Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
On a D20 check + a number that is the same or just about the same, the dice roll determines the result, much more than the bonus. You are making calculations based on rolling the same result, which does not happen. You are also using a character in this example who can boost her intimidate to a very high bonus, which is not your average character's intimidate. Finally, Krojun can start raging earlier, you don't have to make him wait because the adventure says so.
In my campaign Krojun played against the ranger (who had maxed intimidate) and the barbarian won. It was a close call, though, and the game lasted for a long time, so he still won the barbarian's respect. The rules are fine as they are written, don't worry. And Krojun doesn't have to win. So what is the odds are 50-50 or 45-55? In one isolated game, the d20 will decide the outcome, more than the odds.
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KSB Snow Owl wrote:
I must have missed these pictures in February, very nice, Snow!
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There are no maps of the Longacre building.There is a small courthouse map in Carrion Crown's second adventure, Trail of the Beast.
There is a map of a big courthouse in the adventure module Hangman's Noose.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
The best way to tackle this sort of fight, which you want to be spectacular, is force the PCs into fighting it in stages.
I'll put a link to my journal, so you can read how we did it, but apart from working with minions (for example, I added an ex-party member who had been turned evil by Sermignatto, the belier devil), I divided the fight in two stages.
Ileosa started off in the Everdawn pool, where the blood formed into a gargantuan blood dragon around her. This form kept her safe from any outside interference, which meant the PCs had to take out the formidable dragon first before they could get to the queen. In the meantime, she could cast spells from within the protective blood dragon shell, so she could already participate in the fight.
You can read more about it here.
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Douglas Muir 406 wrote:
The Levee is a really interesting AP. I'm honestly not sure how good / playable it is *as an AP* -- with all respect to Mr. Pett, it reads more like a super sandboxy collection of high concepts than an AP as such. If I ever ran it, I suspect I'd have to modify the hell out of it to make it coherent and playable. But it's very interesting -- there are a lot of cool ideas and no shortage of well developed NPCs and weird, intriguing situations. So I'm mildly surprised to see that no group ever stuck with it.
I agree with you that this is a very interesting AP and like you, I am surprised to find so little support for it online, no community created content, no journals, no long-lasting PBP, not a lot to go by for anyone who'd like to tackle this AP and wants to pick the brain of others who've played through it.
I also agree that preparing this AP for play requires modifying the hell out of it, which is exactly what I've been doing for the last couple of months. My setting will be Ustalav in Golarion, the alternate Between dimension becomes the Dimension of Dreams. I'm definitely toning down the extreme horror element from the original AP, I'm inserting ideas from other adventures, like Strange Aeons and Ravenloft. I'm also using the D&D 5E ruleset, because I want to try out a slightly simpler system, instead of the increased technicality of Pathfinder 2E.
So, are there any others out there who have played through this AP and who want to share their experience? I'd surely be interested.
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I was a player in a group that finished the original 3.5 version (converted to Pathfinder) a few years ago. We found that the final battle with Illeosa a disappointment. Very anti-climantic. I am currently running a group through it right now I have have restated Illrosa as a Sorcerer. I also bumped her up a level.
I'm not sure restatting and leveling up Ileosa will make much of a difference in the fight. This game is all about action economy and Ileosa is at a disadvantage, even as a sorcerer.
I followed some on-line advice on end-campaign fights, making sure it turned into a battle in stages: you cannot get to the end boss until you take out other challenges first.
So, here's how I did it in a nutshell:
- When the PCs first entered the final chamber, they were mentally accosted by a dream of something close to their hearts, but which ended in a scene that would somehow drain their vigor unless they made a save.
It sounds rather boring when I phrase it like that, but this tactic allowed me to keep Ileosa around for more rounds, making the fiight much more exciting. You can read in detail how the fight went in my journal on these boards.
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Gazing down on the enormous sleeping red dragon, Elvira whispers to her friends to climb back up the ventilation shaft to a place from where she can safely teleport everyone to Korvosa. However, as she utters these few hushed words, the wyrm below her sighs audibly and shifts his left paw, pushing through the coins in his gold bed. The enchantress holds her breath and waits for one, two three heartbeats … nothing … four, five … no, she doesn’t hear anything anymore … six, seven … It appears the dragon only stirred in his sleep; it is safe to continue. The enchantress motions for her companions to follow. Up and up they go, until El finally feels comfortable enough to speak the words that magically transport the party home to Korvosa.
The rest of the evening the party finetunes their plans for tomorrow’s raid. Their first priority is getting the Crown of Fangs breathed upon with dragon fire and having innocent little Brienna smash it to smithereens. Only when that is accomplished, can they continue with their second goal: taking out the red wyrm.
11 Pharast 4709 AR
The party’s most capable allies have gathered in Castle Korvosa, among them Field Marshal Cressida Kroft, fencing master Vencarlo Orisini, several members of the Sable Company and seneschal Neolandus Kalepopolis. If everything goes according to plan, the heroes will return here as soon as the red dragon has breathed fire on the crown, so Brienna can finish the job of destroying it. Of course, nobody knows what will happen after that. Will Kazavon’s teeth just be gone or will they have another surprise ready to avoid annihilation and lash out at the last moment? It’s better to be safe than sorry, so Sjo ordered all his trusted allies to be there.
Archbishop Keppira d’Bear of Pharasma and Archbanker Darb Tuttle of Abadar are present as well. They help prepare the party for battle by handing out their most powerful protections and buffs, complementing the spells that Elvira, Sjo, Tasathyl and the rangers provide. When the heroes are ready to go, they have never been more enhanced in power by magic than right now. Elvira gathers Sjo, Balian and Puk around her and whispers the incantation to take her party directly to the bowels of Jernashall, aiming for the platform on which Daralathyxl was sleeping. Three more allies, the green dragon Tasathyl, the dwarf Sigurd Dragondoom and the celestial hound archon Esphydriel will wait in Korvosa for the heroes to return and finalize stage one of the plan, before joining them for stage two.
“Floop”, the party arrives on the edge of Daralathyxl’s impressive podium. It looks like the dragon is already awake and waiting for them, towering above his treasure, grunting and ready to strike. Realizing that they have to trick the dragon into using his breath weapon, the companions stay close, forming one nice target for the dragon’s most powerful attack. “Greetings, king under the mountain,” Elvira taunts, “don’t mind us. We’re just here to grab some treasure and then we’ll be off.” In her hands she cradles a small cage, covered with a blanket. This is the special container she ordered for the Crown of Fangs. At the same time Puk mounts the fallen stone head of a statue to his left. An intricate, regal-looking axe has been imbedded behind its right ear. This must be the Axe of Dwarvish Lords, arguably the most powerful item in Daralathyxl’s collection. The halfling grabs the weapon by the shaft and tries to pull it free, but it is stuck too firmly for his little hands. Balian and Sjo gather some treasure themselves, though nothing as valuable as Puk.
Elvira stares the dragon in the eye. “Please spare your fiery breath until we’re gone”, she pleads. The dragon does not quite react as she expected, not displaying the emotion that an enraged wyrm would. Then, instead of attacking, the monstrosity simply blinks out of existence, as if it was never there. Only now does Elvira realize that it wasn’t, “it is just an illusion”, she cries. The next moment the lava behind the heroes explodes as a colossal red serpent breaks through its surface. Lava rains down on the heroes and burns away part of their protections from fire. Daralathyxl wastes no time, exhales and spews forth a deluge of flames, giving Elvira just what she wanted.
“Let’s get out of here”, she says, pulling Puk of the stone head, where he is still vainly trying to pull the axe out. The blanket over Elvira’s cage has been turned to ashes, With the metal bars still sizzling from the heat of the firestorm, the wizard is glad her protection against fire is still up. “Floof!” A teleport returns the heroes to Sjo’s throne room. Little Brienna is waiting in the crimson chair, clinging her hands around a hammer that has been magically enhanced. Elvira pulls open the cage, spilling its contents on the floor. The crown itself has melted away, leaving only Kazavon’s fangs. Brienna singles out the biggest tooth and lifts her hands high above her head. Then she smashes her hammer down as hard as she can. THUNK!
The tooth seems unharmed at first, then a hairline fracture appears, multiplying with incredible speed until the whole ivory surface of the fang is completely cracked. First the air seems to be pulled into the tooth, then it detonates with a force that hurls Balian into the wall. The ivory turns to powder and at the same time all the other teeth pulverize as well. Esphydriel’s angelic eyes immediately pick up that the evil emanating from Kazavon’s fangs is completely gone. The artefact has been destroyed! Hurrah!!
Tuttle and d’Bear renew the protections from fire before the heroes teleport back to the dragon’s lair, in three groups. Tasathyl takes the two people who want to get up close and personal, Puk and Balian. Elvira brings Sigurd and Sjo along, picking a rocky outcrop in the sea of magma as her destination, making sure to keep a safe distance from the serpent’s platform. Esphydriel can take care of himself, appearing on the other end of the dais. Daralathyxl is still swimming in the lava, so the heroes have to wait until he shows himself again. The small rock where Elvira, Sigurd and Sjo landed is not as safe as they had hoped. A tidal wave of lava splashes over it, followed by an enormous red tail that sweeps through the air, swatting at them like flies. Elvira casts a greater dispel magic at the appendage, hoping to strip away any buffs the dragon has, but her attempt is not strong enough.
On the stone podium, Tasathyl tries to lure Daralathyxl out of the lava, by grabbing the axe of Dwarvish Lords herself, but she inadvertently sets off a symbol of pain that – fortunately –affects only Balian. The ranger’s muscles cramp up, filling him with wracking pains, making it harder for him to control his motor skills. Sjo attempts his own greater dispel magic, but fails as well. Meanwhile Puk starts looting at random, Elvira flies over and focuses to locate more valuable prize items, while mocking the ancient wyrm for leaving his treasure unguarded.
Suddenly, a red snout breaks from the lava, smoke spouting from its nostrils and filling the stage. The dragon’s nose is enough for Sigurd to fire his first double manyshot arrows at the creature. All the years of training and savouring his vengeance pay off as the arrows tear into the monster’s skull, forcing him to dive below again.
The heroes continue heaving coins into their bags, ridiculing the red King for letting them get away with it. Then the stone beneath their feet heats up and starts glowing slightly, as if ready to melt. The heroes hover high enough to avoid being burned, while Daralathyxl resurfaces again to cast mass hold person on them, but freedom of movement protects them. Instead, the colossus takes another arrow to the head. Elvira wonders how she can lure the enemy out of the molten rock and decides to summon a 20’-high wall of force to shield the podium from the lava. Now, Daralathyxl will be blocked from attacking them from the relative safety of the magma. Only Esphydriel is caught on the far side of the wall, so Daralathyxl can focus all his physical attacks on the hound archon. Rising from the pool the dragon slashes at the angelic dog with his claws and wings. Finally, he bites the poor canine in two, sending it back to heaven.
Just as Elvira’s allies start doubting the wisdom of her wall of force spell, her tactics pay off. Daralathyxl leaves the lava and teleports right on top of his treasure pile, crushing Elvira, Puk, Balian and Sjo who are all stealing his wealth. Still, with freedom of movement still active, the heroes pull free easily. Finally, Puk and Balian get the opportunity to strike at their foe, scoring a handful of hits. Sigurd also gets his first chance to unload a full volley on the red-scaled fiend, while Elvira teleports to safety on the other side of the wall.
But Daralathyxl has more tricks up his sleeve. He beats his wings hard, knocking back his assailants and staggering them. Now he unleashes all of his ire on Sigurd, badly wounding the dwarf. Elvira attempts yet another greater dispel magic. This time her efforts pay off and she takes down three of the dragon’s magical defences. Tasathyl’s acid breath can now burn into the red scales unhindered. With another wing buffet the red King drives back his opponents. He spits out another fire breath on Puk, Sigurd and Sjo, but the first two can evade the flames entirely. Meanwhile, the green dragon Tasathyl decides the best way to draw her nemesis’s attention is to attack him in person. She swoops down, teeth out to bite him. She goes for his throat, tearing out a big chunk of meat from his neck.
Finding himself surrounded by his enemies, Darlathyxl withdraws by hurling himself over the wall of force, back into the lava, taking a surprised Tasathyl with him. The green dragon immediately climbs out of the magma, shaking off a shower of glowing droplets, happy that magic still wards her from the worst burns. Elvira is just in time to cast blink, because from below the surface claws, teeth and a tail shoot out to kill her. Fortunately, only half the attacks hit her, the others being misguided by the flickering magic. She retreats to Sjo’s side, who heals her. Balian starts flying over the molten stone, trying to get the dragon to attack him, so he can hit it back. Puk is still filling his pockets in the hopes of drawing out Daralathyxl. Sigurd does the same by picking up the Axe of Dwarvish Lords.
Once more Daralathyxl rises from the pool, attempting to dominatie Balian, but the ranger resists. The ancient dragon takes more hits from exposing himself and Tasathyl realizes that by now, their opponent is so badly hurt that he won’t stick around any longer, even if it means giving up his hoard. She informs the party of this, telling them they only have a few more seconds before the red King slips through their fingers. Elvira shouts at Puk: use your last wish to stop him! The halfling lifts his luckblade and points at the magma. Then he raises his hands, making the lava around the submerged colossus part. The mass of molten rock rises, pulling to the left and right in two burning waves, revealing the red wyrm. Balian swoops in and hits the cowering beast twice. Sjo calls forth a pillar of energy from the sky, replacing its fire damage with electricity. The crackling bolt hits the dragon, making him scream in terror. Then the fire in his eyes fades, as the lava flows back over him, giving the red wyrm a fitting grave.
Afterwards there is much rejoicing … and much loot to be had, because even though Borogrim the Hale agreed with the heroes that they would take no treasure, he generously gifts them a healthy portion of the money and gems, as well as their pick of a magical item. Tasathyl also gets her three prizes, a book dating back to a forgotten cyclops civilisation, an acorn that can become a treant and a cloak made from a pit fiend’s hide by the demon lord Graz’zt.
And so, the heroes of Korvosa return victorious, having become the stuff of legends. They have triumphed over an evil usurper, saved many lives in the process, they have taken charge of the city to steer it towards stability and prosperity, they have prevented the rising of the hateful Runelord of Lust and finally, they have done what no one thought possible: they have destroyed on of Kazavon’s evil artefacts, the Fangs of Midnight. They are heroes indeed and with so much of their lives still in front of them, who knows what other feats of glory they will achieve in the future? But that is a story for another time, because this tale - fine as it has been - is over. Thank you all for listening. Goodbye!
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Why don’t you combine the ‘Saviors of the city’ ceremony with the demise of Marcus Endrin?
Ileosa knows by now that the PCs are thwarting her plans, while the PCs are getting a pretty sharp suspicion that Ileosa is evil. After completing the ‘Hospice of the Blessed Maiden’ part, the PCs will probably report to Kroft first and possibly tell her about their suspicions. The Field Marshal will ask them to keep things quiet for a little while longer, so she can investigate the matter more thoroughly and gather evidence. Until then, she suggests playing along with Ileosa.
Ileosa has plans of her own, she summons the PCs to the castle to ‘reward’ them in front of the city’s VIP’s. She starts off listing the efforts the PCs have taken to fight the plague, but then turns the tables on them and accuses them of secretly spreading the plague: the PCs had the bank boil coinage as a decoy, for everyone knows that diseases aren’t spread by money, the herbal brew contained an element that actually lowered people’s resistance to the plague, so the PCs fooled other well-meaning healers into doing evil, the PCs even convinced the crown to part with 20k, money they used for themselves, they also attacked and killed the queen’s physicians and concocted a BS story that the doctors were worshippers of Urgathoa, but no evidence of this could be found under the hospice … Worst of all, the PCs did not set these evil machinations in motion by themselves, but they were working with someone who has wanted to usurp the throne all along, Neolandus Kalepopolis and his partners in crime of the Sable Company.
At this point Gray Maidens surround the PCs and Marcus Endrin. Ileosa orders them to lay down their weapons and surrender, but Endrin refuses, shooting the bolt at Ileosa as in the AP as written, failing to kill her and dying at her hands a few seconds later, shouting to the PCs to escape. The PCs are helped by some Sable Company riders, who try to take them back to the Great Tower on their hippogriffs, but as they get there, the building is already under attack (since Ileosa planned her treason well). The soldiers want to defend their home, but they don’t want to drag the PCs into their suicide mission, so they drop them off across the Narrows of Saint Alika, in Old Korvosa, which is still under quarantine and so safe from the queen’s troops for now. (If the PCs insist on helping defend the Great Tower, you can let them. As the heroic but desperate effort fails, you can have the PCs escape across the water to Old Korvosa to start the next adventure.)
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Past the bridge the party enters a long, monumental hall. The walls are decorated in a structure that looks sober, but impressive, because of its size and the endless variations in the pattern. From deeper down the corridor, Elvira picks up booming voices. Puck scouts ahead, identifying four fire giants with three even bigger cousins. The heroes advance slowly, ready for battle. When they are in range, Elvira opens hostilities by casting confusion, confounding two enemies. Tasathyl provides haste for the party, while Sjo transfers one of his fireballs to electricity, lighting up the giants’ guard detail. Sigurd shoots a volley of arrows at the first giant charging in, turning it into a pin cushion. Sjo throws even more electricity down the hall and Elvira turns Puk invisible. The party’s newest ally now shifts into her dragon form, towering over even the tallest of their giant opponents. Elvira slows down the adversaries’ advance even more by blocking off the corridor with a wall of force. Although the giants can still climb over it, they waste valuable time doing so. Unseen, Puk can slice into his enemies mercilessly, while Balian fights with the same fervour as ever, swinging his greatsword with a strength that makes even the biggest giant cringe in pain. Elvira uses her magic missiles to finish off an opponent who barely survived the devastation wrought by Puk and Balian, while to her left Tasathyl tears out the throat of a volcano giant. All in all, this fight is a clear demonstration of the heroes’ efficiency in working together and using the right tactics at the opportune time. A few moments later, each and every one of their enemies lies on the floor, while none of the companions has even taken a scratch.
Sigurd is quite pleased, even though he can’t help but repeat that these are mere minions, cannon fodder, peanuts in comparison to the red tyrant. “Still,” he says, “if we continue down this hall, we’ll have to fight our way past a lot more of these bastards. It might be best to avoid them. After all, the great hall in this dwarven bastion lies deep under the ground, somewhere far below us. The shortest way between two points is not the zigzag of the way ahead, but a straight line.” The dwarf grabs the edges of his cloak, stretching his arms like bat wings, and flies up to the dwarven statue against the wall. He disappears behind the behemoth’s head, pulling at something the heroes cannot see. “There we are”, he smiles, turning to his allies, holding out an iron grate. “We can get into the ventilation system here and take a short-cut.”
The party climbs down the ventilation shaft for a few minutes until they get to an iron door. “This will be the maintenance room”, Sigurd figures. “It’s a hub in the system. Let’s go in and see if we find a way that leads directly into the great hall.”
Balian picks the lock, opening the door. The companions enter an L-shaped room with a large machine that still functions, even after all these centuries. “We dwarves build things to last”, Sigurd is very impressed with the mechanism, and starts studying it. Across the room, Elvira sees a copper plate on the wall with a schematic of the various ventilation shafts that connect to this room, picking out the one that leads straight to their destination. Balian lays his hands on the appropriate door; it is warm to the touch, even hot. At that moment he hears a rumble from behind the door. No! Not from behind the door, but from the wall to his left. Suddenly the stones cracks open and two large monsters in chitinous plates burst out. They have the features of a beetle, complete with a huge pair of mandibles, but move like a gorilla. Four multifaceted eyes glisten on their foreheads, confoundingly reflecting the light in a million shifting colours. Fortunately, the heroes withstand the confusion. Hastened by Elvira, Puk and Balian make short work of these monsters, but then the halfling gets too cocky, enjoying this easy victory. From the hole in the wall, a huge claw shoots out, the arm is as thick as a tree. It grabs the rogue and pulls him into the darkness. This time the multifaceted reflection of the light manages to befuddle him, and as he shakes his head in confusion, he feels the bite of strong jaws. Sigurd fires arrows at the huge creature in the wall. “Did I mention that the dwarves used to domesticate umber hulks, to dig these shafts? I guess this is their offspring, although I’ve never seen one as big as this hulking attrocity!”
Balian jumps forward, taking a hit himself before he can deliver one. Tasathyl assumes her dragon form again and tears off the monster’s shoulder plate. Things look bleak for Puk , who realizes the creature is about to swallow him, but below him Balian is hacking away away at the umber hulk furiously. “Time for another power word kill”, Elvira jokes, launching magic missiles at the aberration to finish it off. The hulk drops to the floor and Puk climbs out if its mouth. “I’m okay!” he sighs.
Sjo heals everyone and the party continues on their way down. The new shaft feels a lot warmer and is blocked off by a huge grate, but Balian manages to open a small hatch that allows them to get through. The width of the shaft varies from 15’ to 7’, while the walls become smoother now. “We should be careful”, Sigurd warns his allies, “if this ventilation shaft connects to the great hall and the dragon is in there, it might hear us. Dragon senses are sharp! We should be quiet.” Sjo, in his full plate armour, chuckles. “I can’t be quiet in this”, he points out, “but I can make it quiet if I have to.” He casts silence on a copper coin.
Further down a side tunnel splits off. At one time in the past, lava has flown in this tunnel, and it has left a plug of molten lava in the shaft, leaving just a few small gaps. Puk can squeeze his way through, while the rest of the party pops down with dimension door. The air becomes warmer and smokier, harder to breathe as well, while the companions complete the last part of their journey down to where the shaft ends in another metal grate. Staring through, the heroes realize they have reached the ceiling of a truly humongous cavern. Once upon a time this was the heart of the dwarven citadel of Jernashall, an inner city of gigantic proportions, but now it looks more like the heart of a volcano: lava flows and glows over the floor like a lake and heat trembles in the air. The sidewalls of this enormous cavern once held dozens, if not hundreds of buildings, connected by stone stairs, bridges and walkways. The magma has destroyed much of the original architecture, although rocky outcroppings pop up from the lava pool here and there.
Elvira looks around carefully, one part of the architecture seems strangely untouched by the lava, a massive slab of stone, with a dark shape on top, curled up and sleeping. Even from this distance Elvira can tell its size is colossal. Behind this resting colossus the walls are engraved with the likeness of a dwarven king, flanked by two guards, remnants of a better time. The regal composure that radiates from this corner of the cave suggests it once housed the throne of the dwarven king, but now it has become the lair of another, more terrible monarch, a sleeping dragon. There he lies, wings folded like a bat, a vast monstrosity, smoke rising from his nostrils as he breathes steadily. His head is as big as a house and rests lazily on piles of coins and valuables, glistening in a red glow. Elvira gasps for air.
This is Daralathyxl and even in sleep, he strikes fear into the hearts of those who gaze upon him.
This is the sixth king of the Mountains, rightfully called ‘emperor’ or ‘god’ by some.
This is evil incarnate.
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The heroes make a list of all the buffs they want to be active when facing Daralathyxl. Elvira also informs Tasathyl about their true purpose: destroying the Crown of Fangs. She even shows the green dragon the artefact inside the special birdcage she commissioned. Tasathyl confirms Elvira’s hope that her mind blank spell guards the crown from being easily identified, but she can still sniff out that whatever is in the cage, comes from a mighty dragon. Naturally, she has heard of the legendary wyrm Kazavon and the mighty artefacts he left behind upon dying. Fortunately, she is not drawn to the object, because she understands the danger of such artefacts. However powerful they might be, they influence and corrupt the mind, which is not a prospect that appeals to her.
The party teleports to Korvosa, bringing their new dragon ally along. They meet up with Darb Tuttle and Keppira d’Bear and ask the two highpriests to assist them in their upcoming quest, but from the safety of Castle Korvosa. The priests can provide extra buffs for the party in the morning and remain in the palace with other allies to watch over Brienna, the innocent girl who will have to smash the Fangs after Daralathyxl has breathed over them. If everything goes according to plan, Elvira will first face the red tyrant’s fiery breath in his lair, upon which she will immediately teleport to Korvosa to have Brienna finish the job. Since Elvira cannot predict if the destruction of the Fangs will have any side-effects, she would feel better if there is a good security detail in place around Brienna, just in case anything unexpected happens.
11 Pharast 4709 AR
After a hearty heroes’ feast the party teleports to the gates of Jernashall, the lost dwarven city where Daralathyxl has made his lair. Sigurd’s honed senses immediately pick up two wyverns in the sky above them. He draws his bow and fires a vlloey of arrows at one of the creatures, proving his efficiency against dragons to his new friends when he shoots the beast out of the air before it can even get ready for battle. The other wyvern, however, charges in, but its barbed tongue glides off Sjo’s armor. That was the last mistake the creature ever made. Balian flies up and hacks through its flesh with his blade, Sjo throws a fireball at it, while Tasathyl, in her Draconian form, spits a line of acid at it. But once again, it is Sigurd who proves the most effective as he turns the second wyvern into a pincushion as well.
