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I am preparing to run the Night of Frozen Shadows module and am leveling up the NPC Amaya of Westcrown. I thought I would explain what using that particular NPC is like.
Her source is the following paragraph from James Jacobs' introduction to The Brinewall Legacy:
Ameiko is assumed to have survived the
events of Rise of the Runelords—if this isn’t the case, and
you aren’t interested in retconning her survival, then replace
Ameiko in this campaign with her half-sister Amaya, newly
arrived in Sandpoint from Westcrown. Although Amaya
was born from Lonjiko’s scandalous affair with a Chelish
noblewoman in 4680, ...
Note that Amaya is first mentioned in Pathfinder Adventure
Path #25 ...
I borrowed a friend's copy of Pathfinder Adventure Path #25, The Bastards of Erebus, and found the following description of Amaya:
Amaya (CG female Tian human expert 1): Amaya is a
well-mannered glassblower and an incredibly beautiful
woman who’s somewhat self-conscious about the effect her
appearance has on others—she dresses plainly as a result.
She hopes someday to visit her distant kin who still live in
Magnimar and Sandpoint. (Potential: bard.)
The "Potential: bard" remark means that if she follows the party long enough to level up, her likely second level is bard.
Ameiko Kaijitsu, innkeeper of the Rusty Dragon, had not died. Instead it was the opposite case that James Jacobs mentioned on July 15, 2010: Ameiko hooked up with a RotR character, gained a level herself, and gained too many powerful friends. We had just finished the Rise of the Runelord campaign in summer 2012. I continued that campaign with the Witchwar Legacy module in winter 2013, but for fall 2012 I decided on a fresh first-level campaign to let my players try out new characters based on the Advanced Race Guide.
I rolled back time to the days of Sins of the Saviors module, when Ameiko's powerful friends were out of town and out of touch. When the trouble with the Licktoad goblins started, Ameiko gathered together some first-level adventurers visiting Sandpoint to take care of the goblin problem. However, then a lamia rogue showed up in town and was kidnapping people to torture them for information about the RotR party. Ameiko, realizing that she was the obvious next target, went into scry-proof hiding. But the new party of adventurers decided that they could tackle the Licktoad goblins in Brinestump Marsh without her.
They succeeded against the goblins. Instead of wiping out the Licktoad tribe, they set up the party's civilized goblin firebomber as its new chief.
Upon their victorious return, Ameiko's friend Hannah introduced them to Amaya, who was Ameiko's half-sister newly arrived from Westcrown to help out at the Sandpoint glassworks. Hannah needed some trustworthy guardians to escort Amaya to Ameiko, who was hiding out at Thistletop. The party was quite relieved at this news, because they had not destroyed the skeletal champion samurai Tsutamu. Instead, the party's necromancer had persuaded Tsutamu that they would guide him to the daughter of Lonjiku Kaijitsu to make his final obeisance to the family he served in death. They were also suspicious of Amaya, because they had heard of Faceless Stalkers and other shapeshifters. This could be a ruse to reach Ameiko. But Hannah vouched that Amaya's story matched the details that Ameiko had told her about her half sister.
To construct the character Amaya, I started by deciding that Amaya's second level would be in fighter rather than bard. The eight-member party was already overloaded with spellcasters and I wanted to add distinction between Amaya and Ameiko. Nevertheless, Amaya and Ameiko were sisters, so Amaya's stats were based on Ameiko's stats, except for emphasizing Dexterity over Charisma and adjusting Constitution downward and Wisdom upward closer to average.
Female human expert 1/fighter(lore warden) 1
CG Medium humanoid (human)
Init +3; Senses Perception +4
AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 12 (+2 armor, +3 Dex)
hp 13 (1d8+1d10)
Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +2
Speed 30 ft.
Melee masterwork rapier +5 (1d6/18–20)
dagger +4 (1d4/19-20)
Ranged shortbow +4 (1d6/x3) 60 feet
thrown dagger +4 (1d4/19-20) 10 feet
Str 10, Dex 17, Con 11, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 14
Base Atk +1; CMB +1; CMD 14
Feats: Prodigy(Craft Glass & Perform Percussion), Stealthy, Weapon Finesse
Martial Weapons Proficiency, Light Armor Proficiency.
Acrobatics +7 (1 rank),
Appraise +5 (1 rank),
Bluff +6 (1 rank),
Climb +4 (1 rank)
Craft(Glass) +8 (2 ranks),
Diplomacy +6 (1 rank),
Escape Artist +5 (no ranks)
Handle Animal +6 (1 rank),
Knowledge(Geography) +5 (1 rank),
Perception +4 (1 rank),
Perform (percussion) +9 (1 rank),
Ride +7 (1 rank),
Stealth +5 (no ranks)
Swim +4 (1 rank).
The Fighter(lore warden)'s class skills are Climb (Str), Handle Animal (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str), and all Int skills.
The Expert(artist)'s class skills are Acrobatics(Dex), Appraise (Int), Bluff (Cha), Craft(Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Perception(Wis), Perform(Cha), Profession(Wis), Sense Motive(Wis), and Use Magic Device(Cha).
No favored class yet.
Gear: travel clothes, fine clothes, leather armor, masterwork rapier, 2 daggers, shortbow, 20 arrows, Potion of Cure Light Wounds, belt pouch with 20 gp, lockbox with 500 gp.
Amaya's backstory is that Lonjiku Kaijitsu, as a hot-blooded young man apprenticed to a prominent family of Chelish glassblowers, had fallen in love with a daughter of the family. Once the tryst was discovered, the lovers were separated by sending Lonjiku home to Varisia. The Kaijitsu family arranged a marriage for Lonjiku to a Tian woman of suitable family in Varisia. Meanwhile, back in Cheliax, the young noblewoman discovered she was pregnant. Rather than informing Lonjiku, the woman's family covered up the pregnancy and sent the baby to a well-funded orphanage for illegitimate children of nobility in Westcrown. The woman named the baby girl after a name Lonjiku favored, "Ameiko", but the orphanage simplified the foreign name to "Amaya."
When Amaya was 16, her mother--now married with other children herself--finally had the freedom to travel to Westcrown herself, met her firstborn daughter anew, told her of her father, and sponsored her as a glassblower using her family's influence. She did not have the freedom to claim Amaya as family.
Amaya wrote to her father. The letter created quite a fight between Lonjiku and his wife. Thirteen-year-old Ameiko, always adventurous, ran away from home to meet her older half sister. She succeeded and then returned home. Amaya views Ameiko as her one true family member who loves her wholeheartedly.
After events in The Bastards of Erebus, Amaya had gained enemies in the Chelish government and decided to flee the country. She had learned of the death of her father from Ameiko's letters and went to Sandpoint in Varisia to help her sister at the glassworks.
The party traveled to Thistletop with Amaya and Tsutamu. The goblin firebomber scouted out the Thistletop goblin tribe--they were recruiting after losses in RotR--and learned that the woman in Thistletop had hired Orik Vancaskerkin as a bodyguard and matched the description of the villain Nualla! Okay, I gave the party a little scare: it was really Ameiko in disguise. The sisters had a joyous reunion and Tsutamu crumbled peacefully to dust after handing the wakizashi Whispering Shrike to them.
With the news about her grandfather Rokaro Kaijitsu and the town of Brinewall, Ameiko arranged passage with Koya Mvashti's caravan, which happened to be stopping in Sandpoint before heading north. Koya was glad for extra guards, because the ogres and giants were still stirred up from events in The Fortress of the Stone Giants. In fact, the caravan was attacked by six ogres two weeks later. Ameiko could fight an ogre one-on-one with little risk, but Amaya and the rest of the party had the help of the original caravan guards, such as Sandru Vhiski.
I also learned that playing two NPCs with similar names, Amaya and Ameiko, was tongue-tying. Amaya decided to go by the name May.
As the caravan traveled, the day arrived when the Rise of the Runelords adventure ended. The RotR party teleported in to fetch Ameiko. They needed her help in civilizing a lost city. Most players had characters in both campaigns, so I had fun letting their pairs of characters meet. The RotR party gave the Jade Regent party a lift to Brinewall and departed. That is how I slipped overpowered Ameiko out of the party before Brinewall Castle.
Amaya fit in the party as an equal. Her level in non-adventuring expert gave her a handicap, but it is best that an NPC, even one critical to the story, not take the limelight in actions. And she still pulled her weight in the game.
At Brinewall Castle, Amaya advanced to third level. I gave her a level of sorcerer, since I figured that the Arcane Strike feat could compensate for her lack of strength. However, I kept this secret from the party, even Amaya, so that I could spring her sorcerous powers as a surprise or have them triggered by the Amatatsu Seal. She never used them before the module ended.
Only three or four players are returning for Night of Frozen Shadows, because three moved to another state. I know of only one new player at this time. (We play at a game store, so I take new players regularly.) I will claim that half the party was unwilling to leave Varisia and travel over the Crown of the World to a distant country. Instead, the missing members are taking the Amatatsu Seal and its Warding Box back to Sandpoint to give to Ameiko.
