Saturday, January 3, 2009

Investigating the Murders

The process of identifying Aldern as the perpetrator of the murders and tracking him down should be protracted. He knows how to hide his tracks well, and if it weren't for his fierce obsession with one of the PCs he would prove exceptionally difficult to follow back to the Misgivings. To that end, this is as complex a skill challenge as there is, and you should try aiming for it to take roughly the same amount of time as an average combat encounter. Play out each individual check as its own interaction, and make sure to give the PCs an idea of their progress every so often.

Skill Challenge: Investigating the Murders

Setup: A young couple has been viciously murdered at the Sandpoint Lumber Mill, only days after three con men fell to a similar set of crimes not far from the town proper. Sheriff Hemlock is doing his best to keep the situation under control, but has turned to the PCs for assistance and to warn them that the murderer seems to have marked one of their own. Armed with a set of leads to investigate, they must discover the identity of the killer and stop him before he strikes again.

Note: In running this skill challenge, make frequent reference back to the adventure. This challenge is designed to provide a rules framework for gauging the party's success (and providing consequences, positive or negative). The investigation will involve more than simply making the following skill checks, and completing the skill challenge does not necessarily mean that the PCs have discovered the link to Aldern or Foxglove Manor. To that end, do not make any attempt to cut off the investigation once the party has finished the skill challenge if there is more for them to investigate.

In dealing with Grayst, do not run his sudden insane aggression against the obsessed PC as a combat encounter unless absolutely necessary. He is not meant to be a credible threat to the party. Prompt the group for actions, and if one of them decides to intervene simply allow them to succeed in stopping Grayst. It should be resolved swiftly, and only to demonstrate the continued consequences of the Skinsaw Man's ongoing killing spree.

Complexity: 5 (12 successes before 3 failures)
Level: 5 (1,000 xp)
Primary Skills: Perception, Nature, Heal, Streetwise, History, Religion, Arcana, Diplomacy, Insight

At the Sandpoint Lumber Mill:

Perception (DC 12): You notice a set of muddy footprints leading from the pier towards the mill. Success here unlocks the ability to make a Nature check to follow the prints.

Perception (DC 17): Scouring the marsh across the river from the mill, you notice a spot baring a number of humanoid footprints and still reeking of rotting flesh. Success here unlocks the ability to make a Nature check to follow the prints.

Perception (DC 12): You lend your senses to one of your companions and together you hunt for new clues to the murders. Use of this skill can provide an ally a +2 bonus to a single Nature or Heal check but does not provide a success for the skill challenge.

Nature (DC 12): Begins the challenge locked. You carefully follow the footprints from the pier to the mill, noting that they belong to a barefoot human man who clambered up from the mud under the pier, crossed over to the mill and then scaled the wall to an upper-story window.

Nature (DC 7): You are able to determine that, yes, judging by the copious amounts of blood spilled in the murder scene and the way the footprints play out in the sawdust, a fierce struggle took place in the mill recently. Hitting a DC of 17 provides an additional success for the challenge and causes the character to discover that not only is one set of prints barefoot, but smells of rotting meat.

Nature (DC 12): Begins the challenge locked. You carefully follow the footprints found in the marsh to and from the river. The tracks never lead away from the site other than to the river, and the spot offers a perfect hiding place to view the mill from.

Heal (DC 12): You are able to pick out a number of wounds on Harker's body that seem to have been made by claws the size of a human hand. These wounds smell more strongly of rotten meat.

(DC 12): You convince Ibor Thorn to discuss the victims and their relationship. Use of this skill here prompts for an Insight check but does not provide a success for the skill challenge.

Insight (DC 15): You think Ibor might be holding something back, and after some prompting he reveals Harker's accounting scams.

History or Arcana (DC 25): You are able to recall, from your studies or travels, that the rune carved into the victims is known as the Sihedron Rune, an antiquated glyph that symbolizes arcane magic once practiced in ancient Thassilon.

Religion (DC 19): You identify the stench lingering on the axe as belonging to some form of corporeal undead.

At the Sandpoint Garrison:

Heal (DC 12): You are able to pick out a number of wounds on the thugs' bodies that seem to have been made by claws the size of a human hand. These wounds smell more strongly of rotten meat.

At Habe's Sanatorium:

Heal (DC 7): Grayst's physical appearance indicates that he is suffering from an illness of the body in addition to whatever may be plaguing his mind. Hitting a DC of 17 provides an additional success for the challenge and indicates that Grayst is suffering from ghoul fever.

Diplomacy (DC 19): You manage to convince Erin Habe that it is imperative that you be allowed to examine and question Grayst. Any character presenting Habe with Sheriff Hemlock's letter of introduction receives a +10 bonus to this check.

Diplomacy (DC 12): You calm Grayst down enough to question him, though he provides little beyond incoherent mumblings about "razors" and "too many teeth" and how "the Skinsaw Man is coming". Success here prompts Grayst to deliver Aldern's message to the target of his obsession, should he or she be present. This unlocks the ability to make a Streetwise check to research the Misgivings.


Streetwise (DC 7): You have heard that the mill has been working late recently, and was probably open last night.

Streetwise (DC 12): You remember hearing about a sage in town who has some familiarity with runes and their meaning. His name is Brodert Quink.