After this very brief encounter the companions take some time to appreciate the beauty of the gates to Jernashall. Huge stone doors are set in the mountain wall, flanked by two even more enormous statues of austere dwarven warriors. The doors and the wall are covered in straight geometric patterns, with a sobriety that is surprisingly beautiful. Elvira notices that magic protects the entrance, making out an alarm spell amid the defenses. Sjo dispels it and Tasathyl uses a simple dimension door to get everyone inside.
A long monumental hall leads into the mountain. Balian identifies another magical trap on the floor and disables it, before the party advances. After about a quarter mile, the hall opens up into a humongous cavern. The floor drops into darkness, while the ceiling rises to incredible height. A 300’-long bridge crosses the chasm, leading up to a huge opening in the opposite wall. Looming high above that doorway is the stone face of a regal dwarf, looking down on the heroes. Two waterfalls fall from under his moustache, one to the left of the bridge, the other to the right, creating a split beard of water that plummets into the depths below. A huge humanoid shadow stands in the middle of the span, a creature mad of stone.
Puk and Balian rush forward. Invoking his instant enemy Balian immediately slices his forceblade into the stone construct’s stomach. But then the ranger is surprised by a spider that phases out of thin air and attacks him with all her legs. A human face rises from her body crowned with red hair and armed with sharp fangs, which also bite at Balian. After her attacks, the spider phases out of view again, although Elvira’s enhanced magical sight still picks up a gray shadow of her, indicating that the creature has shifted into the ethereal plane. The enchantress casts haste on Puk and Balian, which is followed by a blessing of fervor from Sjo. Sigurd unleashes a volley of arrows, but his weapons hardly pierce the stone skin. The guardian is not particularly agile, but his brute slam simply smashes Balian into the ground, leaving the ranger stunned. Tasathyl storms into the fray as well, morphing to her full dragon form, and biting into the stone behemoth’s arm. Puk starts carving away at the guardian’s heels, finding his adamantine sword much more efficient than his silver blade. When the phase spider reappears, she is next to the halfling, ripping away at his little frame, before phasing out again. Elvira fires magic missiles at the arachnid, piercing the boundaries to the ethereal plane with her force magic. The stone construct smacks Puk into the ground next, but then Tasathyl tears into him and throws him off the bridge. The spider reappears and attacks Balian once more, but now the heroes are prepared. Sigurd shoots at her, while Elvira covers her in glitterdust. This outlines her to Balian, who can take full advantage of his forceblade to finish her off.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
One simply doesn’t walk into a dragon’s lair, no, these mighty beings have other, lesser creatures who guard their territory. In the case of Tasathyl, the green wyrm, these guardians are plants. Trying to move through the thick brush in the heart of the Arthfell Forest, Sjo suddenly becomes entangled in the writhing undergrowth, while the tree looming over the party jerks to life. Elvira provides haste and makes Puk invisible, so he can jab his blades into the treant’s weakest points unseen, with the two animal pets distract the tree from the other side. Sigurd fires several arrows in the tough bark and sees how another tree crushes in from the left and the plant mass behind him lashes out with long vines. Balian proves his worth to the dragonslayer, by calling instant enemy over the second treant and chopping the plant to firewood in no time. Sjo frees himself from the entanglement and invokes a fire storm to set the attackers on fire. The treants swipe at the party with heavy branches and Balian’s pet cat Vex and Sigurd’s pet wolverine General Flea get knocked down. Sjo keeps up moral with some healing, giving his friends the chance to end the threat. First Puk finishes off the other treant, then he takes care of the greenvise vine.
The group heals up and quickly resumes travel, guided by Sigurd’s nature instinct. When he gets the feeling they are getting close, a sweet perfume fills the air. Puk is entranced and sits down on the ground, gently swaying, while the others draw their weapons when they see a large flower unfold its petals, revealing a green-skinned woman from the waist up in its center instead of the pistil. “Sit down, relax,” she sings peacefully, “I mean you no harm.” Small hairlike roots grow from the ground and glide over Puk’s legs. “Oh, that tickles”, the halfling giggles.
“We mean no harm either”, Sjo reacts. “But what do you want from our little friend here? He’s quite fragile.”
“I won’t kill him, I just need some of his sap to feed on, but not a lot.” The green face smiles innocently.
“We might be willing to accommodate you, but is there anything you can do for us in return?” Elvira inquires, recognizing the attractive plant as an alraune. She remembers reading about them in a hefty tome on flora in the library: alraunes have spores with a special ability, that might be of use to the party. If you dip your hand in a spore sack and then touch another person with it, you can create a spore link that allows you to cast one touch spell from a distance, using the spores to bridge the gap. The special power lasts for about a week or until consumed and could be of crucial importance in the fight against Daralathyxl. A caster with two hands can designate two targets (or one target twice), one for each hand. “Could we have some of your spores?”
“Such is the way of nature: live and let live. If you help me, I will gladly help you out as well.”
And so it is done. Puk, Balian and Elvira allow the alraune to drain some of their stamina, which Sjo can easily mend afterwards. As a reward, anyone who can cast spells can create two spore links. Elvira bonds with Puk and Balian, while Sjo sets up two connections with the ranger. If they have to face an all-powerful dragon, Balian will have to get in close, so he will certainly take a mean punishment. Being able to cast two heal spells from a 100 feet away, will certainly allow Sjo to boost Balian’s tanking potential, even more so if he can combine it with shield other.
The trek through the forest continues. About fifteen minutes later, Sigurd points to the canopy. “There is a hole in trees there”, he says. The others look up, but see no hole. “You’re not looking at it right”, the dwarf grumbles.” The hole is not open to the air, but there are no sturdy boughs, just a clutch of smaller twigs and bendy branches.”
Balian rolls his eyes in disbelief, but when they approach the ‘hole’, it turns out to be straight above another hole in the ground, leading into a cave. “This is where the dragon breaks through the trees, to get into the cave”, Sigurd explains. “Green dragons are like rangers, well … real rangers, no city slickers”, the dwarf sighs, giving Balian the stinky eye. “they can move through bushes and briars and stuff unhindered.”
Elvira takes out the ancient Thassilonian tome and walks up to the edge of the pit. Peeking inside the cave, she sees that the roots of the trees surrounding the hole, have grown through the ceiling, re-entering the soil at the bottom, forming a natural meshwork around the entry point. “Oh, mighty dragon Tasathyl, we humbly seek your council”, she cries out. “Please accept this gift from us as a token of good will. This tome was penned more than 10 millennia ago. A worthy present for one as great as you.”
Elvira holds her breath, waiting for a response, but nothing happens. She tries again: “We beseech you, great Tasathyl, grant us an audience in return for this priceless book.”
When there still is no answer, Elvira motions for her friends to enter. “Please forgive us, great green one, but may we come in?” Then she floats down into the hole, followed by the rest of her companions. As they touch ground, a cloud of spores explodes around them. Again Puk falls under the plants’ sway, admiring their strength and beauty. At the same time four humanoid creatures, made of wood, burst from the roots, attacking with incredible speed. Their shapes blur and shimmer as they hammer their thorny arms on the invaders. Two of the big stalks also twist and turn like a serpent, lashing out with large vinelike tendrils. Elvira uses her newest opening move: quickened greater invisibility on herself and haste on the group. Sjo also recognizes this as a perfect opportunity to try out his latest trick, his innate fire storm ability, which will not only allow him to cast a blazing inferno, but he can keep it up for over half a minute, continuing to burn specific areas around him. The fire-wielding healer assumes plants don’t like fire, and even though he is right, these sturdy rootlike being are not particularly vulnerable to being burnt either. On the contrary even, sometimes the thorny men move so fast that they evade all the flames. Puk, who blunders about mesmerized, gets targeted by two of the quickwoods. “Ouch, that stings”, he whines when they smash their thorns into his flesh. Elvira throws around more buffs, heroism, while Sjo continues to burn the plants with his fire storm and resorts to mass cure spells to support the party. One of the viper vines almost gets torn to shreds by Balian’s forceblade, which cuts through the sinewy material like a knife through butter. Elvira notices that the vine is near destruction and finishes the job with her first casting of the [i[magic missile[/i] spell ever. Five darts of energy appear seemingly out of nowhere and unerringly strike the viper vine, which stops moving. Sigurd, who is swinging his greataxe, takes down one of the quickthorns, which was already severely burnt by Sjo’s magic. Elvira slows the enemies, making it easier for Sjo to keep up healing everyone at once. But it is the king’s fire that turns the battle in the heroes’ favor, because one by one, the plants creatures fall under the flames.
Through the curtain of roots, Sigurd sees a tunnel, leading deeper underground. It looks like Tasathyl’s lair consists of more than just one cave. The tube is filled with sour mist, but Sjo’s protections from acid safeguards everyone from its sting. The floor, walls and ceiling also glisten with moisture, which feels slimy to the touch. Sigurd leads the way. Normally the dwarf can see perfectly in the dark, but the mist clouds his vision. Suddenly he bumps into a transparent wall. Fortunately, the slime does not adhere to him as he is still affected by freedom of movement. The party realizes that the way forward is completely blocked by slime and sees that the way back fills up with slime as well. Now both directions are clogged.
From behind the wall of slime, a slender, vaguely humanoid female figure, who looks to be made of green and yellow ooze, approaches. She almost seems to be swimming through the slime. Her voice calls out: “Why are you here?”
Elvira steps forward. “We humbly seek an audience with Lady Tasathyl. We bring her a priceless gift, a book that is over 10,000 years old, just to be able to talk to her. We have an important mission that requires us to confront the red tyrant, who is Tasathyl’s enemy as well. We were wondering if we could help each other out.”
“Show me this book you speak of.”
“I dread to take it out, the slime would destroy it”, Elvira claims.
The slime wall changes into the giant face of the ooze woman. Then it forms into an arm and hand, which extends to Elvira’s shoulder, and gently strokes it. Even through her magic acid protection Elvira can tell that this touch does not burn. “The book will not be harmed, please give it to me, so I can present it to my mistress. Then she can decide if this gift warrants a meeting.”
Elvira pulls the Truths about the Sihedron out of one of her dimensional pockets and holds it out to the hand of slime. The hand accepts the gift, then pulls the tome into the wall, where it drifts out of view.
About ten minutes later the ooze creature returns. She drops the slimy obstructions and nods to the party. “My mistress appreciates your understanding of which knowledge is truly valuable and has agreed to speak to you. Please follow me.” She leads the heroes into a big cave, which is almost completely filled by a big pool of water. Standing on the bank, the adventurers with darkvision can just make out another rocky shore across the water.
Suddenly a voice rings out. “What do a dwarf, a halfling and three humans want from me?”
Elvira answers: “Great lady Tasathyl. We thank you for your time. We have learned we have an enemy in common, the red menace Daralathyxl.” Behind the enchantress Sigurd grunts as she speaks the dragon’s name.
“It is true, Daralathyxl and I have met in battle before, more than once. We are no friends and I care not whether he lives or dies, but I’m certainly not consumed by the desire the end his existence. What would I gain from allying with you in this venture?”
“We hail from Korvosa, a city to the west, which has a big library. Maybe there are books there you haven’t read yet. We also own an extensive private library, with rarer tomes. The book we gave you comes from there. We would grant you access to both places. Also, as you surely know, Korvosa used to be the domain of Runelord Sorshen, Eurythnia. We have uncovered several of her secrets, including her tomb. Some of these places hold powerful magical inscriptions, which we would gladly allow you to study.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“There is even a person in Korvosa who has a pass into the Fallen Fastness in Dis, the infernal library which is supposed to hold a copy of every record ever written. This person is not exactly our friend, but we could get you in touch with him nevertheless, if you so desire.”
“Hmm, defeating the red tyrant grants you access to his immense hoard. There might be an item or two in there that interests me as well”, the voice says.
“I suppose that could be arranged, although our goal is not to steal the dragon’s gold. On the contrary, we have promised to return his treasure to the people he stole it from, the dwarves and the humans in the neighborhood. Still, we could possibly persuade the dwarven High King to part with a small selection. Note, though, that there is an axe in Daralathyxl’s hoard that is of special value to the dwarves. You would not be able to pick that.”
“I have heard about this Axe of Dwarvish Lords,” Tasathyl responds, “and that is not the kind of reward I’m after. If I were to aid you, I would claim, let’s say … three items from the hoard … and I would get first choice.”
“Now, why would you think that you could ever defeat the mighty red wyrm? He is, after all, a god on this world and nearly invincible. What makes you the ones who can triumph where hundreds of others have failed?”
“Well, we already have a powerful ally, one who led us to you. An enemy of dragons who kill others out of greed, but a friend to those who do no harm to the innocent. His name is Sigurd.”
“Ah, the Dragondoom dwarf. Your reputation precedes you, good sir. I hope you do not come here to seek my destruction.”
“As long as the people around here look at you as a hero and not with dread, I would never contemplate harming you, milady. I only seek to end those of your kind who pillage and kill without provocation. My moniker only applies to them, not you.”
“Alright then. This dwarf is an asset.”
“As you would be, milady, a necessary asset, I might add”, Elvira flatters. “And of course, we are not without skill ourselves.”
“Lillian, my servant, already informed me that you fought quite well against my plant guardians, and that you only fought when necessary, which is indeed a good sign. But if you face Daralathyxl, skill alone will not be enough. The great wyrm is so powerful that he could simply crush you, despite your skill.”
“Told you …” Sigurd interrupts, “take everything you think you know about the mightiest of dragons and multiply that by ten!”
“Quite right, sir Sigurd. Do you know how I survived my fights against Daralathyxl? It is not because of my strength. As you can guess, I am quite capable myself, but no match for the likes of the great red wyrm. Still, the tyrant is so all-powerful that he overestimates himself. He gets cocky and doesn’t always use the best tactics, because – mostly – he doesn’t have to. So you have to be smarter than him, take your advantage where you can find it and avoid giving him the upper hand strategically. So my question for you is this, are you smart enough to overcome adverse odds?”
“How can we prove ourselves to you?” Elvira offers, confident of her own intelligence.
“Solve me these riddles, little one.
Throw me on my back
Elvira ponders the words, but it is Balian who suggests the answer: “A book.’
“Correct. How about this one?
It stands alone, with no bone or solid form.
Again Balian comes up with the answer: “The truth.”
What can bring back the dead,
Once more Balian’s street smarts prevails: “A memory.”
“Alright, then, little ones. Tell me your names and we will make a deal. I will aid you.”
“Of course, pardon our bad manners. My name is Elvira Campert, and these are my companions, king Shaoban Onemaker of Korvosa, his Hand, lord Balian and our loyal friend Puk the halfling. And we already told you about Sigurd. Pleased to make your acquaintance.
A loud splash sounds from somewhere deeper in the complex. The pool of water ripples with waves, then a great shape bursts from the surface. It is a gargantuan green dragon, who glides onto the shore at the other end of the cave. “Then let us commit our agreement to paper”, the dragon says. She utters a few magical words and shifts into the human-sized form of a draconian woman. On a sheet of parchment she draws up a contract in the most beautifyul handwriting. She agrees to help the party fight Daralathyxl if they agree to let her have three items from his hoard (though not the dwarven axe). They also have to allow her to come and go to Korvosa as she pleases, to consult any available source of knowledge. She invites the party to cross the pool and sign the deal. “Now remember,”, she concludes, “when you are outmatched physically, you’ll have to be smarter than your opponent to prevail. I hope you can devise a winning tactic.”
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
SHAOBAN (SJO), LN Male Human oracle 15
Clouded Vision Your eyes are obscured, making it difficult for you to see.
Trained actor You trained as a child to be an actor. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Perform (act) and Perform (act) is always a class skill for you. You also gain a free skill point in Perform (act).
ELVIRA 'EL' CAMPERT, NG Female Human (Taldan) enchanter 15
Abilities Str 9, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 29, Wis 14, Cha 18
Possessions amulet of natural armor +2; eyes of the eagle; headband of vast intelligence +6 (bluff, perform (act) and sense motive skill bonus); ring of lover’s lightning; Sorshen’s scintillating garment, pearl of power (1st level); pearl of power (2nd level), emerald ellipsoid ioun stone (2x), stone of good luck; 2 spellbooks; masterwork dagger
[b]Student of perception You have studied the art of perception in depth. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Perception checks and Perception is always a class skill for you.
BALIAN, CG Male Human ranger 15 (urban ranger)
Trained actor You trained as a child to be an actor. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Perform (act) and Perform (act) is always a class skill for you. You also gain a free skill point in Perform (act).
PUK, CG Male Halfling rogue 15 (swashbuckler)
Sneak Attack (Ex) If you can catch an opponent when he is unable to defend himself effectively from your attack, you can strike a vital spot for extra damage. Your attack deals 8d6 points of extra damage.
Fast-Talker You had a knack at getting yourself into trouble as a child, and as a result developed a silver tongue at an early age. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Bluff checks, and Bluff is always a class skill for you.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Shout-out to Eric, who joined us as a guest player. You really wowed our table with excellent roleplaying, thanks!
9 Pharast 4709 AR
The party returns to Highhelm after two days. Sjo has reached a deal with his small council in Korvosa. The members have agreed to compensate the dwarves for possible damages caused by the actions of Sjo and his friends for up to half a million gold sails. In return Sjo has to accept that he and his entourage will pay a higher tax rate on what the earn from now on outside of their office, twenty percent instead of ten, something that really bothers Balian. Glorio Arkona also wants to be made special envoy in case of indemnity. And Larella, who would become regent if Sjo were to die until their unborn child reaches maturity, would need to consult with the council on all matters of importance during her rule.
High King Borogrim accepts the insurance and introduces the heroes to his dragonslaying champion, Sigurd Dragondoom. The dwarf who steps forward does not look like a legendary warrior, but more like a bored drifter. He sighs heavily and rolls his eyes when he meets the visitors, quite unimpressed with their titles and big promises of hefty compensation. He frowns upon Sjo’s revelation that he was ‘elected’ king, and suggests moving to a place that serves drinks to have a decent conversation. Surprisingly, he proposes a place far away, the Silver Bulette in the Andoran town of Olfden on the eastern border of the Arthfell Forest, th the South of the Five King Mountains. When it looks like he wants to make the long way over there on foot, Elvira offers to teleport everyone, which Sigurd accepts if she promises to make it a ‘slow’ teleport.
The Silver Bulette is a large inn with an expansive tavern on the ground floor. Since it is still quite early in the day, there are only a handful of patrons inside, who are overjoyed to hear Sigurd shout that drinks are ‘on the king’, pointing to Sjo. As the dwarf down his first tankard of ale, Puk asks him when one ‘becomes a dragonslayer’. How many dragons do you have to slay?
“That’s easy,” Sigurd snorts, wiping the froth from his moustache, “when people refer to you as a dragonslayer. But for now, I’m more interested in you, who are you and what can you do?”
Elvira is the first to answer, explaining that she is a former librarian and an accomplished enchantress. To her surprise, Sigurd is more interested in her bookish background than her magical powers. He finds the concept of making others do what you want quite normal for alluring women like Elvira, even if she is exceptionally skinny. But having access to rare books might actually come in handy, he claims.
Puk says he is Korvosa’s best drummer and quite skilled at stabbing enemies in vulnerable places. Sjo introduces himself as Shaoban Onemaker, a man of mixed blood, who managed to unite both people he originated from, after they had been at each other’s throats for three centuries. He is also good at healing. Balian summons his force blade and war cat, and explains that he is also good at making people do what he wants, which is bleed and die.
Next, Puk returns the question and asks Sigurd about his skills. The dwarf says he shoots a bow, which is usually a sound tactic when fighting dragons, because you don’t want those beasts to come close and unleash hell on you. Also, when the monsters are in flight, standing on the ground with an axe in your hands is somewhat ineffective.
“Still, I’m curious”, he continues, “why do you want to go and face this particularly powerful dragon? Seems very ambitious for people who come from a backwater town in a far-away land?”
Elvira explains the goal of the mission. “We have to destroy an evil artefact, forged from the teeth of the ancient evil wyrm Kazavon. To accomplish that, we need to bathe the object in the breath weapon of a dragon who is at least as vile and powerful as Kazavon was, and it looks like the only one in our hemisphere who fits the bill is Daralathyxl …”
Sigurd jumps up and spits: “Do not speak that name in my presence! I curse the evil red one’s name! But yes, I have heard of this great blue menace, Kazavon, who subjugated orcs and humans and committed unspeakable horrors. He was powerful indeed. There are few who surpass him.
But, do you have any idea of what you’ll be facing? What do you know about these creatures? I mean, take everything you know about dragons, and I do mean like the worst of the worst you can imagine. Got the picture? Well, now multiply that by ten and maybe, maybe you’ll grasp the challenge ahead.
So, having heard of your exploits, I do believe you have some skill, so you might be able to confront the red dragon … with, let’s say, twenty years of dedicated training, perhaps?”
“Twenty years? We were more thinking along the lines of … this week? After all, I have a kingdom to rule … and a baby on the way”, Sjo protests.
“Why do you humans always have to be so damn impatient? I know you don’t live that long, but you are not ready! What’s twenty years? Even you live longer than that, and from the look of it, you’re barely out of your diapers. You require training and then, maybe in twenty years you’ll be ready, perhaps fifteen if you’re extremely focused. After all, how many dragons have you slain?”
“Well,” Sjo muses, “Ileosa, the evil queen we defeated, had three dragons serving her.
“Sounds promising, go on …”
“We fought her blue dragon once, although we didn’t finish the fight. We also faced off against the red one, but it fled the scene, and we did actually kill the black one, didn’t we?”
“How big was it and how did you slay it?”
“It was … huge?” Elvira thinks out loud. “And, what happened again … oh yeah, I dominated its rider, who finished it off.”
Sigurd rolls his eyes again. “A dragon with a rider? What kind of weak-willed creature was that? Nothing compared to what you’re up against now. Any others?”
“We killed another black dragon in the swamps, when we were younger, but it was smaller”, Balian claims.
“Yes, and Ileosa also had this dragon made of blood when we confronted her, although, technically, that wasn’t a real dragon”, Puk tries.
“And in the Harrow Realm, we faced a very big blue dragon”, Sjo remembers. “That was a tough fight.”
“And this one didn’t have a rider?” Sigurd mocks.
“No, but … it was kind of a patchwork dragon, made of … wax.”
‘Torag’s beard! Even twenty years of training might not do! Unless you know of any other parties of adventurers that at least match your strength!”
“Well, Keppira is quite powerful,” Elvira ponders, “but not really the adventuring type, and the others in Korvosa are starting to lag behind, I’m afraid.”
“The Shoanti have some capable warriors,” Sjo interjects, “like Krojun, or my mum.”
“Your mother, really … I don’t think so.” Balian disagrees.
Sigurd sighs: “Unless you know a decent-sized group to join us, it won’t matter anyway. Without the proper training and preparation, we’ll be sorely outmatched as we are now. Although, there might be another option, one I dread to even consider, but circumstances being what they are …”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there is another dragon in the region who might be swayed to join our cause.”
“Why didn’t you say that to begin with? You mean, like a gold dragon, or a silver?” Elvira beams.
“Copper; then? Or bronze … brass?”
Sigurd shakes his head. “Hmm, not exactly.”
“What other types of metallic dragons are there, then?”
“I didn’t say a metallic dragon.”
“Huh? So, what is it, then?”
“She’s a green one.”
“But green dragons are evil!”
“Well, there’s evil, and then there’s evil. So, this dragon is … green and she’ll bite your head off without hesitation if you cross her, so some might call that evil, I guess. But she’s not driven by violence, not like others of her kind. She actually prefers people like you”, Sigurd nods at Elvira.
“Me? I’m no dragon snack! Dragons like virgins and I’m not …”
“I’m not interested in your sex life, nor is this green dragon. But she is obsessed with knowledge, like books and stuff … your cup of tea, right? On occasion, she even hires adventurers to explore forgotten ruins and uncover some ancient mystery or tome.”
“And how would she be able to aid us?”
“Well, as it stands, she is one of the few to have fought the one who shall not be named and survive the encounter. On several occasions even! She might not be as big and strong as him, and definitely not as evil, but she must either be very quick, very lucky, or very clever. She’d make a valuable addition to our team, even if she brings along her own set of risks.”
“And to gain her cooperation, we’d have to give her a book? We might have a thing or two that could interest her. The Leroung library is quite extensive, and there are some pretty special books in Domina’s Tower as well.”
“Yup, that’s why I said that you being a bookworm was a good thing. Now, there is another matter I want to address before we push on.” Sigurd squints his eyes as he leans forward. He is dead serious, nothing in his demeanor shows that he has just downed half a dozen tankards of beer. “We have to talk about how this ends.”
“We destroy the artefact.”
“Sure you do, but that is not what I mean. I’m talking about how it ends for the red wyrm.The dragon has to die!”
“Well, we already discussed that with your king, technically the dragon doesn’t have to die, he just has to breathe on the artefact so we can smash it to pieces. But that might irate the creature, which explains why we had to guarantee that any acts of revenge on the dwarves or their neighbors will be compensated. So yes, killing him is probably a good option.”
“No, not an option, the only choice you have! At least if you want my help.”
“Ah, YOU want him dead! I see.”
“Yes, and I need you to swear an oath that you’ll kill him or die trying.”