For Night of Frozen Shadows, I am retconning Amaya's third level to oracle, because the party cleric is not returning. Furthermore, the Tongues curse will prevent her from being the battle leader, giving a PC the chance to take that role. I am still contemplating her Mystery. Ancestor mystery fits the story best, but other mysteries fit a fighter better. I told the returning and new players to advance their characters to fourth level, so Amaya will take oracle as her third and fourth levels.
However, starting oracle at third character level gives Amaya a second handicap on top of her level in expert. I might give her an extra feat or stat boost to make up for that. Any suggestions on how to balance this?
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You could swap out one or more existing levels for Oracle.
The results of the game session prove that I should follow this advice. As an expert 1/fighter 1/oracle 2, Amaya fought like a 2nd-level fighter and cast spells like a 2nd-level oracle. I have not gotten into heavy social interaction with NPCs yet, but I suspect she will mingle like a 2nd-level expert.
That is versatile, but too weak to earn the respect of the PCs.
The level in expert most closely matches the level in oracle for the swap, but it would be unbelievable for Amaya to suddenly lose established skills. Thus, I invented a new oracle archetype that will let her keep her skills.
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Amaya "May" Kaijitsu
Female human ascending oracle (Tongues/Time) 3/lore warden fighter 1
CG Medium humanoid (human)
Init +4; Senses Perception +7
AC 17, touch 14, flat-footed 13 (+3 armor, +4 Dex)
hp 22 (3d8+1d10)
Fort +3, Ref +5, Will +3
Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 wakizashi +8 (1d6+1/18–20)
masterwork rapier +8 (1d6/18–20)
dagger +7 (1d4/19-20)
Ranged shortbow +7 (1d6/x3) 60 feet
thrown dagger +7 (1d4/19-20) 10 feet
Oracles do not need to provide a divine focus.
1. Create Water (V,S)
2. Detect Magic (V,S)
3. Light (V,S)
4. Mending (V,S)
5. Purify Food and Drink (V,S)
6*. Read Magic (V,S,F)
7*. Spark (V or S)
* Favored Class bonus
1st level (6/day)
Oracle bonus. Cure Light Wounds (V,S)
2nd level bonus. Memory Lapse (V,S)
1. Comprehend Languages (V,S,DF)
2. Protection from Evil (V,S,DF)
3. Cause Fear (V,S)
Str 10, Dex 18, Con 11, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 15
Base Atk +3; CMB +3; CMD 17
Martial Weapons Proficiency, Light Armor Proficiency.
1st level: Prodigy(Craft Glass & Perform Percussion),
Human bonus: Extra Revelation,
Fighter 1st level: Weapon Finesse,
3rd level: Exotic Weapon Proficiency(Wakizashi).
Acrobatics(Dex+3, 1 rank) +8
Appraise(Int+3, 1 rank) +5
Bluff(Cha+3, 2 ranks) +7
Climb(Str+3, 1 rank) +4
Craft(Glass)(Int+3, prodigy, 2 ranks) +8
Diplomacy(Cha+3, 2 ranks) +7
Handle Animal(Cha+3, 1 rank) +6
Heal(Wis+3, 1 rank) +4
Intimidate(Cha+3, 1 rank) +6
Knowledge(Geography)(Int+3, 1 rank) +5
Knowledge(History)(Int+3), 1 rank) +5
Knowledge(Nobility)(Int+3), 1 rank) +5
Linguistics(Int+3, 2 ranks) +6
Perception(Wis+3, 4 ranks) +7
Perform(Percussion)(Cha+3, prodigy, 1 rank) +8
Ride(Dex+3, 1 rank) +8
Sense Motive(Wis+3, 1 rank) +4
Spellcraft(Int+3, no ranks) +1
Stealth(Dex+3, 1 rank) +8
Survival(Wis+3, 1 ranks) +4
Swim(Str+3, 1 rank) +4
Use Magic Device(Cha+3, no ranks) +2
The Fighter(lore warden)'s class skills are Climb (Str), Handle Animal (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str), and all Int skills.
The oracle’s class skills are Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Heal (Wis), Knowledge (history) (Int), Knowledge (planes) (Int), Knowledge (religion) (Int), Profession (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), and Spellcraft (Int).
The Expert revelation's class skills are Acrobatics(Dex), Bluff (Cha), Perception(Wis), Perform(Cha), Stealth(Dex), and Use Magic Device(Cha). These replace the mystery's class skills.
Favored class is oracle--Add one spell known from the oracle spell list. This spell must be at least one level below the highest spell level the oracle can cast.
Languages: Common, Elven, Tien Common, Minkaian
Combat Gear: studded leather armor, masterwork rapier, Whispering Shrike, 2 daggers, shortbow, quiver of 18 arrows,
Other gear: belt pouch, waterskin, handy haversack.
In belt pouch: 20 gp, compass, mineral focus
In haversack: 1000 gp, travel clothes, fine clothes, Potion of Cure Light Wounds, bedroll, blanket, soap, silk rope 50 ft, cooking kit, mess kit, flint & steel, Varisian tambourine.
Oracle Curse: Tongues (time-jumbled language)
Oracle Mystery: Time
Expert (Ex): The ascending oracle adds six skills of your choice as class skills. The ascending oracle also gains an additional 2 skill points at each level.
Knowledge of the Ages (Su): You can search through time to recall some bit of forgotten lore or information. You can retry any Knowledge skill check you have made within the past minute, gaining an insight bonus on the check equal to your Charisma modifier. You can use this ability a number times per day equal to your Charisma modifier.
Time Flicker (Su): As a standard action, you can flicker in and out of time, gaining concealment (as the blur spell). You can use this ability for 1 minute per oracle level that you possess per day. This duration does not need to be consecutive, but it must be spent in 1-minute increments. At 7th level, each time you activate this ability, you can treat it as the blink spell, though each round spent this way counts as 1 minute of your normal time flicker duration. You must be at least 3rd level to select this revelation.
At fourth level I bumped up three of Amaya's attributes: Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. Her stats are on a lower build than the rest of the party (For example, the ninja has Str 14, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 16, Wis 12, and Cha 11), so the bonus stat boosts move her closer in line to the rest of the party.
I used the Ascending Oracle archetype that I invented: she spends a revelation, gives up her class skills from oracle mystery, and loses some armor and shield proficiencies for six class skills of her choice, 2 more skill points per level, and an excuse to have her first level in Expert count as an oracle level.
Since her contact with the Amatatsu Seal, Amaya has been guided by dreams of her ancestors. This suggests the Ancestor mystery. But the revelations of that mystery work best as a high profile warrior, and she is shy. Instead, she recieved the Time mystery and her dreams will be treated as an aspect of the Knowledge of the Ages revelation.
Her third level Exotic Proficiency(Wakizaski) is so that she can wield Whispering Shrike and to set her up for a fifth-level homemade feat, Dervish Dance for Wakizashi, which will require that exotic proficiency. She is meant to be a dexterity-based fighter along with being an oracle. I had originally planned for a trip-maneuver fighter, but with the magus casting Color Spray, the sorcerer casting Sleep, and herself casting Cause Fear, the party has enough ways to temporarily disable the enemy. Her niche is to deal serious damage despite a Strength of 10.
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My Jade Regent campaign finished two months ago, so I should give a wrap-up on how the Amatatsu Amaya NPC worked out. The spoilers are mostly about events I added to the module, but some do refer to the module as written.
First, let me review the party. The player characters:
Ebony Blossom, a female human ninja from a clan that used to serve the Amatatsu family. She had led the party through Brinestump Marsh to impress Ameiko, who she suspected was Amatatsu, but now believed her true role was to return Amaya to Minkai to re-establish the Amatatsu family.
Nathan/Nuriko, a female kitsune enchanter sorceror who spent the first half of the campain in male human form. Originally from somewhere in Tian Xia, she had also joined the party at Sandpoint.
Arc, a male human-drow crossbreed of unexplained origins. A running joke was that almost everyone assumed his dark skin was from his human lineage. He was a blackblade magus, though the character was later redesigned as an arcanist with some magus abilities. He had also joined the party at Sandpoint.
Jao, a male human fighter with a reputation for a hot temper from Riddleport with a business in Kalsgard. Jao's backstory was that he was the son of an exiled general from Minkai, who had been lured into a dishonorable situation by shapeshifted oni.
Lu, a male human samurai from the Jade Quarter of Kalsgard. He worked as a warehouse guard in Kalsgard through connection of having married into Jao's extended family. His family came from Hongal a few generations ago.
Night of Frozen Shadows Module
In the first game session, Ebony Blossom mysteriously disappeared to travel to Kalsgard alone (her player was out of town that day). Nathan, Arc, and Amaya left Brinewall and returned to the main road between Riddleport and Kalsgard. They encountered a caravan led by Jao (the player had no objection to me giving him an entire caravan for plot reasons). They had the pre-established encounters on the way to Kalsgard, and even managed to put an arrow into Wodes, setting up a private feud between Wodes and Arc. Nathan used her sorcery to interrogate a captured raider, until the raider said too much and died from the blood geas from the Oathtaker tetsebo.
