Good news! I was able to make the group questing event, so this will be the first crossover episode of The Legend of Xurdtwos, featuring guest appearances from a few other members of Clan Quest. Here's a screenshot I took of us at the start:
From left to right: Saint Shiro, Cireoff, Borosouro OS, Lightestday, Twoie, and Bestcaping sitting off in the corner having a sulk and making it really hard for me to get everyone in frame. Unfortunately I took this pic before Iryb joined us, but join us he did, and I'm pretty sure that's everyone (except for Tyco briefly popping into the voice chat to recount his attempts to poison himself with Questionable Sausages and serenade us with an enthusiastic rendition of Valerio's Song; if I missed anyone, or got anyone mixed up, please sound off in the replies or on Discord!).
Before I get into talking about the quest itself, a solid hip-hip-hooray to Fenn for putting this event together and for having interesting facts prepared to educate and delight, and another for everyone who joined in. I didn't have my mic on, so you wouldn't have been able to tell, but I was seriously LOLing at times, and had a great time throughout!
Clan Quest Clan Best.
With no further ado, on to...
One Piercing Note
We begin our journey by talking to Sister Catherina, who's standing outside the Citharede Abbey, apparently waiting for a random adventurer to pass by and solve the problem they're having. Apparently the Abbess prayed for Saradomin to send an adventurer, and sent Sister Catherina out to wait for us to arrive. In fairness the game itself seems to realize how silly this is:
But as I've said before, you don't win points for lampshading your shitty plotting.
We're not off to an encouraging start, but with benefit of hindsight this is actually circles a good background storytelling moment, so I'm ultimately in favour of it; we'll discuss why a little later in the quest.
Also, sidenote: a troubador and his band have set up camp outside the abbey. It's not relevant at the moment, but it will come up later.
Catherina directs us to Abbess Benita, who wants us to solve a "sensitive" problem:
Okay, first: you didn't "call us here", you asked Saradomin to send someone to help you, and random coincidence answered your prayer.
"Or was it random coincidence?" you ask, Saradomin moves in mysterious ways. I mean, not to get into a theological debate or anything, but probably? This is still the Fifth Age, meaning the Edicts of Guthix are in place and Baldy's ability to meaningfully influence events in the world is limited at best. But I guess maybe, possibly, it could have been a genuine miracle?
Considering that the theme of the quest is the tension between religion and secularism, this may have been intentional. If so, I like it! If not, Death of the Author and I still like it.
Second point: has any good ever come from the phrase "I want to keep this quiet?" 100% of the time you're not able to keep it quiet, and about 50% of the time the person saying that ends up being the villain. I've seen MoviesTM, I know how this goes.
So now that we've established that Benita is probably the villain, we get to the reason she called us here: one of the nuns, Sister Anna, has been quite horrifically murdered. Benita doesn't want to alert the sisters (they've been told that Sister Anna died, but not how), so she asks us to quietly solve the murder. Okay, so I guess it's probably not Benita, since if she has the power to cover up the cause of death there'd be no reason to ask us to solve it and risk exposure. So, one name crossed off the suspects list.
Before moving on to the investigation, I just want to point out that Benita refers to Sister Anna's room as a "cell":
I commented at the time that this feels like a red flag, but Shiro told me that this is apparently what nun's bedrooms are called in real life. So...that's really grim. Etymonline says this was actually the original meaning of the word, and it changed to encompass prison rooms in the 17th century, but still. Dark.
Moving on, we've been given three instructions at this point: investigate the body, search Sister Anna's room (I'm not going to call it a cell), and subtly interrogate the other inhabitants of the abbey. The hivemind decided to start with the body, and who am I to argue with that?
So that's appropriately horrifying. But also, how convenient that the victim's face has been rendered unidentifiable. One wonders how Benita is going to conceal that this was a murder from the other Sisters; I mean, it's not like people are always tripping, falling, and flaying the skin from their skulls. That's just not a thing that happens.
At this point we investigate Anna's room, where we discover some mysterious brown cloth and a window that's been smashed from the inside. SUSPISH.
From here we move on to interrogating suspects, starting with Sister Catherina. She tells us a few interesting things, firstly that Sister Anna was intensely devoted to the Church, to the point of it being almost scary, but she also tells us about another disappearance:
CONTINUES TO SUSPISH.