“We’ll have to think about it, but we understand your condition.”
“Good. Then, let’s order lunch, I’m getting hungry. And while we wait for our food, why don’t you all impress me with some prodigious feat, to prove your mettle?”
Elvira tries to magically immobilize Sigurd, but when that fails, she turns him besotted with euphoric tranquility and makes him buy drinks for everyone in the house. Puk hammers an incredibly fast rhythm on the table with the hilt of his sword, onehandedly, while picking the dwarf’s pocket with his other hand and offering to pay yet another round on the dwarf using his purse. Sigurd smacks his hand flat on the table and dares Puk to jab the knife between his fingers. The halfling does so with amazing speed, but also with stunning accuracy, for when the dwarf lifts his hand, his palm has been outlined perfectly in the wood.
Balian simply proposes a duel and turns to the dwarf for an answer. The only reply he gets is a mug aimed at his face, but his spaulder catches the blow. He returns the favor by smacking the dwarf in the face with his fist. Sigurd chuckles, blood glowing on his teeth.
Sjo invites the dwarf to join him outside. He conjures a fierce fire storm around himself, rising from the flames with his fiery wings outspread, then turning into a huge fire elemental and ending his display with a column of electricity that hits the ground just in front of Sigurd, who grumbles: “Fire’s no good against a red one.” “Oh, well, I’m a medic too”, Sjo shrugs.
Sigurd seems content with the display and after lunch, he joins the party to Korvosa, still a bit anxious about using teleport. Elvira takes stock of which rare writings she could offer the green dragon. Three things come to mind. Domina’s library holds a singular tome called Truths about the Sihedron, a work in Infernal detailing the seven Runelords, written by the belier devil Sermignatto when he was still working with Sorshen ten millennia ago. Second are the writings on the wall of the Architect’s tomb, which provide incredible insight in geometry and construction, but drive anyone but the most strong-willed mad, and which would be of interest to a superior scholar as well, as would the writings on the wall of the Sunken Queen, unlocking the powers of blood magic. But Elvira hesitates to release this last source, after all, it holds considerable danger as well. Still, the book on the Runelords makes an excellent opening gift, enough to make any genius salivate. Since she is a brainiac herself, Elvira tries to reread as much of the tome as she can tonight, before she has to say goodbye to it.
10 Pharast 4709 AR
Sigurd has Elvira teleport everyone to Highhelm the next morning, where they take an oath in the temple of Torag, the Father of Creation, to kill the red dragon or die trying. Then they port into the heart of the Arthfell Forest, which is overgrown thick brush, hampering their movement. As Sigurd hones his senses to the sounds of the wood, the party prepares several buffs to move more freely and be bolstered and better protected to face an acid-spitting green dragon.
Suddenly the undergrowth comes to life and clutches at the adventurers’ legs. Elvira, Sigurd and Balian have freedom of movement active, so they are unaffected. Puk is nimble enough to break free, but Sjo gets entangled.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
2 Pharast 4709 AR
With a gift of three barrels of beer in the bag of holding the companions teleport to the gates of Highhelm in the Five Kings Mountains. Massive iron gates decorated with a huge dwarf face carved above the entrance, guard the way into the Sky Citadel.
A female guard, Akmara, greets the party at the gates. Elvira announces King Shaoban Onemaker of Korvosa and asks for an audience with the High King. Akmara leads the visitors into the underground city to a private guesthouse. Sjo hands her the letter from Janderhoff’s clan lord Ragnar Ironfist and reaffirms his request to speak to Borogrim the Hale. Akmara leaves for a couple of hours. When she returns, she confirms that the king will see them in five days. The companions thank her and return to Korvosa for now, after all, their home is ‘just a teleport away’.
3 Pharast 4709 AR
The next morning Sjo talks to Tayce Soldado. He explains that the prophecy on how to destroy the Fangs of Midnight calls for an innocent soul who survived the recent plague. Her daughter Brienna fits these criteria perfectly, so Korvosa will need the girl’s aid. When Sjo reveals the rest of the prophecy – the part about the gigantic evil dragon – Tayce is shocked and reluctant to allow her daughter to participate in such a dangerous undertaking. Sjo assures her that he and his friends have various means to maximize the girl’s safety: they can either hide her in Balian’s extra-dimensional bracer or they can have her stand at the ready at a predetermined location in Korvosa, so they can teleport to her side when her aid is required, which is after the dragon has breathed on the crown. Tayce clearly favors the latter solution.
The party also ponders on how to proceed with the dragon. Elvira sees three possible strategies: force the dragon, bribe or trick him. Forcing him means defeating him to an inch of death and then demanding that he does their bidding. A powerful enchantment spell might do the same, but getting such a spell to take hold on such a legendary creature will be very hard. Bribing him involves paying him whatever he wants to buy his cooperation, which will be hard as well. Even if it works, the creature’s price will be exuberant, and, won’t he just want the fangs themselves? Tricking him might be the most viable option: storm in and provoke the dragon to use his breath weapon on the person carrying the crown, then teleport away. With this option in mind, Elvira already has some sort of bird cage made to hold the crown, so someone can carry the evil artefact without having to touch it.
7 Pharast 4709 AR
At ten o’clock in the morning the High King of the dwarves welcomes the petitioners in his impressive throne room. Borogrim the Hale is old, but his eyes still burn with alertness. He seems only mildly entertained with the Korvosan beer Sjo offers him as a gift and asks the companions why they have come calling.
Elvira does not beat around the bush and tells him they are looking for Daralathyxl. When Borogrim takes them for ‘ordinary’ adventurers who think it might be ‘fun’ to hunt a dragon and steal his treasure, she explains the true purpose of their request. They need the dragon to breathe on an evil artefact to destroy it. The High King is sceptic, he has heard tales about how hard it is to get rid of artefacts, but he sincerely doubts the dragon will cooperate. Elvira reveals the three strategies they devised, favoring the one in which the companions trick the dragon to breathe on them – including the artefact – and simply teleport away. Borogrim says that might work, but to accomplish that, they will have to wake the dragon from his slumber and invoke his ire. Obviously, such a god among dragons does not appreciate invaders in his lair, and will surely look for revenge. If the heroes return to Korvosa, they might be safe from the dragon’s wrath, but the dwarves in the Five Kings Mountains won’t be. The beast has been inactive for a decade now, and the dwarves want to keep it that way for as long as possible.
Of course, the king understands that his visitors can just go and try to find the dragon on their own. So, negotiating with them is the better option. He can tell from their equipment and list of accomplishments that they are powerful. He also puts a lot of faith in Ironfist’s word that the party members are honorable. If Janderhoff’s clan lord trusts them, so does he. Of course, if the companions want to dwarves’ help in confronting Daralathyxl, they will have to agree to Borogrim’s terms.
Firstly, he requires guarantees that Korvosa will provide compensation, should the party’s actions provoke the dragon into attacking the dwarves or any of their human neighbors. Secondly, he claims the dragon’s hoard, should the party defeat the beast. Daralathyxl has stolen an incredible amount of wealth from the inhabitants of the Five Kings Mountains and the countries of Isger, Druma and Andoran. This treasure should obviously be returned to them. The High King also mentions one item of particular import to his people, the Axe of Dwarvish Lords. Thirdly, he wants to send one of his own men along, a ranger specialized in dragon hunting, Sigurd Dragondoom.
Sjo promises to return with an answer in 48 hours. He wants to consult with the small council in Korvosa first, before giving assurances with his people’s money.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
My biggest complaint is that all three way stations have a similar story of 'they've been usurped'. This feels a little unsatisfying to me, unless there's a backstory hook I've missed as to why all three 'fell' at once to outside influence.
I feel the same.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
The heroes take some time to recover from their last ordeal. It looks like, for the first time in many months, Korvosa has returned to its former, stable self. The companions enlist the dwarves of Janderhoff to convert the remains of the gold colossus in Sorshen’s temple to cash. After making a generous donation to the city’s coffers, they invest the rest of their earnings to upgrade their equipment. Since they now live in the castle, they even sell their villa in Southshore, to the new high inquisitor of Asmodeus, Urdo Chartagnion, who has also become Cheliax’s de facto ambassador in Korvosa.
Sjo tells his wife what transpired under the mastaba, explaining that the virtuous essence of Sorshen has somehow merged with their unborn baby. Then he sets to ruling his kingdom, finding that being a monarch is mostly tedious work, red tape and bureaucracy. Still, he wants to try and be a good leader and use his position to do some good. One of his first decisions is to organize a weekly breakfast for a handful of random citizens, focusing on the weak and sick, and serving them a heroes’ feast to cure their diseases. He also appoints a new Shoanti ambassador, Saamesh, the young man the party saved from the orcs in Urgir, who is also the son of the most powerful jothka in all the tribes, Valkur Burns-in-his-Veins.
Puk has a first mission for his secret service: tracking down the two vampires who escaped from the castle. They manage to locate the kitchen maid Mikki, who has trouble controlling her urges and leaves a trail that makes her easy to find. There is no sign of Thousand Bones, however. The Shoanti shaman has either left the city or gone into hiding.
Balian takes charge of rebuilding the military, turning Citadel Vraid into a new training center. Several Shoanti wish to join as well, preferring the Sable Company, with less tribesmen interested in becoming members of the Korvosan Watch, unless they are guaranteed to be posted at an outpost in the hinterland, rather than in the city. He also forms a new special unit within the Sable Company, a palace guard.
Elvira becomes close friends with queen Larella, happily accepting her offer to become godmother when the baby arrives. She also continues her research into destroying the Crown of Fangs, working with the Dean of Divination, Norva Allesain, on a grand-scale divining ritual. For this séance, she gathers all powerful magic-users she trusts who can cast divination spells: Dean Norva Allesain, Darb Tuttle of Abadar, Ezekiel Sollux of Sarenrae, Keppira d’Bear of Pharasma, Arunan Lives-Of-Fire, the Sun shaman of the Sklar-Quah and, obviously Elvira herself and Sjo. She also asks Puk, Balian and Cressida Kroft to contribute, since they all played such an important part in the struggle against the evil crown-bearing queen. She places the artefact on a pedestal in the middle of the throne room and leads the gathering through the lengthy procedure.
The ritual is a success. With her eyes closed, Elvira suddenly sees an angel appear in front of her, wings burning. She suspects this divine creature to be a herald of Shelyn, the goddess of love and beauty, who once was the loving twin sister of Zon-Kuthon, before he fell to evil and misery. Through Elvira’s mouth, the angel recites the following words:
The fangs of Kazavon
To see this burden done
Already he withstood
But first the tool of death
Or better, blacker yet
Interpreting the text, Elvira and her guests figure that destroying the Fangs of Midnight requires both extreme good and extreme evil.
The good must be someone who is still virtuous and kindhearted, but who fell victim to Kazavon’s foul disease. Since Kazavon was manipulating Ileosa at the time of the plague, that disease should definitely qualify. An innocent person who got very sick, but survived the terrible scourge, is Brienna Soldado, the young girl from Trail's End who Sjo saved. Her mother, Tayce, now works in the Castle and her girl is often there as well. Elvira has even been helping her learning to read and write. She seems to fit the description perfectly.
The big, bad evil has to be a creature who is at least as powerful and black-hearted as Kazavon was, who will have to breathe over the Fangs with his fiery breath. Clearly this means another dragon, but one of the greatest power imaginable: a great wyrm!
So, first the dragon will have to use its breath weapon on the Fangs, and then the child will have to smash them. But how do you find such a dragon, and how do you get it to comply? Moreover, taking a vulnerable child to face one of the greatest threats in the world is nothing short of suicide. Fortunately, Balian offers a solution for the latter, the pocket dimension in his Bracer of Pet Preserve could easily house one creature safely, it doesn’t have to be his pet, it could just as well be a human. The dimension might be an isolated place for the child to hide in, but the green valley inside is certainly an agreeable environment.
This leaves the matter of the dragon. Research teaches Elvira that at least one such beast lives within reachable distance, in the Five Kings Mountains, a mountain range located somewhere between Korvosa and Taldor. The terror goes by the name of Daralathyxl, a great red wyrm. Since the Five Kings Mountains are dwarven territory, Sjo suggest visiting Janderhoff first, to learn more about their destination.
In the dwarven citadel of Janderhoff, the party meets up with Ragnar Ironfist, the clan lord. He tells them that the Five Kings Mountains are the largest center of dwarven culture on Golarion. Its largest city, the Sky citadel of Highhelm, is located under the lofty Emperor’s Peak. Once the range consisted of five nations, each ruled by one of five brothers, who quickly fell to infighting, resulting in a 700-year long civil war. When they finally struck a treaty, a new threat presented itself: their ancient enemies, the orcs, invaded. One by one the kingdoms collapsed, until only the Sky citadel of Highhelm remained. This ended the Era of the Five Kings, who now only live on in the range’s name.
Nowadays, there are six loosely-affiliated dwarven cities in the region, each acting as independent city-states with their own government and traditions. There is no central authority, but Highhelm is considered the de jure capital. High King Borogrim the Hale convenes a meeting of the Gathering Council, composed of the rulers of each of the six cities, once every 200 years. These councils are known to go on for months.
If the party needs a place to begin their search for the infamous dragon, Highhelm seems like the perfect place to start. Clan lord Ironfist from Janderhoff writes a letter of recommendation for the heroes to facilitate their introduction to High King Borogrim the Hale.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
So, two years have passed since I wrote the previous post.
I just completed both follow-up stories:
Although ideas for the second scenario have been lying around for several years now, I waited for Return of the Runelords to give it my final spin, so now it more or less fits into what Sorshen becomes in that story, or at least, it could be made to fit if you wanted to.
If you want to find out how we played out these scenarios in detail, you can look at my ‘Curse of the Crimson Throne’ journal on these boards. Long Live the King starts at post 375, while The Awakening of Lust starts at post 392.
There are supporting pictures with miniatures and scenery pieces on my Deviantart page. The journal is linked to the relevant images.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sjo immediately sets to mending all injuries with his wands, while Elvira walks up to the naked woman on the altar. She looks absolutely gorgeous, with lush black hair. There can be no mistake, she is the spitting image of every depiction of Sorshen Elvira has ever seen. Still, there is something strange about her. Examining the unconscious body, Elvira concludes that it is in some kind of hibernation, but there is more to it than that. Despite its physical perfection it feels ‘fake’. This is not the real Sorshen, but a clone, much like the blood clones that Ileosa used to make, but better. Under the altar Puk discovers some scrolls, obviously divine in nature. He hands them to Sjo, who is pleasantly surprised to find they contain one mass heal and three normal heal spells.
Suddenly a humming whoooom comes from outside. Running to the doors, the heroes see that the lake has completely turned red. A bright white light shines from below the surface in the middle of the pool. Then a beam of energy shoots up, its brightness hurting the eyes of the onlookers. Squinting, Elvira makes out a shape in the light, outlining female perfection. “Kusasfa was right,” the enchantress mutters, “we are too late. Our blood woke her from her icy slumber and now the paragon of lust and love opens up her eyes! Behold how the Runelord rises!”
As suddenly as it started, the light dies out again and ‘zap’, an unequaled specimen of the female sex appears on the steps of the temple, clothed in a dazzling crimson gown of the finest silks. Despite the fact that she has just risen from a pool of blood, her skin is completely dry and clean, gleaming in a warm olive complexion. She is extremely beautiful, black curls cascade along the side of her neck and down her back, her eyes ablaze with an emerald haze. Imbedded in the skin of her left shoulder are eight green gems. This is Sorshen returned.. Just gazing upon her causes the heroes to gasp for air. When she opens her mouth, a beguiling voice comes out, sounding like three voices in one.
“As you might know, we, the Runelords, wielded powerful magic based on sin: greed provoked Karzoug, wrath sparked Alaznist, sloth drove Krune, pride inspired Xanderghul, gluttony imbued Zutha, envy triggered Belimarius and I, Sorshen, was spurred on by lust. But it wasn’t always so, once our power came from one of the seven virtues of rule: generosity, kindness, zeal, humility, temperance, charity and, my personal favorite, love. But, over the course of centuries, these virtues became corrupted, buried in sin and forgotten, albeit not completely erased.
Ten thousand years ago, at the height of our power, we were forced to flee from a disaster that threatened to annihilate us all: Earthfall, a swarm of meteors that impacted Golarion and destroyed the world as we knew it. We took shelter in our runewells, sinking into a millennia-long slumber, much longer than any of us had anticipated or hoped, because, somehow, the mechanism to bring us back had faltered.
That is, until five years ago, when Karzoug, the Runelord of greed, emerged from slumber and tried to reclaim the realm that was once his. But he failed to acknowledge that times had changed and he was finally defeated by a group of heroes. Still, his re-emergence into this world set off a chain reaction that flared other runewells like mine to life, with enough power to make me stir in my sleep, but not sufficiently powerful to bring me back to this world. I was, however, able to send out a sliver of my mind, to explore the new world that had arisen since my demise. My consciousness found purchase in a brilliant young scholar in the Acadamae. Yes, I am talking about you, Lady Elvira Campert. I rode along on your thoughts like a fly on the wall, watching and learning. My presence infused you with extraordinary powers, making you more brilliant than your peers and, let’s be honest, much more appealing as well.
After our merger, I don’t believe you ever had any trouble mastering even the most complicated enchantments, thus freeing up your time to pursue other interests. I was initially surprised that these interests did not include carnal desires, but rather a hunger for knowledge, which led you to work in the library and read up on every possible subject, allowing me to learn more about the current state of the world.
Floating on the edge of your mind did more for me than just grant me knowledge, it also allowed me to experience life from a different perspective, one not focused on the things that controlled my thoughts during the last few centuries of my rule: lust and power. Instead, you made me feel what it was like to live like a normal person, something I had forgotten. Through you I relived my own youth, before I became a Runelord of Sin, even before I became a Ruler of Virtue. You rekindled something in my soul. I was inspired by your selfless need to help others and do good, learning and remembering that kindness carried its own reward. And so I reconnected with the more virtuous side of my personality, finding a renewed appreciation for purity and love.
When Ileosa recently reactivated the Everdawn Pool, she fueled more power to my Runewell, allowing me to exercise just a little more influence over you, Elvira. After six years of bookish learning and sheltered virtue, I decided to try out what your values would be worth in the real world. Understanding that Ileosa had to be stopped, I steered you on the path of these heroes and watched what happened as events unfolded. I was not disappointed, finding that your good heart weathered the storm and came out on top, much to the delight of my virtuous side.
Now, the last step in my rebirth is complete: my one-time consort Kusasfa was finally able to restore me to life, as he was meant to do so many centuries ago. Still, I do not blame him for the delay, because I emerge renewed. As I stand before you now, I do so in all aspects of my being: I am Sorshen, Runelord of Lust, the sinful ruler who went to sleep here, I am also Sorshen, the Paragon of Love, my virtue restored. And of course, I am Sorshen in transition between the two, caught between good and evil.
Yet, for the safety of this world and the well-being of all its creatures, I cannot be allowed to be a split personality, and thus I require your aid. So, Elvira, the final decision is yours. You will choose which Sorshen arises, the good one, the bad or the one in between? Do whatever your heart tells you to, but to aid you in your dilemma, I will give you a hint to discover my true identity. Just know that, when we no longer speak as a trinity, but as single entities, my virtuous self always speaks true, my sinful side always lies and the Sorshen in transition might do either.”
At that moment Sorshen splits apart in three identical copies. They all speak at the same time:
“You can ask who one of us is, and all three of us will answer your question. Who do you want to know about?”
Taking in the stream of information, Elvira stops to ponder her options. She intensely studies all three women’s faces, but finds no clue whatsoever to their true nature. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter who I ask about, so I want to know who you are”, she says to the middle Sorshen.
The left Sorshen is the first to answer: “She is the virtuous one.”
Next the one in the middle speaks. “I am the one in transition”, she claims.
Finally, the woman on the right says: “She is the sinful one.”
So, let’s try to figure this out, Elvira muses. The Sorshen in the middle cannot be the good one, because then she would have said so. So one of the others is the virtuous version, but it can’t have been the one on the left, because then she would have lied. That makes the right Sorshen the good one, and since she never lies, the one in the middle is the evil one. That leaves the neutral copy on the left.
Elvira walks up to the beauty on the right and kneels in front of her: “You are the Runelord I choose.” The woman simply nods and smiles. “You have chosen wisely. Now finish what you started.” Then she steps back and closes her eyes.
The Sorshen in the middle reacts differently to Elvira’s choice. As soon as the enchantress kneels before her good sister, the sinful one’s face contorts in an evil smirk. “You ignorant girl, do you really think that the most powerful ruler ever to walk these lands will just turn over and go away because you say so?” An orange bead appears in her right hand; with a soft blow of her mouth she sends it off to the party. It exploded in a fierce fireball that is so powerful that even Sjo gets seriously scorched, despite his fire resistance. The whole party now looks like burned toast, forcing Sjo to grab his new scroll of mass heal and restore everyone to full health.
As they rush in to attack, Puk and Balian are filled with awe for Sorshen’s beguiling beauty. Balian is wise enough to see past this perfect exterior and judge the woman by her nature, but Puk questions whether he should even hit someone so beautiful, missing his attacks. When she turns to him and stares deeply into his eyes, things get worse, as he is overtaken with butterflies that make him sick in the stomach.
Sorshen is wielding a big guisarme, adorned with blades at either end. A strange choice of weapon for a magic-user, it seems, until she throws it into the air and it starts attacking on its own. She also casts a quickened spell that brings forth a magic shield to bolster her defenses even more. Then she summons a cage made of pure force to try and capture Balian, but the ranger calls upon his heroic luck to jump out of the way in the nick of time.
Elvira realizes that Sorshen’s defenses make her almost invulnerable to the attacks of Puk and Balian, and decides to take down the shield. She cast greater dispel magic, seeing with her permanent detect magic that she has taken down another potent spell as well. Sorshen had a contingency going that would heal her if she got hurt too badly, so by taking down this spell, Elvira made a game-changing move, without realizing it. Puk is still in doubt whether he should mar Sorshen’s beauty, and when she gives Esphydriel an alluring look, he gets jealous and strikes at the hound archon instead. Balian has no such qualms and is not misguided by the woman’s charm. His attacks now deal some serious damage, but it looks like the Runelord can take a severe punishment. She even risks more wounds by flying off to cast at the party from a distance. She also redirects her guisarme to strike at Esphydriel, while summoning a hand of pure magic that grapples and crushes Balian. With another quickened fireball she hurts the heroes even more.
Now it is Balian’s time to smirk. Having cast freedom of movement on himself earlier, he now slips free from the crushing hand and charges at the Runelord. Instead of striking her with his sword, he deactivates the forceblade, giving him the use of his arms to grapple his enemy. He pulls her down to the ground. This was the second game changer in this fight, Balian’s player rolled a natural 20, which was – as it turned out – the only result that would have succeeded. As he pushes her body down, Sorshen stares into the ranger’s eyes, making him pine for her so hard that it hurts. Still, he hangs onto her, giving all his allies the chance to close in and stab at her. This time everyone hits home.
The Runelord of Lust needs to get out of this predicament quickly. As she is struggling with Balian, she starts rocking him rhythmically, irresistibly forcing him to dance. She slips out and takes to the air, sending her guisarme at the ranger and blasting a quickened lightning bolt at the heroes. She also throws a sultry look at the dancing ranger, making his companions sick with jealousy, so they hit him instead. Sjo heals some damage on everyone, but worries that without Balian the fight is lost. Sorshen is up in the air and Puk, Vex nor Esphydriel can fly. Balian’s dance will keep him out of the fight for too long. That only leaves Sjo and Elvira, but neither of them has an effective way to harm the Runelord and their spell stock is wearing thin. Elvira uses the ring of lover’s lightning to convert one of the last spells in her arsenal into a chain lightning bolt, but she fails to get through Sorshen’s spell resistance.
Things look desperate and desperate times ask for desperate measures. Puk holds up his luck blade and closes his eyes. “I wish that Balian stops dancing”, he whispers. A second gem in the hilt turns dull as the magic activates, dispelling Balian’s dance moves. The ranger shoots up, calling his forceblade to reappear as he swings at Sorshen, cutting deeply into her flesh. The Runelord’s face turns to panic, as she realizes that her contingency spell does not work anymore. Elvira knows that it is now or never. Using her ring again, she flings another chain lightning at her opponent. The electricity tears through Sorshen’s body. She spasms, screams, then her head sinks to he chest and she plummets from the air, dead.
The heroes take a few seconds to recuperate. Then Sjo resumes healing everyone, while Elvira wonders why the other two Sorshens did not interfere in the fight. She realizes that they will remain quite passive until her choice for the good Sorshen is reinforced by making the other two disappear. Evil Sorshen already lies defeated, but the neutral one is still here. Elvira huddles up with her friends and whispers to them that they have to take out the neutral Runelord as well. Balian nods, walks around the neutral version and, standing in her back, hilt in hand, he summons his force blade. The appearing sword pierces the woman through the heart. She sinks to the ground as well. Now only the good Sorshen is left.
She smiles at the companions: “Noble heroes, I thank you for making the right call and doing what is necessary. My sisters are no more, now only my virtue remains.” She walks up to the other two Runelord corpses.