The second game session revealed that Ebony Blossom had reached Kalsgard first and been hired by the local thieves' guild led by the Frozen Shadow second-in-command Omoyani. I wanted to contrast how Kitmandatsu ruled the Frozen Shadows and their allies by power and magic yet Omoyani was an old-school ninja who ruled by planning and discipline. Also, new character Lu joined the party for the counterattack on Asvig Longthews' raiders. This was an honorable bloodfeud by Kalsgards' Ulfen rules of engagement, not an attack in the night, becasue Jao had his own army of caravan guards to match Longthews' raiders. Jao was such an optimized fighter that I said his damage roll took Asvig's head right off.
Amaya was underpowered as Expert 1/Fighter 1/Oracle 2 in the first game session, but rebuilt as a Fighter 1/Oracle 3 with slightly better stats balanced her out better. She mostly healed caravan guards to keep them alive; however, she led the smaller raid into Longthews' house to secure his wife and servants. And prompt ran into the problem that her Tongues curse kept her from giving any instructions to them. She tripped a servant to the floor as a way of ordering, "Everyone down on the floor!"
I had given Amaya the Tongues curse to give more responsibility to the players during combat. Furthermore, I did not want the easy bypass of everyone learning Amaya's exotic language, so I ruled that her Tongues curse was different: she still spoke whatever language she wanted, but her words were jumbled because her flow through time became irregular when she was too nervous. By casting a Comprehend Language spell on herself, she could understand everyone else's speech, but her words and gestures were meaningless to others. Her Time Flicker revelation was a visual effect of this disconnection from time.
This became unexpectedly useful during the raid on the funeral ship. Asvig's wife Helva had no idea who Asvig's secret boss was, but she had known that one of Asvig's men had written a long letter to Snorri Stone-Eye that he had given as an offering to Snorri's funeral ship. When the party snuck onto the ship in the fog, the two characters who knew Skald, Jao and Lu, were absent (just as well, since those two characters did not sneak well), and the letter was written in Skald. So Amaya cast Comprehend Language and transcribed the letter. It became a point of pride that they had not stolen anything from the funeral offerings. They even left some good ale as an additional offering.
Back in The Brinewall Legacy the Relationship Points system was useless because the swap of Amaya for Ameiko had changed the NPC configuration too much. The Notoriety Points in this module was similarly undermined: Jao and Lu were known figures in Kalsgard with Jao already notorious for clashing with Thorborg Silverskorr. And Omoyani had deduced that Ebony Blossom was really a Minkaian ninja. That is why she hired her.
Thus, I used the events that were supposed to be triggered by Notoriety Points to push the plot along instead. The Ransacked Room was Omoyani wanting more information about these foreigners with Jao. She confessed as much to Ebony Blossom because her spies found the charts from the ship Kaijitsu's Blossom. Ebony Blossom told her the true yet incomplete story of dealing with goblins in Brinestump Marsh and finding the shipwrecks. Omoyani thought that this was confirming information for the death of the Kaijitsu/Amatatsu family and began negotiating for Ebony Blossom to join the Frozen Shadows.
The Poisoned Food attempt was detected by good perception rolls and Ebony Blossom's alchemical craftsmanship in poisons. Amaya cast Purify Food and Drink on every meal thereafter.
The module also intended to have the Frozen Shadows kidnap Ameiko. Substituting Amaya was difficult because Ebony Blossom was actively bodyguarding her. I decided to have the kidnapping occur during the battle at the Shrine of Shelyn, throwing in the Sniper and Thug Ambush events at the same time as distractions to aid the Frozen Shadows whisking away Amaya. The Frozen Shadows failed--my players are great at teamwork. They even rescued kidnapped Uksahkka on the road to Ravenscraeg, with a "I respect you but must kill you," ninja battle between Ebony Blossom and Omoyani. They raided Ravenscraeg solely to rescue Ulf Gormundr and kill Kimandatsu.
Nathan was the key to entering Ravenscraeg, shapeshifting to mimic Omoyani while other party members wore the loose robes that the tengu Frozen Shadows used to conceal their nature. It was also a glorious defeat for Kimandatsu. Unaware in her inner chamber that her fortress had been wiped out, she believed that Nathan was Omoyani presenting new recruit Ebony Blossom to take her oath on Oathtaker. Instead Ebony Blossom sneak attacked her with the poisoned Deadly Kiss wakizashi as the signal for the rest of the party to rush in.
At fifth level I gave Amaya the Dervish Dance for Wakizashi homebrew feat. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Amaya retrieved the Amatatsu family katana Suishen from Ravenscraeg, but with her specialty in wakizashi, she never used Suishen in battle. I should have arranged for her to acquire a katana back in The Brinewall Legacy and focus on katana. Or replace the proud intellgent katana Suishen with a humbler intelligent wakizashi as the Amatatsu family weapon.
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The Hungry Storm Module
Ulf Gormundr organized the caravan to cross the northern ice cap, The Crown of the World, instead of using an existing caravan. My wife and I had the fun of making a list of eccentric characters who wanted passage on that caravan and having the party members select from them for hirelings and paying passengers. The caravan ended up as twelve wagons pulled by twelve aurochs with twenty-four people. Most notable was the gnome chef who cooked up monsters defeated by the party as delicious exotic dishes.
One of those twenty-four travelers was Lu's wife Yuki, a 3rd-level barbarian with elemental resistance to cold. How an ethnically Tian woman ended up with an Ulfen character concept, I have no idea, but I let Lu's player run her as a cohort and she leveled up whenever Lu did. Lu and Yuki proved to be an excellent husband-and-wife fighting team.
This module is where Amaya grew into her own as a character. She became the ultimate den mother, taking care of the party so that they could take care of all the dangers. Perfect role for an escorted NPC. It started with the party planning for seventh level as they stocked the caravan. Nathan planned to learn Craft Wondrous Item and Arc planned to learn Craft Magic Arms and Armor. They both acquired Rings of Sustenance to craft while others slept.
Besides, a Ring of Sustenance is very valuable when crossing an icy wasteland where food is not always available.
I not only agreed to crafting on the road, I asked this forum for advice on where they could find raw materials for crafting and had Amaya join in. She purchased a Wand of Cure Light Wounds from a wizard, aiding him by providing the spell, and got some pointers on wand crafting. She planned to learn Craft Wand and also purchased a Ring of Sustenance. Later, she freaked out fellow party members by making her wands out of glass. Remember, she was a master glassblower and had a high bonus on Craft(Glass) that she could use instead of Spellcraft. And blown glass is stronger than cast glass.
She also found a workaround for her variant Tongues curse. She bought chalk and a portable slate. She could write a one-sentence message as a standard action.
The module played out as written until two logical gaps appeared at Iqaliat. One was answered by this forum, North from Iqualiat. Thank you for all the help.
The other was: what happens when a caravan is caught by a morozko storm? The module is named after the storms, yet that detail was overlooked. Of course, the party investigated the morozko storm that blocked the Koumissa Gap up to Unaimo by sending their hardiest characters into it.
I decided that a morozoki storm is a ten-mile-wide hurricane filled with sharp ice shards that do 1 point of damage per minute to anyone standing in the wind, slower if the character is protected by medium or heavy armor. In addition, a mile into the storm has supernatural cold that does 1 point of cold damage per minute, too. The ground under it becomes littered with ice shards that make it difficult terrain.
North from Iqaliat, the party returned to the original Path of Aganhei to cross the Crown of the World. They did not divert to the Storm Tower to stop Katiyana as the module intended. That was not their job. In fact, I expected this and let them encounter two Snowcaster Elves investigating the morozoki storms and pass the information about Katiyana on to them, so that they did not have to feel guilty.
I had other plans, heh heh.
Amaya had learned the Stone Shape spell, and as her bonus spell from her human racial favored class bonus, Snow Shape. She volunteered to make ice bridges over the crevasses, but once the party learned that she had no ranks in Knowledge(Engineering), they declined that offer. She had also learned spells to extend their food supply and protect from cold, but those weren't necessary yet either. Instead, her good bonus in Handle Animal from her Charisma let her drive one of the wagons and her oracle bonus spell Gentle Repose let her preserve meat indefinitely. Her Knowledge of the Ages revelation let her dream about her ancestor Aganhei exploring the path so that she could guide the caravan while Ulf helped other ways. A month on the high ice past Iqaliat, she had finished a second Wand of Cure Light Wounds, and almost finished a Wand of Cure Serious Wounds.
