2 - It Came from Hollow Mountain (GM Reference)


Return of the Runelords

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I posted this in another forum earlier but to support the idea of this as a central place for GM's to collaborate about running this AP, I'll repost here too in case it is useful or amusing to anyone else running the AP.

I was thinking about the contact they are supposed to receive from Sorshen in this adventure, and how I could make it fit more into the narrative I want to spin. Specifically, I wanted to turn what was a simple message into something more dramatic, that would really bring home just how powerful the Runelords are.

For context, here’s what the module as published gives the GM:

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At some point when the PCs sleep, preferably before they’ve explored much of Hollow Mountain but after Sorshen has managed to spy on them at least once via greater scrying, the runelord contacts the party via a dream council spell. All of the sleeping PCs experience the same vivid dream, in which they seem to wake from wherever it is they’ve bedded down for the night to find a visitor to their campsite: a radiantly beautiful woman who can be recognized as Runelord Sorshen with a successful DC 20 Knowledge (history) check.

Sorshen’s use of dream council has been augmented such that she can deliver a single 125-word message to the entire group of PCs, along with a single image to help guide them to their final goal in this adventure. She’s not interested in replies, and once the message is sent, she ends the contact, confident the PCs will make the right choices based on her message to them.

“I am Runelord Sorshen, but I am not your foe. Alaznist has risen, as you fear, and we will both benefit from her defeat. She has left Hollow Mountain to seek power elsewhere, and as she does, you must prepare. I have been watching. You seem heroes who might stand against her, but not without assistance. Seek out old Thybidos, Alaznist’s murdered predecessor, in the Forlorn Sepulchers beyond the weeping dragons. With an Abyssal runestone from the Gauntlet of Fury, his unquiet spirit can be compelled to aid you—yet perhaps not without some conflict. But exercise caution, for even humbled as he is today, the serpent still has teeth. When you are done with him, seek me in Korvosa. We have more to discuss!”

Along with this message, each dreaming PC has a vision of a partially collapsed stone archway carved in the shape of two weeping dragons, their necks raised up so their horned heads lock together. The archway is overgrown with foliage, but a cave entrance is visible within. As the PCs wake, each can feel that this archway exists nearby on the lower slopes of Rivenrake Island, and in following this urge implanted by the dream, they can arrive at the location with ease.

That’s not bad, but I wanted something a bit more interesting that would leave more emotional impact, and a slower reveal of who she is and what is going on that would build the tension a little more, even if momentarily.

I reworked the scene to include a little misdirection at first, providing a little mystery about who she even is so it becomes a slow reveal instead of, “Hi, I’m Sorshen.” Mechanically, I figured that she would have been able to enhance the dream council spell a bit more than is listed. (I mean, come on, there are perks to being a level-30 character who is famous for epic spellcasting, right?) Specifically, I determined that her enhanced variant of the spell allows her to inception herself into the targets’ dreams, having enough control over them to guide the dream and have a very brief conversation with them. So rather than make an image of the cave entrance appear in her message, they dream that while talking to her they suddenly find themselves there—as you do in dreams. I’m not too concerned about the variant making the spell OP since under the circumstances, the spell won’t be available to anyone else and even if it did, its effects are mostly dramatic and wouldn’t change the game outcome significantly.

Details under here (really, really, long):

Since they are dreaming and this is more interactive, I had to consider how to manage the party’s potential to derail the scene before it paid off without railroading them into just watching a “cut scene,” as well as generally how to adjudicate their actions during the encounter. So I came up with my own houseruled set of mechanics for handling actions when the PCs don’t realize they’re actually dreaming. Whenever they want to act, they make a wisdom check (disguised as a will save so as to not tip them off to the fact that something extraordinary is happening [dreaming it all] but easy to derive a wisdom check from a will save roll—and will saves are believable for any of a number of things a suddenly-appearing spellcaster may be up to). Based on that, another percentile role, and a very liberal application of Rule 0, they may end up being able to carry out the desired action, or maybe something else will happen, but always in the context of common dream tropes (e.g., they go to speak but can’t find their voice for a moment, they pull their sword only to find they forgot it back home along with all their armor, etc... it is all a dream, so... yeah.).