“There is just one more thing my counterparts can give you in return for your bravery, before their magic fades”, she says. She bows down a bathes her hands in the blood of her defeated sisters. Then she turns to the heroes, drawing her rune on their left and right temple. “To carry out the sin of lust, my evil counterpart required stamina, which I now grant to you. My neutral twin was more affectionate, so she will bless you with her grace. From now on you will carry a bit more of both qualities in you.”
When this is done, she bows her head in gratitude:
“For ten thousand years I’ve been asleep. From what I’ve gleaned from Elvira, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. Most of what was once my realm, Eurythnia, has sunk beneath the waves. Thassilon is no more than a series of meaningless monuments, an ancient civilization whose excesses have fortunately been erased as well.
Seeing life through your eyes, Elvira, living and breathing the world in its pure form, has allowed me to be reborn as I once was before I succumbed to sin. But my journey is not over yet. If I truly want to know this new world, I will have to experience it from the bottom up and truly be reborn. And so I will.”
Then she turns to Sjo and says: “I hope you will be a good father.” Then she dissipates. Simultaneously the other Sorshens disappear as well, while their equipment merges back to one: one scintillating dress, one guisarme and eight emerald ioun stones.
Sjo frowns, trying to process what Sorshen just said. He … her father? Did she mean the baby? Is she going to reincarnate in his unborn child? It seems so. That promises to be interesting. Now all he has to do is think of a good way to tell Larella. Hey, darling, if we have a daughter, how about naming her Sorshen?
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
And so, the heroes finally reach the heart of Sorshen’s Pleasure Dome. Following the tunnel with the river of blood to its end, they find themselves at the top of a sanguine waterfall, looking out over a humongous cave. Below them is a plateau, split in two by the continuing river of blood, which drops down another waterfall at the edge of the elevation to empty its contents in a lake. The waters have mostly turned red by now. To the left, the party stares down on a garden that has flourished in a wild natural state without being completely overgrown. But the right commands a more spectacular view. Rising proudly from the plateau is a magnificent temple of white marble, pristinely preserved. From her high perch Elvira gauges the whole cave to have a classic heart-like shape with the plateau occupying the two upper curves and the lake filling in the bottom half, gradually narrowing to a tip.
“It looks like we have arrived,” Balian grumbles under his breath, “if ever there was a time to summon Spyder to my side, it’s now … Yes,” he says while scratching his new war cat Vex behind the ears, “you are not my first animal friend. I used to have a dog before you, a loyal companion, but he died. He’s in heaven now, where he has become something more, a mix of animal and angel. He even has a new name, Esphydriel. I can call upon him once more to aid me here on earth. Today I will collect that favor.”
The ranger closes his eyes and fondly remembers the good times he had with his labrador retriever. “Spyder, my old friend, I ask your service once more.” As he opens his eyes again, Balian sees how a light starts glowing in the air next to him. It grows in size, taking a vaguely humanoid shape. Then the light softens and reveals a noble creature in shining armor, holding a greatsword. He has all the bearings of a paladin, but his head is canine. Although he looks unmistakably like Spyder, his eyes burn with a wisdom that the dog never displayed. “Hello, boss, good to see you again. Judging from the blood flowing at my feet, I guess you didn’t bring me here to walk in that park there. How can I be of assistance?”
“Just follow my lead, as in the old days”, Balian replies, trying but failing to hide the joy at seeing his old brother-in-arms again. “We’re tracking a top dog vampire,” he jokes, “there’s no sign of him, so he must be in that temple over there.”
The party descends and walks around the house of worship. The perfect white marble reflects the light that magically fills this cavern with such brightness that it almost seems aglow itself. The structure is designed with a mathematical strictness that instills a sense of awe, despite its elementary lay-out. The central building is surrounded by a monumental colonnade, the curve-necked columns easily standing 25 feet tall. But the most impressive feature is the pedimental triangle in the front, filled with beautiful sculptures of breathtaking women in the nude. This sanctuary is clearly devoted to beauty and lust. Heavy intricately carved bronze doors stand shut.
The heroes cast their final buffs, [i[death ward[/i], freedom of movement and haste. Then Sjo and Balian pull the doors open. Inside this temple is as basic as outside, white marble all around with one prominent feature that commands all attention, a brilliant golden statue of Sorshen, so large that the room is barely high enough to house it. In front of the colossus is an altar with a sleeping naked woman on top. A regal-looking creature in black robes, pale-faced and moving as if he is floating just above the ground, turns to face the party: “Finally, you have arrived. To be fair, I was expecting you sooner, the challenges that you had to overcome weren’t that formidable. Still, I probably shouldn’t hold you to the standards of heroes in my time.
I would like to thank you. After all, you allowed that old man to find me and wake me from my slumber. That certainly deserves my gratitude. But that simple act pales in comparison to another contribution you made to aid the mistress of lust rise anew. While you were making your way through this wonderful complex, you delivered the final ingredient required to wake the Runelord. The gift of even a few drops of blood, provided by those who walk the earth above, was enough to mix with the stream of the ocean giants’ lifeblood. Now the blood magic will finally be able to do its work and free Sorshen from her Runewell. All thanks to you.
But that also means that your task here is done. So now you face a new choice: submit to Sorshen’s absolute rule or say farewell to this mortal coil once and for all.”
“We prefer choice number three,” Puk throws back, “kill all of you and be done with it!” He rushes forward and plunges his luckblade in the vampire’s flank. Kusasfa hisses and raises his hands. He slaps Puk across the face, disappointed to find out that magic guards the halfling from being drained of his life force. His next few swings go wide. Balian joins the fray and draws more vampire blood with his forceblade. Sjo and Elvira stand back and enhance their companions’ abilities with blessing of fervor and greater heroism.
Puk is enjoying beating the crap out of this elusive Kusasfa figure, but when he gleans over his shoulder, he sees a giant fist of gold trying to squat him like a fly. He manages to roll below the hand, which – BAMM – slams into the wall, sending fragments of marble flying everywhere like rain, but then the rogue notices the golden statue’s foot come crashing down. DOUFFF! This time he cannot avoid the blow. His ribs crack under the force.
Kusasfa seems satisfied that the golden colossus can take care of the halfling and focuses his attacks on Balian. His claws smash and rip, drawing more blood, but again finding that he cannot drain his opponent’s energy.
“I’m sorry,” Sjo cries, “I warded my friends against being drained. Is that what you vampires need to regain your strength? Here, take some healing of mine instead!” Then he casts mass cure serious wounds, making his friends better, but scorching even more damage into Kusasfa’s flesh with his holy energy. Elvira’s spell, prismatic spray, finds no purchase on the vampire, though. At the same time, she sees how Puk gets stumped even deeper into the ground by the colossus. If it weren’t for his resilient nature, he would have died already, but now he can just scramble away. Covered by Vex, he can withdraw to Sjo’s side to be healed.
Balian finds that Kusasfa has trouble hitting him and makes fun of his ‘clumsiness’. The vampire growls angrily and lashes out at Elvira instead. “Let this be your final act of unkindness … time to die!” Balian pushes on, driving the vampire back with every swing of his blade. “I guess summoning my hound archon was more of a social call after all, than a strategic necessity”, he mocks, tearing through undead flesh, “but I shouldn’t be impolite to my guest, now should I? Spyder, finish it!”
Balian’s distraction allows Esphydriel to step into position. Drawing upon his divine might to smite his enemies, the angelic hound slams down on the vampire. The holy light makes Kusasfa wail in pain, then he turns to smoke. His black robes fall empty to the floor. Sorshen’s consort is defeated!
Wasting no time to gloat, Balian takes to the air and confronts the colossus. The behemoth packs a mean punch, but Elvira remembers reading about these constructs, although at the time she didn’t believe that anybody could ever have enough gold to actually build one. Well, if you’re as powerful as Sorshen was, you probably had. Like all constructs, these things are immune to magic, but there always is the odd spell that does affect them. In this statue’s case, it is disintegrate. She fires a sickly black ray at the lumbering golden woman, hitting her in the chest. Immediately the giant sculpture starts moving more slowly. This will definitely reduce its chances to harm her friends, Elvira thinks. But then the colossus opens its mouth and spews forth a storm of fire that washes over the party, making Elvira question her decision.
“I’ll draw its attention”, Balian shouts, buzzing in the statue’s face like an annoying fly. His forceblade cuts through the precious metal, laying bare the mechanisms underneath. Puk rushes back in and tries to hamstring the colossus, figuring that even a construct must be vulnerable in the legs, especially if it has to bear the weight of gold. The golden giant stumbles against the back wall as Balian slices into her chest, pushing his blade up, through her neck and chin, cleaving her face in two. With a loud bang she smashes to the floor.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
As the party steps into the portal, they find themselves in a new elevator beam, drifting down an extremely high chamber. To the left and right of them are huge metal spheres, protruding from the wall, two to the left and two to the right, with a new ball below them, row upon row upon row. There is something green in the center of the sphere. Elvira sees it is a window and tries to peek at what is behind the glass. Floating horizontally in green fluid are ocean giants, with their heads facing the window. The huge men and women from the sea are unmoving. Some are clad in armor, others are bare-chested. Elvira gets the impression that their shoulders look old and bent, not like the big muscled frames she witnessed on the ocean giants in the Sunken Queen pyramid. As they descend deeper down the chamber, though, the view inside the pods changes. The giants move, or rather writhe, as if in pain. The further down, the stronger the giants appear, with the muscles still intact. And then, the party reaches the bottom.
Once the elevator beam dissipates, the humming sound of a machine greets the companions. A strange contraption, pulsing with energy, spews blood into a pool, which then drains into a canal, leading off into a dark tunnel. The smell of irony blood is heavy in the air. Glancing back up, Elvira sees how the pods just disappear into the darkness above her. On her way down, she must have counted over twenty rows, at four pods per row, that makes around 100 giants whose blood is being spilled. The draining process started at the top, slowly making its way down. Only the two bottom rows still look undisturbed. The eight giants behind the glass are still asleep, unaware of their looming deaths.
Suddenly the second row clicks into action. The giants inside the pods jerk and contort in pain, as the blood engine produces a new, stronger flow of red fluid. Their spasms are vehement at first, but gradually grow weaker as strength seems to leave their bodies. Now there are only four undisturbed pods left.
BANG! A giant hand slam against the glass next to Elvira’s head. The wizardess startles and sees the person inside, a woman, struggle in the water. She looks up to see through the glass, her eyes wide with fear.
BANG! Again she smashes against the lid. Elvira turns to her party. What should we do? Help the woman get out? Last time we encountered ocean giants, they weren’t friendly.
BANG! Yes or no? In or out?
BANG! CLANG! The lid pops open, and at the same time, the other three pods on the bottom row react as well, their doors are flung open too. Sea water gushes out. Elvira, Balian and Sjo take to the air to avoid getting soaked, but Vex is swept away by the salty flood and Puk has to hang onto the edge of the pool to avoid the same fate. A huge woman glides out of the first pod. Seeking support against the wall, she rises to her feet. Her wet robes cling to her frame. She is as fast as the lightning that crackles around her fists. Slam! Slam! She hits Balian who is floating in front of her. The force makes the ranger spin around his axis, and he barely hangs on to his sword. He orders Vex to flank the woman and retaliates, but she is fast indeed and dodges most of his attacks.
From the other three pods three more giants emerge. One shoots chain lightning at Sjo and Elvira, who has just provided Puk with greater invisibility. Then the giant stands up, greatsword in hand. The other two wield humongous tridents. Sjo catch them in a fireball, which hardly phases them. As the healer flees to safety, the giant with the greatsword hits him with a backhand swing. Elvira tries to use confusion on the attackers, but is sliced by another attack of opportunity from the same opponent. Her spell fizzles. She also retreats, getting slashed again. Bleeding profusely, she seeks shelter behind Sjo’s broad shoulders, seeing that her healer friend already sustained some serious damage of his own.
Balian is pummeled again with a flurry of blows from the first giant. Vex tears into her back, but it will take a lot more to bring her down. Balian’s health is getting dangerously low too, so he focuses on his defense by wielding his blade in a shield of swings pattern. As a consequence, he only manages one hit on the huge monk, giving her the equivalent of a paper cut. Puk is the only one who is doing his normal job. He cuts the giant in front of him in the achilles heel, climbs up his enormous thigh as he drops to his knee and jams his little swords in all the delicate spots. Sjo shouts out to Elvira that Balian needs his aid, pronto! But his own health is so low that he won’t be able to get to the ranger through the attacks of two giants. Elvira covers him in greater invisibility as well, so he can reach Balian unmolested and heal all his wounds with his most powerful curative spell. He is just in time, because the monk continues her barrage, laughing that this will only prolong her fun. At the other side of the pool, the invisible Puk keeps climbing over his enemy like a bug, stabbing him where is hurts. Finally he crawls over the giant’s chest and slashes his shortsword across the behemoth’s throat. Schling! The huge greatsword drops from his grasp and hits the floor. CLANG! Then the giant follows. FFDUUUFF! One enemy down!
Elvira regrets not studying more mind-affecting spells. She prepared to face undead and constructs, focusing on damage instead of enchantment. She has one confusion left in her arsenal. She places the magic in the air so it encompasses two giants; they both fall victim to the mental bewilderment. Elvira retreats into the tunnel with the blood canal, just a little too deep. At the edge of her darkvision she spots two alcoves, opposite each other. A shadow slips out of her field of vision and she hears hissing from the darkness. Oops, she’d better not get too far down this tunnel …
The monk facing Balian is still a problem. She keeps smacking him around. When Sjo throws a fireball at her, she leans backward just in time to avoid the flames. Puk jumps through the pool of blood to help his friends, leaving the other two confused giants to face their own demons. Finally Elvira sees a chance to give her friends haste. Now the combat turns. Bolstered with magical speed Balian lashes out at the monk, who drops to the floor, ending her guardian duty to Sorshen after ten millennia of faithful inactivity.
Now it is just a matter of taking down the two final lumbering fools, an easy job after a few very close calls. After the fight, Sjo immediately starts getting everybody back to full health with his wands, burning through their magic quickly. Balian flies over the pool and looks at the pumping blood engine. “Let’s fix this problem as well”, he grunts, lifting his blade.
“Hold your horses”, Elvira cautions him. “That might be dangerous. Just let me …” She studies the machine briefly. Then she presses a button, pulls a lever and VHHOOhooom … bzzzz … click. The engine stops.
“I do not mean to worry you, guys, but this tunnel in front of us, with the blood flow, clearly the ‘artery’ from the poem, is full of creatures, vampires most likely. Looks like a big nest, a swarm like the one we faced in Citadel Vraid”, she says.
“Well, after these giants, they might actually be an easy challenge”, Balian flexes his muscles, eager to go on. “Maybe just some buffs, before we go in.”
It turns out Elvira’s suspicions are true. The artery is indeed filled with a nest of vampires. They hiss and growl, fill the hallway completely, not just on the ground, but on the walls and ceiling as well. Like a tidal wave they crash into the heroes. But Balian’s suspicions turn out to be true as well. While Puk, Vex and he take the brunt of the crash with the troop, they tear into the enemy with gusto. Sjo throws some fireballs in the mix, but it is the slashing power of his party’s vanguard that brings the nest of vampires low. As they hit the floor in bunches, their vampires evaporate into a cloud of mist that floats to the various coffins in the alcoves. As soon as the take on corporeal form again, our friends are there to drive a stake through their hearts. This time they burn to ashes. There is no coming back from this.
“Let’s move,” Sjo says after healing up his friends, “we already gave Kusasfa too much of a head start. This Sorshen may have been an all-powerful ruler in the days of Thassilon, but those days are gone. It’s time to show her there is a new king in Korvosa!”
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Stage two in Sorshen’s pleasure dome is called the Carnal Court. With a sexy succubus appearing in the doorway, the nature of this chamber leaves little to the imagination. With a coy smile on her lips, the beautiful demon welcomes the party: “Finally, guests. It’s been too long. Please, come in and rest your weary heads. I can see … and smell … you have been through ‘hell’ to get here. Is that fire and brimstone I detect there?” she sniffs.
“We do command powerful magic,” Sjo responds with an undertone of suspicion, “fire among it.”
“Nothing a fresh bath can’t fix, fortunately”, the succubus smiles. “Get comfortable, please, my sisters and I will be glad to assist you.” Two more winged women step into the room, also oozing charm and sensuality with every move they make.
“We appreciate your kind offer,” Elvira coughs, “but we are in a hurry. If you would be so kind to show us to the way out.”
“No, no, it’s not good for your health to rush all the time, you should take a moment to unwind, relax, maybe have some fun before you continue on whatever important mission that drives you.”
“There will be enough time to relax afterwards”, Elvira throws the demonic temptress a look of urgency. “Do you mind if we look for the exit ourselves?”
“Of course not, feel free to roam. Our home is your home. But you, dear sir knight,” she coos, laying her hand on Balian’s arm, “perhaps you would like to wash off the filth of battle while your friends look around. We can massage the ache out of those battleworn shoulders as well.”
“No, thanks you”, Balian grunts awkwardly. “I don’t think my girlfriend would like that.”
“Well, I won’t tell her … and, after all, what will she do to a strong man like you?” the nymphomaniac brushes up against the ranger.
“Hahah, you obviously never met D’Ari Firehair before.”
In the meanwhile, Elvira moves around the bathhouse. To the left an archway opens up into even more chambers, while an iron door blocks the way to the right. As she walks over, the pink dressed succubus addresses her: “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.”
“The one behind that door is not as nice as we are.”
“Is she your enemy?”
“Enemy is such a primitive concept, we’ve been here for so long … I don’t even know what to call us and her anymore.”
“A long time indeed”, Elvira answers, “ten thousand years!”
“Whatever, we are happy to have visitors after all this time. Let’s not spoil it by disturbing our less-than-friendly neighbor.”
“All right, then do you mind if we go in there instead,” Elvira inquires, turning around and pointing through the archway across from the iron door, “the rooms you and your sisters came out of?”
“Not at all, I’ll even give you the grand tour, if you’d like. There is another bath in there, if you prefer some privacy from your friends”, the alluring demon whisper. “I can comb and braid your hair too, if you’d like, there are some twigs in there, if I’m not mistaken.”
“No, thanks. I just like to browse before I buy.”
One of the succubi enters the rooms as well. Underneath her long black hair and leathery wings, she is completely naked. She walks into her boudoir, where she sits down and starts combing her hair in front of the mirror. “We can do whatever you want, hair, make-up, I can even mend that pretty dress of yours. It must have been gorgeous once, but it clearly has seen some rough times lately. Or do you prefer something more physical? My sisters and I are exceptionally experienced at giving pleasure to someone of the same sex, after all, we’ve only had each other to practice on for the last … ten thousand years, it was?”
“It was … is ... has been … ehrr. But we are not the first ones to come in after all this time, are we? Haven’t you just had the company of two others? A Shoanti and a … well, we’ve never seen him, actually, a vampire.”
“I’m afraid I’ve never heard of those Sjo-wan-tee you speak of.”
“An older gentleman, with bird bones in his dress. And that vampire, I suppose you know him better than we do, Kusasfa’s his name, Sorshen’s first consort, surely you’ve heard of him. Have you seen these gentlemen?”
“I can’t say I have, sorry”, the succubus pouts. Elvira tries to gauge if she’s telling the truth, but finds it hard to read her. Everything that comes out of her mouth sounds so, well, ‘fake’ is probably the best way to describe it.
By now the wizardess has checked the rooms in the left wing, finding no way out. “I guess we’ll want to visit your lovely ‘neighbor’ after all.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Well, what I don’t understand,” Elvira wonders, “is why you haven’t got rid of her yourselves yet? There’s three of you against just one of her, isn’t there? Ten thousand years is long enough to kill her a million times over.”
“It’s not for lack of trying, but - as the story goes - ‘sometimes they come back again’ … only, in her case ‘sometimes’ is every bloody time. The same goes for us, by the way. So after a few millennia, you grow tired of killing each other over and over and over again, and you start looking for more convenient ways to cohabit, like ignoring each other, which is exactly what I advise you to do right now. Just leave her be.”
Elvira shrugs: “Looks like we don’t have a choice.”
The party gathers in front of the iron door. Balian pushes the handle down and steps inside. The room holds yet another bath, but he sees no occupant. Suddenly the door is pushed shut behind him. An intricate lock in the center of the metal turns and clicks, sealing the ranger inside with a four-armed woman who appears from behind the door, two curled horns protruding from her brow. She reaches for the trespasser, but Balian sidesteps and drives his forceblade forward, invoking his instant enemy power to get the better of her. The sword bites into her flesh.
On the other side of the door, Puk tucks on the collar of his cloak of the pixie king, activating its dimension door ability, but the iron door blocks teleportation. Elvira attempts a knock spell to open the lock, which works! Sjo pushes against the iron, but Balian seems to be blocking the door from the other side. There is just enough of an opening for the healer to squeeze through. Puk follows, slipping through without any hindrance. He tumbles around the demon, so he and Balian have her flanked. She tries to capture Balian’s mind with a foul spell, but the warrior proves stubborner than she expected, and more deadly too. His weapon slashes a wide gash in her side, then he strikes a powerful blow between her neck and shoulder, slicing through flesh and bone. As she gasps for air, the ranger makes a full circle and drive his blade into her chest. She drops to the floor, disappearing before hitting the ground. Her destroyed black dress, covered in her blood, is all that remains.
“She wasn’t that hard to beat”, Balian notes.
“But she’s a lot harder to get rid of forgood, impossible even”, the succubus sighs, “although it was thrilling to see a man like you in action. Won’t you show me again how you did that?”
“Enough with the flirting, woman,” Elvira interrupts, “there is no way out of here either, just another pool.”
“I hate to be the one to tell you ‘I told you so’, but …” the succubus teases.
“So, you really can’t show us how to proceed? You must have helped Kusasfa, why not us?”
“If you allow us to pamper you, we’ll allow you to move on.”
“So, you DO know how to get out of here. I’ll make you a deal, if you tell us how to leave this place, we’ll help you escape as well. You must be dying to get back home after ten millennia.”
“This place is pretty nice, nicer than where we originally came from, actually. Anyway, unlike you, we cannot get out.”
“We have some experience breaking infernal contracts”, Elvira offers.
“Huhhuh, contracts, that’s so Hellish. We hail form a different realm, milady. If we are told to stay here by our masters, they hope we don’t obey, so they can tear us apart for the next 10,000 years. Believe me, this place might be boring as Hell, sigh, as boring as boring can get, but at least no one bothers us here, except maybe that seraptis you just killed. Can you blame us for wanting to have some fun with you before sending you on your merry way? And you’ll have fun too, you know, win-win.”
“I wonder if the poem holds the clue to getting out”, Elvira muses. “What did it say again?
“There you have it,” the succubus explains. “Like I told you, seek the pleasures of the flesh and you’ll be out of here before you know it. What about you, big man?” She turns to Sjo. “You look like a strapping fellow. Handsome too. Nothing like a bit of pleasure to get the juices flowing and fill you with renewed vigor.”
“I’m married”, Sjo points at his wedding band. “Sorry. Can’t do that to my wife, certainly not with her being pregnant.”
“She’s expecting a child? All the more reason for you to indulge, it will be a year, or longer, before your wife lets you ‘get some’ again … if ever.”
“I can’t, matter of principle”, Sjo says.
“Yeah, he’s quite big on principle, that one”, Balian interjects.
Next, the succubus turns to Elvira and Puk. “You two, then?” she asks. “We don’t discriminate. I’m afraid love is the only way out of here.”
“Love? You call that love?” Sjo shakes his head.
“Making ‘love’, as I said. That is the key.”
“Okay,” Elvira groans, “give us a minute to talk it over amongst ourselves.”
“Take your time we’re in no rush, we have all the time in the world. A few more minutes won’t matter after ten millennia”, the demoness smiles.
“C’mon, Balian, you’re the one we turn to when things get close and personal, when they get physical”, Puk suggests.
Silence follows. “Alright then, I’ll take one for the team”, Balian finally says.
“Lovely,” the succubus cries from the other end of the room. “Do you have a preference? My sisters? Me? All of us?”
“I’ll take the one with the long black hair, please”, Balian answers.
“Tsss, a shame that you’ll let all this pass you by”, she teases, curving her body.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s get on with it.”
Balian joins the black-haired succubus in a private bathtub and some grunts and sighs later, the other members of the party, who are waiting in the main hall, see a ne portal appear on the wall opposite the entrance.
As soon as he’s finished, Balian rushes over to his friends, putting on his clothes while they prepare some buffs. “Looks like we’ll be facing ocean giants once more”, Elvira concludes going over the next part of the poem in her head. “Let’s use that water breathing scroll. So, how was it, Balian?”
“Well, I do indeed feel invigorated, just like that lady said we would.”
“Hmm, I have heard about such a thing, prophane gift it is called, if I am correct”, Elvira recalls. “Looks like you’ll be a bit stronger from now on … at least, until she takes the gift away, that is. Are we ready? Then let’s go.”