Then a morozoki storm began chasing them. Uksahkka's weather sense verified that it was literally chasing them, veering whenever they tried to move out of its path. Before the storm overran them, a winged figure appeared in the sky. It was Katiyana. Goti Runescaster, the sole survivor from Ravenscraeg, had contacted her via Sending and asked her to kill Jao's caravan. She was going to kill them anyways, but she wanted to make sure that he was Jao, so that she could tell Goti. Jao replied that no, he was Spartacus.
The storm caught them. The caravan tried racing sideways and the storm kept its original course at three miles per hour, probably because Katiyana could no longer see them. The passengers were packed into chests to protect them from the ice shards, but the drivers and aurochs were exposed. Soon a crevasse blocked their path. Amaya cast Snow Shape a few times to make an ice ramp down into the crevasse, which protected them from the wind and its ice shards. And she cast Communal Resist Energy on everyone to protect them from the supernatural cold when that arrived. Spreading it across everyone lowered the duration, so she cast it again until she ran out. Then a 4th-level cleric passenger took over by channeling. After three hours, the storm passed with everyone still alive.
Now taking out Katiyana was a personal grudge.
They resumed the trek along the Path of Aganhei, because Amaya wanted to finish her wand, another wand, and her dreams. Aganhei had visited the Storm Tower centuries ago, so by reviewing her dreams of him, she could draw a map. And the dreams warned her of a deadly blue glow that could be defended against by Resist Energy (Electricity), so she wanted to make a Wand of Resist Energy. Once the wand was done, the party left the caravan in the hands of Ulf and Amaya, the two most able to protect it, and crossed the Alabastrine Mountains to the Storm Tower.
Thus, Amaya was out of the boss battle, but had given them key aid. Taking heavy electricity damage from prying out energy crystals to stop Katiyana was more satisfying when Resist Energy cut the damage significantly. The party and the caravan reunited at a rendezvous point at the end of the Alabastrine Mountain Range, and they sold the energy crystals to the snowcaster elves.
The battle at Dead Man's Dome was a cakewalk. Lu's good scouting warned them well in advance, Amaya's Stone Shape let them alter the terrain to their advantage, and Lu, Yuki, Jao, and Arc were very effective at dealing damage.
Since Koya Mvashti was not with the party anymore, she could not guide them to the Gates of Desna to escape the super-morozoki storm. Instead, one of the passengers had a treasure map that led to the tunnel. (He was glad to share the treasure afterwards when he realized the hazards there would have killed him alone.) Ebony Blossom caught mummy rot there, so Amaya had to cast Lesser Restoration on her every morning to keep her alive. They finally leveled up from random encounters at the other end of the tunnel, and Amaya learned Remove Disease and retrained out Communal Resist Energy for Remove Curse. Both are required to remove mummy rot. It was an odd choice for an oracle, but Ebony Blossom was a friend in need.
To be continued later...
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Are you doing ALL of these?
...I didn't say stop. ^_^
Three more, one for each module up to the end. They are mostly for me, to create reminders of a great campaign with great characters run by masterful players.
They are also for fellow GMs, to illustrate how an NPC can affect the party, and how changing an NPC can change an adventure path.
And it acknowledges the help I received from this forum. When I asked for suggestions, people responded with good ones. Thank you.
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Forest of Spirits Module
As they arrived in Hongal, they had a surprise addition to the party. Amaya had been secretly giggling about her surprise for two weeks, enough that other party members were making Sense Motive rolls. Upon reaching ninth level, Fighter 1/Oracle 8, Amaya had learned Sending. In addition to giving free messages to the passengers, she talked to her sister Ameiko every night. And invited her to join the party.
Four months ago gametime, Ameiko had left the Jade Regent party to help her Rise of the Runelords friends. The Runelords heroes were so bad at leadership that when they conquered the lost city of Xin-Shalast, they asked Ameiko to help them run it, since she had successfully run an inn. Seriously, that happened during that game. Alas, Ameiko became an assassination target for the evil characters vying for influence in the new government. When the Rise of the Rulelords group planned to visit Irrisen for The Witchwar Legacy, Ameiko decided that she needed a nice safe vacation fighting less dangerous creatures, such as oni.
Ameiko (leveled up to Rogue-rake 3/Bard-thundercaller 6) carried the Amatatsu Seal and its Warding Box. Her 17th-level wizard friend made her a storage amulet that shrunk it down in a hidden compartment. The lamia wizards of Xin-Shalast made +2 Amulets of Natural Armor for everyone else, physically identical to Ameiko's storage amulet. Because the Amatatsu Seal could not be teleported, another friend flew her over the Crown of the World in one hour at suborbital velocity, a journey that had taken the Jade Regent party three months.
The Kalsgard shipping company in the city of Ordu-Aganhei welcomed Jao's caravan with open arms and paid them well for the trans-polar shipments. And Prince Batsaikhar requested they present themselves to him that evening. Forewarned that Prince Batsaikhar was a lecher, only the men went to see him. This let the women, Ameiko, Amaya, Yuki, and Ebony Blossom, spend the evening bathing nude in the hot springs of Ordu-Aganhei, an obligatory scene in many Japanese anime. The druid tending the hot springs noticed the local kami whispering among themselves, "The children of Aganhei have returned!" Fortunately, that druid was a good guy and spoke of this only to the women.
The prince's servants warned the party to bring the women the next time; otherwise, the prince's wrath would be unleashed against innocents such as the caravan passengers or the shipping company. In those later visits, the prince ran the party through challenges for his entertainment as the module described. The PCs handled the combat and athletics challenges, but Ameiko and Amaya handled the art challenge with music and glassblowing, and the party recruited their gnome chef caravan passenger for the cooking challenge. The chef sent them out to hunt a tasty monster for an exotic dish.
I declared that Ordu-Aganhei's law did not let the party carry weapons on the street, except for Jao whose partnership with the Kalsgard shipping company gave him landowner privileges. They had to improvise or scavenge weapons when the Five Storms ninja attacked them during a parade. The guards, of course, focused on protecting the prince, but a mysterious woman named Miyaro helped the party. Nathan recognized Miyaro as another kitsune. Miyaro told them that the kami of the Forest of Spirits had a mission for them.
The prince's spymaster interrogated the surviving ninja and learned the attack was revenge for the killing of Kimandatsu back in Kalsgard. Prince Batsaikhar wanted the party out of town immediately, but to save face, he sponsored them as Ordu-Aganhei's official team to the Ruby Phoenix Tournament, which would take place in a month.
I had purchased The Ruby Phoenix Tournament module on the recommendation of this forum, because the House of Withered Blossoms section of Forest of Spirits is a slow-paced dungeon crawl. The tournament, on the other hand, is a prestigious combat-oriented Olympics with magic items as prizes. The party was still underequipped on magic items, so this could help them catch up.
The players did not take the bait. Their characters were serious about Miyaro's mission and went to the House of Withered Blossoms in the Forest of Spirits. Yet when the kami told them that the oni had probably escaped from that prison decades ago and they could investigate later, the party decided to participate in the Ruby Phoenix Tournament first.
I made some changes in the tournament. First, I set it in Zi Ha, a country bordering Hongal, high in an isolated mountain valley. Second, the contestants were issued masterwork replica weapons that dealt only non-lethal damage and amulets that turned energy damage non-lethal too. This tournament was meant to honor the best athletic combatants of Tian Xia, not kill them. Third, I added a lot more individual athletic events, such as foot races, horse races, kayak races (the party had learned to kayak back in Night of Frozen Shadows), archery, throwing contests, and gymnastics. I pretended that the tournament had a complicated point-earning system, so the more events a contestant entered and the more the crowd cheered, the better. Fourth, teams were one to four contestants, with the top four winners--not necessarily all on the same team--getting a prize from the Ruby Phoenix collection and the next four getting cash prizes. Fifth, contestants had no access to healing except from their teammates, as an excuse to include the party healer on the team.
Arc, Jao, and Lu wanted to compete, and Amaya made the fourth for their team. Nathan, Ebony Blossom, and Miyaro preferred to work from the shadows, Yuki was not as proficient, and Ameiko wanted to play the crowd as a bard, so the party had intertwined separate adventures: four on the team, three against the skullduggery behind the scenes, and two running the fan club for their team from a saki-serving noodle shop.
Arc became a crowd favorite with his magus style that mixed magic and combat and seemed to have an answer for everything. He even saved the lives of some opponents from sabotage. Jao wowed them in the Breaking Competition, breaking every object including a metal bar that needed a natural 20 to break. Lu was a master horseman and his trip attacks were spectacular in the Spider Climb & Feather Fall battle on a vertical cliff. Amaya was not as fantastic, but she had one surprise. Her nature as a time oracle was based in the past, so I reversed her 6th-level oracle bonus spell, Sands of Time, to youthen instead of age. In a special event that pitted the team against an adult dragon, she made a touch attack to turn it into a juvenile dragon.