With all that said, here’s how I ran that scene.

This is timed to happen during one of the watches during the night. As it happens, my party had just explored the Forsaken Mezzanine and brought Viralane back to Tyalee’s Whim to have her held as prisoner there and let them safely spend the night before venturing back out to the mountain again the next day.

Those on watch are awake and thus are not part of the dream council and in fact are oblivious to anything happening. From their point of view, the party is sleeping and all is quiet. I contacted them privately and let them know not to panic, as it would make sense in a moment but they’re not present for this scene. As the scene unfolded I sent them a follow-up note telling them what they saw from their perspective and a clue for when it would be time for them to wake up the next on watch and react to their reaction at that point.

I had a choice here about whether the awake PCs would be out of the dream altogether or to have the other PCs dream that they were sleeping through the whole thing. I think either would work, although having them missing might spur them to take a more aggressive stance toward Sorshen, thinking she did something to them, thus interfering with her just delivering her message and leaving.

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You wake up, and right away a couple of things seem a little off… but you can’t quite put your finger on why. Just a feeling. (Now give me just a moment here to set this up before you react—essentially what I’m trying to convey is one of those moments where time seems to slow down while your brain registers several things in quick succession. I’ll describe them one at a time but in reality this all happens in an instant, hence the need to set it all up before we do anything. [All true, but also affected by it being in a dream.])

You make your way up to the main deck, feeling the slight sea breeze waft over the ship in the first light of the morning. You look around and realize that the first reason you felt something was not quite normal is that you shouldn’t have slept that long. It’s dawn, and you didn’t take your turn for guard duty.

Looking at the others who are similarly looking around deck with a puzzled expression, you’re probably all thinking the same thing. Where are Sasha, Shura, and Remi? They must have stepped away momentarily… but….

The next thing is very sudden, and catches you just as you turn from looking in another direction back to the center of the deck. There is someone leaning casually against the mainmast, who wasn’t there when you looked that way a second ago. And your brain takes in two odd, out-of-place things about that (apart from their sudden, unannounced appearance): first, there’s the manner of dress. While yes, the outfit could easily be called “traveling clothes” such as one might wear aboard a ship or out for a stroll in the woods, the materials and quality, from the fine leather and trim, to the intricate needlework patterns made of a glittering, silvery thread, are such as one would wear who was far beyond the need to consider that most people would spend a year or two of their lives earning the gold to buy that one outfit.

But the second thing is what really hits your adventurer instincts the most. You would expect that anyone who suddenly teleported unannounced into the middle of someone else’s ship would be tensed, ready to spring into action, to react to whatever happens next. But she literally could not be any more calm and relaxed, just casually standing here without an apparent care in the world.

As soon as she sees you notice her presence, she immediately holds up a hand and says, “You have questions, surely, yes, yes, but let me say I can only be here just long enough to deliver a message—one you will want to hear—and then I will be on my way and you can go on with your morning’s affairs. So if you will indulge me one moment? Yes? Good.”

(She doesn’t actually wait for a response, as she is not really used to anyone contradicting or interrupting her.)

(Incidentally I thought a long time about how to characterize her voice here, trying to picture something of the flavor of modern Varisia—which I picture as having a slightly Slavic or Romani feel to it—and what I imagine the more relaxed southern realm of Eurythnia in ancient Thassilon to have been like, without simply mimicking any existing real-world accent. What I came up with, oddly enough, seemed to come out like a fusion of Gru from Despicable Me and Janosz Poha from Ghostbusters II.)

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“Is because your lives are now on a trajectory that intersects the unfolding of major world events, all by coincidence and accident, perhaps? No, I think not. More like, how would you say it, you (extreme sarcasm) dare to oppose her exalted-ness of the severely violent temper tantrums, eh? (laugh) No, not to make light of it, in truth a world without her is a better place for all of us to live peacefully our lives in, it is true, and as such you are not the only ones to try to oppose her. But. In my observations (do forgive me doing that) I deem you as a group who actually might succeed at this.

“But you must understand, you will not.

“Not… unless… here and there from time to time you will accept a little bit of help? On the road before you, allies will be crucial to have.