So, real talk for a moment. I know how this quest ends; I knew it at the time, too, because as much as I try to go into these blind sometimes I just can't. This quest has a twist of Shyamalanian proportions. But it's a good twist, more Fight Club (which wasn't Shyamalan but never mind) and less The Sixth Sense. I like the twist in this quest for two main reasons:
- Both the red herrings and the actual solution logically fit the information you have
- Knowing the twist doesn't spoil the experience of the plot
To explain what I mean by the first point, with the information we have right now there are essentially three theories of how Isabella relates to the crime (aside from the null hypothesis, that she's not related at all): either she's the killer, she's another victim, or she's actually the only victim and her body was misidentified. All three theories are perfectly logical with the information we've been given, and will continue to be perfectly logical throughout the quest, but only one is correct and, spoilers, it's that Isabella is the only victim so far. I like this twist because it's completely logical given the information we've been given, but it's also likely not what the average person's brain would first jump to. The reaction when the twist is revealed isn't "wait, seriously? that makes no damn sense!", it's "wait, seriously? oh, of course." That's a good twist.
To explain what I mean by the second point, let me come back to Fight Club. We all know the twist in that movie, right? If not, Google it; I'll wait. When you're watching that movie knowing the twist, you can still enjoy the plot as it stands. This is partly because you can watch for all the little clues, partly because the movie has been carefully structured so that the internal logic works (example: notice how Marla, Tyler, and the Narrator are never all in the room at the same time), but mostly because the plot isn't really about the twist; it's about (or at least partly about) the Narrator's inner conflict, and knowing the twist ahead of time improves the film in some ways by throwing that into focus much earlier. One Piercing Note is substantially similar: watching for the clues is fun and, as noted by Mod John A in the dev blog for the quest, it isn't ultimately about the "who" of the murder, so much as it's about the "why" and the factors that lead to and are used to justify the "why", and knowing both ahead of time lets you reflect on how those themes are woven into the fabric of the quest.
But I think I've rambled for long enough, let's continue. After Sister Catherina, we speak to Sister Cecilia, who's conducting the choir. She has some interesting things to tell us about Saint Elspeth, who the abbey reveres. In particular, she tells us about the Ripper Demon and Saint Elspeth's death:
Hmm, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?
We also learn that the Citharede Order reveres singing (appropriate, since Saint Elspeth performed her miracles through song), but forbids dancing:
After talking to Sister Cecilia, we ascend the bell tower to talk to...Feet?
Oh, that is all manner of unfortunate. No, her name isn't actually "Feet" (though, considering Runescape's sense of humour, I think you can forgive me for assuming). It's Sister Debora, but she's underneath the mechanism controlling the abbey's clock, so feet is all we can see. Sister Debora asks us to set the time on the clock (it's 20 minutes fast, according to her), which leads to a fascinating little puzzle.
Alas I didn't take a screenshot of the puzzle interface, but basically we're presented with a clock face and two buttons, one moves the clock hands clockwise and one moves it counterclockwise. The natural assumption at this point is to move the minute hand counterclockwise, to set it back twenty minutes. When we do that, Sister Debora admonishes us:
Of course, we're on the inside looking out. I have no idea what happens if you were a clever clogs and thought of that ahead of time, but I like this little detail to catch the obvious error. Setting the clock sets it to the hour, which clangs the very loud bell, and at least we can talk to Sister Debora. Unfortunately she doesn't have much of interest to say, so we descend the tower once again to talk to Sister Elena, the abbey's cook.
Elena doesn't have too much more to tell us, but she wasn't the biggest fan of Sister Anna, thinking her a bit too strict, and she has a fascinating reaction when asked about the troubador:
Well that's not suspicious at all. Having learned all we can from Sister Elena, we now go talk to the troubador himself, Valerio. He reveals that the song he's singing (titled "Valerio's Song") was written for Sister Anna, and that he knew her before she joined the abbey.
Now that we've found all the evidence, it's time to go back to Abbess Benita and review and identify a suspect. At this point I chose the Ripper Demon, though I think Isabella is a more logical choice, but it hardly matters because the conversation is interrupted (and I'm pretty sure this happens regardless of which option you pick) by a scream from somewhere in the abbey.