The saboteurs' plan to poison the team in an after-hours party in the noodle shop failed because Amaya was still casting Purify Food and Drink on all their food. Nathan tracked the poisoners down and Dominated one to secretly attend a meeting with the wizard Jufeng Wu. Then Nathan Dominated Jufeng Wu to teleport to her sister Dizhen Wu and a third Dominate defeated the entire saboteur storyline in a single night. The Wu sisters made a second and successful Will save at the constabulary when ordered to turn themselves in, which added a fight to that adventure. "You didn't think to tie their hands first?!" the constable yelled.
Since I made Ruby Phoenix combat non-lethal, I abandoned caution and assembled opposing teams of the same level as the party. The party still won every combat and won the tournament. Arc placed first, Jao second, Lu third, and Amaya fourth. Nathan also secretly gained a prize from the Ruby Phoenix collection for his service to the tournament. Yuki and Ameiko merely made a bundle of money from their betting.
The extra level and magic items made the House of Withered Blossoms a dungeon run rather than a dungeon crawl. The party wanted information about the Five Storms, so they sped past the non-oni hazards, though they later freed the human slaves of the hobgoblins. When the party encountered the stone golem, Lu and Yuki volunteered to take it out themselves: Greater Trip, attacks of opportunity, and repeat because the golem was too pre-programmed to adjust to their technique. The next hazard was the hobgoblin lepers, so Amaya stepped up alone. Touch attacks with Remove Disease, an attack only an oracle could manage without preparation, left the hobgoblins surrendering in fear and gratitude and left me wondering, "But I gave her that spell because of roleplaying!"
One cowardly ogre mage gave the party the information they wanted in exchange for his life and the lives of his four hobgoblin tiefling monk concubines. They defeated the Five Storms' weakest leader and reclaimed the Thundering Blade of the House of Sugimatu, which sadly was no longer sentient but still was a +1 thundering naginata for Lu.
Then they led their band of rescued slaves south to Minkai. Finally after four modules, we reached the destination.
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Tide of Honor Module
We began Tide of Honor with a scheduling problem. Jao's, Lu's, and Nathan's players would miss the first week and Ebony Blossom's player would miss the second and third week. The solution: split the party. Ebony Blossom, Arc, and Amaya rushed ahead of the rest of the party, who were slowed down by escorting the rescued slaves.
Ebony Blossom, played by my wife, had an elaborate backstory. She belonged to the Tiger's Tears ninja clan, based near the Seven Venoms Spring on the Ikkaku Peninsula. Her clan had secretly served the Amatatsu family for centuries and her self-appointed mission was to return the Amatatsu family to Minkai. Thus, Ebony Blossom wanted to travel to her home village, Hamamura (Flower Village), immediately.
However, since Arc provided fast travel via his Phantom Steed spell, they first visited ronin leader Jiro Hirabashi, who Miyaro said would give reliable information. Jiro talked to them about freeing the fortress Seinaru Heikiko from bandit control. Amaya relayed that request to the others via Sending. Then they went on to Hamamura. Seinaru Heikiko bandits laid in ambush on the road, but the party members pulled a few magical pranks to seem more ghostly on their magical steeds and scared the bandits as they sped past.
In the next game session, Jao, Lu, Yuki, Nathan, and Ameiko met with Jiro to coordinate the attack on Seinaru Heikiko. Except that Nathan had reverted to her true female sex and her true name Nuriko. Jiro's horsemen would attack the bandit's horsemen in the field while the party would take on the fortress itself. Arc rode in before the attack, with a map of Seinaru Heikiko including its secret back door, drawn by Amaya from visions of her ancestors visiting the fortress. I liked the convenience of drawing out the entire fortress on grid paper beforehand without hiding any parts.
The back door was guarded by a weretiger. Jao was surprised to encounter a foe that he could not defeat in two rounds: the tiger grappled him so that he could not swing his greatsword. Lu's player said that he wished the weretiger would bite and infect Lu, because he would love to play a weretiger. At that, the players conspired against the characters. Nuriko cast Suggestion on the weretiger so that she released Jao, but (deliberately) poorly worded the suggestion so that she could still bite. The weretiger bit both Lu and Jao and both failed their saves, but nothing would be evident until the next full moon, which I rolled as nine days away. Then the party conquered the fortress.
They befriended the local barbarians of the Osogen Grasslands, mostly because Ameiko liked barbarians due to her Shoanti friends, Lu was a horseman like them, and Yuki was a barbarian like them. The party refitted Seinaru Heikiko as a new home for the freed slaves and a new base for Jiro and the party. Amaya and Ebony Blossom in Hamamura gained false papers for the entire party so that everyone could freely travel around Minkai, and remained there while Ebony Blossom undertook the initiation to become a master in the Tiger's Tears. We had a running joke that Ebony Blossom had a weakness for saki; thus humorously, her clan give her a Ring of the Drunken Master, which let her recharge her ki by drinking alcohol.
When Lu and Jao transformed into untamed tigers under the full moon, Yuki's animal handling skill with a large circumstance bonus calmed and tamed Lu, and Lu used his tiger influence to keep Jao from doing any harm. Amaya rushed to Seinaru Heikiko to try Remove Curse, but the deadline had passed. She attempted to fool the deadline by abusing Sands of Time (youthen); instead, that made the curse an old curse in which the human and tiger sides of each cursed man were more in harmony. I told that players that they could spend a feat--the characters would reach 13th level before the next full moon--on Lycanthropic Control and have full control over their inner tiger nature.
Jao's player had had no interest in playing a weretiger, but was willing to play along for the sake of Lu's player. Later, he discovered that pounce was icing on the cake of Jao's already devastating full attack, so he loved it, too. I would call myself a Monty Hall GM, but they were still short on Wealth by Level.
Off the Rails!
Then, metaphorically, the players pried up the rails of the railroad plot in the module and beat them into plowshares. They realized that they did not have to lead a rebellion against the corrupt oni-controlled government. Minkai was so devoted to tradition that the only things necessary were to prove that Emperor Higashiyama was dead and that Amaya and Ameiko were true heirs of Amatatsu. The Minkaians would accept them with open arms as the only legitimate rulers.
I could not argue with that logic. The plot in Tide of Honor was no longer relevant, but the module was still good source material for the party's new goal. The party shunned opportunities to take out corrupt soldiers or officials, unless those people were oni in disguise. That eliminated many sources of treasure, so the party remained poor. Instead they defeated marauding bands of oni and solved mysteries in order to become popular, trusted heroes. News of their victory in the Ruby Phoenix tournament reached Minkai, giving them status to hobnob with high officials. However, one of Amaya and Ameiko had to remain safe in Seinaru Heikiko during each mission, depending on which one's skills were less useful. That was convenient for me, one fewer NPC to play. Amaya's Sending spells kept everyone in touch.
I spread the adventures across Minkai. The Pearls of Sakakabe adventure moved to Ningyo Gulf on the other side of Minkai. I also made O-Sayumi less a damsel in distress and more someone who knew her risk thanks to her Samisen of Oracular Vision. She took the risk because she wanted to meet her estranged evil wizard father Shosaito Yugureda and had anticipated the rescue of herself and her father's second wife Tarukimi. I played Yugureda ridiculously arrogant, so he demanded the party's aid with his miscast spell rather than attacking them. For delightful humor, Arc proved a better master of arcane knowledge than Yugureda.
O-Sayumi persuaded the party to let her father live, because she predicted his death within one month. She lent Amaya the Samisen of Oracular Vision and told her a non-canon secret: she and her father were descendents of Shojinawa wizards banished (hence not heirs) for turning to evil magic long before the oni showed up.
The meeting with the Three Monkeys ninja leaders was less important because of the alliance with the Tiger's Tears ninja clan, but those leaders did warn the party that ninja assassin Kaibuninsho was asking about them.
The players loved fighting oni, so I added a lot more oni, from random bands killing peasants to plot-relevant rumors to track down. From Tarukimi Yugureda, who handled the mail for her husband's ja noi oni minions, they learned that the oni had been invited to a secret meeting in the Sankyodai Mountains. They left both Amatatsu sisters behind for that one, but encountered a new player character Kai, a ranger yokai hunter, as they dealt with the Daikan Tetsuku oni from The Cruelty of Sikutsu Sennaka scenario (moved closer to the Sankyodai Mountains).
With Nuriko's Veil spell for disguise and some party members fluent in Goblin and Giant, they infiltrated a gathering of a hundred and thirty oni in an underground auditorium carved out of an ice-capped mountain. This was half of an army that was going to destroy Seinaru Heikiko. Five Storms leader fire yai oni Nigankona was bringing up the other half from the south. (In the module Nigankona's army was much, much, much smaller, but the oni in my campaign believed in cautious strategy and brutal tactics.) Ebony Blossom's player asked me, "What would it take to collapse the roof in this place?"
They arrived a day early for the big meeting. Since they were pretending to be the ja noi oni sailors employed by Shosaito Yugureda, the higher-rank oni sent them out to fish overnight in a captured fishing boat. They relayed a description via Amaya's nightly Sending to Arc, Lu, and Yuki, who had explored in a different direction (i.e., their players missed that day's session). Amaya told them that Ameiko had deduced that a visiting flute-playing monk was a spy, fed him harmless information, and let him depart alive.