“Bye bye, don’t be afraid to visit us again”, the succubi wave.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
25 Kuthona 4708
The party spends the night in Elvira’s Magnificent Mansion, which she summons inside Castle Vraid. That gives the party the opportunity to do three things: recover from the battle, stake Lictor Divri as his vampiric body returns to his room to regenerate and study the prophetic poem they discovered in the Architect’s tomb closer.
The poem describes how Sorshen went to sleep, to hide from the foretold calamity of Earthfall, the meteor shower that destroyed half the world 10,000 years ago. She was locked in an underground complex by the Architect, who put the plug in place that the heroes know as the green malachite pillar in the cellars of Castle Korvosa. Kusasfa, Sorshen’s first consort, was meant to wake her up again when the dust had settled, but it looks like he took his sweet time doing so …
The poem gives a fairly detailed description of the lay-out of Sorshen’s so-called ‘Pleasure Dome’. First there is some kind of garden or menagerie, housing all kinds of exotic animals. Next is a brothel, where the sin of lust could be practiced. The third stage holds the formidable ocean giants, who served as Sorshen’s guardians. The heroes already faced four of these fearsome protectors in the Sunken Queen, huge combat-ready paragons of physical perfection who had been in stasis for millennia, but fought with the alertness of a cat on the prowl. This part of the complex, referred to as the ‘gushing gallery’, houses even more of those sea titans. Number four is called ‘the artery’, a place where other servants of Sorshen make their ‘nest’, which makes Elvira believe there are vampires, like Kusasfa. Through this ‘artery’ a river runs, most likely made of blood. This river then becomes a waterfall that flows into a paradise with haunted pieces of art, before it drains into a lake of blood, where Sorshen rests in her grave. Might she be a vampire as well? It would certainly explain how she managed to live so long, even before being entombed. The sensual nature of these bloodsuckers also fits perfectly with the idea of lust and Sorshen’s reliance on blood magic.
In the morning the party returns to Korvosa. After selling off the loot and acquiring a few extra scrolls of death ward and freedom of movement, they head to the castle. As they descend into the basement, they hear the loud TINC TONC sound of heavy metal hitting stone. Balian draws his new force blade and leads the way. What he discovers next to the green pillar is something he has never seen before, a weird construct walking around awkwardly on three large metal legs. The automaton is artfully covered in beautiful golden plating, covering all of its body, except for its torso, which is made up of crystal container holding a skeleton floating in fluid. The creature has four arms, ending in sharp metal claws. Two bulbous globes on top of its heads reflect the light like the compound eyes of a fly.
The bones inside the glass stir as the construct turns to face the intruders and lays its hands on the stone walls. The Architect’s magic does its work, as the three small corridors leading up to the central pillar room suddenly stretch out endlessly and somehow, a fourth corridor of equal boundless length appears, making the pillar room the intersection of four stone hallways that extend as far as the eye can see. The heroes find themselves scattered over the various tunnels, suddenly facing not one, but two identical versions of the clockwork reliquary.
Elvira hides in a crowd of six mirror images and steps back into the hallway, keeping a safe distance from the Architect in front of her. Balian and Puk are less inclined to shy away from close-quarter fighting and flank the creature. The ranger finds that his new force blade slices through the metal plating with relative ease, while Puk smashes a mean crack into the glass container with his luckblade. In their back, Balian’s war cat Vex keeps the other version of the Architect busy, but it lacks the strength to hurt its opponent. Puk’s cocky smile at a successful opening of the hostilities is soon wept off his face, as the damage on the Architect promptly disappears. Next the mechanic left arms sink into the wall and warp the stone, making the wall bulge out at Puk and smash him into the pillar. The halfling is now wedged between the gray and green stone, which keep pressing on each other. Elvira is too far away to get her ally out and can only provide haste for the rogue and the ranger. This does not help the small scoundrel squeeze out of the crunching stones, though, and while Balian hammers more gashes into the clockwork’s arm and leg, the damage vanishes in an instant. Sjo, who has just cast true seeing notices that the other Architect version flinches its limbs slightly as its duplicate repairs the wounds to its arm and leg. Neither of these two versions is an illusion, so much is clear now, and they somehow keep each other intact.
“Attack them both at the same time!” Sjo shouts. “Maybe then the damage will stick!” He moves towards Puk and touches the rogue’s hand, that sticks out from the crushing wall and pillar, casting freedom of movement from one of the scrolls. Now the halfling can easily slip from the stone grasp and move to the other Architect. Meanwhile the first copy has started to mangle Balian with its sharp claws. Elvira dimension doors next to Puk and gives him greater invisibility, so he will be able to use sneak attack, but the Architect’s bug eyes can see through this illusion and the halfling only manages to nick the machine. At the same time Balian gets in some heavy hits, but only the small amount of damage that Puk did sticks, on both versions! At least the heroes have figured out how to defeat their opponent now. Still, the Architect has more tricks up its sleeve. Version two plunges its claws in the ground, making the floor in front of it turn to mud. Vex and Elvira sink in the muck, but Puk’s freedom of movement allows him to walk on the sludge like elves walking on snow in the legends of old. Elvira uses another dimension door to get Puck and herself behind the second Architect, so the halfling can flank it with Vex. Now Puk can live up to his potential, finding his way behind the plating, cutting through wires and gears. Balian continues to bear down on the other version of the Architect, enjoying the suppleness with which he can wield his new sword. This time both constructs sustain serious damage. But the machine is not done yet: its claws slash at Puk and Elvira. As her own blood soaks her gown, Elvira realizes why she normally stays so far away from the heat of battle. Puk handles his wounds differently, they only serve to inspire him even more. His blades now swirl in a dance of vicious cuts in what has become the rogue’s signature style. Balian’s technique is less elegant, but no less efficient. His force blade smashes both metal and glass to splinters. The Architects are now wobbling on their three legs. Sjo figures that the skeleton inside the construct is an undead and thus vulnerable to positive energy. He bursts out in a mass cure spell that heals his friends, but also burns the bones behind the glass. With a sharp SCHWING the crystal shatters and the Architect tumbles to the floor. The four endless corridors return to the normal three-way lay-out of the basement, while the two piles of scrap metal become one again.
The heroes heal up and Elvira studies the pillar with her arcane insight, noticing runes hidden in its surface that look like they were recently activated. She recalls the writings from the Architect’s tomb on how to open the plug:
And so she sleeps in deathless night
They are all beamed down, ending up in an entangling mass of dead bushes and branches. Elvira concludes that they have landed in a big domed hall which is completely overgrown with wood. Mulling his foot in the dirt, Balian kicks up the end of an old bone. Whatever creature this once belonged to, it must have died a very long time ago. Pricking up her ears Elvira hears a female voice casting, barkskin. She casts a spell of her own on her friends in response, haste, and flies up, digging through the branches. Balian takes to the air as well and when he breaks through the dried-out thicket, he sees the looming shape that fills most of the room, a humongous tree. Although the drab colors of its bark and its leafless branches suggest the wood is quite dead, the tree shakes as if alive. Its trunk tears open in a wide grin; two black holes above this gaping mouth look like hateful eyes that stare with the dark fury of death.
The crooked plant flails around two enormous branches like arms, as Balian closes in. The ranger swoops under the slamming arms and whacks his forceblade forward with all the strength he can muster. He hits the undead treant on the lower half of his mouth, splitting his bottom lip all the way to the ground. Puk is still under the effect of freedom of movement and slips between the branches to the foot of the tree, where he notices the source of the female voice Elvira heard: a dark green dryad with a malicious glare. Sjo pushes towards the tree as well and when he is close enough for his blindsense to pick up the tree, he hurls a fireball at it. The tight tangle of branches crowning the tree, then pushing up against the ceiling and climbing back down along the dome, catch on fire like lamp oil. The dryad and the tree scream out simultaneously in pain and anger. The fey no longer possesses a tangible form, she is incorporeal, like a ghost. Her insectoid wings lift her off the ground too, and her hands begin to glow with sickly green energy. She points at Puk and Balian and unleashes beams of green and black energy on them. Dark power tears through their frames and Puk continues to burn in verdant wildfire. The distraction is enough for the tree to hammer down on the halfling as well. The rogue buckles under the slam and is now infested with mold. Elvira tries to engage the dryad by firing a disintegrating ray at her, but her magic fails to hurt the fey creature, who in turn blasts out more witchflames at Balian. Sjo rushes to Puk’s aid and heals him, closing his wounds, resetting his bones and burning away the mold and witchfire in the process. Balian chops into the trunk again and again, until the tree croaks its final cry and its arms drop to its side; its crown of branches still burning brightly up above. The dryad screeches in sheer hatred; her hands flaming with the same witchfire energy, she claws at Balian’s chest. Sjo has to support his comrade again with healing, so he can uphold the onslaught. But the dryad is relentless and with Puk and Vex unable to reach her in the air, it is up to Balian to take her out. His blade swings high and low, forcing her back. Elvira waits for the right moment and angle before spewing out a cone of cold over the ghostly fey. The snow storm blasts the incorporeal creature from existence, forming the antithesis of the inferno that the room is turning into.
Fortunately Elvira notices a doorframe along the wall. Puk examines it for a mechanism, but Sjo’s true seeing reveals that he can step right on through. The party enters a beautiful chamber, filled with a lovely perfume in the air and an agreeable temperature. A refreshing fountain gurgles in front of them, behind it is welcoming bath, surrounded by marble pillars. Sjo quickly patches up everyone, as, from an archway in the wall to the left, a shapely woman walks in. Her gorgeous body sports big leathery wings that are folded over her back like an elegant, pink cloak.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
After having faced the monstrosities that Kusasfa created in the first two castles of Citadel Vraid, only the third one awaits the party, Bastion Ferox, the smallest of the three. The bridge leads up to a huge gate and allows all who walk across a look upon the final keep’s atrocities. Trenches have been dug up against the walls, 20 feet deep and covered with heavy iron grates. These crude holding pens, also known as the Hives, normally house tortured and starving prisoners, mostly of Shoanti origin. But now only blood, gore and torn cadavers remain of the captives, mixing the stink of human filth and excrement with the stench of rot and death.
The heroes prepare by casting buffs, before opening the entrance doors, but only find an empty hall beyond. There are stairs leading up, but Balian follows the trail of blood to a door that provides access to the dungeons. The party hurries down and finds its way to the ‘Hellfast’, a subterranean devil-locker which serves as the venue for the Order’s most secretive rituals. The trail leads through an unlit passage, into a chapel with a vaulted ceiling. A huge pentagram covers much of the floor; a raised stone dais with an altar cuts to its center. This is obviously a summoning chamber, as the six bearded devils in full plate armor clearly demonstrate. On top of the altar is Lictor DiVri, who has also been turned into an undead. “Well, well,” he smirks, “if it isn’t the Shoanti bastard who fancied himself a Chelish royal. It is time to pay for the savagery you invited into these lands. The Order of the Nail demands justice, in the name of civilization.”
“Lictor knows best”, Sjo mocks. “It looks like smearing your walls with blood and gore is the latest fashion your civilized court has to offer. I don’t even mind, as long as you use your own Hellknight fanatics to do it with, but I won’t stand for it if you hurt my people. I ordered you to leave Korvosa three months ago, and you disobeyed my decree, unlawful Lictor. So, I have come here to enforce the law myself!”
Balian storms in and lashes out at the devils, but quickly finds himself surrounded by them as they ferociously throw themselves at him from every angle. Realizing that denizens of Hell do not fear the scorch of flames, Sjo calls down a pillar of holy energy, but replaces his token element of fire by electricity. Puk takes advantage of the last seconds of Elvira’s greater invisibily spell to slice away at one of the barbazus, but witnesses that DiVri masters the same spell as he disappears from view. Elvira uses her ring of lover’s lightning to cast chain lightning over the devils, killing one of them in the process. Meanwhile Balian opts for a more careful approach and tries out his new shield of swings fighting style to bolster his defenses. This gives Sjo enough time to heal him, but this intervention forces the healer to open himself up to DiVri’s stabbing halberd. Elvira supports her ranger ally further by giving him displacement. Now Balian can breathe a bit easier in the face of four bearded hellspawn. Slashing his blades in deadly arcs, Puk takes down a second devil, and switches his attention to the unseen entity of DiVri next to him. “I could use some help”, the halfling cries out, encouraging Elvira to cover the Lictor in glitterdust. Now the rogue can properly do his job, badly wounding the Boneclaw vampire. “Enjoy your time in Hell!” Sjo shouts as he bursts out in holy energy. The glowing light heals his friends, but also burns away Divri’s undead flesh. “Master … aahhh …” the Lictor screams in pain. Then his armor drops to the floor as his body morphs into a cloud of gas which immediately floats off. Puk and Balian make short work of the remaining devils.
While taking a few minutes to recuperate, the heroes check out a hole in the back wall, which was put up to block off and hide a complex from another era, Thassilonian in design. Every surface of the chamber beyond is covered in geometric patterns and runes, which look incredibly intricate. Balian and Sjo shake off the desire to study the writing, but Puk becomes totally entranced, ignoring his friends and insisting to keep on reading until he understands everything that is written here. Elvira, who is the only one in the group who can actually decipher the runes, cannot grasp the complexity of the message right away, but feels no compulsion to continue studying like her halfling friend. She has Balian remove Puk from the room, before using an old scroll of break enchantment on him. Once he is freed from his obsession, Puk explains what he experienced. Although he didn’t understand anything about the mysteries written on the walls, he couldn’t help but try and analyze them with complete and utter fixation.
Once she knows her friends are safe, Elvira returns to the chamber to pour over the enigmatic message. Scrutinizing the data she learns that anyone who gains full comprehension of the writings, will attain architectural brilliance, but at the same time be driven mad with the need for perfection and overanalysis of every aspect in life, turning the reader insane with paranoia. Now she understands what drove the Hellknight builders of this citadel mad. Still, the enchantress figures out enough of the runes to reveal another function they hide. Tracing her fingers over certain patterns, she reconfigures them to open up an incredibly well-hidden secret door in the back wall.
In front of her looms a long hall, decorated with over a dozen bas-reliefs of monumental structures. She recognizes several of them, like the mastaba, the pyramid of the Sunken Queen, the Pillar wall and humongous statues of Sorshen holding up a torch to act as lighthouses along the coast. There are other buildings as well, grand palaces and temples devoted to lust. Yet Elvira does not see any Thassilonian landmarks that still exist today outside of Sorshen’s former realm, marking this as a place of tribute to the greatest monuments in Eurythnia only. Each of the scenes has the same mark in the right bottom corner, the Thassilonian rune ‘Cavuhl’, which translates as talent of architect.
The ceiling in this long hall is decorated as well. It is painted to resemble the night sky, showing the constellations which are still visible today, but with enough difference to date them ten millennia back in time. As she points out the various groups of stars in the cosmic caravan to her friends, like the Mother, the Wagon and the Rider, the enchantress notices that they are encased in powerful magic. She urges Puk and Balian to look for some kind of defensive set-up and with her guidance the two of them discover a magical trap, but as they attempt to disarm it, they accidentally set it off. Suddenly gravity reverses around them, flinging them to the ceiling where the stars change into laserlike blades that whirl and twirl. Puk manages to grab onto a ledge in the bas-relief, but Balian smashes into the ceiling and the merciless blades. Activating his boots of flying, he quickly floats to safety, and about a minute later, the trap stops, but the magic is still present, Elvira confirms. Taking extra security measures by securing themselves with ropes, Puk and Balian undertake a second attempt to disarm the trap. This time they succeed, but they realize that their deactivation is only temporary, so they hurry to the doors at the end of the hallway.
Beyond is the final chamber in this ancient complex. The place bathes in colored lights, emanating from a strange contraption at the far end of the chamber. It looks like some kind of complicated machine, built to house something big in the center, thrice the height of a man, but there is nothing there but the Cavuhl rune on the floor surrounded by three holes in the stone around it, worn out by something pointed and heavy. The light reflects in the many silver runes that have been written over the walls, sometimes accompanied by bas-reliefs. Two metal statues of knights in armor, line the walls, one male, bearing a halberd, one female, wielding a sword of energy. These statues are clockwork soldiers, who animate as soon as the heroes enter.
Balian and Puk open hostilities by alpha striking the male construct. Their adamantine weapons cut through its heavy plates, inflicting enormous amounts of damage, and make the metal defender stumble on its feet, but it doesn’t go down yet. It retaliates with the same efficiency, using its halberd as a meat grinder on the halfling rogue, who only remains on his feet thanks to his resilient nature. The female construct joins her male counterpart, using her ‘lightsaber’ to finish the job on Puk. She continues her charge on Sjo, who has taken on the form of a huge fire elemental. Seeing his ally dead on the ground, the healer invokes the power of breath of life, to drag Puk back from the clutches of death. Elvira grabs the barely alive halfling by the collar and dimension doors him to safety of the corner behind Sjo, where he receives more healing. Balian takes out the male construct and engages the female one.
“Damn, you’re big”, Elvira shouts at the huge fire elemental who is Sjo, as she fires a sickly green ray just past his waist into the remaining clockwork defender. Her blast disintegrates the right upper half of its torso, revealing all kinds of gears inside. Puk jumps in and stabs his blades in the exposed mechanism. The construct staggers, sinks to its knees and falls over. As soon as the energy sword slips from its grip, the blade disappears, leaving only the hilt behind. Balian picks it up and finds he can make the blade of brilliant orange energy reappear with a simple mental command. The weapon feels like a greatsword, perfectly balanced, although it lacks the weight that slows down its wielder’s arms as he gets tired from swinging it. Elvira identifies the weapon as a force blade which has the same efficiency as Balian’s adamantine sword, without the holy ability, but with more base power and the added capability of ‘debuffing’ an enemy.
Even more interesting than this fantastic blade, though, are the runes on the walls. Elvira can decipher them as easily as if they were written in common, and reads them out to her friend, who can use the various bas-reliefs accompanying the words as cues. The writing sounds almost like a prophecy:
“In sweet Eurythnia did Sorshen's thirst
So deep beneath her house of stone
Next in line the carnal court
But please be prudent
And then on to the artery
But oh! Be still my beating heart
Into the gorge the flood is forced
For once our ruler heard a call
So up above her consort stayed
So finally it came to be
And so she sleeps in deathless night
A price will then again be paid
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
24 Kuthona 4708
So, Kusasfa has gone to Citadel Vraid? That might be a curse and a blessing in one. After all, the Hellknights are a problem that needs to be addressed as well, but how will Kusasfa interact with them? Will he treat them as allies or enemies? Anyway, facing a perilous vampire threat, the heroes stock up on scrolls of death ward, since Sjo cannot cast that particular spell.
Elvira teleports the party to the gates of Citadel Vraid. Rising from the rugged peaks at the edge of the Mindspin Mountains, this gigantic fortress looms over anyone who approaches its entrance. The citadel consists of three distinct structures, connected by wind-swept bridges over treacherous chasms. It is easy to see why people say no army could ever take these perfectly defendable walls. But what about a single vampire?
The first fortress, Bastion Dominus, is said to represent Asmodeus’ ideal of slavery. The intimidating gothic structure imbues visitors with awe. Devil faces leer down from the ramparts, steel-shod towers protrude upwards like pikes from the heart of the citadel. As the heroes make their way to the front doors, no one is there to greet them. There are no guards, apart from the howling wind, the place is eerily silent. Sjo looks up at the words written above the entrance: “This is Citadel Vraid, home to the Order of the Nail, the wheel upon which savagery is broken and the anvil upon which civilisation is reforged.”
“Let’s see if anyone is home”, Sjo murmurs, knocking loudly. The heavy door swings open under his hands. A small beam of sunlight penetrates the dark interior. Balian and Puk peek inside, but see no one. They enter the building carefully; in their wake Elvira lights up a small stone. She sees no one down the long hall, except for some shadows moving along the ceiling. El throws the lightstone down the hall and makes out the source of this movement. Sticking to the vaulted ceiling like spiders are dozens of hulking shapes, clad in full plate, shifting with surprising agility. The nest of vampires reacts quickly, climbing down the walls and swarming the party with shrieks of horror that echo through the chamber. On a balcony above, a familiar face appears, although his skin is pale as death and his teeth protrude from his mouth like fangs. This is paravicar Acillmar, the head of the Order’s magic-users and Lictor Divri’s right-hand man. Calling upon his mastery over magic, he blasts out a cone of cold over the intruders. Biting of the freezing cold and shaking the frost from her hair, Elvira grabs Puk by the shoulder and zaps with him to the balcony with dimension door, right next to the paravicar. Puk wounds the man badly, but then the high-pitched screeches from the swarm mess with his mind and confuse him. Sjo and Balian are left facing the swarm, although the ranger has brought along his new puma Vex for its first real combat. As his war cat pulls over one of the ravenous undead, Balian’s blade swings through them in bloody arcs. Sjo conjures up a fire storm to tear through the Hellknight ranks, frying many of them in their armour, before the disturbing cries from the spawn’s throats puts him off track as well. Balian throws back the horde biting and scratching at his flesh, realizing that his next move will decide the outcome of the battle. His sword carves through the lines of the bloodthirsty Hellknights, dropping them by the dozen until none remain. When the screeching ends, Puk and Sjo regain control of their minds. The rogue waits for the war cat to leap up onto the balcony to get into flanking position, before making his finishing move. His off-hand blade slips between the plates under Acillmar’s chest, making the vampire buckle over. Puk seizes the opportunity and drives his other blade into the paravicar’s face. “Should have read your contract more carefully, Hellknight! Immortality does not mean invulnerability! Say ‘Hi’ to Asmodeus for me when he crushes you beneath his heel!”
After a few seconds the defeated vampires turn to smoke, leaving their armours empty on the floor. It takes the party the next hour and a half to heal up and search Bastion Dominus from top to bottom and locate the regenerating vampires in their resting places. This time the end come in the permanent shape of a wooden stake.
The party crosses the bridge to the second keep, Bastion Tyrannous. Before entering, they uses four scroll to ward themselves against death effects and energy drains. Here, the front doors are closed, but a knock spell provides an easy solution. As they peer inside, the companions are accosted by the iron smell of blood and see dozens upon dozens of dead bodies on the floor, Hellknights, but also others, servants or slaves, and even prisoners. The corpses are covered in blood, limbs have been torn from torsos and not a single neck looks intact; most have been torn open viciously. As they enter and study their surroundings, the heroes pick up a distinct clip clop sound from around the corner.
Elvira quickly casts haste and Sjo drops a blessing of fervor over the party. At that time a centaur slips around the corner and charges Balian. Elvira remembers hearing about the Mistress of the Blades, Maidrayne Vox, a valuable member and leader of the Order of the Nail, responsible for training the troops. Like the other Hellknights, this centaur is wearing a full plate. She casts smite chaos on Balian and stabs her halberd in his side. Elvira jumps back, surprised by the creature’s speed, and hides Puk from view with a greater invisibility, only to witness something far more shocking next. The corpses on the floor stir and suddenly pull together, forming one enormous undead mass of corpses, many of them heavily armed and armoured. A slushing sound heralds a crushing slam on Balian, whose death ward guards him from more harm. The ranger calls upon his instant enemy spell to give him an edge against the bloodthirsty horsewoman. Three times he slips through her defences, wounding her badly. Sjo throws out a mass cure moderate wounds, which heals Balian and hurts the warsworn mass and the vampiress even more. He is just in time to boost Balian before mistress Vox unleashes hell un him. The ranger staggers backwards, where Elvira gives him the protection of displacement. This does not ward him against the sudden burst of kinetic energy, however, that erupts from the warsworn. Only Sjo can resist the force of the blow by digging his heels in the ground, but all his friends are flung against the wall like ragdols. Elvira gets up first and attempts to slow the opponents, but they shrug off her spell. The mangled mass of rent flesh and broken bodies presses forward, trampling the heroes facing it. Puk and the puma, Vex, disappear in the pile, but Balian manages to slip out in the nick of time. Lifting his greatsword, the ranger calls out in rage. His first hit knocks down the centaur, his next attacks slash through the warsworn again and again, splitting the blob down to the center as he advances. Sjo realizes that the warsworn is vulnerable and engulfs it in holy positive energy, burning it from existence. The young king is both shocked and relieved. Shocked at the horrors he has faces in here, relieved at having overcome them. So far, at least …
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Using one of her new spells, vision, Elvira tries to learn more about the Fangs of Midnight. Unfortunately, the spell reveals nothing on how to destroy the dragon’s teeth, she only gathers a clearer picture of what kind of tyrant Kazavon was and how he was destroyed by a cabal of heroes, led by a Lastwall knight named Mandraivus, who slew the dragon with his blade Serithial. Coja Eyes-Aflame, the Shoanti shaman who survived the ordeal took the fangs back to his people and hid them in the mastaba, where they lay dormant until Ileosa unearthed them and forged them into her crown. So, despite her powerful divination, Elvira cannot gain the information she needs. She figures that, for divination magic to reveal this level of secret knowledge, no single spell of that school will suffice, but a joint effort of several mighty magic-users could possibly do the trick.
