No, wait, not North Corner, more like NORTH CORNER. North Corner demands a serif font. North Corner is a misadventure designed for players of 2-4th level.
Director's commentary will be in red.
North Corner is a small burgh situated around an extensive set of Catacombs in a mountain; essentially a mining town only what gets mined is eldritch and terrible artefacts from dead civilizations. Tonally, it's a kind of Gothic riff on Night Vale - if Edward Gorey got his paws on a Monster Manual. If Mortimer Goth finally got his mates from the 70s together to check out the new edition. All the players know upon the approach is that the dead have started to awaken, and accordingly the once-booming town is in a state of crisis.
Truth, A Tiefling Paladin: A horned fiend on a path to redemption at the end of a war-hammer. Tarrak Redscale, Dragorn Barbarian: A savage mercenary who loves violence a little too much.
Callie, Halfling Ranger: Singular badass responsible for keeping pet shops everywhere in business. The group's reluctant moral compass.
Durlin, Gnome Wizard: Foppish, curmudgeonly Gnome drunkard with a bleak past and saturnine future. The group's immoral compass.
Our heroes - or, more accurately, protagonists - arrive in the suburbs of North Corner to see a crowd gathering. Upon a gibbet, three figures are suspended: an enormously overweight Tiefling, a slender Elven lady and a grubby Halfling bloke. Passing judgement on them is some kind of Priest, a dumpy, grubby-frocked, hook-nosed figure who takes great and somewhat licentious pleasure in listing and cataloguing their many sins and wrong-doings. The crowd are tense, and near-silent. Watching them are a few armed men in similar vestments to the pontificating would-be judge. What do you do?
Truth immediately attempts to engage with the Priest, demanding knowledge of the crimes for which these figures face execution. The Priests responds: petty theft, causing milk to spoil, and being a fiend-spawn. Truth, judging this execution an unjust exercise in mob justice, demands the immediate release of the prisoners. Speeches are given. Persuasion checks are made. The Priest refuses - the Order of the Resplendent Star has judged these people as sinners, so they must be cast out of the castle of the Iron Tyrant, and into the infinite chaos of the worlds lost from his love. Whilst he is unconvinced, it is apparent the crowd are sympathising with our horned hero. Truth draws his war-hammer. Initiative is rolled!
For this fight, I built in a system where the crowd could be won over or lost based on player actions - use of AoE, excessive violence, 'evil' magic - all of this would lead to losing the goodwill of the people. Rescuing people, showing mercy and the like would win them over.
A brutal slaughter quickly erupts as Truth mounts the gibbet and strikes the Priest with his warhammer. The executioner pulls the lever in defiance of our heroes (sorry, protagonists) and only Callie's stealth and some well-aimed Scorching Rays prevent the three on the gibbet from exiting stage right. The Priest's magic and my poor dice rolls were no match for the swords and spells of our heroes - and this group of the Order of the Resplendent Star meet an undignified end as Tazzak smashes in the head of a brother crawling away in agony. The captives are freed! Engaging with them, we learn a little of their circumstances. The portly Tiefling is Languor, a baker in North Corner. He is disinterested in adventure, but speaks about how The Order of the Resplendent Star, a gang of witch-hunters and demon-slayers who run the gamut from saintly to thuggish, have arrived in town and quickly established themselves as the main authority following the recent demise of the Baron of North Corner. Their leader is a man named Righteous-Fire-Scours-Clean-The-World. The Order has ordered the Catacombs closed until the crisis is over. The Halfling is Skün, a foul-mouthed Cockney-accented thief who is completely unrepentant and has no interest in engaging with the heroes. The Elf, Fahyrvin, is quickly turned off the party by the amorous, somewhat childlike advances of Tazzak, who still has human brain dripping from his great-axe. Armed with some knowledge, they approach North Corner in earnest.
They find a town under strict martial law, and an atmosphere of paranoia. Everywhere, houses are boarded-up - their inhabitants either fled or dead - and a strict curfew is imposed by the Order of the Resplendent Star. Everyone is armed. People move furtively and quickly. Noone loiters.
