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But the true fate of Korvosa is about to turn not on grand forces but on the actions of a small handful of seemingly ordinary Korvosans. Four such figures are present as the story begins, but more will surely follow. Goldcape, a fur-covered, monkey-like Vanara from the distant jungles of Casmaron came to Korvosa with her husband, only to witness his murder outside of Kendall Amphitheatre. Tharl, a half-orc, was raised in brutally harsh orphanages before discovering the faith of Sarenrae and becoming a holy Paladin. Ralph Blackfeather, the only son of a merchant father whose life work was stolen before dying in a brutal back-alley ambush, seeks justice—or vengeance—for all those wronged by criminals who have evaded the law. And Yraelzin, Priest of the Third Step of Razmir, stranded in Korvosa after he was ousted from his berth on a ship (for annoying the passengers and crew), found his only chance of returning home stolen from him, along with his money, in a cunning betrayal. But behind all these disparate tales of tragedy is one common factor: Gaedren Lamm, a notorious lifelong criminal who has always escaped justice. But, perhaps, that is about to change.
[14 Gozran, 4708 AR]
It starts in the early afternoon of a normal spring day. Scattered across the city, utter strangers to one another, the four fated figures return to their respective homes to find a cryptic message containing an address and a promised opportunity to bring Gaedren Lamm to justice! Goldcape finds the note in her backyard treehouse on Pillar Hill in the city’s Midland district. After a hasty lunch with her friend and benefactor (known locally as “Old Lady Cloggins”) she heads to the address on the note. Tharl does likewise from his tenement flat in the city’s rundown Bridgefront area. After disguising himself as an old man, Ralph Blackfeather departs from his lodgings at the Burnt Honey Inn in North Point. Yraelzin sets off from Leftover’s, an inn in East Shore.
Ralph arrives first and takes up position on a bench across the street to surveil the area. Tharl—clad in heavy armor and wearing a greatsword strapped to his back—sits down on the same bench. Down the street, Goldcape easily scales the wall of a building and stands on the roof to have a look around—much to the delight of some passers-by who laugh and point at the exotic simian. All three hear something of a disturbance from around the corner—Yraelzin has taken the opportunity to preach the glories of Razmir, the Living God, to the almost wholly uninterested citizens of Korvosa! The afternoon passes slowly, as no one comes in or out of the small, single-story house. Locals report that it’s the home and shop for a fortune-teller named Zellara, but that she hasn’t been seen in months. Finally, the sun begins to set and the four figures enter separately.
The interior of the small, humble home consists of a single cozy chamber filled with a fragrant haze of flowers and strong spice. The aroma obviously comes from several sticks of incense smouldering in wall-mounted burners that look like butterfly-winged elves, with the smoke giving the room a dreamy feel. The walls are draped with brocaded tapestries, one showing a black-skulled beast juggling human hearts, and another showing a pair of angels dancing atop a snow-blasted mountain. A third tapestry on the far wall depicts a tall, hooded figure shrouded in mist, holding a flaming sword in a skeletal hand. Several brightly colored rugs cover the floor, but the room’s only furnishings are a wooden table covered by a bright red throw cloth and several elegant, tall-backed chairs. A basket covered by blue cloth sits under the table, while on top of it is a note held down by a stone paperweight. Goldcape glances at the note and pulls out the basket, uncovering it to reveal a fresh loaf of bread and a jug of water.
As the four stand around, waiting for something to happen, they quickly realise they’ve all come in response to an identical note! The mystery of who summoned them begins to lessen when a Varisian woman with long, dark hair and her face covered with a gauzy veil enters the room. She produces a deck of fortune-telling cards from her pocket and begins to idly shuffle them—they seem to float and dance between her fingers, leading Ralph to correctly surmise this is no ordinary seer—but The Harrower, a reclusive figure known for intervening with perfect timing to stop terrible crimes just as they’re about to start.
The woman nods at the four strangers and motions for them to sit at the table before taking a seat herself. “Thank you for coming. I also thank you for putting up with my unconventional method of contacting you. I have reason for our meeting to remain hidden, you see—a vicious man would see great harm done to all of us if he knew I was reaching out for help. This man has done something terrible to each of you as well. I speak, of course, of Gaedren Lamm, a man whose cruelty and capacity to destroy the lives of those he touches are matched only by his gift for avoiding reprisal. This criminal has evaded the law for decades. But you know of these frustrations as well, for word on the street has it that Gaedren has wronged each of you, too. Some of you may know me by reputation as The Harrower. I’ve always tried to help the people of this city through my gifts of foresight. Once, months ago, I tried to apprehend this infamous criminal on my own—a foolish mistake, for which I paid the price. Gaedren fled, and established a new hideout with his gang somewhere in the city. It took me months of searching, but finally my efforts were rewarded—I know now where Gaedren currently dwells. He can be found in an old fishery north of here, at Westpier 17, where he trains abducted children to be pickpockets and counts his stolen treasures. So there we are. It is time for him to pay. But I am now in no condition to fight, and the Guard moves so slowly that Gaedren would certainly know of their coming well in advance and escape yet again. Thus . . . I’ve assembled the four of you in the hopes you could accomplished what I could not, and finally bring this criminal to the justice he so richly deserves.”
After the four agree, the Harrower tells them she’ll look to her cards in the hopes of assisting their risky quest. She proceeds to conduct a Harrow reading—first for each individual, and then for the group’s future as a whole. Ralph draws The Peacock, a card indicating a sudden personal shift. The Harrower looks at him and nods knowingly. Yraelzin draws The Crows, a card indicating the taking of loved ones or items. It seems to fit the victim of theft perfectly—and also offers the opportunity to set things right. Tharl draws the Rabbit Prince, a card that traditionally refers to the capriciousness of combat. The Harrower suggests it means the holy warrior will meet difficulty in the battles to come, but ultimately prevail. Goldcape draws the Demon’s Lantern, a card that indicates a seemingly impossible situation is to come her way. The Harrower looks stricken, but reminds those assembled that the cards only foretell possibilities, not certainties, and fate can be changed. Last, she conducts a more involved reading for the table that looks at the past, present, and future in more general terms. The results seem particularly ominous, as the cards indicate a sudden reversal of things, darkness instead of light, and chaos instead of order. But The Harrower can offer nothing more specific beyond general advice that in times of turmoil, relying on one another may be the only way to survive. With a final significant glance and an invitation to return after the potentially bloody business with Gaedren Lamm is concluded, The Harrower shows the foursome out.
In the darkened street outside, the strangers-turned-allies discuss how to proceed. Ralph Blackfeather suggests he stealthily reconnoitre the place first and then return for the others. But Goldcape’s natural climbing and sneaking ability could also prove an asset, and so the decision is made for both to scout (separately) while Tharl and Yraelzin wait at The Bailer’s Retreat, a disreputable tavern which is just down the street in Midland from the fishery where The Harrower says Gaedren Lamm is holed up. Before everyone sets off, however, Ralph Blackfeather asks everyone to swear an oath of loyalty and secrecy. When they do, he removes his “old man” disguise (which Goldcape had seen through earlier) to reveal his middle-aged self. In addition, he hints at another secret that the others will learn about soon enough.
There’s an eerie stillness in the streets of Korvosa, a portent perhaps of the veritable calm before the storm. As Goldcape looks around the perimeter of the Old Fishery, Ralph Blackfeather dons a mask and girds himself with heavy weaponry in his costumed guise as The Reckoner. He then scales the sides of the building and up to the roof. The Old Fishery is a creaking, dilapidated structure built on the banks of the Jeggare River, with most of the structure extending out over the water on wooden pilings. From the outside, the place looks dark, quiet, and boarded-up tight. The reek of brine and week-dead fish permeates the air as Goldcape decides to swim the calm waters of the Jeggare to see if there’s a way into the building from underneath. She finds a dense array of pilings under part of the structure that are difficult to squeeze between, but she manages to do so and sees an opening above! Seconds later, she emerges into a chilly room. Most of the “floor” is taken up by the open water, but a narrow walkway around the pool contains room to squeeze past a collection of old cabinets, lockboxes, and shelves filled with all manner of detritus—likely the results of petty theft and violent assault. Goldcape can see a large shape in the water some yards away, but her attention is focussed on a man shuffling about the walkway above, deep in thought. The man is jaundiced and bent from old age and he wears a filthy old suit of gray padded armor. Instantly, Goldcape realises who this is: Gaedren Lamm himself!
Goldcape tries to swim away quietly to summon help, but Gaedren hears a splash and turns. Saliva bubbles between his lips in surprise, but then he gathers his wits. “You! The girl-monkey!” he shouts, reaching for a nearby crossbow. “Your friend shoulda left the back door of that theatre open like we asked. He paid the price, dearie, and now you will too!” But in a surprising twist, the notorious criminal doesn’t shoot at Goldcape—instead, he calmly fires at the dark shape in the water, calling out “Gobbleguts, get her!” His first bolt misses, but when the second hits, the dark shape lunges out of the water with a roar from its toothy maw—an alligator! Gaedren wished to provoke the creature to a terrible rage, and it has certainly worked! Goldcape desperately swims away but at first can’t squeeze back out from the narrow pilings. Is it the “impossible situation” foretold in the Harrow? Just as the enraged alligator searches for a target though, Goldcape manages to slip through to the other side—and safety. She hears a terrible scream from behind, and can only surmise that Gobbleguts took his anger out on the only other victim available.
Meanwhile, from his position on the Old Fishery’s rooftop, The Reckoner has heard the shouting and screams from somewhere below. He decides to break a hole in the roof with his warhammer and makes an entry point with just a few powerful blows. Through the jagged hole, he sees the main floor of the fishery. There are large vats of foul-smelling slurry, barrels of finished product, over a dozen small hammocks filled with just-awakened, terrified children, and doors to other parts of the building. Poised for war, however, The Reckoner immediately spots the most immediate threat: a large, one-eyed half-orc holding the very same flail he doubtless uses to punish “disobedient” orphans! The Reckoner drops skilfully through the hole and onto a catwalk, while the criminal known as Giggles gives a roar of surprise and anger and rushes to repel the intruder. The two foes are evenly matched as they duck and trade powerful blows.
But The Reckoner wasn’t the only one who heard the sounds coming from the Old Fishery: waiting outside the nearby tavern, Yraelzin and Tharl realise that the others have started without them! Both rush toward the front door of the building. It’s locked, but Tharl quickly hacks through with his massive greatsword only to start in surprise as a grizzled dog emerges from under a desk, growls, and launches itself at Yraelzin! The bombastic priest screams in a high-pitched voice as the dog takes a chunk out of his arm. “Kill it, kill it!” he shouts. Tharl manages to subdue the dog, and Yraelzin’s hands glow with magic that knits his torn flesh back together. Then, with his ungainly-looking “underwater crossbow”, he joins Tharl in advancing into the building’s front office. But the dog’s barking has alerted another member of Gaedren Lamm’s gang that trouble is afoot. From an inner room, a sneering, sour-faced man with short blond hair and expensive clothing is here. He holds a silver wand casually in one hand and curls his lip when he sees Yraelzin and Tharl. “More grist for the mill, I see,” he says in an aristocratic accent before flicking the wand in their direction—but nothing happens! He tries again and again, to no avail, before throwing it away in frustration. Tharl recognises the man as Yargin Balko, Gaedren’s right-hand man and combination advisor, assassin, and fence—and one of the criminals responsible for making his own childhood so miserable.
Battles ebb and flow all throughout the Old Fishery. Goldcape briefly explores a rotting sailing vessel moored alongside the building, but is forced to retreat from a venomous spider that had taken up residence on board. The Reckoner, trapped in close combat with Gaedren’s chief enforcer, finds himself overpowered and slides into unconscious accompanied by the brute’s girlish giggling. But, of all people, the pompous Yraelzin starts to turn the tide by magically triggering first Yargin’s and then Giggles’ flight reflexes, sending both men fleeing in terror! Soon Goldcape makes her way to the front of the building and joins her teammates inside. Yraelzin gives a brief but annoying sermon on Razmir as he casts healing magic on The Reckoner to bring the man to consciousness. Even after the magically-induced fear wears off, Yargin decides to continue to flee and starts tugging on the nearest door, but Giggles returns to the fight. Tharl and Goldcape are first into the fray, but once The Reckoner gets to his feet, he lives up to his name by delivering a stunningly-powerful smash with his warhammer that kills the bruiser instantly!
Four previous victims of Gaedren Lamm’s depravity have learned that they’re stronger together than they are apart. Yet the fighting is far from over, and The Harrower has predicted chaos and sudden reversals. Will her predictions come true? And if they do, will the four justice-seekers stand together or fall apart?
This campaign started near the end of May in 2020. I happen to live in a part of the world (regional Australia) that has had the good fortune to escape the worst of the pandemic, and we've been able to play a weekly, in-person campaign with only one or two brief interruptions.
This campaign is the second Pathfinder AP I've run. The first, Rise of the Runelords, ended with all the heroes dying in the final battle (see here). To do that ending justice, the Runelord Karzoug is alive and well at the start of Curse of the Crimson Throne and starting to send his giant armies to conquer Varisia. We'll see the ramifications of this throughout the campaign.
When this campaign started, there were three players. My son, 9 at the time, had some experience with Pathfinder and came up in a great character with Goldcape (a vanara hunter with the roof-runner archetype). I had briefly played some other game systems with the guy who ran Tharl (a half-orc paladin), though we'll see that RL medical issues force him out of the campaign in a few sessions. I had never met the guy who runs Ralph Blackfeather/The Reckoner (human vigilante) before this session, but he's been a mainstay of the campaign. I run Yraelzin (human "cleric" of Razmir") as a GMPC (since the AP is designed for four players), and have enjoyed the challenge of giving him a bombastic personality and evolving character arc while simultaneously staying out of the group decision-making process. As I write this commentary on Session # 1, we've just finished Session # 45 and are well into Book 4.
The very first encounter of the campaign was almost the last one for Goldcape! I hadn't (and I imagine the writers didn't either) expected a character to swim right into Gaedren Lamm's lair! Things could have gone very, very badly, but I played everything straight (I never fudge dice rolls) and Goldcape made a narrow escape while Gaedren got some off-screen justice from his own alligator. The Reckoner got knocked out in this session, but pretty soon he'll be a truly fearsome foe with that earthbreaker and come to dominate battles. Yraelzin really did make an impact, as simple cause fear gave the group time to regroup. Having another martial character in Tharl was useful too.
Close readers will note I changed some of the details of Zellara. Since I knew Blackjack would be an important NPC and we'd have a PC named The Reckoner, I thought it would fun and interesting to continue the theme by turning Zellara into The Harrower, a magic-focussed crime-fighter. However, I keep most of the rest of her background (including her present . . . condition).
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[14 Gozran, 4708 AR continued]
The battle at the Old Fishery continues! Yargin Balko tries desperately to flee, but The Reckoner grabs him by the back of the collar and yanks him into the center of the fishery’s main floor. There, the four intruders tie him up and question him about how to reach Gaedren Lamm. At first, Yargin tries a variety of lies, but as each deception is exploded by the group (accompanied with more and more severe threats by The Reckoner and Tharl), the amateur alchemist finally admits the truth: there’s a secret door in the hold of the rotting ship moored outside the fishery. That secret door leads to planking that takes one underneath the pier and into Lamm’s hideout. Yargin is forced to lead the way outside and around the side of the building along a rickety boardwalk to the ancient sailing ship. He points out the door to the cabin but refuses to go in, stating that there are spiders inside. Goldcape verifies the truth of the statement, but that doesn’t save Yargin from danger—Tharl opens the door and throws him in first! The drain spider sinks its venomous fangs into Yargin, providing the perfect opening for The Reckoner to smash it against the wall with a single swing of his warhammer.
But Yargin’s ordeal isn’t over yet! Despite his protests that the hold below is infested by a whole nest of spiders, the intruders push him down the stairs and into harm’s way again! He gets to his feet at the bottom of the stairs and sees four of the spiders quickly crawling towards him on strands of sagging webbing. The Reckoner makes a quick plan with his allies to wait at the top of the stairs to tackle the spiders when they emerge, and Yargin instinctively provides the perfect lure. He dashes back up the stairs and tries to make a break for it, but The Reckoner kills him with a single blow to the back of the head! The drain spiders are quickly dispatched, with the only hiccup being Yraelzin accidentally shooting himself in the foot.
The hold of the ship is dark and dank, with barrels and crates of rotten goods scattered about. Initially the group is apprehensive that without Yargin, they won’t be able to find the secret door he spoke of. But Tharl takes a quick look around and spots it instantly. When the secret door is pushed open, it leads onto a wooden walkway from the sodden ship into a narrow space under the fishery and just above the foamy river water below. The walkway terminates at a small door that’s just two and a half-feet square. Goldcape squeezes through and finds herself in the same hidden area she first reached by swimming underneath the entire structure. The alligator, Gobbleguts, is there, and, with ironic justice, is chewing on the remains of Gaedren Lamm! Goldcape instinctively uses magic to temporarily calm the alligator. The Reckoner, however, is eager to search Lamm’s secret hideout and when he learns that the calming enchantment won’t last very long, he persuades Goldcape that they should try to subdue the alligator. But such a task is easier said than done—despite catching Gobbleguts with a surprise attack, The Reckoner is nearly torn apart by a vicious rejoinder! Fortunately, Goldcape manages to knock the beast unconscious with a blow on its snout. She promises to come back every so often to feed it.
Meanwhile, Tharl and Yraelzin have been watching from the small doorway—with the former finding it too difficult to squeeze inside and the latter not particularly concerned one way or the other. After extracting an apology from the paladin for mocking The Living God, Yraelzin enters the room and magically heals enough of The Reckoner’s wounds that the vigilante is able to regain consciousness (but with a serious risk of the wounds reopening if he undertakes any strenuous activities).
Amidst piles of worthless junk, the foursome discover a footlocker full of riches: jewellery, beautiful statuettes, even a gold ingot that weighs two pounds! But four objects stand out as having particular significance. The first is a dagger with a strange blade shaped like a key that bears the inscription “For an inspiration of a father.” The second is a ledger written in coded Varisian—what secrets was Gaedren Lamm trying to keep? The third is a hatbox containing a blood-soaked veil wrapped around the most incredible harrow deck the group has ever seen: the images on each card are hand-painted, their frames are made from silver so they sparkle and flash, and the images on the faces are so vibrant they almost seem to move. The Reckoner surmises this could be The Harrower’s personal deck. Fourth, and finally, even an untrained eye can discern that the most valuable item in the footlocker is a bejewelled brooch with a broken clasp. The gold brooch depicts a house drake and an imp coiled around each other, with the drake’s eye an amethyst and the imp’s eye an emerald.
Although Gaedren is dead, his legacy of evil hasn’t been completely redressed. When the avengers return to the main floor of the fishery, they find that the orphans there are still terrified. One of them whispers that one of Gaedren’s meanest henchmen is still nearby! The child says that in the next room, “Hookshanks” bunks with several other orphans but often disguises himself as one of them. With The Reckoner unfit for action, Tharl leads the charge, bursting open the door to an upper workroom. Several orphans are indeed present, but the half-orc notices one of the lads has sideburns and is hiding a wicked-looking kukri behind his back. The wretched gnome threatens to feed the children to Gobbleguts unless they attack Tharl, but Tharl’s affiliation with Sarenrae are enough to earn their trust. Hookshanks lands a few cuts on his taller opponent but is knocked unconscious without too much difficulty.
Although every member of Gaedren’s gang of criminals has been dealt with, what should be done with the children of the streets he kidnapped and exploited? Tharl promises them that Korvosa’s temple of Sarenrae will help. The Reckoner gives each of the over two-dozen children a gold coin and a password, hoping to enlist a network of messengers and informants that can pass through the streets unnoticed. One of the older lads, a boy named Kester, seems especially brave and keen to assist. Yraelzin also passes out some coins, but with a very different message: he tells the lads that worship of the Living God will bring them out of poverty and into prosperity! Many of the children giggle when Goldcape is around and ask to pet her fur. Having been freed from Gaedren’s cruel slavery, the children formerly known as “Lamm’s Lambs” gradually disperse into the night to seek better lives elsewhere.
After the children are gone, the four adults limp out into the street, planning to report to The Harrower on their success. But they emerge into a city gone mad. Orange flames flicker from buildings scattered around the city, while the frantic clang of alarm bells mix with the cacophony of angry shouts and some terrified screams. Explosions, surely of arcane origin, light up the sky. A wing of Sable Company hippogriff riders swoop overhead, angling toward Castle Korvosa at a breakneck pace, with one of the mounts raining blood down on the street before crashing headlong into a statue! Amidst the chaos, the voice of a town crier can be heard: “The King is dead! Long live the Queen!”
Finding the blood-soaked veil and the one-of-a-kind Harrow deck should be a major clue to the PCs about the Harrower, but they never really pondered the items' significance after this session.
In this session and the previous one, The Reckoner takes some hard hits and goes unconscious. But this will *not* be the start of a pattern, as pretty soon The Reckoner becomes a juggernaut!
Like a lot of GMs and reviewers, I think the "anarchy in the streets" happens too quickly--after all, the PCs can't have been inside the building for very long. It's very cinematic though!
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[14 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
Although the group is stunned by the city’s sudden slide into chaos, The Reckoner remains concerned that vital evidence may remain within the Old Fishery. But after returning to the scene, a thorough search turns up nothing that sheds further light on Gaedren Lamm’s terrible crimes. Battered and bruised, the foursome make their way cautiously down the street to the nearby house/shop at 3 Lancet Street where they first met The Harrower. But once inside, the place looks completely different! It looks like it has been abandoned for months, with a thick layer of dust on everything and the only signs of life the footsteps they left there just hours previously. Yet a note waits for them on the table where The Harrower performed her divinations:
You have done what I could not, and have brought Gaedren Lamm the justice he so richly deserved. The fates led me true in choosing you. I expect you have found my Harrow deck, and I owe it to you in gratitude. You should each keep the card you chose during my reading. It will allow me to communicate with you. You may use this place as a safehouse, for safety is in short supply in a city that now teeters on the edge of anarchy. We shall meet again when the time is right.
Given the violence and rioting outside, the Harrowed Heroes decide the safest course of action would be to spend the night. Yraelzin, who quickly claimed the only bed in the house, reluctantly agrees to take his turn at a watch throughout the night.
[15 Gozran, 4708 A.R.: Taxfest]
The overnight chaos seems to have subsided when the four strangers-turned-allies venture out in the morning. It looks like both those celebrating the death of the “Stirge King” and those angered at the ascension of the “Harlot Queen” are sleeping off their night’s revelry and rioting, respectively. Still, it’s an inauspicious preface to Taxfest, the yearly holiday usually marked by feasts and festivals organised by the Church of Abadar (God of Order, Civilization, and Commerce) to ease the pain of the 15th of Gozran also being the day for citizens to pay their taxes. A lone Abadarian priest meets with little luck as he makes his way down the street, but almost meets with violence when he tries to levy a small exaction from the four avengers! Tharl reluctantly pays on behalf of the group, and in return they receive a “temporary accommodation license” giving them the legal right to occupy the fortune-telling shop for one year. When asked what’s happening in the city, the tax collector sighs and shakes his head with concern, noting that the Korvosan Guard is sorely pressed and stretched thin trying to maintain order—especially with some of its forces dispatched to secure the city-state’s distant holdings against an expected invasion from the north.
While Yraelzin pontificates at length about various matters, Ralph Blackfeather (The Reckoner’s alter ego) and Goldscape sneak away to nearby Eodred’s Walk to sell many of the treasures they recovered from Lamm’s strongbox. Along the way, Ralph has to draw his rapier to scare away an aggressive street preacher who accosts Goldcape while proclaiming that the city is doomed. A fixture in Midland, Eodred’s Walk consists of fourteen permanent shops forming a semicircle adjacent to the temporary stalls of the Gold Market. On this day, mercenaries hired by the merchants keep a close eye to deter looting. Goldcape introduces Ralph to her friend Jope Chantsmo, proprietor of Trapper’s Hole—the city’s best archery store. Other notable merchants they meet include the (very nervous) owner of Slicing Dicers (a weapons’ store), a wizard who (for a fee) identifies some of the pair’s enchanted items, and the pair of brothers who run Gemshare Jewellers. After appraising various items, the pair of jewellers deliver some shocking news. First, the strange key-shaped blade (bearing the inscription “For an inspiration of a father”) looks just like one reportedly used by the so-called “Key-Lock Killer”—a notorious serial killer who slaughtered dozens of victims between 4690 and 4697 before his spree of violence suddenly (and mysteriously) stopped. Second, the bejewelled brooch with the broken clasp belongs to Queen Ileosa herself! The brothers explain it was brought to them by one of her servants for repair, but their shop was burglarised and the brooch stolen. They reluctantly admit it could be worth upwards of 2,000 golden sails if a buyer could be found, but emphatically urge Goldcape and Ralph to return it to the Queen for a reward (and to avoid suspicion of criminal activity).
Meanwhile, Yraelzin and Tharl are still talking outside when they’re approached by an obviously inebriated man wearing the uniform of a Watch Captain of the Korvosan Guard. His uniform reeks of stale sweat and ale, and he insists that Tharl is his “old friend Neffi from Sandpoint.” Unwilling to take no for an answer, the man identifies himself as Grau Soldado and insists on buying the pair drinks at the nearest tavern—the dive named Bailer’s Retreat. The pair reluctantly agree, and are treated to a disjointed story involving a love triangle gone awry involving Grau, his fencing instructor Vencarlo Orisini, and a fellow pupil named Sabina Merrin. Grau breaks down into tears while recounting the tale, and, deranged from intoxication, tries to lay the blame on “Neffi”—Tharl! Grau gets shakily to his feet in the tavern and draws a beautiful longsword made from the rare metal mithral. He challenges Tharl to a duel, but the half-orc steadfastly remains calm despite repeated provocations and refuses to engage. Eventually, Grau lets himself be led away back to the group’s temporary safehouse to sleep off the effects of several nights’ binge-drinking.
When Ralph Blackfeather and Goldcape return in the early afternoon, information is exchanged about each pair’s eventful morning. The group decide to wait until Grau wakes up—a wait that stretches into the late afternoon. Finally, the guardsman stumbles to his feet—sober, but hungover and dreadfully embarrassed by the way he’s acted. He thanks Tharl profusely for helping him, and promises to return the favour any way he can. Grau is also introduced to Goldcape and (back in masked form) The Reckoner. The group tell him how they stopped Gaedren Lamm and his gang, and Grau expresses his personal approval for getting the criminal off the streets—while formally reminding them that vigilante justice has no place in Korvosa. They ask him about the Key-Lock Killer, and Grau says he doesn’t know that much about it since the murders stopped a decade ago, but that he can look into it. They also reveal that they found a coded ledger, and Grau says if it does end up containing any proof of Gaedren’s crimes, they should bring it to him at Citadel Volshyanek—there’d doubtless be a reward. Before Grau leaves to get cleaned up before going back on duty, Goldcape gives the man her address, and Tharl says he can be found at the Temple of Sarenrae.
With only a couple of hours of daylight remaining, the group decide to take the brooch to Castle Korvosa to return it to the Queen—not only could there be a substantial reward, but Ralph suspects that if it’s not returned soon, the jewellers who identified it may turn them in! But getting to the castle proves harder than expected. The streets around it are clogged with protestors, rioters, and even mobs bent on taking out their frustrations on the city’s aristocratic upper class. Ralph intimidates one such group of laborers armed with shovels and chair-legs from continuing to chase a young, beardless nobleman—thus saving the man’s hide, and perhaps even his life. Overcome with gratitude, the panicked victim—a member of the idle aristocracy named Amin Jalento—gifts the group with jewellery and even invites them into his townhouse for a cup of wine. Amin’s residence in the Cliffside section of the Heights district is very close to the Temple of Sarenrae, so after escorting the nobleman home, the group decide to spend the night in the temple and approach the castle again in the morning—when, hopefully, it’ll be safer. It appears that many have sought refuge within the temple’s white marble walls, and Tharl is pleased to see that some of the orphans he helped to free from Lamm’s clutches have found safety there.
That night, rumors fly throughout the city: King Eodred succumbed to a mystical disease so powerful that even the clerics of the city’s three main faiths couldn’t cure it; King Eodred was murdered in bed by one of his many paramours; the city’s seneschal was killed by a mob in the streets soon after the rioting began; and more. But in the midst of such confusion, a blow is struck for the truth: Goldcape manages to decipher Gaedren Lamm’s ledger, and even a brief perusal shows it contains evidence of dozens—maybe hundreds—of unsolved crimes! And, best of all, proof positive of the reprehensible man’s role in framing Ralph Blackfeather for the murder of his own father!
I liked the idea of turning The Harrower's fortune-telling shop into a central safe-house for the PCs. Every gang needs a hideout!
In this and many subsequent sessions, the shops at Eodred's Walk would be frequented. I'm glad I had the Guide to Korvosa and did some custom prep work to help make it come alive. It was great that the PCs visited the jeweler, as it made it very organic to fit in the important plot development about learning that the brooch was the queen's.
Grau ended up becoming a pretty important NPC in the campaign, but I can't say the same for Amin Jalento. It's always interesting to see how different campaigns can grow in very different ways.
Knowing it is dangerous to be outside at night, Tharl, Goldcape, Yraelzin, and The Reckoner (who soon surreptiously changes to his Ralph Blackfeather identity) seek and receive shelter at the Temple of Sarenrae. The combination hospital/place of worship is crowded with refugees from the violence in the streets. After Tharl is called away on a mission for the church, a junior priestess of the faith, a fast-talking ratfolk named Wiquita, explains to the others that the paladin may be detained for several hours. As they get ready to bunk down among dozens of others on cots and pallets hastily assembled for the purpose, Ralph jots down notes from Gaedren Lamm’s ledger and Goldcape sees if she can use her Harrow card to contact The Harrower—but nothing seems to happen.
[16 Gozran 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, with Tharl still away on duty for the church, the rest of the group discuss whether they should return the brooch to Queen Ileosa. Goldcape suggests returning it anonymously because she believes some of the worst rumours about Korvosa’s new ruler, but Ralph says that would make them look very suspicious if their anonymity is pierced—and, it would mean abandoning any possibility of getting a reward. The three decide to see if they can get advice from Grau Soldado, the Watch Captain they assisted the day prior. It’s a warm, sunny spring day as the three Korvosans head out into the streets and witness the effects of the previous night’s rioting—windows smashed, carts overturned, and impromptu barriers and bonfires set. The streets closest to Castle Korvosa seem the most “normal” (though heavily patrolled), but the situation worsens further away.
Still, the three reach Citadel Volshyanek, headquarters of the Korvosan Guard, without difficulty. Overlooking the Jeggare River, the impressive citadel seems to sport only a skeleton contingent of soldiers, with most dispatched across the city. Unfortunately, Grau Soldado has been assigned to Old Korvosa (one of the worst parts of the city), so the group have to deal with the sergeant on duty. Ralph handles most of the negotiating, turning over Lamm’s ledger and the dagger allegedly belonging to the “Key-Lock Killer” in exchange for a hefty reward and a promise to keep the group informed (through Grau) if there are developments in the resulting investigations.
The Harrowed Heroes decide to take the risk of returning the queen’s brooch personally. But before they can cross back from Midland to the Heights, danger strikes! The seemingly ever-present aerial battles between Korvosa’s population of imp devils (periodically summoned by students of the Acadamae) and house drakes (who have found the Shingles a favourable breeding ground) come too close for comfort. A pack of the imps break off and dive toward the civilians in the streets below, looking to cause mayhem. With poisonous stingers and unnaturally-thick demonic skin, the tiny devils almost overwhelm the group until a pair of house drakes swoop down to assist. Ralph eventually manages to send one of the imps reeling with his heavy warhammer, while Yraelzin’s enchantment magic sends two others fleeing in sudden terror. Still, the Priest of Razmir is left quite sluggish from the imps’ poison, with Ralph and Goldcape suffering similar (though less severe) symptoms.
But far scarier than the small devils literally summoned from Hell itself are the mere humans who only style themselves after Hell’s legions: Hellknights! A rhythmic thumping can be heard as they march down the street in perfect formation, scattering everyone in their path in a show of implacable force. Horns blowing from Castle Korvosa signal that martial law has been imposed on the city, and if Queen Ileosa has called in the Hellknights to enforce it, she means business!
Goldcape wonders if it’s still safe to proceed, but Ralph and Yraelzin reply that the streets have never been safer (as long as they have a good explanation for being outdoors and get indoors before the sunset curfew). And indeed, although the streets are thick with tension, the trio reach Castle Korvosa without further incident. The centrepiece of the city, the castle looms over every other building in sight with its base a cyclopean four-sided sandstone pyramid called the Grand Mastaba and a high-walled citadel built on top of the pyramid to support multiple towers projecting into the sky. Suffice it to say, no one would ever mistake the black-marble of Castle Korvosa for any structure in the city!
Mention of the brooch and a willingness to leave their weapons behind is enough to get the trio through the layers of guards armed with swords and crossbows and into a private meeting with a stern-looking woman dressed in magnificient full-plate armor—the Queen’s personal handmaiden and bodyguard, Sabina Merrin. Sabina appraises the group as sufficiently trustworthy and leads them through the castle to the third floor where, turning a corner ahead of them, she announces their names with a loud, clear voice. Yraelzin, Goldcape, and Ralph Blackfeather find themselves in the castle’s throne room before Queen Ileosa herself! Veiled in black mourning dress and with a silver coffer on her lap, the city’s young but admittedly beautiful queen sits upon the legendary Crimson Throne—the only scrap of furniture in the entire chamber.
After Sabina takes the brooch and hands it over to the queen with a flourish, Queen Ileosa addresses the trio—all three of whom are wise enough to kneel in the presence of royalty. She begins speaking.
“This brooch was stolen from me some time ago—I had not expected to see it again, truth be told. And yet, here on my darkest day, you come before me with kindness. The return of this brooch is much more than an honourable deed. It is inspiration. It is hope.”
“I love Korvosa, as my husband did before me. His death has shocked the city as it has me, but I will not see his legacy destroyed in death, and I shall not see my city torn apart. All Korvosa stands at the precipice of a disaster wrought by her citizens—these riots cannot continue. You have already done my heart a great service in returning this precious heirloom to me on this dark day, and you shall be rewarded. Yet perhaps you can serve your city more.”
“The Korvosan Guard is stretched thin, and it could certainly use the aid of heroes such as you. If you so choose, I shall have Sabina see to it that you have an escort of guards when you leave here—they can see to your safe journey to Citadel Volshyenek. I shall send word ahead of you to Field Marshal Cressida Kroft to let her know you are on the way. Now, I need to retire to my chambers—my grief has drained me. Again, I thank you for the kindness you have shown me, and I hope your days of serving the crown are only just beginning.”
With a swish of her gowns, the Queen rises and retires. Her handmaiden remains behind and hands the group the coffer, and promises an escort to Citadel Volshyenek if the trio would like to accept Her Majesty’s offer. The three are understandably surprised by the opportunity to formally assist the Korvosan Guard in maintaining order in the city, and plead for time to think it over. Ralph asks if the offer extends to Tharl, Paladin of Sarenrae, who assisted in retrieving the brooch. Sabina nods, and says the offer will remain open and Field Marshal Kroft will be notified it is pending.
When they make it outside the nerve-wracking castle, the trio stop on the street to discuss what they’ve just gone through. Goldcape says the queen is acting suspiciously because she didn’t sound particularly pleased to get her brooch back, and seemed to be in quite a hurry to depart. But Ralph replies that Ileosa’s husband did just die, and queens have many royal duties to attend to. Yraelzin adds that those who rule are obviously divinely-mandated to do so, and that thus their authority should remain unquestioned.
The early-afternoon streets are quiet when the trio return to the Temple of Sarenrae, hoping to find Tharl and fill him in on the day’s events and discuss whether or not to accept the queen’s offer. A peek inside the coffer testifies, if nothing else, to her wealth: it’s filled with twelve gold bars stamped with the Royal Seal of Korvosa!
The player who ran Tharl didn't come to this session, and, as it turned out, never came again. From the e-mails I got before each subsequent session, we all expected him to come back, but slowly it became obvious that it just wasn't going to happen. That ended up meaning that for a long stretch of the campaign (until the middle of Chapter Three), there'd be just two players, something that had me very worried as I've never gamed with so few. It caused me a lot of stress early on that the campaign was going to fall apart. But the players who ran The Reckoner and Goldcape were just so enthusiastic about the game that it filled me with confidence and after a while I just embraced having a small group.
Those imps were pretty tough! Stuff like DR or fast healing can be a real problem for low-level parties.
The Hellknights were fun to role-play and proved pretty intimidating to the PCs for a long time.
I'm not 100% happy with how I did the encounter with the Queen. I ran it exactly as it was scripted in the AP, and that meant it was . . . scripted! The PCs don't get to really interact with her at all, and it might have been a lost opportunity.
[16 Gozran 4708 A.R., continued]
At the Temple of Sarenrae, where they’ve holed up during the riots, Goldcape, Yraelzin, and Ralph Blackfeather are approached by the fast-talking ratfolk priestess Wiquita. She explains that Tharl has been busy placing the children rescued from Gaedren Lamm’s hideout into orphanages across the city. Wiquita says the process could be speeded up if Tharl’s friends could do a quick inspection of a private orphanage named Dottie Donovan’s Home for Wayward Youth. Wiquita even promises a free magical potion or oil from the temple’s stores in exchange for the help. The trio agree, and promise to conduct the inspection the next day. They hope that if Tharl is quickly released from his current duties, they can discuss with him whether or not the group should accept the recent invitation to do some work assisting the thinly-spread Korvosan Guard.
While Yraelzin and Ralph rest and recover from the nagging effects of injuries suffered in the battle against the imps, Goldcape decides to spend some of the newfound wealth she’s gained from the city for turning in Lamm’s ledger of criminal activity and for returning the Queen’s brooch. The vanara makes her way to Eodred’s Walk and into the cluttered shop named Hedge Wizardry. There, she purchases a magical sack that doesn’t get heavier despite more and more stuff being placed into it! However, the shop’s proprietor, Phaeton Skoda, warns Goldcape that the bag is fragile and easily destroyed--along with everything in it--if pierced or overloaded.
On her way back to the temple, Goldcape takes a side street and comes across looters ransacking an alchemist’s shop. One of the hapless looters tips over a wooden barrel, accidentally freeing a strange, shimmering spider about the size of a human child! The arachnid promptly shoots webs to halt two of the fleeing looters before Goldcape and her roc companion, Rocky, swoop in and manage to defeat it. The remainder of their walk back is uneventful, and the Harrowed Heroes spend the night safely in the temple.
[17 Gozran 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, Yraelzin announces plans to spend the day doing some shopping of his own. Goldcape and Ralph decide to conduct the orphanage inspection. They journey along the vast, haphazard network of planking, shanties, lean-tos, and other structures that connect rooftops throughout much of the city. However, the Shingles contain an assortment of nasty surprises for travellers avoiding the streets below, and today Goldcape and Ralph learn this fact first-hand when they innocently wander into the territory of a small pack of starving, feral dogs! Goldcape throws some food to distract them, but Ralph says it’s too dangerous to just leave them there—they could attack anyone who comes through. He sends an arrow streaking through the air and drops one of the mangy hounds, but one of the dogs pounces on Goldcape and knocks her to the ground! After sending another of the dogs fleeing with an arrow in its back, Ralph switches to his warhammer and, with a mighty swing, sends Goldcape’s assailant hurling down to the streets below. After the battle, several locals emerge to thank the pair for driving off the dogs. Although Goldcape almost causes a riot of her own by freely handing out money, the two do learn something of interest—the dockworkers along the river have begun a series of wildcat strikes, and expectations are that food supplies will soon run thin in the city.
Old Korvosa, where the orphanage is located, is known as the worst district in the city. A slum of festering poverty and crime, Old Korvosa is the funhouse-mirror version of the wealthy Heights. But “Dottie Donovan’s Home for Wayward Youths” seems to break expectation: it looks like a fine, two-story home in good condition—especially considering the number and age of its inhabitants. Goldcape and Ralph chat with some boys playing marbles out front, but although something about the children’s answers to their questions seems off, neither can pinpoint what it is exactly. Dottie Donovan herself seems nice and genteel at first, and invites the pair in for tea—with a splash of whisky! After conversing with the woman and conducting a (supervised) search of the premises, both amateur inspectors are left with the feeling that something is going on in the orphanage but without any tangible proof. The two decide to make it seem like they’ve departed the area, but in fact they return in secret! Ralph disguises himself and talks more to the children, eventually learning that the headmistress sometimes hires the olden children out daily or weekly as servants or maids to wealthier houses in the city, and pockets most of their earnings when they return. It’s not unequivocal proof of wrong-doing, but it is enough for the pair to take back to Wiquita. They arrive at the temple just before sunset (and the city’s new curfew). The priestess promises that a full inspection will be conducted before any more children are sent there.
Goldcape decides to brave the curfew and complete another errand, but she underestimates the dedication and skill of the Hellknights in enforcing martial law across the city! She’s promptly caught past curfew without a valid excuse and, despite her protestations, is taken to Citadel Volshyanek and detained (along with dozens of others) overnight.
[18 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
After paying a twenty gold sail fine, Goldcape is released from detention. The guard manning the gate, a Sergeant Clenkins, seems apologetic for the rough treatment of those caught out after curfew, and it is clear there’s no love lost between the Korvosan Guard and the Hellknights. But fate has an ironic twist in mind for Goldcape—when she walks back to Old Lady Cloggins’ house (where she has her backyard treehouse), she finds the residence has been commandeered by Hellknights who are billeting there! Old Lady Cloggins takes it all in with calm fortitude, but it’s surely an imposition. She and Goldcape have a conversation about the mystery of why the king hasn’t simply been brought back to the dead through magical means.