“You see, our enemy is powerful, yes, and dangerous. But she is not unassailable. Is not without weaknesses that you can exploit…. If you know where to strike. I will give you a ‘for example’ on that.

“You see, like every other (ugh) stupid, short-sighted Runelord that came before her, she rose to her position of power by murdering her predecessor. I know, ’tis a senseless, wasteful tradition, but for her, it is much more personal. Alaznist would never be satisfied to merely dispose of him, to remove him as an obstacle in her path, no….

“You must understand, she hungers for the kill.” (pause)

“No. Not strong enough….

“She lusts to relish the pain, anguish, and humiliation she can extract from her victims! Oh, she laid a fell curse upon Thybidos, yes she did. Dismembered him, tore him limb from limb, yes, that too. Fatally wounded him by stabbing him with blades, yes, all true! But none of those things were the worst of it.

“Before he succumbed, she healed him. Then did it all again! Then healed him… again and again and again and again and I ask you, my friends, how long could any of us endure such a thing? Can you even comprehend it, to be held in an un-killable state, so she could kill him continuously for as long as it… (disgusted expression) amused her to keep it going? And I will tell you, Alaznist’s appetite for such… amusements… is not easily satiated.

“Now, perhaps you are hearing this and thinking, ‘Oh, I do not want to be on her bad side!’ and yes, this would be true, but there is an opportunity here for you. You have, I am sure, a strategy in mind for dealing with her? You are of course familiar with what happened some years ago to Runelord Karzoug, yes? Safely ensconced in his Eye of Avarice, until the heroes of the day penetrated his inner sanctum and destroyed him. Probably came as a bit of a surprise to him, that.

“If you are thinking, ‘We just do the same thing again in this case,’ well I have two things I must tell you about that idea. The first thing I will tell you is that if you took all of the Runelords and ranked them in order according to how powerful, how formidable they would be in a violent confrontation, Karzoug would rank in the middle of such a list. I will give you one guess which direction from him would be Alaznist.

“And so, if you did this same thing in her Eye of Fury, your story would have, I think, a more… tragic… ending to it. But this brings me to the second thing I must tell you. Alaznist is no longer at home.

“I see this news concerns you. But there is a mithral lining in this dark cloud. Think about it, my friends. She is out there, somewhere, focused—all of her thoughts—on bringing her plans to fruition. Not, I think, and if we knew the truth, not for many centuries has her mind really bothered to spend any thought to the fate of Thybidos, who as I have told you, has been suffering this unspeakable torment for ten thousand years. No, she is not thinking about him. But I promise you he is thinking about her.

“So. You are already exploring her mountain, yes? This is good! It is her base of operations. It contains her Gauntlet of Fury. It is where she would train and test her recruits, to see who was ‘worthy’. You be worthy. You win the prize—the Abyssal Runestone. He will bow his knee to the power of that stone!

“When you have it, go into her mountain yet again, but this time, go beyond the weeping dragons…”

Here, she makes a slight nod of her head over her shoulder. Following the motion you can see an overgrown cave entrance into the mountain a short distance away.

(This is, naturally, going to require a pause as the players realize they’ve been teleported somewhere without even knowing it was coming. In reality, of course, no such thing has happened since they’re only dreaming all of this, so no spell mechanics or saving throws actually apply but they don’t know that, which just adds to the perception that they’re dealing with someone noteworthy who can so casually throw around magic like this. Again, I’m playing this as the very common occurrence in dreams where you suddenly realize you’re in a new location.)

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Yeah, about that. So you didn’t see any indication from her whatsoever that she cast a spell, or activated an item, or anything. In fact, you’re not 100% certain when you changed location, but here you are now. For her part, she’s not acting like anything that happened there was even noteworthy enough to pause to acknowledge. In fact, she doesn’t miss a beat but keeps talking…

“Beyond the weeping dragons, to the Forlorn Sepulchre. There use the stone! Use all of the diplomatic skills you can muster! And… yes… to tell the truth… a bit of luck as well… and perhaps you can persuade the penultimate Runelord of Wrath onto a course of action that will, in one way or another, prove to be much less… amusing… to the current one.