Streetwise (DC 12): Begins the challenge locked. You recognize the fact that "the Misgivings" is a local name for a run-down and abandoned estate further south - a place called Foxglove Manor.

Streetwise (DC 17): Though the party may have strayed off the trail of the mystery, you recall something that might prove useful if you re-examine one of your leads. Use of this skill removes a failure for the challenge, or allows one skill check that was just failed to be re-tried, but does not provide a success for the challenge itself. Using Streetwise for this purpose can only be done twice.

Success: The party has made substantial progress in tracking down the Skinsaw Man. They likely know the location of his hideout, and perhaps have even uncovered his identity. Their next target should be Foxglove Manor, but their preparations are interrupted by Farmer Grump's distressed arrival in town.

Failure: Accumulating three failed checks in this skill challenge does not end it. The investigation has simply taken too long, and the Skinsaw Man has had the opportunity to strike once more. Another murder crops up in the middle of the investigation. While this may provide more clues to the party, it also is harder for the Sheriff to contain it and prevent a widespread panic. For every two failures beyond this, an additional murder occurs during the investigation.


tadkil said...

Good stuff Scott. I have been drawing heavily from your adaptation. Just started working on Skinsaw myself this last week.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent, and ties in perfectly with an investigation-based scenario I'm working on right now. Which I'm now going to have to re-write parts of because you did it better. Darn you :D


tadkil said...

Hey Scott,

The more I look at this, the more I think Habe should be his own skill check. I've been modeling XP climb for Skinsaw and it looks like the text is going to need to be mined heavily to support four levels for the PCs.

Habe's interrogation also marks a narrative shift in the structure. The role playing opportunity is outstanding, but also, he represents the madness that rests at the center of Aldern's descent into undeath. I can see it eating an hour's worth of game time from a role playing perspective and I can see it structured as a skill check using healing, intimidation, diplomacy and maybe religion to determine he is under the effects of ghoul fever.

Sorry if I am romping up and down too much on your blog. I am just really enjpying the process myself and your work.

I am a demon with Dundjinni by the way. Let me know if you want help with maps.

Scott said...

Are you talking about Grayst's interrogation here? The party has only circumstantial interaction with Erin Habe as written, and the information that advances the plot of the adventure is provided by Grayst.

I'll finish up the conversion of The Skinsaw Murders and take a look at what the leveling scheme looks like. I did notice the rather thin number of encounters compared to Burnt Offerings, and this may result in The Skinsaw Murders only accounting for three levels or so. What I should really do is look ahead to The Hook Mountain Massacre and determine how many encounters can be squeezed out of it. If there are enough there it may not be necessary to take pains to increase the number of encounters in this adventure.

tadkil said...

I've built a nice grid in excel to track leveling and XP climb. If you'd like, I can email you what I've done. It looks to me like you can load Hook with up to 4 1/2 levels worth of XP. However, My folks are *Just* going to hit 5 at the end of Burnt Offerings.

I don't see a ton of additional combat encounters as being the design answer here. Rather, I like skill challenges that focus the players on the gothic elements/mystery component.

Good stuff!

gamesmeister said...

I don't think turning this part of the adventure into an (albeit complex) skill challenge quite does it justice...there's so much room for good roleplaying in there that I can see the investigation lasting an entire session with no combat encounters at all. Admittedly that doesn't suit every group, but as long as the story progresses I know my lot will be happy with it. Individual skill rolls will be made at the various locations, with maybe Grayst's interrogation being the only set piece suitable as a skill challenge.

gamesmeister said...

Sorry, forgot to mention...

XPs for this section can come at least in part from turning the investigation into a major quest to discover the killer. Combined with a skill challenge or two and perhaps a minor quest to discover what's wrong with Grayst, that should provide a reasonable reward for the players.

Scott said...

Quests in D&D 4th Edition are supposed to serve as ways to track the party's progress over multiple sessions, and should be assigned for tasks that will take longer than a single game session to resolve. Though the investigation may take up almost an entire play session if you want to stretch it out, it is unlikely that it will take longer. Furthermore, turning the single skill check necessary to determine Grayst's affliction into an entire minor quest is overkill - the equivalent of one-shot killing a monster.

The skill challenge I designed is more than capable of being stretched over an entire game session and follows the skill challenge guidelines expanded upon in

You shouldn't necessarily feel the need to inform the party that they are participating in a skill challenge. Simply prompt them for checks when appropriate and silently keep track of them behind the screen. If the party conducts the investigation well (and succeeds on the challenge), they make enough progress to preempt the next set of murders. If the party makes too many mistakes or doesn't discover enough clues in time (by failing the skill challenge), the town suffers another attack.

The skill challenge exists only to provide a framework for the investigation so that the DM can determine when consequences should or should not be applied, and when the party has satisfactorily completed the challenge, thereby earning the experience reward it entails.

If you feel the need to squeeze a larger experience reward into that span of time, consider developing a sideplot that can warrant an extra skill challenge or combat encounter.

gamesmeister said...

Some good points there Scott. I don't have access to that article in Dragon...I may well resubscribe for a month to catch up on some of the issues I've missed.

Skill challenges definitely require some practice to implement effectively...I'll take another look.

Scott said...

This skill challenge takes up TWO FULL PAGES in the compiled PDF document I'm putting together right now. It's a monster.

Mysteria said...

I ran this as written and it went smoothly.