|Theron the pyromancer and his fiery compatriot Ash the squit|
|The charming Red and her feline sidekick Catnip the lightning cat|
|And Slacker, with his root snake partner Pesto|
These three adventurers and their adorable sidekicks had traveled to the town of Ilsurian in the nation of Varisia to see the Umbral Carnival, a renowned circus that travels all across Varisia. Things started innocuously enough, with the party participating in several exciting games and viewing wondrous sideshows. Slacker won the crown of "King of the Carnival" with an amazing swing at the high-striker booth, using a heavy wooden mallet to launch a puck all the way to the top of a pole enchanted to unleash a victorious lion's roar should anyone prove strong enough to reach its limit. Ash wandered away from Theron briefly and began making a nest in a bed of hot coals intended to test the fortitude or will of daring carnival-goers, and Catnip won a shocking victory diving into a pool of water with a variety of metal rings at the bottom and emerging with the single gold ring from amongst the assortment of copper, brass, and bronze. Slacker won yet another prize thanks to his acute vision and memory, when he spotted the single flower that three duplicates in different outfits wore from their creator's original appearance. The traveling zoo was somewhat more disappointing for the party, as the highly advertised "baby dragon" turned out to be nothing more than a wingless monitor lizard. The party then decided to grab some food and spun sugar treats as they waited for the midday show of one of the circus' main attractions, the sphinx Jherizhana.
No sooner had the group settled in to eat than an uproar from back near the traveling zoo caught their attention. The "baby dragon" had escaped, and was menacing circus-goers and attacking its handler! As the party rushed to the rescue, the lizard's handler, an elephant-eared human known as a panotti, begged them not to hurt the precious "baby dragon". Slacker had Pesto cordon in the beast with a casting of entangle, which caused the plants around the creature to writhe to life, grabbing at its limbs and trying to hold it in place. The lizard was undeterred though, and lunged forward, looking to make a snack of poor Ash! Hot-tempered Theron momentarily forgot that they were trying to subdue the beast relatively unharmed, and had Ash blast the creature with a roaring gout of flame. As the singed lizard retreated, it inadvertently ran back into the area of magical entanglement, this time finding itself lashed and entangled in the grasping weeds. With the "baby dragon" immobilized, the handlers were finally able to approach and loop a harness around its neck, leading it safely back to its cage.
Having solved one crisis, the group just managed to catch the midday appearance of Jherizhana, the sphinx. Mostly the group just politely introduced themselves and asked mundane questions about circus life. It was a strangely surreal couple minutes in how it was simultaneously both incredibly bizarre and stupendously mundane.
The party enjoyed the circus fairly uneventfully for the rest of their day before retiring to their inn. Sleep was brief though, as they were awakened the next day by a messenger from the circus bidding them come to speak to Mistress Almara Delisen, founder and overseer of the circus. Almara reveals to the group that a man by the name of Archivin Walder has been murdered, and evidence implicates members of the circus, specifically their resident sphinx. Mistress Delisen is confident that none of her performers were involved, and asks the party to aid in the investigation and serve as the circus' representatives until the investigation is complete (for a reasonable fee, of course). The party accepts and heads out to visit Sheriff Feldane, the local constabulary, to obtain more information about the circumstances surrounding the murder.
Sheriff Feldane turns out to be a relatively good-natured but somewhat jaded individual, whose willingness to help the party is tempered by her belief that the circus probably is responsible for the murder. She reveals to the group that Archivin Walder is a local moneylender and pawnbroker who was murdered on his way back from an evening visit to the circus. The area around his corpse was surrounded by claw marks as though from a vicious beast. An investigation of the murder scene left the party with more questions than answers though; there were signs that footprints besides those of the apparent beast had been swept away, and the marks were inconsistent with any of the creatures the group had seen at the circus. Deciding that more information was essential, the party left the murder scene to investigate Archivin's place of business and see what information his wife and employees might be able to provide.
Upon arriving at The Locked Box, Archivin's pawnshop, the party is greeted by Agnes, Walder's widow, and two of her guards. Theron managed to use some fast talking and a calming demeanor to convince Agnes to give the group access to the various areas of the shop and a recounting of the previous night's events. Apparently, Archivin's death was not the only exciting event of the previous evening; one of his guards was also murdered during a break-in at the shop, though nothing of real value is believed to have been taken, nor were the suspects caught. During a careful examination of one of the traps leading to the shop's vault, Theron realized the trap led to a sealed pit. Looking to Agnes and her guards, he calmly asked "Has anyone actually opened this thing since the break in?"