“But I caution you… he may be but a pale shadow of what he once was, but do not forget what he once was! Do not underestimate what he may yet be capable of doing. But I am confident you will be successful in this matter.

“Now. When you have finished with him, come, seek me out in Korvosa. I will be there waiting for you. We will have, I think, much more to discuss and the luxury of time in which to discuss it, which unfortunately we do not have now, as I said at the start. And so I must leave you now. May you have good fortune until we meet again in Korvosa!”

(If they haven’t previously to this point, someone is bound to point out that they can hardly seek her out without knowing who she is. She seems taken aback by this.)

Quote:

“I… You must forgive me. I cannot remember the last time I spoke with someone who needed to ask me such a question. Not since I was crowned as queen, certainly… not, actually, since the days of my exile. (laughs) Oh, can you imagine? The greatest empire the world had ever known! And they were so afraid of me and my little friends that they cast us out… oh, but this is a tale I do not have time to tell now. But yes, you are correct, it was impolite of me to go on and on without a proper introduction.”

She extends her hand to the one who asked. Accepting their handshake, she says, “Droste, yes, and Remi, Vladimir, Sasha, all of you, so pleased to make all of your acquaintances. I am Sorshen.”

At that, the world goes dark as the dream ends abruptly, the party realizes that they experienced a dream, and are left to ponder the fact that there are multiple runelords in play already, and whether they want to trust Sorshen.


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While reading the adventure it states that in room C4 the carvings eye socket is chipped and that whatever was removed is in Damil Russo's possession in C9 but in reading Damil's stat block in C8(?) I see nothing mentioned in it that could be that mysterious item (nor any mention of it in the write up of C9.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I want to flesh out Maga Szuul in roleplay and party interaction, since he's technically a story connection for both Kaer Maga and the cult of Yamasoth. Anyone done anything with him yet, or seen him in play in this book with their group?


For my group, Maga Szuul was insanely arrogant to the party, came to an agreement with them, then was betrayed and murdered by them. One of the very few times they've done something like that. Didn't find much to hook, but definitely worth a try!

Declano wrote:
Newish GM here... Can anyone here direct me to find stats for Audrahni when she becomes a full cleric of Ashava again? Or is this as simple as adding some spells to her stats from book 1? Also if anyone could provide any extra input/flavour/ideas around the encounter with Ilsynor I would much appreciate it. Like what is the prayer Aud says and how does is sound/look/work? I think it could be a pretty epic moment if played correctly. Thanks in Advance!

Pretty much add spells/domains, though I'd suggest giving her a level-up after the ritual.

HerolabStats:
Audrahni
XP 1,200
Female elf cleric of Ashava 5
CG Medium humanoid (elf)
Init +0; Senses low-light vision; Perception +4
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Defense
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AC 14, touch 10, flat-footed 14 (+4 armor)
hp 36 (5d8+10)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +6; +2 vs. enchantments
Immune sleep
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Offense
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Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 bladed scarf +7 (1d6+4)
Special Attacks channel positive energy 3/day (DC 12, 3d6)
Cleric Spells Prepared (CL 5th; concentration +7)
D Domain spell; Domains Darkness, Repose
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Tactics
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During Combat Audrahni does her best to avoid combat, but if pressed she whips out her bladed scarf and fights defensively as she retreats, disarming enemies when possible to ensure her safety. Despite this caution, she does not abandon those she has befriended, and fights by their side to the death if necessary (although she advises retreat before death becomes an inevitability).
Morale Audrahni flees as best she can after taking any damage or being seriously threatened.
--------------------
Statistics
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Str 14, Dex 10, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 10
Base Atk +3; CMB +5 (+7 disarm); CMD 15 (17 vs. disarm)
Feats Blind-fight, Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm, Weapon Focus (bladed scarf)
Skills Knowledge (arcana) +7, Knowledge (history) +10, Knowledge (religion) +10, Perception +4, Perform (dance) +3, Spellcraft +10 (+12 to identify magic item properties); Racial Modifiers +2 Perception, +2 Spellcraft to identify magic item properties
Languages Celestial, Common, Elven, Varisian
SQ elven magic
Combat Gear wand of cure light wounds (12 charges), holy water (6); Other Gear mithral chain shirt, +1 bladed scarf[ISWG], 23 gp
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Special Abilities
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Blind-Fight Re-roll misses because of concealment, other benefits.
Cleric Channel Positive Energy 3d6 (3/day, DC 12) (Su) Positive energy heals the living and harms the undead; negative has the reverse effect.
Cleric Domain (Darkness) Granted Powers: You manipulate shadows and darkness. In addition, you receive Blind-Fight as a bonus feat.
Cleric Domain (Repose) Granted Powers: You see death not as something to be feared, but as a final rest and reward for a life well spent. The taint of undeath is a mockery of what you hold dear.
Combat Expertise +/-1 Bonus to AC in exchange for an equal penalty to attack.
Elven Immunities - Sleep You are immune to magic sleep effects.
Elven Magic +2 to spellcraft checks to determine the properties of a magic item.
Improved Disarm You don't provoke attacks of opportunity when disarming.
Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in dim light, distinguishing color and detail.