Later in the morning, Goldcape, Ralph, and Yraelzin reunite at the Temple to Sarenrae, where they’ve started to receive polite hints that even friends of Tharl shouldn’t think of it as a flophouse. The trio discuss whether to accept the Queen’s invitation to undertake missions on behalf of the Korvosan Guard. Goldcape still maintains that the Queen is acting suspiciously, but Ralph persuades her that if there is something nefarious afoot, they’ll have a better chance of discovering what it is from the inside. And, by operating under the auspices of the Korvosan Guard, they won’t have to worry so much about the Hellknights. The trio leave a message for Tharl about their plans and then set off.
At Citadel Volshyanek, Sergeant Clenkins is surprised to see Goldcape back so soon, but waves the group through when they explain their business. In the central keep, the group are shown to the office of Field Marshal Cressida Kroft, commander of the Korvosan Guard. The harried and exhausted-looking woman greets the newcomers and waves for them to take seats.
“You must be the ones sent by Queen Ileosa. My name is Cressida, and street-smart residents of your calibre are exactly what Korvosa needs now. You’ve been amidst the rioting and looting. You know better than me how bad things are out there. It’s breaking my heart to see Korvosa tear itself apart like this. Every little bit of aid we can get from upstanding citizens like you helps. If you’re willing, I’d very much like to retain your services as agents of the Guard. You will, of course, be well compensated for these services.”
When the trio seem interested, she continues with a more specific assignment. “Korvosa’s got enough troubles as it is without my own guards losing their way. Many have deserted their posts, more concerned about friends and family than the city. I can understand this, yet not all of the deserters have family—some of them are simply using the riots as an excuse for personal gain. One such man is Verik Vancaskerkin. Worse than a lone deserter, he’s convinced a small group of fellow guards that Queen Ileosa is going to ruin the city. Whether she does or doesn’t isn’t the point—right now, we’ve got a city-wide crisis on our hands, and I need all of my guards working with me to see us through.”
“A deserter is worse than a lost resource—it’s an infection,” she says emphatically. “I can’t afford to pull any of my other patrols off duty to deal with Vancaskerkin, and I’d rather not expose any of them to him anyway, since I don’t want Vancaskerkin to infect more guards with his talk of secession, nor do I want some overly patriotic guard killing him outright. I need impartial, skilled talent. Talent like you.”
“Vancaskerkin and his followers have holed up in an abandoned butcher’s shop up in Northgate—a place once called ‘All the World’s Meat.’ I need you there. Try to avoid killing any of the deserters if you can, but if you must, they brought it upon themselves when they threw in their lot with Vancaskerkin. I’d really prefer it if you could capture him alive and return him to me for interrogation, but if he makes that impossible, I’ll accept his body as well. Finally, see if you can find out why Verik deserted—if there’s more to it than simple personal politics, I need to know immediately. Bring me Verik alive, and there’s five hundred gold in it for you. Dead, he’s worth only half that.”
Kroft adds that she understands they’ve assisted Watch Captain Grau Soldado recently, and that she’s willing to re-assign him to the operation to ensure it’s a success. She also offers bunks in the Citadel’s barracks if they need somewhere safe to sleep during the operation. The trio accept the mission, on one condition: that Kroft give them a signed writ explaining that they’re acting on behalf of the Korvosan Guard. She readily agrees, but notes that it’s only going to insulate them from the Hellknights if they’re acting in the course of official duties. And even then, some patrols may still make trouble.
Grau Soldado accompanies the group as they leave the fortress, and he looks much improved since they first met him just a couple of days previously. He thanks them again for their aid, asks about Tharl, and says he’s heard about Verik Vancaskerkin—apparently, he rose through the ranks quickly despite an average service record, which may indicate a powerful patron assisted him. Goldcape confirms that she heard a similar rumor to that effect.
Ralph comes up with a plan to scout the butcher shop which, being located at 22 Stirge Street in North Point, is just two blocks from where he resides! He asks Goldcape, Yraelzin, and Grau (wearing civilian clothes) to wait for him nearby at the Burnt Honey Inn. He then approaches the shop on his own and sees it’s a fair-sized building with a fenced-in cattle yard and a storefront window display facing the street. Several customers are lined-up, and although it’s clear that in the early afternoon the day’s offering of free meat is almost over, Ralph joins the line to get a look inside. He sees that the front room has a pair of armed men—one handing out food, one watching and guarding a door that leads into the back. One of the men is tall with bushy eyebrows, while his portly companion wears ill-fitted armor. Both are doubtless members of what Ralph has heard referred to as the “Cow Hammer Boys.” Returning to the Burnt Honey Inn, Ralph tells the others what he saw. Grau says he’s heard the Cow Hammer Boys have taken to offering themselves as mercenaries, and that if they’re deserters from the Guard, they should be considered armed and dangerous.
With no easy points of access visible on the ground-level of the butcher shop, the group decide to wait for nightfall so that Goldcape can put her natural climbing talents to good use and check out the small second-floor of the building for a way in. Peering through windows on the upper level, Goldcape sees a couple of chambers that look like a break room and an office. In the office, sitting behind a desk strewn with papers pinned to the tabletop by an exquisite silver dagger, is a handsome man still wearing the livery and armor of the Korvosan Guard: Verik Vancaskerkin himself! Goldcape makes a stealthy escape and reports back to her friends. They formulate a plan that involves Yraelzin casting protective magics, Goldcape adding archery support from a rooftop across the street, and Grau and the Reckoner bursting through the window.
As everyone gets into position, only one thing is certain: Verik Vancaskerkin is in for a surprise this night!
The little side quest involving the orphanage was swiped from a Pathfinder Society Introductory Scenario: First Steps, Part 1: In Service to Lore. I think I added it in because it seemed like a natural fit for the PCs after allying themselves with the Temple of Sarenrae and rescuing so many orphans at the Old Fishery.
The PCs haven't really spent much time on the Shingles since the campaign started, and it was a bit tricky to try to describe/visualise.
I'm a stickler for random encounter tables, but I do the best I can to make them fit in organically and, sometimes, lead to additional information about the setting or plot.
I created "Sergeant Clenkins" just because the PCs kept visiting Citadel Volshyanek and thought it would lead to better role-playing if I had a consistent gate-guard instead of unnamed NPCs.
I gave them the option of taking Grau along on the mission (earning a share of the XP) because Tharl was absent again and I wasn't sure if just Reckoner, Yraelzin, and Goldcape/Rocky were up to the task. Nowadays, I have no doubts about their combat capability!
[18 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
The operation to arrest deserter Verik Vancaskerkin is underway! The Reckoner carefully opens the window to what looks like a break room and moves stealthily toward where Verik sits in the adjoining office. At the pre-arranged signal, Goldcape fires an arrow from across the street, hoping to pin him down, but the shot goes awry and thunks harmlessly into the window sill. Still, Verik hears the sound, and the battle begins! He jumps to his feet, grabs a spear leaning against the desk, and is ready to exchange blows when The Reckoner rushes in to confront him. Grau Soldado crashes through another window, but as Verik shouts for help and footsteps can be heard running below, the Korvosan Guard Watch-Captain decides to guard the top of the stairs.
The fighting is furious. The Reckoner manages to land a couple of blows with his warhammer, but Verik’s training in the Guard makes him a formidable foe. All it takes is one mistake, and The Reckoner is battered to the ground, unconscious! Arrows fired by Goldcape and Yraelzin through the window rarely manage to hit, but fortunately Goldcape has brought his erstwhile friend, Rocky! The young roc crashes through the window to score several deep gashes on Verik’s face and arms. Verik tries to stab the roc with his spear, but the weapon goes flying, forcing the desperate deserter to grab the silver dagger stuck into the top of the nearby desk. It’s a bloody battle of man versus bird, and it’s unclear which will emerge triumphant!
Meanwhile, Grau is forced to dispatch one foe after another as the violent deserters-turned-mercenaries known as the Cow Hammer Boys rush up the stairs in single file. Grau’s training under master swordsman Vencarlo Orisini pays off, as he manages to hold his own until three of the foes have fallen and the fourth, a sadistic murderer named Parns, turns and tries to flee. Grau gives chase as the man races down the stairs and towards the front shop area of the slaughterhouse. But then, the battle takes an unforeseeable turn! Waiting just outside the front window is an old Shoanti man who, with a mere glance, sends Parns fleeing right back into Grau’s arms, utterly terrified!
Back upstairs, Verik is badly wounded and has realised the fight is unwinnable: not only is he cornered, dodging multiple archers, fending off an implacable bird, but his reinforcements have been defeated as well. Verik sighs and drops the dagger, surrendering. Grau marches Parns upstairs and secures the surviving Cow Hammer Boys and Verik. When Goldcape comes into the room, he tells her about the strange Shoanti. After using some primal magics learned in the jungles of Casmaron to bring The Reckoner back to consciousness, Goldcape makes a quick search of the rest of the building. She makes a sickening discovery—at least some of the meat in the slaughterhouse is from humanoid, not animal, origin! When Grau confronts Verik, he proclaims his innocence, saying he knew nothing about how the meat was obtained. He says he just thought feeding people during the riots was a good idea when his girlfriend, Meliya Arkona (a member of the influential aristocratic House Arkona), suggested it. Grau, however, doesn’t buy the story, and dismisses out of hand Verik’s claim to be secretly dating an Arkona.
Goldcape heads outside and speaks to the Shoanti man, learning that his name is Takota Lies-Dreaming and that he is a shaman of the Shriikirri-Quah—the Clan of the Hawk. Takota explains that he received a mysterious message on the back of a Harrow card indicating that Parns could be found here. When Parns was a member of the Korvosan Guard, he used his station to corruptly protect Gaedren Lamm’s criminal enterprises. Because Takota’s daughter, Shonsana, died from a Shiver addiction fuelled by Lamm and her missing boyfriend Varujan, Takota wishes to ask Parns if he knows Varujan’s current location. After first channelling spiritual healing to further help The Reckoner, Takota places hand on Parns’ brow. In the course of just seconds, Parns mind is almost overloaded with images of Shonsana, Varujan, and the pain that the man’s actions have caused others. Parns breaks down, and sobs that the last he heard, Varujan was still visiting a place called Eel’s End for his nightly Shiver fix.
Grau thanks the other members of the assault team for the quality work, and says that Field Marshall Croft will be pleased that Verik was captured alive. He arranges for other members of the Korvosan Guard to help him escort the prisoners back to Citadel Volsyhanek. Takota is about to head off into the night to return to his tents in Skaldwood (a small forest just south of the city where many Shoanti clans have campsites), but he’s persuaded that travelling through the city at night during martial law is a good way to get in trouble with the Hellknights—especially because they’re known to hate “savages” like the Shoanti. Instead, the group walk to the nearby Burnt Honey Inn. The Reckoner slips away to resume his civilian identity as Ralph Blackfeather, while Yraelzin, who had been waiting on the rooftop across the street from the slaughterhouse, arrives quite miffed at having been forgotten sometime later.
[19 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
Incredibly strong winds from the harbor, channelled through the city’s narrow streets, make walking a chore for the residents of Korvosa. With most of the shops closed on a Sunday, and martial law casting a pall over the city, it seems like a good idea to mostly stay inside. Ralph spends some time subtly spreading rumors about The Reckoner to enhance his alter ego’s fearsomeness with the criminal element, while Goldcape watches some patrons gamble in a dice game called Twentybone and Yraelzin shares the “glories” of Razmir with an unimpressed Takota. During the long day, Goldcape hears an interesting rumor that King Eodred was murdered by the castle seneschal, Neolandus, with the asserted “proof” being that Neolandus allegedly fled the city after the king’s death. Although Ralph presses the man for any evidence, it seems like there’s not necessarily anything more to it than idle speculation.
After hearing enough from Yraelzin, Takota decides to endure the howling winds and return to his campsite in Skaldwood. His well-staked tents remain intact. It’s not long before he is visited by a brave of the enigmatic Skoan-Quah (Skull Clan). The young man, Ghaeken, explains that he has come seeking advice from another shaman in his father’s absence. Ghaeken explains that he has fallen in love with a Chelish woman in the city, but is torn about whether to pursue it given their respective cultures. Takota advises the heartsick youth to be cautious, trusting both his heart and his head.
[20 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
In the morning, Takota returns to the Burnt Honey Inn to find the others enjoying the city’s best porridge. Ralph asks Takota about whether he could arrange for him to obtain an earthbreaker, a well-known Shoanti weapon that consists of a large maul with blunt spikes. Takota expresses pessimism, stating that a test of worthiness would be required first. As the conversation continues, everyone feels tremendous heat emanating from the pocket or container where they’ve stowed the Harrow card chosen for them by The Harrower: the cards are warm to the touch, and scrawled on the blank side of each is the same message: “The time has come, return to where it all began.”
I had completely forgotten The Reckoner got dropped by Verik. Nowadays (toward end of Chapter Four), The Reckoner is such a combat beast, it's hard to remember that took some time to develop.
Folks familiar with Curse of the Crimson Throne will know that the "silver dagger" on Verik's desk is actually a raktavarna rakhasa spy reporting to Meliya Arkona. I was really curious to see how it would play out; they detected magic on the "dagger" but couldn't identify it, and so just assumed it was a +1 dagger. Goldcape held onto it (without using it) all the way until the big reveal at the end of Chapter Three! Speaking of Meliya Arkona, this is the first mention of House Arkona until the campaign. (and we also get the first mention of Neolandus through a rumor). I'm really impressed how the story integrates so many NPCs so well.
A new player joined the campaign in this scenario, running a Shoanti shaman. He only stuck with the campaign for a few sessions, but came at a good time because it allowed me to naturally introduce the NPC Ghaeken who (as a corpse) becomes very important very soon.
[20 Gozran, 4708 A.R., continued]
As everyone’s heading out the door to respond to The Harrower’s request for a meeting, Ralph receives another message: one of the street urchins in his intelligence network has come up with an important lead. He excuses himself to go investigate while the others proceed. As they get closer to the riverside docks, Yraelzin, Goldcape, and Takota can see that hundreds of people have filled the street, protesting against what they view as the illegitimate ascension of Queen Ileosa to power. On-going labor strikes by dockworkers add to the atmosphere of impending violence, leading Goldcape to suggest the group travel via rooftop as much as possible. Soon, the ominous marching of a Hellknight legion coming to break up the now-illegal assembly can be heard. But the real danger comes not from the Hellknights or the angry protesters—instead, it comes from below! The ground starts to rumble, and a moment later the city street cracks apart and long fissures run across the bricks. The road bursts upward, casting chunks of rock into the air and raining bricks on the surrounding area. The stench of sewer filth and garbage belches forth, heralding the approach of a freakish sewer beast!
Tentacles lash out wildly, stunning many of the protestors, as the hungry beast looks at the moving feast before it. But from a nearby rooftop, Takota conjures a roiling ball of fire and hurls it at the beast, distracting it! The Shoanti shaman isn’t prepared for the sewer beast’s response, which is to slither a tentacle up the side of the building and yank the man down by the ankles! Yraelzin and Goldcape launch arrows and crossbow bolts that gradually weaken the monster, but the situation looks dire when it seems they’ve only driven it to drag the unconscious and nearly dead Takota toward the hole it emerged from. Fortunately, Rocky blocks the path and the aberration finally releases Takota before fleeing into a maze of alleys. With the sound of marching coming closer and closer, the Harrowed Heroes get Takota to his feet and hurry towards the safehouse.
Inside, the fortune-telling shop, lit by candlelight, looks comfortable and well-maintained. The veiled woman known only as The Harrower sits on the far side of a round table, shuffling a deck of cards. When Yraelzin, Goldcape, and Takota take seats, The Harrower begins by congratulating them on finally bringing Gaedren Lamm the justice he had long evaded. She goes on to say that with the recent turmoil, the city could very well teeter into anarchy—but that the cards foretell a chance to avert that fate, if heroes arise. She says that only if those assembled around the table are truly unified will they have a chance to stem the tide of darkness that is coming, but that secrets breed mistrust. She invites the trio to forge a stronger bond by trusting each other with something they’ve been keeping hidden.
Perhaps surprisingly, Yraelzin is the first to respond. For the first time ever in their company, he removes his mask! Revealed to be a blond-haired, nervous-looking man in his early twenties, Yraelzin goes on to say that he needs help. For the past week, he’s had the feeling of being watched . . . hunted! A few days ago, he says a brick fell from a building ledge and almost crushed him, and other “accidental” near misses have occurred as well. For her part, Goldcape shares that vanara normally have more fingers on each hand—but that Gaedren Lamm once cut some of hers off! When his turn comes, Takota explains that he was born a boy named Mato who wished to be a warrior, not a shaman. The Harrower then spreads her deck of cards and looks at them carefully before revealing their cryptic import. She says that the evil legacy of Gaedren Lamm is not finished—that “the son is worse than the father”; that soon the Hellknights will depart, but in their place will come a much worse threat—the “women in grey”; and that when she next meets them, there will be but “seven days to the grave”.
As she finishes, there’s a loud knock on the door. The candles flicker for a moment, plunging the room into momentarily darkness, only to then reveal that The Harrower has disappeared—and that the fortune-shop looks like it has been abandoned for months. Goldcape answers the door to reveal a fashionably-dressed young woman. She introduces herself as Zeeva Foxglove, and shows them a Harrow card with the address of the fortune-telling shop and a promise that her troubles will be solved scrawled on the back. She explains that she’s the owner of the Green Market, a large space in South Shore where vendors from in and around Korvosa set up stalls to sell fresh produce, jewellery, crafts, and more. Two days ago, she explains, the Hellknights violently enforced the dusk curfew in the Green Market and, since then, inexplicable phenomena has been taking place! Objects seem to move on their own accord, tables upend themselves, wagons roll without being pulled by horses, and howling winds almost sweep people off their feet. She says she’s had to close the place until the problem could be dealt with, and that’s when she found the Harrow card. She offers a small reward for help, and the listeners agree to assist if they can.
After Zeeva Foxglove has left, the trio make a plan to research the Green Market to see if they can find any clues about what might be causing the problems. Takota talks to some residents of the area, and although some are unwilling to talk to an “uncivilised barbarian,” he does meet one recent customer who claimed to hear a voice carried on the swirling winds inside. Goldcape and Yraelzin decide to do some historical research and head toward the Jeggare Museum, one of the city’s oldest private institutions of history and culture. The curator, Mercival Jeggare, is happy to point Yraelzin in the direction of some relevant records but the priest runs out of time before the museum closes to examine them fully. Goldcape hires a private scholar to look into The Harrower’s mysterious reference to “the women in grey”, but, unfortunately, the researcher doesn’t turn up anything useful.
[21 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
Dark clouds threaten rain as Yraelzin finishes his research in the museum’s archives. He learns that the Green Market was built just under three decades ago in the city’s newest area of expansion. But, almost three centuries ago, before Korvosa was founded, the land was the domain of the Sklar-Quah—the Sun Clan of the Shoanti peoples. A respected shaman named Galdron Greenheart embraced the way of peace and dedicated a shrine to his people nearby before he was persecuted and murdered by the Chelish colonists who soon came to occupy the land. When Yraelzin shares this information with the others, Takota surmises that the recent violence in Green Market has awakened Galdron Greenheart’s long-dormant spirit!
[22 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, on the way to Green Market, Goldcape decides to stop in and check with Old Lady Cloggins, her land-lady. Old Lady Cloggins is not best pleased that a small number of Hellknights are still billeting in her house, but admits that, if nothing else, they are a tidy bunch! Goldcape hears a scream from outside and rushes to see that Yraelzin, has been impaled by a crossbow bolt! No assailant is visible. With magical healing, the bolt is removed, though he still seems weak and suspects it may have been poisoned. Perhaps his tale of being hunted is true after all! Goldcape insists on reporting the attack to the Korvosan Guard, and they say that when time allows, they’ll look into it—but that they have more pressing matters at the moment.
When the trio arrive outside Green Market, Takota explains to Zeeva Foxglove his theory of what’s causing the disturbance. As he’s trying unsuccessfully to get the nearby Hellknights to depart, Goldcape decides to take a look around inside. She’s almost crushed by a wagon wheel that somehow breaks off an axle and comes rolling towards her! Takota enters and can hear a Shoanti voice carried on the wind, warning against war being brought to this sacred land. With his spiritual magic, Takota confirms that the Green Market is haunted by the awakened spirit of Galdron Greenheart, and is able to formulate a ritual that could put the spirit to rest. He walks south to nearby Skaldwood and speaks with Telmayne Fire-Eyes, a young shaman, and she helps him collect seven broken klar blades. Takota returns to Green Market, finds the specific site where Galdron Greenheart was buried, and, although battered by the winds and hurled objects, ritually places the broken blades on the ground in a symbol of tribal unity and peace. With a whisper in the wind, Takota knows he has been successful and that Galdron Greenheart will rest once more.
The player running The Reckoner wasn't able to attend this session, the only one he's missed in the campaign to date.
The sewer beast encounter comes right from the AP, and I pretty happy with how it turned out--very exciting!
I worked in some background flavour about protests and how trade unions are illegal in Korvosa, something mentioned in the Guide to Korvosa. I never really developed the idea further, but if there wasn't so much else going on, I might have.
The Harrower encounter was good for role-playing (opportunities to get PCs to talk about their backgrounds are valuable) and also for foreshadowing Chapter 2 with nods to the Gray Maidens, Rolth Lamm, and more.
The side-quest in the Green Markets was derived (with some alterations) from Pathfinder Society Scenario # 4-06: "Green Markets." Especially with a Shoanti PC and knowledge that Shoanti would be a big part of Chapter 4, I just couldn't pass up the chance. I thought it went really well and helped introduce the PCs to a different part of the city.
[22 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
Yraelzin, Goldcape, Takota, and Ralph reunite in the abandoned fortune-telling shop that serves as a combination meeting place and safe house. The others explain to Ralph about what happened when they met the Harrower again, and how they helped lay to rest a haunting of the Green Market. Goldcape shares a plan to capture Yraelzin’s stalker, and the others agree. But first, they decide to walk to nearby Citadel Volshyanek to collect their promised reward for capturing Verik Vancaskerkin and the other deserters. But as they walk near the docks, a trio of cutpurses emerge to bar their path. “Pay the toll or get the knife!” one of them growls. But the Harrowed Heroes have faced worse threats, and a short but brutal battle begins. Ralph gets hit by a vial of acid before crushing one of the cutpurses with his new battle-maul, while Goldcape sends a screeching Rocky to handle a second foe. One cutpurse, circling around to the rear, threatens Takota before realising there’s no profit to be had here. He turns and flees through a series of narrow alleyways, but his would-be victims give chase and soon capture him.
At Citadel Volshyanek, the gate watchman, Sergeant Clenkins, happily takes the cutpurses to the building’s cellblock. But when he leads the group to Field Marshall Cressida Kroft’s office, they see she’s not alone. A handsome man sits in one of the chairs at her desk, and as the others enter, he rises and bows. Kroft introduces the charming man as an old friend named Vencarlo Orisini, and explains that he’s been a useful advisor about the temperament and morale of the citizens of Korvosa in these dark times. Vencarlo has heard of some of the group’s exploits to date, and praises their results. Kroft also thanks the group for their excellent handling of the Vancaskerkin situation, and provides the promised reward, before bringing up a delicate task she has in store for them if they’re willing to keep assisting the Korvosan Guard in an unofficial manner.
Kroft explains that the city’s ambassador from Cheliax (a powerful empire from which the original settlers of Korvosa came) risks becoming a serious problem. According to Vencarlo’s sources, the ambassador, Darvayne Gios Amprei, plans to use the recent unrest in the city as an excuse to recommend Cheliax impose sanctions or even a full trade embargo. But the ambassador’s motivations are selfish ones, as he plans to then buy up large portions of the city from desperate landowners before profiting once he arranges for the trade war to end! But Vencarlo has also learned that Ambassador Amprei has been making monthly visits to a place in Old Korvosa called Eel’s End—a notorious den of vice run by a dangerous man named Devargo Barvasi—the “King of Spiders.” Kroft says that if they can find out what the ambassador is doing in Eel’s End, it might provide just the leverage they need to “persuade” him not to recommend sanctions after all. But as Barvasi is not likely to be forthcoming with uniformed members of the Korvosan Guard, a group of private citizens who can handle themselves in a tough spot might just do the trick. Kroft places a hundred platinum pieces on the table and says the group can keep whatever’s left over after bribing Barvasi for the information—though if “negotiations” turn violent, no one will shed a tear over the King of Spiders. Vencarlo says that the fencing academy he runs in Old Korvosa is near Eel’s End, and he could escort the group there on his way back.
The group asks for some privacy to talk it over amongst themselves, and end up agreeing. They decide that the best course of action is for Ralph to try to infiltrate Barvasi’s operation while, potentially, Goldcape and Yraelzin trail the ambassador during his next visit to Eel’s End (which regularly occurs on the first of every month—in about a week’s time). For now though, the group decide to focus on capturing Yraelzin’s stalker. When they return to Kroft’s office, they agree to the mission, promise they’ll be in touch, and politely decline Vencarlo’s offer of an escort.
[23 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, Goldcape’s plan is put into effect. With his teammates hiding (somewhat clumsily, in Takota’s case) on a rooftop nearby, Yraelzin walks alone into a dead-end alleyway. Some seconds later, a nondescript gnome follows him in. “I’m not going back!” the diminutive figure growls, brandishing a weapon. Yraelzin’s allies spring and quickly overwhelm their foe, but The Reckoner is still learning the sheer power of his battle-maul and accidentally kills the assassin outright! It seems like the mystery of why Yraelzin was targeted may never be solved, but Goldcape hits on the idea of seeing if the Temple of Sarenrae can assist. She rushes over there and nearly drags Wiquita back to the scene. Wiquita is shocked that she recognises the body—it’s one of the temple’s groundskeepers! The ratfolk priestess channels benign necromancy to force the corpse to answer two questions. Although the answers are vague, it seems most likely that the gnome thought Yraelzin was searching for him to drag him back to Razmiran! For his part, Yraelzin says he knows nothing about the matter, and that gnomes aren’t particularly common in the god-ruled nation. Wiquita arranges to have the body taken for burial in the Gray (the city’s graveyard district), but is clearly angry with the group—she says what they’ve done wasn’t immoral, but was definitely reckless.
With one problem solved, the group turn to the next. Ralph says he’ll begin his infiltration of Eel’s End, and makes a plan to meet the others at the Burnt Honey Inn in two days’ time. When he makes his way to the last pier of Old Korvosa, Ralph sees that, even during the daytime and in a period of martial law, the vice business is booming! Five elegantly-painted barges are moored together at the end of a single pier, with planks lashed between their decks to make it easy to move from one to another. A quick survey of the scene shows that four of the barges have clear purposes—a gambling hall, a narcotics den, a brothel, and a flophouse. But the fifth and largest vessel bears no signage at all. Ralph spends a couple of hours in the gambling barge, The Twin Tigers, betting on games like knivesies, where one player tries to grab coins off the table while the other plays stabs at him! The operators of the ship, two dark-skinned brothers wrapped in red Vudrani veils, keep an eye on things. From the garrulous brother, Anpugit, Ralph learns that the King of Spiders is currently recruiting for the omnipresent ranks of enforcers who make sure the customers don’t get out of hand. After leaving the gambling ship and heading toward the fifth ship that must be Barvasi’s headquarters, Ralph is turned away from entering the aft deck by armed guards. He says he’s come looking for work and wants to get hired on as a pier guard, but they laugh at his middle-class accent and silk shirt and turn him away.
[24 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
Ralph spends the day in The Twin Tigers masquerading as just another resident of Korvosa looking for a way to pass some time during the city’s lockdown. His real goal is to wait for the occasional fights that break out when a large wager goes poorly for someone, intervene, and show that he can handle himself. Meanwhile, Takota spends the day in Skaldwood trying to craft some jewellery while Goldcape purchases a large guard dog.
[25 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
At their appointed meeting time, Ralph enters the common room of the Burnt Honey Inn and tells his allies that he hasn’t had much luck yet. Still, he intends to stick with the infiltration plan and arranges a signal to inform the others if he gets in over his head.
Later that day, Ralph again approaches the gang of enforcers guarding the aft deck of Barvarsi’s ship. When Ralph tries again to get hired on, they laugh and insult him. Ralph challenges one particularly obnoxious man to a bare-knuckle fight, and when he holds his own (and bloodies his opponent’s nose for good measure), they decide to let him through to where the day’s other new recruits are. Past a pair of large double doors bearing a complex painting of a spider, Ralph finds himself in the captain’s cabin—though it’s clearly been converted into a throne room of sorts. The walls are thick with spider webs, in which scuttle dozens of spiders. Several rough-looking recruits sit at sturdy oaken tables enjoying a raucous feast, while in an iron birdcage hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier sits a tormented house drake. A narrow door hanging ajar reveals a flight of stairs leading below. Sitting in a large, leather chair atop a platform is a tall, muscular man with shaggy black hair and a fierce glare. His black leather armor is hand-crafted to form the shape of a spider on his chest, and real spiders constantly crawl along his skin. Obviously, this is Devargo Barvasi, the self-styled King of Spiders!
Ralph joins the day’s other recruits as they finish their welcoming meal. But then things get down to business, as Barvasi starts randomly picking recruits for a variety of cruel tests, such as remaining still while a fist-sized spider crawls on them, or refusing to flinch when asked to put their hand in an open flame. Ralph’s test is a game of knivesies, and it’s clear that the loser will be thrown overboard to sink or swim on their own! When the game starts, Ralph’s hand is a blur as he grabs the knife and starts stabbing as the other recruit frantically tries to scrape all the coins into his belt pouch. Although a glancing blow leaves him temporarily deafened, Ralph wins the game. Given a sap and told through pantomime to come again the next day, Ralph tracks down Takota for treatment and reports his good news: the infiltration is a success!
This was supposed to be time to introduce Vencarlo Orisini (a major NPC in the campaign), but the PCs' decision not to accept his "escort" kept his "screen time" to a minimum. I couldn't have him insist without giving away too much. Fortunately, he reappears later in the campaign and no harms seems to have been done. One of the things I appreciate the most about these early Paizo APs is that they're resilient in the sense that the writers don't make everything hinge on groups doing exactly what is expected.
The stuff with the gnome assassin was a homemade subplot I started just to give Yraelzin his own story and make him a "real PC" even though I had to run him as a GMPC. I don't think I expected the group to be so decisive about capturing the assassin, and I had to make up his motivation on the fly. I think it worked okay though, and led to some interesting developments with the Church of Sarenrae.
Approaching Eel's End as a one-person infiltration job was a surprising move, but I was happy to roll with it. It did have the effect of "splitting the party" (something I think gets more opprobrium than I think it should).
[25 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
At the Shoanti campsite in Skaldwood, Takota excuses himself from the other members of the group to prepare a ceremony to welcome the impending arrival of a great leader of his people. Yraelzin, Goldcape, and Ralph Blackfeather continue discussing the best way to discover why Ambassador Amprei has been making regular visits to Eel’s End. Although they don’t reach a clear resolution, one decision is made: if they have to fight the “King of Spiders,” it’d be good to have protection against spider venom! At the cluttered shop of miscellaneous magical goods named Hedge Wizardry, proprietor Phaeton Skoda says he knows an alchemist who prepares antitoxins for sale—though the man’s laboratory is all the way across the city, in Old Korvosa. Like many in the city, Skoda has started to hear rumours of the curious group’s role in shutting down Gaedren Lamm’s criminal enterprise and the Cow Hammer Boys’ “murder for hire” business. Thus, Skoda feels comfortable bringing one of his own troubles to the group’s attention. He explains that his cousin, Tiora, was supposed to arrive in Korvosa on a ship called the Scrag Fisher some days ago—but she still hasn’t shown up and he’s worried. Although there could be a perfectly mundane explanation, he promises the group a small reward if they keep their ears open about her whereabouts.
With time running out before the dusk curfew begins, the group decide to split up to accomplish some errands. Ralph visits the wharfs and asks some questions, learning that the Scrag Fisher never arrived at the docks. Meanwhile, Goldcape travels along the Shingles until he reaches the alchemist’s shop that Skoda told her about: a place called Ledbetter’s Apothecary. The owner, an opinionated, racist, and generally grumpy old man, isn’t pleased to see a “monkey girl” like Goldcape, and overcharges her for the antitoxins.
That evening, rumors abound that King Eodred II was murdered! According to the rumors, a member of the palace guard confessed to being in on an assassination plot, and that the king’s killer was actually a young commoner who painted his portrait across several weeks while secretly poisoning him! The fact that the city’s various law enforcement groups are out in force may indeed be proof that they’re looking for a suspect.
[26 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
A new day dawns, and it will prove to be an eventful one indeed!
After reporting for work as a newly-hired member of Devargo Barvasi’s gang of enforcers, Ralph listens carefully to the conversation around him and subtly asks a question or two to learn more about the King of Spiders’ operation. It becomes apparent that there must be several cabins below decks of the Eel’s End, and that Barvasi spends most of his time aboard the ship--apart from a periodic daily excursion into the city for meals. The intelligence leads Ralph to decide on a new plan: instead of waiting for the ambassador’s arrival or hoping to overhear the information he needs, he’s going to search the lower decks when Barvasi is away! Waiting until lunchtime, Ralph knows he has less than an hour before Barvasi returns to his “throne room.” He slips inside and starts looking around. Noticing the staircase that leads below decks, Ralph is about to tip-toe down when he realises he’s being watched—by the caged house drake! Ralph asks the drake why it’s been caged, and the drake says he was captured and given to Barvasi as a gift from one of his recent recruits. The drake, whose name is Majenko, says Barvasi has been tormenting him for days. Ralph says that if the drake stays quiet about his descent below and alerts him if anyone comes into the throne room, he’ll set him free. Majenko quickly agrees.
Below decks, Ralph finds several cramped rooms, including a shiver lab, a foul-smelling (but fortunately empty) brig, and a hold stockpiled with food and water. Hearing movement on the far side, he avoids opening one door that would lead directly under the throne room. But another door leads to something more promising: Barvasi’s personal quarters! Ominous creaking indicates movement on the top deck as Ralph quickly searches through the room. He finds a wooden sea chest, but unable to pick the lock has to resort to loudly smashing it open. Inside is a small treasure trove of jewellery and coins, plus two letters detailing a scandalous liaison between Ambassador Amprei and Verania Tvastiox, the young wife of his superior back in Cheliax!
But with the only staircase up leading to the throne room that Majenko’s loud fuss indicates is now occupied, Ralph is trapped. He quickly decides on a dangerous plan. Changing into his masked garb as The Reckoner, he hides in Barvasi’s bedroom for several hours, waiting to ambush the King of Spiders! Sometime after midnight, the lord of vice walks in with an armful of business reports in his hands. The Reckoner leaps out to attack, swinging his powerful battle-maul, but Barvasi ducks with uncanny speed and lashes out with spiked gauntlets glistening with spider venom! It’s a one-on-one battle to the death in the tight confines of the cabin, as the Reckoner’s attacks are slower but bone-crushing and Barvasi’s attacks come fast and furious but leave only shallow cuts. Barvasi finally calls out for his enforcers, as both men are left reeling to the point where a single blow would fell either one. But back-up doesn’t arrive in time to save the King of Spiders, as a final massive swing from the Reckoner’s weapon crushes the crimelord’s skull!
When the enforcers finally arrive to find their employer dead at the feet of a bloodied masked marauder, they decide their lives are worth more than loyalty to a dead man. The Reckoner strides past them, climbs the stairs, sets Majenko free (receiving a promise of a year’s service in return), and disappears into the night. In a deserted alleyway, The Reckoner once again becomes Ralph Blackfeather. It’s well past curfew, however, so the Harrowed Hero tries to slip quietly back toward his inn—only to be spotted by a Hellknight patrol! But, hurtling out of the night, Majenko distracts the armored soldiers just long enough for Ralph to make his getaway.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day (at the same time that Ralph/The Reckoner was below decks of Barvasi’s ship), Goldcape is about to have an adventure of her own. After Goldcape visits Citadel Volshyanek to inquire about the rumors of the king’s assassin having been found, Field Marshal Kroft arranges a secret meeting at a nearby tavern. The head of the Korvosan Guard arrives dressed in a nondescript robe, and whispers to Goldcape that the suspect is a young artist named Trinia Sabor. She explains that the Hellknights have been specially tasked with finding the woman, but that it’s unlikely she’ll receive a fair trial if they catch her. Kroft says she’s just received a report from an informant that Trinia is hiding in a tenement at 42 Moon Street in Midland. She would send the Guard to apprehend her, but word could easily leak out and result in the Hellknights—or even a vigilante mob—getting there first. But if trusted, unofficial agents of the Korvosan Guard who have already proven themselves could catch Trinia and bring her directly to Citadel Volshyanek, Kroft says she could guarantee the suspect would be treated fairly and could be interrogated with magic to learn the truth about the accusations against her.
Goldcape takes the hint and leaves. After finding Yraelzin, she tries to get in touch with Ralph, but has no luck and leaves a message at the Burnt Honey Inn for him to visit “the place where they first met” as soon as possible. With time running out as the Hellknights knock heads and smash down doors in a house-to-house search for Trinia, Goldcape and Yraelzin decide to try to apprehend her themselves. Arriving at 42 Moon Street, they see it’s an address in a densely built section of the city, a place where sunlight at ground level is a rarity due to the sprawling slum known as the Shingles built above them. The residents of the tenement pretend not to know Trinia, but Goldcape gains their trust by promising not to harm her. When Goldcape and Yraelzin knock on the door to Trinia’s flat, however, they hear clattering on the far side and then a window being opened! Leaving Yraelzin there, Goldcape rushes to the nearest exit and leaps onto Rocky to fly around the side of the building. There, sprinting across the Shingles away from the building, is Trinia Sabor!
Despite Goldcape’s sincere shouts that she means the woman no harm and just wants to help her, Trinia continues to flee so the vanara is forced to give chase. The artist races along jury-rigged catwalks, across canted rooftops, under lines of laundry, through narrow gaps in boards, and more to increase her lead. Goldcape’s ability to fly while mounted on Rocky doesn’t seem like much of an advantage at first given all the twists and turns of the Shingles, but eventually she manages to catch up when Trinia is trapped at a seeming dead-end. Realising there’s no escape, Trinia breaks down in tears, sobbing that she’s been set up, didn’t kill the king, and doesn’t want to die! Goldcape is compassionate and promises she’ll be safe. The Harrowed Hero collects Yraelzin and leads a hastily-concealed Trinia back to the group’s safe-house.
That evening, Grau Soldado—the group’s ally who had visited the safe-house before--arrives at the behest of Field Marshal Kroft to see if they’d been successful. Goldcape introduces Grau to Trinia, and says they’ll escort the fugitive to Citadel Volshyanek in the morning—assuming they can safely avoid the Hellknight patrols. Grau is pleased that Trinia has been safely apprehended, but once out of earshot, he tells Goldcape he’s just no longer sure if Field Marshal Kroft can keep her word. Grau says rumors are flying of shake-ups at high-levels, and that Kroft could be forced to turn Trinia over to the queen’s personal guard or to the Hellknights. He leaves the safehouse with Goldcape and Yraelzin discussing possible alternatives.
[27 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
Heavy rains fall, making for a gloomy day. Leaving Yraelzin to watch over Trinia at the safe-house, Goldcape heads to Citadel Volshyanek to speak with Field Marshal Kroft. In a happy coincidence, Ralph has gone to the same place to turn over the incriminating letters about Ambassador Amprei. The group’s twin successes in finding Trinia and solving the dilemma with Amprei are rare pieces of good news to the exhausted, stressed Kroft. She says she can send an escort of loyal guards to help escort Trinia back to Citadel Volshyanek, but Goldcape says secrecy would still be better and says they’ll deliver Trinia later in the day.
But as Goldcape and Ralph leave Kroft’s office, the two discuss how the way forward isn’t clear. Should they keep their commitment to Kroft and turn Trinia over? Should they give weight to Grau’s fears that even the leader of the city’s premiere law enforcement agency couldn’t keep the artist safe? Should they try to keep Trinia in hiding at the safe-house until the unrest in the city calms down, or even try to smuggle her out to a nearby town? Each choice seems to be a gamble, and the stakes are higher than ever before!
No Takota again this session, and it pretty quickly became clear that the player wasn’t going to come back. It was a bit disappointing as a Shoanti shaman would have been a great addition to the group (and really changed things in Chapter 4!). I was really stressed in the initial months of the campaign because I had never ran one with so few PCs, so I kept second-guessing my GMing skills and thinking it was all going to fall apart. But Goldcape’s and The Reckoner’s players were so enthusiastic, we just kept on keeping on and having fun. What I took away was that every campaign is different, but you can still have a great time with just two players.
I really enjoyed role-playing the alchemist, Ledbetter. I always think it’s good for PCs of the more exotic races to be noticed and have that reflected in how some people treat them (for better or worse).
Majenko has ended up being really useful the party as a scout and messenger that doesn’t provoke any notice from Hellknights, Gray Maidens, etc.
Ralph and Goldcape were split up for most of this session. I jumped back and forth between their adventures in the actual session to keep everyone involved, but in the recap that would have been too confusing so I presented them sequentially.
I had Grau foreshadow the risk that Kroft might be mistaken about her ability to keep Trinia safe so that the upcoming execution scene wouldn’t come out of left field. It led to some good role-playing about what to do and who to trust.
