Adventure One: Hammers Under Cold Hearth

Some more words of introduction:

GamemasteryI’m not sure how best to present these materials. Recently I returned to fantasy roleplaying, after a hiatus of more than ten years. There have been two gaming watersheds in my life: in middle school and the first part of high school and in my early twenties, when I first started having children. Perhaps during the latter period I began to feel my age and felt the need to re-experience what brought me most joy in life. That may be true again, as I recently have fathered yet one more child. Besides my new age, location, and gaming community, what I have noticed is most different about my GMing style now as compared to my last experience is the level of preparation I’m bringing to the game. In short, before I used to prepare hardly at all. I worked with no established campaign world, but just let the world reveal itself through the stories that I happened to spin during adventures. This time I not only find myself working within a campaign world but writing thousands of words in preparation for my game sessions in what amounts to something, in appearance, quite similar to published gaming materials. I therefore have decided to share these materials here, in addition to the fiction that I will be writing in tandem with the events of my campaign.

Though my prep materials look very much like published adventures, the materials, thanks to the facilitation of modern technology, were produced in a number of locations. The bulk of the material was composed in a Word file — multiple Word files, that is, new ones started after the termination of game sessions, the two weeks (or more!) between sessions allowing me time to rethink, plan anew, and redraft the next “chapter” in my adventure. A lot of material was written as notes in various apps on my phone, the result of inspiration striking as I happened to be in a park with my youngest son. Paizo’s Pathfinder Reference Document is invaluable in this respect. I do still carry a pen and notebook in my pockets, but I find myself making more and more use of the ease and organization that various composition apps on my phone provide.

Anyway, in order to present to you what I have here, I had to collate a number of materials from a number of locations. As I already hinted, a second decision I had to make was whether to share the adventure as planned or as it actually was played, because sometimes character choices resulted in slightly changed narratives, or, more often, I simply changed my mind before the next game session commenced. I have decided to share with you, in as clear and clean a manner as possible, the adventure as played.

Right now I am speaking as if I’m only going to be talking about one adventure, and this is because of how I’m going to present my material. I think, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to present my adventures as they are completed. At this point in time, my players have completed one adventure, the one so named above. We recently have commenced the second adventure, “The Fang of Chaos,” and that one shall be presented once it’s completed.

I try to structure my adventures in three parts (the famous “three acts” I have heard undergirds most movies produced by Hollywood). Each act, of course, has one major central obstacle that the player characters must overcome, and if for some reason that obstacle doesn’t provide action or combat, I try to provide that as well. I will present each of these three acts. Of course, there will be plenty of commentary as I work through this material.

IrrisenBefore getting started, however, I should give some indication of where and when all this takes place in the Pathfinder cosmos. The Irrisen: Land of Eternal Winter campaign setting provides a neat timeline for my purposes, but I’m still a bit fuzzy, mostly undecided, about how precisely to time my narrative. The Irriseni timeline ends at 4713, the year in which Baba Yaga is supposed to return and put a new daughter on the throne. I don’t subscribe to nor play the adventure paths, but I have some sense that this did not in fact happen during Reign of Winter.

Here’s my backdrop, however. My player characters, all for one reason or another (no matter how flimsy), have become Blackravens. For any not familiar with the setting, Blackravens are a loose band of ranger-types who are committed to patrolling the borders between Irrisen, the land of perpetual winter, and the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. One of the borders lies on the land mass that is called Hagreach. Before the events of my current campaign, the Blackravens of a Hagreach town called Warm Hearth endured a massive offensive from Irrisen. The resulting clash has gone down in history as the Battle of Winter Blight. The captain of the Blackraven contingent in Warm Hearth, at this time, was called Adisla. I haven’t made her stats, but she was ten levels or more of some kind of Oracle and ten levels or more of Spirit Ranger. She died in the battle (well, not quite, but it suddenly occurs to me that my players might be reading this, and I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, in the event that this backstory becomes relevant in later adventures).

