The Tanius Campaign Journal - Chapter 15: Blackheart Manor
As I was catching up on my notes, I asked Renlia how I should be framing her story. She hesitated for a moment, but eventually revealed she would need to go before the Grand Council of House Stillfall regarding the fate of House Blackheart.
Lore: House Stillfall
House Stillfall is one of the great houses of Tanius, having existed for hundreds of years. The elite are primarily composed of humans, but compared to other great houses in Tanius they are by far the most racially inclusive. House Stillfall used to be based out of Denneton, but the riches discovered in the Endgar dig site lured them to Endgar. Since their arrival, House Stillfall has forged strong alliances with most of the other houses; as a result, they often find themselves serving as arbitrators in inter-house affairs.
I asked her to clarify what she meant by "fate". The vacant look on her face told me everything I needed to know. Before she could respond, I told her we could discuss those details later. After a moment of silence, Renlia nodded and continued her tale.
At this point, it was abundantly clear to our heroes that this particular house was out to kill them. With that realization, they chose a more aggressive approach to searching the manor. Confident the scarecrows had burned long enough, they entered their usual battle formation and approached the main entrance to Blackheart Manor.
With stealth as a secondary concern, Ungoldor and Kiddo scouted the perimeter. They were able to locate the crypt on the east side of the property, but walking directly into the halls of the dead didn't appeal to them. Instead, they began peering through the windows of the Manor and planning their approach. Their obsession with the Manor's interior left them unaware of the immediate threat above them.
Party: Kiddo(Ftr-1/Wlk-3), Kroul(Clr-4), Lilyth(Drd-4), Meesh(Rgr-4), Ungoldor(Rog-4), Rkard(Bbn-4), Renlia(Brd-4)
Enemies: 3x Gargoyle
Base Difficulty Rating: Medium
Modified Difficulty Rating: Hard - Ambushed from above
Expected Outcome: Moderate HP Loss
Actual Outcome: Moderate HP Loss
Tactical Considerations: Kiddo and Ungoldor are in the most precarious position, with two Gargoyles separating them from the rest of the party. A third Gargoyle is looming over the party, but is spotted before the ambush. It will be critical to get damage soaks engaged with the Gargoyles quickly to protect the more vulnerable party members.
How It Went Down: After 1 round of combat, Ungoldor abandons Kiddo and jumps through a window into the Manor. Kiddo takes heavy damage, but deals some back in kind before disengaging and moving away. Lilyth and Rkard are eventually able to intercept the Gargoyles focused on Kiddo while the rest of the party focuses their attention on the third. Ungoldor makes it to the front door from inside the house, and using his magical crossbow bolts, makes short work of the third gargoyle.
Once the Gargoyle went down, Ungoldor decided to investigate upstairs and opened the doors to the main bedroom. Inside the bedroom was a ghost trapped in some type of magical prison and a Night Hag standing nearby. The Night Hag attempted to put Ungoldor to sleep, but his Fey Ancestory protected him. Ungoldor attempted to attaack the Night Hag, but she plane-shifted away before taking damage. Ungoldor rejoined the party and helped clean up the Gargoyles.
A pair of Gargoyles leapt down from the parapet and landed several devastating blows on Kiddo. Ungoldor, not liking the predicament he was in, went crashing through the nearby window and scampered through the Manor. Lilyth immediately transformed into a Dire Wolf and pounced on one of the Gargoyles attacking Kiddo, allowing him to limp away.
A third Gargoyle emerged from the roof near the front door and tried to attack the party from behind. However, the sudden and unwelcome intrusion simply angered Rkard, sending him into a Gargoyle-smashing rage.
Our heroes were able to firm up their lines, but the Gargoyles' obsidian bodies simply were not breaking. The stalemate was finally broken when Ungoldor emerged from the Manor's front door. His scoped crossbow and its magical bolts proved an effective tool against the stony menace. After a series of well-placed bolts, the last Gargoyle crumbled.
Before the party could catch their breath, Ungoldor told the party to keep their guards up. His inspection of the main bedroom on the second floor had exposed a series of complications.
The first issue was an old crone in the bedroom who seemed to be adhering to the same "attack on sight" philosophy leading our heroes. She had immediately tried to cast some strange magic on him, but fortunately he was able to shake it off. When he tried to use his crossbow to respond, the crone disappeared.
DM Note: The Direct Approach
While I shouldn't be surprised when the party adopts a kill-on-sight mentality, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. This dungeon was meant to be more of an inside-out experience where the party first walked in and talked to the Night Hag, but their decision to set fire to the cornfield changed the nature of the situation. The agressive actions against the estate brought the Night Hag's magical defenders to life, resulting in a fairly standard dungeon. I had prepared for a more murderhobo-esque approach, but part of me wishes they weren't so quick to pull the trigger.
Secondly, the crone had a ghost trapped in the bedroom with her. Ungoldor assumed the ghost was neutral if not friendly since it told him to run the moment he entered the bedroom. Still, he recommended proceeding with caution because of his standing policy of not trusting creatures that have returned from the afterlife.
Figuring this ghost would be an issue sooner or later, the party formed up and cautiously approached the bedroom. The moment Renlia walked through the door, she let out a gasp. She approached the trapped ghost, who stared back at her disbelievingly. After an awkward silence, Renlia turned to the party and told them the ghost's name was Sturgis, her husband.
The party wanted to let Renlia and her belated husband have some space, but Sturgis was adamant that everyone leave right away. He explained that the entire Blackheart family line had been killed and seemed certain the crone was somehow responsible. Renlia asked Sturgis why his spirit was unable to rest, but Sturgis refused to answer, citing more pressing matters.
The party asked Sturgis if he knew what they could expect searching through the rest of the house. He warned that they had just scratched the surface on the foul magic at play, and advised they keep their guards up. He also told the party there were likely some Scrolls of Dispel Magic in the Manor, which might be able to free him. Satisfied with their information for the time, the party pressed on.
Before heading out, Kroul insisted the party gather around him for a prayer. After 10 minutes of semi-coherent rambling to Dionysus, a warm glow washed over the party, and their wounds started to mend. Spiritually and bodily renewed, the party formed up and resumed their quest.