[27 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
Outside Citadel Volshyanek, Goldcape and Ralph Blackfeather continue to discuss what to do with the fugitive Trinia Sabor. Goldcape has put together a plan to smuggle her out of the city by boat, but Ralph says they need to turn her over to Field Marshal Kroft or risk getting in trouble themselves. When they return to the safe-house, they persuade Trinia that the Korvosan Guard will ensure she gets a fair trial and that the Hellknights won’t get hold of her. Ralph uses some make-up and hair dye to make Trinia look several years older and they escort her the short distance between the safe-house and the citadel. But Trinia’s disguise doesn’t hold up against the casual glance of a farmer who had seen a sketch of the fugitive, and he shouts and starts drawing attention. Ralph decks the man and hurries Trinia inside. Although she’s safely turned over to the Korvosan Guard, it won’t be long before everyone in the city knows her new location.
From there, the Harrowed Heroes split up. Ralph visits Hedge Wizardry and tells Phaeton the information he’s gathered about the Scrag Fisher—that it hasn’t arrived. Phaeton expresses his hope it’s simply mundane sailing delays. Meanwhile, Goldcape flies on Rocky to the Shoanti campsites in Skaldwood to talk with Takota. But bad news awaits—Takota has been seriously injured and is unconscious! Apparently, he and a Shoanti brave named Gaekhen were in the city when rumors spread that Shoanti were harbouring Trinia. They were chased by a mob and badly beaten, and Gaekhen was killed! Takota is now under the care of Thousand Bones, a newly-arrived Shoanti shaman who is also Gaekhen’s grandfather. Thousand Bones says that Takota will recover in time, but the Shoanti have decided to leave Skaldwood. The nomadic people have decided the risk of remaining while the city is in such turmoil is simply too high. But Thousand Bones has a request of Takota’s friends. The elder explains that his grandson’s body has not been recovered, and that until given a proper ritual burial, the young warrior’s spirit will not be at peace. Thousand Bones says his auguries have given him a vision of the body laying somewhere within a vast field of the dead, under a stone house with a shattered stone demon nearby. Goldcape promises that she and Takota’s other allies will assist.
Goldcape leaps onto Rocky and flies back toward the safe-house. On the way, she has the good fortune to spot Ralph on the street below—his figure distinctive because of the house drake that always seems to be flying some distance above him. When Goldcape lands nearby, Ralph explains that the drake is a freed prisoner from Eel’s End named Majenko who has, from a sense of honour, vowed to assist him for one year. Goldcape shares what Thousand Bones told her, and the pair immediately reverse course and head back south toward the Gray (Korvosa’s cemetery district). Ralph asks Majenko to keep an eye on the city for signs that the Hellknights are marching toward Citadel Korvosa or in any other way displacing the Korvosan Guard.
The Gray District is a mournful place even by day—one of the few areas of the city that is quiet and calm amidst all the recent civil unrest. And nowhere is this stillness more evident than in Potter’s Ward, the final resting ground for Korvosa’s poor and homeless. Mounds of unmarked dirt stretch far and wide, indicating sites of mass graves, while crumbling mausoleums from years ago dot the bleak landscape, forgotten and empty; there are no mourners here, and it’s clear that those buried in Potter’s Ward leave behind few who regret their passing. Scouting from the sky, Goldcape spots a small mausoleum that has a broken gargoyle statue on the ground nearby—surely the “shattered stone demon” that Thousand Bones saw in his vision. When the vanara sets down nearby, she notices a man’s tracks and a wheelbarrow trail leading into the mausoleum, as well as several smaller humanoid tracks—derro! Many in the city have heard urban legends of sunless, insane, gnome-sized beings that live under the city and kidnap residents for strange experiments. Realising they could be in for more than they bargained for, Goldcape and Ralph decide to return in the morning with Yraelzin in tow—although the cleric of Razmir can be annoying, there is strength in numbers.
Ralph and Goldcape split up again. Ralph hurries to North Point before the dusk curfew and into a local armorsmith’s named the Stalwart Shield. A trio of near lookalike brothers are inside, hammering away. Ralph lays down several thousand gold pieces for a suit of custom armor made from mithral! He’s told it will take five to six days, as the palace has put in an order for several suits of gray full-plate armor in a feminine cut. Afterwards, Ralph walks over to the Burnt Honey Inn only to find a very drunk Grau Soldado apparently waiting for him. It takes some time for the guard to make sense, but eventually his slurred speech is intelligible: he’s come to warn Ralph that someone is spreading around a lot of coin for information on who The Reckoner is. Grau says he knows Ralph and The Reckoner must be friends, so he’s hoping the man can deliver a message to the masked vigilante. Ralph promises to do so and arranges for Grau to sleep off his relapse in his room upstairs. Meanwhile, all the way across town, Goldcape returns to Old Lady Cloggins’ house. When her landlady explains that a friend came by looking for Goldcape while she was away saying that Goldcape “knew his father”, a chill suddenly runs down the vanara’s spine. Did Gaedren Lamm’s son visit and deliver an implicit threat?!? Goldcape tosses and turns that night.
[28 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, Ralph gets further information from a sober (but abashed) Grau. Whoever’s interested in The Reckoner has asked around at the Longacre Building (where accused criminals are tried before the city’s arbiters), at Eel’s End (where a cross-section of the city comes to engage in vice), and, rumor has it, at an information broker named Gribbet. Grau says that after taking part in raids on Lamm’s Old Fishery, the Cow Hammer Boys’ slaughterhouse, and the King of Spider’s ship in Eel’s End, The Reckoner is making quite a name for himself among the criminal element and needs to be careful. After Grau leaves, Ralph heads down to Old Lady Cloggins’ house, keeping a close eye out to see if he is being tailed. Once there, he and Goldcape exchange news and agree they need to figure out a plan to trap whoever is looking for them. Ralph calls Majenko down and asks him to keep an eye out for ambushes. Majenko reports that Trinia Sabor’s trial is set to begin today—a startling fast process given her recent apprehension.
With Yraelzin in tow, Goldcape and Ralph set out for the Gray District again. They follow the trail into the mausoleum, but the place looks completely empty. However, the outline of a poorly hidden trapdoor is easily spotted. When opened, steps lead down into darkness. Ralph changes into The Reckoner, and Goldcape enchants his battle-maul with light so he can see better. The stairs lead to an ossuary, where pits of bones lie under a domed ceiling. Goldcape heads towards the bone pits to see if Gaekhen’s body is among them, when suddenly the piles of bones begin to shift and sway. Skeletal figures burst out of one, while a clearly dead owlbear bursts out of another! Goldcape’s arrows and sap prove almost completely ineffective against the chilling undead foes, but Rocky’s hard beak and especially The Reckoner’s battle-maul smash them into pieces. Yraelzin, who had little to add during the combat, heals some of his ally’s wounds, but Goldcape notices something strange—it looks like the cleric is secretly using a wand. When confronted, Yraelzin denies the matter entirely, and even invites Goldcape to search him; the suspicious vanara does so, and finds no wand. Goldcape starts to pursue the matter further, but The Reckoner reminds her that they’re on a mission and this catacomb could be dangerous.
Tunnels smashed and carved out of the walls of the ossuary lead further into darkness. Following one of them leads the Harrowed Heroes to a gruesome site—the fresh body of a vagrant is being drained of its blood by a pair of stirges, while a lone little humanoid that can only be a derro toils nearby! The derro shrieks and rushes into a narrow tunnel to escape, but not before opening a wicker cage and freeing two more stirges. One of them swoops down and plunges its proboscis into Goldcape’s arm before the cat-sized mosquito-like creatures are dispatched. The Reckoner gives thought to chasing the derro, but the tunnel it fled down would be difficult to squeeze through.
Another tunnel leads to a corridor encrusted with dozens of yawning skulls, their mouths opening into dark holes in the walls. Goldcape realises two of the skulls are part of some kind of trap, and destroys them with arrows fired from a distance. But whoever placed the trap had a second layer of defense in mind, for when the trio enter the hallway, the sinuous skeletons of what first appear to be large snakes emerge from holes in the walls and attack! Yraelzin shouts that they’re necrophidiuses and have paralysing bites! The battle that follows is a long and difficult one, but once again The Reckoner’s battle-maul proves most effective and the skeletal constructs are destroyed.
It’s clear that what once seemed like the trivial matter of retrieving a corpse from a graveyard has turned into something far different—why are the derro here, and what’s become of Gaekhen’s body?
Goldcape was 100% right that it would have been better to smuggle Trinia out of the city than turn her over to the authorities. Because Goldcape's player is a kid, the adults in the group often don't take his suggestions as serious as they should.
There's the introduction to Thousand Bones in this session, an NPC who will become very important in Chapter 4. I'm glad I was able to tie in the Shoanti abandoning Korvosa.
The search for Gaekhen's body in the Dead Warrens is the last major part of Chapter 1 (apart from a more scripted climax).
Why would a cleric of the Living God need magic wands? Goldcape must have been mistaken.
[28 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
The Reckoner, Yraelzin, and Goldcape enter another chamber to find wooden tables stacked with vials, beakers, funnels, cauldrons, and everything else necessary for a working alchemical laboratory. A lone derro, cleaning up a spill, reacts in confusion at first but then calls upon his race’s innate magic to create an ear-ringing sonic burst in the room. But The Reckoner and Rocky are undeterred, and they make short work of the pale blue humanoid. A thorough search of the room turns up a veritable treasure trove of potions, poisons, alchemical salves, and more. It is obvious experiments in alchemy and dark necromancy have been practiced in this underground labyrinth for quite some time.
Adjacent to the alchemical laboratory is a door that has been boarded over—quite recently, by the looks of it. The Reckoner suggests leaving it alone, as anything the derros wanted to lock away is probably quite dangerous. But Goldcape is intent on exploration, and her lithe frame masks surprising strength—she puts her shoulder to the door and breaks it down. On the other side is a room that was obviously once a pantry, but is now prison to a lurching mash-up of rotting flesh, jagged bone, and coarse hair reeking of death and decay. In one of its hands it clutches a severed arm marked with distinctive Shoanti tattoos! The smell is nauseating, but the repulsive creature is no match for The Reckoner’s battle-maul. The search to recover the scattered parts of Gaekhen’s body has met with another gruesome success.
Further exploration finds another grisly reminder of the work conducted in these halls of horror. One chamber contains a large table supporting a massive, seven-foot tall humanoid-shaped thing stitched together from a patchwork of different bodies. Apparently, an attempt to build a flesh golem! The inert creature’s head is crowned with brown hair and bears a distinctive scar up on its left cheek—poor Gaekhen’s head. Just as Goldcape realises this, The Reckoner has already moved to destroy the creature, fearing it will rise. An inadvertent mutilation of Gaekhen’s corpse is added to the terrible blasphemies already done to it.
Another chamber is a library of books and scrolls—mostly treatises on necromancy or the art of crafting golems, but also a surprisingly large number of books about diseases and plagues. There’s some disagreement within the group about what to do with the collection, leading to an eventual decision to take some of the books while burning the ones on necromancy.
The search through the sprawling underground complex continues, with the way fortunately lit through phosphorescent moss. One chamber holds a large four-poster bed and a simple writing desk, with a full-length mirror propped up against one earthen wall. But the group’s lack of stealth has given early warning to an adjacent chamber’s occupant: a derro necromancer with fearsome arcane power! The derro launches an array of magical attacks while shouting epithets inspired by a lunatic’s rage. The Reckoner is temporarily weakened by one attack, Rocky is struck with magical fear, and Yraelzin’s and Goldcape’s archery proves largely ineffective against the flying foe that is fully prepared for battle. The battle turns on a knife's edge as The Reckoner finds his muscles completely locked up to the point he can only stand and watch helplessly as the derro conjures a zombie from thin air! Yraelzin turns from futile attacks with his crossbow to healing The Reckoner to keep him in the fight. But if anyone is the hero of the hour, it’s Rocky—the roc returns when the magical fear wears off and slashes zombie and derro alike until, finally, the necromancer is unconscious and floating in mid-air. Both The Reckoner and Goldcape take out their anger on the derro in a lethal way. It’s the closest the party has ever come to utter defeat, and a startling reminder of the dangerousness of their efforts to aid Korvosa and its inhabitants.
In the aftermath of the battle, two important discoveries are made. In the derro’s chamber is the result of his latest experiment—the torso and right arm of Gaekhen, animated in a sad mockery of life. In the chamber with the four-poster bed, the desk contains a curious, broken knife with a key-shaped blade. The Harrowed Heroes immediately link the blade to the one found in Gaedren Lamm’s hideout, and suspect this could be a sign his son has been here!
Weary and battered, the brave explorers continue their search for Gaekhen’s lower body. They enter a cavern boarded on three sides by ten-foot-deep pits, from which waft the rancid smell of excrement and decay. But the room is guarded by a hideously deformed brute who yells “You go in pit now! Me feed you later. Maybe!” The Reckoner charges into battle and gets punched hard in the face for his troubles, but Goldcape cleverly conjures a trio of dogs to nip at the brute’s heels, distracting it enough for The Reckoner to land a powerful series of blows. When the dust has cleared, a look around the room reveals something important—there are prisoners, still alive, in the pits!
In the sessions I've been running recently (near the end of Chapter Four), Goldcape is the cautious one and The Reckoner is always pushing to explore further--but in this session, it's the exact opposite!
I've put in my review of Chapter One that I think the "body part scavenger hunt" is a bit too video gamey, but apart from that I think this sequence is well-designed. This session has the battle against the closest thing to a "boss" enemy for the chapter, the derro sorcerer. That battle came surprisingly closes to a TPK.
[28 Gozran, 4708 A.R. continued]
After defeating their vicious ogre-kin jailor, the Harrowed Heroes are able to set free six prisoners held in the disgusting pits. Whether through luck or fate, one of the prisoners is Phaeton Skoda’s cousin, Tiora! She testifies that her ship was intercepted at sea, and she and many of the passengers were held in captivity aboard another vessel called only the Black Ship before someone came to buy them. Another prisoner, who had been in captivity in the pits even longer, says the derro kidnapped him from an alleyway near a sewer entrance, and that a man seemed to be their leader in the catacombs. The old man says the prisoners were used as experiments in necromancy and disease, and that he was lucky he was deemed too old to be a good test subject. The Reckoner gives each prisoner some gold and leads them to the surface and safety.
However, Yraelzin, Goldcape, and The Reckoner know that they’ve only recovered a portion of Gaekhen’s remains. They continue exploring the subterranean warrens and come across a chamber that can only be a dumping ground for body parts the derro were no longer interested in. Wallowing in the reeking mud is a sewer beast, and it slobbers “Warm food!” as it lumbers forward to attack. Goldcape sends Rocky in to attack and sinks an arrow into the monster’s side, while The Reckoner charges forward with his battle maul. The battle is over quickly, but both Rocky and The Reckoner display open wounds where the sewer beast’s disease-filled maw bit into them. Fortunately, it was worth the effort, as the last remnants of Gaekhen’s body are found.
Although Goldcape urges the group to leave and Yraelzin is ill from the grisly scenes, The Reckoner is determined to clear the warrens. He leads the group down an unexplored tunnel and into what must be the derros’ sleeping quarters, but here the pale cavern-dwellers have readied themselves against attack and shoot poisoned crossbow bolts the instant they see an intruder! There’s a brief archery duel before the attackers close in, and Yraelzin performs heroically by spreading healing magicks (and the word of Razmir) while under fire. The derro, although hardy, are eventually overpowered and slain. The Reckoner follows a narrow tunnel some distance until it intersects with Korvosa’s sewer line before returning to the others. A thorough search of the warrens show no signs of further inhabitants.
The group exit. Goldcape takes Gaekhen’s remains to Skaldwood, where the Shoanti are preparing their departure. Thousand Bones expresses his deep gratitude for being able to put his grandson’s spirit to rest, and promises that he owes Goldcape and her friends a debt of honour that will be repaid. He prophesises they will meet again during another time of great turmoil.
Later, Goldcape joins Ralph at Citadel Volshyanek. They learn distressing news—the trial of Trinia lasted only two hours before she was convicted and her sentence pronounced: she will be executed, tomorrow! Field Marshal Kroft is distraught at having erred so grievously, and admits she may have misjudged Queen Ileosa’s commitment to justice. She asks the group to attend the execution, as Trinia deserves to see some sympathetic faces in the crowd amidst all the hate. Outside, Ralph asks Goldcape if they could use Rocky to rescue Trinia—perhaps taking advantage of rioting. However, Goldcape says it would be far too dangerous for everyone involved.
Ralph walks over to Hedge Wizardry and sees that Phaeton is overjoyed at his cousin’s safe return. Goldcape visits with Old Lady Cloggins and warns her about the “friend” who tried to visit previously. Old Lady Cloggins says there’s been some good news as well—it seems like the Hellknights are leaving her house, and may soon be withdrawing from the city altogether!
[29 Gozran, 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, Ralph mingles with the crowds heading toward the palace courtyard where the execution is set to take place, while Goldcape circles overhead, flying on Rocky’s back. Ralph gives Majenko some hand-written anti-Ileosa pamphlets to drop at a pre-arranged signal in the hopes that if there’s a sufficient distraction, he might be able to rescue Trinia.
It’s clear the impending execution is not an affair to be missed, as the toast of Korvosa is in attendance in garish gowns, fine capes, and enough jewels to blind the common citizen. Queen Ileosa emerges amid a great flourish and pomp as heralds announce her arrival with a fanfare of music and drums; she wears a green and white silk dress attended by a small army of guards, including one in a striking brand-new suit of grey full-plate armor with a closed helm sporting a flowing crimson plume. Ileosa takes her seat in a high throne-like chair at one end of the public courtyard, while at the other end is a towering, muscular man wearing an executioner’s hood and idly holding an immense axe.
An ominous drum begins beating, and the gawkers fall silent; the drum sets the pace for a hooded prisoner’s procession to the executioner’s block. As they reach the block, a guard removes the prisoner’s shackles and hood, revealing a very frightened Trinia who is trying to hold back tears. The portion of the crowd sympathetic to the young artist cry out in anger, and Ralph gives Majenko the signal to drop the polemics to inflame them further.
Queen Ileosa addresses the crowd: “Fellow Korvosans! You have suffered greatly these past few weeks. Homes have burned, family members have died, and fortunes have been lost. I feel your suffering, for not only have I lost a beloved husband, but with each act of anarchy that followed, my heart bled more. This has been a trying time for us, yet the torment is at an end. Before you is the source of your anguish and pain. Do not be deceived by this murderer’s timid nature—she is a black-hearted assassin. I offer you her death as a salve against the hatred and hurt you have suffered. And so, without further delay, let us usher in this new dawn with justice. OFF WITH HER HEAD!”
But just before the executioner can lower her head into the block, he cries out in pain as a hurled dagger embeds itself in the back of his hand! A cry echoes through the crowded courtyard: “By the gods! It’s Blackjack!” An instant later, a man dressed in a hooded cloak and black mask springs up to Trinia’s side; using a dagger, he cuts the bonds on Trinia’s wrists and then throws the same dagger down to pin the executioner’s left foot to the wood platform. He then turns to address the shocked crowd. “Yes indeed, my queen! Let us usher in justice, but let that be justice for Korvosa, not this shambles you call a monarchy! Long live Korvosa! Down with the queen!”
The crowd erupts, some demanding he release the assassin, while others call for the queen’s resignation! Ileosa seems stunned before whispering something to her armored bodyguard and then quickly fleeing back into the castle, with her entourage guarding her retreat. The remaining guards in the courtyard move to apprehend Blackjack, but the crowd makes it difficult to move.
Yet in his apparent delight in having forced the queen to flee, Blackjack has momentarily forgotten the executioner behind him! The shadow of a heavy axe falls over the vigilante, his doom assured, but then Ralph intervenes! He smashes the executioner in the legs, throwing him off-balance so the axe thunks harmlessly into the wooden stage. Blackjack and Trinia clamber up a hanging banner to a nearby wall, and he salutes Ralph with his rapier before the pair leap down and disappear into the safety of the city’s alleys and sewers. Fortunately, in all the chaos of the crowd rioting, Ralph’s actions were unnoticed and he’s able to slip away safely as well.
In the days that follow, the city returns to a semblance of order and normalcy. But just below the surface, raging undercurrents of pro- and anti- Ileosa sentiment surge, with both sides asking the same question: What will the next chapter in her reign bring to the city?
The reference to the "Black Ship" in the first paragraph is to something I had prepared in case the PCs wanted to use the black market to purchase items that were illegal or beyond the city's purchase limits. I had a fun idea for a creepy ship that was always anchored in a different place somewhere off the coast, but have never had the opportunity to actually show it in game.
I really liked how the AP handled the Trinia execution/Blackjack rescue scene. Doing it as a purely cinematic, rules-free event kept it fast, tense, and exciting, while still allowing the PCs to influence the outcome. It worked out great at my table, and was a fantastic way to end Chapter 1.
Several days have passed since the dramatic rescue of Trinia Sabor by Blackjack an instant before the queen’s order to execute her could be carried out. Apart from proclaiming a 5,000 gp reward for the recapture of the fugitive, Queen Ileosa has largely retreated from public view. The disorder in Korvosa has lessened, and although there are still occasional outbreaks of unrest and visible scars from the rioting, it seems much of the populace has returned to going about their lives. Indeed, martial law has been lifted, the curfew is no longer in effect, and even the Hellknight Order of the Nail has returned to Citadel Vraid.
But Yraelzin, Goldcape, and Ralph Blackfeather have not been idle. Yraelzin takes advantage of his growing renown as a champion of the underclass by assembling a small flock of worshippers in Old Korvosa and turning an abandoned warehouse into a shrine to Razmir. Goldcape teaches Rocky how to deliver messages and packages to people and places across the city and does some archival research at the University of Korvosa’s Jeggare Library. She finds accounts of Blackjack dating to more than two hundred years ago and establishes the likelihood that the legendary vigilante has been a series of men whose identities must be protected through magical means. Intriguingly, Goldcape realises that until his recent reappearance, Blackjack hadn’t been seen for ten years—which is right around the time The Harrower began operating in Korvosa. For his part, Ralph hits the streets day and night, gathering information on three individuals. He learns that Gaedren Lamm did indeed have a son—a boy named Rolth, who was kicked out of the Acadamae years ago for disturbing even that institution’s staff with his experiments in necromancy. Nowadays, word on the street is that Rolth is still in Korvosa, has multiple grisly labs for experiments hidden all over, associates with a pesh-addicted elf named Jolistina, and has been seen in West Dock in the company of some mysterious newcomers to the city. Ralph then turns his attention to Blackjack, and talks to enough eyewitnesses to conclude that the masked avenger must have a major safe-house in Old Korvosa and be quite skilled with a rapier. Ralph also digs into Meliya Arkona, the alleged “secret lover” of Verik Vancaserkin, and learns she is one of the heads of House Arkona—a powerful noble family with reputed ties to the criminal underworld and a force to be reckoned with. Goldcape’s and Ralph’s digging has turned up valuable information, but raises a disturbing possibility: what if word gets back to the subjects of their research?
[9 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
Spring is about to turn to summer in the middle of Desnus when Yraelzin, Goldcape, and Ralph each find that the card given to them by the Harrower is glowing. From their scattered locations in the city, they each respond and reassemble at their safe-house in Midland. Inside, the small house looks clean and well-appointed, and the mysterious Harrower bids the trio to be seated. She reads the Harrow for them, and the results are ominous as Sickness is revealed in the spread’s primary position representing the future. The Harrower explains that this could be interpreted literally as meaning that a great plague and mass death are in the city’s future, or symbolically as meaning that something is rotten in the city’s core. In any event, she performs a Choosing for each person in attendance. The Reckoner draws the Tangled Briar, and is told that an exclusive focus on justice will leave him caught in a morass from which he cannot escape. Yraelzin draws the Fool to much laughter from the others, and is told by the Harrower that he must not let the façade he projects become reality. Goldcape draws the Avalanche, and is told that she must think before acting or a precipitate decision could bring disaster. The Harrower ends the reading and disappears as the candles suddenly flicker out, but not before uttering a final prophecy: “We shall meet again, but we shall never meet here again.”
When the candles begin to flicker again, the safe-house once again looks like it normally does—as an abandoned fortune-telling shop. The Reckoner and Goldcape exchange information on what they’ve learned. Yraelzin is sceptical about some of the information, saying that people shouldn’t put too much stock in gossip and rumors. After all, he says, some people say terribly scurrilous things about Razmir himself! Goldcape remains focussed on the threat that Rolth Lamm poses (assuming that’s who visited Old Lady Cloggins). The trio discuss whether some sort of spell could be cast on an object that Rolth left behind. Goldcape flies on Rocky’s back and asks his landlady if the visitor handled anything, but doesn’t meet with luck. Later that night, the vanara follows Yraelzin to his new shrine and witnesses a midnight ceremony. Goldcape doesn’t convert, but proclaims herself Yraelzin’s personal bodyguard to much applause from those street urchins in attendance.
[10 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
When Ralph arrives at the “Temple to Razmir” the following morning, he can see just how ramshackle the place is. Ralph puts together a plan to disguise himself as a drunk to scout the West Dock area of the city in hopes of spotting Rolth Lamm while Goldcape flies overhead as back-up. Unfortunately, there’s very little activity on the streets as it’s a Sunday, and no information is gained. Goldcape, however, notices the sun glinting off a reflective surface in the direction of Citadel Volshyanek, and as she flies closer she sees she’s being signalled by Sergeant Clenkins using a mirror. He explains that Field Marshall Kroft was hoping to speak with her. Goldcape meets with the visibly dispirited leader of the Korvosan Guard. Kroft explains that the rumblings of reorganisation of the city’s law enforcement and military authorities are continuing. She says the Queen’s personal palace guards have been augmented and reorganised as the “Gray Maidens” and given authority over every other agent of the crown! Kroft admits her own position is tenuous, and that it’s probably better if her connection to Goldcape, Ralph, and Yraelzin remain “off the books.” In short, she regretfully asks them not to visit her again (in public, at least) for everyone’s safety. The two agree that messages can be relayed through Grau. But Kroft has one matter that she says Grau shouldn’t be privy too: her old friend (and his former mentor before a falling out) Vencarlo Orisini has asked for discrete assistance. Goldcape agrees to visit the man’s sword-fighting academy and see what the problem is.
After Ralph and Yraelzin are filled in, the Harrowed Heroes travel to 16 Hillcrest Street in Old Korvosa only to see a sign hanging from the door that reads “Classes Cancelled Today.” After they knock, a serious-looking man in his 50s opens the door—a man they met briefly in Field Marshall Kroft’s office some weeks previously. Vencarlo Orisini seems surprised to see them, but upon hearing they’ve been sent by Kroft, he ushers them inside and thanks them for coming. He leads them into a tightly-curtained study, knocks twice at a closet door, and opens it to reveal Trinia Sabor! The young woman wears a wig of long red curls and is excited to see Goldcape. “Sorry about the trouble I gave you in the Shingles!” she says. Vencarlo explains that the evening of the planned execution, he answered a knock at the back door of his academy to see Blackjack and Trinia. As a fellow critic of Korvosan politics, he says he’d had some dealings with Blackjack some years ago, but was still surprised to be entrusted by the vigilante with Trinia’s safekeeping. But Vencarlo explains he can no longer keep her hidden—his academy has been visited three times in recent days by the authorities, and he’s only barely managed to turn them away without a search. In short, he needs help getting Trinia out of the city and somewhere safe.
The Harrowed Heroes quickly agree. Vencarlo says he’s arranged for the girl to join a band of dwarven adventurers called the Kodar Kneecappers at a wayside inn halfway between Korvosa and the town of Harse. He advises them to leave via the High Bridge and then up to Dwarfwalk Road, mingling with the afternoon merchants leaving the city. Ralph disguises himself as a drunk and Trinia as a peasant girl, with Goldcape and Yraelzin to travel separately and serve as a watch-out and distraction if needed. When the group get underway, they notice that the number of guard patrols seem to be increasing as they closer to High Bridge and Citadel Volshyanek. Ralph makes a quick decision to backtrack and try the much closer North Bridge. It’s only lightly defended, and the guards are easily distracted by the shenanigans of a “monkey flying on a bird” (Goldcape and Rocky). The travellers make it safely out of Korvosa, suspicious of why Vencarlo would have recommended the High Bridge to begin with—was he trying to lead them into a trap?
The twelve miles to the wayside inn, called Trots, is uneventful. Having noticed that Vencarlo Orisini fits many of the characteristics about Blackjack uncovered by his previous research, Ralph asks Trinia more about the night the vigilante spirited her away from the execution. Trinia is somewhat vague and evasive, and it’s clear she has suspicions of her own that she’s reluctant to share. At the inn, the travellers meet the members of the Kodar Kneecappers. It seems they specialise in fighting giants, and are planning to head out into the Cinderlands to harry any advance scouts sent by the enemy army to the north. One of the Kneecappers, a dwarf named Marnay, laughs at Goldcape’s assertion that the army is led by a super-powerful wizard. Trinia is nervous but excited to be adventuring with the band, and relieved to be out of Korvosa. She gives Goldcape and the others a warm farewell.
Arriving back in Korvosa later that day, the weary trio go their separate ways with plans to meet again in the morning. That night, Goldcape has a nightmare involving herself, her mate Longtail, and a fire in the jungle. A voice that sounds much like The Harrower’s urges her to wake up. And when she does, Goldcape realises her treehouse is on fire! A flaming arrow is stuck in the trunk, and more are streaming down! The vanara quickly shoves her possessions to safety on the ground below and rushes out, only to see that the main house is on fire as well! Leaping through a wall of flames, some of Goldcape’s fur catches on fire as she races through the house. She manages to pat them out and reach Old Lady Cloggins’ bedroom and help the disoriented old woman to safety outside. Goldcape hears the joyous laughing of a woman carried in the night’s air as a final flaming arrow reaches the ground—a figure is on a distant rooftop, but quickly sprints away into the night. Fortunately, Old Lady Cloggins’ neighbors react quickly and form a bucket line to save the main house. Unfortunately, Goldcape’s treehouse is mostly destroyed. As dawn comes, friends of Old Lady Cloggins arrive to take her in until the house can be repaired. Goldcape takes one of the spent arrows, it smouldering with flame, she smouldering with anger.
[11 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
Goldcape barges into the Burnt Honey Inn early in the morning, clutching the arrow in her hands. “They’ve struck!” she shouts when she finds Ralph. The two find Yraelzin, and together figure out how to use the arrow to discover who fired it. The Bridgefront neighbourhood in Old Korvosa is known for having a concentration of occult-themed businesses, and one such establishment is “Madame Carrington’s Oneiromancery.” A gifted spiritualist, dream traveller, and object reader, it’s said that Madame Carrington is highly regarded as a credible occultist in a sea of frauds. When the trio visit, they have to wait in a front room while a séance is conducted in the rear. When it has concluded and the satisfied patrons have departed, the trio enter to see that Madame Carrington is paralyzed on the left side of her body. After explanations are made, Madame Carrington takes the arrow and concentrates deeply on it for several minutes with her eyes closed. “I hear laughing . . . an elf . . . female . . . dressed in a harlequin’s motley . . . she is doing a favour but is overjoyed . . . her heart is black.” Ralph instantly realises the archer is probably Rolth Lamm’s sometime lover, the elf Jolistina!
The group renew its effort to search the West Dock area for signs of Rolth or Jolistina, and Ralph even asks Majenko to search. But the subsequent hours pass fruitlessly. If the criminals are indeed operating in the neighbourhood, it seems like they’ve worked out ways to avoid easy detection.
[12 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
When Ralph comes down for breakfast in the common room of the Burnt Honey Inn, he finds a (fortunately sober) Grau Soldado waiting for him. Grau explains he’s looking for Yraelzin because his niece is quite sick, and no one can figure out what she has or how to heal it. He says her mother’s been talking about going to the Bank of Abadar, but Grau doubts she can afford what they’d charge. Ralph takes Grau to Yraelzin’s shrine, and they also find Goldcape there (she’s been sleeping in the building since her treehouse burned down). Yraelzin jumps at the chance to impress a member of the Korvosan Guard and earn further plaudits for his promise to help the “poor, pathetic, and downtrodden” of Korvosa.
The four cross North Bridge and into the small neighborhood of Trail’s End that hugs one bank of the Jeggare. Trail’s End looks to be made up primarily of Varisians, and is clearly a poor community. Scarni gangs are loitering on the streets, but they recognise Grau and don’t harass the party. The Soldado home is a squat, two-story wooden building in desperate need of repair—but the inside is remarkably clean and well-kept. Worried about catching something, Ralph decides to stay outside. Grau asks Goldcape and Yraelzin to wait in the living room as he jogs upstairs. In the kitchen, a man wearing white robes with the symbol of a key around his neck is brewing some concoction that smells of cinnamon and anise. Angry whispering can be heard from upstairs before Grau comes down, looking annoyed, accompanied by a Varisian woman in her late thirties whose simple beauty is marred only by the lines of concern on her face.
The woman introduces herself as Tayce Soldado, Grau’s sister-in-law, and tells Yraelzin how grateful she is for his coming. She leads Yraelzin and Goldcape upstairs into a bedroom loft to see her daughter, Brienna. A young girl lies in one of the beds, her slight frame dwarfed by the bed’s size and the pile of pillows, afghans, and quilts surrounding her. Splotches of an angry red rash cover her face and arms, appearing in irregular shapes and sizes; suddenly, her restlessness is interrupted by a violent fit of hacking coughs that jerk her entire frame. The spasm passes after a moment, dropping her back to the bed, but seemingly having done little to ease her breathing. “Oh my,” Yraelzin whispers, his eyes wide behind the implacable iron mask. He examines the girl and then shakes his head slowly. “This is . . . beyond me,” he says to Goldcape. “I’ve never seen the like of this before. But you may be able to offer temporary respite.” He asks the vanara to use the intuitive magic she’s learned from her time in the jungle to restore some of the girl’s strength, and although it takes all of Goldcape’s skill, it works. Brienna Soldado wakes almost immediately, befuddled by the strangers in her room, and asks her mother if lunch is ready yet. Tayce shrieks with relief and throws her arms around Brienna before thanking Goldcape and Yraelzin profusely.
Goldcape and Yraelzin return downstairs, and beckon Ralph inside to share that they’ve only been able to ameliorate the worst of the symptoms, not cure the mysterious disease affecting the girl. The white-robed man emerges from the kitchen and speaks to the group. He gives his name as Ishani Dhatri of the Bank of Abadar, and sighs in frustration at hearing that Yraelzin wasn’t able to cure the disease. Ishani says he’s already entreated the Golden One for several healing miracles this day, and that in any event the tenets of his church require him collect payment for such deeds—which he suspects the Soldados couldn’t afford. It’s clear he feels awkward and ashamed by not being able to do more than prepare herbal balms for the girl. He adds that the girl isn’t the first person he’s seen recently with the symptoms, and that the disease can progress quite quickly until the victim is on death’s door. Worried of a full-on outbreak, he can only wonder at his superiors’ refusal to allow for free healing of those affected.
Grau speaks up, saying he’s heard that rumors are spreading about a virulent new disease, which for now seems mostly confined to the poorer areas of the city. Some suspect a ship sunk in the Jeggare a few days ago may be the cause. The vessel arrived in the middle of the night sporting yellow lanterns on the figurehead, a traditional nautical warning about a ship under quarantine. When it didn’t respond to signals and continued sailing into the river, the Korvosan Guard unit on North Bridge opened fire with heavy trebuchets and sunk it. But there were no signs of anyone aboard, before, during, or after its sinking.
As the others talk, Goldcape slips back upstairs and talks to Brienna. At first, the girl lies about what she had been doing before getting sick, but Goldcape persuades her how important it is to share what she knows. She admits that she found a bulging belt pouch in an alleyway near the river in Trail’s End, and inside was fifty silver coins! She says she raced into the city to spend her fortune, visiting all sorts of stalls in the Green Market. She didn’t want to tell anyone because she felt guilty for not sharing the money with her family.
It seems like The Harrower’s dire portents are coming true: a strange new plague is striking Korvosa. And given how rapidly the disease progresses, it may indeed just be seven days to the grave for those afflicted.
This is a *long* recap--perhaps the longest one of the campaign. The explanation is that between each Chapter of the AP, I give the PCs 3d6 days of Downtime where they can retrain, gather information, craft items, etc., without fear of attack or the plot progressing past them. Summarising that plus a session that had a ton of role-playing and story development (with no combat encounters) meant for a lot of exposition and description.
We get the first passing mention of the Gray Maidens here, and they of course become very important later on.
In regards to Trinia, I came up with the idea of her joining the Kodar Kneecappers (an adventuring group of dwarves from the Rival Guide) for a couple of reasons. First, I always like making connections; second, it seemed more interesting than just having her hide out at a ranch; and third, I thought she (and the Kneecappers) could make a dramatic reappearance in Chapter Four. The little bit about the bridge was completely unplanned on my part, but it turned out to be a nice misdirect about Vencarlo.
Jolistina's attack on Goldcape's house was an exciting bit. I added it in to make sure they really hated Rolth Lamm and to remind them that a vanara flying around on a giant roc would make for a pretty visible target.
The occult seance NPC came from The Horror on Hook Street module. That adventure is set well after the AP, but I was happy to use one of the NPCs from it.
Goldcape's player did some fantastic role-playing in the scenes with Brienna. For a kid who was only 9, he put the adults at the table to shame!
[12 Desnus 4708 A.R., continued]
After receiving fervid thanks for their visit from Tayce Soldado (and a promise to return the favour someday from Grau), the group leaves Trail’s End in the company of Ishani Dhatri. Ralph has offered to assist the young acolyte in convincing his superiors to take reports of the plague more seriously and to allow for the provision of free healing—even though that violates the core tenets of the Abadarian faith. But as the group reach the white marble walls of the Bank of Abadar, they realise the issue has clearly come to the church’s attention in the form of a small mob! Although much of Korvosa is still unaware of the disease, dozens of citizens pock-marked with red sores have climbed the steep stairs leading up to the temple’s great bronze doors and are trying to press their way in while clamouring for healing. And when they catch sight of Ishani’s and Yraelzin’s clerical garb, the two men are almost trampled when the crowd rushes over to them, begging and pleading for aid. Ralph manages to help carry Ishani to safety while Goldcape is forced to tear Yraelzin from several grasping hands. The two priests are battered and dishevelled, but together they reach the safety of the temple.
The main hall of the temple is clearly given over to the business of banking, with a few small shrines and counselling chambers in alcoves along the side. Ishani leads the group to one of these alcoves and asks them to wait while he gets changed and petitions for a meeting with the Archbanker. When he returns about a half hour later, he says he managed to secure a brief meeting for the group. As Ishani leads them through the temple’s luxurious hallways, he says apparently some of his fellow priests have come down with the disease, and that it has been nick-named “blood veil” on account of its visible symptoms. Reports indicate that it’s spreading quickly, and that the city’s other temples have been mobbed as well—especially the Temple of Sarenrae, since it serves as a public hospital as well as a place of devotion.
The group are shown into the offices of Archbanker Darb Tuttle, but meet with a frosty reception. He scoffs at Ralph’s suggestion that the origins of the plague could be the ship that was sunk in the river, and says that Bank policy when it comes to healing is not open for discussion—especially with outsiders. But in what seems more of a bid to get the group out of his office more than anything, he says he’ll requisition some magical potions that allow one to temporarily breathe water so they can go investigate. A request by the group to allow Ishani to accompany them is flatly denied, as Archbanker Tuttle says all hands are needed to combat the plague. After the group leave Tuttle’s offices, Ishani thanks the others for their help, and says he’ll try to keep in touch. It’s clear the young Vudrani man wishes he could do more to help those afflicted by blood veil even if they can’t afford to pay.
Ralph decides to see if the Temple of Sarenrae can be of more assistance. Forced to use a rope and grappling hook to climb up into a back window because of the mob out front, he manages to speak to an earnest priest. The priest says the faith is doing everything it can to help, but even with all its preparations for a plague, they weren’t prepared for something that seems to spread so quickly. He says if Ralph’s team can find anything on the origin of the disease—where it came from, how it spreads, and so forth—the temple will find that information valuable in trying to concoct a cure. After meeting Yraelzin outside (forced to hide in an alley to avoid another scene), the two walk towards the shops at Eodred’s Walk to meet up with Goldcape. Along the way, the pair notice several people clubbing rats in the streets and hanging up their corpses in front of their houses—apparently, gossip on the street is that the disease is spread by rat bites and displaying the bodies serves as a “warning” for other rats to stay away!
Inside the archery shop named Trapper’s Hole, Goldcape’s friend Jope Chantsmo has a different theory—his is that as long as you bathe regularly, you can’t get sick. When Goldcape explains that she’s planning an underwater mission, Jope says he’s never heard of a magical enchantment that allows a bow to fire underwater. And when Ralph and Yraelzin arrive and he spots the latter’s underwater crossbow, he kicks the priest out—everyone knows there’s nothing Jope hates more than crossbows! With the sun beginning to set, the group agree that Goldcape should try to hurry to an alchemist to buy some anti-plagues so they’ll be prepared for the underwater mission to look at the wreck of the sunken ship—in case there is something there that spreads the disease. Goldcape flies on Rocky’s back and makes it just in time, only to learn that old Ledbetter has already sold out of anti-plagues. He says he and his assistants will be making some more in the evening, and customers can try again in the morning.
That night, Ralph (in his disguise as a drunk rambler) and Goldcape (flying overhead) return to West Dock in the hopes of spotting some sign of Rolth Lamm or his accomplices. They notice that an old warehouse in the run-down area is being renovated into the “Hospice of the Blessed Maiden.” But it’s in an alleyway behind that building that fortune smiles on them—they catch a glimpse of a woman with long blonde hair slipping into an open sewer grate! As the figure matches the description of Rolth’s sometime partner in crime Jolistina, Ralph finds a good hiding spot to don his Reckoner guise, and together he and Goldcape wrench the sewer grate open again and enter the sewers. Goldcape’s magic lights their way, and they manage to follow the sound of footsteps splashing through the muck down one branch of the tunnels.
