Book Club Discussion - City of the Dead - Chapters 15-18

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All this talk about ghosts has got me thinking.  My wife and I are moving to a new house in a few weeks that's 100+ years old.  It's a good thing we haven't disturbed any plots in the City of the Dead recently!  Anyone have any good "real" ghost stories?

This section will cover Chapters 15-18.

That's pages 152-201.  Looking forward to your thoughts, as always. 

Dado, it may be that you haven’t disturbed any graveyard plots at your new house.  But how do you know that I haven’t???

I don’t know how this story is going to end! The reader has the plot mostly figured out at this point. Sophraea opened the gate behind Dead End house by passing the shoe through. Lord Adarbrent, furious with Stunk’s greed and disrespect for the dead of Waterdeep, uses the open gate to have the dead terrorize Stunk’s house. I don’t think Sophrae yet knows that Adarbrent is behind the unrest, but she might have an idea after her conversation with the servants in Skunk’s house when she learns that Stunk has taken advantage of so many of Waterdeep’s nobles who have fallen on hard times.

But where will things go from here? Most stories have a good guy and a bad guy. But this story has a good guy (Sophraea/Gustin) a bad guy (Stunk) and then Adarbrent, who we’re still not sure about. Is Adarbrent just messing with Stunk to make him suffer for the injustices he’s caused? Or is Adarbrent so set on revenge that he will not rest until Stunk is completely ruined?

Now Sophraea and Gustin – what were you thinking when you split up in Stunk’s house??? Have you never played D&D before? Have you never watched Scream? The first rule of adventuring – the DM is always right. The second rule of adventuring – NEVER split the party!!!
In this section, I enjoyed the group's discussion on how the Carver family have been unknowingly steeped in magic for many years ('Magic soaks into the stones'), their slow piecing together of how the curse works, and how Sophraea unwittingly allowed the dead to find their way out of the graveyard. The little references to Sophraea's eyes flashing blue now fit together and explain her abilities. I do like the pairing of Briarsting and the topiary dragon - both very interesting support characters that help reinforce the Carver family's history. Again, it makes a pleasant change experiencing the situation through characters without a great deal of (higher level) knowledge to fall back on; Sophraea's reaction on understanding how she endangered the Carvers, and possibly the city, feels very natural, along with their attempts to figure out how to break the curse.

I also liked the chance run-in they had with the maintenance crew - the hammerpipes. Again, there's a very routine, workday feel to their activities which helps to ground the story and give the sensation that these events are happening in a real world.

I was certainly on edge as Sophraea and Gustin started exploring Stunk's mansion - I thought the way in which Gustin explained the limitations of his illusion spell worked nicely and didn't seem too forced; it's also clear that they make a good team, with Gustin's self-assured performance in front of Stunk, and Sophraea setting the downstairs staff at ease and earning their support. However, I did become rather anxious when they decided to split up! Again, the combat at the end of this section had an untrained, unplanned feel to it very much in fitting with Sophraea's character, relying on good luck and a few remembered words of advice rather than years of training.

At this point I really didn't know whether their plan was going to succeed - would they get out of the house in time before the next haunting? Would they be captured by Stunk? So far, a very easy book to read with great sense-evoking descriptions, subtle storytelling, great characters, consistently smooth pacing and plenty to keep me turning the pages.
I also couldn't believe they split up in Stunk's house!  It was interesting just how evil Stunk is and the group he has around him (his whiney wife, the thugs, and the dogs).

GP, I agree that one of the most interesting parts of the plot moving forward is if Sophraea and Gustin will side with Adarbrent.  It seems like the Carvers usually stay neutral, so Sophraea will be going against the norm in her family by taking sides.

The topiary dragon and the thorn really are a great detail as well.  They fit the story perfectly.

I still feel like there's some additional piece of the puzzle to emerge with Adarbrent that will show us the full picture, but I guess I'll have to wait until Monday and read on!
I also couldn't believe they split up in Stunk's house!  It was interesting just how evil Stunk is and the group he has around him (his whiney wife, the thugs, and the dogs).



Now, now, I'm not sure the dogs or her ladyship are evil. They are forced to hang out with Stunk all day long -- which can't be good for their dispositions. 

As for the split up....well, you do notice that Gustin did mention that it might not be a good idea....

My feeling as a writer (cue soapbox and megaphone) is that you can have your characters do less than stellar things, like go into a dark basement with a wonky flashlight. But you have to have a believable reason for it.  That reason can be as simple as she's being chased by a giant scorpion and the basement is the only place to escape. Or, he goes into dark basements all the time as a meter reader and it doesn't occur to him that the one in the haunted house will be different (despite the cold wind whistling up the stairs and the odd crunching noises down below).

People do dumb stuff all the time and it can be a great catalyst to the action, if it feels natural. I just saw the movie HUGO. I love the portion when the girl is balancing on the wobbly chair, reaching over her head for the big wooden box, and....  No spoilers if you haven't seen it, but you can see the potential for disaster. But when haven't you climbed up on a wobbly chair or ladder and reached for that pie plate for Thanksgiving dinner or the box of nails that you can almost grab?

Or seen somebody else doing it across the room and screamed "Wait........."

Go forth, enjoy the upcoming disasters, and do use a ladder next time.
Rosemary




I actually loved it that they split up.  We're just joking because splitting up always ends in disaster, but it makes for a better story. 
My feeling as a writer (cue soapbox and megaphone) is that you can have your characters do less than stellar things, like go into a dark basement with a wonky flashlight. But you have to have a believable reason for it.  That reason can be as simple as she's being chased by a giant scorpion and the basement is the only place to escape. Or, he goes into dark basements all the time as a meter reader and it doesn't occur to him that the one in the haunted house will be different (despite the cold wind whistling up the stairs and the odd crunching noises down below).



This is a really nice point, and something I'll try to remember - whether I'm DMing, role-playing or (attempting to) write. I've seen too many horror films, suspense-action-thrillers and generic emergency medical dramas where people walk unconvincingly into the most obvious of unpleasant situations, and giving the character the simplest excuse would add so much more realism and tension. Thanks again for the advice!