Thursday, May 7, 2015

Actual Play: The Horror at the Lighthouse (part 3)

When we last left our heroes they were confronting the insane Doctor Hesselius Reichmann in his laboratory.

Kahl attempted to destroy the Doctor's machinery, which did little more than send electricity speeding up his mace and into his fragile body. Kahl then turned his attentions to the Doctor himself; all were dismayed when Reichmann's clockwork frame produced a series of Liston knives that slid into place as ready weapons for the mad scientist (1). Oskar and Philip rushed to free Martinus from the table. Herman used potent magic against the tortured Reichmann; first, the Doctor felt his inner doubts about his ability to revive his wife surface and cloud his mind, then whispering voices reminded him of the litany of his failures (2). This last spell broke his resolve and sent him fleeing down the stairs.

Reichmann's retreat gave the players the space to plan out their next move. This was where the big moral quandary came into play: even though Dr. Hesselius was causing shipwrecks and experimenting on human subjects, his reason for doing so had some semblance of nobility; at heart, he was just a man pushed to the brink and willing to go to extremes to save the life of a loved one (3). As such, the players didn't really feel comfortable just killing him, but at the same time they couldn't just leave and let him continue on with his murderous ways.

Kahl attempted to heal Jacine with divine magic through the glass coffin, but the spell only caused her to shudder violently before returning to her non-responsive state (4). A plan using a tripwire was briefly considered, and then abandoned. The Doll came up the stairs to inform the characters that Dr. Hesselius wished to just end this stand-off (remember, they had access to his wife's inert form and he was now downstairs) and let them go on their way. At one point he even sent the Doll back with a device that promised to deactivate all the clockwork crab sentinels on the island.

When the party descended from the laboratory, they found Dr. Hesselius a broken and disappointed man. He sat by the dying embers of the fireplace and had clearly been weeping. He begged the characters to just leave him to his misery, but again they were uncomfortable departing without some assurance that he would end his ship-wrecking ways.

A cunning ruse was tried: Herman assured the Doctor that his wife's soul had departed her body, and even used a minor illusion to show him an image of her body in repose. The Doctor, who felt the weight of his curse, refused to believe this ploy but insisted upon seeing his wife for himself. Another fracas ensued, but Herman found an opportunity to cast sleep on the Doctor, which caused him to fall into a magical slumber at the foot of the staircase he so desperately wanted to climb.

This bought the party time. Figuring that the clockwork frame around his body was the key to grounding Reichmann, the party set to taking the brace off of him--and the Doll helped render her creator powerless. While the Doctor was asleep, Oskar and Philip destroyed the lighthouse's lens and emptied his supply of lamp oil over the side of the tower. While upon the promenade, the duo noticed that there was a ship upon the sea and signaled to it.

The party still didn't trust the Doll wholly, and for a time she was tricked and trapped in the cellar. After all, if she were loyal to the Doctor she might aid him or attack the characters. 

When the Doctor awoke, he could do little else but pull himself into the fetal position and let his despair overtake him. 

Dawn was now breaking. On the shore it was apparent that the sailors from the ship spotted at sea had rowed to the island to examine the wreckage of The Sea-raptor. However, those sailors were currently in a life-and-death battle with the mechanical crabs. The deactivation device was used, and the newcomers were spared. A parlay between the characters and the sailors began. The newcomers were definitely sailors of a rougher sort, most likely unsavory pirates and brigands, but their spokesman, a caliban named Silas, promised them safe passage aboard The Eel King. 

The Doctor was not dead, but at least at last the party felt secure in leaving him to his dead wife and his lonely lighthouse. The Doll announced that she would like to join the party and leave the island; perhaps there was a life to be lived for her out in the wider world (5). She nudged the pieces of Hesselius's brace toward him as he rocked and cried, perhaps a last, callus gesture to the one who made her into the thing she is. 

As the group made their way to the waiting rowboats, the Doll gave them a few of Reichmann's alchemical mixtures: three syringes of a thick, blood-like liquid, two flasks of a yellow fluid that are labeled "energizing serum," and a faintly-glowing blue bottle that the Doll claims is a sedative (6). Perhaps the most important bit of treasure, though, was Martinus's new-found respect and loyalty. He pledged that should the party ever find themselves needing help in Borca, they had merely to send him word and he would do all he could to aid them. Given that he has wealth and connections, that might be a considerable promise (7).

And thus, the party left the lighthouse and its horrors behind. Now in the company of savage men, they are headed toward a port town called Blighter's Manse--a notorious haven for pirates and smugglers plying their trade off the coasts of Darkon.

(1) - 5e doesn't have ready-made stats for mad doctors in clockwork exoskeletons, so I just used the stats for the "goblin boss" here. The entire adventure just made use of the stats on the goblin page of the Monster Manual. I did give Hesselius a higher Int score and proficiency in Intelligence saving throws though.

(2) - The spells used were vicious mockery and dissonant whispers, for those keeping track at home. Thematically, they fit really well with the adventure. Mechanically, man, bards are pretty fierce in this edition!

(3) - I actually didn't expect the amount of moral questions that this adventure was going to raise. But here's how I run games: whatever the players lean towards, I focus on. Since the moral complexities were getting the spotlight, I let things go in that direction. I figure this is why we play games: to figure out who these characters are, what they believe, and what the world around them is like. Somewhat inadvertently, it all turned more Gothic than I was even planning for--which I dug. Hopefully it didn't get bogged down for the players, but I think everybody was having a good time working through what the best course of action would be.

(4) - I'm really glad the party didn't try to break Jacine out of the glass coffin. Just sayin'. There is also a good possibility that Jacine's story has not fully run its course. 

(5) - The Doll definitely has the potential to be a reoccurring character. Because of her naivety about the world, I could certainly see her needed to be bailed out of some bad situations in the future...

(6) - The three syringes contain modified blood that acts as a potion of healing when injected. (Shades of Bloodborne again.) The energizing serum is potions of heroism. The sedative is torpor poison. Yes, I realize that players can read this, but...look at the lax rules for identifying magic items! They would have it figured out before they land on Blighter's Manse anyway.

(7) - Does Martinus know the Boritsis? Yes, yes he does.