But although they try to follow silently, their approach does not go undetected. “Naughty, naughty boys and girl!” calls out a voice mockingly. A long game of cat-and-mouse follows, as Jolistina relies on invisibility potions, smoke bombs, and similar tricks to try to confuse her pursuers while teasing them constantly. But Goldcape and Rocky take on the aspect of the wolf, and are able to pinpoint Jolistina’s exact position every time! The Reckoner’s hammer and Rocky’s sharp claws wear down the harlequin-clad criminal as she makes multiple attempts to flee, but each time her escape is blocked through good teamwork. Finally, she tries to scurry through a narrow sewer pipe but The Reckoner catches up to her and brings his hammer down hard on her legs! The punishment is too much for the half-elf to take, and she dies instantly from the blow. Goldcape is annoyed with The Reckoner for disposing of another potentially valuable source of information, but he says she was too dangerous to take any chances with.
A search of the small alcove that Jolistina had been using as a hide-out uncovers some valuables, and an invitation to a party at Carowyn Manor in just a few days’ time. The Reckoner expresses hope that with the body, perhaps Madame Carrington could tell them something about where Jolistina had been recently, but Goldcape says they’ll get arrested if they’re caught with a body on the streets of Korvosa! For now, The Reckoner hides the body in a sewer pipe and he and Goldcape go their separate ways. Ralph returns to the Burnt Honey Inn for a well-deserved night’s sleep, while Goldcape is treated to a warm bath and hot tea at the residence of Wynda Giotorri, Old Lady Cloggins’ best friend. Wynda says there’s no need to worry about “blood veil” anymore—her favourite perfumery has just invented a miracle cure called “Lavender’s Luxuriant Linament”!
Isolated, unnoticed cases in the past few days have suddenly erupted into a full-fledged plague. Will the Harrowed Heroes manage to help contain it, or will they fall victim to it themselves?
I liked the scenes of the desperate crowd swarming visible priests, including Yraelzin. Rescuing them made for some exciting moments that couldn't just devolve into standard combat encounters.
I had to improv the bits with the Bank of Abadar and the Temple of Sarenrae. This AP does a better job than many published campaigns in explaining why those in power can't just step up and solve every problem, but that doesn't stop PCs from trying.
Lots of seeds for future events are planted here--the rats, Carowyn Manor, the Hospice of the Blessed Manor, Lavender's ointment, etc.
In the published AP, Jolistina isn't encountered in the way that took place in this session. The PCs were diligent in searching for her and (if I remember right) rolled a natural 20 on that search for her, so I went with it. I try to reward players for exercising agency rather than just waiting for stuff to happen. Capturing her in the sewers probably wouldn't have been possible without Goldcape's "Animal Focus" class ability which allowed her and Rocky to use Scent; often these utility powers are overshadowed in gameplay discussions by stuff with pure combat applications, but they can really make a difference. It's too bad The Reckoner doesn't use his hammer more judiciously sometime--capturing a source like Jolistina could have given them some valuable info early.
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[13 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
The Giotorri residence—owned by toymaker Rudolpho and his wife Wynda—is at capacity with both Old Lady Cloggins and Goldcape staying over. But Goldcape isn’t going anywhere, as she wakes up in the morning feeling incredibly sick. When a mirror reveals angry red sores on her body, Goldcape realises she’s come down with the dreaded blood veil! Fortunately, having taught Rocky to deliver messages in recent weeks, she’s able to send him to Ralph with a note. Ralph sends back a valuable vial of antiplague and a promise to visit soon. Goldcape drinks it and a vial of Lavender’s Luxurious Liniment graciously donated by Wynda (though she expresses concern she’s running low on her supply of the miracle cure). Meanwhile, Ralph makes multiple trips across town to locate one of the few remaining magical cures available—he plans to hold it in reserve in case Goldcape doesn’t recover soon. When he visits Goldcape, he chastises her for not cutting off Jolistina’s escape route, which he says necessitated his killing the villain. But Goldcape is in no mood for being reprimanded, and shouts “use a sap next time!”
Later that day, with Goldcape stuck in quarantine and Yraelzin refusing to come, Ralph decides he’ll take up a solo stakeout of the sewer entrance where Jolistina was first spotted. He plans to disguise himself as a roof repairer and asks Potter Minehan, proprietor of the Burnt Honey Inn, for the loan of a ladder and other equipment. But Potter says much of the equipment from his storage room has been stolen, and he’s heard other homes and business have been similarly burglarized. Ralph offers to head into the basement to look around, and when he pulls aside a pile of crates, he sees a small hole has been smashed into the wall and leads into the sewers! Ralph tells Potter about how the thieves got in, and the innkeeper promises to board up the hole immediately. Ralph completes his disguise and goes on his stakeout, but, unfortunately, there’s no sign of Rolth Lamm or anyone else. When it starts to rain, Ralph gives up for the day and returns to his room at the inn—though he has to fight off a pair of feral dogs on the way.
[14 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, Ralph heads towards where Goldcape is staying in order to check up on her. The winds are howling through the mostly-deserted streets when he sees a curious assemblage: a pair of Grey Maidens escorting four figures buttoned up from head to toe and wearing masks with strange, bird-like beaks! One of the Grey Maidens points at Ralph and motions him over with gestures that brook no argument. One of the beak-faced figures hands Ralph a scroll and then the Grey Maiden pushes Ralph away so the group can continue their walk. They appear to be knocking on doors and nailing other copies of the scroll to doorjambs and wooden posts along the street. The wind almost tears Ralph’s copy out of his hands before he manages to read it.
Attention! By decree of Her Royal Majesty, the Radiant Queen Ileosa I, all citizens and members of the Korvosan Guard are to aid and admit the newly established Queen’s Physicians in this time of urgency. These royal agents will extend healing to the sick and organize defense against the spreading affliction known as “blood veil.” They are to be allowed access to any home or building they deem necessary in the course of their duties. All those suffering from disease or disorder are to submit themselves to the Physicians for treatment. To aid in the duties of the Queen’s Physicians, know that the order of the Gray Maidens has been established to provide military support as needed. The Maidens answer directly to the Crimson Throne, and will be called upon as necessary to augment and strengthen the peace where simply city guards will not suffice. Impeding or distracting the duties of the Queen’s Physicians or the Gray Maidens is punishable by imprisonment. Impersonating one of the Queen’s Physicians is punishable by death. Knowingly harbouring or hiding the infected is punishable by death. Purposefully spreading blood veil is punishable by torture, even death. The Queen’s Physicians will be making rounds of every city district henceforth until Her Majesty deems this misfortune abated.
When Ralph arrives at the Giotorri residence, Goldcape seems to be doing much better! Whether it was the “miracle cure” from Lavender’s, the antiplague sent from Ralph, or just her natural constitution fighting off the disease, only a few small red splotches remain on Goldcape’s fur. Ralph shares the proclamation with Goldcape. The two also talk about the basements of shops and residences being broken into, and the pair decide to collect Yraelzin to investigate. Along the way, they drive off a trio of reprehensible thugs who tried to take advantage of the high winds to capture a house drake as a personal pet. Goldcape helps the broken-winged drake up to a secure perch, and the drake, Portibilis, is grateful.
After the rout, Goldcape and Ralph continue into Old Korvosa, passing by a cart full of the bodies of deceased plague victims heading south—presumably toward the Gray District. At the makeshift shrine to Razmir, they manage to assuage Yraelzin’s hurt feelings about being left out of the capture of Jolistina. They verify that the old warehouse doesn’t have a basement, and then the entire group return to the Burnt Honey Inn. After pulling away the boards that Potter hurriedly used to cover the hole, the group enter the sewers in the hopes of finding some clue as to the thieves’ identity or whereabouts. Goldcape proves herself the hero of the hour by harnessing the power of the wolf to give herself a keen sense of smell; although the reek of the sewer is almost overwhelming, she’s still somehow able to discern a strange undercurrent of a man’s scent mixed with that of a rat. It’s not much, but it’s not enough of a trail to follow. The party enters the city’s sewer system, sticking as much as possible to the narrow walkways on the side to avoid the channel of semi-solid muck that flows down the center of each tunnel. A subterranean predator known as a cave fisher is felled at long range by Goldcape’s excellent marksmanship.
Goldcape continues to follow the strange scent she originally picked up in the cellar of the Burnt Honey Inn. The trail leads hundreds of feet through winding tunnels, and sometimes diverts to other basements that have been broken into. But the main trail is easy enough for Goldcape to follow, and eventually she realises they’ve walked underground all the way to the Midland District. At one point, through the disgustingly visible haze of noxious sewer reek, the flow of unmentionable slop through the sewer’s filth-slick channel unexpectedly forks. Most of the muck continues on its expected path, but a small stream of ooze diverts off through a wide cleft in a mouldy masonry wall. Motioning for Yraelzin and Rocky to stay behind, Goldcape and The Reckoner creep silently toward the hole to peer inside. They see something quite surprising: a pair of rat-like humanoids accompanied by three rats the size of small dogs! The cave is full of fat, black mushrooms and disgusting fungus growing around a thick pool of slime, but it’s clear the subterranean chamber has been occupied for some time, as there are piles of mouldering hay, filthy furs, and piles of garbage inside.
Knowing they’ve gotten the jump on the thieves, Goldcape silently nocks her bow, takes careful aim, and lets loose an arrow. It flies true and hits one of the rat-men right in the chest, only for the metal arrowhead to crumple without penetrating at all! The Reckoner leaps into the chamber to protect his ally, inadvertently causing a strange fungal growth known as a shrieker to start emitting a high-pitched sound. The giant rats and the rat-men charge into battle to repel the intruders, but the rats are quickly killed and The Reckoner’s alchemically-silvered battle maul rips through the rat-men. But setting off the shrieker has alerted others nearby, and it’s clear that reinforcements are just about to arrive!
A passing mention of storage room thefts by Potter Minehan has led the Harrowed Heroes into the city’s sewers—but given the deadly plague raging on the streets above, they be all the safer for it!
The Giotorris were a combination of my invention (since Old Lady Cloggins needed a safe place to stay, I created a friend named Wynda) and planting the seed for a later adventure hook (involving Mr Giotorri, a toy maker).
Similarly, the stuff with Potter Minehan having tools stolen from his basement was an on-the-spot improv to set up the wererats encounter. I like trying to naturally incorporate these adventure hooks so it all comes across organically--even if sometimes they get overlooked (like the stuff with the con-woman selling "miracle cures" for blood veil).
Goldcape and Rocky's ability to track through smell really came in handy, as they rolled a natural 20 to overcome some hefty sewer-based penalties.
There were a lot of little random encounters in this session--the stuff with the drake, the wild dogs, the cave fisher, etc. Sometimes the dice make these rare, and sometimes they seem to happen in big bunches.
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[14 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Having stumbled onto the trail of thieves operating from the sewers below the city, the Harrowed Heroes find themselves in the middle of subterranean wererat den! Although the pack’s outer guards have been subdued, sounds indicate more are on the way. The Reckoner and Goldcape take up defensive positions alongside one tunnel, only to be blindsided by a veritable swarm of rats that squeeze through a crack in another wall! Yraelzin hurls a flask of alchemist’s fire to slow the squeaking horde, and The Reckoner manages to disperse the rest with mighty blows from his war maul. Wererat reinforcements also fall to the mighty weapon, its silvered head sizzling on impact. Goldcape expresses frustration that she and Rocky’s attacks can’t seem to hurt the monsters.
The group advance to another chamber full of oversized rats’ nests. When several dog-sized dire rats pour through from the north, with another from a small tunnel to the east, The Reckoner orders Yraelzin to take care of the lone one. But the priest of Razmir is in for a surprise when that dire rat’s body begins to somehow shift and expand with a sickening crunch of bone and flesh, to reveal the leader of the wererat pack! The burly wererat shouts about a war for revenge on the surface world for what they’ve done to his kin. Yraelzin is stabbed and bitten by the foe, but manages to retreat as Goldcape and Rocky rush to his aid. Once the dire rats to the north are dispatched, The Reckoner arrives as well, forcing the angry foe to shift back to rat form and escape through a crack in the wall. But they give chase through another tunnel, and The Reckoner is able to put him down for good. A search of the chambers reveals a stockpile of supplies and a small armory of weapons—it sounds like the wererats’ shouts about a planned war wasn’t just rhetoric! But what drove them to such desperate measures?
Heavily wounded in the fighting, Goldcape suggests the group backtrack the way they came and exit the sewers as quickly as possible. But The Reckoner presses for an exploration of the sewer tunnels around the wererats’ den. They come across a sewer beast trapped between two gates, and despite its protests, attack it with a volley of arrows. The aberration is easily defeated, though Goldcape shows mercy and uses magic to keep it from dying.
The group continue on through the tunnels and are nearing an exit when they turn a corner and find themselves only a few dozen feet away from an equally-surprised cytillipede. The ten-foot-long segmented creature with a chitinous body and venomous mandibles looks like a giant centipede, but displays an unusual ability: it begins to glow brightly to stun its prey. Goldcape jumps on Rocky’s back and charges forward with her new rapier, only to be bitten by the cytillipede! Goldcape is badly hurt and near death, but Yraelzin rushes forward and saves her life. With Goldcape out of the fight, Rocky flying around frantically to defend her master, and Yraelzin almost out of spells, the situation looks dire indeed! But although he bleeds from multiple wounds, The Reckoner perseveres and finally succeeds in breaking through to a vital part in the cytillipede’s anatomy and killing it.
They’ve been victorious in every battle, but the sewers and its denizens are clearly draining the strength of Goldcape, Yraelzin, and The Reckoner. Can they escape before their endurance gives out?
A short recap here, because sessions that are mostly combat don't take nearly as long to recount as ones with lots of role-playing. We definitely start to see the dynamic of Goldcape urging caution while The Reckoner tends to want to push on further. The battle against the cytillipede was a random encounter--sometimes those are cakewalks, but this one sure wasn't!
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[14 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Having fought their way through a wererat pack and other dangerous denizens of Korvosa’s sewer system, the Harrowed Heroes finally find an exit. But they jump from the frying pan and into the fryer, as a group of wererat-hunting locals have staked out the sewer grate and launch an ambush! The Reckoner dodges a hurled net and shouts for them to stand down while holding his battle-maul threateningly. Goldcape emerges and persuades the aggressors that they’ve made a mistake. She even gets them to release a very real wererat they had previous caught. The wererat, Eries, explains that she had come to the surface to find help because Girrigz was planning a war in response to all the recent murders of rats and wererats due to suspicion they were spreading blood veil. She’s grateful for the rescue and returns to safety underground.
After their exhausting day, the members of the group split up. The Reckoner changes back to Ralph Blackfeather and visits the shops at Eodred’s Walk. While chatting with Phaeton Skoda, Ralph learns the man flunked out of Theumanexus College—a worrisome sign for a proprietor of a magic shop. Yraelzin makes it back to his “Temple of Razmir” in Old Korvosa and promptly lays down to rest, as he’s battered and beaten from the time in the sewers. Goldcape goes to the house of Rodolfo and Wynda Giotorri, the friends of Old Lady Cloggins who have provided them shelter since the arson made their own homes temporarily uninhabitable. Wynda is pacing back and forth, as Rodolfo is late for supper, something she says never happens. When more time passes and she speculates that maybe he’s had to stay in the toy shop he runs because the streets are too dangerous due to rioting and the plague, Goldcape kindly offers to take some food over there to check on him.
Goldcape first stops at the Burnt Honey Inn to find Ralph. As she waits, she chats with Potter Minehan. The mild-mannered innkeeper is glad to hear that there won’t be any further thefts from his storeroom. He expresses confidence that this plague that has affected his business will soon be over, as the Queen’s Physicians are very good at their jobs and are setting up a new hospital to help the victims. When Ralph arrives, Goldcape shares what she knows about Rodolfo not coming home; the mention that Rodolfo had been complaining in recent days about a terrible smell near his shop seems ominous to Ralph, and he agrees to join Goldcape. When they cross one of the many bridges to Old Korvosa, they see the neighbourhood is in even worse shape than usual: garbage isn’t being collected, fires have reduced some tenements to smouldering cinders, and some homeless persons have died from the plague and been left to rot on the streets! The pair, along with Rocky (who has been growing steadily), stop to collect Yraelzin. The priest complains stridently at being awakened, but pride makes him refuse the offer of being left behind. He grumbles that a “disreputable street preacher” outside a nearby tavern has been “stealing” his “flock” with tales of a miracle cure for blood veil.
When the group reaches Giotorri’s Toys, a peak through the front window shows nothing amiss inside. Although Rodolfo clearly isn’t a talented toymaker, there’s no sign of him or a disturbance, and the front door is locked. The terrible stench from an alley adjacent to the shop is almost overwhelming though. Goldcape climbs with monkey-like skill up the front of the building and across the roof to peer into the alley from above, but completely fails to realise she’s not alone up there! Fanged teeth, pale skin, clawed hands, and red eyes mark the figures who ambush her as vampires! Fortunately, the vampires are newly-spawned and awkward in their movements, and they push and shove each other to get at their prey, giving Goldcape a chance to escape and call Rocky for help.
The Reckoner tries to climb up but finds the brick walls too difficult, so he advances into the alley itself—only to stumble upon a gruesome sight. Heaped against a bent wooden wall rises a pile of more than three dozen plague victims, their faces blistered and flushed, eyes open and staring. Obviously, one of the plague cart drivers has been saving himself a trip to the Gray District by unloading his collections here! More vampires, who must have been using the corpses to help disguise the bodies of their own victims, emerge from the darkness. But although he’s hampered by fighting only in the moon’s dim light, The Reckoner once again puts his silver-tempered battle maul to good use! One after another, the freshly-made vampires are crushed and assume a mist-like form to escape.
Although Goldcape is badly hurt in the fighting, the group chase the fleeing bloodsuckers into a workshop that exits onto the alleyway. There, they find Rodolfo—the victim of repeated feeding--unconscious but still alive. A rickety trap door is opened to reveal a crawlspace under the workshop containing six coffins! One by one, the helpless vampires are staked and destroyed. Interestingly, coins found hidden in the coffin soil are all Ustalavic in origin.
As they carry Rodolfo home, the group speculate where the vampires came from, and who their master is. Ralph says the various tragedies taking place in Korvosa could be connected in a web of conspiracy. Goldcape says the city is cursed! Yraelzin just wants a good night’s rest. The Harrowed Heroes make plans to meet up the next day at sunset, because they have a masquerade to attend!
The passing reference to Rocky "getting big" denotes that he's now Large-sized at this point. Alas, animal companions never get any bigger than that, but after the campaign's over we can imagine Rocky growing into a full-sized Gargantuan roc.
This session was a nicely self-contained story. I really like how the AP provides several of these that can be run in any order and easily customised by the GM. Coming across the vampire on the rooftop was a twist the AP probably didn't expect. The Reckoner did well, as good rolls kept the miss chance from dim light from becoming a problem.
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[15 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
Rain clouds fill the skies above the troubled city of Korvosa as Ralph, Yraelzin, and Goldcape spend the day running errands and preparing for the evening’s fancy masquerade party at Carowyn Manor. Goldcape checks on Rodolfo and is heartened to see that the old toymaker is recuperating. Yraelzin’s faith in Razmir and efforts to attract converts seem to be rewarded when he adds a new spell to his repertoire—remove disease. Ralph visits the pentagram-shaped Temple of Asmodeus in search of a wand of infernal healing, but discovers the plague has caused a run on everything related to magical healing—even those requiring devil blood! But a contact leads him to one of the city’s many black market entrepreneurs: a student of the Acadamae who has taken the dreadful risk of stealing from the school’s storerooms and selling the fruits of his criminal labor. The prices are high, but Ralph ends up finding what he’s looking for.
At dusk, the scattered members of the group assemble. Ralph helps everyone with their costumes, taking extra effort to fine-tune everyone’s garb so they appear to be of upper-class status. Goldcape will go as The Harrower (completely disguising her vanaran heritage), The Reckoner is going as himself, Yraelzin insists on going as a pirate bandit from Osirion, and even Rocky gets to join in the fun. Goldcape planned to leave her roc companion behind, but Ralph expects trouble, and wants the team to be fully prepared.
Carowyn Manor proves to be a stately, gabled estate along Shoreline Way that includes a limestone manor house, a servant’s residence, and a meticulously manicured garden—complete with a gazebo and pond. Every element is as fine as the nouveau riche can afford, and the party’s guests have come similarly well-dressed to match in garish outfits and elaborate masks of all shapes and sizes. The proffered invitation obtained from Jolistina’s bolt hole and Ralph’s skilled costuming is enough to get the group in the front door.
The wealthy, aristrocratic, and/or famous guests enjoy the party in grand style, with little thought to the disease they believe only affects those living in squalor. Splitting up to look for anything suspicious or any word of Rolth Lamm, members of the group make idle chit-chat with a variety of partygoers. Goldcape realises Maximos Flavicos, leader of Longtail’s performing troupe, is at the party, but her disguise holds up and Maximos has no idea he’s speaking to the city’s only vanaran. Ralph speaks to Ausio Carowyn (host of the party), and also notices that Amin Jalento—the bearded youth he helped save from a mob in the early days of the unrest—is present as well. Mercival Jeggare, the learned curator of the Jeggare Museum and chief consultant for the University of Korvosa’s Jeggare Library, is overhead speaking about a new order of books on arcane and esoteric subjects requested directly by Queen Ileosa herself. Ralph subtly makes a reference to Rolth Lamm, and it seems like Mercival knows something—but he immediately changes the subject.
It seems like the night will slide into the tedious mingling favoured by the idle rich, but at least one guest has a hunch that the group does not really belong at the party. Darvayne Gios Amprei, Korvosa’s snooty ambassador from Cheliax, loves nothing more than to prove his wit and status by embarrassing those of a perceived lower station. He rounds on the group, loudly mocking everything from their accents to their footwear to the way they eat hors d’ouvres. Sniggering can be heard from the crowd, as all ears and eyes turn to the ensuing confrontation that promises someone being laughed out of the party. But although a verbal duel isn’t what they were expecting, and they no longer possess the letters obtained from Eel’s End implicating the ambassador in immorality, the Harrowed Heroes rise to the challenge. Ralph makes cutting remarks about the ambassador’s devil-worshipping heritage, Goldcape has Rocky do charming stunts, and Yraelzin is unmatchable when it comes to pompous oratory. Amprei fights back with every tool of his manipulative trade, but eventually finds himself outmatched and forced to stride away, humiliated.
The rest of the party is uneventful, though Ralph gathers more background on Mercival Jeggare and learns that an entertainer named Ruan Mirukova (a Varisian prodigy) never showed up as planned. Having obtained some interesting new leads, members of the group agree that the next day they’ll follow up on an earlier one by investigating the submerged wreckage of the purported plague ship!
[16 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
The next day, Goldcape visits Sgt. Clenkins at Citadel Volshyanek and receives a warm welcome. When asked, Clenkins says all he knows about the sunken ship was that it went down somewhere near North Bridge. He’s able to direct Goldcape to one of the trebuchet crews stationed on the Wall of Eodred, and a helpful member of the Korvosan Guard is able to narrow the area further. The guard says that efforts to send a salvage team below have been hampered by the river’s depth in that area (80 feet), the difficulty in suitably outfitting a dive team with water breathing and anti-plague magic, and the presence of a jigsaw shark. By flying on Rocky’s back, Goldcape is able to skim right over the surface of the Jeggare River and she sees, despite its muddy currents, the wreckage of a ship. It looks to be a merchant ship from Nidal and is very similar to the one that brought her and Longtail over from Casmaron. But the vessel has hit the river’s bottom on its side and cracked in two from a rocky outcropping.
After Ralph and Yraelzin are notified, the group prepare for a dangerous dive. Ralph purchases short swords that will be much easier to wield underwater than his battle maul, special weighted harnesses are obtained, and a gnome fisherman is persuaded to (for a reasonable fee) take the unusual trio out on the river in his small boat. After securing the harness chains to the boat and swallowing the magical potions obtained from the Temple of Abadar, the Harrowed Heroes dive into the river. The waters are tolerably warm and visibility, aided by magical light spell, isn’t bad. The wondrous ability to breathe water lessens the group’s anxiety as they descend deeper and deeper. Goldcape’s inherent talent for natural magic allows her to see trails of multiple aquatic creatures in the area—small eels, a shark, and some sort of humanoid.
The group aim their descent to the aft portion of the fire- and trebuchet- damaged vessel, landing near the captain’s cabin. The door is swollen shut, forcing The Reckoner to laboriously hack it open. Inside, amidst the tattered sheets of a canopied bed, the body of a drowned man can be seen floating in the murky water. The corpse is dressed in simple black robes and wears an amulet depicting a skull shaped like a housefly. The Reckoner notices a wound on the man’s head that matches a patch of skin and hair on the edge of a nearby footlocker. When Goldcape opens the footlocker, she sees that its seals have remained intact, and the contents—coins, a robe with the same housefly-skull symbol, and a heavy book bound in darkwood—are unharmed. The Reckoner motions for Goldcape to open the book, but she shakes her head, suspecting its pages would be ruined.
Swimming out of the cabin, the group move amidships and open one of the hatches in the now-canted deck. Wooden boxes and crates—all surprisingly completely empty—float in the water, but it’s the small jigsaw shark that catches the intrepid explorers’ attention! Curiously, instead of attacking, the shark swims over to a door in the wall and butts its head against it multiple times! The Reckoner and Goldcape swim over and, in their first taste of the awkwardness of underwater combat, manage to subdue the shark.
Now, eighty feet underwater in the rotting hulk of a suspected plague ship, questions abound. Where’s the crew and passengers? Why is there no cargo? And who--or what--was the shark trying to signal?
I was glad to see the PCs make use of Korvosa's black market. Before the campaign, I had developed a rules sub-system (drawn from one of the hardcover books or Player Companions) about the risks and opportunities of engaging with it. The black market only matters, of course, because the settlement rules limit what PCs can purchase. I really like how these limits contract and expand in the AP (even down to the availability of healing items here in Chapter 2), which really adds to the flavour of the campaign instead of a "anyone can buy anything they can afford at anytime" thing.
The players were expecting a big fight at Carowyn Manor, but what they didn't know was that by killing Jolistina early, they stopped the "zombie apocalypse" that would have happened during the party. I mostly improvised the party, drawing on the rich collection of NPCs the campaign makes available, and I used the Social Combat card deck for the confrontation with Amprei. It was fun and worked really well to bring out some good role-playing.
The PCs prepared extensively for the exploration of the sunken ship, not knowing that there's really only a couple of battles down there. I had also prepped cheat sheets to explain underwater combat, and I think it went relatively smoothly (3D combat will also be a bit tricky), with the fact that they could fight on the bottom of the river making it easier.
[16 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Immersed in eight feet of the murky waters of the Jeggare River, the Harrowed Heroes continue their exploration of the Nidalese merchant ship Direption. The Reckoner moves the unconscious jigsaw shark out of the way and then pushes open the swollen door it was guarding. Crew quarters lay on the other side, hammocks drifting in the water amidst a haze of gore, fish heads, and half-eaten eels. A terrible sight drifts near the back of the chamber--an ancient-looking woman whose hair is like rotting seaweed, skin like algae, and face like weathered rock. A sea hag! She moves suddenly, raising a shortspear, and the very sight of her makes Goldcape feel weak in the knees. The Reckoner cleverly braces himself in the doorframe to find purchase with his legs as the hag advances to kill him. He stabs her multiple times with his short swords, but the hag curses him in turn, filling his mind with horrifying phantasms that send him drifting off into a motionless fugue state! With Goldcape weakened and The Reckoner virtually comatose, the situation seems dire indeed—but Rocky darts through the doorway and catches the hag by the neck, shaking her until she dies unceremoniously.
Yraelzin and Goldcape realise just how serious the curse affecting The Reckoner is—if it’s not broken, he could slide from a coma to death in just a day! They rush him to the surface and find the fishing boat still waiting for them. But as they clamber aboard with their helpless ally, they notice the gnome fisherman isn’t paying them any attention—he’s standing astride the bow, staring off toward Old Korvosa. All of the wooden bridges connecting it to the rest of the city are in flames! Goldcape leaps atop Rocky’s back to fly to the Burnt Honey Inn to gather some coins from Ralph Blackfeather’s secret stash, while Yraelzin forces the gnome to start rowing again and help transport The Reckoner to the nearby Temple of Abadar. There, after forcing their way through a crowd, they meet with Ishani Dhatri and he arranges for a more experienced priest to break the curse affecting The Reckoner. With a gasp, the vigilante awakens. Before they leave, Ishani explains about the burning bridges—-Old Korvosa has been quarantined! The Grey Maidens have set fire to all of the wooden bridges, and have set up guards around the only stone bridge. Ishani says it’s a sign of how terrible the plague has become and that he hopes the new hospice set up by Doctor Davaulus, the Royal Physician, will be able to help some of those affected.
Concerned that in their hasty exit they may have left vital clues behind, the group hire the same fisherman to take them out again. Yraelzin is able to magically conjure bubbles of air for the dive, but explains they’ll only last a few minutes. Fortunately, The Reckoner still has the bottle of air recovered from a previous adventure and is able to supplement the group’s ability to breathe in an emergency. But, apart from some silt eels, a thorough search of the wreckage turns up nothing of value—indeed, the ship is oddly empty of any crew or cargo. The Harrowed Heroes return to the surface, disappointed and sure that they must have missed something.
Once everyone is seated on the boat again, The Reckoner suggests rowing across the river to Trail’s End to see how young Brienna Soldado is faring—especially now that Yraelzin has proclaimed, in his usual grandiose manner, that Razmir has given him the power to cure blood veil. But they’re too late, explains the girl’s mother, Tayce. Brienna passed away yesterday morning, and her body has already been transported to the Grey. She doesn’t blame the group, and says they at least gave her a few extra days with her daughter. She does ask them for a favour, however: to check in on Grau. The Korvosan Guardsman was about to sell his mithral blade for the money to pay for Brienna to be cured, but was persuaded that elixirs from the perfumery Lavender would cure the disease. Obviously, they didn’t, and his niece’s death has hit Grau hard—he’s taken up drinking again. The group agree to help, and give Tayce a now-rare magical potion that may cure blood veil if she or her other children contract it.
Outside, Goldcape, Yraelzin, and Ralph Blackfeather discuss what to do next. Yraelzin is upset that Old Korvosa has been quarantined, as his newly-established Temple of Razmir is there! Ralph is intent on finding something that once belonged to Rolth Lamm to see if a diviner could use it to discern the purported necromancer’s location. Goldcape, however, is keen to help Grau. The trio decide that Yraelzin and Ralph will return to the Grey and the derro warrens below to see if they can find anything Rolth left behind, while Goldcape will see if she can find and help the despondent Guardsman.
Goldcape leaves the other two behind and flies on the ever-growing Rocky across the river to Citadel Volshyanek. As usual, the friendly and moustachioed Sergeant Clenkins is on duty. He confirms that Grau hasn’t shown up for work and has been spotted making the rounds of some local taverns. He gives Goldcape some leads, and the two discuss recent events in the city. Clenkins says that the Longacre Building, the government building where the arbiters (magistrates) do their work and pass sentence on accused criminals, was taken over by the Grey Maidens and that Zenobia Zenderholm, the most famous arbiter in the city, is missing! Goldcape wonders aloud why Clenkins is always on gate duty and never in the field, and hears how he suffered a leg injury some years ago while on a raid that never quite healed properly.
Meanwhile, Yraelzin and Ralph cross back into the city via the North Bridge and stop by the Burnt Honey Inn to change into some drier (and cleaner) clothes. While chatting with the innkeeper, Yraelzin hears a rumor that the palace tried to have the king resurrected, but that it backfired! Yraelzin laments that a Priest of Razmir like himself hadn’t conducted the ritual, as it surely would have come off perfectly. Ralph and Yraelzin then make the trek on foot to the Grey District and take up a surveillance position high up on the wall around the cemetery. They see the distressing sight of mass graves dug for the numerous victims of blood veil.
At the same time, Goldcape has managed to track down Grau—he’s sitting despondently in the corner of an ironically upbeat inn called the Bard’s End in South Shore, just a block from the Kendall Amphitheater. Grau is so drunk as to be barely conscious and coherent. Goldcape tries to cheer him up, but can’t get through to him. In a show of solidarity, Goldcape decides to have a couple of drinks with him, but the alcohol rushes to the vanara’s head quickly! Still, she has the wherewithal to send a message via Rocky to Ralph, saying that she’s found Grau. When Ralph receives it, he sends a message back stating that he and Yraelzin are ready to go into the derro warrens, and that Goldcape should come too, as it could be dangerous. But Goldcape is quite drunk by this time, and sends back a message saying they can go tomorrow. Feeling let down by a teammate, Ralph sends back an angry note saying they’ll go in without her. The derro warrens look to have been stripped of anything valuable—the alchemical equipment, library, and all signs of criminal or necromantic activity are gone. But Ralph remembers from a conversation with Yraelzin that something like fingernail clippings or a lock of hair could be vital to a successful scrying spell. He searches the bedroom where they once found the broken key-shaped blade, and turns up several brown human hairs!
The two hurry out of the warrens and pass from the Grey to South Shore. Inside the Bard’s End, they find Grau has completely passed out and Goldcape is too intoxicated to be of any assistance. Annoyed, Ralph leads Yraelzin to the Heights, knowing that’s where Mercival Jeggare’s luxury townhouse will be found. Yraelzin, however, manages to talk his ally out of a plan to break in, kidnap the learned aristocrat, and interrogate him for information on Rolth Lamm, by arguing that the risk of being caught and punished by the city’s constabulary is too high.
[17 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
The next morning, a hungover Goldcape meets the others at the Burnt Honey Inn. They decide their best chance of finding a diviner is at Theumanexis College in East Shore, since the far more prestigious Acadamae has barred its gates ever since the unrest began with King Eodred II’s death. Theumanexus College has a small campus of three buildings, and in Geezlebottle Hall (bizarrely sized halfway for humans and halfway for gnomes) they persuade (with hundreds of gold pieces) a high-pitched gnome wizard to cast the necessary spell. It takes him hours of work, but eventually he pinpoints the location of the owner of the brown hairs: somewhere underneath the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden!
Through hard work and the diligent assemblage of clues, the proactive Harrowed Heroes may be ready to take the battle to their enemy. But if the hairs do belong to Rolth Lamm, what is he doing at the city’s newest effort to combat blood veil? And could the Queen’s Physicians somehow be involved?
Yay Rocky! Goldcape's animal companion has been amazingly useful in the campaign, with its ability to fly especially important. Without Rocky, that battle against the sea hag could have turned out very differently indeed.
I didn't really realise before running this session just how nasty the "evil eye" effect of a sea hag could be. Coma then death, in a matter of days. It's a good thing the group was near civilisation and could get it removed.
I really liked the spectacle of the burning bridges just as the PCs emerged from exploring the wreckage. Once in a while, GM Jhaeman is inspired!
The death of Brienna Soldado was sad.
I was privately relieved that the PCs gave up (and eventually forgot about) the lead with Mercival Jeggare. I had hinted at the party that maybe he knew something about Ileosa purchasing dark magics and something about Rolth Lamm, but I hadn't really prepared anything, much less a map and stats for a kidnapping attempt!
I really appreciate how proactive the PCs are in this campaign. It's so much more fun and interesting than groups who just sit back and wait for stuff to happen to them.
[17 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
After pinpointing what they believe is the location of Rolth Lamm, the Harrowed Heroes split up for supplies for a planned raid. Ralph heads to Hedge Wizardry in search of magical scrolls, and is referred by Phaeton to a nearby bookstore called Basha’s. The cranky proprietor has what Ralph is looking for, but insists on also selling him a “treasure map” that seems to have been made up on the spot! Meanwhile, Goldcape flies on Rocky’s back at top speed across the city, earning curious looks from Sable Company marines mounted on hippogriffs. Goldcape makes it to the Stalwart Shield in North Point just in time before they close, and purchases some new armor. She asks why the armorer has a “no dwarves” policy and learns that the three brothers who work there were once turned away from apprenticeships in the dwarven city of Janderhoff.
Goldcape meets Yraelzin and Ralph as planned in Eodred’s Walk. Goldcape purchases a special alchemically-made smoke arrow from Jope Chantsmo, and hears that a clever way to disable spellcasters is to fire an arrow at them that has been previously enchanted with a magical silence spell. Goldcape is intrigued by the idea, but with Hedge Wizardry and Basha’s closed, she can think of only one place a magical scroll of silence could be obtained: the Gilded Orrery. The problem is that the store is closely affiliated with the Acadamae, and its plump, mirthless proprietor refuses to entertain customers off the street. Goldcape arrives in the middle of a book signing and fails to impress the proprietor enough to gain admittance.
By the time everyone in the group is back together, darkness has fallen over Korvosa. Ralph looks at the map obtained from the wererat den and notes indications of heavy excavation being done under the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden—but the area wouldn’t be accessible to anyone who can’t make themselves as small as a rat! Yraelzin raises the issue of whether raiding the Hospice will get them in trouble with the authorities and suggests calling in the Korvosan Guard, but he’s persuaded that if the Queen’s Physicians are harbouring Rolth Lamm, then the city’s government is already implicated in wrongdoing.
Goldcape and Rocky circle the recently-renovated building from the air. They see some Queen’s Physicians, escorted by Gray Maidens, entering the front door while carrying a stretcher with a presumed plague victim on it. But the front door isn’t the only potential access point—the building was previously a warehouse, and there are several loading doors around back. Goldcape shares what she’s seen with the others and fashions a crude mask to hide her identity from those within. Ralph, who has changed into The Reckoner, suggests entering through the rear doors. Although they’ve been boarded over, he’s not shy about simply smashing the doors open with his battle maul!
The sounds of his assault carry throughout the hospice, and just as the Harrowed Heroes enter a loading bay filled with barrels and crates, a pair of Gray Maidens appear to investigate. The Reckoner shouts that they’re harbouring a known criminal, but seeing an armed, mask vigilante breaking and entering doesn’t predispose them to conversation! Yet, despite their fearsome reputation, the heavily-armored female soldiers are battered into unconsciousness by The Reckoner’s onslaught. Goldcape snaps at The Reckoner for having used her name in the brief scuffle. Before the intruders can venture out of the loading bay, they’re set upon by four Queen’s Physicians wielding hardwood clubs. Their plague masks and uncanny ability to coordinate attacks in complete silence lend the resulting battle an eerie feel, but once Goldcape directs Rocky to attack, all four defenders are quickly overwhelmed.
Curtains separate the loading dock from the warehouse’s vast interior, which has been converted into one gigantic convalescent ward full of dozens of groaning and wheezing Korvosans afflicted with blood veil. Intent on finding Rolth Lamm as quickly as possible, The Reckoner rushes through to another back room and sees a cargo lift but no stairs leading downward where the diviner said Rolth would be. The Reckoner begins searching carefully and realises something startling—there’s a missing button in the lever controlling the cargo lift that would allow it to descend! The Reckoner tries to jury-rig the device to work without the button, but it’s too complex for him. While Yraelzin keeps an eye on things in the convalescent ward, Goldcape rushes across and toward the front of the building. She bursts through another curtain into a waiting room, where a burly nurse wearing scarves over her mouth is sitting behind a long wooden desk reading a broadsheet. Startled, the nurse jumps to her feet and demands to know what Goldcape is doing there, but diplomacy fails and fisticuffs ensue! The battle is a comedy of errors, as both Goldcape and the nurse’s weapons end up slipping out of their hands at some point. Eventually, Goldcape gets the better of the nurse and the woman drops to her knees and surrenders. When asked, she says there’s no basement and she’s never heard of any wrongdoing in the facility. As far as Goldcape can tell, the nurse seems to be telling the truth.
Back in the convalescent ward, a pair of Gray Maidens appear on the catwalks above and loose arrows at Yraelzin and The Reckoner. The intruders take cover under a platform, forcing the Gray Maidens to dispense with their bows, draw steel, and start rushing down stairs towards them. The Reckoner rushes up to meet them halfway, and the battle is underway! The Gray Maidens have the high ground and land some cuts on The Reckoner. Worse, Yraelzin’s magical curing spells inexplicably fail to work! But The Reckoner perseveres and manages to defeat the two just as Goldcape and Rocky join him.
The Harrowed Heroes climb the stairs up, past the landing to the catwalks, and onto the partial second floor of the warehouse. The rough functionality of the warehouse below gives way to beige tile and a whitewashed hall that ends in a pair of teak-wood double doors engraved with images of rampant gazelles. Lacking a key, The Reckoner one again loudly smashes his way through. Past the shattered doors is a smaller room with patients on cots, but the Harrowed Heroes are too late! The Queen’s Physicians in the room have slit all of the patients’ throats and are busy burning notes of whatever work they were doing! Goldcape leaps dramatically on a large worktable in the center of the room, while The Reckoner circles around to the side. The foes work in perfect synchronicity, and Goldcape is badly hurt when the fighting is finished, with one prisoner kept alive for later interrogation.
The Reckoner and Goldcape begin to argue about whether the vanara should have to pay to use the masked vigilante’s magical wand of healing. The matter is unresolved. Remnants of the burned notes seem to refer to experiments being done to discern why some Varisians seem naturally immune to blood veil. Goldcape takes the papers back downstairs to prove to the nurse, Bhrunlida Torthus, that her employers are evil indeed! When Bhrunlida, still terrified, refuses to come upstairs to see the murdered patients, The Reckoner comes down and drags her up. But then Goldcape realises something strange—they’ve overlooked another door in the experimentation chamber, and it’s now standing wide open! The adjoining room looks like a combination office and personal laboratory, but there’s no one to be seen. The Reckoner quickly surmises that someone may be moving about while invisible, leading Goldcape to draw upon her nature magic and adopt the aspect of the wolf. By carefully smelling the air around her, she realises there is indeed the scent of another human that they can’t account for!