What my players do know, however, is that the Blackraven forces during this conflict were decimated, though they did manage to repel the Irriseni invaders. The ice magic used during this battle was so powerful that the site is perpetually frozen — so frozen that the bodies of the fallen Blackravens are presumed to remain on the field, dead and preserved in unnatural ice. This is “presumed” because the atmosphere is so vile that no one has been able to return to the field. If any have, it is assumed that they froze to death: certainly no one claims to have been there and returned. This pestilence is so bad that a number of “ice diseases,” most notably the disease called Chillbane, drifted into Warm Hearth. The surviving denizens therefore had to flee, cursing their old village with the name of Cold Hearth and relocating to the west in the nearby village of Pogonip Falls. The Blackravens are rebuilding their forces in a camp called Arrowstone — a pointed, isolated hill (much like Tolkien’s Weathertop) which is considered by some to be a holy site. This is because the arrow is a holy symbol for the prevalent deity in the area, Erastil, and a great number of enchanted arrowheads can be found around the site. It is said that the site has been in use both for holy and martial purposes since the time of the First Men (my “First Men” are said to be related to deer and perhaps at first were so, having been given greater intelligence and humanoid form by Erastil). Also, there are many caves and tunnels burrowed deep into the rock, and many say that untold ancient treasures lie hidden away in Arrowstone’s unexplored depths.

Reign1The new captain of the Blackravens now in Arrowstone (just east of Pogonip Falls) is Kolbern, a Half-orc Ranger from the Stormspear Mountains in the north. He was brought to the area, just after the Battle of Winter Blight, by Adisla’s Skald Hild. Indeed, before the Battle of Winter Blight, Hild was sent away on this quest for just this purpose — to replace Adisla after her ultimate demise. Adisla knew this, but she chose not to share it with Hild. Hild therefore feels a bit of betrayal. She loved her former captain, but, in her memory, she has wholeheartedly given all her service to Adisla’s replacement, Kolbern. Adisla had the powers of an Oracle. She knew what had to be, and she evidently knew that the best thing for the Blackravens would be to have this Half-orc Ranger captain their numbers after Adisla’s demise. Hild will make sure that the exploits both of her former captain and her current captain are immortalized in heroic Skaldic poetry. It may be that the exploits of a certain disparate band of Blackravens will make it into her songs as well.

Two more comments about what is to follow. I have decided to provide stats only for important NPCs or monsters of my own creation or whenever I have advanced a monster with class levels. All other monsters should be treated as if they might be found in the Bestiaries, as they can be. I also must apologize, beforehand, for the photos of scrawls and scratches that I dare to call “maps.” In the future, I may be tempted to buy some sweet map software (inexpensive suggestions, anyone?), and then these posts may become prettier and prettier.

The PCs learn that children have been disappearing from Orphan Hall, a farmstead dedicated to be home to a dozen young children who have no next of kin because all of perished in the Battle of Winter Blight. Kolbern sends the PCs to investigate. The PCs’ main concern is to find out if Irrisen has something to do with these disappearances.

Scenario One: Orphan Hall

Besides nine children, three of whom have disappeared, the chief tenants of the farm are Matron Bera Lurch, who lost all her kin in the Battle of Winter Blight, Nanny Nitpick, her servant, and an aged, deaf dwarf named Nain Nailwright. All are innocent of what has happened. Bera, having all this land and nothing more to do, has taken in all the orphans resulting from the Frost Blight Campaign.

Places of interest:

The Garden: Here a Weedwhip (B4) has taken root among the seedlings. The authorities and children of Orphan Hall would be much relieved if the PCs could remove it.

The Sleeping Chambers: Of course, here the PCs should notice, among the beds, many strange and creepy dolls fashioned in the glamorous and romantic form of Valkyries and Einherji. Perhaps some are in the arms of some of the children, as well. The dolls have been using sleep spells to cause everyone in the hall to sleep soundly. This accomplished, the dolls have levitated the abducted children out through the front doors, where they have been placed into the jaws of a waiting Winter Wolf, who pads off into the night.

Soulbound Dolls – they are exquisitely made, though a little pale of feature and spooky blue of eye, which are their soul foci. They are nearly translucent porcelain, almost glass, and strangely cool to the touch. They will act inanimate unless messed with. They attack with ice-hard shards of porcelain. I  have altered the entry in Bestiary 2 to make all of its qualities cold based and to give them the ability to inflict sleep spells and levitate and move child-size objects. In this manner they have been abducting the children.

