skeletons. Solitary indeed. Heading east and west take the party to more cells that are eventually blocked off by rubble. North takes them to a large metal door with the words "Research Lab Lambda" (or similar). Exploration of the (fairly small) research lab reveals some storage rooms, two labs (One filled with rubble), the dorms and mess hall (which is, amusingly, a mess), all of which are....unremarkable. Then they enter the Surgery center and things get weird. Fresh blood and not-yet-rotten bits of meat and skin. No bodies though, but there is a blood trail leading from the room to the last room, simply labeled "Specimen Containment". Inside are ~16 tanks. Some are filled with mutilated specimens, mostly humanoid (and likely the missing foremen) whereas some of them are empty. Of curious note are the various holes around the room in the walls.

Smash. The players look just in time to see....something scurry from a smashed tank and out into the hall.

Another gust. The players get the lights back on. The tanks are either smashed or opened. The specimen are gone. The only hint of where they've gone is a pervasive scratching in the walls and a trail of fluids to the holes in the wall and out into the hallway. Ask players to roll, apply Will saves. Failures get headaches but little else. Critical fail (if any) has a coughing fit.

Cell Blocks: Cell Block A and B are your typical multi-level prison affairs. In between the cell blocks is the cell block mess hall. As inquisitive as the players may or may not be, they may opt to check out the mess hall and subsequently the kitchen as well. No undead, but more writing of the "Leave now" variety. If they'd gone to Solitary first, the scratching in the walls stops outside the mess. Investigating the kitchen, the supply closet, and the now defunct freezer reveal nothing.

And then it shows up. A cupboard swings open silently and a...thing...unfolds itself. Tall, spindly, vaguely human looking save for its featureless face (save for a barely noticeable slit running down from forehead to chin) and seemingly too many limb joints. It stands there towering over the characters if nobody notices, its head almost brushing the 10-ft high ceiling. And then it shrieks, a stone rattling, blood curdling shriek. Handprints and writing explodes onto the walls all over the kitchen, urging the players to run, to flee, to escape this monstrosity. The creature, a "Lean One", has stats that can be found here (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yVweXlkNu1Y2i_44mgUUs-oa-SOyEkx6sIpDbHIXQyw/edit?usp=sharing). The players are welcome to fight the Lean One but given 1) the overlapping mind effecting auras, 2) the WRAITHS, SHADOWS, OTHER INCOPOREAL UNDEAD TELLING YOU TO RUN AWAY, and 3) that the shriek is answered from the things in the walls ought to be reason enough to GTFO.

Cue chase. The undead help, throwing open gates for the party and closing them behind the party which only JUST slows the Lean One down. The thing chases them to the entrance of the prison (out of the cell blocks, up some stairs, and into the main lobby from which sunlight can be seen.

Well, the party completed their contract. They found the foremen and found the source of the disappearances. Time to get pai-aww crap the boat left. Well lucky everything's on the coast, makes getting back easier, if a bit more time consuming. Eeeexcept apparently the watch ain't doing their job (assuming the last person on watch fails their will save) 'cause SOMETHING got into the packs and tore everything to hell.

Somewhere along the way, one of the other characters develops a coughing fit. Apparently whatever's going around is catching.

Anyway, getting back to the bastion, the players check in with Von who is a little surprised. Firstly, that the characters survived and returned "successful", and secondly that it took the party ~1.5 times longer than they remember. But, nevertheless, their payment will be ready in a few days and Von is kind enough to put them up in one of better hotels at the logging company's expense (well they pretty much own it so...). That night, one of the players (without a cough) is attacked, either by an NPC they hit it off with or by one of the coughing PCs (Note passing prior would be critical for this to work). At ~50% HP, the attacker falls unconscious. Depending on the attackee's reaction, some things might happen.

1) They go tell their party members what happened. And they find that the party member that attacked them was just out getting some water (or using the john or similar). Returning to the "party member" reveals a blood stain, scraps of rapidly rotting skin, and a trail leading to the window and out into the street.
2) They opt to attend to the party member themselves. Party member (via notes) informs the attackee that they blacked out and next they knew they woke up beaten to hell. Weird dream though, some sort of nightmare though when trying to tell the others, cue coughing fit.
3) They kill the party member. Turns out that, as with #1, shapeshifter duplicate that looks shockingly similar to the things in the tanks back at the prison.

Other happenings responses ought to range between "Mind-wiped puppet" or "Shapeshifting assassin duplicate". If #1 or #3 (or the shapeshifter bit happens), pass a note to the shapeshifted player about said nightmare and a duplicate to the non-shapeshifted character. Identical dreams. Somehow tie the coughing fits to either the shapeshifters or mental compulsion sleeper agent stuff. Ramp up the paranoia by fostering the notions that those with the coughing fits just might be similarly susceptible to mental compulsion.

(Sorry I'm getting a bit out of it at the moment so I'll expedite this next bit)
Ask around (Paladins, necromancer, etc.) about ways to break deep seated mental compulsion and/or about the things they saw in the prison/shapeshifters.
Good rolls/clever RPing/asking the right questions to the right people points them to the abandoned chapel on the far side of the island (Bastion's on the east, chapel's on the west). Might be able to get a boat, more likely going to have to hoof it. Cue at least one or two instances of doppelganger deja vu of the "Hey didn't I see you X a minute ago?" "No I've been Y all day." variety.

-To be posted-
Summary: Make it to the Chapel, find out it's like scary warded against so much evil and manned by either a friendly ghost or lich or similar undead that remembers their life. Cue exposition on what's roughly going on. Players get fixed up and given a target for who turned a few of them into brainwashed puppets. Armed with this knowledge on what they're fighting and how to kill it, they, well, do that.

-To be posted-
Summary: With the knowledge from Part 5, let the players decide how to kill the Lean One that's been mind-puppeting them and running the shapeshifter shenanigans. Players fight Lean One, kill it (They're flimsy if the players can make their saves vs fear). Celebration cut short as the fog briefly lifts to reveal a LOT of the Lean Ones watching the party from the distance.

-To be posted-
Summary: Well the "balance" has been thrown off and the Lean Ones decide to deal with the Bastion. A few Lean Ones (only one of which the party will fight) lead a small army of the shapeshifters at the Bastion. And then the sleeper agents wake up and throw open the gates for the army and start causing chaos. Players get caught in the middle and generally do what they do best.