Aaaand the first session is over. We played almost 7 hours, with a break for lunch at 1/3, and the scenario is now well started.
During the first scene, early in the morning. the PCs met father Dumas at the Church. Only Gade was meeting him for the first time. He arrived first and proposed his help for the grave robberies. Dumas was happy to hear that, asked him a few questions, and then told him he had hired "benevolent souls" (a.k.a. mercenaries) to handle this. He was happy, though, that Gade could join them, because his faith would help them follow the right path. A few minutes later, the benevolent souls in question, Cal, Clik, and Ilyana, arrived. Just when the meeting was about to start, Tara-Lorna and Holdar arrived in a hurry and asked to talk privately to father Dumas. He heard them up and, of course, explained that he was actually having a meeting about similar affairs right at this moment. They hence joined the other and father Dumas told them everything: the grave robberies, the missing bodies, that it's been a month now since the first, etc. After a short briefing, everybody agreed to help and decided to go for a morning investigation.
During the second scene, they investigated four crime scenes, mostly led by Tara-Lorna and Gade. Only four because Tara-Lorna and Holdar had already checked their own backyard's grave. They started with the eastern graveyard where they only learned from a drunk beggar that some sort of "beautiful ghost" had came the night the body disappeared. Then they moved to the northern graveyard where the keeper told them, after being a bit bullied by Holdar, at Gade's profound disapproval, that he heard a noise the night his cemetery was robbed. He woke up and saw a woman in white leaving the place with two corpses walking behind her, but he believed he was half-dreaming. Dumbfounded, the investigators went to a family farm where they learned the man whose body was stolen there used to be afraid of witches since he took part of a witch trial ten years ago. Given the list of the other missing bodies, the man's spouse confirmed at least two of them were also jurors at this trial. Seven jurors, seven bodies, that was enough. The heroes didn't even really investigate the last scene, another farm. Actually, Ilyana falsely pretended she was related to the family living here when she arrived, in order to justify her interest in the grave robberies. So she asked to go alone, strolled quickly around the house, checked the empty grave, and went back without a word to the inhabitants. The matter was closed and all went back to father Dumas. The priest told them the whole story about the coven trial ten years ago. When they learned four of the witches were buried where they were beheaded, in the Widower's Wood, without sacrament in due form, they decided to go check ...
The third scene started with a quiet but difficult walk through the Widower's Wood. At one time, Holdar got caught by the leg to a gobber-made trap. No gobber was there to catch the "prey", but one thing was clear: the heroes were on swamp gobbers territory. They arrived nevertheless without further complications to a small cave which actually happened to be an abandoned Orgoth base. They entered and visited the inside, found some evidence of goblin inhabitation here, and meet a frightened gobber named Bork. After being calmed, Bork told the heroes an "evil witch" came the day before and animated six skeletons from the "pool", then went to the "smelling room with the boxes" and came out few hours later with "four grey ladies". She left the skeletons behind. The heroes asked why Bork was there and learned his tribe had settled in a part of the old base. When they promised to come in peace, Bork said his chief would only accept peace if some form of... gesture was made. He suggested the heroes destroy the frightening skeletons. They did as asked and discovered them in the very place where the witches coffins had been left. After a short but violent fight, they could explore the room and see that a dark ritual was executed there, with much power but much less skill. The "evil witch" left with the four bodies! The heroes didn't explore the base further and came back to Corvis, to check on the fifth body, still buried next to the church.
Hopefully, in scene 4, father Dumas explained the PCs the tomb is sanctified and well-guarded, by himself! No one could easily break that enchantment and raise his own sister-in-law's body. The PCs then started to think about how to confront the "witch", since this one was secured. One of them suggested off-handedly that Dumas could want to avenge his sister-in-law. But Clik found the idea interesting and realized that someone had even more reasons for revenge: Alexia, the coven leader's own daughter, and Dumas' niece. The heroes didn't tell Dumas yet, but Calden was also worried that someone could empty the grave "from below". He asked if there were catacombs under the church. Indeed, but father Dumas didn't know how to enter, and when he searched his library, he found the book containing the church original floor-plans missing! Intrigued, Ilyana decided to scout out of her dormitory at night to find the entry of the catacombs, somewhere on the church's island. With the help of her magic, she found a suspicious wall, in a discreet alley, who was hiding a secret door: a door she couldn't open herself. On the morning, she tricked her own group by letting them find the secret door themselves (so they wouldn't guess she was using magic). Minutes later, Clik and Calden opened the door and the group entered what looked like sewers, rather than catacombs...