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

The way this book works out, the party is supposed to be 7th level before they get to The Gauntlet of Fury (D). However, depending upon their path, they either go to Forges of Wrath (B) or Dust to Dust (C) but not both, first. Since the recommended level is 7 for The Gauntlet, this presents a problem. There isn't enough XP in either B or C areas to go from 6th to 7th, not even close. My party went to B first and they have an idea how to destroy the portal.

I'm wondering if I should hint a little that maybe destroying the portal now would be a bad idea? I don't think they're ready for D yet and leveling them now would make C just boring mop-up. Of course, if they go to D and deal with it, C is just boring mop-up anyway.

Not sure how to do this...


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

We're starting Return next month, having completed Shattered Star last month. I have a small problem: Xin successfully cast mage's disjunction on the Sihedron in the final battle of Shattered Star, rolled under 20%, the PC failed the saving throw, and the artifact was destroyed.

So, how can the Sihedron that was irrevocably destroyed in the last AP appear in this one? Any ideas?


IIRC it isn't actually necessary to the plot, so you can probably just run Return with minimal changes.

If it turns out to be important and you can't rewrite the AP to work without it, you can mess up the timeline like the Avengers and steal it from an earlier point in time and return it when done.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

It's the catalyst for the Sihedron Council learning that something is up, and sending the Sihedron Heroes off to investigate, so it is kind of crucial to the background of the plot.

There's a whole lot of time travel going on, though, and a timey-wimey bubble explanation will probably work.

Dark Archive

Book 5 definitely assumes the Sihderon exists though you can probably replace it with another significant artifact from Shattered Star like the Timeglass.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
coyote6 wrote:

We're starting Return next month, having completed Shattered Star last month. I have a small problem: Xin successfully cast mage's disjunction on the Sihedron in the final battle of Shattered Star, rolled under 20%, the PC failed the saving throw, and the artifact was destroyed.

So, how can the Sihedron that was irrevocably destroyed in the last AP appear in this one? Any ideas?

There's a nice-to-have moment in the time wounds of Book 6, but it's not required.

Bjørn Røyrvik pointed out the first role the Sihedron plays, but that's replaceable too. We also know the Alar'hai respond to Runelords, and Alaznist's sword Garvok isn't in this book. If you haven't used it elsewhere, just declare the Sihedron council had Garvok in their custody and when it activated, that was the signal to go away and investigate.


coyote6 wrote:
It's the catalyst for the Sihedron Council learning that something is up, and sending the Sihedron Heroes off to investigate, so it is kind of crucial to the background of the plot.

If you weren't explicit that the Sihedron was utterly obliterated, the pieces of it could still resonate with the same event.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

One of my PCs is using the cursed blade, and I noticed that there's no access to remove curse in the adventure anywhere, if the PCs don't have access to it themselves already. Since they just leveled up prior and won't be getting automatic spells learned that way (and no cleric who would just have it) I'm adding a scroll of it in the library.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

My players also noticed that while they were told that Hira, Viralane and Damil left their ship on a folding boat, there is no folding boat on any of them to recover. I pointed out that they heard that 3rd hard as part of rumors among sailors, and they could have easily used something else like a swan boat feather token and the story got distorted.

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