The speaker the following morning was imperial oracle Meida Renshii, a major character from The Empty Throne. When Five Storms leader Munasukaru had died in the House of Withered Blossoms, the Jade Regent had sent the ninja Kaibuninsho to investigate. He learned from the surviving ogre mage, whom he executed, of the party. The Five Storms agents in other countries gave Meida a more complete picture, which she told the oni. A group of Linnormian and Varisian adventurers led by Jao, son of exiled Minkaian general Jiang, had wiped out the Frozen Shadows outpost in Kalsgard and then traveled over the Crown of the World to Ordu-Agenhei, where human ninjas failed to avenge the Frozen Shadows. At Ordu-Agenhei, an agent of the kami invited them to the Forest of Spirits, which they accepted; an agent of the Tiger's Tears ninja clan invited them to Minkai, which they accepted; and an agent of Prince Batsaikhar invited them to the Ruby Phoenix tournament, which--Meida sounded confused--they accepted. (Yes, she falsely assumed that Ebony Blossom joined the party in Ordu-Agenhei.) Meida described their known adventures from the Five Storm's pont of view, and concluded, "But further knowledge has been revealed to me by my spirits. The sisters, May and Kiko, are the last members of the Amatatsu family." (May and Kiko were the aliases of Amaya and Ameiko.)
As Meida was escorted out, Nuriko used Shadow Conjuration to throw fire around the sole fire yai oni in the audience and Jao bluffed, "The fire yai is attacking us!" Several dozen ogre mages and ice yai oni believed the bluff and attacked the fire yai oni with cold spells. Some used area effect spells, killing thirty weaker oni, recently fire-singed, nearby. That was the signal for Arc, Lu, and Yuki outside to Disintegrate a hole in the ice roof two hundred feet above the underground auditorium, fly in, and attack the support pillars. Jao flew up with his Winged Boots, his weretiger form manifesting as strips in his ja noi oni illusion, and smashed through a one-meter-wide stone support pillar in one round.
With each support pillar destroyed, more chunks of roof fell down. Ebony Blossom rescued Yuki when a piece of roof knocked her unconscious to the ground. The oni lost a round activating their flying abilities, and were decimated by Kai's arrows, so they could not stop the destruction of all six main pillars. The roof of stone and ice fell in, with the party members safe in the air or in the entryways. Arc finished up with fireballs to prevent regeneration. Only thirty oni escaped. A hundred died.
I stopped counting experience points, gave the party fourteenth level, and told them they would reach new levels based on finishing major plot elements.
Meanwhile, Nuriko had left the auditorium after her Shadow Conjuration and caught up to Meida. A good roll on a covert Dominate spell brought Meida under his control. Nuriko directed her to slip away from her bodyguards. One Shadow Walk spell later, Nuriko had her stripped of her magic items and held prisoner in Seinaru Heikiko. Nuriko and Ameiko interrogated her politely and learned the secrets of herself, Soto Takahiro aka the Jade Regent, and Five Storms wind yai oni leader Anamurumon. The party returned from the ice-capped mountain and Amaya returned from a mission of her own. They tried to decide what to do with Meida. Could she be a hostage against the remaining half of the oni army? No, the oni did not value human life, not even the betrothed of the Jade Regent.
Amaya used the Samisen of Oracular Vision for insight and had a vision of four oracles talking together: herself, Meida, battle oracle Anastasia from the Rise of the Runelords party, and an eight-year-old girl oracle of Desna with the wasting curse. Ameiko recognized the description of the girl: Allie, a heavens oracle NPC I added to the Sins of the Saviors Runelords module. This suggested that Meida could be an ally.
Nuriko ordered Meida to negotiate to an alliance that she would agree to when no longer Dominated. Meida's haunted curse riled up, as the spirits of her ancestors fought for influence. Lu noticed the activity was heavy around the Thundering Blade of the House of Sugimatu. He handed that naginata to Meida.
I rolled for magnitude of effect: natural 20. Suddenly, the haunting stopped and the naginata became sentient again, speaking with the voice of Renshii Sugimatu. When the Sugimatu Seal rejected him as leader of the Sugimatu family centuries ago, he had founded his own family to serve the Sugimatu with more moral flexibility than the Sugimatu Seal allowed. His descendants became the loyal spies and saboteurs behind the famed Sugimatu diplomacy, until too many Sugimatu black sheep demoted to Renshii made the family villainous. He bargained with the party: Meida and her relatives would be the new Sugimatu family.
Yet that was not enough for Meida herself. The party had learned she was secretly pregnant with the Jade Regent's child. She wanted that child to be emperor after Amaya. Amaya, with no intention of marrying to bear an heir, agreed.
That day, the party evacuated the non-combatants from Seinaru Heikiko. To watch for oni, Ebony Blossom used a ninja trick to see invisible creatures. She drank saki on guard duty to recharge her ki with her Ring of the Drunken Master.
The next morning, the first sign of Nigankona's oni army was one of Jiro Hirabashi's scouts riding in to report a sighting. I gave too many clues that the scout was Kaibuninsho in disguise (he had also been the flute-playing monk spy), and he died before his turn in initiative would let him escape via the Dimension Door ability of the Shinobi Fuhonsen coin he carried. Ebony Blossom claimed the coin.
Kai had a find-oni ability that could pinpoint Nigankona himself as the only fire yai oni twenty miles away, but the first wave was nineteen invisible earth yai oni flying in and using their Passwall ability to enter the stone fortress. The arcane casters had See Invisibility spells, so Arc cast Glitterdust on one cluster of oni for Lu and Yuki to handle with their flaming weapons, and Ameiko used her thundercaller bard Call Lightning song to point out oni for Jiro Hirabashi's archers and Kai. Amaya had True Seeing from her Time Sight revelation but could point out oni only by attacking them in melee. Nuriko guarded a still-Dominated Meida, but gave her permission to defend herself when visible oni fought to the inner rooms and did not recognize her. Three of Jiro's soldiers died. All the earth yai oni died.
The second wave was three ice yai and two atamahuta oni. They waited in vain for the earth yai oni to flush victims out of the fortress, under strict orders not to enter themselves. And waited and waited.
During the wait, and knowing that a hundred ja noi and kuwa oni were marching toward them, the party decided to press their panic button. Amaya cast Sending and called for help from Ameiko's Rise of the Runelords friends.
The method the Runelords party used to reach Minkai from Varsai opened a permanent portal between the Runeforge and Seinaru Heikiko. Except the Runeforge was no longer on its own demiplane: it now resided on a new island south of Riddleport. (That is how the Runelords party earned 19th level.) And the Runelord party invited their friends, the Warriors of Wrath from the Runeforge, to join the battle, along with their queen Highlady Athroxis and their spiritual leader Allie, the young heavens oracle who had kept her promise to bring her people home to see Desna's stars.
Ameiko's true superpower is the ability to make loyal friends.
We did not roleplay the rout. Worse, Kai's player had to quit because of a change in his job schedule, so I emailed him a description of Kai tracking down Nigankona for the kill while riding on the shoulder of battle oracle Anastasia grown to colossal size. Amaya had her prophesized meeting with Meida, Anastasia, and Allie before the others returned home. Meida reclaimed her magic items, so to not have to explain their disappearance, and took the Thundering Blade of the House of Sugimatu.
Then the party went to Riddleport for shopping, getting an extra 10% for sale of their exotic Minkaian treasure. The new moon arrived during the shopping spree, giving Ebony Blossom control of the Shinobi Fuhonsen but converting her from lawful neutral to lawful evil. Once the party noticed Ebony Blossom exploiting new means of gaining extra shopping money, Amaya cast Atonement on her to restore her alignment. It became a monthly ritual.
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I added a mission between the modules, using Amaya as the plot hook.
While the party spent a week trailing oni to their secret meeting at the ice-capped mountain, Amaya was not content to wait. Leaving Ameiko in charge of Seinaru Heikiko, she and two ninja bodyguards Wind Walked to the Seseragi Forest on the east side of Minkai to investigate rumors about the trouble near the forest. She found a few villages established within the last twenty years on the edge of the forest and a small band of lumberjacks setting up a lumber mill. The lumberjacks explained the situation: the Beauty Found in Carved Wood furniture company hired them every year to set up a camp for peasants who would log a section of the forest in exchange for land that had been logged two years prior. The company could always find willing peasants displaced by oni raids from other provinces, because near the Seseragi Forest, the kami kept the oni away.
Everyone in the newest village was sick. Amaya determined they were poisoned, and her ninjas determined the poison was in the soil itself. She was applying Neutralize Poison and helping them move to a new location--the land cleared the previous year--when an undersized water yai oni kidnapped a villager. She buffed her ninjas and they defeated the oni more easily than expected. It was if the oni didn't know how to use its supernatural abilities.