But following the scent takes precious time, and soon the raiders hear the sound of the cargo lift in operation! They rush down the stairs and into the lift room to see it beginning to descend. The operator’s invisibility is flickering away to reveal a well-dressed man in an elegant waistcoast, with a rapier fashionably buckled to his belt. He looks up at the group with a look of mild curiosity.
The Harrowed Heroes have breached the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden and learned that not everything going on inside is in the best interests of the city. But their brash raid, although effective, hasn’t been subtle. If there are any further hostile beings below the building, chances are, they’ll be ready and waiting!
The PCs in this campaign are a funny mix of very clever (assembling clues, hiring diviners, gathering information) and and very brash (just smashing their way into the building). It's a pattern we'll continue to see later on, as these PCs aren't much for scouting, stealth, infiltration, etc.
This part of the chapter was challenging to run, as there were a lot of enemies in adjoining places each with particular responses to the alarm being sounded, and the PCs splitting up at one point didn't help. But although it was chaotic and confusing at points, it was also pretty exciting.
[17 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Having violently swept through the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden, the Harrowed Heroes confront the man entrusted with leading Korvosa’s response to blood veil: Doctor Reiner Davaulus. As the Royal Physician begins descending a gear-and-pulley cargo lift, Goldcape conjures a lightning storm and the Reckoner jumps down! But instead of attacking the man, The Reckoner cleverly smashes the control mechanism, halting the lift in its tracks. Davaulus first berates his aggressors for interfering with a task commissioned by the Queen, the impeding of which is tantamount to high treason! But when it’s clear they won’t desist, he draws a rapier and admits a role in actually spreading the disease! Disease is the world’s way to bring back balance, he explains while dodging and parrying, and then promises that Korvosa will be stronger at the end of the process. But weakened by repeated blows from The Reckoner’s battle maul, Doctor Davaulus falls unconscious from blood loss as Goldcape shoots him in the leg with a carefully-aimed arrow.
The invaders have to make a quick decision: should they try to continue below, or first learn more about what they may be facing? They pick the latter, and tie up Davaulus before searching him. A potentially valuable discovery is made: notes on the potential source of Varisians’ partial immunity to blood veil which could be useful in formulating a cure! The decision is made to conduct an interrogation then and there. With Yraelzin’s assistance, Davaulus is brought back to consciousness. Although The Reckoner deals out some mild violence, none is necessary as the captive is quite happy to haughtily explain himself. He admits to being a member of a global league of assassins called the Red Mantis, and says his organisation was hired by Queen Ileosa herself to find a way to separate the “wheat from the chaff” of the city’s population! He says he doesn’t know for sure who killed King Eodred II, but Ileosa tried to hire the Red Mantis to do it but was turned down because the organisation has a firm policy never to target heads of state. He claims that the Red Mantis worked with cultists of Urgathoa (and their head priestess in Korvosa, a “Lady Andaisin”) to formulate blood veil, and that a temple to that goddess of disease and undeath lies right under their feet! He confirms that Rolth Lamm has been a useful freelance associate, and is in the temple with several skeletons, zombies, and even an ancient type of vampire called a nosferatu! Whether all, some, or none of what Davaulus says is true or just another layer of insidious lies can’t be confirmed—but the fact that he tried to magically ensorcel The Reckoner while speaking is certainly proof that he can’t be trusted! Davaulus is knocked unconscious again, and bound and gagged for good measure.
Although keen to raid the temple said to lie below, the consensus in the group is that it’s too risky to push further without rest and preparation. The Reckoner drags all of the unconscious Gray Maidens and Queen’s Physicians into the main infirmary ward, promising the scores of pleading patients that he’ll send aid for them soon. Davaulus himself is rolled up in a rug so he can be carried outside without attracting undue notice. Goldcape flies off on Rocky to stealthily deliver a note to Sergeant Clenkins at Citadel Volshyanek about the evils conducted at the hospice and how there are patients in need of immediate help. Meanwhile, The Reckoner, Yraelzin, and their captive walk to the abandoned fortune-telling shop that has served as an occasional safehouse for the group. But it’s been weeks since they’ve visited, and at some point someone has left a nasty surprise for them! When the front door is opened, a magical trap is triggered that results in a fiery explosion! As the safehouse goes up in flames, Yraelzin acts quickly and just manages to save Doctor Davaulus’ life.
Goldcape notices the flame and hurries back to the group, and everyone quickly confers about a place they can take Davaulus that will be out of the watchful eyes of the Gray Maidens. Skaldwood, the forest south of Korvosa that had (until recently) been used as a camping ground by Shoanti clans, is chosen. Once there, Davaulus is magically healed and interrogated again for a layout of the temple and its defences. Again, Davaulus is surprisingly—perhaps suspiciously—forthcoming. A new dilemma arises: what to do with Davaulus? Murdering a prisoner would be an evil in itself, but nor can they simply let him go or, with his asserted links to the Queen herself, turn him over to the authorities without risk. The Reckoner’s instincts militate for the first option, while Yraelzin still has trust in the city’s institutions. The group discuss the matter and reach an outcome: The Reckoner will personally turn Davaulus over to Sergeant Clenkins. When he does so, Clenkins says he received the note about the hospice and dispatched a team to investigate the claims. He says he’ll hold Davaulus pending any evidence that can be gathered there. The Reckoner persuades him to alert Field Marshal Kroft immediately.
[18 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
Over breakfast at the Giotorri household where she’s been staying, Goldcape is happy to hear from fellow houseguest Old Lady Cloggins that her home is almost repaired from the fire and should soon be habitable again. Meanwhile, Ralph Blackfeather wakes before dawn and manually writes several pamphlets about the evils of Doctor Davaulus, the Queen’s Physicians, the Gray Maidens, the cult of Urgathoa, the Red Mantis, and more, all under the direction of Queen Ileosa. Signing them “The Reckoner”, he then asks Majenko to drop the pamphlets over the city. Alas, almost everyone who finds one of the pamphlets thinks it’s ridiculous, just another one of the many conspiracy theories floating around the city.
Yraelzin, Ralph, and Goldcape meet up at Eodred’s Walk to purchase supplies for their planned raid of whatever lies underneath the hospice. Ralph purchases two large barrels of oil in case they decide to simply burn out the inhabitants—a plan made feasible by Goldcape’s and Yraelzin’s magics that could insulate themselves against the heat and smoke of such a fire. As they walk toward the hospice, however, the trio come across a pair of Gray Maidens walking down the street, throwing any of the pamphlets they find into a bag for destruction. Ralph doesn’t even hesitate before charging the Gray Maidens in broad daylight and cutting them down, leaving one dead and one unconscious.
When the group reach the hospice they see that Sergeant Clenkins was true to his word. Members of the Korvosan Guard have indeed been sent to the hospice, and have established a cordon around it. When questioned about the cordon, one of the guards explains that there’s a bloody crime scene inside and that they’re under strict orders not to let anyone in. Goldcape decides to see if Grau could be of use in the situation, and begins searching nearby taverns. Meanwhile, Ralph heads to Citadel Volshyanek and seeks out Field Marshal Kroft herself. He finds the weary-looking woman in a courtyard where several bodies are laid out—the results of the previous night’s raid. Kroft is surprised to see Ralph given her request that their connection should not be visible, but she acknowledges it may be too late for subtlety: if the Queen’s Physicians are involved in a conspiracy to spread disease throughout the city as the evidence obtained in the hospice indicates, it is indeed possible the Queen herself is involved. Upon request, she gives Ralph a writ indicating that the bearer and his allies should be allowed into the hospice and that a small contingent of Korvosan Guards should accompany them on a search of its lower levels. Ralph dispatches Majenko to try to find Goldcape and deliver the message: it’s time to go in.
Interrogation of a self-proclaimed assassin and other evidence indicates that the spread of blood veil was an intentional plot to murder Korvosans! But is the Queen truly involved? And, if so, with witnesses to testify to their intervention, how long can even being masked protect Yraelzin, The Reckoner, and Goldcape from her retribution?
I don't imagine most groups stop after capturing Davaulus, interrogate him, alert the authorities, rest overnight, and then come back the next day! But it actually made sense from a certain kind of perspective. The downside is they gave whatever is below the temple a *lot* of time to prepare (or escape). The benefit is the PCs ended up with a fair amount of intel about what to expect.
As a GM, it can be a bit tricky to decide how to handle the "getting help from the authorities" move. You don't want to make the guards seem callous or useless, but you also don't want to provide so much assistance that they displace the role of the PCs as the prime movers of the plot. I chose a middle-ground of assigning some low-level Korvosan Guards to accompany the PCs below, where they would be helpful but wouldn't steal the show.
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[18 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Preparations continue for a second assault on the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden. Goldcape hears word that Grau Soldado is in a tavern called Twitcher’s—probably the only permanent structure in the transient rooftop world of the Shingles. Inside, she sees that Twitcher’s is easily among the most disreputable dives in the city. Although Grau is nowhere to be seen, his famous mithral longsword has been hung up for display behind the makeshift bar. When questioned, a red-haired bartender named Ramthos says that it’s his sword—taken as payment for drinking debts that Grau couldn’t pay. Goldcape tries to persuade Ramthos to give it back but has no success. She does discover Grau’s current whereabouts, however: right out back, laying on a heaped pile of garbage!
Goldcape uses some magic to leech the alcoholic poisons from Grau, rapidly sobering him up. But emotionally, Grau is in a deep depression after the death of his niece Brienna. Goldcape sends a note to The Reckoner (via Rocky) asking him to come. When The Reckoner arrives, the blustering barman quickly backs down and gives Grau back his sword. Grau is too deep in his own misery to see why he should accompany his rescuers on their second raid until The Reckoner explains that the cultists inside are the very same people who intentionally spread the plague that killed Brienna! That gets Grau’s attention, and depression is replaced by a burning desire for vengeance.
Joined by Yraelzin, the group make their way back to the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden. The Korvosan Guard has maintained its cordon around the building but the writ from Field Marshal Kroft herself is enough to allow entry. In addition, as per the writ’s instructions, three members of the already-stretched Guard are dispatched to assist with the raid. Thus bolstered by reinforcements, the Harrowed Heroes make their way inside the building and move quickly to the lift. The Reckoner has everyone in the group put on plague masks torn from the dead or unconscious Queen’s Physicians, and then smashes a hole in the bottom of the stuck platform. After everyone clambers down a dangled rope a further twenty feet underground, they emerge from the shaft into an entry hall decorated with lurid murals of skeletons cavorting among the dead of a Korvosa that has completely succumbed to blood veil. Grotesque mockeries of life—corpses animated as undead creatures like zombies and skeletons—stand guard here, but remain stationary until attacked. The intruders make quick work of the sentinels.
Doors to the south lead to the type of operating room that should only exist in Hell: several metal beds are occupied by bound victims used for experimentation! Queen’s Physicians are here, silently directing a trio of pustule-covered zombies to attack the intruders. The Reckoner urges caution as Yraelzin identifies the undead as the “plague zombies” that Doctor Davaulus spoke of, but Grau’s unbridled fury leads him to leap into the fray! He ends up covered in disease-ridden zombie flesh, while Goldcape uses her new rapier (enchanted to devastate human foes) to deadly effect against the Queen’s Physicians. The battle is won, but the group is split about what to do with the victims—both those strapped to the tables and others locked in nearby cells. The Reckoner is intent on moving as quickly as possible to make the most of their short-lived protective spells, but Goldcape is passionate that the prisoners should be freed immediately. As The Reckoner leads most of the group out, Goldcape tries to pick the locks on the cell doors but is reluctantly forced to promise that she’ll return once she finds a key.
Doors to the north lead to what must be quarters for the temple’s living inhabitants, with black-sheeted cots and skulls used as candle sconces lending the place a funereal aspect. More Queen’s Physicians are here, a prime opportunity for Yraelzin to display one of his many promised new spells: the imperturbable glory of Razmir’s burning disarm. Again, although prepared and alert given the sounds of fighting elsewhere, the Queen’s Physicians are quickly defeated. After searching an accompaning chamber containing glass cabinets full of medical supplies both mundane and magical, the group return to the central chamber.
The door to the east leads to a high-ceilinged chamber ringed with catwalks and containing three huge metal vats of bubbling green slurry: raw, concentrated blood veil! Here, in this unholy factory of death, six members of the cult of Urgathoa stand with scythes at the ready to do battle. Looming above them on a catwalk is their “freelance consultant”--Rolth Lamm himself! Spittle runs down his chin as he erupts in a torrent of invective once he realises the intruders are the same ones who killed his father. But before the skilled necromancer can put his most powerful magic to full effect, Goldcape sends Rocky hurtling toward him and then rushes up the catwalks herself. While the vanara and her roc companion battle the man who masterminded the near-fatal attack on Old Lady Cloggins’ home and the explosive surprise left at the group’s safehouse, The Reckoner, Yraelzin, and their allies do battle against the cultists. Yraelzin proves his value, first by magically hastening his allies attacks and then by dispelling a spell that had paralysed Goldcape. The Reckoner directs the battle and cuts down foes with a bladed polearm, and Grau continues hacking away madly at any enemy in sight. The three members of the Korvosan Guard work together to wear down the cultists, but one of their number is decapitated, and a second is badly wounded. The cultists become even more threatening when they dip their blades in the raw blood veil, but fortunately none land a strike before being killed. Back on the catwalk, Goldcape bleeds from a mystic wound inflicted by Rolth’s key-shaped blade. But the villain is badly hurt. Vowing revenge, he magically travels away from the scene.
Another battle has been won, but although injuries accumulate and protective spells begin to expire, more of the underground Temple of Urgathoa remains unexplored. Do the Harrowed Heroes have the endurance it will take to survive?
There are a lot of NPCs in any AP, and some I just don't really get a handle on so they fall flat or fade into the background. But I'm really proud of how I portrayed Grau, and in my campaign he's become a much more important player in Korvosa than the AP expected. Sometimes NPCs just click with a GM, and for me, Grau was one of those because I could quickly grasp how his background (and the events he faces during the campaign) affect his personality.
Some big, exciting battles this session, highlighted by appearance of Rolth Lamm! The players were determined to get him, but he managed one of his now-trademark dimension doors to escape, so the hunt continues.
[18 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Having penetrated deeply into bowels of a newly-built Temple of Ugathoa under Korvosa, the Harrowed Heroes press on, conscious that time—and their protective magicks—are slipping away. It seems Doctor Davaulus was confident that foreknowledge would make no difference to the intruders’ prospects of success, because the intelligence he provided remains accurate: the next room they enter does indeed contain an impossibly ancient vampire! The nosferatu is holding a syringe and leaning over a table with three heavy iron crossbeams securing an unconscious young Varisian man. The nosferatu looks irritated at the interruption, but unlike the cultists and Queen’s Physicians, has no interest in fighting. Indeed, the nosferatu, Ramoska Arkminos, says he’ll forgive the intrusion if the raiders leave immediately!
The Reckoner strides quickly into the room with a spear at the ready as Goldcape shouts that they can’t leave without the prisoner. Arkminos explains, all too calmly, that the prisoner (Ruan Mirukova) is a valuable laboratory subject and difficult to replace. Nonetheless, he offers to sell the youth and leave quietly for a substantial sum of gold. When the offer is refused, Arkminos offers an alternative: if the intruders bring him an intriguing magical item called a death’s head coffer from Lady Andaisin’s inner sanctum, he’ll leave the boy behind and depart. But confident in their fighting strength, the intruders refuse to negotiate and launch an attack!
The resulting battle turns into a long stalemate, as the nosferatu’s wounds close up in just seconds, but The Reckoner’s and Goldcape’s willpower is strong enough to resist Arkminos’ attempts to mentally dominate them. While The Reckoner and Grau trade blows with Arkminos, Goldcape and Yraelzin work to free the prisoner from the table that looks to be a combination of restraint and torture device. With his prisoner freed, Arkminos is irritated. In a swift combination of slashing claws, he renders Grau helpless and threatens to kill him if the others don’t immediately withdraw. The Reckoner has prepared to fight a vampire by bringing garlic with him, and tries to surreptitiously draw it from his pack to force Arkminos to flee. But Arkminos’ vampiric eyesight sees the trick coming and follows through on his word—killing Grau! The Reckoner hurls the garlic at the doorway to block Arkminos from following them as he and his allies escape with both the rescued Varisian and Grau’s body.
Although an explored area of the temple stands to the east, the Harrowed Heroes decide to first gather the spoils of their victory by carefully searching the slain cultists. Goldcape finds a set of keys and hurries to start freeing all of the prisoners held in the cells and manacled to beds, forming a group that, along with Ruan and the injured Korvosan Guards, start making the difficult ascent up the rope dangling in the elevator shaft. Meanwhile, The Reckoner sets about searching the cultists’ quarters. Several valuable treasures are found, but the delay means the matriarch of the temple has come to find them!
The eastern doors of the room containing the vats of raw blood veil are thrown open. A quartet of surprisingly speedy zombies march in, followed by an imposing woman wearing dark black and red robes and an unholy symbol of Urgathoa. The deadly-looking scythe she holds adds to her intimidating presence, as she greets the scattered intruders with an icy smile. “So you have found your way to me, hopeful heroes. You must be Blackjack? We were hoping you would visit us here. Know that you stand before Lady Andaisin, the architect of your city’s death. You call this sending blood veil, yet I know it as the gentle kiss of the Pallid Princess. Your reward shall be great—choose of the seven scourges to become one with the goddess. Those who drink I shall only cripple, leaving you alive to enjoy her as she quickens inside your flesh. Those who abstain are fools, not fit to house the divine gift. You may prostrate yourselves at my feet, and I shall make your end all the more swift for it. Swifter, in any event, than—“ but her villainous monologue is cut off by an insulting interjection from The Reckoner. The battle begins!
The Reckoner cuts down zombies left and right, depriving Lady Andaisin of her undead shields. She responds by casting a spell to climb into the air. Seeing a rival cleric amongst her foes, she tries to magically blind Yraelzin, but the Priest of Razmir resists and responds with the last of his magical power to speed up his allies. “Which one of you is the leader?” demands Lady Andaisin, and Goldcape announces she is! An even icier smile appears on the cult leader’s face as she “steps” down next to the Vanara and tries to slay her with her most deadly spell. But the incantation is disrupted at the last second. Furious, Lady Andaisin turns to her enchanted scythe—a weapon that visibly seethes with greenish energy that seems to harm both the wielder and its victim. Goldcape is grievously wounded but still manages to stand when The Reckoner comes to the rescue! His powerful attack sends Lady Andaisin’s broken and dying body hurling against a nearby wall.
But that’s only the prologue to the climactic battle to come. For Lady Andaisin’s corpse begins to crackle with unholy power and is lifted into the air before her sundered flesh explodes with boils and pustules as torrents of the foul slurry from the vats flood forth and congeal into a sickening new body: Lady Andaisin has been reborn as something even more dangerous. What was once a woman now towers as a monstrosity of ectoplasmic flesh, horns, and a tremendous scythe-like claw!
The Harrowed Heroes have smashed into the hidden Temple of Urgathoa, freeing prisoners and disrupting operations. Yet their ultimate test has come: can they stand against a priestess reborn with a spark of life from a goddess?
The PCs were over their heads fighting the nosferatu, and didn't seem to grasp it until Grau was killed. Overconfidence kills!
One thing I always try to keep consistent is that when characters spend a lot of time doing something, that doesn't mean the rest of the world stands still. In this case, spending extensive periods of time searching the chambers gave Lady Andaisin the opportunity to become *fully* buffed before seeking out the PCs. It made the fight harder than it could have been.
We still laugh to this day about Goldcape proclaiming herself the group's leader, which led Lady Andaisin to attempt her most lethal spell against her. Sometimes it's best to *not* be the leader!
[18 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Lady Andaisin of Nidal, a leader of the secret effort to infect Korvosa with blood veil, has been slain and reborn as an undead abomination known as a Daughter of Urgathoa! As The Reckoner charges, Goldcape—badly wounded from previous fighting—calls upon the aspect of the bear for strength before trying to tumble away to safety. But the Daughter of Urgathoa’s massive, scythe-like appendage cuts deeply into the vanara’s back, simultaneously infecting her with a debilitating disease. Goldcape keeps retreating, much to the consternation of The Reckoner who calls her cowardly. With Yraelzin providing little assistance due to a paucity of magical power, The Reckoner effectively stands alone against a divinely-manifested threat twice his size! But although he suffers some grievous wounds and is also infected with the plague, his magical battle-maul slams again and again into the Daughter of Urgathoa until finally it succumbs.
The rescued captives and the surviving Korvosan Guards continue evacuating up the lift shaft, bearing the bodies of Grau and others who fell in battle. Goldcape is intent on leaving as well, but The Reckoner is keen to see what lays beyond the double-doors on the eastern wall of room containing the large vats of raw blood veil. The threat of being cut off from a share of any treasure found in the remainder of the complex is enough to persuade Goldcape to relent. Yraelzin is concerned given how badly wounded and depleted everyone’s resources are, but he decides it’s better to stay with the group.
The Harrowed Heroes burst through into a new, unexplored chamber to see some sort of alchemical laboratory in which the prime source of experimentation seems to be four large, cylindrical glass vats, each filled with a bubbling emerald fluid that tints the chamber’s light a noxious green. Within each suspension floats a malformed abomination—something part human, part angel, and part horse—things of half-formed muscle with dead, fleshless equine skulls. Three of the forms are motionless, but the fourth twitches now and then. A small number of devoted cultists in the room vow to fight to the death, which is something that they quickly get! Afterwards, Goldcape and Yraelzin examine the twitching creature in the vat but have never seen the like before. With The Reckoner’s permission, Goldcape smashes open the glass cylinder to free the creature. Instantly, it stretches and stands tall, reaching a full height of 14’ while spreading the rotting wings of a carrion bird. It exhales a cloud of corpse-bloated black flies on Goldcape which bite her relentlessly until she collapses to the floor, near death!
Yraelzin does perhaps the bravest thing in his life by daring to pull Goldcape to safety as the massive daemonic monster attacks everyone in the room. The Reckoner realises his cold iron greataxe is having little effect, but when he switches to his mithral battle-maul, the hammer’s head sizzles against the monster’s skin. Yraelzin drinks a potion to turn invisible and tries to magically heal The Reckoner’s wounds, but even the Priest of Razmir can’t keep up with how quickly they appear. The battle rages back and forth, teetering on a knife’s blade, and perhaps not since the battle against the derro sorcerer in the vaults under the Grey District has the entire group come so close to perishing. But again, The Reckoner’s strength is enough to carry the group to victory.
Yraelzin no longer pretends to rely on his own inner reserves of magical power as he expends all the charges of a wand of magical healing in bringing Goldcape back to consciousness and then to fighting shape. Tempting fate again, the group continues exploring until they reach a circular chamber rising into a high dome. Seven basins jut from the walls, each filled with a unique liquid—blood, bile, milk, and other, unidentifiable, fluids. On the floor around each basin lie several small metal boxes carved with images of skulls, while at the room’s center, rising from a wide pool of crystalline water, is a golden statue that is both erotic and horrifying: the statue depicts a beautiful nude woman who is human above the waist but nothing more than a skeleton below. Obviously the inner sanctum that the nosferatu spoke of, Yraelzin quickly discerns that one of the metal boxes still contains potent magic that would infect anything placed inside with a deadly disease. The Reckoner—after having been told the statue is radiating dark necromantic magic—decides to smash it. And in so doing, uncovers a cache of treasures hidden in its base—including a magical scroll that can bring the dead back to life!
The intrepid warriors, battered and bruised, finally make their way back up to the ground level of the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden. But as they’re making their way outside, they’re surprised to see Field Marshal Kroft hurrying towards them, her hands covered in blood. She breathlessly relates a disturbing tale.
Just an hour ago, word spread that Queen Ileosa was going to make an immediate public announcement. A large crowd quickly gathered, and Kroft herself was summoned to appear alongside Marcus Endrin, Commandant of the Sable Company. When the queen stepped forth into the palace courtyard, she was accompanied by her Gray Maiden bodyguard and a newcomer named Togomor who has apparently taken up the duties of castle seneschal since the former seneschal, Neolandus Kalepopolis, disappeared at around the same time that King Eodred II died.
The queen, wearing a new fang-adorned crown, announced triumphantly that the plague had been defeated, although unfortunately her own advisor, Dr Davaulus, had to be executed for his role in the crime. She thanked her personal special agents she assigned to the case—“The Golden Monkey, the Man in the Iron Mask, and the Reckoner”—for their courage in exposing Davaulus’ crimes. Kroft says she was shocked to realise that Queen Ileosa had somehow turned an execrable crime into a resounding success by publicly taking credit for the defeat of her own scheme!
Kroft says Queen Ileosa then went on to say that both the Korvosan Guard and the Sable Company suffered terrible losses over the past weeks and were unable to fulfil their traditional role, so she was naming the Gray Maidens as the official new protectors of Korvosa, with Sabina Merrin as the city’s new general. Queen Ileosa then went on to announce that feeding and caring for the Sable Company’s hippogriffs was putting too much of a strain on the city’s coffers, and given its poor performance in handling the city’s unrest, she had decided to disband the organization: she asked Commandant Endrin to step forth to surrender his badge of office.
Kroft seems to hardly believe herself what she recounts next. As Endrin reached for his badge, trembling, he threw it at Queen Ileosa’s cheek, drawing blood and leaving everyone in stunned silence before bellowing “Your shameful reign ends now! Korvosa will be free again!” And a half-second later, his bow was in his hands and an arrow was flying toward the queen. Endrin’s aim was true--the arrow struck Queen Ileosa in the right temple, sinking deep into her skull. But . . . she didn’t fall! Instead, Kroft says, Ileosa calmly pulled it free and then, with incredible speed, had grabbed Endrin by the jaw and stabbed him with the arrow spraying blood everywhere! As Endrin fell to the ground, a furious Ileosa shouted “This shall be the fate of all enemies of Korvosa! Mark well his punishment! It is only the first!” Togomor then teleported Ileosa away and Kroft rushed to Endrin’s side, she says, but the man was carried away by Grey Maidens—probably dead.
Kroft says she’s just come from the palace, and has no idea what will happen next. She may be suspected as a co-conspirator, and, even if not, now has even less authority in the city than before. She says Goldcape, Yraelzin, and The Reckoner should lay low until she can figure out how Ileosa gained such incredible supernatural resistance to harm. They reluctantly agree, and decide on a plan to hide out in Skaldwood since the Shoanti moved on when the rioting turned deadly, agreeing on a signal so they know how to communicate with one another.
The Harrowed Heroes have achieved an incredible victory in stopping a conspiracy to spread blood veil and even worse diseases throughout Korvosa. But Kroft’s story holds ominous implications for the future: if Queen Ileosa is further consolidating her power in the city and has become personally immune to harm, how can she ever be stopped?
The battle against the Daughter of Urgathoa was a close-run thing, but literally the closest the group has gotten to a TPK was against the leukodaemon. They were already battered and low on spells when I described the vats the creatures were in. Goldcape's player is a kid, so I added an explanation that the vats were glass cylinders kind of like a big jar. He interpreted the reference to a "jar" to mean they were about hand size, so when Goldcape shattered it, what happened was not at all what the player anticipated! I'm genuinely surprised they made it out of that battle alive. It was the right time for such an exciting session, as it was also the end of Chapter 2 of the AP.
In the week that follows, it seems Queen Ileosa’s deceitful speech taking credit for “her agents” stopping blood veil is largely successful. Without hard evidence that she was involved, most of Korvosa’s citizens still only see their queen as vain and unpleasant, but not capable of such evil. More, they’re eager to get back to their lives, and the city is too wounded to contemplate open rebellion. Patrols of Gray Maidens become more prominent on the street and progressively oppressive laws and edicts begin to appear, but few have the courage to publicly question them. And inexplicably, the quarantine of Old Korvosa is maintained. At least with Dr Davaulus and Lady Andaisin defeated, the creation and spread of blood veil begins to slow. Deaths in pockets of the city continue, but a cure is formulated after several days’ work by alchemists using materials seized from the secret temple under the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden.
For their part, the Harrowed Heroes follow Field Marshal Kroft’s suggestion that they lay low. The trio spend most of their time hiding out in Skaldwood, occasionally visited by Sergeant Clenkins for sword practice and the latest gossip. When not training, The Reckoner and Goldcape spend some time (respectively) in the library and with informants to learn more about Ileosa and her associates. Meanwhile, Yraelzin frets about not having access to his "Temple of Razmir" but shows off some impressive and expensive new purchases, including a pinkish ioun stone that orbits around his head.
There is also time to check in on friends and associates. Repairs to Old Lady Cloggins' home are completed, and she moves back in. Grau Soldado is raised from the dead thanks to the scroll discovered by the Harrowed Heroes. He seems like a changed man when he returns, no longer overwhelmed by sadness and alcohol. Surprisingly, Grau quits the Korvosan Guard and becomes intent on organizing opposition to Queen Ileosa's evil reign. He even takes to sleeping in a different place every night to avoid being caught by her agents.
His sister-in-law, Tayce Soldado, and her surviving children decide to move to Magnimar to start a new life. The other Varisians of Trail's End know what the Harrowed Heroes have done for them in helping stop blood veil, and they are extremely grateful. They know enough not to believe the queen's lies, and they make it clear they’ll provide a safe hiding place, food and lodging, or whatever other assistance their saviours need.
[26 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
Spring transforms more and more into summer as the Harrowed Heroes keep a low profile by camping in Skaldwood. On a dark night beset by rumbling thunder and jagged arcs of lightning, everyone in the camp hears a surprising sound carried on the wind—the gentle melody of flute music! Goldcape rushes off to follow the sound and emerges into an unbelievable scene: a clearing where the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, butterflies are dancing, and a boxy Varisian carriage-home is sitting. A door opens, and The Harrower appears, smiling and beckoning Goldcape to join her inside. Yraelzin and Ralph accompany the vanara inside to see that the inside of the carriage looks like a snug but traditional Varisian fortune-teller’s quarters—a small table, a deck of Harrow cards, and just enough room for the seer and her guests.
The Harrower is welcoming, though she deflects most of her visitors’ questions and instead provides advice through her interpretation of the cards. First comes a part of the reading called the Choosing, where each participant draws a card to see what fate has in store for them. Goldcape draws the Snakebite, and the Harrower tells her this means venomous threats will strike suddenly and without warning—but that she will prevail. Ralph draws the Hidden Truth, and hears that some wear masks that aren’t obvious as such, and that betrayal lies in his future. Yraelzin draws the Inquisitor, and here the Harrower says the meaning is more literal: the priest’s activities in Korvosa will soon come under scrutiny.
After the Choosing, the Harrower lays down cards representing the past, the present, and the future. The past is fixed and thus represents law, she says—and so when she turns over the Empty Throne, she says it means Ileosa’s reign is, strictly speaking, lawful. When she turns over the Plague, the Harrower says it is a sign that blood veil has run its course. And curiously, when she reveals the Courtesan, she says it indicates someone who enjoys both pain and frivolity has recently come to Korvosa—someone the Harrowed Heroes will soon meet for the first time. The Harrower’s statement about the present are vague and cryptic, but become more certain when she turns to the future and reveals both the Fiends and the Labyrinth. Those who wear masks may be monsters, she says, and betrayal could lead to the gullible finding themselves lost in a lethal maze of darkness and confusion. The Harrower lingers over the spread a few moments longer, and then taps the Plague card again, admitting her interpretation may have been facile. She says that one who helped bring the sickness is still a danger to those present—one who helped make her what she is. Ralph presses, and with a nod she acknowledges the figure could only be Rolth Lamm. When the Harrowing is completed, she rises from the table and thanks her guests from coming. Thunder can be heard booming in the distance, and in the time it takes to draw a breath, the three visitors find themselves standing in a bare patch of ground in the middle of a midnight thunderstorm!
The trio hurry back to their shelter to discuss the Harrower’s prophecies. Ralph is concerned about the ominous references to betrayal from those wearing masks, and pushes Yraelzin to make his loyalties clear: is the queen’s “lawfulness” as ruler of Korvosa enough for him to betray the group? The priest demurs, noting that even if her reign is lawful, it need not be permanent: for the seneschal of Castle Korvosa has lawful authority to depose a sitting monarch who is oppressing the people. Ralph muses aloud whether Field Marshal Kroft or Grau Soldado could betray the group, but Goldcape is confident in their trustworthiness as well. As the insights of a Harrowing can prove just as vexing as they are useful, a troubled night’s sleep awaits the group.
But the Harrowed Heroes are no fools. Even in the relative isolation and shelter of Skaldwood, they wisely rotate to keep watch throughout the night. Yraelzin is alerted to the presence of hostile intruders in an exceedingly painful way—by serving as the target for multiple javelins! A band of bugbears have encircled the camp and reached throwing range before being detected. Yraelzin’s cries of pain and alarm rouses his allies. Goldcape’s command sends Rocky forth to quickly kill one of the attackers, while Ralph’s hammer quickly crushes the skull of two others. Yraelzin’s magically-amplified shout bursts the eardrums of a fourth murderous bugbear, and the battle is over as quickly as it began.
[27 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, the decision is made to follow up on The Harrower’s cryptic allusions to Field Marshal Kroft needing aid and not knowing where to turn. Ralph uses a disguise kit to assume a nondescript appearance, Yraelzin shows trust in his allies by removing his mask, and Goldcape uses a newly-purchased magical hat to look human. Together, the three return to the city and visit Citadel Volshyanek. The Korvosan Guard headquarters is in a shocking state: apart from Sgt Clenkins, hardly any guards are visible—the training courtyard is empty, the halls are silent, and refuse, trash, and dust give the place an overall state of creeping neglect. Once the trio reveal their real identities, Clenkins explains that many guards have quit, others have been reassigned to an expeditionary force to the north, and some—especially female members—have simply disappeared.
Kroft looks more haggard than ever when the visitors arrive, but before they speak she ushers them into the central keep. She leads through a series of maze-like hallways to a nondescript door and then explains that she used almost the last of the Guard’s resources to commission the construction of what stands behind it. When she opens the door, the room beyond looks to be shrouded in fog, and Kroft explains that it’s a magically-guarded chamber that should completely foil conventional and magical eavesdropping.
After everyone is seated, she speaks in a low voice. “I’m going to be blunt. What I’m about to say will constitute high treason. If you don’t wish to be implicated, walk out now and you’ll have committed no crime.” Yraelzin decides it might be safer if he waits outside, and quickly departs through the fog. Kroft raises an eyebrow but continues. “Korvosa is dying. No—it’s being murdered. By our queen. The evidence you’ve uncovered that links her to the plague is damning enough, but now that she’s disbanded the Sable Company and reallocated our own funding to the Gray Maidens, she’s more in control now than ever. I can’t move against her—the Guard would be executed to the last officer by her Gray Maidens before sundown. But she must be stopped, and I don’t know anyone else but you to do this.” She sighs and runs her fingers through her tangled hair. “Whatever foul magic the queen has wrapped herself up in is obviously of the highest order. Endrin’s aim was true, and his shot should have dropped her. I had feared he was going to take matters into his own hands like this, but hoped he would find it within himself to find a better route. If only he could have waited.”
“But just this week,” Kroft explains, “new information came to me. You’ve met Vencarlo Orisini before—he’s long been one of my most trusted sources. When the queen quarantined Old Korvosa, I’d feared his messages would end, yet he managed to find ways to smuggle updates to me every day. Recently, he wrote of discovering something of vital importance regarding the queen. He mentions something about dark magic and a pact with a devil, but until the events of this morning, I found his claims difficult to believe. But even more astounding, he hinted that he’d found a lead on Seneschal Kalepopolis, and implied the man might still be hiding in Old Korvosa! If you don’t know, the Seneschal is the only person with lawful authority to remove a monarch from power. If we can find him and get him on our side, people will flock to our cause. But that message was the last I heard from Vencarlo. It’s been several days, and I’ve started to worry for his safety. The rumors about riots and gangs seizing control of entire neighbourhoods in Old Korvosa are disturbing. Certainly, the plumes of smoke we all see rising from fires on the island are proof that as bad as things are elsewhere, they’re probably worse there.”
Goldcape guesses what Kroft is leading towards, and she confirms it. “I don’t think it’ll be long before the Korvosan Guard is disabled. Even now, I don’t have the resources to conduct investigations. That’s where you come in—trusting you has been my best decision these past few months. I’m hoping you won’t let me down. I’d like you to seek out Vencarlo in Old Korvosa to find out what he knows about the Seneschal and the queen’s newfound powers. Getting into Old Korvosa won’t be easy but, ironically, you might find it safer there—her forces simply aren’t on the ground there. Hopefully, if you find Vencarlo, he’ll have a course of action we can take to help save this city.” When they agree, Kroft opens the coffer to reveal a small supply of magical potions and wands, stating that the very last of the Guard’s resources went into purchasing them.
The Reckoner inquires why Old Korvosa is still quarantined given the rapid decline in blood veil cases since the cult was smashed and the cure was discovered. Kroft says she can only speculate that perhaps Ileosa wished to contain the “undesirables” there, or perhaps it’s a move against the Arkonas, one of the city’s “Great Houses.” The Reckoner acknowledges the possibility. He then arranges a signal that Kroft can use (involving raising a particular flag) that will indicate she is in need of rescue or needs additional information. He tells Kroft something she agrees with: she’s the last symbol of real, legitimate authority in Korvosa, and she needs to remain visible.
Once they emerge from the safe room and fill Yraelzin in, Goldcape and The Reckoner decide to head for Old Korvosa right away. However, they know they’ll need a good plan to avoid Gray Maiden patrols. With only one (heavily-guarded) bridge providing land access to Endrin’s Isle, the group decides on a nautical approach. They walk to Trail’s End and quickly find an offer of help from a Sczarni smuggler who agrees to take them across the channel under cover of night. To make discovery even less likely, one of the magical items in Kroft’s coffer—a partially-charged wand of invisibility—will be used on the rowboat itself. With the need to wait until night, Yraelzin and The Reckoner pass some hours waiting in Tayce Soldado’s old house, while Goldcape helps some of the local residents with chores. She hears a wild tale about a crazy man who has proclaimed himself the “Emperor of Old Korvosa” and wields a magic wand that can do anything and everything.
When the time comes, the midnight crossing is successful. Even by moonlight, it quickly becomes obvious that Old Korvosa has been hard hit by rioting and fires. Homes and businesses are vandalised and ransacked, entire tenements have burned into nothing more than smouldering rubble, and raucous mobs can be heard shouting and laughing in the distance. Yraelzin’s “Temple of Razmir” is very close to the area where the group came ashore, so the group make haste to it. Alas, Yraelzin is disappointed to realise that not a single one of his “acolytes” stayed behind to tend to the place during his absence.
The Harrowed Heroes decide to push on towards Vencarlo Orisini’s academy. But they barely get three blocks before a group of armed, jeering ruffians block their path, demanding to know why the strangers have “intruded in the emperor’s domain.” A show of strength gets the thugs to back down and even earns an offer to take the group to see the “Emperor of Old Korvosa”, but Goldcape is ready for a fight, and attacks!
This session sees the beginning of Chapter 3 (I always give the group 3d6 days of Downtime between chapters). Developing an actual cure for blood veil was something the PCs never got involved in, so it happened "off-screen" (and they missed out on some XP).
Here we start to see the development of Grau as intent on overthrowing the queen, which will eventually lead to multiple (separate and rival) rebel groups in Korvosa. I was happy with the portrayal of Kroft and how her charge to the group came about organically.
Doing a live Harrow reading is always a fraught task because it requires a lot of improv. I hit the theme of masks and betrayal hard to hint about the rakshasa, and was amused that The Reckoner thought it was referring to Yraelzin! The interpretation of The Courtesan as involving the group soon meeting someone who mixed pain with frivolity ended up being one of The Harrower's rare misses--it was supposed to refer to Laori Vaus, but as the adventure went on, it turned out the group didn't come across her until Chapter Five.
[27 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
The slums of Old Korvosa witness violence on a regular basis, and no resident—even if awake past midnight--bats an eye as the Harrowed Heroes find themselves brawling in the streets against a gang of ruffians loyal to the self-proclaimed “Emperor of Old Korvosa.” The thugs start with fists, knees, elbows, and headbutts, but The Reckoner responds with a battle-maul! But his eyes adjust slowly to the moonlight, and his initial powerful swings miss foes entirely. Goldcape recalls the acrobatics of her youth swinging along jungle vines, as she darts and dodges to get into a better fighting position. With a whistle, she calls Rocky into the fray, but the roc has trouble maneuvering through the narrow, garbage-filled alleyways. Suddenly, a stranger intrudes on the brawl! A pale, slim armored figured on horseback gallops in, knocks out one of the thugs with the flat of his blade, and then subdues a second that tries to escape by climbing up a brick wall. The Reckoner and Rocky dispatch their opponents in a far bloodier manner, and the fighting is over in just seconds.
From his curious weaponry and armor, it seems clear the newcomer is not from Korvosa—and when he removes his helm, it becomes apparent he’s not even exactly human! Complex blue markings across his skin reveal him to be a sylph, a reclusive race descended from both humans and beings of elemental air. The sylph gives his name as Katash and makes no secret of his antipathy toward the Emperor of Old Korvosa and his minions. The Reckoner is surprised the sylph hasn’t heard of his crime-fighting activities, while Goldcape and Yraelzin are suspicious Katash could be a spy planted by the queen. Nonetheless, they agree to the newcomer’s suggestion to drag those ruffians still-living into a nearby abandoned building for questioning.
