Alternate Raven Challenge (Maiden, Mother, Crone)

Reign of Winter

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I didn't really like the raven challenges at the beginning of Maiden, Mother, Crone; so I decided to rework them a little bit. My players just finished it tonight (and got as far as meeting the Rashalka), so I figured I'd share the changes I made.

The basic premise, for those who don't want to read the whole thing, is this:

mix of new and book material:
Before her mother could take her, Yelizaveta--the 13th and previous queen of Irrisin--managed to shard off pieces of her soul. When Baba Yaga consumed her, she realized that the soul was incomplete. She tracked down all but one shard and trapped it here, and then commanded her oracle ravens to interrogate Yelizaveta's ghost and learn where the remaining shard is hidden. The ravens’ interrogation has not been gentle and has left Yelizaveta’s ghost howlingly insane: so much so that she has warped this configuration of the hut with her madness-fueled witchcraft. Meanwhile, the presence of the ravens now throws her into such fits of rage that they stand no hope of getting any information out of her.

The warping of the hut has also trapped the ravens within the ghost's labyrinth. They can't get past the challenges to each other, nor can they escape. When the party arrives, Moc sees an opportunity to enlist their unwitting aid in completing his assignment.

The Details (really, you can safely assume it's spoilers from here on out)

New map for Dancing Hut, Iobaria Configuration

A1. The Cauldron Room. This area is exactly the same as in the book.

A2. The Corridor of Counted Sorrows. Instead of a never-ending knot, the corridor is a large ring. The door from A1 is on the inner side of the ring, and the secret door to A9 is on the outer wall of the ring. On the far side, also on the inner wall, is the door to Moc's chamber.

The description of the corridor is largely the same, except that the carvings in the walls begin to subtly shift as the party gets closer to Moc's door. Instead of pleasant pastoral scenes, they begin to take on a more sinister caste, depicting people in torment and agony. By the time they reach the door, faces seem to be screaming silently at them from the carvings.

A3. The Iron Forest of Moc, the Twilight Raven. Pretty much the same description as in the book, except it's a large ring instead of a rectangle. Moc's nest is on the far side of the ring from the entrance, as is the door to the next innermost ring (where the party will fight the Beast of Gelghlast).

Moc is surprised at first when the party enters, but quickly recovers. Once he determines that they're working for Baba Yaga, he hatches his plan. He informs them that they must complete three trials in order to proceed on their quest. The first is the Trial of Strength: they must proceed into the next ring, defeat the beast within, and bring him its tusks. They can then proceed to the next trial.

In reality, the Beast is immune to Moc's mind-effecting abilities, which makes it unlikely that he can defeat it. He can't get past it to Rozum: it's been affected by Yelizaveta's magical madness and will attack him on sight. He wants the PCs to bring him the tusks so he can confirm it's dead before venturing into the room with it.

Once the PCs have defeated the beast and returned with its tusks, Moc will give them his amulet and escort them to Rozum's chamber.

A4. The Beast of Gelghlast. The same as per the book, except that the room is a ring and the beast has an additional ability: immune to mind-effecting spells and abilities. If this will be a significant detriment to the party, other abilities can be removed or weaknesses added to compensate.

A5. The Moonflower Bower of Rozum, the Raven of Midnight. The description of the room is the same, except that it's a ring and Rozum's nest is on the far side of the ring. Moc accompanies the party into the room and is able to silently communicate his plan to Rozum. Rozum then informs the party that their second trial is upon them: the Trial of Cunning.

In the next room, he tells them, is a projection of a memory. It is, however, jumbled up. In order to proceed, the PCs must set the memory back in its proper order. They will be granted a boon once this is complete, and they must return with it to Rozum.

In reality, Rozum is unable to pass through the room because of its blinding brightness and his pigmentless eyes. It literally hurts him to even enter it. He hopes that once the PCs complete the memory, it will fade and allow him through.

A6. A Memory of Porcelain Street. (Note: My goal here was to create a puzzle that's more thematically tied to the story. I'm not sure I really succeeded. The puzzle I used is presented here, but I encourage you to swap it out with better ideas. It's a long one, so I'll include the details in the first comment.)

This long, circular corridor is decorated into a twisted rendition of Porcelain Street on a bright winter day, very much like a madwoman's attempt to feign sanity. Bright, cheery building are painted along the walls with ghostly faces screaming from upper windows. Facades jut out into the street at strange angles, nailed crudely to the walls with iron spikes that sometimes also holds small birds or even human appendages. Figures made of porcelain lean out from some of the shops and perform simple, repetitive motions: like animatronics at an amusement park. Some speak in tinny voices, repeating broken phrases over and over.

Five porcelain figures are different: they stand unmoving and whole in the middle of the street, evenly spaced around the ring. The figures are: a Peddler, a Dollmaker, a Child (actually a representation of Yelizaveta), a Guard, and a Jadwiga (Yelizaveta’s mother, who is searching for her). There are numerous garments of different colors strewn throughout the scene.

The door where the PCs enter represents the north end of the street. Moving clockwise is equivalent to moving south.

The scene represents the only happy memory that Yelizaveta's fragmented soul can recall: a time as a child when her mother took her to Porcelain Street to buy a new doll, they got separated, and the young princess strolled the street taking in all of the exciting sights and sounds. Once the memory is completed, the doll appears in the Child's hands and she offers it to the PCs. The memory begins to fade as soon as they take the doll from the child's hands. Once they bring it to Rozum, he will lead them through the now dim room to the "south" end, where a new door has appeared (leading to Tryva's chamber).

A7. The Reflecting Pool of Tryva, the Raven of Dawn. Same as described in the book, with the standard ring exception. Rozum and Moc can silently pass the plan on to Tryva when they enter.