During her Sendings that night, she learned of the army of oni marching toward Seinaru Heikiko, so she hurried back.
The party, Amaya, and Miyaro went to Seseragi Forest upon returning from Varisia. Miyaro spoke to the kami. They learned that a few kami would grow angry at the humans cutting down their forest and attack back. This violated the kami's Law of Golden Perfection, so the fallen kami would gradually fade away, absorbed back into the Void to be reborn as an innocent new kami. The poisoned soil of the sick village was left over from an attack by an earthen kami.
They also queried the local villages and learned that the oni came from the direction of a certain small river. They followed the river downstream until they came to a pond formed by a dam. A spell trapped four kami above the pond, anchored to several dead human bodies in the pond. Arc grabbed a body and suffered harm from its hazardous levels of necrotic energy. Fortunately, Amaya always has Restoration available. Amaya also encased the bodies in Holy Ice, hoping that it would cancel the necrotic energy. It didn't, but it let the party members remove the bodies by touching the ice instead of the bodies. The freed kami remained infused with unholy energy. Amaya cast Atonement on them, which let them achieve harmony and be immediately absorbed into the Void to be reborn.
The inhabitants of the abandoned lumbering camp nearby noticed them: two more undersized water yai oni, though with full supernatural abilities, and a priestess of Lady Nanbo, goddess of plague and catastrophe. It was a classic battle against an evil cleric protected by powerful minions, with her Ash and Decay domains letting her manipulate the terrain. It was a fun fight, for the party made well-coordinated use of Dimension Door to bypass the battlefield control and negate the oni's greater speed. And Nuriko Dominated the priestess on the second try, so they got more of the background story from her.
By divine rules, the oni could not directly harm kami. But the oni were indirectly behind the lumbering operation, to harm the kami and sometimes goad them into becoming fallen kami. She had been trained by Kwari Te, also known as Lord Nothing, the void yai oni leader of the Five Storms. He knew secrets about the life cycle of kami and oni that she had never heard before, and taught her the spell to force fallen kami to become oni against their will. He had even shown her three other spells he had set up himself to resurrect the spirits of dead oni back to living oni. She would serve her goddess by creating a plague of oni.
(This is totally not in the modules. Historically, the Five Storms had five leaders, each loosely associated with the five elements earth, fire, water, air, and void, but two of those leaders had died centuries ago. I figured that my players would like to fight all five leaders, so in my campaign the Five Storms had recruited replacements.)
The priestess was ignorant of the exact location of Lord Nothing's resurrection pits, somewhere in underground tunnels beneath the Sankyodai Mountains. Once she mentioned an auditorium carved out of an ice-capped mountain nearby, the party recognized the location. She had never seen Lord Nothing's oni form: unlike the other oni, he stayed in human form.
Nuriko ordered the priestess to tour the Seseragi Forest with Miyaro's help, bragging to the kami about what she had done. Miyaro had secret orders to assassinate the priestess in her sleep before Nuriko's Dominate Person spell wore off in two weeks.
Then the party teleported to the resurrection pits beneath the familiar ice-capped mountain and destroyed them and their oni guards. Lord Nothing was not there.
After that, they teleported to the city of Hiyosai, home of the Beauty Found in Carved Wood furniture company. Nuriko's Suggestion spell let them track the ownership of the company to Ledo Chutu, spymaster of Hiyosai Province. The party had rescued his daughter, Tarukimi Yugureda, so they already had a letter of introduction to him. (Tide of Honor said that Shosaito Yugureda had married her for her political connections.)
Chutu presented his case. His predecessors had made the arrangements with the Five Storms because it kept the oni mostly out of Hiyosai Province. They had explained to the oni how human greed would accomplish what the oni could not: destroy all the kami in the Seseragi Forest--if the oni let the Hiyosai humans rule themselves. The human rulers kept their bargain, but used untrained peasants rather than experienced lumberjacks to keep the logging as slow as possible.
After Sense Motive checks and spells, the party decided to trust Chutu and told him that the Amatatsu would reclaim the throne and defeat the oni. Therefore, he canceled this year's logging. They asked him about the rules of imperial succession. He explained the information from the first section of The Empty Throne, that the heir should go to the Imperial Shrine to receive the blessings of past emperors.
The party advanced to fifteenth level.
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The Empty Throne
I moved the island of the Imperial Shrine from the river mouth near Kasai to an island chain off the south coast of Minkai. The locals called it Mirage Island, since it was an image on the ocean without solidity.
Warned by Ledo Chutu that they had to sail to the island rather than Teleport, Wind Walk, or Shadow Walk, the party, including Amaya, Ameiko, and four ninja bodyguards, Wind Walked to the nearest fishing village to hire a boat. Alas, pirate ships had been patrolling the island chain for the last two weeks and most of the fishermen were scared. One pair of brothers was willing to go, because the pirates had captured their father off their boat and let them go to gather a ransom for his release.
Pirates versus ninjas--I couldn't resist. Besides the party was two levels higher than the module intended, so I wanted to add to the challenge.
They encountered one pirate ship. Destroying it would have been easy, but the real challenge was in realizing that they shouldn't destroy it, because it carried the captives held for ransom. Fortunately, Ebony Blossom had recently learned a ninja ability that let her jump 60 feet over to the pirate ship. She investigated the ship, invisibly thanks to Arc, and spotted the captives. She saw that the pirates were mostly ordinary (6th level) rogues. Therefore, the party boarded the pirate ship, intimidated the crew, and cast Mass Suggestion to make Nuriko its new captain. The party sent the captives home in the fishing boat and sailed the pirate ship to the Imperial Shrine. As Ameiko said, "I would rather take these scoundrels into deadly danger than the fishermen."
And they learned that the leader of the pirates was Betsu, a water yai oni who liked piracy for fun and treasure. The party recognized the name as the water yai leader of the Five Storms.
Going to the semidemiplane of the Imperial Shrine required sailing through five torii gates set up in the water in a complicated pattern that Amaya knew due to her enhanced Knowledge of the Ages revelation. Many of her ancestors had visited the Imperial Shrine. The caretaker monk Kiyomi (I added a few monk levels to her) greeted them at the shore and wanted to see their authorization for visiting the shrine, so Ameiko rushed back to the ship to fetch it, i.e., forged it quickly.
Kiyomi guided them to the first guardian, who accepted their credentials to her disappointment, and to the Shrine of the Heavenly Sovereigns. I followed a suggestion from this forum of Kiyomi hiding her true colors until the party had crossed the bridge to the Shrine of the Heavenly Sovereigns and lost some hit points because they entered a realm of the dead. But Anamurumon had left a trap just inside the gate, and it sprung before Arc and Jao crossed, so they battled Kiyomi. The trap was a metal box that cast a homemade spell I named Narcissism that stuns people and the DC of the save increases with the character's Charisma attribute. And it called eight Carnivorous Crystals buried underground to attack the party. Amaya, Ameiko, Nuriko, and a ninja bodyguard named Kyo were stunned. A crystal killed Kyo in one round. The others pulled the remaining stunned party members away from the crystals or attacked the crystals. Ebony Blossom disabled the humming box and once she succeeded, the crystals were content to eat shrubbery rather than people.
The furnace golem malfunctioned and came out with eight tiny golem pallbearers to cremate someone. They cremated Kyo in an elegant ceremony. The party labeled his urn as "Kyo, loyal bodyguard," and interred it in the Amatatsu mausoleum.
At the Imperial mausoleum I handed the party KetchupKing's homebrew list of Emperors of Minkai. That added flavor to the memorials in the tomb. Thanks, KetchupKing!
The ghost of Emperor Shigure Higashiyama, in great pain, directed them to the Well of Demons (which I kept calling the Well of Lost Souls) to retrieve his body. Onoko Amatatsu also manifested. She had the authority to declare Ameiko as clan leader, but to her eyes Amaya was not a valid heir due to her illegitimate birth.
Amaya and Ameiko had planned for this. Ameiko accepted the role as leader of the Amatatsu family. Then, she used her authority to declare Amaya a full heir of her father Lonjiko, and thus, no longer illegitimate.
Ebony Blossom scouted into the Well of Demons and made it out safely. When the rest of the party, except for the ninjas, flew in invisibly, she continued merely to climb and hide and this time she was spotted by the omox demons. She ran to a guard she had spotted, Shiobi Heikkaki, in hopes of slipping past to escape the omoxes. No, Heikkaki caught her after she chased off the omoxes. Then Amaya became visible and gave Heikkaki a password.
Months ago, Amaya had learned to craft wands by carefully studying via Knowledge of the Ages an Amatatsu empress who specialized in magic and demonology. Guess who? Maemi Amatatsu, who had returned as a demoness in the Well of Demons. And Shiobi Heikkaki was her servant.
Maemi Amatatsu had no interest in picking a fight with the party. She valued her life too much. However, she would love for the party to kill her three rivals in the Well of Demons, so she directed her Erinyes to aid them, in exchange for a promise that the Amatatsu sisters would visit biannually.