The enchantress looks up Norva Allesain, the head of divination in the Acadamae. Since Elvira is still in possession of Allesain’s infernal contract, she has a bargaining chip. Still, she finds the dean very agreeable. The diviner will look into the matter of a super divination ritual and will happily participate in it, even more so if she’ll get the devil version of her contract in return. But she also adds that she hopes to continue her cooperation with Elvira afterwards. After all, Elvira is one of the most talented wizards ever to graduate here and Norva Allesain claims that working with her will be an honor. She will contact Elvira when she knows more about how to conduct such a ritual.
23 Kuthona 4708
Puk has slowly been building a new secret service and has actually found his first secret mission. He meets the new king in the throne room and tells him that a package has arrived for him in the stage hall, just across the hall. A wooden box is waiting for Sjo on top of the podium. Inside is a simple wooden plank, which looks just like the board that Sjo had when he was a child, the scrap of wood that carried one single word: his name in Shoanti runes. The board in the box also has his name carved into it, but it holds a date as well: 23 Kuthona 4,688. Twenty years ago to the day! Is this his birthdate?
“SURPRISE!” dozens of people glance over the balustrade of the balcony in the ceiling of this room. First among the cheerers are Sjo’s mother Aithné and his new queen Larella. Aithné says she realizes that her son never knew when his real birthday was, but she did. She has remembered his birth in secret every year since leaving him behind, and now she finally has the opportunity to share it with everyone. Larella is happy as well to see her husband kick off his teenage shoes. The party that ensues is rather casual for a royal birthday, with music, dance and drink. Sjo mingles with all the guests; all of them are friends and allies from the Shoanti tribes and from the city.
Some two hours into the party, the cook brings in an enormous birthday cake, topped with a colored layer of marzipan, depicting Sjo’s personal Harrow card, the marriage. Larella explains that there couldn’t be a more fitting card for Sjo. The marriage of a fire and water elemental represents the union of two cultures, Korvosan and Shoanti, culminating in a child that carries within himself the best of both worlds, just like Sjo. Moreover, the card’s suit is the crown, fitting a new king. She hands her husband the center piece of the cake, and when Sjo starts eating it, he discovers that there is a real Harrow card inside his food: the midwife, showing a woman delivering a new baby. This card shows Sjo’s future, Larella explains, as she has another surprise: she is pregnant! The good news is received well and the partygoers toast to the king’s fortune: “May he finally break the curse of the Crimson Throne!”
The feast continues merrily until suddenly a gut-wrenching scream pierces the grand salon, where most guests have gathered. The sound came from a side door, leading up to a wooden catwalk on the wall outside. Balian runs out and sees traces of blood on the planking. Soldiers, manning the main entrance landing below, call out, shouting that a body just plummeted down, hitting and then sliding down the roof of the throne room and then falling deeper to a spot at the foot of the castle walls. Balian flies down, while Elvira glances up and notices a shadow up above, just as it slips over the edge of the roof. She immediately investigates, but finds nothing. Whatever of whoever the shadow was, it is now gone.
Meanwhile Balian discovers that the crashed body is that of the elven ambassador Perishial Kalissreavil. His frame is broken from the fall and covered in bruises and blood. Carrying the corpse in his arms, Balian returns to his friends. While Cressida Kroft, seneschal Kalepopolis and Vencarlo try to calm the guests and urge them to go home, Sjo calls upon his divine powers to raise the elf from the dead. The ambassador’s bones reset, his wounds close and when the ritual is complete, he opens his eyes and gasps for breath. After he has recovered from the shock, he explains that he was lured outside by a sensual servant girl, who bit him in the neck as they were making out. As he pushed her off, he lost his footing and feel to his death. He doesn’t know who the girl was, but she was quite young, sensual and had lush dark hair. The party suspects she was a vampire, which would also explain how she clung to the wall like a spider and was able to disappear into thin air, probably literally turning into gaseous form.
Tayce Soldado, who now works in the castle, says that the description of the girl fits Mikki, a flirtatious kitchen maid, who hasn’t turned up for work in two days. Since she hasn’t been sleeping in the servant quarters, the companions head over to her parents’ house in the city to ask if her father or mother have seen their daughter recently, but they haven’t. Back in the castle, Tayce’s daughter Brienna, the young girl Sjo saved from Ileosa’s plague, confesses she has seen Mikki go down into the basement on several occasions, with a guard. And no, not always the same one.
Our heroes go down to investigate, but first they decide to stop by Thousand Bones’s room, since his new quarters are next to one of the only two entrances leading to the basement stairs. The shaman is present, but he is not alone in his room, the towering Krojun Eats-what-he-kills is in there as well, standing in the middle of the room with his klar and earthbreaker in hand. His head is turned away slightly and his gaze seems to peer into infinity, although his breath betrays that he has noticed the party’s arrival and the tension in his muscles leave no doubt: this barbarian is ready for a fight. Thousand Bones is standing across the chamber, behind the table. On a chair in front of him is Aithné, Sjo’s mother; with a blank look in her eyes. The shaman has draped his hands on her shoulders, gently stroking her neck. He sighs and speaks, talking much more fluently in common than he normally does; very melodically as well, but lacking the contemplative air his speech normally carries:
“I was afraid this would happen. That stupid kitchen wench could not control her urges, I told the master as much. I warned him not to let this lustful floozy wander about freely, but he rather seemed to enjoy the idea. It took me many years of shamanistic training to learn and keep my urges in check perfectly.”
Glancing at the shaman’s lips in the flickering candle light, Puk and Balian see his upper fangs have grown longer than normal. He is obviously a vampire and the strange way in which Krojun is behaving, probably means the big man is dominated.
“It is funny how I studied death for my entire life”, Thousand Bones continues, “but I never gleaned the depth of insight into its true nature until the master showed me.”
Sjo is horrified, but fears for his mother’s safety, caught helplessly in the vampire’s grasp. He also finds it hard to confront Thousand Bones, who has always been such a staunch ally. “For the sake of our old alliance, I’ll give you one chance and one chance alone,” he grunts, “leave now and never return.”
Thousand Bones nods and smirks. “Actually, I will take you up on that offer.” Keeping his eyes locked on Sjo, he recedes to the door, half walking, half floating, and heads over to the arrow slits in the next room, where he turns into a cloud of gas and disappears. Using a greater dispel magic Sjo removes the dominate effect on Krojun and shakes his mother’s shoulder to snap her out of the fascination. Both Shoanti are shocked that the respected shaman of the Skull Clan has fallen prey to his worst nightmare, the undead existence of a vampire.
Since Thousand Bones has been spending a lot of time in the basement as well, lately, trying to reconnect with the Shoanti spirits of old, the party knows where to head next. They descend into the cellars, which are actually rooms in the original mastaba. They arrive in the circular chamber with the huge green pillar in the center. To the right of this column is a body. It’s a dead guardsman with bite marks in his neck. The pale color of his skin suggests he was mostly drained of blood. Elvira tells her friends to drive a stake through his heart, just to be sure.
The heroes make their way to the one place in this dungeon they never explored: the elongated chamber with a thick layer of dust and debris on the ground, four stone statues of kneeling guardians with oversized heads lining the walls. When they first discovered this room while exploring this level in their fight against Ileosa, the heroes were careful not to go inside. After all, it looked like Ileosa had only recently opened up the hallway leading to this room and the servants and guards she sent inside, all lay dead just a few feet across the doorstep. Three months ago Thousand Bones sealed off this ancient and perilous passage again with a wall of stone, but a new hole was recently melted in the rock, easily big enough for a full-grown person to step through.
Peering into the dark, with only the light of Elvira’s torch, the companions try to assess the threats in the room beyond. The desiccated corpses of Ileosa’s minions point at some kind of magical trap, something along the lines of horrid wilting, Elvira assumes, which is a very potent and dangerous spell. Puk and Balian step inside and advance carefully, checking for traps but finding none. Still, nothing and happens, not even when Sjo joins them, but when Elvira enters, Puk suddenly notices one of the stone statues tremble. At the same time the walls shake and send forth a blast of dust, drying out the heroes’ eyes, making their mouths dry as cotton and evaporating much of the moisture in their bodies. Elvira looks at her hands, the drought has left them wrinkled as if they aged by fifty years. But despite the terrible effect of this spell, at her core she remains as strong and young as ever. Her heart skips a beat, though, when she sees the four stone statues tear free from the wall and attack her friends, smashing their fists into Sjo and Puk. She glances up ahead and notices another chamber, one holding a tomb. She pulls her friends close and magically jumps them into this room with dimension door. Behind them the statues break off their attacks and return to their original positions, giving Sjo the time to heal everyone.
The floor of this tomb is covered in dust as well, although the layer is not as thick as in the antechamber, and it also seems to grow thinner as you progress deeper into the tomb. Footprints clearly indicate that someone has been in here recently, wearing some kind of leather slippers, like many of the Shoanti do. The tracks also suggest that this person walked into and out of here unmolested. The room contains a single huge limestone sarcophagus. Its heavy lid lies broken on the floor and used to bear the carved image of a noble-looking man. An inner coffin of basalt was smashed open as well, the lid shattered in a multitude of fragments. Investigating the shards, Balian comes to the disconcerting conclusion that the coffin and sarcophagus were broken from the inside. There is no sign of the occupant, but Puk finds a few drops of blood on some of the stone fragments, no more that a couple days old. Studying the writings on the tomb, Elvira learns that this was the grave of someone called “Kusasfa, Sorshen’s first consort”.
The party figures that if they are indeed facing a vampire, such creatures go out hunting at night, only to return to their coffin during the daylight hours, so they decide to come back here tomorrow at noon, hoping to catch the ancient vampire asleep. They teleport to the throne room, where Elvira summons a mage’s magnificent mansion. Sjo sends the staff home and retires with his friends in the demiplane that Elvira conjured up, finding it safe and peaceful, but also completely and utterly luxurious.
Returning to the tomb the next day, the heroes find it as deserted as last night. But a search of Thousand Bones’ room reveals a new important clue. Spread out on the table is a map of the complete kingdom of Korvosa. A bloody fingerprint singles out one location: Citadel Vraid in the southern Mindspin Mountains. So maybe the rumors of an ancient Thassilonian temple near the Hellknights’ homebase were not so farfetched after all. Is this where Kusasfa went? The evidence certainly points in that direction.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
I definitely agree with you, Sarlax, that the quests in the Cinderlands should be made more meaningful, but your suggestions need more background to fit in the overall story.
Amarund, the Shoanti member of the Palatine Eye Shoani who helped defeat Kazavon, returned to the Cinderlands after her quests. He (or she) scattered clues to his quest in his homeland.
After all, the Sun shaman did return home after defeating Kazavon, but his home was in the lowlands, more specifically where Korvosa is now. Kazavon was defeated over six centuries ago, while the Shoanti did not leave for the Cinderlands until 200 to 300 years ago.
So you would have to come up with a convincing story to explain why the Sun shaman traveled to the Cinderlands. Possibly he went there looking for a way to destroy the artefact.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
The next three months
Since Sjo was elected king, on the 25th of Rova, almost three months have gone by.
The Nalharest pact has been working wonders. Several tribes have moved to the lowlands, some even relocated to Bloodsworn Vale, while others preferred to remain in the Cinderlands. Sjo’s mother Aithne has settled down in Harse, where her training as a Burn Rider serves her well in her contacts with the horse breeders. She has also become a symbol for integration, and the Harsians are extremely proud to count the mother of the new king among their number.
Thousand Bones is the new Shoanti ambassador in Korvosa. Since he wanted to reconnect with the shamans of old, he has requested to live in the castle, on top of the mastaba. He’s been granted quarters in the former lower guardroom, with easy access to the dungeon level in the real mastaba. There he has been speaking to the spirits of the forefathers, trying to figure out what to do with the Fangs of Midnight.
One month into his reign Sjo got married to Larella Semyr, giving his people yet another holiday full of happiness and festivities. He also used this day to pardon the Korvosan members of the Gray Maidens, after they had already been on trial and absolved of any true crimes (the deeds of cruelty and violence the Gray Maidens committed, were all done by blood clones or the Chelish recruits, never by the small group of real Korvosans), but still ended up in prison for having belonged to the wrong organization.
The situation between Korvosa and the Hellknights has reached a stalemate. The Order of the Nail was ordered to leave the country, but so far has refused. The Hellknights have withdrawn to Citadel Vraid, while the government has stopped financing and supplying the organization.
Elvira has been studying the infernal contracts. She also investigated the private library in Domina’s Tower at length, discovering amongst others the former queen’s notes on the Hellknights and Citadel Vraid.
Her first focus, however, was finding out what to do with the Crown of Fangs, more specifically, trying to discover if there was a way to permanently destroy the artefact. So far, she has found little. The Shoanti taught her that their attempt to destroy the teeth with acid and fire proved futile (not just on the teeth, by the way, but on all remains of Kazavon).
Musty tomes in Domina’s Tower or the Leroung Library sometimes do tell tales of mighty artefacts being destroyed, but the process is always exceptionally difficult and requires much more than simple acid or fire spells. Moreover, it is never clear whether these stories are fact of fiction. Some legends claim evil artifacts can only be shattered by even bigger evil or extreme goodness, possibly even by a combination of the two. Other myths speak of nigh impossible deeds. The artifact has to be buried in the heart of the world, cast into the endless sea by a man who has never set foot on land, broken by the love of a woman who has killed all she has loved, melted in the fiercest fire on the surface of the sun, dipped into the fountain of youth, devoured by the dragon at the end of time, smashed by a titan who has never trampled anything underfoot, crushed by the gates of Hell, bathed in the light of truth, cleansed by a thousand chaste souls … None of the volumes mentions any of Kazavon’s artefacts, though, so there is no telling how to destroy the dragon’s teeth. Maybe divination can offer more insight, but it will have to be of the most powerful kind. Another option might be the Pathfinders or Toff Ornelos. As Elvira recently discovered, the Acadamae’s headmaster traded his soul for access to the most extensive library on all the planes, the Fallen Fastness in Dis. If any information on destroying the Fangs of Midnight was ever written down, this would be the place to look for it. Elvira still possesses the devil’s copy of Toff Ornelos’s contract, which she could possibly barter for said information, but that would cost her an important bargaining chip when she plans to take over the Acadamae. Still, ridding the world of Kazavon’s evil ranks higher on her list of priorities than becoming headmistress.
Queen Domina’s notes on the Hellknights also provide welcome insight in the Order of the Nail and their headquarters in the Southern Mindspin Mountains. During her reign over the Chelish colony of Korvosa, Queen Domina Arabasti (ruled 4,667–4,686 AR) sought to secure her position by petitioning for the support of several of Cheliax's most powerful Hellknight Orders. She offered to commission a massive and impregnable fortress as a reward for any order that would relocate to Varisia, having already procured the aid of a Hellknight visionary and master builder, Saem-Kyrs, who had found the perfect spot for such a citadel. Moreover, Korvosa's proximity to the native Shoanti lands offered the perfect place to enforce one of the order's prime directives: the destruction of the indigenous “primitives” who threatened civilization.
The Order of the Nail's high commander at the time, Lictor Voltarios the Scourge, accepted Domina's offer in the spring of 4,682 AR. He first relocated to the city of Korvosa with his Hellknight troops, starting his crusade against the Shoanti, while leaving complete control over the castle's construction to paralictor Saem-Kyrs.
Saem-Kyrs was considered a paragon of incorruptibility, making him an ideal choice to oversee the design of the Order of the Nail's new fortress. At first, the paralictor's draconian leadership guaranteed the project stayed on time, but as Saem-Kyrs spent increasingly longer hours amid the foundations of the growing citadel, he grew gradually more erratic and excessive. He began openly disputing his superiors, insisting they lacked the insight and courage to build a mighty citadel that could stand as the heart of a Hellknight empire, and soon many of his underlings began to question his sanity. However, a small cadre of Hellknights shared his fervor, and together they plotted to seize the construction site. The project fell further and further behind schedule, and workers fled the site in droves. Finally, driven beyond reason by unknown forces, Saem-Kyrs rallied his allies and tried to seize Vraid by force in the attempt to create a new Hellknight kingdom.
Ironically, Lictor Voltarios, who still resided in the city of Korvosa, not only anticipated the rebellion, he secretly encouraged it, hoping to purge his organization of all those who dared oppose him. The very evening that Saem-Kyrs declared his coup, Voltarios's elite forces quickly slew him along with several dozen renegade Hellknights who had rallied to his support, crushing the incipient rebellion with ease. Shortly after the incident, Voltarios burned all records of Saem-Kyrs, as well as the castle's floorplans, blaming the destruction on the insurgents and ensuring Citadel Vraid's layout remained a secret.
After the death of Saem-Kyrs, Voltarios came to Vraid to oversee the final phase of the castle's construction himself. The work was plagued by frequent and deadly accidents, and it took various master builders and scores of slaves and workers nearly 3 more years to complete the citadel. Rumors surfaced that construction of the citadel's foundation revealed remnants of a long-buried Thassilonian temple, and that the project was corrupted by the long dormant rune magic buried there. Others suspected some curse was behind the delays, caused either by vengeful Shoanti spirits or Saem-Kyrs's lingering madness.
Yielding to pressure from others in his order, Voltarios commanded his signifers to purify Citadel Vraid of any latent corruption. Meanwhile, Voltarios grew increasingly paranoid, believing a secret rebellion sympathetic to Saem-Kyrs caused the project's delays and banishing all suspected insurrectionists to the Hellfast, an expansive dungeon beneath Citadel Vraid. Soon, many whispered that Voltarios's mind was as poisoned as Saem-Kyrs’s had been. Whatever its cause, Voltarios's inquisition threatened to tear the Order of the Nail apart.
Voltarios's purge ended abruptly in 4,685 AR, on the eve of the citadel's inaugural ceremony. On that night, tremendous bolts of storm-borne lightning struck the citadel's metalclad spires, shaking Citadel Vraid's very foundations. The armigers guarding the walls reported strange, glowing crackles of energy flickering up the exterior of the castle's bastions. The next morning, guards found Voltarios's battered corpse skewered upon the spire of Lictor's Keep.
Following Voltarios's grisly death, the Order of the Nail appointed Severs Boneclaw DiVri as the new reigning lictor. DiVri believed that Vraid had indeed fallen prey to foul magic. He immediately called off Voltarios's inquisition, insisting those with sufficient dedication to the Order of the Nail had nothing to fear from barbarian sorcery or the dormant magic of a long-dead society. Yet for all of Divri's noble intentions, the legacy of Voltarios continued. During the most violent mountain storms, faint spidery shocks of mysterious emerald energy still traced Vraid’s outer walls, remaining a source of superstition, causing many within the Order – including the lictor – to believe the castle is haunted.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
26-27 Rova 4708
The next two days allow Elvira to decipher the basics of two more infernal contracts: Akmelek Ornelos, Lord Toff’s grandson, bartered for a devil servant. Elvira recalls the annoying imp he invariably keeps around and doesn’t understand why anyone would sell their soul for such a meager price. She does figure out, though, that Akmelek’s Hellish helper can grow more powerful if he does as well. Still, not the best deal, Elvira figures. It has become very clear to her that the terms of the agreement strongly depend on how powerful the person is who closes the deal. Akmelek was far too young and incompetent when the made an agreement with the devil, victim to his own impatience. Compared to Ileosa’s contract, which was extremely powerful because she was at the peak of her powers when signing it, Akmelek’s document pales.
The other document she studies is the one belonging to Acillmar, the Hellknight paravicar, Lictor DiVri’s right-hand man. His contract stipulates that he cannot die by mortal hand and that he will attain immortality. Acillmar obviously was a better negotiator than Akmelek.
Sjo receives word from Thousand Bones that the clans have agreed on the terms of the Nalharest pact. He is glad to learn that Sjo has won the elections and happily accepts the invitation to join the coronation ceremony.
Balian pays a visit to his neighbor, the halfling Orkatto, who sells exotic animals. The ranger is looking for a new animal companion and wants to go over the possibilities. He likes the idea of getting a puma.
28 Rova 4708
At noon, Sjo is to be crowned the next king. As is customary, this ceremony takes place on the terraces of the castle overlooking Ramp Boulevard. Sjo and Balian recall the first time they were there to witness a royal event: Eodred and Ileosa’s wedding. Now they will be on the other side. The streets are already packed and everyone seems to be impatient in anticipation of the festivities.
Sjo has asked Archbishop Keppira d’Bear of Pharasma to lead the proceedings, preferring her over Darb Tuttle of Abadar. Elvira uses several teleport spells to bring in some honorary Shoanti guests: Thousand Bones, D’ari Firehair and Aithne, but also the great Shoanti leader Valkur Burns-in-his-Veins is present with his son Saamesh, Sun shaman Arunan and an elite bodyguard, including Krojun Eats-what-he-Kills.
At twelve o’clock the show starts with the ringing of all the bells in the city. Keppira d’Bear strides down the terrace, to the end which looms over the street as a balcony, allowing everyone to bear witness to this glorious day. The crowd on Ramp Boulevard cheers vigorously.
D’Bear mounts the small stage and raises her hand to ask for silence. When she speaks her magically enhanced voice booms out over the city: “Dear citizens of Korvosa. My heart bleeds when I think of all the lives that were lost under Ileosa’s rule of terror. In her blind rage she destroyed everything that got in her way. You have all suffered. You have all lost, but those days are over!
From your own ranks arose a couple of young heroes, common people like you, who found within themselves the courage to save us all. For stubbornness is in our core. No adversity is so bad that we will not rise above it. No loss too great, or we learn from it and use it as a source of strength. Because that is our fate, my fellow Korvosans. If doom and misfortune threaten us from every angle, we do not quit and always search for the light!
That is what these heroes did as well. They rose when Ileosa had us beaten down. They defied the queen and triumphed. And now one of them chooses to serve us even longer. He is prepared to carry the burden of being king and lead us to a better future.
If there is no heir to the throne, by law the rule over Korvosa passes to whomever the Grand Council deems fit. Who is better suited than someone who comes from the city’s underbelly? Just like you, Shaoban grew up in these streets. He knows your hardships, he shares your worries, your sadness, but also your joys. Who is better suited than a man who put everything on the line to save us all from certain doom? Because if it hadn’t been for ‘Sjo’ and his friends, Balian, Puk, Elvira and the late Quint, Ileosa would have sucked us into the depths of Hell by now. Who is better suited than someone who can ensure that we will finally find peace with the Shoanti, after three centuries of violence and hate? For Shaoban has both Korvosan and Shoanti blood flowing through his veins. With him in charge the war will finally be over!
And that is why, people of Korvosa, I ask you to bear witness to what happens here today, under the eyes of the gods. Because it is from your hands that the king receives his crown. So let us become one hand that anoints, one voice that blesses and one will that crowns. Citizens of Korvosa, become one heart that welcomes your future ruler!"
Following protocol, d’Bear now raises her hands to the heavens and the crowd bursts out in cheers while Sjo steps into view and kneels in front of the Archbishop of Pharasma. With her palms held up to the sky, she solemnly proclaims: "Lord Shaoban, do you swear to govern the whole of Korvosa according to its charters and customs?"
Sjo replies: "I do."
"Will you to your power cause law and justice to be executed in all your judgments?"
"Do you promise to maintain and honor the laws of this city to the utmost of your power?"
The highpriestess approaches Sjo, dips her hands in a chalice of oil and anoints the kneeling healer on the forehead, the temples and wrists, while declaring: "The almighty and ever-lasting gods pour their spirit in your soul, judgment and actions. May you govern this city with wisdom, keep the peace and serve its people and lands."
As the young man rises, Balian steps forward to drape the red robe of state over his shoulders. In the meantime d’Bear has taken the crown and shows it to the crowd. Then she turns towards Sjo and holds the crown above his head: "Lord Shaoban, may the gods who have given you this royal honor in their divine providence, grant you the wisdom to banish all wrongs from Korvosa, to lead your people to prosperity, to bring comfort where it is due and to serve the laws of this city." Then she places the crown on the new king's head, raises her hands to the skies and calls out: 'In the name of the gods and the people, I crown you, Shaoban Onemaker, king of Korvosa and all her inhabitants, you and no other!" Next she kneels at his feet: "Long live the king! Long live Korvosa!"
Everyone on the terrace drops to his knees as well and repeats the words, as do the citizens in the streets: "Long live the king! Long live Korvosa!" Then a cheer arises as was never heard in Korvosa.
Finally Sjo turns to the crowd and speaks: "People of Korvosa, today marks the first day of your future! No longer will we dwell on the misery of the past. We will look ahead with great anticipation and hope. We will welcome what comes with a smile on our face. We will grab new opportunities with both hands and thus our future will be glorious.
I plan to serve you to guarantee that this vision of the future comes true. You can count on me to care for you like a father. I know, I am still young, but fatherhood might be on my horizon sooner than we all think. I gladly announce that Priestess Larella Semyr of Shelyn has agreed to become my wife and we plan to marry in one month. I sincerely hope this marriage will be blessed by the gods and that me may soon break the curse of the crimson throne by producing an heir.
But that is tomorrow! Today we celebrate! My people, I am proud to be your king. Now make me even prouder by showing me you have rediscovered your lust for life! Let the festivities begin!”