After some magical healing, one of the men returns to consciousness, groggy but defiant. When asked, he says everyone knows the Emperor’s Palace is in the Old Dock neighbourhood on Silk Street. He goes on to brag about the crowds that come to watch the Tall Knife (which seems to be some sort of guillotine operated by a one-eyed gnome), Blood Pig (some kind of competition where teams score points by feeding live pigs to wolverines!), and the grisly theatrical plays performed against backdrops painted by the most famous artist in the city. Katash has designs of assembling his own private army to overthrow the Emperor and tries to convert the man to his own cause, but gets spat in the face for his trouble. The decision is made to leave the prisoners tied up in the building for now, and dispose of all their weapons and other gear by throwing them in the nearby river.
Discussion is had about what to do next, as Katash is very interested in confronting the Emperor of Old Korvosa but the others remember Field Marshal Kroft’s request that they find out what happened to Vencarlo Orisini and his promised information about the missing seneschal and the queen’s dark powers. Vencarlo’s fencing academy and home are both in the Fort Korvosa neighbourhood that is under the effective control of House Arkona, and it’s not clear whether guards will forbid access to the area. Goldcape, mounted on Rocky, scouts from above. She notices the area is patrolled by liveried guards and looks much safer than the rest of Old Korvosa, but also that strange gnome-sized humanoids hide in darkened corners near many entrances to the neighbourhood. But even Fort Korvosa obviously hasn’t been completely untouched by the arson and violence that’s spread throughout the rest of the city: Vencarlo’s academy has burned to the ground!
Goldcape returns to the others to share what she’s learned. Guessing that Rocky is just strong enough to carry two people, Goldcape and The Reckoner turn themselves and the growing roc invisible using the wand given to them by Kroft. They then fly over the wall and land next to the charred rubble of the academy. Vencarlo’s home is nearby, and it looks to have survived the fire unscathed. Leaving Rocky outside, the pair venture inside an unlocked front door to find everything in good repair but seemingly deserted. Searching carefully for signs of Vencarlo’s whereabouts, the two advance into a living room. Goldcape is distracted by the fact that a fire is still burning in the hearth, but The Reckoner spots a shadow where it shouldn’t be—something is hiding in a nook under a staircase! When the figure emerges, the flickering light reveals a figure clad in red and black leather armor and a full mask and cowl resembling an insect. It can only be one of the dread assassins of the Red Mantis league! But instead of attacking with the group’s trademark sawtoothed sabre, the assassin throws a vial into the fireplace and it explodes! The Reckoner is caught in the blast, and a second later the living room is on fire though the assassin seems completely unaffected. But despite the organisation’s fearsome reputation, the assassin is no match for The Reckoner in one-to-one combat and quickly slumps to the floor with broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. Goldcape uses ice magic and The Reckoner beats at the flames, and together they succeed in putting out the fire before it can spread further.
Meanwhile, back at the abandoned house where the prisoners have been tied up, Yraelzin preaches the glories of Razmir to an unimpressed Katash. Tired of waiting for the others to return, Katash ventures out into the streets towards the Emperor of Old Korvosa’s “palace”. Picking his way through streets filled with refuse and rubble, the sylph hears someone shouting nearby and moves closer to discover a curious sight. A man on a second-floor balcony, clad only in undergarments, is shouting and shaking his fist at the pre-dawn empty street below! Katash temporarily mollifies the man’s anger and learns his name is Olmere Bliersin, and he was a baker before the mobs ransacked his bakery. Olmere complains about what the queen’s going to do about the Emperor’s mobs, when she’s going to repair the bridges, how long the quarantine will last, when the Arkonas will stop hiding in Fort Korvosa, and much more. By carefully picking through the ranting, Katash learns that the self-proclaimed Emperor of Old Korvosa is actually a man named Pilts Swastel who once ran a notorious playhouse named Exemplary Execrables. According to Olmere, Pilts is a cruel, bloody-minded, and insane despot who uses magic and fear to keep his toadies in line.
Back in Vencarlo’s house, Goldcape and Rocky carefully continue their investigation on the second floor. Again, they’re ambushed by a Red Mantis assassin—this one cunningly concealed above a training room’s exposed ceiling rafters. Again, the assassin starts by hurling alchemist’s fire, but this time the room’s walls, floor, and even furniture have already been smeared with the liquid, resulting in an instant inferno! Goldcape saves the day by casting magic allowing both herself and The Reckoner to walk among the flames unharmed. Both get wounded in the ensuring battle against the assassin, but they emerge victorious and even manage to stop the entire house from burning down. Yet, frustratingly, a search of the rest of the second floor shows no clue to Vencarlo’s whereabouts.
Over in the slums of Old Korvosa, Katash convinces Yraelzin to accompany him in gathering more information about the Emperor’s palace. As they draw closer, even the moonlight reveals increasing signs of violence and degradation: vandalism, arson, brutalized bodies intentionally left on display, and more. Seeing another group of the Emperor’s thugs lounging ahead of them, Katash gets Yraelzin to make a distraction to lure them into an ambush. The resulting battle is a difficult one that leaves Yraelzin badly hurt.
A foray into the quarantined neighbourhood of Old Korvosa has resulted in violence and bloodshed, but still no clues as to Vencarlo Orisini’s whereabouts. Perhaps, as a long night finally draws down towards dawn, answers will be found. And as for Katash, who is this potential new ally, really—and are his goals the same as the Harrowed Heroes’?
This session sees the introduction of a new PC, Katash, who would appear for the next few sessions. Katash's player is the son of The Reckoner's player, and was a really fun addition to the game. The main challenge the character had was that his primary goal (convert people to his cause) wasn't really supported by his mechanical skill-set (i.e., his Diplomacy skill wasn't high enough to achieve what he wanted).
The Red Mantis are a great part of Golarion and I was looking forward to using them, but here they just kinda flopped. They're experts in stealth, assassination, and sneak attacking, but the encounters this AP features them in doesn't make great use of their abilities--they went down fast in combat, inflicting little damage. I did have fun with the fire, swiping some rules for how it spread from a PFS scenario. Surprisingly (considering how diligent they are about searching and The Reckoner's optimised Perception skill), the group didn't find Vencarlo's hidden stash of Blackjack gear!
Korvosa is a city in turmoil. After the sudden death of King Eodred II, his new bride from Cheliax has ascended to the throne as Queen Ileosa. Riots led to anarchy and then martial law, while a terrible plague claimed hundreds of lives. Meanwhile, Ileosa’s iron fist over the city has tightened with her personal force of Gray Maidens largely displacing the Korvosan Guard. But although a failed assassination attempt revealed the queen’s seeming invincibility, a rebellion is brewing. And in the still-quarantined district of the city known as Old Korvosa, the Harrowed Heroes scour the slums in search of Vencarlo Orisini, an ally of Field Marshall Kroft who claims Castle Korvosa’s missing seneschal knows the truth of the Queen’s dark new powers . . .
In the still-smouldering rooms of Vencarlo Orisini’s home in the Garrison Hill neighbourhood of Old Korvosa, Goldcape and The Reckoner make a final sweep for any clues to the missing man’s whereabouts. They don’t discover anything of value, but decide to retrieve the man’s comb in the hopes that divination magic might be able to locate him. When the two return outside, they see that Rocky is looming over a terrified young man. Goldcape recognises him as Amin Jalento, a harmless young fop she rescued from a mob some weeks ago. Once Rocky is called off, Amin shakily explains that he saw the fire and came to investigate. He says he was taking classes in Vencarlo’s duelling academy when the quarantine hit and couldn’t return home, but Vencarlo allowed him to stay in a backroom. Then, one night several days ago, a group of insect-masked swordsmen burst in and tried to kill Vencarlo! The master fencer slew one of the assassins but was forced to flee, and Amin hasn’t seen him since. The young noble says he’s now reduced to squatting in the rubble of the academy as the assassins set fires before they left. He’s been trying to rack up the courage to brave the Old Dock neighbourhood on the western side of Old Korvosa, because he thinks maybe Vencarlo would have went to stay with a friend named Salvator Scream who has a house there at 140 Wave Street. But rumors of the cruel Emperor of Old Korvosa have convinced Amin to stay put.
While listening to the young aristocrat’s story, The Reckoner scans the area to see if the late night fight against the Red Mantis assassins and subsequent fire have drawn any more eyes to the scene. He spots a small figure lurking under a wagon nearby, and realises it’s one of the gnome-like figures that Goldcape spoke about spotting on a previous reconnaissance of the neighbourhood which is kept (relatively) safe by the liveried guards of House Arkona. The Reckoner decides it’s time for direct action and strides over, his fearsome presence enough to keep the strange little creature from either fighting or fleeing. Still, although terrified, the creature answers only that he serves the Arkona family and that anyone harming him will risk the wrath of his masters. With dawn approaching, Goldcape and The Reckoner realise they should hurry back to the abandoned building they left Yraelzin in before daylight draws additional scrutiny.
When the pair arrive, they see that Yraelzin and the mysterious sylph named Katash (who aided them in a battle against ruffians loyal to the Emperor of Old Korvosa) are there, having just finished questioning one of the prisoners. The Reckoner leads his allies to another abandoned building that seems more secure and that could serve as a temporary safe-house, eliciting oaths never to disclose its location to anyone.
[28 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
It’s past midday when the group emerges from the safe-house. Several children, shoeless and filthy, but incongruously happy, are singing as they gather around a crude little guillotine made from sticks, pegs, and a straight razor that they’re using to behead dolls.
Headless, headless, that’s what you’ll be,
brand-new dolls in the Emp’ror’s cemet’ry!
Choppy, choppy, chop, the tall knife calls,
waitin’ for the day for Korvosa to fall.
The children aren’t scared when the adults approach, and some music from Katash, coins from Goldcape, and food from The Reckoner quickly wins them over. The children are especially fascinated by Rocky, and Goldcape lets the braver children pet him. Some casual questioning elicits a claim that Vencarlo hardly ever strayed into West Dock, and that the gnome-like figures in Fort Korvosa are spies that can change their shapes to look like anything!
The Harrowed Heroes scale a nearby, partially-collapsed tenement and keep careful tabs on the building where they left the Emperor of Old Korvosa’s thugs tied up. But hopes for an ambush are dashed when no one comes, and realisation dawns that the Emperor just doesn’t care enough about his henchmen to send out search parties if they go missing. A few kind words from Katash and some not-so-kind ones from The Reckoner persuade one of the men to switch loyalties completely and give up everything he knows about the Emperor. Most pertinent, are that pretty much anyone can get “an audience with his His Majesty”, but that often these visits end up with the visitors losing their heads to the Tall Knife or forced to play a dangerous game of Blood Pig. The thug confirms that the Emperor is “patron” to an artist he keeps mostly under wraps, but who paints grisly and disturbing backdrops for the “throne room” and stage plays. Goldcape remembers to ask if Vencarlo Orisini is held prisoner by the Emperor, but the thug only shrugs and says he’s never heard of the guy.
After setting the prisoners free, the group discuss how to proceed. Katash says that winning a game of Blood Pig would earn the Emperor’s favour, but Goldcape says she doesn’t like killing animals, and a game where live pigs are torn apart by wolverines is a step too far. Katash is primarily interested in making peace in the area, and suggests simply approaching a patrol and asking for an audience. The others agree to the plan. As they make their way down the refuse-strewn streets, one of the children outside rushes up and says he asked around and heard that Vencarlo was last seen entering Arkona Palace! It’s an intriguing lead, but the group decide to continue deeper into the Emperor’s territory. They soon encounter several toughs punching and kicking an old woman who is sprawled on the cobblestones. Word of The Reckoner has clearly spread, as the men stop what they’re doing as soon as the vigilante appears. Goldcape asks why they’re attacking the woman, and they grunt that her name is Mifeg and that she’s crazy—her family died of the plague but she talks to the bodies like they’re still alive. Cowed by The Reckoner, the thugs quickly agree to take the group to see the Emperor.
The “palace” turns out to be a collection of scorched tenements and abandoned stores, their insides gutted and looted, leaving just the hollow shells of buildings. Rickety wooden stairs lead up to the roof of one building, and makeshift rope bridges then connect to others. A small mob of the Emperor’s followers escort the visitors to a rooftop that overlooks another one just below it. Here, a high-backed throne of blood-red cushions and spikes, like a poor man’s version of the Crimson Throne, sits. At the edge of the roof is an intimidating device: a tall guillotine of carved wood and bone, its base depicting grasping demonic feet while the housing of its glittering blade is a leering demonic face. Next to the guillotine is a small-figure wearing an executioner’s hood, while seated on the throne, surrounded by four flunkies and dressed in ratty and threadbare costume attire, is the self-proclaimed Emperor of Old Korvosa himself!
Speaking in a grandiloquent and almost hypnotic tone, the Emperor readily admits, when asked, that Salvatore Scream is his “houseguest.” But the Emperor is bored and in need of entertainment, and tells the newcomers he’ll introduce them to Scream if they first compete in a game of Blood Pig. The Harrowed Heroes propose various bland alternatives, though Katash piques the Emperor’s interest with the proposal of a duel. The Emperor says he personally can’t duel Katash because the sylph is “not of noble blood”, but counter-offers to have his “champion” participate on his behalf, motioning to the executioner. But that offer is declined, leading the Emperor to grow more and more impatient for entertainment, as a crowd starts to form to watch the show.
Tales will vary on who threw the first punch, but with neither side willing to give, an outbreak of violence is inevitable. A dense scrum starts on the rooftop, with over a dozen of the Emperor’s ruffians surrounding the Harrowed Heroes from all sides, as the Emperor himself looks on gleefully. At first, the situation looks dire, as Yraelzin takes an axe blow to the back and barely manages to crawl to safety. The Reckoner yells at Goldcape to clear a path to the Emperor, and the vanaran’s rapier opens up a momentary gap that the Reckoner dashes through. With but a single swing of his war-maul, The Reckoner cracks the Emperor’s skull open! Jabyr, the Emperor’s diminutive executioner, is frozen in shock for several seconds, but then leaps into the battle, swinging his greataxe like an enraged madman! Katash is badly hurt and is lucky to escape death before Goldcape and the Reckoner manage to bring the aggressor down. The dead Emperor’s henchmen and the audience are left reeling, and quickly filter away, with some giving ragged cheers in expectation that a new Emperor of Old Korvosa has arisen.
The AP was helpful here with ideas to add some flavour to Old Korvosa--the kids using a toy guillotine on dolls, the sad scene with the woman refusing to leave the bodies of her loved ones, etc.
I would have loved for the visit to the Emperor of Old Korvosa to have resulted in a game of Blood Pig or something other than the traditional bout of violence. The PCs kept trying to bargain with him, but there's no bargaining with crazy. The Reckoner landed a crit on the Emperor, which made things much easier, though it was still touch-and-go there for a while.
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[28 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
The “Emperor of Old Kovosa” has been deposed! With the cruel and unpredictable man dead and his henchmen fled, the crowd starts to slowly disperse until and unless a new figure seizes the “throne.” The Harrowed Heroes and their ally Katash are unsure what to do with Jabyr (the Emperor’s unconscious executioner) and end up leaving him to whatever fate has in store. The group decide to continue searching for Salvatore Scream, following up Amin Jalento’s hunch that Vencarlo Orisini might have fled to the artist’s house after the assassination attempt by the Red Mantis. But some shouted queries to the dwindling crowd about the location of Salvatore Scream results only in a variety of contradictory responses.
A thorough search of the tenement “palace” begins. One chamber combines the executioner’s bedroom with a grisly trophy hall of poorly-preserved severed heads. Another turns out to be a storage room of theatrical costumes and props, though one piece of costume jewellery turns out to be a magical ring of disguise! Yet another chamber holds danger in the form of several chokers hidden on the rafters above. The Reckoner spots them in time to alert his companions and the resulting battle goes well--even when Katash falls through a crumbling piece of flooring, a magical spell slows his fall so he lands safely. Yraelzin even seems to be getting the hang of firing his strange underwater crossbow, hitting both of his shots after enduring Goldcape’s mockery.
Another room, obviously the Emperor’s personal quarters, is decked out with once-fine furniture that is now stained, threadbare, and moldy. But three paintings on the wall are truly magnificent despite—or perhaps because of—their grisly subject matter. The first painting depicts a full portrait of a thin humanoid wearing shadows as he stands framed by a dolmen of great size. The figure’s brilliant blue eyes are the only true points of color in the piece, and they seem to almost glow with anger. The second painting depicts a ragged mountain range above a desert under a harsh blue sky; in the foreground, a quartet of Vudrani tusked camels race across dunes that, upon closer examination, consist of tiny skulls. The third painting is the most disturbing, for it depicts a handsome man in the process of peeling away the flesh of his arms as if he were taking off a pair of gloves, but underneath, his arms are muscular and covered with glittering blue scales. The man’s expression is one of delight, but his eyes are empty pits of blackness and behind him, half seen in the shadows, are thousands of humans impaled on towering wooden poles erected in the shadow of an indistinct shape looming on the horizon—perhaps a castle, maybe a mountain, but likely something more. Even a layman can tell the paintings must be worth thousands, though Yraelzin suspects the images hold a deeper significance that he just can’t quite grasp.
The Reckoner gets a chance to exercise a rarely used skill (lock-picking) to provide the group access to what turns out to be a cell—for Salvator Scream himself! Flea bites cover the sunken-eyed man’s skin, and he looks like he’s barely slept in days as he stands before an almost-finished painting of immense fiends attacking a village. Scream speaks in a tone of lethargy and pessimism, seemingly depressed for having lost his muse. But he acknowledges his rescuers and says he wants to leave the Emperor’s service. The group agree to escort him back to his house on Wave Street.
After walking barely a block, however, they see someone waiting for them in the middle of the street. Mifeg, the “crazy old lady” who they rescued from a beating by the Emperor’s thugs just hours previously. Mifeg goes up to Goldcape and gives her a most unexpected gift: a small seven-toothed cog made out of pure gold! Conversing with Mifeg isn’t easy, as her mind seems to wander, but it seems that she found the cog in the sewers, that there are more of them, and that she doesn’t mind showing the group how to get there.
Anxious to follow the detour, The Reckoner asks Salvatore Scream if he wouldn’t mind walking the rest of the way home by himself. The man shrugs and nods. Before leaving, he’s asked about Vencarlo. Scream explains in a vague recounting that, after the unrest started and no one was buying artwork, Vencarlo would pay him for information on some of his former patrons. Scream says Vencarlo was particularly interested in Neolandus Kalepopolis (Castle Korvosa’s seneschal) and how Neolandus turned up at Scream’s home on the morning that King Eodred II died. Neolandus was desperate and begged for a place to hide, saying that the Queen was dangerous but “the more he knew, the less safe he’d be.” Scream suggested Neolandus seek help with other powerful patrons of his—the Arkonas—and escorted Neolandus there personally. But soon after, Scream says, the Emperor of Old Korvosa’s thugs raided his house and kidnapped him, and he doesn’t know where Neolandus is now.
Scream departs, and the group follow Mifeg down a series of streets and alleys. Word has clearly spread about the morning’s battle, and no one in the slums has the temerity to accost the newcomers. Mifeg stops at a large, jagged-edged hole in the street caused by debris from a crumbling building. With surprising alacrity, she clambers down into the hole and the filthy sewer tunnel underneath. Yraelzin provides magical lighting, though The Reckoner is able to see easily in the darkness thanks to a magical mask taken from the Red Mantis (having attempted to disguise the symbol of the notorious assassins). With assured ease, Mifeg leads the group through various twists and turns before stopping at a fissure in the tunnel wall. A soft glow can be seen coming from the other side. “That’s where the dead gold man lies,” Mifeg says. She sits down and begins eating some half-rotten meat from a cloth bag full of scavenged items, leading the others to provide her with fresh rations.
Slipping through the crack in the wall, the intrepid explorers find themselves in a corridor made of smooth, marble walls that bear not even the smallest sign of age. A human-shaped figure lies on the ground about halfway down the corridor, but instead of flesh its skin is made out of metal, and instead of organs there is a complex array of gearwork visible inside its damaged torso. The corridor opens up into a rectangular chamber, and on the far wall is a large bronze door covered in strange runes. Two more of the clockwork figures are here, but these are undamaged and stand at attention, like soldiers, wielding halberds. The skeletons of dozens of small animals are scattered across the floor of the room, and it seems clear that crossing the threshold will activate the automaton-sentinels. Goldcape pleads with the group to turn back, but The Reckoner and Katash feel confident in their ability to destroy the clockwork soldiers and uncover whatever treasure they protect.
Given time to prepare, the Harrowed Heroes are fearsome foes. Yraelzin magically imbues his teammates with super-normal speed, Goldcape conjures a lightning storm and icy spears, and The Reckoner and Katash dash into the room together to attack. Even the clockwork soldier’s dense metallic skin can’t fully protect them from the rain of blows that fall on them, and soon both are destroyed. Yraelzin studies the runes on the door and realises they’re in the language of Thassilon, an ancient empire that occupied Varisia millennia ago! He says the runes are the so-called “seven virtues of rightful rule” and reads them out: wealth, fertility, honest pride, abundance, eager striving, righteous anger, and rest. As soon as he finishes pronouncing the last word, the door cracks open.
On the other side is a seven-walled shrine with murals depicting the seven virtues of rightful rule. A seven-sided ornate altar stands in the center of the room, and in the corner opposite the entrance, another clockwork creature—different than the others, with a crystal wand embedded in its chest—watches silently. Katash hatches a plan to race into the room and yank the crystal wand free from the automaton’s chest, but it reacts faster than he anticipated! The crystal wand glows, and suddenly a massive explosion rocks the room, burning Katash and Goldcape. But the clockwork mage is quickly surrounded and smashed into pieces before it can do any further harm. The Reckoner searches the room carefully and notices the altar contains a secret compartment. Inside are magical treasures dating to the age of Thassilon, including a curious, seven-sided coin that can curse those who practice what the empire considered the greatest sins: greed, lust, pride, gluttony, wrath, sloth, and pride.
Korvosa contains many secrets, and every time the Harrowed Heroes discover one, more questions result. What happened to Neolandus Kalepopolis at Arkona Palace? Is there a connection between the seven-sided shrine and the so-called Runelord of Thassilon that leads the army of giants far to the north? And can anything stop Queen Ileosa before it’s too late?
I really liked the inclusion of Salvatore Scream and his paintings in the AP. The paintings have some excellent foreshadowing and the character is interesting and fun to roleplay. Unfortunately, this was the only session he appeared in. By asking him to walk home alone, the PCs also missed out on meeting an extremely popular NPC: Laori Vaus. That's the fun of gaming--no matter how much prep you do, you never know how things are actually going to actually play out.
The stuff with the clockworks was "Enter the Septagon", the Curse of the Crimson Throne Chapter Three side quest from the comic book Pathfinder: Runescars. I was happy to include it because it was something different (clockwork automatons) and I wanted to work in some more about Thassilon.
The Reckoner, and later all the PCs, went mad for those masks of the mantis--they are an extremely good magical item for the slot if you don't have darkvision, and the ability to see invisibility is also quite handy. Through occasional NPC role-playing, I tried to present the downsides of walking around looking like a member of a notorious assassin cult, but it wasn't enough to dissuade anyone from wearing them.
Having completed their exploration of a vault dating to the age of the Thassilonian Empire, the Harrowed Heroes return to the main sewer line. The Reckoner asks Mifeg, the scavenger who first directed them to the vault, if she can take them through the sewers to get under Arkona Palace. But Mifeg says she doesn’t go there, and that she needs to find food for her family. She does lead the group out of the sewer before leaving. The slums of Old Korvosa seem oddly quiet, as if the inhabitants are waiting with bated breath to see what new calamity is about to befall them.
The Reckoner takes the group back to his newly-established safehouse in Old Korvosa, where he drops off the heavy cogs and gears made of precious metals that they salvaged from the clockwork automatons below. The group discuss the need to find fencing instructor (and Field Marshal Kroft’s informant) Vencarlo Orisini as well as Castle Korvosa’s missing seneschal, Neolandus Kalepopolis. As witnesses report seeing them enter Arkona Palace and never returning, it seems a visit there (whether friendly or aggressive) is inevitable. Goldcape proposes taking a small rowboat along the coast of Endrin’s Isle and making a sort of amphibious assault on the palace. The Reckoner suggests the sewers could keep the group completely unseen, and Goldcape adds that she’s heard the Arkonas have a dungeon called the Vivified Labyrinth under their palace where they keep prisoners and test out their field agents. Katash suggests infiltration through disguise, with him as a knight and the others as his servants. Yraelzin responds with a modified proposal that sees the others as *his* servants and a bold approach where they simply approach House Arkona’s elders and demand the production of Vencarlo and Neolandus.
After some further discussion, a consensus emerges to try the sewers idea. Katash and the Reckoner (in his civilian identity as Ralph Blackfeather) hit the streets to see if they can dig up information about the layout of the sewers of Old Korvosa. Working together, they get the name of a long-time sewer maintenance worker named Mordecai who drinks frequently at the Sticky Mermaid—perhaps Korvosa’s most disreputable tavern, and the site of frequent violence. Ralph is interested in heading there that very evening, but Katash persuades him to wait, as he needs to rest from the day’s exertions.
The rest of the day in the safe-house passes quickly, and soon everyone has found a comfortable spot to unfurl bedrolls and try to get some rest.
[Fireday, 29 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
In the middle of the night, just a few hours before dawn, the slumbering group is awakened by shouts from the streets outside. Looking out a window, they see an orange glow and smoke rising from somewhere in Garrison Hill—the part of Old Korvosa more-or-less controlled by House Arkona since the quarantine. Although fires were common in the slums during the rest of the anarchy after the King’s death, most of the nicer homes in Garrison Hill were untouched. Two other points of fire are visible on the mainland. The members of the group don’t know the city well enough to tell what’s burning, but for three fires to break out simultaneously like this, something must be afoot!
Katash and Ralph disguise themselves as locals and head toward the Garrison Hill fire—when they arrive, they see the granary is ablaze! A bucket line has been formed to try to contain it. Katash says the fires could be the perfect distraction to slip into Arkona Palace undetected, but Ralph is concerned that going in while tired and without a good plan could result in failure. After returning to the safehouse, the two share what they’ve seen with the others. The decision is made to go now. Several minutes are spent working on disguises for Goldcape (as a liveried House Arkona guard) and Ralph (as a servant) combined with a plan to gain access to the palace by pretending that more guards are needed to fight the granary fire.
There’s some confusion and delay in getting everyone to the palace at the same time, but the group has no difficulty in making their way onto the manicured grounds. The grounds are mostly open, decorated here and there with tiny copses of trees, exotic topiary animals (elephants, cobras, and tigers being the most common), beautiful flower gardens, and exquisite fountains. The palace itself is a breathtaking structure built in the Vudrani style, with golden pillars, high windows that rise to tapered points, minarets, and domes decorated with slender spires. Instead of approaching the main entrance, the group choose a mahogany side door carved with the image of a six-armed, four-faced woman who rides a tiger with human hands for feet. Once they get within arm’s reach, however, a semi-transparent elephant appears above the door and trumpets loudly! Yraelzin says it’s a type of alarm called a magic mouth.
Ralph decides the time for deception is over, and rushes over into a nearby copse of trees to begin donning his Reckoner garb. Goldcape climbs a tree and has Rocky try to hide. Footsteps can be heard rapidly approaching from around the corner of the building, and with seconds a pair of palace guards, halberds at the ready, have come to investigate the trumpeting. Katash quickly spins the planned yarn about needing help with the fire, but these guards weren’t born yesterday and don’t believe it for a minute! A fracas ensues, but both guardsmen are quickly subdued before Ralph is even finished changing his clothes. The two unconscious forms are hidden in some bushes nearby.
With stealth and disguise having failed, the group decide on a direct assault, planning to scour the palace until they discover the entrance to the supposed dungeons below. Goldcape is concerned that Rocky will find it too difficult to maneuver inside the building and has the roc perch safely outside.
The mahogany door is (surprisingly) unlocked, and leads into a banquet hall. A magnificent table, also mahogany, dominates the room, its surface decorated with carvings of various snakes. The Reckoner decides more chaos is to the group’s advantage, and lays a trail of oil under the table which he then ignites with a tindertwig—adding arson to the group’s crimes of assault and breaking & entering! Meanwhile, Katash and Goldcape investigate an adjoining room that offers a commanding view of the western palace grounds and contains three statues depicting Vudrani warriors holding aloft glittering blue-green javelins with heads carved from bloodstone. Goldcape moves closer to investigate, but suddenly a magic mouth on each statue begins to shout loudly in Vudrani. No one in the group understands what they’re shouting, but it seems likely to be another type of alarm.
The group decide to move east to get away from the shouting, and find themselves in a wondrous garden. The chamber hardly seems to be part of a palace, but looks more like a clearing at the heart of a vast jungle, teeming with life. The sky above is a deep, cloudless blue, while in the distance, hazy towers rise above the verdant canopy. Exotic bird calls fill the air, the scent of dozens of unfamiliar flowers and plants assault the nose, and everywhere a riot of color demands the eye, whether it’s the wing of a tropical bird, the petals of a brightly hued flower, or the glittering multicolored tiles that make up a round fountain to the north. The fountain’s central plume is a stone pillar around which entwine two cobra statues that clutch green gems in their fanged maws. South of the fountain stands an immense, life-sized jade statue of an elephant, a howdah perched on its back, its tusks and trunk raised high in greeting to the southeast doors. Obviously, the chamber is a masterful combination of real plant-life and statuary with subtle illusion magic.
Goldcape soon realises that a balcony, cleverly painted into the wall, circles the southern part of the room about 25 feet above. She sees figures running along the balcony, and seconds later, they burst through the lower doors and into the garden—each of the two nondescript men wears colourful, flowing robes and appears unarmed. But unarmed doesn’t mean innocuous! One shouts syllables in Vudrani, and suddenly the life-sized statue of the elephant magically transforms into a real one and gores The Reckoner! Simultaneously, a water elemental rises out of the fountain and launches a surprise attack on Goldcape.
The two robed figures are clearly spellcasters, but The Reckoner and Katash close the distance quickly to make it hard for them to cast spells. Katash knocks one to the ground and The Reckoner attacks furiously with his hammer, but the spellcasters must have some kind of mystical defense because they’re able to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment. They’re finally slain, with great difficulty. When Katash lands a finishing blow on the elephant, it transforms into a hand-sized marble elephant—but The Reckoner picks it up first.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the garden, Yraelzin and Goldcape try to contain the raging water elemental. As it brings watery fists down on Goldcape, a strange magical resonance hampers the creature’s ability to fight. Goldcape users her growing mastery of nature magic to call bolts of lightning on it, while Yraelzin follows up with sonic attacks. Soon the elemental is dispersed entirely.
But although the group has triumphed in battle, triumphing over human nature is much harder: The Reckoner and Katash begin to argue vociferously over who should be allowed to keep the marble elephant. Goldcape takes Katash’ side, while Yraelzin offers no opinion. The verbal strife continues until Katash angrily storms off further into the palace, with the others hurrying to catch up. Several rooms are traversed in quick succession—storage rooms, pantries, a hallway with a fourteen-foot-tall statue similar to the carved figure on the door, and more. As the group circle around to the southern edge of the building—still looking for a way down—they pass by the front door.
Footsteps can be heard approaching from nearby, and tendrils of smoke from the burning banquet hall are beginning to spread. Can the Harrowed Heroes find what they’re looking for before the flames, more palace guardians, or internal dissension overtake them?
The PCs never really followed up on the granary fires. I added them to reflect that bugbear saboteurs (camped in the woods south of the city after the Shoanti vacated the area) had been sent into the city at night to weaken the city and cause further chaos, all in service to Karzoug's giant army to the north. I've talked about the "Army of the North" subplot for a while now, and it's slowly building; in Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, we see some more direct engagement with it.
I think the rest of the table was shocked by The Reckoner setting fire to the palace *while* they were investigating it. As GM, it made things far more dramatic, as I tracked the fire's spread and described the billowing smoke pouring through the building.
In the garden fight, the reason it took the PCs so long to kill the "unarmed robed humans" is, of course, because they were rakhasa with something like DR 15. Over on the water elemental, Goldcape and Yraelzin might have died had not the creature rolled a natural 1 and had to draw from our Critical Fumble Deck with a result that made it dazed or unable to attack with natural weapons (I don't remember exactly which) for multiple rounds. I roll all my dice and draw all cards openly, so that was genuinely luck breaking in the PCs way.
The Reckoner and Katash arguing over who should get the elephant reflects a real argument that took place partially in- and partially out- of character between the two players (one a father, one his college-aged son). Having family in RPGs makes things interesting! Things got sorted before next session, if I recall correctly.
[Fireday, 29 Desnus, 4708 continued]
Tendrils of smoke begin to appear in the front entryway of Arkona Palace just as the Harrowed Heroes hear footsteps approaching. When a door opens to reveal a staircase but no one on the other side, the intruders have only the briefest instant to realise magic is at play. The spellcasters responsible suddenly appear, hurling rays of fire at Katash! Goldcape tries to call down lighting on them, but it has absolutely no effect. When The Reckoner launches his assault, he realises that these palace defenders have prepared by conjuring barely-visible magical armor around themselves. Yraelzin invokes the glories of Razmir as he dispels each spellcaster’s defences one after the other, making them vulnerable in normal combat. The Reckoner takes advantage of a momentary opening and in almost parkour-like fashion leaps up the staircase to cut the defenders off from any planned retreat. Although Goldcape’s rapier seems to have no effect on them at all, the same can’t be said for The Reckoner’s war-maul.
After the guards are dispatched, a friendly, welcoming voice is heard from the top of the stairs. “You fellows sure are causing quite a commotion down there! Why don’t you come on up so we can talk?” The Reckoner wants to attack right away, but Katash persuades him to wait and see what the man has to say. The group climb the stairs to find themselves on the second floor of the building where a balcony overlooks the burning gardens below. Standing in front of his bedroom, clad in a silk evening robe and slippers, stands the patron of the house: Glorio Arkona! He smiles and waves for the group to follow him in, seemingly amused by their “hijinks” below. They follow, primed for danger, but Glorio waves them into seats. He recognises three of them by the names Queen Ileosa gave them when she proclaimed them her “secret agents”—the Golden Monkey, the Reckoner, and the Man in the Iron Mask—and asks if they’ve come to kill him. He thanks Katash for doing him a favour in disposing of “that tiresome gadfly” the Emperor of Old Korvosa.
Katash and Goldcape are willing to have a normal conversation, but The Reckoner takes a harder line, implying he knows of Glorio’s alleged connection with the Cerulean Society (Korvosa’s thieves’ guild) and threatening violence if Vencarlo and Neolandus aren’t delivered immediately. Glorio gives a rueful smile and says that simply handing over the “two guests” may be a “trifle complicated.” The problem, Glorio explains, is that both men have been sent into the Vivified Labyrinth below the palace by his sister, Meliya. He can’t openly defy his sister, but can do the next best thing and tell the group how to access the labyrinth themselves. Glorio explains that there’s a secret staircase under the pedestal of the elephant statue in the gardens and a secret phrase in Vudrani that must be uttered to get in safely. He adds that there’s a secret door near the rope bridges that leads down to the labyrinth entrance, which itself is hidden by an illusory wall.
After some questioning by the suspicious intruders, Glorio admits he wouldn’t be “overly pained” to discover his sister hasn’t emerged from the labyrinth alive. He also subtly hints that he thinks Queen Ileosa is botching the running of Korvosa and should be removed from power. But it’s a passing reference to the peculiarity of Ileosa authorising “one of the Man in the Iron Mask’s associates” across the only bridge into Old Korvosa yesterday that really gets everyone’s attention. Upon questioning, Glorio explains that one of his agents saw a figure dressed almost exactly like Yraelzin—but with a red robe and a golden mask—stride boldly across the bridge, unhindered by the Gray Maidens. Yraelzin sounds stricken and mutters something about his having turned up the inquisition card during the Harrower’s last reading. He explains that only a “Priest of the Fifteenth Step” or higher can wear a gold mask—and Yraelzin himself is only a Priest of the Third Step!
Katash gets the conversation returning to more immediate business by asking Glorio what’s in the labyrinth. Glorio is coy, but is persuaded to drop a few hints about magical symbol traps on the walls and something called a “darksphinx.” The Reckoner recalls an idle conversation once with a traveller from Osirion who went on and on about the rare creatures, and he remembers that they’re difficult to hurt without blessed weapons. Upon Glorio’s invitation that they could return in the morning, the group decide that resting first and tackling the labyrinth after some more sleep would be a good idea. As they leave the palace, a bucket line of servants from the palace’s outbuildings is forming to try to contain the blaze. Goldcape’s growing mastery of nature magic is demonstrated again, as a heavy rain begins to fall and extinguishes the fire!
The return walk to the safe-house is without incident. Late in the morning, once everyone’s rested, Yraelzin has a private conversation with The Reckoner. Yraelzin implicitly asks him to downplay any use of wands he might have seen the priest use if he were questioned by another Razmiran. The Reckoner agrees. Still, Yraelzin continues pacing and sounds extremely worried about what it could mean for a higher-ranking priest to be appear in the city.
Katash and The Reckoner (in his civilian identity as Ralph Blackfeather) then hit the streets to prepare for the Vivified Labyrinth. Worried most of all about the “darksphinx” that Glorio Arkona mentioned, they visit Ledbetter’s Apothecary on Hook Street in the Bridgefront neighbourhood. Old Man Ledbetter sells the pair several vials of bless weapon once Ralph vouches for Katash despite the latter’s status as a non-human. Once the pair return to the safe-house, they distribute the oils.
Ralph dons his masked garb before the group once again set out for the palace. Everyone on the streets is talking about the cause of the previous night’s fires, with speculation ranging from coincidental lightning strikes to bugbear arsonists to agents of Ileosa attacking Arkona interests. The palace itself is crawling with repair crews, guards, and liveried servants. Goldcape receives several cheers for having saved the palace from destruction, and no one hinders the group as they make their way into the scorched garden. After uttering the secret Vudrani phrase, the pedestal is turned and reveals an iron-framed spiral staircase exactly like Glorio said it would. After mulling it over, The Reckoner relents and lets Katash have the jade green marble elephant they found atop it.
The staircase descends into a vast, cool grotto lit by flickering torches. A series of ledges wind along the cavern’s inner wall to a series of rope bridges that descend even lower from ledge to ledge. Nearby, every surface is covered in a strangely beautiful tableau of all manner of odd-colored fungi, lichens, and molds. But ever alert for danger, The Reckoner sees depressions appearing in the lichen on the ground and realises creatures are moving invisibly toward the group! He calls out a warning and then activates the magic of the mask taken from the Red Mantis to see what it is. Before the group stands skeletal humanoid creatures covered head to toe with a strange fungus. Yraelzin quickly casts a spell so he can see them too, but Katash and Goldcape have to fight blind when the creatures advance with scimitars at the ready! The Reckoner uses a wand to cast a protective spell against undead, but appearances are deceiving, and Yraelzin explains that these creatures are simply bones given animation by the fungus that covers them. The Reckoner starts smashing the fungal guardians, but Katash inhales poisonous spores and begins to falter, while Goldcape suffers multiple serious sword wounds. Precious resources like antitoxins and Yraelzin’s divine healing spells keep the pair in fighting shape, and soon the strange sentinels are destroyed.
If Glorio Arkona can be believed, the group’s search for Vencarlo Orisini and Neolandus Kalepopolis is on the right track. But if their first taste of battle against the guardians of the Vivified Labyrinth are any measure, how can the Harrowed Heroes hope to survive?
Glorio Arkona is one of my favourite NPCs from the campaign, as I have a blast role-playing him as a suspiciously friendly would-be patron of the heroes. I found the artwork for him inspiring, and he's become a major figure as the leader of one of the three rebel factions working to dethrone Ileosa.
The idea with the Razmiran inquisitor was to further Yraelzin's subplot as a Priest of Razmiran that had been gradually straying from the tenets of the faith. I think, ironically, I may have been able to do a better job with a GM-PC's subplots than I did those for the actual PCs!
I try to make sure non-combat things, like Goldcape using her magic to put out the fire, receive accolades too. As we'll see later, a couple of the members of the group start to judge everything by combat efficiency, which can then make more role-playing focussed members of the group feel self-conscious, which is unfortunate.
[Fireday, 29 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
The Harrowed Heroes have destroyed a band of fungus-covered skeletons under Arkona Palace. But the victory comes at a cost: Katash, severely weakened by the creatures’ poison, recalls a strange dream he had weeks ago and had forgotten. In the dream, a Varisian fortune-teller performed a reading for him and turned over the cards of Death and The Lost. She interpreted it to foretell that if Katash entered a maze, he would surely die! Shaken from the memory, Katash announces he can’t go any further. He’s going back to the streets of Old Korvosa and help to restore peace to those living in the aftermath of the rioting and plague.
After his departure, the remaining members of the group spread out and look around, confirming they’re on an upper ledge overlooking the sloshing waters of a sea cave far below. A series of rope bridges lead to consecutively lower bridges. As there seems to be nothing of interest (and no secret doors) on the upper ledge, Goldcape carefully tests one of the rope bridges and finds it sturdy enough to lead the group to another ledge that’s about fifty feet above the water. A wooden door has been built into the back wall of the ledge, and a set of large brass doors can be seen inset into a wall near the base of the sea cave. The Reckoner examines the area carefully from above, noticing a wooden pier jutting out into the water. Suddenly, he shouts that there’s a creature submerged in the water! Eager to show off the virtues of his special underwater crossbow, Yraelzin fires a bolt. Although he misses, he comes close enough that the submerged creature surfaces and reveals itself as the largest reefclaw that anyone in the group has ever seen! At the Reckoner’s behest, Goldcape and Yraelzin begin shooting at it from above, but do only minor damage to it before it sinks below the surging waters and vanishes.
The nearby wooden door is opened to reveal a small chamber with nothing more than a simple bed, shelves carved into the walls, and several small animal figurines. Some of the figurines are crude, but others are exquisite and made from valuable materials like coral, redwood, and gold. Unlike the representations of fauna native to Vudra in the palace above, these figurines look to be from creatures common in the wilds of Varisia—geckos, firepelt cougars, and flame drakes.