This leads to an interesting directional puzzle where we're literally asked to follow the sound of the screams. This is an excellent puzzle for this quest, which uses sound as a core element, so bravo Mod John A. That game of Hot-and-Cold leads us to the abbey's basement, where this is the sight that greets us:
That is extremely dark, but it's truly excellent visual design. Sister Elena is the new victim, and Sister Cecilia is the one who found her. She reveals that she actually saw the Ripper Demon kill Elena, but that it ran off when Cecilia arrived:
I don't know if anybody else picked up on this at the time (though Cireon made a similar observation at a later point), but if it really is the Ripper Demon responsible for the killings, it's more than a bit peculiar that it ran away when Sister Cecilia interrupted it, rather than killing her too. Nobody in the quest draws attention to the fact that this doesn't make sense, but Cecilia is also the only one who seems to take the Ripper theory seriously. This is another little detail I love, in a quest full of them.
Now that we have another body, we have to do the rounds again. First we go check out Sister Elena's room, where we discover some steamy letters sent to her from Valerio, which reveal a hidden passageway in the kitchen. We quickly go check that out (it's behind some sacks, incidentally some sacks Elena scolds us for investigating if we do so before her death, another nice touch), and then we go to Valerio.
Before talking to him, though, we notice Sister Catherina dancing with the troupe. She seems to be responding to recent events fairly well, though this is probably behaviour unbecoming of a Citharede Sister, but she has an answer for that:
Technically correct, the best kind of correct. Okay Katie, dance party!
End of brief, but necessary, aside. Now we can talk to Valerio, who admits the affair. He also notices the same thing the rest of us did, that so far both victims have been intimately connected to him:
It certainly is an odd connection, but before we explore it we return to Abbess Benita who asks for us to bring Sister Catherina inside the abbey, for her safety.
Okay, I guess we're ignoring the fact that both murders have taken place inside the abbey walls? Alright, fine, I guess. Let's go back to Catherina and convince her to come in. It's not hard to do this, but on the way back we get separated by someone lowering the abbey's portcullis, and Catherina is killed by something that sure as hell looks like the Ripper Demon. Fortunately Valerio hears the commotion and runs up, scaring off the killer.
Now Abbess Benita has had enough, and summons us back to her office to settle things once and for all. Not just us, though...
Wait, what? Your order thinks dancing is immoral, and you specifically kept Valerio out for that reason (and also possibly because of his thing with Elena, which Benita admits she had known about), but you're letting him in now? Valerio points this out, but Benita notes that so far only three people have been seen in the same room as the killer, and so can be ruled out: her, Valerio, and ourselves. Okay, fair enough.
After a brief dialogue I-hesitate-to-call-it-a-puzzle, the three of us hit upon an idea: since the killer seems to be targeting Sisters connected to Valerio, we'll spread the word that Valerio's dancing girl intends to join the abbey. In reality she'll be well-hidden, and we'll dress up a dummy in Citharede robes to lure out the killer while we lie in wait. It's a good plan, so we're off to the basement to lay the trap.
But...how do we do that? We were told to go to the basement, so let's start there to see what we have to work with. We get some robes out of the cupboard (we found them earlier while investigating Elena's body), and there's a candelabrum we can move, so that seems like a good start. After moving that we try to use the robes on it and:
Another bit of good design, especially since we've been running past the cabbage patch upstairs all quest long. I actually already had a cabbage (Fenn mentioned needing it on voice chat, so I picked it up for expediency's sake), but I like to see that we're also pointed in that direction. Now we put the cabbage on the candelabrum, and dress it in the robes, and there we go: Sister Cabbage reporting for duty!
I bloody well hope so, because she doesn't look very convincing from the sides either. Alas, she'll have to do. We hide in the cupboard and, sure enough, the killer strikes! After a brief scuffle, we begin to chase the killer around the abbey. The chase sequence is a great addition; I love that it's interactive, because it makes you feel the player character's desperate desire to nab the killer, and their frustration that they're always just out of reach. As I've said before, it's always good to make these sort of sequences interactive, rather than cutscenes, because the whole goal is to get players immersed in the world and its story.