The Kitchen: Billy Bannock, a Brownie, lives here and perhaps will give the PCs information, perhaps will torment them if they do anything he doesn’t like, like touch something they shouldn’t. Bread is rising on the table. A low fire is in the grate. Pies — rhubarb pies, since it is early spring in the north — cool in the window.

Brownie Treasure: A small tin jar of magical Sourdough Yeast, which makes the best sourdough and, if ingested in full causes the eater to recover 1d4 hp and increases Str, temporarily, by +2 for 3 rds. A variety of vials contain spices, but one has Sneezing Pepper, which will render a foe helpless for one round (like Hideous Laughter). All this is in the cupboard in which lives the Brownie.

The Basement: Here amidst the carrots, potatoes, and canned goods resides the Bogeyman in a very dark corner. He has the form of a malicious, long-nosed troll. Of course the PCs are no match for him, though he isn’t primarily interested in the PCs (right now he only terrorizes children), and perhaps is even willing to tell them a thing or two.

My players first were invited into the kitchen and enjoyed some rhubarb pie. I decided, on their approach, to have them notice a red-headed child (Bruney) in an apple tree, watching them, but, when observed and questioned, the child was too shy to give much information and ran off into the fields where I conveniently had all the other children working. In the kitchen, a couple of the PCs noticed something (the Brownie) whirl into a cupboard and shut the door.

At length the PCs moved into the main hall. The children sleep in a balcony that entirely circles the main hall. This is to make the most use of the hearth fire during the long winter months. Getting to the balcony by means of a ladder, the PCs soon began to investigate the neat children’s beds, discovering a Soulbound Doll and, at length, a crack in the wall. I think Detect Magic might have been cast, in which case a reading came from the doll and from somewhere far below and through the crack in the wall, through which a cold, preternatural, fear-filled darkness seemed to flow.

At this juncture the PCs promptly made their way to the basement, where they encountered the Bogeyman. This was a particularly effective scene. The Bogeyman seemed to emerge out of the darkness, and he taunted them, in so many words saying that he delighted in the fears of children, fed off them, in fact, which was why this was such a great place to live, but that he was not the cause of the disappearances. Look to the dolls, he said. When Crixus tried to attack him (all of the PCs except for Cyris, incidentally, had failed their saving throws against Fear and were at -2), the Bogeyman casually stopped him with Hold Person. At length the Bogeyman melted back into the darkness, and the PCs went gasping back up into the light of day much shaken and praising Erastil for their escape.

They needed a morale boost, so they volunteered to slay the Weedwhip in the newly planted garden. It felt a bit like The Legend of Zelda. The Weedwhip looks  like something out of that game anyway, and I complicated matters a bit by telling them that the garden was newly planted so it would be quite inconvenient for the PCs to trample it in their extermination. They did so anyway. After Cyris put the Weedwhip in a hold (succeeding in a saving throw vs. poison), Crixus charged up through the garden with a coup de grace. Gish harvested the poison.

After all this, Gish couldn’t resist investigating the cupboard in the kitchen. At this point the Brownie, fearing that the gnome was after his miraculous yeast, cast Lesser Confusion on her. This had her at times trying to hurt herself or her companions (Cyris was nearest). Cyris put her in a hold until she came out of it.

Scenario Two: Skark’s House

The PCs learn from the masters of Orphan Hall that the dolls came from Skark,  a Cleric of Erastil who retired – never quite the same – after the Battle of Winter Blight. The PCs go to Skark’s house, which lies right next to the lake upon which is Deadeye Rock, site of a temple and grove consecrated to Erastil.

Skark is a Huecuva. At the Battle of Winter Blight, craven for his life, he forsook Erastil and swore himself to the White Queen of Irrisen.

If the PCs arrive during the day, he appears as himself and tries to put them off his scent (largely by brewing an atrocious amount of arrowroot tea). If they arrive at night, he refuses to answer the door, and if they break in, he escapes immediately into a second, back room, which is in complete darkness. Two Chokers in here are waiting for any PCs. Skark escapes through yet another back passage that leads directly outside. If the PCs circle the house, they could detect this door (DC 17).