Level up: level 2
And so the first extra chapter to continue the campaign has come to a close, but with so many issues left to address, we will march on. Stay tuned to find out what happens next to our friends.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
25 Rova 4708
So, today is the big day, today the Grand Council will elect a new king for the city. Will it be Glorio Arkona, or will it be Shaoban Onemaker? Just a few more hours and it will be decided.
Elvira uses the morning to get the gist of Toff Ornelos’s infernal contract. It turns out he has negotiated the right to have unlimited access to the knowledge of the Fallen Fastness in Dis in the pits of Hell, the most extensive library anywhere, said to contain a copy of all texts ever recorded. She immediately realizes the potential: if anyone ever wrote down how the Fangs of Midnight could be destroyed, this would be the place to find it.
By three o’clock the final meeting starts. Everyone has gathered in the castle and there definitely is some tension in the air. Elvira focuses her permanent detect magic to ascertain that none of the voters have been enchanted, and is happy to find none of their minds have been tampered with.
When everyone is seated, seneschal Neolandus Kalepopolis opens the meeting: “Dear members of the Grand Council, I welcome you on this crucial day in our city’s history. Before we start today’s procedure, there is something else. As you all know, we have had a visitor from Cheliax, highpriest Urdo Chartagnion of Asmodeus, who would like to address this council today.”
The priest of Asmodeus rises and glances around the table before speaking: “People of Korvosa, I know you have gathered here to choose a new leader for your city-state, but I need not remind you that, ultimately, you still fall under the authority of Her Infernal Majestrix, Abrogail II of Cheliax. The somewhat misplaced title of ‘king’ or ‘queen’ you use for this office is a small slip, which Her Majesty is prepared to overlook as a frivolity, even if the title of ‘steward’ would probably be a better fit. Anyway, our ruler has ordered me to investigate the acts of Sjo and his companions versus Highpriest Ornher Reebs of Asmodeus and Ileosa Arvanxi Arabasti, both of whom died at their hands. I have completed my investigation and am ready to let you know my ruling.
For the murder of Ornher Reebs I absolve Sjo and his companions. Reebs’s deeds were in clear violation of Korvosan law. The man sacrificed over a hundred innocent women to serve his malicious needs. At the start of his career here, Queen Domina already set him straight on a similar matter, so he knew very well what he was doing was wrong, and thus he deserved his fate.
Yet, in confronting him, Sjo and his party did not act within the bounds of the law, for their actions were not sanctioned by the government. Nonetheless, I feel what they did was necessary. Still, I would like to caution everyone about taking the law into your own hands, for when people do that, there effectively is no law anymore.
The second accusation is a more complicated nature, as it concerns a case of regicide. Sjo and his companions killed the ruling monarch, who also belonged to one of the noble houses in Cheliax, where her family now demands a fair ruling.
For the murder of Ileosa Arvanxi Arabasti I find Sjo, Puk, Balian and Elvira … not guilty. Considering the extraordinary circumstances in Korvosa at the time, they took it upon themselves to end a … well basically, messed-up situation. Although they didn’t act legitimately, I cannot condemn them for their actions. Still, they broke Chelish law when they acted unauthorized, so they will be sanctioned for that offense From now on, they are no longer welcome in the home country.
That leaves one more issue: the source of this evil, the dragon’s fangs which Ileosa forged into her crown. On behalf of Her Infernal Majestrix I would like to insist that this council decides to send the artefact to Cheliax, so Her Majesty can take precautions to keep it safe for all time. Korvosa has proven itself incapable of doing so, but the home country has the means and magic required to meet the demands of this humongous task. I strongly urge you to convince your new king to take my advice.”
Chartagnion sits down again and the seneschal continues: “Thank you, lord inquisitor, for your fair judgment. So now it is time to proceed with the matter at hand. Ladies and gentlemen, today you will decide who mounts the Korvosan throne. We have two candidates left, one of whom will leave this meeting as our next king. So, for the last time, I will give both contenders the opportunity to speak. Lord Sjo, if you would go first.”
Sjo readdresses the same issues as last time, making clear his intentions with regard to the Shoanti and his plans for the city. He adds that the negotiations with the tribes are going well, so he hopes to reach an agreement shortly. He also hints at the dirty tricks Lord Arkona has been using to gain votes, without explicitly calling them out, but his subtle suggestions are not lost on his audience. In the end, he expresses the wish that everyone can vote freely, without outside interference or influence.
Glorio is next. Nothing in his demeanor betrays that Sjo is ahead in the poles. He looks as confident as ever. “Dear members of the Grand Council, today YOU will decide our city’s future. That puts all of you combined, but each with your individual voice, even higher in the hierarchy than the king himself. So I hope you have given this decision sufficient thought.
I will no longer trouble you with the reasons why I consider myself the best man for the job. I’ve spoken about that at length during our last two meetings. Suffices to say that I don’t see myself as a military leader, but as a man of compromise and peace, who wants to do right by the city and its people.
So, who faces me today? A hero? Korvosa’s savior? Perhaps … he played a part in our salvation, to be sure, as did so many others, like most of you at this table. Aaron Endrin witnessed his father’s death at the hands of Ileosa and took up arms in the rebellion against the usurper, with the aid of the Bromathans, the church of Pharasma and many brave souls, at a time when our ‘heroes’ left the city to chase other ambitions in the Cinderlands and beyond.
Field Marshal Cressida Kroft manned her post as long as she could to contain the queen’s corrupting influence, and after she had been seized by the Gray Maidens, Captain Jalento did everything within his power to ensure the Watch survived without being forced to turn against the people.
Houses Jeggare, Leroung, Carowyn, Fordyce and Zenderholm made sure our city’s institutions and economy still functioned in these very troubled times. All the districts’ representatives played a large part in that as well, just like the churches of Abadar and Sarenrae. After all, even in times of extreme hardship, life goes on. The men and women of Korvosa needed to work to feed their children and, ultimately, to survive. This kind of battle is not as glorious or triumphant as chopping down evil with your blade, but without any of you, there wouldn’t have been a city left to save.
Well, I have to make a small side note: the only one at this table I can ascribe little merit to, is you, mister chairman, our all-important seneschal who had the legitimate power to depose the queen. You went into hiding on day one, even ending up at my doorstep where you refused to aid me in my quest against Ileosa. Afterwards you fled to Janderhoff, where you stayed until the city was saved and you could return to help your friends claim the throne. Fortunately, you do not control this council, so I have faith they will make a wise decision.
So you see, members of the council, our so-called heroes are not the only heroes in Korvosa, even if they walk away with all the honor. Moreover, their reputation is not exactly as pristine as they would like you to think. When Ileosa was fresh on the throne, they actually helped her secure that position. Their would-be rescue attempts in those days cost the lives of several innocent citizens and people fighting to oppose the new queen.
They drove ambassador Amprei from the city, who represented our neighbor and ally Cheliax, and had him banished for inciting violent protests against the queen. In hindsight it is hard to condemn this act of rabble-rousing, but there’s more. The accusations against him were false, because it wasn’t Amprei, but I, Lord Arkona, who called our citizens to disobedience. And while in those early days I was already opposing the queen, our ‘heroes’ basked in Ileosa’s praise and reward, being appointed to the Order of the Pseudodragons, getting a villa in Southshore and even a seat in the royal council. They even tried to gather more fame in the city opera, by getting on stage to sing, but let’s not forget, they only did this to temper the negative feelings for Ileosa.
Now, to be totally honest, they weren’t the only ones to be misguided by Eodred’s widow’s initial charm, and we certainly cannot deny that they contributed in fighting the plague that killed thousands of Korvosans, even though most credit for this should go to House Leroung. After all, it was alchemy professor Sirtane Leroung who came up with the cure to defeat this horrible disease.
But I digress, let us take stock of what else our heroes did. They invaded Old-Korvosa, threatening and murdering several local citizens who were trying to retain some kind of order after Ileosa left them to die in chaos. Afterwards, I invited them into my house and begged them to aid me in the fight against Ileosa, but they were more interested in setting their precious friend, mister scaredy-pants Kalepopolis, free, and, lacking the courage to save the city, take him to a safe place where he could rest on his laurels, the Dwarven Safehaven of Janderhoff.
Later on, our heroes struck out into the wilderness, visiting the barbarians on the Storval Heights, plotting and conspiring with them to have a wildling army attack our lands. Sure, Sjo can help us reach an agreement with the Shoanti, but he is also the one who called them here in the first place, let’s not forget that.
And now I stand accused by these ‘heroes’ of manipulations. I do not deny hiring the Cerulean Society to back me in the fight against Ileosa. The guild hasn’t always been uncontested in its actions, I know, but I can safely say that they were the only ones who supported me from the very beginning. When I asked our brave heroes for their aid, they were too busy getting into Ileosa’s good graces. What choice did I have but to turn to the guild? They were among the few who fought the good fight from the start, when the usurper seized power.
It is possible that, out of some misguided sense of loyalty, they undertook certain deeds to help me gain the throne without consulting me. I don’t condone these actions in the least, but I would have liked to see the culprits answer for their crimes in front of a jury, yet, lo and behold, that won’t be possible anymore because once more our heroes have been playing judge and executioner at the same time.
And, of course, I cannot deny that in my campaign for the throne I have talked with several of you and perhaps even come to some kind of agreement here or there, as has my competitor, by the way. Are those manipulations and dirty tricks? I already told you that I stand for a better Korvosa with a strong economy and extra care for the poor. Do you blame me for trying to convince others to join me in this journey? Is that a dirty trick? I cannot rebuild Korvosa by myself, now can I? I need the support of friends, allies. So I have consulted with some of you, and included you in my plans. Is it a crime that it will benefit you as well? We’re talking about a win-win-situation. What’s good for Korvosa, is good for most of you as well. At least, that is the idea, if you ask me, that all of us benefit. Anyhow, I guess some people think better with a blade in hand than with their heads or their hearts.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I never accused anyone during these meetings, not until today. If you think I should be blamed for manipulating matters, you force me to stoop to your level. If I take stock, I can easily see which way the balance tips. I hope the Council members have the same clarity and come to the same conclusion.
And what can we conclude? Is our hero really such a hero? Did he always fight for the good of the city, or for his own gain? Is he the perfect liaison to talk with the Shoanti, perhaps he is, perhaps he isn’t? Will he lead us to peace or is he the one who is leading our ancient enemy into our homes under our very noses? I leave it to each of you to draw your own conclusions. Just know this: Korvosa is Korvosa because we allow our laws and charters to guide us. I do not know how a barbarian fits into that. Let us remain objective and judge each candidate on his merits and demerits. If you do so, dear colleagues, you have but one choice. I pray to the gods you make the right call and I thank you for hearing me out.”
The seneschal, although shaken by Arkona’s misrepresentation of him, thanks both contenders for their speeches and asks the people at the table if they would like to add anything before voting. Elvira asks to speak. She says that Arkona’s arguments were nicely spun, but he did leave some gaps in his fantastic tale. He forgot to mention one of his initial supporters when praising everyone for their contribution to saving the city. He did not thank Lord Ornelos, because the man and his family never helped, on the contrary … Arkona also hid his own crimes: kidnapping, extorsion, magic compulsion, those are the means of a criminal to win an election. She sees that Kalepopolis cannot hide a smirk as she sets Arkona straight.
And so, it is time to vote. Again, each member of the Grand Council dumps a stone into a large urn, red for Arkona and white for Sjo. Afterwards, the seneschal counts the votes. Sjo immediately takes a small lead, jumping one, two and even three votes ahead, then falling back to just one. Then the gap widens. When the count stands at 15-11 in Sjo’s favor, the healer only needs one more vote to win. Kalepopolis reaches into the urn and pulls out another stone for Sjo. Several people at the table burst out in a loud cheer. The seneschal continues the count, ending at 18 for Sjo and 13 for Arkona.
“Lord Sjo, I guess congratulations are in order”, he says with a broad smile on his face, “you are our new king. Long live the king!”
“Long live the king! Long live Korvosa!”
Everyone walks up to Sjo to compliment him on his victory. Some, like Cressida Kroft and Keppira d’Bear do so with gusto, while others, like Ornelos, cannot hide their disappointment. Glorio is the last in line to wish Sjo the best. As always, he does a far better job at hiding his distress than Ornelos. Elvira, who has always suspected that Glorio was behind the recent Red Mantis attempt on Sjo’s life, suggests that whomever took out the contract, had better end it now. Arkona agrees, but denies being involved himself.
Kalepopolis immediately draws Sjo away to prepare for what is to come. He recommends keeping the momentum going and not delaying the coronation ceremony. Sjo concurs and they set the date for the 28th, in just three days.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
First of all, thanks for the compliment. I hope that the idea of the House Porphyria villa in Lost End works out as well for your group as it did for mine.
Now, on the coin subject, it seems that 'germ theory' is not such a bad idea. The scientific background may not have been discovered yet, but that doesn't mean that germs don't work. The black death razed terribly in the Middle Ages and those germs didn't care whether men understood them or not.
With alchemists being a thing in the Pathfinder universe, concocting a germ-based disease is not such a far stretch. It also gives you two advantages: the coins do not detect as magic and anyone can disinfect them by boiling them. It can even be a great way for your PCs to contribute to fighting the plague, if they make it known that boiling the coins saves lives. It's an alternative way for your heroes to shine, so go with it!
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KSB Snow Owl wrote:
Well - apart from stuff that was stolen from someone (in that case it should be returned to them) - if it is money, it could flow back to the city's coffers, but items could either be sold (I like your idea of offering to members of the guard for half price) or redistributed. In the last case, the Field Marshal gives special items to those who deserve it.
If the PCs retrieve stolen stuff, they might be paid a finder's fee by the owner (let's say 10 %).
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sjo uses the rest of the day to talk to more potential voters. Ezekiel Sollux, the highpriest of Sarenrae, seems disgusted when he hears what the thieves’ guild did for Glorio Arkona: kidnapping Margueritte Jeggare is a serious offense. Valdur Bromathan, also a priest of Sarenrae, overhears the conversation and adds that the guild also kidnapped a baby to pressure its grandfather to vote for Arkona. Then he reveals that HE is said grandfather and the baby is his daughter’s child born out of wedlock, but he has decided to reveal the truth to the outside world and he asks Elvira’s aid in bringing the mother and child back to Korvosa. His wife has convinced him that hiding the baby will only lose them their daughter, while Sarenrae believes in new chances. Elvira is happy to hear that and agrees to meet with the nobleman later today at his home. When Sjo assures Sollux that a social program for the less fortunate in the city is also on the top of his list, he feels that he has won over the man’s heart and vote.
Deskin Orfman from Melfesh is glad to hear that the heroes have already started paying off the city’s debt, giving him more hope that Korvosa won’t call on his hometown’s coffers to fill its own financial pit. Dermot Hallaer, the wool trader, acts like an accomplished merchant, remaining secretive about his support and keeping his options open. He admits that he has also paid protection money to the Cerulean Society in the past, but clarifies that they actually made sure his business was safe in return. Mother River Raindance, the free-spirit from Abken, is easily swayed. When she hears that the agreement with the Shoanti to allow the tribes ample freedom when they come and live in the lowlands, could easily extend to Abken, she is content, unless it’s the drugs that are making her mellow ... Janka Melchior, the mayor from Harse, still sides with Sjo, who offers the best guarantees that the Shoanti will not overrun her horse-breeding hometown to reclaim their tribal grounds.
In all, Elvira calculates that the majority of the voters is now on Sjo’s side, ensuring his victory, even if Arkona manages to steal one or two of the swing votes. Sjo also wants an update on the Shoanti negotiations concerning the Nalharest Pact, so he asks Elvira to teleport him to the plains below Kaer Maga. He is greeted by his mother and speaks to Thousand Bones. The old shaman says that things are moving in the right direction. The quah-jothka’s have been talking to their own tribes about the pact, trying to get their warriors to set aside their hatred and open up their hearts to a new peaceful solution. It is hard to wipe away century-old grudges, but the chiefs are slowly wearing down resistance among their people.
Upon returning to Korvosa, Elvira makes good on her promise to Valdur Bromathan and teleports back and forth to Magnimar to get his daughter to come home with the baby. It is a happy reunion.
In the early evening, the heroes prepare for the feast in the Jeggare Museum. Elvira and Sjo respect the dress code, putting on their finest clothes. Puk choses to wear his chain shirt under his vest, while Balian decides to go in full armor, figuring that the future king’s bodyguard has the right to arm up. They take their fancy coach from the stable and have Ornaut drive them to the museum. Upon arriving, they make a donation to the King Eodred foundation at the front door, where several Janderhoff dwarves guard a strongbox filled with dozens of heavy pouches. As the party steps into the grand entrance hall, a herald announces their arrival, and all conversations fall silent when the guests welcome the heroes with a round of applause. Mercival Jeggare, the host, walks up and thanks his guests of honor again for saving his daughter. He has already talked to judge Zenderholm, and they have agreed that Marguerite can remain to live at home until the time of her trial for being a Gray Maiden. There are over a hundred guests here tonight, all of the noble families and many other people of note, including all voting members of the grand council.
By 8 o’clock the herald invites the guests to move to the Korvosa Hall for dinner. This part of the museum houses numerous important pieces of the city’s history, like the original imperial charter which permitted the settlement of this area, field marshal Korvosa’s armor, the figurehead of the frigate the Merciless, which played an important part in saving the early settlement from annihilation, three burned stakes from the palisade that surrounded the original fort, a ring that used to belong to Saint Alika and so much more. A dozen tables have been prepared, each seating up to ten people. A servant leads the party to a table with Field Marshal Cressida Kroft, Vencarlo Orisini, seneschal Neolandus Kalepopolis, Sjo’s fiancée Larella Semyr and her niece Fayne, a young Shelyn acolyte.
When everyone is seated Lord Mercival Jeggare addresses the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, I welcome you all. Today we celebrate victory, victory over an ancient evil that threatened to tear our civilization asunder. For centuries the crypts below Castle Korvosa housed a great evil, placed there and guarded by the Shoanti. It was an evil artefact, containing the wickedness of a cruel dragon. When queen Ileosa uncovered it, it revealed her true nature and almost destroyed us.
Many have tried to fight this evil in their own way, but salvation finally arrived at the hands of heroic adventurers, who faced the corruption in all its guises with no regard for their own safety. Puk, Balian, Lady Elvira and Lord Sjo, could you please stand up so we can drink to your health?”
Everyone rises and raises a glass. Most guests do so with gusto and pride; but some people show less enthusiasm, even though they still join the toast. Lord Jeggare continues:
“Field Marshal Korvosa and my own ancestor, the gentleman-explorer Montlarion Jeggare would have been proud to witness the glory of the city they founded and the bravery of all the men and women who have fought for its freedom. And so I invite you to enjoy what we fought for, this meal is well deserved. Please enjoy!” Next an army of servants appears to bring everyone a plate of Alikan oysters.
When the second course starts, the herald rises again: “Dear guests, I hope you liked Korvosa’s specialty. All of you know that Korvosa is looking for a new king. Two candidates remain, both of which are here tonight; Lord Glorio Arkona and Lord Sjo. Because a king has to be wise to rule his people with insight and understanding, we want to present them with a little challenge.
To determine who has the sharpest mind, we have a riddle for them and the ‘royal’ council at their table, who can give them advice. The first one to solve it, proves himself the smartest contestant. So here is the conundrum: a city is being plagued by out-of-town bandits. The lord decides to place guards at all the gates and agrees on a password with everyone who lives there.
One of the bandits, bent on picking some pockets in the market square, wants to get into the city walls, but to do so, he has to get past the new guard at the gate. Since he doesn’t know the password, he hides under the bridge, eavesdropping while others enter the city. A first citizen approaches the guard, who says ‘twelve’, to which he replies ‘six’. A second person seeking entry answers ‘six’ with ‘three’. So the bandit thinks he understands, steps unto the bridge and when the guard asks him ‘ten’, he replies with conviction …”
“FIVE” some people in the crowd call out. “Five, indeed. But then he is arrested and thrown in jail. So, what was the right answer?”
The guests at both tables share their thoughts, but Elvira is the first to see through the problem. The answer is ‘three’ she says, for the number of letters in the word. Sjo shouts the answer the herald and it is correct, granting him the honor of being the smartest. After another round of applause the next course arrives, Korvosa soup.
The main course comes in on several big silver platters, covered in cloches. At the sign of Lady Jeggare, steaming boar roasts are revealed underneath. The roasts are so heavy that two servants have to balance each platter. As they walk past Puk, one of them stumbles. The halfling reacts as fast as lightning, holding the plate up before it even starts tilting. Lord Jeggare smiles at the incident: “It looks like our heroes come to our rescue again, more gratitude to you, master halfling. In times of prosperity Korvosans have always been able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Let us honor that tradition and usher in the prosperous times that are in front of us with this delicious roast!”
As the guests are finishing up the main, there is some commotion at Arkona’s table. He shares it with the clergy of Abadar, who have started chanting: “Glorio! Glorio! Glorio!” Everyone looks over to the embarrassed lord from Old Korvosa. “My friends here seem to think that a good king should not only be smart, he should be strong as well. Apparently, they want me to enter in a contest of arm-wrestling with Sjo to prove who is the strongest. Being a mage, I fear I am at a disadvantage, but I guess I have to comply with their wishes, at least, if you agree, Lord Sjo?”
The healer nods and the two contestants for the throne face each other at a small table grabbing the other one’s hand. Glorio sneers at Sjo, but the half-Shoanti’s burning gaze makes him shrink back. Slowly but surely Sjo pushes Arkona’s hand down, until it hits the surface, earning Sjo even more praise from the spectators.
Some time later Mercival Jeggare announces dessert: “Martha and I hope you had fun tonight. I’d like to offer you our final course for the evening, dessert. My wife and sister-in-law have worked hard to prepare it. I hope you like it.” The lord points to the doors, where servants pull in a cart with an enormous cake, shaped like the great mastaba and castle Korvosa. Balian is asked to cut the cake with his greatsword, while opera diva Aurelia Lazanne sings a lovely ballad about heaven. Urdo Chartagnion, the new highpriest of Asmodeus, joins the party during this part of the meal. He claims to have investigated Orhner Reebs’ rituals and confirms that his human sacrifices were a clear violation of Korvosan law, which vindicates the party. He has more qualms about Ileosa Arvanxi, who was a noblewoman. Taking justice into your own hands against a person of nobility is definitely frowned upon in Cheliax. Moreover, Chartagnion needs to know more about the Crown of Fangs. Its evil influence might have been to blame, not Ileosa, who might have been saved and brought to justice in a court of law instead of perishing on the field of battle.
Elvira states that the crown’s evil is so immense that there was nothing of the original Ileosa left. Also, the final confrontation did not leave any room for negotiation. She explains how the fight unfolded, without revealing the location where it took place. Chartagnion is adamant that such a dangerous artefact cannot be protected here and should be brought to Cheliax, but Elvira is just as resolute. Moving the crown to Cheliax is not an option and the subject is not open to discussion. The abomination will have to be destroyed. Chartagnion is disappointed by Elvira’s answer, but he still seems to keep an open mind when it comes to their justification of facing Ileosa.
After lord Arkona announces the result of the collection for the Eodred foundation, 13,670 gold sails, the evening ends in another competition, where couples dance until the best pair remains. Balian manages to convince Aisha Leroung, who played the leading character in the opera The Passion of Saint Alika, to be his partner, while Sjo asks Larella. Puk dances with Larella’s niece Fayne and Elvira accepts Vencarlo charming invitation. Both Sjo and Balian make it to the second round, but there they are bested by Glorio Arkona, who is dancing with Selena, his Vudran assistant. For a few hours, Arkona deserves the title of ‘his majesty’, the dancing king. Sjo tells him to enjoy it, because it won’t last long. Tomorrow’s contest will bring another winner.
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With Guildmaster Boule defeated, the heroes have just cut off the head of Korvosa’s thieves’ guild. Balian suggests that Puk takes over, but Sjo is not a fan of running an illegal organisation. However, if he becomes king, there might be room for a secret service, and this magnificent complex might be an excellent base of operations. Still, the party came here for a reason, to retrieve the kidnapped half-elven baby Fendro. Sjo casts true seeing, making out a cleverly hidden secret door behind Boule’s throne. With Puk’s help he opens it, revealing a luxurious bedroom.
Inside they find a graceful young girl, who looks surprised when the companions walk in. She gets up and poses herself between the new arrivals and a cradle. Sjo, Balian and Puk recognize the woman as Marguerite Jeggare, who was once lauded as the most beautiful lady in Korvosa, before she left the public scene to join the Gray Maidens and hid her lovely face behind an iron mask. She is not wearing her armour anymore, though. When she realizes the intruders are not a threat, she explains that she is hiding here from the wrath of the people in Korvosa. She has seen several of her colleagues being torn apart by lynch mobs in the streets and she was offered sanctuary in this underground complex by the guild and its master Boule, who told her that she couldn’t return home because the authorities were waiting for her there. Yesterday Boule asked Marguerite to return the favour by having her take care of this baby. Marguerite has no idea who the child’s mother is, but she performed the task of looking after the boy admirably. When the party informs Marguerite that the guild was actually using her to blackmail her father and that there is absolutely no police force waiting for her at home, she agrees to accompany them to her father’s estate.