With nothing else to explore on this ledge, and intent on destroying the reefclaw, The Reckoner ties off his rope so he can descend to the lowest ledge that is only a foot or two above the water. He’s not surprised when the reefclaw clambers out of the water like a predator that has just found prey, but he isn’t prepared for how quickly it moves! It catches him in a powerful claw and starts trying to crush the life out of him! Goldcape sends Rocky to fly down and help, providing just enough of a distraction for The Reckoner to slip free of the enormous reefclaw’s grip. With arrows and spells raining down from above and The Reckoner and Rocky smashing and tearing at it, the creature is badly wounded and tries to swim away. Rocky swims out over the water and delivers a killing blow, but in its death throes, the reefclaw tears into the roc, leaving it badly hurt.
After some magical healing from rapidly-diminishing wands, the group decide to press onwards. The Reckoner puts an ear to the seam in the brass double-doors and hears hissing and a muted voice on the other side. Suspecting they may have found the lair of the darksphinx, he douses his battle-maul with blessed oil and throws open the doors. Four lit braziers illuminate the vast chamber on the other side, a cathedral-like space made all the more immense by its lack of benches or other concessions to comfort. The floor is polished tan marble, with the walls rising up to form a domed ceiling sixty feet above. Alcoves line the walls of the chamber, six in all, inside of which stand human-sized statues of a tiger-headed man. At the far end, a few steps lead up to a pulpit-like area with three more statues of the same figure—the central one being twice as tall and holding out before him two lances from which hang flags of Korvosa and the Arkona coat of arms. But this shrine to House Arkona has not been left unguarded! Two, truly enormous 18’ long immense snakes are here, one of them having recently shed its skin. And feeding on the shed skin is a powerful-looking, tiger headed beast-man!
The giant snakes surge forward after a mere nod from their trainer, and prove to be fearsome not just in size, but also from their deadly venom! Goldcape finds herself weakening with every second and almost at the point of collapsing before she remembers her mystical nature magic can neutralise the poison. She saves herself just in time, and uses the same magic to help The Reckoner, who also finds himself on the wrong end of a cobra’s fangs. The snakes are dispatched relatively quickly, but the beast-man is another matter entirely. Spells of lightning and slowness have absolutely no effect, and the nimble foe darts quickly from target to target leaving everyone—even Yraelzin—wounded. Finally, Yraelzin manages to break one of the beast-man’s defensive enchantments, Goldcape magically manifests spears of ice to wound him, and The Reckoner gets him cornered and starts wailing away with his battle-maul. Although somehow incredibly resistant to harm, he’s eventually defeated. Yraelzin is left bleeding from a jagged kukri slash, Goldcape is limping from a severed tendon, and even The Reckoner shows multiple wounds.
The group patch up their injuries as best they can, search the shrine thoroughly, and then decide to take the risk of resting in the small chamber off the middle ledge. The wooden door is barricaded and, not trusting Yraelzin to keep watch, Goldcape and The Reckoner decide to take turns standing guard.
Although much blood has been shed, there’s as yet no labyrinth and no sign of Vencarlo Orisini or Neolandus Kalepopolis. Have the Harrowed Heroes fallen for a ruse, or have they missed the only path forward?
Katash's player, who was only dropping in for a few sessions, went back to college, so I had to come up with an excuse for the character to depart.
I found the ledges and rope-bridges a bit confusing to map here. I'm not sure if I got them 100% correct, but we muddled through.
There wasn't really any need to kill the reefclaw. Sometimes The Reckoner just gets bloodthirsty!
The tiger-headed creature was a rakshasa. Interestingly, I don't think the group has ever really made the connection between House Arkona, Vudra, and rakshasas!
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[Starday, 30 Desnus, 4708 A.R.]
After spending hours barricaded inside a small room to recover from injuries sustained in battle, the Harrowed Heroes awaken feeling fully refreshed. But as they’re gathering their things in preparation to renew their search for Vencarlo Orisini and Neolandus Kalepopolis (and while Yraelzin is pacing with worry about the possibility a Razmiran inquisitor has come to Korvosa), the sound of shouting can be heard outside the room, just over the sloshing waters of the sea cave. “Avidexu!” the voice calls. “Where are you? We’ve got another one for the labyrinth!” Goldcape shouts back pretending to be whoever Avidexu is, hoping to lure potential foes into an ambush. But her voice doesn’t match at all, and, when the Reckoner peeks out, he sees two figures armed with crossbows standing on the pier. Next to it is a small rowboat containing the bound figure of a dwarf who is just starting to wake up.
Willing to attack first and ask questions later, The Reckoner shoots an arrow from a ledge high above the newcomers, and Goldcape joins in with her crossbow. Yraelzin strikes a dramatic pose and shouts warnings of his vast arcane might, but (apart from conjuring a shimmering suit of magical armor) also relies on a crossbow to attack. The short-lived archery duel is inconclusive, and is brought to end when the dwarf rouses himself enough to push the boat away from the pier, burst his bounds, and conjure magical attacks of light and fire at his kidnappers! The spells go awry, but The Reckoner leaps dramatically from the ledge to the pier and shatters one of the crossbowmen’s skull with his war-maul! The other quickly surrenders, but The Reckoner won’t allow him to leave until he explains what’s going on. The kidnapper, who gives his name as Hal Fivecoins, says he’s a member of the Cerulean Society (Korvosa’s only—and semi-legitimate—thieves’ guild) and he was bringing another prisoner to Avidexu for the labyrinth. After being forced to reveal the location of the secret door to the labyrinth, the kidnapper is allowed to take the rowboat and paddle away.
For his part, the dwarf introduces himself as Anorak and explains he was attacked on the streets above. The Reckoner and Goldcape are focussed on opening the secret door and searching for traps, leaving the dwarf to Yraelzin’s not-so-subtle proselytization. With nowhere else to go and sensing safety in numbers, Anorak joins the others as they walk down a long, winding tunnel that’s lit only by the glow Yraelzin enchants his mask with. The tunnel curves sharply and then ends at a set of large bronze doors, each carved with images of tigers chasing other tigers in four adjacent circles. The doors open silently with the merest touch, revealing a small chamber containing a pair of statues of tiger-headed men, their arms wide as if to usher visitors in. Curiously, a small seam—barely an inch wide—is noticeable in the floor, walls, and ceiling between where the statues stand and the smaller chamber beyond from which a long lever with an ebony handle protrudes from the wall.
After carefully ushering everyone in past the seam, The Reckoner pulls the lever. A loud rumbling begins from somewhere below, and then the room starts to slowly spin! Goldcape tells the others to remember the plan: get Vencarlo and Neolandus, and then get out quick. But The Reckoner says there may be some interesting things to find in the labyrinth, and they shouldn’t necessarily be in a hurry to leave. In a matter of seconds, the spinning stops: the previous entrance has disappeared completely behind a solid wall, but a new exit is visible. The passageway leads in one direction to a new lever, and in the other direction, a mystical symbol on the floor that flashes suddenly before disappearing—a magical trap! Anorak grunts as his body is wreaked with constant pain. The Reckoner realises the group is being scried upon by an almost-invisible magical sensor and alerts Anorak, who is able to dispel it.
Through an oddly-shaped hallway decorated with complex murals of a hot, steaming jungle full of predators, the group open a door into a room that is clearly a test or trap of some sort. Three large wooden chests, their lid decorated with carvings of cavorting tigers, sit against one wall, each with a message in Vudrani carved on the lid. The group hasn’t come prepared for an exercise in translation, but still proceeds cautiously at first. Anorak uses a minor spell to open one of the chests from a distance, revealing a mass of slithering, venomous snakes! The snakes quickly swarm over the explorers, and this is one danger The Reckoner’s hammer can’t solve! But Goldcape saves the day by conjuring spears of ice that impale and freeze the snakes, leaving only a few left to destroy with careful application of alchemist’s fire. The opened chest does yield some minor magical potions, showing that whoever put the trap together had a sense of humor. Goldcape impetuously opens the last two chests despite frantic attempts by the others to dissuade her. One of the chests releases a poisonous gas, while the other is covered in a sticky poison! Both are otherwise completely empty, and only luck (and a strong constitution) keep Goldcape from getting sick.
But luck can’t last forever. As the group explore a side passage, another magical symbol on the floor flashes. Goldcape drops to the ground in a heap, snoring deeply—and this is a slumber she can’t be awakened from!
Tricks and traps pervade the Vivified Labyrinth, and some are obviously quite dangerous. Will the Harrowed Heroes find what they’re looking for before it’s too late?
This session is most notable for the first appearance of Anorak, a new PC by a player experiencing Pathfinder and RPGs for the very first time. And unlike some of the early players, this one stuck around! Anorak was a dwarven magus and adventured with the group for quite sometime before meeting an unfortunate end in Scarwall--but more on that later. It took me a bit to come up with explanation for his appearance here, and ended up having to go with the admittedly cliched "prisoner of the bad guys in need of rescue, whose gear just happens to be stashed nearby." But at least I was able to add a bit about the Cerulean Society and the secret door. This session revealed that no one in the party is particularly good at ranged combat, and Anorak learned the hard way that fireball spells don't work so well against rogues that have evasion.
The Vivified Labyrinth (the dungeon) has a really interesting set-up because every time a lever is pulled, four parts of it rotate on their axis, meaning that there are multiple configurations and times where exits are blocked or suddenly open up. I represented it by drawing those areas on then cardboard, cutting them out, and then using blu-tak to hold them in place after each spin. It seemed to work pretty well, though I think I was more impressed with the concept than the players were.
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[Starday, 30 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
Deep under Arkona Palace, the Harrowed Heroes face a dilemma: one of their number has fallen under a magical slumber and can’t be awakened! Yraelzin makes several attempts to remove the enchantment, but meets with no success before proclaiming that his “nearly inexhaustible” reserve of magical energies are running low. With Anorak still wracked by pain from another magical trap, The Reckoner says the group needs to retreat. Goldcape is bundled onto Rocky’s back. The explorers backtrack to the original chamber where they pulled the lever, and pull it again. But although the room slowly spins as before, it doesn’t return to its original position! Instead, it rotates only 90 degrees to reveal a new series of chambers. The Reckoner quickly tries to pull the lever again, but the mechanism must have a built-in delay! He tries to force it nonetheless, but the gearwork behind the lever is too complicated for him to adjust.
Mere seconds later, the danger of being stuck in the Vivified Labyrinth in its current configuration becomes apparent: the darksphinx has been set free! The dangerous foe has the body of a lion, wings of an eagle, and the upper body of a comely woman. She smiles at having found her prey so easily, and conjures forth a cloying gray miasma of dark energies that roils through the group, and even the unconscious Goldcape and his companion Rocky are harmed by it. The darksphinx then retreats the way she came, and when Anorak rushes to follow, he sets off another magical symbol trap! Fortunately, his innate dwarven resistance to magic sees him through the danger. Thanks to Glorio Arkona’s earlier warning and The Reckoner’s foresight, the group has come prepared with vials of magical oils to coat their weapons with. The darksphinx lands one deep cut on The Reckoner, but his battle-maul proves devastatingly effective and Anorak finishes the battle with a powerful swing of his dwarven waraxe.
The group pushes forward into the darksphinx’s throne room. Manacled to a tiger-headed statute is an unconscious man covered in bruises, barely-healed cuts, and tattered rags: Vencarlo Orisini! The Reckoner smashes the manacles to free the man, and the judicious application of a magical healing wand brings the fencing instructor (and noted critic of the monarchy) to consciousness. Despite the obvious pain he’s in, Vencarlo manages a smile when he recognises fellow allies of Field Marshal Kroft. But he also realises that the labyrinth is no place to linger, and asks the group if they’ve found Neolandus Kalepopolis yet. When he hears that they haven’t, he explains that there’s an illusory wall near the entrance to the labyrinth—and he saw Neolandus being dragged through it. The Reckoner lends Vencarlo a pair of short swords so that he can contribute should there be a need for more bloodshed.
This time, when the lever is pulled, the room rotates—but to a configuration that sees the chamber’s only exit completely blocked by solid rock! The Reckoner spends the following minute trying furiously to speed up the built-in delay mechanism, knowing that the group’s magical defences are ebbing with each passing moment. When the gearwork finally resets on its own, another pull of the lever appears to have restored the labyrinth to the configuration that the group first found it. Vencarlo shows The Reckoner where the illusory wall is—it leads to a tunnel and a set of stairs that descend to a door. Sobbing—and gentle murmuring--can be heard coming from the other side of it. When the door is opened, the relief of finding Neolandus is tempered by the realisation that he’s stretched out on a torture rack! The entire room has been furnished with torture devices, and its stranger master is present: a six-armed woman whose head has three fanged faces! A whispered spell temporarily paralyses Anorak, but his willpower is strong enough that he’s able to break free seconds later. Meanwhile, The Reckoner and Vencarlo rush in to surround her. But the torturer is too wily to be surrounded so easily and dashes away, leaving a bloody gash in The Reckoner’s jerkin from a sharp-edged kukri. The room is small enough that she’s quickly cornered—but it’s Yraelzin who wins the battle. With his most common enchantments depleted, he recalls a necromantic spell he had almost forgotten about. Overcoming his foe’s resistance to magic, Yraelzin forces her bones to shatter! But when the sagging corpse falls to the ground, the group is horrified to realise that the flesh is slowly knitting together! Nothing seems to work to stop it until another vial of blessed oil is applied to The Reckoner’s hammer.
As the group is freeing and rousing Neolandus, rumbling can be heard from the north and from above, and the ground itself seems to shake. The group race up the stairs and towards the illusory wall, but then they hear a voice on the other side of it pleading for help—Vencarlo Orisini’s voice! The Reckoner peers through and sees a second Vencarlo who looks almost exactly like the one that is with them. The “new” Vencarlo and the “old” Vencarlo argue and are questioned, and both give plausible accounts. The Reckoner is torn on what to do until he notices some of the “new” Vencarlo’s skin looks like it’s flaking, and that the figure’s voice is higher in tone than the “old” one. But before he can confront the newcomer, Yraelzin’s voice calls out from the tunnel saying that there’s been a betrayal! The others rush back to see that the silver dagger Goldcape took from Verik Vancaskerkin’s office weeks ago has somehow turned into a snake—and it’s poised to sink its teeth into Yraelzin’s neck!
In-game, the group is rushing from place to place so that their short-lived buffs don't expire. This has become one of the most notable features of the group that I'd never seen before: at points, they might each have literally a dozen low-level buffs (from wands, potions, and spellcasting) going. Keeping track of all of these bonuses and their durations is a logistical pain in the butt.
What became the group's favourite spell for Yraelzin, boneshaker, made its debut this session. Whenever there's indecision about what the character should do during an encounter, the chant "boneshaker!" starts up pretty quickly.
The "two Vencarlos" worked pretty well! I might have even carried it further, except The Reckoner has a pretty high Perception score. I was also thrilled to reveal that the "silver dagger" Goldcape has been carrying since mid-way through Chapter 1 is a shapechanging monster that has been spying on the group for House Arkona.
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[Starday, 30 Desnus, 4708 A.R. continued]
The Harrowed Heroes are in dire straits! Goldcape is unconscious, Yraelzin has a shape-changing serpent poised to bite his neck, and Anorak and The Reckoner have just encountered a *second* Vencarlo Orisini! But after The Reckoner realises this new Vencarlo is the fake, the impersonator smiles wryly and reveals herself to be Meliya Arkona! “You can’t blame a girl for trying,” she says in a cultured Vudrani accent. “How was I know to you know you would manage to retrieve the real Vencarlo from Sivit? The darksphinx doesn’t let her prey go lightly.” She nods in recognition of the group’s accomplishment, and then says that the real enemy is her brother, Glorio Arkona. She says that Glorio betrayed the group and notified her the instant they entered the Vivified Labyrinth, doubtless hoping that either they would kill her or she would kill them. She says that, together, they can confront Glorio, earning the adventurers their freedom and herself the rightful place as the sole head of House Arkona.
When The Reckoner balks, Meliya begins to press. She says she knows the group is at its weakest with Goldcape unconscious and her pet roc effectively neutralized. Plus, she explains, her “little spy” has been watching the group since they obtained it from Verik Vancaskerkin and revealed themselves to be interesting new players in Korvosa’s power struggles. To prove the truth of her words, she drops a stunning fact: The Reckoner’s real name! But despite the not-so-subtle threat to reveal his secret identity to the world, The Reckoner is having none of it. He strides up and smashes his hammer into the surprised woman’s ribs! She grunts in pain but doesn’t seem to be seriously hurt, and shakes her head in mocking disappointment as she assumes a Vudrani martial arts stance!
The Reckoner and Meliya duel off, with each finding it difficult to land a meaningful blow on the other. The real Vencarlo Orisini, using Goldcape’s magical rapier, joins in the fray. Meanwhile, Yraelzin feels the snake’s fangs tear into his neck and he feels momentarily disoriented. The situation becomes even worse when Anorak conjures magical darkness, making it impossible for the Priest of Razmir to see! But Yraelzin hasn’t been idle during his time as a hostage, as he’s secretly slipped the marble elephant figurine out of his robes. He throws it blindly in the darkness, and it careens through the illusory wall and lands right behind Meliya. Suddenly, a massive elephant trumpets its arrival and joins The Reckoner and Vencarlo in attacking her! Still, she is incredibly nimble, and even apparently solid blows seem to do little harm to her when they land. Anorak dispels his darkness spell and chops into the strange snake, simultaneously releasing a magical ray of flame he had previously stored within it. In an instant, Meliya’s spy is burnt to a crisp.
Anorak and Yraelzin rush over to help the others, but that only gives their foe a nefarious idea. “If you won’t stand by my side,” she says with a smile to The Reckoner, “then your friends will pay the price.” She dances out his reach and with a fearsome combination of kukri swings, throat punches, and roundhouse kicks kills Vencarlo! And then she continues her flurry of attacks on Yraelzin and Anorak, wounding both of them severely. The survivors respond with everything they have, but Meliya’s defences against blade and spell are just too strong. Faced with the imminent prospect of witnessing another death, The Reckoner finally relents. He lowers his battle-maul and agrees to her terms. “Thanks Ralph,” she says, flourishing her power. She says the group will need to be at full strength to help her defeat her brother, and says they should rest for now and she’ll return for them in the morning. She warns them to stay away from any bloodstones they see, as Glorio can magically look through them.
With Venarlo’s body in tow, the group return to the chamber where they freed Neolandus from the clutches of his three-faced torturer. The former (or, arguably, still) seneschal of Castle Korvoa is stricken by Vencarlo’s death and acknowledges that none of them may make it out of the Arkonas’ clutches alive. He says that one of them has to, however, if there is any chance of ever deposing Queen Ileosa and liberating the city from her insane cruelty. As Goldcape finally wakes from her magical slumber, Neolandus reveals the information that the Harrowed Heroes braved the quarantined Old Korvosa to discover.
When Neolandus confronted Ileosa about the king’s death, he explains, she sent Red Mantis assassins after him! Only through luck and a deep knowledge of the castle’s layout was he able to escape and then go into hiding with the artist Salvator Scream in Old Korvosa. While recovering from the attack, Neolandus says he pieced together everything he could think of that would explain Ileosa’s sudden personality change from a petulant queen to a scheming murderer and dictator. He explains that he knew she had been “borrowing” the treasury key to look through the city’s treasures for months, and that there are several old and obscure legends about the rooms below Castle Korvosa. One of the legends is that they were used to hide something of great power or terrible evil--the so-called “Midnight’s Teeth”, a sacred relic dating to the time when the Shoanti had occupied the ziggurat that Castle Korvosa is built upon. Neolandus relates how he connected that to a separate legend that hundreds of years ago, a blue dragon agent of Zon-Kuthon (the god of pain) named Kazavon ruled the land as a cruel tyrant until he was finally defeated and his remains scattered—but that some of his body parts, including the fangs, contained fragments of the dragon’s essence. Neolandus says he thinks the Midnight’s Teeth and Kazavon’s fangs could be one and the same, and match the description of the new crown she’s said to wear! If so, that power would explain how Marcus Endrin’s assassination attempt failed so spectacularly.
Neolandus says he only has theories, however, and not proof. As Korvosa’s founders didn’t think it was important to preserve much in the way of Shoanti culture, there’s no way to research the history of the legends about the Midnight’s Teeth and Kazavon within the city. But, he says, the Shoanti have very strong oral traditions, and if anyone knows how much truth lies within the legend (and what, if anything, can be done to break the crown’s power), it’s doubtless the tribes in the Cinderlands—an area said to have been once ruled by Kazavon. Because the Shoanti have long distrusted Korvosa and are suspicious of outsiders, they will doubtless view visitors as trespassers and enemies. But Neolandus explains he knows where they might be able to start: with the Skoan-Quah, the Tribe of the Skull, a tribe that was involved in peace talks with Korvosa prior to the king’s murder. One old shaman was particularly level-headed and friendly, Neolandus says, a man named Thousand Bones from a place in the Cinderlands known as the Kallow Mounds—about fifty miles east of the city of Kaer Maga and several days’ ride from Korvosa.
The Harrowed Heroes have much to ponder as they rest and try to recover from their wounds.
[Sunday, 31 Desnus 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, the group discuss what to do. Goldcape is not happy that The Reckoner made a bargain with Vencarlo’s killer, but says that she can bring Vencarlo back to life (though perhaps not in the same body) once she obtains some rare magical oils and herbs. Yraelzin says his prayers to Razmir have been answered, as he’s intuited the mystical means to communicate at a great distance with those he knows. The group discuss whether anyone in Korvosa could come to their aid, and conclude there isn’t—even Field Marshal Kroft is barely holding onto her current position. An interesting possibility opens up when one of the wands found on the darksphinx’s body is identified as allowing short-range magical teleportation. Members of the group debate whether to stay and fight on Meliya’s side or make an escape attempt. The Reckoner and Anorak vote to stay and fight, thereby preserving the former’s secret identity and avoiding having created yet another powerful enemy in a city seemingly full of them. Goldcape argues for escape, saying there’s no way to know whether they can defeat Glorio or that, even if they do, Meliya won’t just turn on them. Yraelzin is torn, as he wants House Arkona as long-term allies to help his “Temple of Razmir” flourish in Old Korvosa, but he’s afraid that choosing the wrong side in Glorio’s and Meliya’s rivalry could prove lethal.
Eventually, the group decide to stay. Seconds later, Meliya appears in the room, seemingly from out of thin air. “Good choice,” she says. “It’s time to go.”
I've just finished running Session # 95 as I write this commentary, and I had forgotten how much of a challenge Meliya was for the group. There's very, very few NPCs in the campaign that have been able to stand toe-to-toe with the entire group and come out ahead. Her high DR and AC was definitely part of it. The fact that she knew The Reckoner's secret was a heavy blow, and explains better why the group "suddenly" decide to turn on her in the next session.
I had also forgotten that she killed Vencarlo! Fortunately, the group was able to bring the man back to life--otherwise, some things in the campaign would have gone very differently.
The Neolandus exposition of course sets up Chapter Four. I wanted to make sure the PCs had all the info they needed because I had no idea which, if any, of these NPCs would live through the Vivified Labyrinth and the next few sessions.
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[Sunday, 31 Desnus 4708 A.R.]
Deep below Arkona Palace, the Harrowed Heroes converse with their captor, Meliya Arkona, about how to best kill her brother, Glorio. The Reckoner persuades her to let him go out into the city for an hour in search of magical potions to aid the upcoming confrontation, on the condition that the others are left behind as hostages. The masked vigilante finds a new rowboat tied up on the pier that juts into the sea caves under the palace, and rows it (with some difficulty) through an illusory wall and out into the waters lapping the coast of Endrin’s Isle. Hurrying through the streets of Old Korvosa, he realises that rioting has begun afresh. He spots what looks like a group of priests being chased by a mob, but decides not to intervene. When he reaches Ledbetter’s in Bridgefront, the cranky old man refuses to even open the door at first. The Reckoner cajoles him into selling a few vials of magical elixirs, and hears that the rioting was caused by a massacre on the only bridge that still connects Old Korvosa to the mainland.
When The Reckoner returns, Meliya says the plan is a simple one: she’ll disguise herself as a bruised and battered Vencarlo Orisini, lead the others through the palace until they find Glorio, and launch a surprise attack. Neolandus and the body of the real Vencarlo will have to stay behind. The Reckoner interjects that they should be entitled to any of Glorio’s possessions after he’s killed, and she rolls her eyes and agrees that they can have anything on his corpse besides keys or documents.
The plan faces its first hiccup when everyone emerges from the secret passageway and into the gardens. The tools of the all the labourers hired to help repair the damage from the fire have been scattered about as if their owners fled quickly. Then, shapes can be seen dimly outside the enchanted windows before they burst open in a spray of glass to reveal the walking dead! "He . . . knows . . ." the zombies moan with rotting tongues and torn vocal cords. Goldcape wants to stay and fight them, but The Reckoner persuades her there’s no time—they need to find and fight Glorio quickly, before their temporary magical augmentations fade away. As they move through the palace, Meliya whispers that Glorio wouldn’t have summoned undead, and may be just as confused as they are by the cause.
The search ends on the second floor. Glorio is there standing in front of the entrance to his rooms, obviously having surmised that something is afoot. He is warm and welcoming at first, but as the group move closer and closer to him, he realises from the way Anorak grips his waraxe that they’ve come to kill him! In an instant, the co-ruler of House Arkona has lifted off the ground and begins to hover in mid-air over the opening to the gardens below, out of reach of anyone on the balconies. But the otherwise-clever tactic doesn’t account for an assailant who’s a roc! Rocky smashes into Glorio as a mass of talons, beak, and feathers. Glorio intones mystic words to conjure a bolt of pure lightning at the bird. In moments, the scene is awash in projectiles, explosions, and blasts of crackling magic. Yraelzin quickly changes the tide by stripping Glorio of his magical levitation, forcing the man to (slowly) descend to the gardens below.
Meliya, in her guise as Vencarlo, remains on the balcony and contributes little to the fighting in a bid to retain her disguise. But The Reckoner rails against her for not contributing to the battle and their argument reveals the truth to Glorio—“Vencarlo” is really his sister! Glorio laughs at the trick and tells the Harrowed Heroes he has much more to offer them than she does and then he turns invisible to buy time. Meanwhile, zombies begin crashing through the burnt foliage and attacking every living creature they see. Meliya flies down into the battle to bring her full might against Glorio, but Glorio’s silver tongue (and her own sharp one) has led to another betrayal! Everyone turns their weapons against Meliya—and Goldcape even magically conjures a rhinoceros to pin her in! The battle is a crazed melee, with Meliya surrounded by Rocky on one side, The Reckoner on another, a rhinoceros on the third, and zombies on the other. Even her mysterious defences can’t hold out for long, and Rocky’s bite (enhanced by the magical oils obtained by The Reckoner) prove devastatingly effective. Terribly wounded, Meliya’s rage at the sudden reversal is obvious: “You’ll pay, Ralph Blackfeather!” she snarls before drawing a wand and disappearing through a conjured doorway!
Although his new allies are frustrated by Meliya’s escape, Glorio takes it all in stride. He watches as Anorak destroys most of the remaining zombies with fire (one of which turns out to be the body of the “Emperor of Old Korvosa”), and then thanks the group for their timely assistance. He offers the group his patronage, though The Reckoner is more interested in hard currency or magic items than any intangible support. Still, Glorio insinuates the problems in the city will only grow worse with Ileosa at the helm, and that, perhaps, they’ll need each again in the future.
With Neolandus rescued and his story about Queen Ileosa’s crown told, a difficult choice stands before the Harrowed Heroes: stay in Korvosa and try to continue undermining her cruel reign from within, or leave for the Cinderlands in the hopes of discovering the dark secret of her newfound power.
This was a big session, and was the capstone to Chapter 3. The battle between the PCs, Meliya, and Glorio was exciting, cinematic, and suspenseful, and I for one was not expecting the sudden switching of sides! The result certainly had major implications for the rest of the campaign, as Glorio became a prominent leader and potential claimant to the throne, while Meliya was forced to flee and go into hiding (and the PCs never tracked her down--I probably should have done more with her knowledge of Ralph Blackfeather's secret identity). I had a blast with this one, and it certainly set things up well for the next chapter.
At the moment, I can't recall the in-story reason I had the zombie waves attack. It might have been a revenge plan by Rolth Lamm against Goldcape, et al., or some other story thread I was setting up.
Bluff is one of those skills you might think aren't important, until you try to "casually" approach someone (like Glorio) you intend to assassinate. Anorak's low roll and Glorio's high Sense Motive meant he had time to avoid getting stuck in melee.
We see another early glimpse here of The Reckoner's preoccupation with short-term buffs (potions and wands), which forced a round-by-round running clock even outside of encounters.
The grumpy, racist Bridgefront alchemist, Silas Ledbetter became one of the most memorable NPCs to the players even though he actually only appeared in a few sessions.
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[31 Desnus 4708 A.R. to 12 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
Under the reign of Queen Ileosa, every day in Korvosa brings word of a strange--or ominous--development. No party has claimed responsibility for the coordinated burning of three of the city’s granaries, food has become more expensive in the city, and sporadic rioting is commonplace. But the Queen seems little concerned by the unrest, and her increasingly heavy-handed and numerous patrols of the Gray Maidens enforce her bizarre dictates like a new law prohibiting any other woman from wearing green dresses resembling her favourite style! The Queen has also taken steps to further cement her symbolic power over Korvosa, as the city mint has begun circulating new coins that all bear her image on one side and her new crown on the other. When older coins come into the bank, they’re melted down and re-cast. Other actions are more mysterious in their purpose, such as a royal decree authorising the Temple of Asmodeus to collect a vial of blood from every resident or the dismantling of the Great Tower (former home to the now-disbanded Sable Company) for stone blocks to be used in a major new construction project.
But Ileosa’s ascendance to the throne have had more than purely internal effects. The city is abuzz with word that she has withdrawn Korvosa from the tentative military alliance it had with Magnimar and Riddleport to coordinate the defense of Varisia from the surprisingly-sophisticated giant armies of the northern Kodar mountains. Scattered reports indicate the invaders have moved far enough south to besiege the Hold of Belkzen and have sent scouting parties even further!
For the Harrowed Heroes, the days after their rescue of Castle Korvosa’s former seneschal, Neolandus Kalepopolis, and fencing academy instructor Vencarlo Orisini are filled with preparations for a planned trip to the Cinderlands. Their ability to move around the city is constricted by the need to avoid spies, patrols, and agents of the various enemies they’ve made in recent months. In the face of mounting pressure, the decision to leave the city for a brief period seems especially wise.
Yraelzin accepts a position as Chaplain to House Arkona, and remains out of view of the public (and any inquisitors from Razmiran that may be looking to speak with him). It seems that Glorio Arkona is endlessly amused by Yraelzin’s preaching. The only drawback to the priest’s plan is the lack of access to a substantial amount of gold he had hidden in his aborted “Temple of Razmir”.
After the days spent in Old Korvosa, Goldcape checks on Old Lady Cloggins and is happy to see she is safe in her repaired home. The Giotorris, whom Goldcape stayed with for some time recently, are also well. However, Rodolfo has decided to abandon his toy shop in Old Korvosa due to how dangerous it is there, and instead sell his wares from a small cart closer to home. The vanara spends several days in libraries researching Shoanti and the Cinderlands. During one such visit, she meets with a well-disguised and extremely-cautious Vencarlo. He explains that he and Neolandus are leaving Korvosa for the time being—it’s just too dangerous with the Queen’s Gray Maidens and the Red Mantis assassins after them. He tells Goldcape that they’ll be heading to Blackbird Ranch outside of Harse, a property owned by a trusted old friend from his adventuring days. It’s clear Vencarlo doesn’t like being forced out of the city he loves, but knows that escorting Neolandus to safety is the honourable thing. He makes a special note of asking Goldcape in particular to visit him at the ranch when she and her companions have finished their mission to the Cinderlands. He doesn’t explain why, but just mentions he thinks Goldcape has an important part to play in the city’s future.
Anorak has used his favour from Glorio Arkona to gain a small workshop in Old Korvosa, as well as enough raw materials to begin some crafting of magical items. He starts with an enchanted jacket that can store the infused power of a potion for hours! One day while working, he receives a visitor: a strange, bald, almost bug-eyed man named Mortimont. With unsettling mannerisms and word choices, Mortimont explains that he’s opened up a bakery across the street in an old toy shop, and has a favour to ask. He produces a lockbox made out of an unusual, dark green metal with clasps that look like claws, and asks if Anorak is willing to keep it for him temporarily in exchange for a handsome fee. Anorak is understandably suspicious, but Mortimont refuses to divulge the contents of the box or who might be looking for it--though he does emphasise that it should never, on any account, be opened. When Mortimont’s offered fee is over 900 gold pieces, Anorak reluctantly agrees.
Concerned about how much Meliya Arkona’s spy (carried around unwittingly by Goldcape for months) has discovered, The Reckoner moves his safe-house to a new location in Old Korvosa. He hits the streets for some information on Thousand Bones (the Shoanti shaman the group plans to visit at the Kallow Mounds in the Cinderlands), and practices combat tactics with Goldcape and Rocky. He also (with funds provided by Glorio) commissions the manufacture of an expensive suit of armor from the craftsmen at the Stalwart Shield, but the intricate work involved in creating it means it won’t be completed by the time the others could be ready to leave the city. He does succeed in finding Majenko, the house drake who swore to aid The Reckoner for a year and a day, and learns Majenko has been targeted multiple times by swarms of undead ravens, each time barely managing to escape with his life.
Before The Reckoner can investigate further, he receives a hidden message through a pre-arranged system with Cressida Kroft, Field Marshal of the Korvosan Guards. The message asks The Reckoner to come alone to the paupers’ cemetery area of the Gray District. The Reckoner is wary it could be a trap, but Kroft really is there waiting for him. She leads The Reckoner into the very same warren of tunnels he and his allies once cleared of Rolth Lamm’s derro allies while searching for the corpse of a Shoanti brave. Crates full of food, water, and weapons are on display, and space has been made to house dozens. “Welcome to the resistance,” Kroft says, explaining that it’s become clear that trying to resist Ileosa’s cruel reign through open and lawful means is futile. Kroft says she’s planning something big, something that will strike at the heart of Ileosa’s power, but she won’t reveal what it is until the time is right. She distinguishes her efforts from Grau Soldado’s “rabble-rousing” in the Shingles which, she says, will only lead to violent repercussions. But to ensure The Reckoner and his allies have a chance to take part in what she’s planning, she needs the ability to contact him wherever he is and at any time.
She beckons a figure hiding in the shadows to come forward, and introduces the woman as Bishop Keppira d’Bear, High Priestess of the Church of Pharasma in Korvosa. Kroft says that d’Bear is the only member of the resistance with the spellcasting prowess to communicate with others at great distances, but that she needs to have seen the individual in-person first. For her part, d’Bear explains that she’s allowed the resistance to use this subterranean area of the cemetery as their headquarters because the Queen’s cruelty make it clear she’s not fit to be monarch, and the revelations that she’s consorted with the Cult of Urgathoa are damning.
But before he leaves, The Reckoner asks a question that the other two hadn’t considered: what happens if the resistance is successful in overthrowing the Queen? Who would replace her? Kroft is embarrassed to admit she hasn’t thought that far ahead, but The Reckoner says it’s crucial--otherwise, a manipulative aristocrat like Glorio Arkona could step into the void. Kroft promises to work on the problem, and says that d’Bear will be in contact when the time is right for the next step in her plan—though it may be some days or even weeks, because the resistance may only get one chance.
[Starday, 13 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
After several days spent separately on errands and preparation, the Harrowed Heroes reunite at The Reckoner’s new safe-house in Old Korvosa. In his real identity as Ralph Blackfeather, he relates what he’s heard about the two separate resistance groups in the city, while Anorak talks about the mysterious lockbox, Goldcape shows off a new magical bow enchanted to look like a lute, and Yraelzin proclaims how pleased he is with his new role (despite Ralph’s warning that Glorio Arkona is a criminal). The group discuss what’s been happening to Majenko, and the zombies seemingly sent to attack them at Arkona Palace, and conclude that Rolth Lamm is responsible. They make a tentative decision to try to deal with the necromancer before leaving the city.
Goldcape reminds the group about the need to purchase supplies for the journey such as food and a new, custom-made saddle that can (uncomfortably!) seat all four members on Rocky’s back. After collecting contributions, she leaves the safe-house through a backdoor into an alley and flies Rocky via a circuitous route into the Midland District, avoiding Gray Maiden patrols. In the shops at Eodred’s Walk, she buys rations, tries (but fails) to trick Jope Chantsmo at Trapper’s Hole into believing she’s someone else, and gets a dubious Harrow reading full of predictions of doom and gloom from an old lady at a stall. She then visits Old Lady Cloggins and stashes some gold safely in her home.
Meanwhile, Ralph and Yraelzin agree to take a look at the mysterious box Anorak has been paid to hide in his workshop. Ralph takes a look at the lock on the box and notes it’s high-quality, and although he might be able to pick it, it could very well be trapped. He suggests finding out more from this baker, Mortimont, about what the box contains. The three hatch a plan that involves Anorak distracting Mortimont by going in the front door of his shop while Yraelzin and Ralph snoop around the shop’s back door. The back door is secured by an almost suspiciously high-quality lock, and when Ralph tries to pick it, his hand begins to freeze and turn black! He rubs it vigorously to get the blood flowing to it and decides not to tempt fate again. He and Yraelzin join Anorak in the front of the normal-looking bakery, but Mortimont refuses to discuss anything about the box and instead tries to get Ralph to eat his fresh-baked croissants. The three return to the safe-house, convinced more than ever that Mortimont must be more than he says he is, but lacking hard-proof he’s engaged in wrong-doing.
It begins raining in the afternoon as Ralph ascends to the rooftop of a nearby building and signals for Majenko to fly down. Despite the quarantine, it seems disbanding the Sable Company has stripped Ileosa of the ability to secure the airways--both Rocky and Majenko have been able to fly over Old Korvosa without difficulty in recent days. Ralph collects more details from Majenko about where the flocks of undead ravens have been congregating, and realises that all of the attacks seem to originate from the South Shore district of Korvosa. Back in the safe-house, Ralph shares what he’s learned and says the group should investigate. Goldcape is more inclined to leave the city immediately, but is persuaded to stay a little longer. The decision is made to head to South Shore first thing in the morning.
Goldcape manages to get a few hours’ research on Harse completed at Jeggare Library and learns that the village is an important river crossing and ranching hub in Korvosa’s hinterlands. Yraelzin heads back to the safety of Arkona Palace, while Ralph beds down for the night in his safe-house. Anorak figures out that by carefully focussing a spell through the lock-box’s keyhole, the tell-tale traces of powerful conjuration magic can be detected.
[Sunday, 14 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
The next day, after some confusion and delays figuring out how to manage it, all four of the Harrowed Heroes climb onto Rocky’s back and try to settle themselves into the exotic passenger saddle. Although Rocky is more than strong enough for the group’s combined weight, flying promises to be uncomfortable for the bird and his riders. Goldcape again takes Rocky on a circuitous route, leaving the city from one direction, circling back, dipping into the river as a prank, and re-entering from another direction. She drops the others off near the gate separating South Shore from the rest of the city and flies on to see if she can lure Majenko’s attackers out from hiding. Just as the others slip past a Gray Maiden patrol, Goldcape succeeds--hundreds of ravens, somehow flying despite rotting flesh and visible skeletons, swarm into the sky from sewer grates and attack!
The plan to discover Majenko’s attackers has worked, but will Rocky and Goldcape survive it? And will success lead the Harrowed Heroes to their goal of dealing with Rolth Lamm once and for all?
There are a lot of little hints in this recap to plot points that will emerge in later chapters: the collection of vials of blood from Korvosans, a massive new construction project, Vencarlo's request that Goldcape visit him after the Cinderlands, and more. Good storytelling makes developments seem organic and well-integrated into the story (rather than coming from out of nowhere), so I always try to drop things like this in when possible.
I mentioned the coin in particular because Paizo started selling Korvosan coins! I got one for each of the players for Christmas and attached a one-time in-game benefit to it.
The storyline involving the Army of the North (because the PCs lost in Rise of the Runelords) continues in this chapter, as we see that Ileosa's reign threatens all of Varisia. In sessions much later (During Chapter 5), one of the PCs has a chance to get involved more directly in the political situation between the city-states. Although the PCs didn't figure it out at the time, the burning of granaries mentioned in this session were done by an advance team of saboteurs sent by one of Karzoug's generals to soften up Korvosa.
Poor Yraelzin never did get back that gold he buried in his "temple".
Goldcape always did a great job taking advantage of Korvosa's excellent libraries and museums to research likely destinations, foes, and more. I always try to reward smart thinking, and Goldcape's contribution to the group's success in this way is often underappreciated by the rest of the group.
Mortimont! One of my favourite homemade NPCs ever. The picture and voice I use for him are Peter Lorre at his in his bald, bug-eyed, and creepiest persona. With Mortimont, I can make the most innocuous requests (like trying a pastry) drive the players into rampant paranoia. And of course, who can resist a mystery like "what's in the box?" especially when told, adamantly, never to open it. I introduced Mortimont here because I wanted Anorak to have his own subplot to help develop his personality and role-playing. It really worked a treat, and the consequences for the campaign end up being pretty significant, as we'll see later.
This session also starts to develop the idea that the rebels are splitting into different factions: Kroft is leading a sort of well-organised, lawful good faction of the solid middle-class and military veterans, while Grau has organised a hit-and-run, more anarchic group drawn from the Shingles and Korvosa's extensive underclass. And as we'll see later, The Reckoner's fears that Glorio Arkona might make a play for the throne come to pass as well. Some of this is drawn from the AP itself (like Kroft and d'Bear using the catacombs in the Gray District), while some of it is my own additions to add some more intrigue and realistic unpredictability to the revolution.