They continued downward seeking Shigure Higashiyama's body, and found it with dread ghost Ito Shojinawa. He was willing to let them have it, if he could permanently possess one of their bodies to escape the Well. I was tired of taking to myself after the conversation between Amaya, Ameiko, and Maemi, so Ebony Blossom spoke up first. She would consider volunteering if he would explain more to her. She approached him--and grabbed Shigure Higashiyama's body and Dimension Doored to Maemi Amatatsu's room via the Shinobi Fuhonsen. The Erinyes grabbed almost everyone else and fleed, too; however, Arc had to show off. He Dominated Ito Shojinawa and ordered him to use all his spell slots casting Prestidigitation, starting with the highest slots. Yes, now two spellcasters in the party were masters of mind control.
Once Shigure Higashiyama's body was properly cremated and entombed, his ghost appointed Amaya as his heir. He also told the party that the other family's seals were in the Imperial Vault guarded by Teikono. He started to explain how his bodyguard Soto Takahiro and his advisor Meida Renshii had betrayed and killed him, but the party interrupted to say that they already knew.
The weather over the Imperial Shrine was sunny, but once they passed through the torii gate back to the material plane, the sky was raining and so heavily overcast to be almost as dark as night. A second pirate ship was nearby, fighting their tentative ally, the evil wizard Shosaito Yugureda, in the original fishing boat. Arrows versus lightning. "What's he doing here?" Nuriko asked.
Ebony Blossom leapt over to ask. Yugureda and his family had been sailing on his barge to Kasai to join the party for their final battle and his chance to claim the throne. But a stop at the fishing village told them of the party's journey to the Imperial Shrine, so he hired the fishermen to take him there, too. His wife and daughter were safe back on the barge.
The water yai oni Betsu arose from the ocean riding a Sea Bonze, a gargantuan undead serpent that avoids daylight. (He had paid a coven of sea hags to make the sky overcast.) He attempted to capsize the party's pirate ship but failed. Yugureda's spells against the sea bonze failed. Jao, Arc, and Lu flew out to engage Betsu and killed him before he could escape beneath the waves. Then they killed the sea bonze. Ebony Blossom saw an opportunity, and coup de graced Yugureda with an intact pirate arrow. The brave fellow had fought on while mortally wounded, she told the fishermen.
Nuriko took control of the other pirate ship too.
The party had several spies in Kasai already, including Jiro's second-in-command Habesuta Hatsue. Amaya's nightly Sending revealed that Hatsue had been captured and would be executed at noon the next day. Nuriko left the ninja bodyguards in charge of the pirates, and then the party teleported to Kasai, to an alley next to a good inn described to Arc by many allies. Nuriko disguised as an elderly lady and Ebony Blossom disguised as a servant checked into a large room and then the rest of the party Dimension Doored there for the night.
In the morning, they teleported into the Imperial Palace, just outside the hidden entrance to the vault. The palace was scry-proof, but the floor plan had not been changed in centuries, so Amaya knew it. Only the vault was teleport-proof. They entered the vaults, took care of the oni guards, and talked to the guardian Teikono. He would allow them access to the other seals, but would not let them be removed without the permission from the regent or emperor. The party promised to return.
They left the vault and Dimension Doored to the throne room. Ananurumon and Giras Notori died in a single round. Soto Takahiro, the Jade Regent, was not there. Nuriko turned to Meida Renshii and asked, "Which side are you on?"
"There appears to be only one side now," she replied. She had kept her love Soto Takahiro safe by prophesized privately to him that he had to leave town and join his army on an important mission immediately, after Amaya warned her via Sending.
Amaya sat on the empty Jade Throne, which magically recognized her as the new empress.
Meida had made sure the jorogumo guards on the daughters of local nobles held hostage to ensure good behavior were loyal to her personally, so she freed the captives by simply ordering everyone to follow her to the vault. Amaya and Ameiko accompanied her. The rest of the party Dimension Doored to the street and rushed to the prison where Hatsue was held. Nuriko's Suggestion spells had them escorted to her cell by a prison official.
Hatsue was guarded by two Typhoon guards outside her cell and a monk in similar colors inside her cell. The players had had long discussions about how to recognize the oni disguised as humans, and we all were disappointed to learn that it was easy: Meida Renshii reported that all Typhoon guards were oni. Color coded for our convenience is a D&D trope.
Ebony Blossom ghost-stepped into the cell, and Dimensioned Doored herself and Hatsue outside to the roof of an adjacent building. Surprisingly, the monk Dimension Doored right after them.
Not only was the monk a 20th-level dimensional dervish, he was also Kwari Te, the void yai oni leader of the Five Storms. He was willing to talk with Ebony Blossom, which let her stall while the party dealt with the Typhoon guards and hurried outside. He had joined Ananurumon's group twenty-six years ago, earning his leadership position by teleporting the Frozen Shadows ninjas overseas to wipe out Brinewall Castle. Unlike Ananurumon, he had no particular interest in ruling Minkai. Instead, he admired how Ananurumon had formed his unruly oni minions into an almost disciplined army. He could use an army of oni, for he was a void lord from another planet where kami/oni were the dominant intelligent species. He needed to let the oni finish conquering Minkai to train them, and then they would all leave for another star system. Cue brief interlude to explain "planet" and "star system", which went right over Ebony Blossom's head, but she was happy as long as Kwari Te kept talking.
The party arrived to battle Kwari Te. He fought in human form with monk powers. When he died, his spirit reformed into a huge black winged serpent covered in razor-sharp feathers and radiating the cold of space. When the serpent died, his spirit floated bodiless and untouchable, bragging that he would return.
The party remembered the Nine-Fold Spirit Sword that they had claimed as treasure many modules ago. It could harm spirits. They used up all its charges against Kwari Te. He was still alive, but very weak.
I paused to see if they would come up with any more bright ideas. Alas, they didn't, so I pulled out my plot twist.
Amaya appeared from nowhere, an older Amaya wearing robes embroidered with symbols declaring her a professor of the University of Amatatsu. She tossed a jar to Arc, saying, "You should be able to figure this out, since you invented it." One Spellcraft roll later, Arc had Kwari Te's spirit trapped in the jar. Meanwhile, Professor Amaya gossiped, "You all look so young! Except Arc, he never changes." She had stepped down as empress when Hiro Sugimata reached twenty and joined the university that Ameiko had founded. She had researched the full extent of her time oracle abilities and learned time travel. A round later, she disappeared, but the jar remained.
Time lord trumps void lord. :-P
Back at the Imperial Palace, Meida persuaded the party to let Soto Takahiro live, because he traveled with two very important people. Ananurumon had not been content to rule through his grandson's decendents. He had plans to put a new grandson on the throne every generation. To that end, he had spared two Higashiyama babies when he murdered their parents and raised them as slaves hidden by Giras Notori's ninja clan. Meida had divined Ananurumon's plan and the Higashiyama children's location. Soto Takahiro and his army had just rescued the children, proving that he was no longer loyal to his oni grandfather.
Persuading Soto Takahiro to accept the new empress was tougher, but Meida prevailed. He openly acknowledged Amaya as the new empress.
Minkaian bards, starting with Ameiko, spread stories how the oni had tried to control the Jade Regent by threatening to kill the emperor despite his hiding place. When the regent called their bluff, their human agents killed Emperor Shigure Higashiyama. Then the oni told him of the captive Higashiyama children and made the same threat. The Jade Regent gave in, especially because he protected a secret member of the imperial families, his love Meida Sugimata. He could not escape this dilemma until the Ten Heroes led by the Amatatsu defeated the Five Storms.
Empress Amaya declared the Renshii family part of the Sugimata family again, but the Sugimata Seal rejected Meida as the family leader. They compromised by appointing her merchant father as family leader. Soto Takahiro married Meida. O-Sayumi Yugureda became the leader of the Shojinawa family, and Amaya returned her Samisen of Oracular Vision.
Ameiko split her time between Minkai and Varisia. Using Amaya's Knowledge of the Ages power, they tracked down other people with Amatatsu heritage. Ameiko selected the ones she liked to fill out the family with newly legitimate Amatatsu. Later, when Amaya's power grew to include other people's ancestors, they did the same for the Teikiko family, restoring the last of the five imperial families.
The rest of the party continued hunting oni.
Meida's baby was a boy and she named him Hiro Sugimata. Amaya declared him her heir as emperor.
A few months later, Amaya miscalculated the new moon on a cloudy night and cast Atonement on Ebony Blossom one day early. The Shinobi Fuhonsen turned her lawful evil the next day. Ebony Blossom decided to get Meida and Soto before they got Amaya. With Arc and Nuriko, she killed the pair and made the death look like oni revenge. Later, they found real evidence of the two planning to assassinate Amaya and become regents over their son. Amaya raised Hiro, though his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins visited often.
Amaya became known as the Glass Empress, for her love for glass artwork, much of which she made herself.