Sure enough, an injured skulk lay at the bottom of the pit trap. After the party extricated him from the trap, they tied him up for questioning and completed their search of the vault, where they discovered yet another skulk trapped and hiding inside! The two thieves, fearful of what the locals might do to them, reluctantly revealed that they had been hired by an unknown agent to rob the pawn shop on that evening. Slacker's keen eye revealed an even more telling detail - both skulks were going through withdrawal from addiction to a drug known as shiver, a substance whose use had haunted the town in past days when a criminal family known as the Monchellos had gained wealth and influence peddling the vile substance.
The group felt certain they'd acquired enough evidence to convince the sheriff that the circus was being framed, but unfortunately, yet another tragic death threw a wrench into their plans. The town cleric, Sister Esrelda, had taken it upon herself to go and question the sphinx at the circus, intent on using her divine powers to uncover the truth behind the previous night's events. Whatever Sister Esrelda learned would remain a mystery though, as her body was found that afternoon, torn apart near the sphinx's tent. As the party worked to convince the sheriff that this was still part of an elaborate plot to draw attention to the circus and cover up some more nefarious scheme, they were called back to Mistress Delizen's tent where a startling fact was revealed to them: there was no sphinx. The sphinx was an elaborate illusion created by a talented bard who worked for the circus. The party quickly realized that this meant two things: whomever was responsible for the murders was unlikely to work for the circus, since it wouldn't make sense to frame a non-existent being, and they would need to work fast to protect the circus' secret and livelihood. The need for haste was emphasized on the group as they returned to their inn that evening; a group of local villagers was beating a young circus boy who had been caught sneaking out of town near to death. Interceding on the boy's behalf, Theron and Red, with the help of Ash and Catnip, created a storm of stunning pyrotechnics that left the villagers bewildered long enough for Slacker to snatch the boy from the crowd's midst and heal his wounds. Enraged at the villager's mistreatment of the boy, Theron refused to back down when several of the burlier villagers tried to press their case for vengeance and unleashed a blast of scorching flame that dropped the lead thug unconscious. With Theron's act of violence subduing the rest of the crowd, Theron and Red carried the burned thug to the local jailhouse while Slacker escorted the young boy home.
The next day brought yet another murder, and even more trouble. A local drug addict named Filton Legg was found hung near the jailhouse, with his eyes gouged out and his left hand severed from his body. The party found two notes on his person - one, a Harrow card picturing an androsphinx with the legend "We take care of our own" scrawled across it, and a note showing that Filton had recently been hired to work for a local river merchant, Arhaneem Braeton. Theron's keen eye discovered that the note with Braeton's name on it had been tampered with to make it appear older than it truly was, and the party quickly pieced together the truth - someone was trying to frame both the circus and Mr. Braeton. Sheriff Feldon's patience had run out at this point however, and she already gone to the circus to take the sphinx into custody. When Mistress Delizen was unable to produce the sphinx and refused to surrender the circus' secret, Sheriff Feldon took her to jail instead, and had issued a warrant for the party's arrest on charges of conspiracy.
Knowing that they had to move fast, the party ignored the obvious bait to investigate Arhaneem Braeton and decided to check out his competitors. Following a hunch, the group went to Mistress Robella's Curiosity Shop, one of the local merchants they'd been intending to question. Unbeknownst to the group, Mistress Robella was the wife of one Borvius Monchello, local drug lord and thug. Borvius was waiting at Braeton's warehouse to ambush the group, and when the party entered her shop, Robella leaped to the conclusion that the group must have slain her husband instead and were now after her. Chugging a vial of viscous liquid, Robella revealed the true source of the claw marks seen around the murder scenes as she transformed into a feral monstrosity and lept at the group. The adventurers managed to defeat Robella, but the sounds of combat drew Sheriff Feldon and the town guards. Sheriff Feldon arrived in time to see Robella's death end her transformation, and quickly came to similar conclusions as those the party had already reached. Deputizing the group, Sheriff Feldon and the guards traveled with them to Braeton's warehouse, where they found the river merchant locked in an office and Borvius' men waiting in ambush. With the town guard and the heroes finally working in concert, Borvius stood no chance and fought to the death.
With the whole scandal unveiled and the circus' reputation restored, the party accepted their payment from both Mistress Delizen and Sheriff Feldon, and promptly decided to avoid circus', carnivals, and masquerades whenever possible.
Now, I have to tell you, this adventure really impressed upon me how cool and versatile the Monster Trainer class really is. In prepping for the adventure, I ended up very short on time and so I created one Monster Trainer; for the additional characters I simply changed what monster companion they had and shifted the skill points and floating stat bonus from being human around. Despite that shortcut, all the characters felt totally unique, and each filled a different role in the group. The Monster Trainer will definitely be reappearing in future campaigns.