Before they leave, the companions do a quick search of the rest of the complex. They find a treasure room with a private exit, which was probably only known to Boule and perhaps his closest allies. From the various chests they gather coin and gems, worth 53,000 gold sails. The rest of the den includes a kitchen, storerooms, bedrooms, a training room and a prison, but it now lies completely abandoned. Whoever was here when the heroes first arrived, has left. During the exploration Elvira even discovers a mechanism to control the two golems guarding the entrance.
In the war room, Balian and Puk study the maps more closely. It looks like some locations in the city have been marked with a pin, including House Bromathan, Jeggare and Endrin, but also the Shoreline Drinkhall in East Shore and The Wise Dragon Inn in the Heights, both ventures run by voting members of the Grand Council. On top of that, numerous small businesses are coloured in red, indicating which of the city’s enterprises pay protection money to the guild. More details are in a ledger containing records of all the payments made.
It is already well past midnight when the party returns Marguerite Jeggare to her father, who is overjoyed to see his daughter alive. Lord Mercival claims that the guild approached him earlier today, after the vote in the council, and ‘urged’ him to give his vote to Lord Arkona next time, lest his girl be released to the vengeful hands of the crowd. He also adds that lord Aaron Endrin will be equally glad to learn Marguerite is safe, since he has a romantic interest in her.
Before going home, the heroes pass by the Guard in Citadel Volsheynek to hand over guildmaster Boule’s three personal bodyguards, who were enchanted by Elvira during the fight. They will be detained there until they can face justice in a court of law. Finally, the party retires to the villa for a well-deserved rest, after what turned out to be a long and eventful day.
23 Rova 4708
The next morning, after sleeping in, the party takes baby Fendro to his grandfather, lord Valdur Bromathan. The nobleman feels awkward around his grandchild, never having laid eyes on the child before today, but he seems to warm up to his offspring quickly. (A nice detail is that we had our game’s host’s newborn daughter Nina play her first role ever as Fendro. Nina is only three months old, but you can never start too early to get your first RPG experience. Just imagine what she will be able to say in fifty years’ time when people ask her how long she has been gaming.) Valdur is also very happy to learn that the Cerulean Society has been taken out. He asks Elvira to deliver Fendro to his mother in Magnimar, which she does promptly by teleporting there. She returns Fendro to the care of Aurelia, and takes Valdur’s wife Merisse back to Korvosa. Lady Bromathan no longer agrees with her husband’s decision to hide baby Fendro’s existence from the outside world and will make it her personal crusade to convince her spouse to let Aurelia and Fendro come home and live in Korvosa once more, scandal or not. To her it has become clear that Aurelia will never give the child up, so she might just as well care for it openly. Moreover, Merisse would love to be able to step in and help babysit her first grandchild.
Following the Cerulean Society’s trail, the party visits several council members who were being forced to vote for Arkona and tell them that the thieves’ guild no longer has any leverage over them. Lord Aaron Endrin is relieved to hear Marguerite is safe and that the guild can no longer hurt her. He leaves immediately for the Jeggare estate to see her, after promising his support to Sjo. Theodoric Bandor of The Wise Dragon was being put under pressure by the guild’s enforcers, who threatened to trash his place if he didn’t endorse Arkona. Now he is free to vote for whomever he wants, Sjo smiles. Hugo Barvoets of the Shoreline Drinkhall claims no one is blackmailing him, but then Elvira discovers that he is under the influence of an enchantment spell. When Sjo dispels the dominate effect, Barvoets suddenly realizes what happened to him. Someone must have enchanted him two nights ago, he thinks, and although he doesn’t remember who, he does recall voting for Arkona yesterday, while he has always been convinced that he backed Endrin for king. He is dazzled at what magic can do to your mind: how can you be so sure that you put a black voting stone in the bag when it was a red one? Feeling betrayed, he now promises to cast his next vote for Sjo.
In the afternoon Elvira retires to the villa to pour over Lictor Severs Divri’s infernal contract. She manages to work her way through the layers of legal mumbo-jumbo to get the gist of the document: the leader of the Hell Knights made a deal with Hell to get a powerful, magical hand, to replace the one he lost to the Shoanti in battle. Compared to the benefits Ileosa got from her contract, this seems meagre, but Elvira understands that Ileosa’s deal was rather exceptional, stemming from the tremendous power and potential she had already gathered before bartering with the infernal forces. She had clearly negotiated from a position of strength, while most fools turn to the devil when they are weak and desperate.
Meanwhile Sjo continues his house calls, stopping by lord Carowyn and Fordyce first. Both men have been promised power and standing by Arkona if they support him, so Sjo leaves them to their misguided ambitions. Making false promises is a political game that this candidate for the throne would rather avoid. Captain Artan Jalento needs little convincing, he will vote for Sjo, despite Arkona’s promises to give his son preferential treatment in the army and quickly promote him, even though he doesn’t deserve it. Jalento believes this is the worst favor he could do his son.
Next, Sjo passes by the Bank of Abadar. He makes a donation of 53,000 GP – all the money the party recovered in the thieves’ guild – to pay off part of the public debt. By doing so, Sjo ensures that the city’s indebtedness drops below the symbolic barrier of half of million gold sails. Talking to Archbanker Tuttle, Sjo also learns that Lord Arkona has promised him two magistrate posts, one of which is the magistrate of expenditures, a seat that is currently occupied by Syl Gar. Sjo is sure that Gar won’t be pleased to hear of this treachery. He makes the magistrate, who is North Point’s representative on the council, his next target. As soon as Sjo reveals that Arkona plans to give his department of expenditures to the clergy of Abadar, Syl Gar explodes in anger and rushes off to confront Darb Tuttle about it. Another vote for Arkona thwarted, Sjo figures.
Sjo finishes the evening by reassuring himself of Cressida Kroft’s, Keppira d’Bear’s and Zenobia Zenderholm’s support. He also hands over all criminating evidence his friends uncovered in the Cerulean Society headquarters to the latter, to allow the courts to prosecute former guild members. Zenderholm gets quite excited about it all, which is quite uncharacteristic for the normally so stoic judge.
Meanwhile Elvira pays a visit to Christina Leroung. The young noblewoman still blames Sjo and his companions for the untimely deaths of her mother, father and sister. She doesn’t like the fact that Elvira is working with them, although she doesn’t hold the enchantress responsible for her family’s misfortune, since El only joined the party after they got the Leroungs in trouble. So, Elvira still maintains friendly relations with Christina, whom she has known since the time she worked in the Leroung estate as a librarian. Changing Christina’s mind is not in the cards, however. She voted for Endrin in the last round, but now that he is no longer eligible, she shifts her support to Glorio Arkona, whom she considers the lesser of two evils. Elvira feels that there is little she can do to sway Lady Leroung’s opinion.
24 Rova 4708
Elvira studies another infernal contract, the one that Toff Ornelos signed, but she cannot make sense of it yet. Sjo uses the morning to talk to Walder Baslwief and Alan Fisk, feeling that he can convince both of them to join his cause. He has less luck with Erlo of the Hare, who has apparently struck a deal with Arkona to get a house and a lay-back job in the city, so he can leave the ragged town of Sirathu to its own devices. Sjo despises this kind of betrayal and wastes no more time on the man.
He has a better meeting with captain Julius Henderthane, who has no love for the sneaky, manipulative ways of the Glorio Arkonas of this world and clearly seems to favour the more honest and down-to-earth manner in which Sjo operates. Xandrina Dunstone, the businesswoman from Palin’s Cove, on the other hand, is straightforward about her preference for lord Arkona, whose mercantile contacts in Vudra can open up completely new markets for her warmachine-building enterprise. Still, Sjo is content with the number of voters he has drawn to his side since yesterday.
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Seeing how two powerful golems assail her friends in the boat and realizing that these constructs have excellent defenses against her magic and Puk’s sneaky attacks, Elvira decides not to waste time and casts dimension door to take her party across the water, past the door behind the docking area. The party ends up in an entrance hall, where a welcoming committee of rogues awaits them. Unfortunately for these wretched thieves, they are no match for our heroes and quickly fall. When reinforcements arrive, Sjo decimates them with a fireball and summons a fire elemental to clean up the rest. Even two more accomplished archers don’t stand a chance: one of them drops under Balian’s blows, while the other one falls under Elvira’s suggestion to bring the ‘visitors’ to guildmaster Boule.
As the companions traverse the complex, they marvel at its beauty. The walls and floors are made of white and pink marble and bear bas-reliefs of various scenes from the days of ancient Thassilon. The central hallway also holds a magnificent statue of Runelord Sorshen. The archer under Elvria’s sway ignores the side doors and leads the party straight ahead, through a war room, where Balian finds a baby’s rattle, and on into the ‘throne room’.
There are five people inside: a halfling, three elves and a human. Two of the elves carry rapiers on their hips, the third wears wizard robes. The only figure the heroes recognize is the human, who is seated on the throne at the far end of the room, a large axe across his knees. This is guildmaster Boule. “Since you’ve made it this far, I guess you might just as well come in, so we can talk like civilized people”, he sighs in his deep voice. “Last time we met, you were a lot more respectful, but then again, your heads weren’t filled with delusions of grandeur back then, were they, wannabe king Sjo?”
“Who is the uncivilized one here?” Balian sneers as he throws the baby’s rattle at Boule’s feet. “We have come to put an end to your and Arkona’s blackmailing schemes.”
Boule feigns ignorance. “What we do for Lord Arkona is none of your concern. Unless you have come to offer me a higher paycheck, perhaps.”
“The only pay you’re going to get is this blade through your chest!” Balian barks back.
“So be it”, the guildmaster replies as he gets out of his chair and, with a wave of his hand and a few mysterious words, summons seven mirror images of himself, while grabbing his large battleaxe. His allies also draw their weapons, but Elvira suggests that they drop their arms and go stand against the wall and sing a song. Only the elven wizard resists her magic, while the other two elves and the halfling obey her command. Sjo calls down a flame strike on Boule, but the big man simply evades the fire. Backing away into the far corner, the guild’s mage stretches his hand towards the invaders and shoots chain lightning at them. Boule charges the companions and focuses his attacks on Sjo. His axe bites into the healer’s flesh and sizzles him with frost. Balian counterattacks, but only hits three images out of existence. Puk is slightly more successful, managing to hit the leader of the Cerulean Society twice, while taking out more images as well. Elvira bolsters her friends’ confidence by giving them haste, while Boule’s final illusory doubles are taken care of. The guildmaster keeps hammering down on Sjo. “You weakling, you’re no king of mine!” he growls. Behind his back, the elven wizard fires off a sickly green ray at Sjo, burning a hole through his plate and threatening to disintegrate him. It is only through some divine miracle that the half Shoanti survives total devastation and drops to the floor, unconscious. (Sjo used two heropoints to survive.) Balian is furious and presses the attack, striking the guildmaster twice. Elvira focuses on the elven pest in the corner and freezes him in place with hold monster. She sends her dominated minion Ornaut to finish off the wizard. She also notices that the look in Boule’s eyes has lost a bit of its cockiness and displays a growing frustration, although what happens next still takes her by surprise. The mob leader throws his axe to the floor and cries out in anger. Wisps of blue magic evaporate from his skin as his body contorts and twists. His hands flip, his thumbs now appearing at the wrong side of his palms. Fur spurts from his skin, in orange, white or black hues. His mouth becomes a jaw filled with razor-sharp teeth. At the same time many of his wounds close: his transformation clearly invigorates him. Breathing into Balian’s face is now a formidable rakshasa with a tiger’s head. It seems like the Arkonas imported more than just goods from Vudra!
The tigerman smacks Balian in the head, stunning him with the force of his blow. The ranger drops his greatsword, trying to shake the wooziness. Without the aid of his flanking buddy, Puk is at a serious disadvantage, so Elvira cloaks the halfling in greater invisibility. His small unseen swords slash open many wounds in the rakshasa’s flesh, giving Balian the chance to regain his composure and pick up his weapon. Boule sees his fortune turn in just a few seconds. His claws suddenly miss accuracy as desperation takes hold of him. Balian’s sword cuts through his stomach and into his shoulder as Puk plunges his invisible swords into his lower back. The rakshasa gives out one last howl of pain, before falling to the ground and burning away in ashes.
Balian uses a healing wand to bring Sjo back to consciousness and then assists Puk in tying up the three thieves who fell victim to Elvira’s suggestive magic. In the meanwhile, the enchantress’s permanent detect magic draws her attention to two powerful items: a small-sized shortsword that the halfling dropped and a ring on the dead elven wizard’s finger. The sword is a luckblade with two wishes remaining, while the ring is an piece of jewellery that dates back to Thassilonian times. It allows its wearer to convert up to three spells or spell slots from his own arsenal into lightning spells. As she dons the precious little thing, she immediately realizes that it was forged for people like her, enchanters, who might need an alternative when facing opponents who are immune or highly resistant to mind-affecting magic. She almost feels as if the ring has been waiting for her for millennia. Not a bad feeling at all!
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OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a
The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.
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Appendix 1: NPCs
MAMA GILDA, CE female ice troll
DAD GROUTCHMOUTH, CE male ice troll
NANA TETTERBOIL, CE female ice troll cleric 3
TWINKLEBELL, CE female ice troll child
WINTER WOLF, NE large magical beast (cold)
LIVING SNOWMAN, N medium construct
DOG, N small animal
MERIADOC NOEL, CG male halfling bard 2
SANDER NICKELHOUSE, NG old male human expert 3
SMALL ANIMATED OBJECT, N small construct
JOY NOEL, CG female halfling bard 1
Xylophone of the living doll
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3 The adventure begins
The PCs are in Rovenjarga, a frontier town at the foot of the Northern Mountains. They are summoned to the temple of the Sun Goddess to talk to the priest, father Lucebert.
“Welcome, honored guests. Thank you for answering my call. I hear you are brave adventurers and my current plight requires heroic types.
A good friend of mine, Meriadoc Noel, a halfling, travelled up the mountain last week to visit Sander Nickelhouse, the illustrious puppet builder. You see, Merry is a puppeteer, and a damn good one if I may say so. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Anyway, I expected him to be back three days ago, but he still hasn’t returned. Since it started snowing last night, I am worried. Snow makes traversing the pass almost impossible, and with Merry’s wife heavy with child, it won’t be easy to get back.
I would like you to travel up the mountain and find my friend. Bring him home safely and I will give you this as a reward.” Lucebert holds out a wand of cure light wounds to the PCs. With a diplomacy check DC 15 they can even convince the priest to give them the wand before they leave.
Lucebert can also fill in the following details. Normally, it takes three days to travel up to the woodcarver’s cabin and two days to get back down again. Meriadoc Noel went up the mountain in his wagon, which is drawn by a single horse. His wife Joy is due any day, but she still insisted on accompanying her husband, despite Lucebert’s pleas to stay in Rovenjarga. The priest suspects she has given birth, which is why the Noels are delayed. Now they will need help getting off the mountain, which is where the PCs come in.
4 The abandoned wagon
The falling snow makes it hard to get up the mountain. Unless one of the PCs can guide the party with a successful survival check DC 20, the heroes are fatigued (a fatigued character can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity; after 8 hours of complete rest, fatigued characters are no longer fatigued) when they come upon the following scene at the end of the second day.
The small-sized back door to the wagon hangs broken in its frame. Snow has blown in, carried by the winds, covering the smashed furniture inside. The far end of the caravan holds a small bed. There is no halfling in it, however, but another creature has crawled unto the matrass to hide from the icy wind. Its ragged breath and multiple stains of blood hint at it being in bad shape. It is an unconscious golden retriever. Blood clots in its white fur, coating its left flank in the color of rust. With a survival check DC 15 the PCs can tell that the dog dragged itself inside and up onto the bed, before losing consciousness. A heal check DC 10 suffices to identify the source of the bleeding as a large claw mark. The animal shows several signs of albinism, its fur is white and its nose pink, though the eyes are not red, but golden. It wears a tag around its neck, which reads Flodur.
Flodur is currently at -2 hp. It survived an ice troll attack on the wagon, but only barely. The dog was left to die, but somehow managed to crawl into the wagon and unto the bed, where it passed out, sheltered from the worse cold. The retriever has been healing up slowly over the past few days and only needs two more hit points to return to consciousness. The animal is famished and parched, and it will quickly befriend anyone who feeds it.
Creatures: While the party investigates the crime scene, three winter wolves close in to attack, the same animals who ate the horse after the trolls killed it. They also tried to get to Flodur, but they were too big to squeeze through the small backdoor of the wagon. It has been six days since their last meal, so they wolves are starving. Once one of the wolves has been killed, the others flee to safety when reduced to fewer than half their hit points.
WINTER WOLVES (3) – CR 5
Development: With one full day of travel ahead, the PCs might want to use the crashed wagon to seek shelter from the cold weather and get an uninterrupted night’s rest. Finding a suitable alternative, like a cave, is hard and requires a survival check DC 22. Moreover, the PCs might not be the only ones who have chosen to sleep in the cave and hibernating grizzly bears do not like being awoken.
Spending the night with Flodur also allows the PCs to bond with the dog. The pet is very docile and immediately takes a liking to anyone who pays it any attention. Flodur is also a good tracker; it can guide the PCs further up the mountain and knows where to leave the path to get to the woodcarver’s cabin.
5 Cabin in the cold
Sander Nickelhouse’s cabin lies about 150 yards off the mountain pass, to the right. Since it is mostly covered in snow, the PCs need to make a perception check DC 15 to spot it, unless they use Flodur to guide them, in which case they automatically find the place.
C1 Main hall
When the PCs enter this room, they hear someone endlessly repeating the tunes of Jingle Bells. A young troll girl, wearing a white dress, is playing a xylophone, while watching an animated snowman smash a crate to pieces. She is obviously enjoying the show.
When Twinklebell notices the PCs, she startles and screams for her father to come and protect her. She also orders her snowman to attack, while trying to back up herself and flee to the kitchen. Her father, Groutchmouth, arrives the next round from behind the second door on the right, using a move action to open it. Twinklebell’s mother, who is behind the opposite door in the kitchen, does not storm in, having learned to largely ignore her daughter’s many fits of anger. She only joins the fight if her daughter opens the kitchen door or if she hears the sound of battle.
TWINKLEBELL – CR 3
LIVING SNOWMAN – CR 4
DAD GROUTCHMOUTH – CR 4
MAMA GILDA – CR 4
The door to this study is locked, requiring a disable device check DC 15 to be opened. Mama Gilda carries the key.
Gilda has but two loves in her life: herself and her daughter. Her husband serves only one purpose: keeping his two little ladies happy. In a fight, Gilda will do anything to protect her own life and Twinklebell’s, but if she has to sacrifice her mother or her mate in order to get away, she will do so without hesitation.
MAMA GILDA – CR 4
Nickelhouse and Noel realize how precarious their situation is. They know they cannot take on the troll invaders in a fight, nor is fleeing into the cold an option with a newborn child. They have been wracking their brains on how to get out of this mess, but the only strategy they have come up with thus far, is complying to the trolls’ demands. If they can keep the brutes happy, maybe they will leave without hurting anyone. Of course, the woodcarver and his guest have also heard Twinklebell torment her father with her foolish wish of wanting to play with the baby. Meriadoc has sworn not to let that happen. So far, he has been able to convince Groutchmouth that this idea is utterly ludicrous, but every time the little troll brat nags, Merry feels her dad’s resilience wear down.
If the PCs get in a fight with the trolls and Meriadoc sees an opportunity to help, he does so. He activates his inspire courage to bolster the PCs in combat and casts spells like mage hand, cure light wounds or minor image to assist where he can. Sander Nickelhouse no longer possesses the physical strength to join the battle, but if he manages to get a hold of his xylophone, he uses it to animate the Twinklebell puppet he’s been making, playing the Can Can song by Offenbach to order it to move and attack.
DAD GROUTCHMOUTH – CR 4
MERIADOC NOEL – CR 1
SANDER NICKELHOUSE – CR 1
ANIMATED OBJECT (SMALL) – CR 2
JOY NOEL – CR 1/2
C7 Master bedroom
Tetterboil is ugly, even for a troll, but also a lot smarter than most of her kind. If the PCs confront her, she tries to gauge the situation swiftly and acts accordingly. She cares deeply for her daughter’s and granddaughter’s well-being, so she will do anything to protect them or – if it has come to that – avenge them. If she is sure her family is safe, she avoids a fight if she can, and tries to get out unharmed. If necessary, she will even give up her magic necklace to barter for the freedom.
NANA TETTERBOIL – CR 6
6 Concluding the adventure
If the PCs defeat the trolls and save the Noel and Nickelhouse family, their quest is a complete success. Getting the halflings off the mountain with their baby will prove a simple task for seasoned adventurers, even with snow filling the pass. Father Lucebert feels overjoyed to see his winter guests returned to Rovenjarga and invites the PCs to join the town for the Winter Solstice and Yuletide Feast, where the Noels will put on a wonderful puppet show about a band of heroes, coming to the rescue of common folk. Night falls with the festivities still in full swing, when suddenly loud laughing can be heard from the mountain pass. Gliding in on a sled pulled by two deer is Sander Nickelhouse. He is grateful to the town for having sent adventurers to save him and his wife. He wants to show his gratitude by handing out toys and dolls to the children of Rovenjarga, thoroughly enjoying the experience. Maybe he should make a habit of it …
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
THE TROLL IN THE DOLLHOUSE
A Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible adventure for four 4th‐level characters by Mister Vergee.
1 Adventure background
Rovenjarga is a frontier town nestled in a small valley at the foot of the Northern Mountains. It is the last stop for people taking the mountain pass, but the dangerous road north is seldom travelled. One man has ignored all talk of danger and built a cabin on the mountainside, Sander Nickelhouse, an accomplished woodcarver who specializes in puppets and toys. He claims the local pine wood is the best for his delicate craft.
Meriadoc Noel is an acclaimed halfling puppeteer who uses Sander’s creations in his shows. Each year he visits the woodcarver right before the snow falls and closes off the mountain pass. Upon returning he stays in Rovenjarga to celebrate Winter Solstice and jolly up the Yuletide Feast with one of his puppet-shows. Over the years he has become close friends with father Lucebert, the local priest of the Sun Goddess, who organizes the Midwinter celebration to honor his deity, as it marks the time of year when the days start growing longer again.
Most years Meriadoc comes to Rovenjarga about a month before Midwinter. This gives him ample time to make the five-day trip up to the woodcarver’s cabin and back again before the snow falls, which normally doesn’t happen until two weeks before Yuletide. The halfling then spends the rest of winter in the cozy little town, before setting off into the world once more for his next tour when spring arrives. This year, however, Meriadoc Noel arrived later than usual, but he has a good excuse. His wife is heavily pregnant and he had to travel extra slowly to spare her the discomforts of the road.
With only twenty days left before Yuletide when he made it to Rovenjarga, Meriadoc wasted no time and left immediately for the woodcarver’s cabin. Eight days have passed and he still hasn’t returned, and as off last night snow started falling. Father Lucebert is worried about his friend and asks the PCs to help.
The Northern Mountains are also home to an ice troll tribe, the Frozen Fingers. These creatures normally keep to the unmapped peeks of the mountain range, but occasionally they will plague travelers on the pass, though not often enough to be considered a threat.
Thus, the trolls were left to flourish and flourish they did, when the ugly old spinster Tetterboil suddenly proved with child and gave birth to the most beautiful ice troll ever seen, Gilda. Many trolls vied for Gilda’s hand when she came of age, but it was Groutchmouth who came out on top. He secured an amulet of natural armor +1 after killing a ranger who was exploring the mountains and presented the shiny jewel to his future mother-in-law, gaining her favor and her daughter’s hand in return. But Gilda was not easy to please, and when she had a daughter of her own, she made sure the child was even more spoiled that she ever was. Twinklebell was the most obnoxious troll that ever walked the Frozen Finger caves and her parents would go through great lengths to keep her satisfied. When daddy Groutchmouth was caught stealing a bauble for his daughter from a tribe member for the umpteenth time, his family was cast out. Now the dysfunctional ice trolls scour the mountains, looking ways to keep their spoiled brat happy. A woodcarving toymaker seemed like a good place to start.
The PCs travel into the mountain range to look for a halfling puppeteer and his pregnant wife. The two small folk haven’t returned from a visit to a master woodcarver who lives up in the mountains and now snow has started falling, filling up the pass.
The PCs discover the halflings’ wagon abandoned in the snow, the horse is dead and partially eaten by predators. As the characters investigate the scene winter wolves attack. Inside the wagon is the halflings’ unconscious dog, who can lead the party to the woodcarver’s cabin.
There the heroes encounter an ice troll family whose daughter is spoiled rotten. The brat got her parents to pressure the woodcarver into making her new toys, but that only kept her happy for that long. When two halfling puppeteers came by, looking to buy new dolls, the troll child had her father kidnap them as well, so they could play her a show. That satisfied her temper for a few hours before boredom kicked in again. Now she has set her sights on the halflings’ newborn baby, who would make a perfect living doll. So far, her father has refused her latest folly, knowing too well that it will end in disaster, but it is only a matter of time before he caves. Can the PCs save the halflings and the woodcarver before things go terribly wrong?