Sunday, April 14, 2024

A Night at the Skarnesti Circus

In this adventure, the party made their way to the Skarnesti Cicus, which had pitched its tents in a clearing just outside of Hemlock Hollow. They were in search of an artifact known as the Mantle of Iron Tears that could aid Raoul in his quest to resurrect his deceased beloved, though their quest for the item was hampered by the fact that they neither knew what it looked like nor who was in possession of it. This is the first part of a two-part write up of the adventure; according to several of the players, this was one of the best adventures of the campaign thus far.

The Characters

Catarina, unconventional prioress

Pendleton, rogue anatomist

Raoul, necromancer

Geradd, swashbuckling nobleman

Daytona, dhampir gunslinger

Panthalassa, feral child

Asudem, undead antiquarian


As the party waited for the Skarnesti Circus to open its gates, they observed that the makeshift fairgrounds were contained within a plank fence that had been painted with a graveyard scene in which cartoonish ghosts rose from their graves. Eventually, a woman--her face powdered deathly white, wearing a slinky black dress--appeared, mounted a platform, and addressed the crowd:

Good evening, boils and ghouls. I bid you the Skarnesti Circus. I am your host and proprietor, the mistress of the macabre, the ghostess with the mostess, Zoskia Skarnesti. Lurking just inside, you will find an untold number of attractions that will shock and amaze you, but I must warn you: those of weak hearts and unsound constitutions should turn back IMMEDIATELY. But those of you made of sterner stuff may brave your horror of what’s to come. We have a freak show that will shiver you down to your bones, a monster of unmatched strength who could rend you apart with his bare hands, and a sinister seductress to which no succubus could compare. If you slaver at the sinister, if you moisten at the morbid, if you have no regard for your personal safety, why then, step right up and buy a ticket to…YOUR DOOM!

The party bought their tickets and entered. They found that the grass in the clearing had been turned black somehow, saw a number of black and white striped tents, noticed the unusual number of young women in black dresses and especially pointy shoes among the crowd, and could hear the sound of a calliope playing minor-key carnival music. They located a hand-painted sign listing the attractions on offer and set off to investigate.

Their first stop was the tent of Mister Marvelo, Gentleman Fortune Teller. One by one, he told their fortunes via the tarot, giving them eerily accurate assessments of their lives and, possibly, of their futures. (I did an actual tarot card reading for each character; I highly recommend doing this if it suits the aesthetics of your game, as the results were fascinating and in many cases surprisingly apt.)

Panthalassa wanted to test her strength against Dogface, the Hirsute Brute, a massive mountain of muscle covered in brown shaggy fur. Dogface mistook Catarina for Panthalassa's mother and wanted to make sure that it was okay that a "mere child" compete against him. He tried to offer her a dainty, small hammer with which to pound the high striker, but she insisting on wielding one of the biggest mallets on offer. Both of them swung. Dogface's blow caused the bell to ring at the top of the high striker. Panthalassa's blow caused puck to hurtle off the end of her high striker. Amazed at the child's strength, Dogface loaded Panthalassa with prize tickets and proclaimed her the victor. 

The group also took the time to watch the performance of Vandia, the Human Pincushion. Inside Vandia's tent, the doll-like woman--who looked uncannily like a human version of the Widow--gave a speech about how women are often the target of violence at the hands of men, but that she would prove that women were truly the stronger sex. Vandia invited Pendleton to select a blade from a barrel and run her through with it. Pendleton chose a rapier, and tested it to make sure it was real. He drove the sword through her heart; blood coursed from the wound and poured from her mouth, but she strutted across the stage to show that she still lived. Daytona turned a keen eye to the performance to note any trickery and Raoul tried to detect magical interference, but neither could determine how it was done.

The group also took a tour of Captain Cadaver's House of Horrors, in which a tour guide in a boiler suit painted with a skeleton and wearing a skull mask directed them through the circus's "dark attraction"--a series of black chambers designed to surprise and disgust the visitors with examples drawn from Krevborna's terrible history. The group saw mechanical ghouls and zombies feasting upon "living" dummies (and a few of them were sprayed by fake blood from the exhibit), stereotypically alien Vlaak (Pendleton was "abducted" by actors in Vlaak masks), and even a scene depicting a haggish Viktoria Frankenstein cooking up horrors in her laboratory (which caused Serafina to say, sotto voce, "This isn't accurate at all."). 

The final exhibit in the House of Horrors showed Dracula rising from his coffin. However, they also noticed a child's discarded shoe in this room of the House of Horrors, which they found troubling.

Catarina and Daytona faced off against each other at Kassidy Durango's Shooting Gallery. Daytona was the winner, and some unspoken promised prize was on the line. Sensing a worthy opponent, Kassidy challenged Daytona to face her, with a similar prize hanging in the balance. Upping the stakes, Kassidy proposed that they would fire at the targets blindfolded. Daytona was able to hit two of the milk bottles in the gallery, but Kassidy took down three--with a fourth taken out by a trick shot with a ricocheting bullet!

The group decided to enter the freakshow next. At the tent's flap, Zoskia Skarnesti offered Pendleton a job with the freakshow, since he was still sporting a fish-face from a ritual undertaken in a previous adventure. Inside, the encountered a hallway of pickled punks (some of which scratched at their jars from inside), the World's Tallest Man, and a geek they declined to feed live chickens. When they were within the freakshow, they could hear a distraught woman calling for someone named "Bastien." 

Ducking out of the tent, they made the acquaintance of a woman named Navenka Sokoloff, whose son had entered the House of Horrors but seemingly had not exited. They showed her the shoe they had found and she confirmed that it was his. Daytona was able to track a pair of footsprints--one a child wearing a sole shoe, the other wearing low-heeled women's shoes--to the Hall of Mirrors. 

Inside the Hall of Mirrors, they saw the usual assortment of mirrors that distorted their images, but they also found one mirror that was out of place because it seemed utterly normal. However, it was anything but normal. Gazing into it, Catarina could have sworn she saw the reflection of Wallace Redmoor, her brother-in-law. Touching the mirror revealed that it was a portal leading--somewhere. Guessing that whoever abducted Bastien from the circus had passed through the mirror, the group decided to enter it for themselves.

We'll find out what happened beyond the mirror in the next write up.