During this fifth scene, the heroes had to cross a sewer canal to access a door, revealing the church catacombs behind. Actually, they rather arrived in a strangely cosy room, apparently inhabited. They were then trapped in by Alexia who said her "bad girl's speech". After asking for her uncle's forgiveness, she went away, leaving the heroes trapped in the other side of the catacombs. In order to catch her quickly, they had to rush through that second half, where they encountered some of Alexia's early "creations", including the juror's animated bodies. After an erratic but fast run, they finally found another exit, which led them up to some sort of crypt. They exited the crypt to find out they had completely crossed the island underground, to end up in the cathedral cemetery. They went immediately to the cathedral to find father Dumas, but where stopped by captain Julian Helstrom instead, coming out at the very same time and heading to the crypt himself.
In scene 6, Helstrom told the heroes he led his own investigation and had come to suspect Alexia and want to explore the catacombs. He also shared his insight with father Dumas, now devastated by the idea that her niece would have done such horrific things. The heroes pointed out that magistrate Ulfass Borloch, who ordered the trial ten years ago, must be in great danger. Helstrom agreed and said he would take care of him with a few men. He also asked if the PCs could track Alexia in the meantime, and come back with further informations on her intentions and means. Actually, his scouts guessed Alexia's lair outside the city, an ancient fort in a barred land called Fort Rhyker. But the two men Helstrom sent to the place never returned. The PCs are to investigate the matter and come back with intelligence, but not provoke and unnecessary fight with Alexia.
This is where we stopped.
In scene 7, the PCs will have to explore Fort Rhyker and are going to find out the situation is even more dire than expected. In scene 8, they'll rush back to Corvis to warn Helstrom and prepare for the upcoming invasion. Even if that doesn't make a full day, I'll allow them a 1-day equivalent downtime to prepare for the attack. In scene 9, the attack will start in the very middle of the Longest Night, when the people are outside, partying. A lot of unexpected actions are expected, and I hope fights there to be quite chaotic and dynamic. The objective is clearly to entertain the players while tiring the characters. In scene 10, which will be THE dramatic scene of the adventure, the heroes, who would have been drawn away from the cathedral, will have to go back there in reinforcement: the undead troops are converging there and Dumas and his clerks are overwhelmed. While fighting for the ground, they'll see Alexia and the undead witches fly over their head and land close to Lexaria's grave, then start a necromantic ritual. The PCs will have a chance to close in, but in the end, the ritual will be completed and Lexaria's body will be taken by the witches, while Alexia will wield the Witchfire sword. Then the grand final and blah blah blah, no idea how the players will react to Oberen's appearance and the whole stuff, so I don't make any previsions for now.
For that first two thirds that we played, things went ... well, nice but not great. The game mechanics are not the problem, neither is the scenario, even if there was a little too much "dungeon" for one or two players, but the biggest issue was that some of the players were not focused. At all. It was quite disturbing, difficult to make good descriptions, even to be heard by those trying to listen, etc. We had the chance to discuss the matter afterwards, though, and these players promised they would be more focused next time. I guess funny substances didn't help them as well, so I banished that from the table.
In the meantime, they liked their characters, except for the sorceress who was very frustrated for not being able to cast automatically her spells, neither to have all-mighty blasts. They played their role more or less thoroughly, but the Menoth priest, the gobber mechanik, and the llaelese noble were really good actually. Combat was fast but not so furious, which is quite normal for this first part. The second one will be much more deadly. I hope fights remain as fluid though, and the battle-map did help a lot, even for those who weren't so fond of it at first. Social interactions were short but well led and the players kept on asking the right questions, so that was easy.
Next time, I'll try to make better descriptions of the places and the ambiance, including sounds, smell, how almost no light can affect searching and fighting. It will also be the occasion to replay the scene with Helstrom, which was quite a mess at the end of the session. And finally, I really hope to make the Longest Night memorable. I have some very specific ideas I'm going to throw at the players, but ultimately, I know that it will only work if they already are in the mood. So a lot of work to do ahead of that already.