Truth desires that the group report to Righteous-Fire-Scours-Clean-The-World. The others, wanting to test my soi disant improv-DM credentials, want to break into one of the boarded-up houses. The party splits!
Whether a party goes, they find the adventure - or at least - they find an adventure. This is DM rule #1 in my view. If they spit on your plot-hooks and laugh at your quests and march the opposite way, improv something cool that happens there. Have a few back-burner adventure ideas to ameliorate this.
Durlin, Callie and Tazzak creep through the abandoned house - there's rotten food in the table implying a sudden departure of the occupants and not sign of violence. As they enter the upstairs, they are ambushed by two ghouls, lying in lascivious embrace on the four-poster. After a visceral combat in which Tazzak's intestines are partially torn-out by a vicious She-Ghoul, they vanquish the undead....only to be greeted by a steady banging noise from the basement. Callie's loyal wolf goes to investigate. Chained up in the basement is a Wight, grasping to reach and consume our protagonists. Some Scorching Rays and a Holy-Water backed blade invite the Wight to reconsider his views on Wight supremacy. One wall of the basement has been boarded up, and behind it is a tunnel, painstakingly dug by humanoid hands - bloodied fingernails still remain in the sodden clay-brown structure of the tunnel that extends downwards.
Truth reports to Righteous-Fire-Scours-Clean-The-World, expecting a petty tyrant on par with the thugs encountered earlier. However, they instantly strike up something of a rapport, and the move in player chat from "Let's kill this Righteous twat" to " This guy is cool" happens almost instantaneously. This was almost entirely due to Righteous-Fire-Scours-Clean-The-World's voice, which I had be an Afro-Carribean patois, all rich, earthy tones and a sing-song lilt that just felt appropriately old-time religion to me. Players love accents. Truth gains a quest - to find the town's enigmatic old hero and veteran Catacomb-diver, Smiling Jack, the right to enter the Catacombs, and a possible ally and friend in Righteous-Fire-Scours-Clean-The-World.
Our party reunites, and they plan their first foray into the Catacombs after a long-rest. Of course, they choose the secret entrance they uncovered, not the official entrance they'd be granted access too. As they crawl through the tunnel, they eventually emerge in a stone-built compartment. Turning the corner, they see a large group of muddy zombie labourers who immediately engage - and from the opposite side, a beautiful Elven woman approaches, barefoot and unfazed by her surroundings. Suspicious, the party move towards her whilst Tazzak rages and holds the line on the fractional CR-zombie idiots. She approaches Georgia, Callies's faithful companion, and cups its face in her hand lovingly. Then she utters a single word of Abyssal: END,
- casting Inflict Wounds and instantly ending Georgia's life. In my telling, Inflict Wounds re-opens every wound, however major or minor, you ever experienced, leaving you a bloodstained mess. With a whimper, Georgia becomes so much flesh. Motivation achieved. As Tazzak single-handedly holds back a tide of Zombies, our party are locked in combat with a Lamia Demonness; facing her dark magicks and ability to reform as a swarm of insects, consuming the flesh of others to heal herself - including Georgia , leaving her a blood-red skeleton. As a tense battle starts to favour our players, and Callie moves to finish the Lamia....she drops a Dimension Door and escapes!
A furious party hack the few remaining zombies to pieces when Callie remembers her Hunter's Mark, and rushes to the surface to track the Lamia down. They race through the streets until they reach the Council Chambers, the seat of North Corner's government, where the Lamia is on the second floor - a tantalising silhouette in the window. Sneaking past the guards, she climbs the window, failing her final stealth check, so the Lamia, about to pursue congress with an enormously fat Councillor, turns to see a vengeful ranger holding a sword. A tense roll of initiative....ends with Callie glassing the "demon-bitch who killed my wolf" with a vial of Holy Water, finishing her. She melts and disintegrates into a pile of twitching cockroaches. The Councillor, his arousal somewhat diminished, calls for the guards, and our protagonists face arrest for breaking into the Council Chambers. They all go quietly - bar Tazzak, who wrestles himself free of the guards and escapes to his hideout - the house they broke into early.