Time for an update!
Through questioning tailors in the Old City, the party identified the button's owner, and located his home with the help of several street urchins. Said street rats described the owner, an aristocrat in the Merchant District named Lord Hornsby, as cruel to those below his station, but also secretive, so they knew little about his private life. Having learned that Hornsby and his manservant/bodyguard would be at the Opera House, the PCs cased his house, then broke in to find out what they could about him. They succeeded in not awaking the other servant(s), uncovered a stash of snakeweed, and learned that the small, empty stable had been converted into a torture room. However, nothing revealed the significance of the cat's paw, or who else might have been involved in George's abduction and transformation.
The party's sentry detected the return of Hornsby and his servant, but was noticed in return. This led to a bloody duel in the alleys behind the house, in which the PCs took several wounds but took down both foes. They dispatched the servant, and took the unconscious noble into his own torture room to revive and question. (Meanwhile, the other two servants woke up to the sounds of combat and fled the house, swiping the good silver on their way out the front door.)
Hornsby, inured to pain and bored by the PCs' clumsy efforts at intimidation, laughed in their faces. He revealed that he'd abducted George because "the Mistress" needed someone who wouldn't be missed, and knew nothing about what she did with him. He also mentioned the "Weal" (or "Wheel," as they originally heard it), but the PCs grew frustrated trying to get more out of him and simply killed him.
The party eventually found their way to the Crimson Weal in Dreaming Street and spent some time casing the place. They went during the day, when the Weal had no customers, and nobody entered or exited. They tried again a couple nights later, and asked some questions at the brothel across the street. The madame described it as a place people go for the more painful sort of kinks, but couldn't really say more--in Scurvytown, nobody gets too nosy about their neighbors. They set to watching the place for the night. The two PCs who watched the rear got a good long look at some of the activities in the backyard (floggings and the like), while the two watching the front studied the bouncers and the clientele coming and going. At one point, they saw a drow arrive, to whom the thugs groveled as he entered. [This was Gulimar, the Master of the Society of the Velvet Whip; see Cults of Freeport
Towards dawn, the pair in back made their way across rooftops to the Weal. Just as they were about to take a look at the second-floor dormer, the two gargoyles stationed there attacked. They promptly fled, and only one gargoyle pursued. The other PCs ran to their aid, and had a hard time fighting the monster. [They're 2nd level; it's CR 4.] The running battle drew the bouncers' attention, and their chief, a huge half-orc bearing the marks of an ex-gladiator, joined the fight. The party finally escaped by fleeing in four different directions. The bouncer chased the hadozee, who took to the rooftops. The gargoyle chased the wizard, who ducked through a tavern to shake the beast in the crowd.
The next morning, they regrouped at their favorite dive, and discussed the situation. They came to the uncomfortable conclusion that they can't take on the Weal until they have much more experience--though the impulsive Harissa will certainly nurse her grudge until they do.
Next session, we'll be starting a new adventure to distract them from their woes, and to get them out to sea (all four of them were built more for sea travel than city adventures). I haven't yet decided which adventure to run next--Dead Man's Quest
(with some scaling up for their level) or The Lost Island
(whioh I've converted from True20). Given their respective levels, I'll probably run them in that order. Harissa is a follower of Harrimast, and plans to invest more time in that, so I can most easily introduce DMQ
as a quest from Father Peligro. I'll probably modify TLI
's intro as well, making it less of a "help random guy that you see getting mugged" set-up...though if I make some of the thugs halflings, the hadozee will gladly break some heads out of sheer malice.