Monday, January 11, 2021

Drearborne House (Part One)

Photo by Alberto Restifo on
This was the first time I've run Shadows of the Demon Lord...and the events that are chronicled within are as best I can remember now that a week or more has passed.


Arno dwarf priest

Dyer orc warrior

Glazier changeling magician


Arno, Dyer, and Glazier were criminals being transported to a prison island until the cruel hand of fate intervened. For reasons unknown, the ship transporting them was wrecked; they escaped death in the frigid sea and managed to climb onto shore with what meager items they could scavenge from what washed ashore. Then their real problems began as they attempted to head north through the frozen wasteland. They found themselves harried by fey hunters who occasionally attempted to run them down for sport.

Cresting a snow-covered ridge, they surveyed the territory ahead of them and saw two landmarks of note: a ruined tower sitting amidst a forest of skeletal black trees and a building of stone whose chimneys lazily streamed smoke into the cold air. Considering that the latter building appear uncannily out of place given the geography, the group first opted to head to the tower. 

After a day's march to the ruins of the tower, they discovered a few corpses strewn about in front of it. The bodies showed signs of both slashes and blunt force trauma; they appeared to be fairly fresh. The corpses were looted of armor and piled up in the doorway to form a makeshift barricade of the recently departed when the party decided to stay overnight within the tower's shelter. However, during Arno's watch that night, the pile of corpses was disturbed by something outside pulling one of the corpses free and dragging it away into the forest. After finding a better vantage point, Arno was able to determine that the corpse-thief appeared to be a small, humanoid woman whose face was obscured with some sort of chaotic mask.

In the morning, the group set off for the building they had spied from the ridge. As they got closer, the two-story stone building seemed even more strangely placed against the landscape; it was an institutional building and the stone arch before the front door proclaimed the building to be "Drearborne House." 

The party entered the house through a back door. Exploration of the first floor revealed the house to be an orphanage. Glazier changed into a dress found in the headmistress's closet. A torn up and defaced pedagogy manual that recommended corporal punishment and deprivation as learning aids lay open on a desk in the library. A ransacked dormitory with a child's diary--the entries telling the sad tale of bullying that the headmistress refused to believe--posed more questions than answers. 

In the basement, the group discovered shelves full of pickled foods, tools and a workbench, and what appeared to be a hastily dug grave. Dyer was given the task of unearthing the skeletal remains, which appeared to be of a woman. She was given last rites by Arno and reburied.

And strangely, despite encountering no living beings within the house, it appeared to be warm, well kept, and in pristine condition. Just...empty, abandoned.

However, that is not to say that the house was completely unoccupied. The menacing figure of the headmistress, she who had stolen a corpse from the tower the night before, was spotted roaming the hallways, her heavy cane rapping rhythmically against the flooring. Her face was obscured by a mask made of torn paper--the pages from the book of pedagogy they had found in the library--which identified her as the creature who had stolen a corpse from their barricade.

More ominous still was the figure to be seen in the inner courtyard accessible from inside Drearborne House via a locked door that Dyer jimmied open; beneath a dead tree from which hung a noose sat a creature seemingly encased in ice--the body of a small child was trapped within. Approaching the rime-frosted creature caused it to stir from its rest. It extended menacing claws of ice and attacked the group. Things went badly for the group as the creature slashed at them with its claws and they failed to land any decisive blows. They fled to the kitchen, hoping to use embers from the oven to melt its icy armor. And yet they continued to take fearsome wounds from the creature.

Respite only came when Glazier assumed the form of the headmistress, roughly approximating what she had seen in an oil painting previously in Drearborne. It helped, of course, that she was already wearing the headmistress's clothes. Glazier's guise stopped the creature in its tracks. A sepulchral voice proclaimed, "Bring me the headmistress," and then it stalked away back to the courtyard.

To be continued.