Though it was clearly designed before they knew about the Surge ability, since they had to specifically disabled using it within the abbey's walls. Whoops.
We ultimately chase the killer to the top of the bell tower, where they've taken Sister Debora hostage and revealed themselves to be...
...not really. It's Sister Anna, as I sort of spoiled earlier. At this point we get the traditional villain monologue, where she patiently explains her motivations: she only killed dancers, whom she felt were sinners unworthy of joining the abbey. If I had a minor criticism (of the homicidal lunatic, yeah this is an exercise in pointlessness, isn't it?) it's that Anna's beef really seems to be substantially against Abbess Benita, even by her own admission. I mean, consider:
"Sister Anna" wrote:
Abbess Benita lets any dancing-girl join the abbey - lets them go outside and dance when a, a troubadour arrives - turns a blind eye to their affairs...
Doesn't seem like she's ultimately that angry at the Sisters themselves, is it? Though considering that Anna and Benita were very good friends, this does work in-context of the character's mental state.
This is where I want to come back to what I said earlier, about Abbess Benita praying for our intervention and doing nothing else is good background storytelling. With benefit of hindsight, we can kind of see that the entire plot was substantially Benita's fault. She didn't actually kill anyone, true, and Anna's actions are certainly not defensible. But Benita is portrayed throughout the entire quest as a very passive figure, and one unwilling to do much to upset the status quo. We're told she argued theology with Anna, sure, but when push comes to shove she doesn't make the hard calls: she's not willing to punish Sister Elena for her breaking the rules, she doesn't want to rock the boat when a Sister turns up horribly murdered, she's not willing to risk disbanding the Order when the risk is potentially all of their lives. So it's a nice bit of early characterization to have her basically waiting for the solution to her problems to fall out of the sky.
But back to Anna. The sequence that follows is interesting, because it's presented as a dialogue puzzle but isn't one. There's basically nothing you can do except talk to Anna; she has an attack option, but using it just triggers the dialogue again, as does moving anywhere. So my mind was focused on the dialogue, and I was stumped that none of the options went anywhere. Then, in desperation, I examined the bell:
Eureka! I head downstairs and head to the clock controls, setting it to the hour, then head back up. Sure enough that was the solution: the bell tolls, Anna is distracted, and Debora is able to disarm her. Now we have a choice to make: do we kill her, or let her go. I decide that Twoie is going to be a turn-the-other-cheek sort of Sradominist, in contrast to Anna's Not That At All, and let her go. But it hardly matters, because Anna has another break from reality and decides that winged Icyene are coming to carry her up to Saradomin:
Welp. We're all over bar the shouting now; there's a bit of wrap-up where I decide to tell the truth about Sister Anna, and it seems likely the abbey will have to close. While that's a bit sad, it really does seem like it could use new management if nothing else.
Whew, this was a long one. I just had so much to say.
I guess the final analysis is that the narrative design of the quest was excellent. The plotting, despite my jokes, was very tight; everything came together, and nothing was wasted. The characters were all well-written and played their roles well. And a massive hat-tip to everyone involved in the sound, both on the music side and the dialogue side; as I mentioned in-game during one conversation with Sister Cecilia, the voice acting was superb. The puzzles were nothing to write home about, but that's okay; not every quest needs to be about puzzle, and not every quest needs to be about narrative.
It's interesting to compare this quest to Murder Mystery, which Mod John A does in the developer blog, since they're very superficially similar. Speaking as a mystery fan, I enjoyed both for different reasons. Murder Mystery gave me the satisfaction of using my own deductive reasoning skills, examining evidence and interrogating suspects and generally acting like Sherlock Holmes. However, as I said at the time, the mystery plot is very basic: there are only six suspects, they're presented to you from jump, you narrow it down to one of them very quickly, and then that's it. One Piercing Note, on the other hand, feels more like a true mystery plot. The mystery elements are less interactive by nature (despite being tasked with investigation, we are essentially just reading a mystery story with some breaks to find some of the pages), but that allows it to have a more complex plot, with unexpected (but logical) twists and red herrings worthy of Holmes or Poirot, so the actual narrative is more satisfying.
To cap off the ~3700 words I've written about this quest (my longest entry yet, I'm pretty sure): it was good. More like this, please.