Tryva then informs the PCs that they have one trial left: the Trial of Resilience. She informs the PCs that they must enter the next and final chamber. There they will encounter an entity; from that entity they must learn the location of "the shard." She will not tell the PCs anything about the shard, informing them that they need only know its location, not anything else. Once the PCs return to her with the location of the shard--in truth, the information they've been trying to coax out of Yelizaveta the whole time--she'll grant them her amulet and inform them of the secret door to area A9.

A8. The Interrogation Room. Description initially as in the book, except it's a circle. However, once the PCs have all entered the candlelight begins to turn reddish and pulsing. The figure of Yelizaveta rises up from the stain on the bed, and then fragments. The room suddenly becomes a swirling chaos of tortured faces, reaching arms, twisting hair. Yelizaveta is everywhere within the room at once, screaming and shrieking. Allow each PC an immediate reaction, and then have them all roll a Will save (DC 10); each failing PC takes a point of wisdom damage. Note that Yelizaveta's fragmented ghost is too diffuse to be effectively targeted by attacks or spells.

Each round thereafter Yelizaveta will shriek again: the DC increases by 1 each time. Meanwhile, the PCs must attempt to coax information about the shard out of her. This is accomplished by making diplomacy checks against a DC 18 (showing her the doll can decrease this DC to 15). The PCs must succeed at three consecutive diplomacy checks before she'll reveal the shard's location: it inhabited a doll in the hut, which later helped a young girl named Vasilisa escape from Baba Yaga.

Once the PCs have learned Yelizaveta's secret, they can exit the chamber and take the information to Tryva, who will give them her amulet and tell them the way out.

(Note: The PCs will meet Vasilisa's doll later in the adventure path, confined and tortured within the hut. The shard in the doll knows nothing of Yelizaveta's fate since it was separated from her.)

A9. Ratibor's room. As in the book.

A6. A Memory of Porcelain Street.

Scattered throughout the scene are a number of garments in different colors. In order to complete the memory, the PCs must place the appropriate garments of the appropriate colors on each of the five porcelain figures in the street. Only when the correct combination of garments and colors is achieved is the memory completed.

The figures are (in order from north to south): the Peddler, the Dollmaker, the Child, the Guard, and the Jadwiga.

The garments are: a scarf, a tabard, a hat, a belt, and a pair of gloves.

The colors are: brown, white, green, blue, and red.

The PCs can get clues to the proper arrangements by listening to the snippets of conversation endlessly repeated by the animated denizens of the memory. The PCs can make perception or gather information rolls, learning a clue for each five points rolled above 10 (ex., rolling a 20 will yield two clues). Successive attempts can be made, revealing new clues until all six clues have been uncovered. The six clues are:

1. The hat is one position north of the brown garment.
2. The blue garment is two positions north of the belt.
3. There is exactly one garment south of the tabard.
4. The tabard is north of the red garment.
5. The gloves are one position south of the green garment.
6. The belt is three positions south of the brown garment.

(Note that these clues aren't intended to exactly replicate the conversations, but simply the information that the PCs glean from what they hear.)

The solution to the riddle is:

Peddler: green hat
Dollmaker: brown gloves
Child: blue scarf
Guard: white tabard
Jadwiga: red belt

Shadow Lodge

You've stated that the "tests" are actually a ruse to help the oracles on their mission for Baba Yaga. Is this GM information only or did your PCs actually find out that they had been used?

GM only, although there are probably ways the PCs could figure it out (either by catching and interrogating the ravens or some sort of divination magic, or maybe even just clever diplomacy).

I find it helpful to have more going on in a scene than I intend for my players to be aware of, because it gives me more material to work with when they inevitably do something I couldn't have predicted (my players are good at that). Also helps me portray the NPCs better (the ravens, in this case) if I know more about what they're doing.

If you wanted the PCs to discover the deceit, it could be as simple as having the ravens go into wild celebration once they're successful; or maybe allowing some sense motive checks as they go along. The latter is preferable, in my opinion, because then you could refactor it to the PCs have a moral choice to make at the end: go along with the ravens and torture the poor spirit to further their own goals; or take the high road and endanger their quest (and themselves--remember that geas). The PCs are already in a moral grey area, what with their end goal being to set free an unspeakable evil. Piling on to that could be fun.

One last (perhaps unnecessary) point of clarification: The tests are real, they're just not there for the purpose the raven states. They're defenses thrown up by Yelizaveta to keep the ravens away from her (and each other).

Shadow Lodge

Fair enough. You've got some good ideas in here. I will use some of them. Thank you for sharing.

No problem. Let me know how it goes for you. It seemed to go pretty well for my group. As an aside, I just revealed Moc's duplicity to the players via a cutscene*, and now they're feeling a bit murderous. I'm looking forward to it just for the abundant "murder of raven" jokes (yes, I know it's crows, but still).

I ended up doing a bit of surgery on the MMC dungeon itself as well, although the players have managed to avoid pretty much all of the affected areas.

* Since the beginning of my campaign, I've punctuated sessions with DM cutscenes: vignettes of villains and other NPCs that occur outside the characters' awareness, but I think help the players get a better feel of what's going on around them. Reaction to them has been mixed, but occasionally helpful.

Grand Lodge

Ryschwith, I have read all of your cut scenes and I've enjoyed them tremendously. Thank you for sharing them and I hope you don't mind that I have used a couple of them (with some tweaking) in my own Reign of Winter campaign. Thank you!

Not at all! I'm glad you enjoy them. I've been slacking lately and need to get back to that. I'm considering a course of absolute madness, which ought to make them interesting going forward.

Feel like sharing what you've done? I'd love to see them.

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