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[Sunday, 14 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
While searching for clues as to Rolth Lamm’s whereabouts, Goldcape and Rocky are attacked over the skies of South Shore by flocks of undead ravens! Goldcape shouts for help to her allies on the ground far below, and sends an electrified arrow from her new magical bow into the mass. She tries to escape the nauseating creatures by having Rocky do a sharp turn, but the bird can’t quite manage it. Suddenly, hundreds of the mystically-animated rotting birds are all over them, pecking at every unprotected area of their flesh! Anorak tries to assist by sending magical spheres of force at the storm of carrion, but there’s just too many of them. And as The Reckoner struggles to get a wand to activate, a new danger emerges: Gray Maidens! A patrol has seen the battle in the sky and matched it to a sketch of Goldcape. Now the vanara faces the additional danger of arrows bracketing her position!
In a wild mid-air flurry, Rocky manages to destroy enough of the undead ravens to break free. With the swarm hot on their heels, Goldcape leans back and fires an arrow behind her—it bursts into an electrical discharge that disperses the rest. Back on the ground, the Gray Maiden patrol hasn’t noticed Goldcape’s allies—a nearly fatal mistake as Anorak rains fire down on their heads! All but one fall immediately, and The Reckoner quickly reaches the scene to finish the job. Only one of the Gray Maidens is dead, and Goldcape patches up the unconscious, bleeding remainder. Anorak shouts that another patrol will be on the scene in minutes, so the group flees into the Green Markets. Zeyla Foxglove is there and recognises Goldcape from the time she assisted in laying to rest an unsettled Shoanti spirit that had been haunting the area. Zeyla says she hasn’t seen anyone matching Rolth Lamm’s description, but she does provide the keys to a nearby sewer grate—the same one the undead ravens had been roosting in.
The sewers under South Shore (Korvosa’s newest neighbourhood) are narrow and poorly constructed. A channel of effluvium runs down the center of each tunnel between slippery ledges. While the others have various means to see in the total darkness, Yraelzin is forced to rely on a magical torch-like spell that will make the group easy to notice from a distance. Goldcape puts her jungle-honed survival skills to good use, noticing faint footsteps in the muck down the eastern tunnel. She sets up a false trail down a western tunnel in case the Gray Maidens follow the group into the sewers, and then everyone sets off. After several minutes, Goldcape’s bat-like eyes pick up something lurking just below the surface of the sewage water almost ninety feet ahead. She relays the information to her allies, and the group move cautiously towards it. Once Yraelzin’s light shines over the area, a massive crocodile, clearly dead but still animate, leaps out! Anorak reacts quickly and sends magical force missiles into the hulking thing. But when the dwarf tries to push past Yraelzin to get closer, he slips and falls face-first in the muck. Meanwhile, Goldcape conjures spears of ice that stab into the undead crocodile’s soft underbelly before flipping the creature over on its back! The Reckoner then dashes forward and brings his enchanted war-maul down on the creature’s jaws, destroying it.
After several more minutes trekking through the sewers, the group reach their quarry: Rolth Lamm! Standing between a pair of lit braziers over a hundred feet away, Rolth curls his fingers around the bars of the portcullis in front of him and cackles. “Hello boys and girls, Uncle Rolth is back in town! And he knows what you did!” Goldcape taunts back that they’re going to kill him just like they did his father, and the battle begins! She summons magical hailstones to pelt the necromancer, while Yraelzin and Anorak cause magical fiery explosions to envelop Rolth. Rolth responds by trying to paralyse the charging Reckoner, cackling “hold that thought—I’m in the middle of something!” But The Reckoner’s willpower is far too strong for Rolth’s paltry magic, and he shrugs it off easily. But when The Reckoner gets close to the pool of water separating the nearest ledge from Rolth and the portcullis he’s hiding behind, dozens of undead hands crawl out of the water and toward the vigilante! But Goldcape conjures another magical hailstorm that destroy the eerie swarm and force Rolth into a full retreat. “It looks like the jig is up. But I’ll see you kiddos again in Corpse-vosa soon!” With another cackle, Rolth conjures a magical doorway, steps through it, and is gone!
The Harrowed Heroes are frustrated that Rolth has slipped through their clutches a second time. They make it back to the surface and fly on Rocky back to the safe-house, again taking a circuitous route to avoid notice. Conversation is had about how to track Rolth down again and battle tactics that could keep him from escaping through magic.
Late that evening, as everyone is pulling out bedrolls, The Reckoner hears a strange, surprisingly loud buzzing sound from outside. Goldcape pulls open a shutter just a crack, and spots a grotesque abomination: something that’s a cross between a fly and a plump human infant! Goldcape closes the shutter and informs the other that there’s an accuser devil outside—a denizen of Hell that can psychically record everything it sees and pass the information along to another creature by touching it. The Reckoner suggests someone may be trying to pin-point the location of his safe-house. The group discuss whether to just stay inside and avoid the risk of detection, or confront the creature. A somewhat-confused plan emerges to slip out back- and side-doors and then lure the creature into battle at a nearby alley. The Reckoner moves noiselessly into position and then calls out loudly “Hey blowfly!” The buzzing winged thing flies over, but at a height that foils The Reckoner’s planned ambush. Goldcape and Anorak use lightning spells to weaken the accuser devil, forcing it to flee. It almost gets away, but The Reckoner quickly draws his bow and shoots it with an arrow. The creature spirals downward and then crashes into the cobblestones, dead from the fall.
Was the accuser devil near the safe-house as part of a mission, or was it just a coincidence? With only a corpse on their hands, it may be impossible to know.
I was familiar with carrionstorms from Rise of the Runelords, and thought they'd be exactly in Rolth Lamm's wheelhouse. They function as a swarm mechanically. The reference to Rocky being unable to make a sharp turn is an effect of my use of the full Pathfinder rules for flying, which are cumbersome (my players don't like them) but do make flying a little more balanced while rewarding creatures with good Fly skill mods. This encounter may be one of the last times The Reckoner fails to activate a wand; always annoyed at the risk of poor rolls messing up his combat strategy, his player pretty soon had the PC take a special ability so he could Take 10 with Use Magic Device.
Anorak's fireball was devastating on the Gray Maidens. Blaster casters have a bad reputation in Pathfinder, but against a large group of foes with low Reflex saves, they can be pretty effective.
I enjoyed the sewers parts. I was aided by an excellent map pack and the hardcover collection's random encounter tables, plus my "Sewers Terrain Cheat Sheet" that summarises material from the Core Rulebook.
I may have leaned too heavily into making Rolth a Joker-like figure in this scenario. I loved the "Corpse-vosa" line (but doubt I made it up myself--it may have come from one of the audio CDs). His ability to dimension door or teleport away just in the nick of time frustrated the PCs to no end (just as Rolth would have wanted).
We always say The Reckoner has only one weakness: ranged combat. But here, he takes down a foe with a bow and arrow!
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[Sunday, 14 Sarenith 4708 A.R. continued]
With the corpse of an accuser devil on their hands and no clue who or what it was working for, the Harrowed Heroes decide to get rid of the evidence. Mounted on Rocky, Goldcape dumps it in the river.
[Moonday, 15 Sarenith 4708 A.R. continued]
In the morning, members of the group begin a final day of preparations before a planned departure to the Cinderlands the following day. The Reckoner tells Majenko that he’ll be leaving Korvosa temporarily, and Majenko replies with valuable intelligence: the Gray Maidens have started training on the disbanded Sable Company’s hippogriffs. In time, the skies above the city may no longer be safe.
For now, however, Rocky provides the group with an unmatched aerial advantage. They put this advantage to good use, scouting the shops of Eodred’s Walk and the nearby Gold Market from the air. They spot several Gray Maidens lying in wait on rooftops, their full plate armor gleaming in the sunlight. Goldcape has Rocky set down on a distant rooftop to avoid the ambush. She uses a magical ring to disguise herself, lends her magical hat to Anorak so he can disguise himself, and Ralph Blackfeather makes himself look like a common day-laborer. Yraelzin, however, would rather remain completely out of sight and decides to stay with Rocky on the rooftop while the others split up to go about their errands.
Goldcape makes a quick stop at Old Lady Cloggins’ house to retrieve some gold coins stored there and then makes her way back to Eodred’s Square. There, she buys a magical robe covered in patches, each of which can be removed and turned into a real object! In addition, Goldcape finds a magical scroll that will allow her to turn Rocky into a hand-sized stone miniature and back again. The vanara then decides she would be less conspicuous in the city if she weren’t always travelling by roc, so she flies Rocky across to East Shore to the city’s horse market. She asks if there are any horses for sale that have been on the market for a long time, and is told of Nipper, a fast stallion that has the unfortunate tendency to bite anyone who gets too close. But upon examining the horse (and speaking with it through magic!), Goldcape realises part of the reason for its foul disposition is a cracked hoof and an infected wound on its leg. Once she applies some healing ointment and has the hoof re-shod, Nipper no longer seems so unfriendly--at least to her. Goldcape sends Rocky to fly back to Yraelzin on his own and leads Nipper across High Bridge. There’s a tense moment where it looks like the detachment of Gray Maidens on the bridge might recognise her, but they let her through.
At the same time, Anorak purchases several new magical scrolls and material components from Hedge Wizardry, nearly exhausting his funds. Ralph enters as well and (after revealing to Phaeton who he is) learns the man’s cousin is doing well. As Anorak continues shopping, Ralph does a favour for Goldcape and looks into the circumstances of her boyfriend’s death a year previously. Goldcape knows only that Longtail, a professional acrobat, was seen being murdered in an alley behind Kendall Amphitheater by men working for Gaedren Lamm. Ralph starts at a tavern called Bard’s End which is right across the street from the playhouse. Posing as a collector of ghost and horror stories, Ralph chats with the bartender and an old regular and learns that Longtail was murdered by Lamm’s enforcers because he refused to help them steal the performing company’s take after a show. Longtail’s body, it turns out, was picked up by a city street-sweeper’s cart and thought to be an animal carcass. Ralph follows the trail all the way to the Gray District, where he learns that the body of an unidentified vanara was buried in a numbered pauper’s grave at about the same time that Longtail went missing. In lieu of a donation, the mirthless Pharasmin who helped Ralph find the grave asks him to reflect on how best to spend the dwindling number of days ahead of him.
Having spent the better part of the afternoon on the task, Ralph realises his new armor should finally be ready at the Stalwart Shield in Northpoint. He changes into his alter ego as The Reckoner just before entering. Only one of the three brothers who run the shop (a man in his mid-forties named Kriskin) is present, and he confirms that the armor is ready and is in the back. But he seems strangely nervous. Just before disappearing into the backroom to get the armor, he motions The Reckoner towards the front door with his eyes. The Reckoner takes the hint and starts making for the exit. But before he’s completely out of the door, four figures emerge from the rear of the armorer: Red Mantis assassins! Immediately, all four begin a strangely entrancing series of gestures and movements meant to lull their prey into a completely befuddled state before slitting his throat. But The Reckoner is as strong mentally as he is physically, and resists the assassins’ hypnotic power. Three then rush him, while a fourth races out the back door to come around from the front and cut off The Reckoner’s retreat. Despite the fact that he’s outnumbered, taken by surprise, and wearing a temporary, ill-fitting suit of armor, the assassins are no match for him! One by one, they fall to his enchanted earthbreaker.
After the battle, Kriskin steps out warily and apologises profusely, explaining that he had no choice--his brothers were tied up in back, and the assassins said they’d kill him if he didn’t take part in the ambush. The Reckoner absolves him of any shame, and eagerly collects his new armor: a heavily-enchanted masterwork that has been given sapience and a devotion to protect Korvosa! Given the nickname “Plate”, The Reckoner’s intelligent armor is fully supportive of his master’s endeavours but seems a bit of a know-it-all.
After meeting at Old Lady Cloggins’ house, where everyone is treated to tea and biscuits, the Harrowed Heroes make their goodbyes and return to The Reckoner’s safe-house in Old Korvosa (with Nipper having been left in Old Lady Cloggins’ care). During the journey there on Rocky’s back, they see some hippogriffs lift off from the parapets of Castle Korvosa, but the Gray Maiden riders are unskilled and rapidly left behind. Once back in the safe-house, Ralph tells Goldcape what he’s learned about Longtail, and they agree that when they get back from the Cinderlands, they can arrange for a proper headstone. Ralph also explains to Plate that, in order to defend Korvosa, they need to leave the city.
Having completed their preparations for the journey, there’s no longer anything standing in the way of the Harrowed Heroes departure from Korvosa. But even if they succeed on their mission in the Cinderlands, what will the city be like when they return?
From one perspective this is a classic "shopping session", as the PCs get everything ready for their departure to the Cinderlands. As the GM, I could secretly enjoy the fact that they all assumed it would be a quick "go there, talk to this guy, come back" errand--they had no idea they'd spend weeks (both in game and in real life) journeying through the Cinderlands on a quest that would take the entirety of Chapter Four to complete.
This session sees the first use of carry companion scrolls by Goldcape, which proved very useful when having a roc around would be too ostentatious or would cause a spell like teleportation to exceed the number of creatures in the party.
We also get the first appearance of Plate, a suit of intelligent armor. In future campaigns, I don't think I'd allow PCs to craft or purchase intelligent items--they're surprisingly cheap, distort the action economy of the game, and force me to role-play yet another NPC. I do like Plate's personality (at least when I remember to portray it, which unfortunately isn't as often as I should!).
It was very sweet of The Reckoner to use his skills to investigate the death of Goldcape's boyfriend (the backstory event that tied into Goldcape's campaign trait). I don't know what prompted The Reckoner to do it, but it provided some nice closure even if I had to think fast to flesh out some of the details.
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[Moonday, 15 Sarenith 4708 A.R. continued]
As they organise their packs for a planned departure to the Cinderlands the following morning, Goldcape proposes waking up before dawn so she has time to visit Longtail’s grave first. In addition, Anorak wishes to do some final shopping. Ralph replies that it’s dangerous to linger in Korvosa any longer than necessary, since it’s clear that both Red Mantis and Gray Maidens are looking for them. For his part, Yraelzin offers no opinion, though he does test out his pack and staggers under the weight.
[Toilday, 16 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
It’s an overcast morning as Ralph, dressed as The Reckoner, climbs to the roof of his safehouse and speaks to Majenko. The house drake does as requested, and makes the flight over Eodred’s Walk, returning with news that Gray Maidens are still keeping the area under surveillance. The group discuss what to do, and decide that it should be safe for Anorak to enter the markets alone since he’s only been involved with one battle against them, and it ended almost immediately in a ball of fire! Using Rocky for transportation, they drop him off a few streets away and he finds that Phaeton Skoda at Hedge Wizardry has a good selection of spells for copying. Meanwhile, the others fly over to the Temple of Pharasma. There, Goldcape arranges for Longtail’s name to be added to the Temple’s records and for a headstone to be built. She’s then led to the numbered plaque denoting the grave of what is no longer an unnamed vanara, and leaves flowers.
Once everyone is back together, the Harrowed Heroes set off, leaving a troubled city behind in the hopes that a solution can be found elsewhere. Flying on the back of a juvenile roc is far from comfortable, as the wind is biting and the constant need to hold onto straps to avoid a deadly fall is stressful. But, it’s definitely faster than walking! Mile after mile passes by as Rocky flies over the Korovosan hinterlands—farms, ranches, and open country. Goldcape suggest following the road from Korvosa to Harse to ease navigation—a good plan in theory, but then she accidentally ends up following a side track for several miles!
Just as she and The Reckoner realise the mistake, they spot a curious sight below: a wagon half-on and half-off the track, its horses dead, and no passengers to be seen. The Reckoner shouts for Rocky to circle the scene, and even from a height of fifty feet, the masked vigilante notices multiple pairs of feet poking out from under the wagon. He motions to Goldcape that they should land and investigate. The experienced adventurers are ready for anything as they land several yards away and dismount. They can tell immediately that it’s not corpses laying under the wagon—or rather, it is corpses—animated ones of the type that can only be undead! From the wicked nails, dangling tongues, and hairless flesh, the undead are immediately recognised as ghouls. Goldcape quickly nocks an arrow to her new magical bow and lets fly, destroying one immediately. Yraelzin continues a long-running argument about who is the better marksman, as he wounds another with his underwater crossbow. But the priest of Razmir makes a mistake by getting close enough that another ghoul can leap out and bite him in the shoulder! Fortunately, The Reckoner is there to smash the monster into fragments of bone and flesh, and Yraelzin suffers no further injury. A search of the wagon turns up the household goods—furniture, clothing, dried food—of a family that, most likely, was probably fleeing Korvosa’s plague and took a fatal wrong turn.
Once back in the air, Goldcape has Rocky backtrack until the turn-off to the main road is found. More miles pass by until Rocky begins to flag and the decision is made to camp for the night. Despite the wrong turn, the group have reached the outlying ranches and farms of Harse in just one day! But then events take a shocking turn. As they’re sitting down to dinner, a trio of hippogriffs appear in the sky, heading west. Concerned they could carry Gray Maidens or other agents of the Queen, Goldcape and The Reckoner race over to Rocky and give chase. Once the roc takes to the air, two things become immediately clear: the hippogriffs are much faster than Rocky, and they bear no riders at all.
Nonetheless, The Reckoner suspect they might be carrying a message about them to Harse, and nocks an arrow. Goldcape is aghast at the thought of killing such an innocent, majestic creature, and tries to spoil The Reckoner’s aim by having Rocky veer suddenly. But The Reckoner’s arrows fly true, and he manages to bring down one of the hippogriffs as the other two speed away.
Goldcape is angry and appalled, and has Rocky land near the campsite. The Reckoner trudges the several hundred feet away to where the hippogriff crashed, and searches its body for a scroll case or hidden capsule—but there isn’t one. Meanwhile, Goldcape persuades Yraelzin to give her a pouch full of coins and then hops back onto Rocky and takes to the air—southeast, toward Korvosa! Yraelzin explains that Goldcape intends to buy a magical scroll to bring the hippogriff back to life.
As the sun begins to set on the Harrowed Heroes first day of travel, internal dissension is having an effect. Can the Harrowed Heroes find the cooperation necessary to succeed, or will Queen Ileosa’s reign continue unchallenged?
This was a travel session that started well and ended badly.
The wrong turn wasn't really a big deal, but I do enforce the "Getting Lost" rules from the Core Rulebook because they provide some additional value to the Survival skill (and occasionally, how long it takes to get someplace matters).
The wagon with the ghouls was actually just a random encounter, though the players at the time were worried it was remains of the Soldado family (who had fled Trail's End for Magnimar). That'd be pretty dark even for me!
The hippogriffs were also a random encounter. I rolled on the table, it told me hippogriffs, and I couldn't think of any particular encounter set-up for them, so I had just had a few of them flying high up in the sky in a randomly-rolled direction. I assumed the players would just shrug and keep going on their way, but in gaming, you just never know what can happen! The Reckoner's player suspected them of delivering messages on behalf of the Queen, and attacked and killed one! This led to a heated real-life argument between The Reckoner's player and Goldcape's player that forced me to call the session to an early end. Unfortunately, it would be a harbinger of inter-group difficulties that would recur frequently throughout Chapter Four.
[Toilday, 16 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
Near their campsite a few miles outside of Harse, The Reckoner proceeds to butcher the downed hippogriff for meat. When he finishes, he learns from Yraelzin that Goldcape has flown back to Korvosa to obtain a magical scroll to bring the creature back to life. After Anorak sets up some caltrops to deter attack, the three rest for the night.
Meanwhile, Goldcape manages to cover a handful of miles before Rocky (already tired from a full’s day flight) shows signs of exhaustion and they’re forced to camp. Several hours later, the pair are fortunate to be awakened by a snapping branch as a lumbering ogre tries to sneak up on them! The burly man-eater hurls a javelin before charging in swinging a massive tree branch, but Rocky springs up to defend Goldcape! The ogre swings its makeshift club so hard that the weapon splinters when it hits the ground instead of flesh, and seconds later, Rocky’s talons and Goldcape’s rapier fell the brute. The two put some miles between themselves and the unconscious ogre before setting up camp again.
[Wealday, 17 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
The next day, over breakfast, Anorak, Yraelzin, and Ralph spot another pair of hippogriffs flying overhead. This time, however, there’s no pursuit. The trio head through the outlying ranches and farms around Harse and into the village itself—a collection of just a few dozen buildings located on a strip of land where the Sarwin River empties into the Falcon River. But these visitors aren’t interested in a ferry crossing. Instead, Ralph is delighted to have the opportunity to sell the armor, swords, and helmets of the Red Mantis assassins who attacked him at the Stalwart Shield—indeed, the Harse merchant somehow thinks they’re the distinctive outfits of Andoren slave-liberators! Anorak spends a couple of hours asking around about local rumors, and hears that the roads in this area of Varisia have been plagued by highwaymen, goblins, and other bandits since Korvosan forces have largely stopped patrolling. The dwarf also hears that a Varisian caravan passed through not too long ago.
Dozens of miles to the southeast, Goldcape continues the ride back to Korvosa. Thanks to Yraelzin’s sending of the previous day, Ishani Dhatri (an acolyte of the Bank of Abadar) is waiting a few miles outside of the city with an old vellum parchment containing the magic necessary to bring the deceased back to life. Like every good Abadarian, Ishani charges full price for the scroll, but expresses his sympathy for what happened. Flying much faster with one rider instead of four, Rocky and Goldcape are able to make it back to the campsite near Harse in a single (long) day!
When the others return to the camp, the reunion between Goldcape and Ralph is not a warm one, as they sharply disagree about whether the hippogriff should have been killed. In any event, Goldcape walks with Yraelzin out to where the carcass of the creature lies. Yraelzin nearly botches his reading of the scroll, but just manages to complete the procedure and, like a miracle, the hippogriff is suddenly alive and well again! It licks Goldcape’s palm and then flies off into the darkening skies.
[Oathday, 18 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, the Harrowed Heroes decide to start for Janderhoff. They’ve only covered about half of the distance before they see a collection of wagons with brightly-colored canvas tops arranged to form an “H” resting some distance from the road. Flying closer, they see dozens of children rush out to wave at them, while their parents (dressed in the distinctive Varisian style of loose, colourful clothing with a penchant for head- and neck-scarves) wait patiently nearby. Somehow, it seems like the group have been expected! The mystery is resolved when The Harrower emerges from one of the wagons, bearing a welcoming smile. She gently chides the group for taking longer to arrive then her cards foretold. But instead of leading the group to a lengthy private Harrowing, she instead ascends to a makeshift stage and tells a story to everyone present. During the story, the children crowd around the front to hear every word, but even their parents are rapt with attention.
The Harrower’s tale seems part legend, part history, and part prophecy. She tells how, uncountable generations past, all the peoples of Varisia were a nomadic group, full of love for song, dance, and the simple beauty of nature. But then a foreigner came. A god-king from a distant land, who brought with him legions and established an empire. The god-emperor was not a wicked man, but the seven wizard-kings he appointed to rule the seven domains of his empire were. These wizard-kings strayed from the virtues of rightful rule and fell into the power granted by sin magic. They overthrew the god-emperor and carved up his empire, each ruling one part with absolute authority. They brought forth foul monsters from other worlds, subdued the land’s titans and formed them into an army, warped the flesh of others in wicked experiments, and enslaved the peaceful peoples of Varisia. Some of the humans became a servant caste, while others were formed into a warrior caste. But the downfall of these wizard-kings came not from their endless squabbling and battles—it came from the heavens! A burning star crashed into the world somewhere far away, and brought with it an Age of Darkness. The wizard-kings’ magic was mighty, and they foresaw the destruction—each found a means to escape, hide, and sleep until the land would again be ripe for the taking.
Thousands of years passed, and those of the servant-caste who survived returned to the old ways and began to wander. Those of the warrior-caste formed tribes and pursued honor and strength. More foreigners came, less advanced and powerful than the empire-builders, but still filled with violence and greed. They built cities on the coasts, and set about trying to tame the wilderness. But not many moons past, The Harrower says, one of the wizard-kings awakened! Rebuilding his domain’s capital in the mountains far to the north, he has set about gathering armies of giants and sending them on a march to conquest. Once, it seemed like a band of heroes might defeat him—but they failed. Once, it seemed like the united peoples of Varisia might withstand his might—but now the Mad Queen of Korvosa has withdrawn from the alliance. Only if she is deposed, and all stand together, will the wizard-king of the north be contained.
The conclusion of The Harrower’s tale is a somber one, but, with a broad smile and a look at the newcomers, she reminds the audience that there is still hope. The audience looks relieved and members disperse to begin preparations for an evening feast. Meanwhile, she invites the Harrowed Heroes into her tall wagon, the cozy interior of which has been outfitted with a small table, chairs, and a deck of cards. As he takes a seat, Anorak asks if the Queen of Korvosa is linked to the wizard-kings of old. The Harrower says the question is an insightful one, but the answers falls outside of her ken. She does suspect that those assembled will encounter the remnants of their empire, Thassilon, during the journey that lays ahead.
In lieu of a full Harrow reading, she instead asks each member of the group to draw a single card. Goldcape draws The Bear, which The Harrower explains represents strength—not only physical strength, but the strength of one’s principles, and the need to remain firm when others try to devalue them. She says she foresees a battle against a beast so large that it blocks out the sun; and that Goldcape should allow it to swallow her whole. Anorak draws The Cyclone, a card The Harrower says represents the enormous power the dwarf has recently gathered. She warns him, however, that such power can be enormously destructive to both himself and those he calls friends. She foresees a battle against a foe that cannot be defeated. The Reckoner draws The Paladin, a card that represents resoluteness and a refusal to back down. She says this determination will see him through many struggles, but he must be careful to not let determination stray into a foolish stubbornness. She also foresees he will meet another, equally strong and determined, who may not be an ally--but need not be an enemy. Yraelzin’s draw is the most curious of all: The Forge, misaligned. The Harrower ruminates on the card before pronouncing that it normally represents the strength of unity—something the Harrowed Heroes desperately need—but that, misaligned for Yraelzin, it means he needs to become more independent against the demands and dictates of others. She predicts he will have a pivotal role to play in a battle against another order in which individuality is ruthlessly suppressed. When the readings are finished, she encourages the group to enjoy the festivities outside before continuing on. She says her farewells, mysteriously noting that her next reading for the group will be her last.
Outside the wagon, the Varisians are doing what they do best: enjoying the simple things of life, like music, dance, storytelling, friendship, and food. The Reckoner’s scary visage is lightened by flower garlands being thrown over his neck, while Goldcape is a natural dancer but continues the potentially dangerous habit of drinking to excess. Yraelzin’s disposition is hard to know given his expressionless mask, but he seems more subdued than normal—perhaps pondering The Harrower’s words? Anorak finds himself challenged to a friendly knife-throwing contest, but uses magic to win easily. The Reckoner, as The Harrower read in the cards, remains steadfast in his mission and uses the party as an opportunity to ask members of the caravan about the road ahead. He learns that Thousand Bones belongs to the Skoan-Quah (the Clan of the Skull), the Shoanti tribe entrusted with protecting the burial grounds and spiritual journeys of the fallen. But Thousand Bones is not the leader of the tribe—instead, a woman named Ash Dancer is the most revered shaman, while the tribe’s chief is named One-Life. He learns that the Skoan-Quah’s ancestral home is the Kallow Mounds, about fifty miles east of Kaer Maga, a collection of cairns dating back to time immemorial. A question about Kaer Maga leads to shudders, and warnings to stay away from the City of Strangers—for there, trolls read auguries in their own entrails, the dead walk without reproach, and people rarely see the sky.
[Fireday, 19 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
The next day, the group reach Janderhoff. Strong winds from the Mindspin Mountains buffet Rocky as he glides down toward the city-fortress nestled in foothills at the base of the forbidding range. Protected by a massive iron curtain wall and steeples of beaten copper, Janderhoff is a primarily subterranean city. The Harrowed Heroes have no trouble gaining access, and soon find themselves in the city’s myriad markets, forges, and manufactories—Janderhoff bristles with trade! Dodging ore carts coming into the city and finished goods coming out is just one of the challenges of navigating the low-ceilings and labyrinthine tunnels.
The Reckoner is pleased to discover some magical items he couldn’t find in the diminished markets of Korvosa, and Goldcape takes the opportunity to sell a mithral rapier while Anorak makes some more small coin gambling. But as they’re enjoying what Janderhoff has to offer, they’re spotted by a middle-aged female dwarf working a forge clad in full armor despite the enormous heat. She quenches an axe blade in a trough of water and sets it aside to cool before coming over to them. She seems friendly enough—almost mothering--as she makes conversation with them and then, suddenly, invites them to her dwelling to share a home-cooked meal! Although initially suspicious of the stranger’s sudden hospitality, she seems earnest enough and they agree. Once back in her snug home enjoying spiced mushroom stew, the dwarf, who gives her name as Kaptra Dorethain, admits her invitation wasn’t made purely out of generosity. She could tell they’re more than mere travellers or merchants by their mannerisms (and the amount of weaponry they carry!). She explains that she would like to hire the group to find her husband, Jorst, who vanished while prospecting in the Mindspin Mountains almost a decade ago. She offers a thousand gold pieces up front and another ten thousand if they bring him home or find proof of his death. She acknowledges, however, that she’s hired adventuring bands in the past, and none have been successful.
The Reckoner politely excuses himself from the table and steps outside to talk with the others. He and Anorak are intrigued by the offer, with the latter adding that ten years isn’t the same to a dwarf as it is to a human—Jorst may very well still be alive. Goldcape, however, says the group needs to focus on the urgent mission they’ve undertaken: to find a means to defeat Queen Ileosa and help the people of Korvosa. The Reckoner’s enchanted armor, Plate, also speaks up in favour of staying on course and avoiding distractions. The Reckoner, however, says the reward could help fund better equipment and the lessons learned in surviving the Mindspin Mountains could make the group stronger for what comes ahead. The group is unable to reach a consensus, and return to finish their meal with Kaptra, promising they’ll get back to her on it later.
That night, The Reckoner and Anorak find rooms in a cramped inn and hear that Kaptra is well-respected in the community. Goldcape and Yraelzin take rooms in another inn. With an intriguing offer to ponder, but more dissension within, everyone settles in for a night’s rest.
This was primarily a travel session, but a lot happened in terms of exposition and role-playing.
The ogre that fought Goldcape and Rocky was a random encounter, and its club breaking was due to a critical fumble card. They do help make things interesting! Similarly, the Harse merchant believing he was buying the gear of Eagle Knights (when it was really Red Mantis gear) was because he rolled a nat 1 on either an Appraise or a Sense Motive check. The Reckoner's player was very pleased he could unload the stuff that no one in Korvosa wanted to buy. I know some players find it frustrating to deal with complications like that, but I really think it helps establish the setting's verisimilitude.
Everyone online always rants about "never split the party", but I'm personally perfectly happy when it happens. Indeed, sometimes it helps the group accomplish much more than they could together. I just try to make sure I switch back and forth between players quickly.
The Harrower's appearance in this session was a big one, and the whole sequence with the caravan was homebrewed. I always tried to come up with a different and surprising way for her to appear. In this session, she relates the history of pre-Thassilon Varisia, the coming of the Runelords, Earthfall, the events of Rise of the Runelords, and the stakes for the whole region if Ileosa is not deposed. I was pretty proud of myself for writing all of that exposition in a pretty concise fashion. Hopefully it helped to tie some things together for the players. I did the Harrow readings differently in this session. I experimented with lots of different ways to do them, from a full "by the book" reading to a single card reading to something in between. Here, I was able to use the cards to foreshadow Cindermaw and Krojun, among other things. I added the bit about her next reading being her last to add to the drama and the sense that things were starting to come to a head--I never want the players to think that the world stays in stasis while they're out adventuring.
My depiction of the Varisians drew a lot of inspiration from the Tuatha'an of the Wheel of Time.
I had done some prep just in case the group visited Janderhoff, since doing so isn't covered in the AP itself. I was pretty happy with my portrayal of the city. The bit with Kaptra Dorethain comes from Dwarves of Golarion, as she's an NPC who lives in Janderhoff and hires adventuring groups to search for her missing husband. It may sound funny, but doing the research and finding bits of fitting lore to incorporate are one of my favourite things--it makes having so many resources feel worthwhile, and that I'm putting all the pieces together. Kaptra's offer was a complete side-quest (though I didn't tell them that), and I would have had to homebrew it if they went for it. I like dangling side quests occasionally to test the PCs' resolve to stay focused on their main mission, while also giving them the opportunity to earn extra XP and treasure (since, inevitably, they won't hit every single encounter in the AP itself).
[Fireday, 19 Sarenith 4708 A.R. continued]
The journey toward the Cinderlands has reached Janderhoff, a dwarven sky citadel at the base of the Mindspin Mountains. After a day spent in the markets and conversing with a potential employer, the Harrowed Heroes have settled in for a night’s rest at nearby inns. But their slumber is shattered by a loud rumbling that shakes even the solid stone walls around them! Goldcape wakes up to realise that hairline cracks are forming, and hurries to pull Yraelzin out of his room to investigate. Hearing shouting and screams in the distance, they rush to investigate. Meanwhile, The Reckoner wakes to the noise and quickly dresses while Anorak snores loudly, adding to the rumbling. The Reckoner finds other guests and the innkeeper assembling in the common room, spreading word of what’s happened: a bound earth elemental at a nearby forge has somehow broken free! The Reckoner rushes back to wake Anorak, and helps the dwarf begin the laborious process of donning his enchanted chainmail.
Some tunnels away, Goldcape and Yraelzin investigate (despite the latter’s suggestion to just leave it to the dwarves). Goldcape moves quickly toward the source of the rumbling, flying on Rocky’s back through tunnels barely wide enough to accommodate the roc’s wingspan. Suddenly, rounding a corner, Goldcape sees the cause of the chaos: an earth elemental, almost forty feet tall, smashing everything—living or nonliving—around it! The forge where it worked is in ruins, as is the summoning circle where it was bound. Sword blanks lay shattered on the ground, troughs of quenching water are overturned, and bellows lie crushed under the stony heels of the elemental. Those forge-workers who didn’t escape in time lie bleeding and unconscious, slumped against the walls. Goldcape conjures ice spears that only enrage the elemental further, and it grabs a nearby a wooden cart and hurls it through the air to smash into the vanara! Goldcape, wounded, decides flight beats fight, and beats a hasty retreat. The sounds of destruction continue for several seconds but then terminate suddenly, with the unbound refugee from the Elemental Plane of Earth presumably sinking somewhere deep below the ground in search of its home.
Before long, The Reckoner and Anorak arrive at the scene and Goldcape and Yraelzin return to investigate. A patrol of several heavily-armored dwarves arrive and intently question everyone around—including those metalsmiths who can be revived. The dwarves were forging weapons for Janderhoff’s contribution to the war effort. One recalls seeing a gnome with a white beard and a red hat near the summoning circle just before the elemental broke free, but there’s no sign of the likely saboteur now. Frustrated but largely unharmed, the Harrowed Heroes return to their beds.
[Starday, 20 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, Goldcape notices that Yraelzin still seems curiously subdued. She gets him to open up, and he says he’s been pondering The Harrower’s reading and wondering what it means that his card, The Forge, came up reversed. If a forge is normally used to make something, he says, perhaps he’s meant to do the opposite: destroy something! He removes his iron mask and holds it up for examination. Sighing, he puts it back on. He says he doesn’t doubt Razmir—proof of the Living God’s reign is indisputable. But, he says, he has been wondering if he was sent away from Razmiran on that colony ship bound for the Arcadian Ocean because his fellow priests thought him annoying or unworthy. After breakfast, he heads out into Janderhoff’s labyrinthine markets alone. The others shop as well, with Goldcape purchasing a magic wand allowing her to change her voice and The Reckoner initially commissioning the construction of a magical headband that would make him smarter, before changing his mind. Later, he purchases a magical backpack that can hold far more than one would think.
At one point, while walking down a side tunnel, Anorak’s keen eye for stonework notices a secret door. He hurries back to the markets to find The Reckoner. Anorak opens the secret door and hurries down the tunnel beyond, but The Reckoner runs into a thick, viscous, invisible magical field! The vigilante is determined, however, and pushes his way through. The tunnel winds for some distance through the fortress before opening up at a vast cavern memorialising the Quest for the Sky—the generations-long trek of the dwarven people to reach the surface of Golarion. Once there, the dwarves built ten sky citadels—including Janderhoff—but many have been lost to memory or conquest. The cavern clearly also serves as a temple, with statuary and shrines to the dwarven pantheon and Torag in particular. Anorak and The Reckoner pay their respects before departing.
Over at the Stork & Gull Inn, Yraelzin arrives bearing a deck of Harrow cards he says were hard to find and quite expensive! He tells Goldcape he can’t figure out how they work, as they didn’t come with instructions. Goldcape says they should find the dwarven equivalent of a library. Alas, the stacks of carved stone tablets and crumbling vellum scrolls are mostly written in a language that neither can speak. Once back in her room, Goldcape decides to finally read the stack of papers they took from Vencarlo Orisini’s house while searching for him. The papers look like accounting ledgers, and detail how Orisini Academy’s finances suffered over time—partially because Vencarlo stopped teaching regularly.
[Sunday, 21 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
In the morning, the group discuss how to proceed on their journey. Goldcape doesn’t want to head for Kaer Maga, citing the reports of how strange and dangerous it is. However, The Reckoner wishes to make some purchases of goods he hasn’t found in the other stops during their journey so far. With Anorak curious about Kaer Maga and hoping to find adventure there, and Yraelzin offering only a shrug as he tries to puzzle out the Harrow, Goldcape relents. She has Rocky fly the group along the road. The group thinks they’ll be able to at least reach Sirathu, but it appears that the scale on the map of the area they purchased in Korvosa is wrong! Fortunately, no dangers arise as they camp for the night.
[Moonday, 22 Sarenith 4708 A.R.]
Over breakfast, there’s further discussion about whether or not to go to Kaer Maga. Goldcape and The Reckoner reach a compromise: they’ll go there, but just for one day. A few hours’ flight is enough to reach Sirathu, a hamlet on the Yondabakari River. Ramshackle walls, muddy streets, and a beautiful fountain of white stone from which not a single drop of water flows marks it as a forlorn place. Shouts of “is anyone here?” lead to the keeper of a rundown inn stepping out with an accusatory glance. Clearly unwelcoming of strangers (a bad sign for an innkeeper), the man mostly shouts for the newcomers to shut up and leave. The travellers are able to get a little out of him—something about a young girl who has prophesied the fountain will flow again once “the storm breaks” and the corrupt heart of Korvosa becomes visible to all. Anorak, frustrated by the man’s unfriendliness, takes a mighty swing at the statue with his waraxe, but is unable to even chip it.
The Harrowed Heroes reach Kaer Maga in the early afternoon. The hexagonal, 80-foot-high walls of the city sit at the edge of the cliffs of the Storval Plateau—a vertical barrier of hundreds of feet separating the southern part of Varisia from the north. The Reckoner directs Goldcape to fly Rocky toward the base of the cliffs where huge bronze double-doors covered in strange runes lead to the Halflight Path—the only practical way for land traffic to ascend to Kaer Maga. However, Goldcape flies Rocky higher and higher and over the enclosed walls of Kaer Maga before landing in the only area of the city open to sunlight—the center of the hexagonal ring, a vast marketplace full of exotic goods and even more exotic buyers. Irritated with Goldcape, The Reckoner stalks off and purchases light warhorses for himself and Anorak, plus magical horseshoes to speed their canter.
Although the journey hasn’t been a pleasant one, the Harrowed Heroes have reached the final bastion of “civilisation” before the dangers of the Cinderlands.
The encounter with the earth elemental was something I added because I thought it might add some excitement to the trip to the Cinderlands and it would tie into the idea that efforts were ongoing in several places to sabotage the war effort of Varisia's city-states against Karzoug's giant army (if I remember right, the "red-hatted gnome" was really a redcap working for the Army of the North). Like the burning of the granaries in Korvosa, however, I don't think the PCs really put two and two together--but that's okay. I had the elemental do some big cinematic things (like hurl the cart) and that was fun. The Reckoner spent the whole time slowly donning his armor, which was kind of funny--encounters at night can really complicate things for some characters.
Because Anorak was a dwarf and there is hardly any dwarf-themed material in the AP, I really wanted to take advantage of the brief stay in Janderhoff to add some flavour. I thought making use of dwarves' special ability to notice unusual stonework would be a good hook, as well as the magical repulsion-type field that would (ostensibly) only allow dwarves inside. But The Reckoner just couldn't take the hint! I think I had some clerical magic stuff planned to go off inside the temple, but it didn't activate since non-dwarves were present. It probably didn't matter in the long run, as it gradually became clear that Anorak's player just wasn't really that interested in setting flavour and character background, and was more of the "how do I make an awesome build?!?" type.
The little bit with the map having the wrong scale was a real thing. I think they had the "in-world" map from Varisia: Birthplace of Legends which had the wrong scale compared to my official super-giant Golarion map. The players were a bit irked, but I just figure in pre-tech fantasy times, it's very likely maps are inaccurate (just like in the real world a few centuries back).
Kaer Maga stressed me out a bit in the sense that I really like to portray settings "accurately" but there was a ton of material to digest (a sourcebook, modules, novels, etc.) and I just didn't have the time or energy for what was only a quick stopover. I tried to do what I could, but it probably wasn't a great portrayal of what's one of the most memorable places in Golarion.
The Reckoner buying the horses and magical shoes was because he and Goldcape were disagreeing a lot on where to go (there was still tension from the hippogriff incident of a session or two ago), so it gave him the option to travel quickly on his own.