Skark's Hus. Sorry for my pencil scratches, though they do lend a vintage look to these proceedings.
Skark’s Hus. Sorry for my pencil scratches, though they do lend a vintage look to these proceedings.

This was a good time. The PCs arrived during the day, and Skark offered them some of his arrowroot tea. Ross accepted. Davven noticed something odd about Skark’s holy image of Erastil above the hearth: something was wrong about the deer head. It actually was the head of some kind of monster, cleverly disguised with a slight glamer. When Cyris recognized Skark for an undead thing, he put him in a hold, but in the confusion that resulted — Crixus outright attacking, the doll that Davven had brought with from Orphan Hall animating and beginning to defend its master — Cyris squeezed Skark’s head off, and Skark died a second death.

A resulting search of the house revealed a Goblin Snake and some vipers in a bathhouse. Already weakened from his battle with Skark, a viper strike killed Cyris, and we paused the game here. The PCs made short work of the Chokers and collected the treasure there. Ross discovered some sweet books on history and religion, as well as some scrolls appropriate to an undead anti-cleric of Erastil (though I don’t know if Huecuva technically can use such things), in a library.

Interlude: A Death Already?

Cyris wasn’t really dead, of course. He fell to negative hit points and was stabilized. Ending here gave me an opportunity to think through some more of my campaign setting. This helped me flesh out Deadeye Rock, the island at the center of the lake in Pogonip Falls. During our downtime, I wrote the following for Cyris.

Cyris’s Vision

The menace looked up at Cyris with unmistakable malice in its sepulchral, mist-glowing eyes. “You,” it hissed. “You. Your ideals. Your vows. I smell them on you like a spring wind.” The creature spat, but it had nothing to emit but a fetid gasp.

Cyris stiffened and endured the olfactory assault.

“You see where your vows get you, monk? Even now you hold it in your hands. I will destroy you. I swear it. And if I cannot, your vows certainly will.”

Behind Cyris, Davven cried out. It’s that doll, Cyris thought, the one whose impossibly bending ivory arms just a moment ago had been like a ring of snow around his ankle, trying to fill him with sleep. Cyris was more in tune with his body than most, and when he had felt that sensation above his foot, he had felt a movement, a rush of some other kind of blood, something inside his electrical channels that belonged to some plane “next door,” and the threatening sensation had been forced right back through the outside of his ankle.

But he couldn’t risk something similar happening to Davven, and, judging by that cry, what the doll was doing now was attempting to put Davven into a much deeper “sleep” than he had endeavored on Cyris.

Cyris again made to sever the head from the neck of the “cleric of Erastil,” Skark, the “sole survivor” of the Battle of Winter Blight, the holy man who had turned out to be this rotting stench. But again the skeleton’s calcified neck tendons exhibited an unnatural, root-like hold and tenacity. At the same time an image of a leaning stone pillar suddenly righted itself in Cyris’s mind. Again, he knew that Davven had been hurt…

And Cyris had not. And if his companions were going to have any hope in this enterprise…

But that would mean letting go of Skark, and Cyris could foresee that outcome.

“I will destroy you.”

Cyris is a Monk of the Stalwart Stone.
Cyris is a Monk of the Stalwart Stone.

Before he himself was certain that it was the result of his own volition and not some preternatural, instinctual force, Cyris’s fingers flew from their holds. His foot left its grounding. In the next moment – one – the blade of his hand sheared through the ivory body of the tiny monstrosity – two – his foot made a whole revolution from ground to air to ground, the inertia of his fall compounding his force to – plunge harmlessly into and off of the kidneys of the zombie, which certainly had no function anymore anyway.

The unholy abomination was on its feet in a moment. Surprisingly long, sharp claws lashed out. The force of Cyris’s revolution spun him another half-circle about, and the claws of the dead cleric sheared through the wadmal garment on Cyris’s back, sank deep into his bronzed flesh…

A wound for a wound, and a shared victory. But the sorcerer’s magic would not work on him, not in the way in which it had healed Davven. Cyris wasn’t surprised. He knew his nature was other than the arcane. His powers came from a deeper place, a center, something so heavy and stalwart that all other forces – the worlds, the planets, the stars, the gods and devils and outer planes – all, wittingly or not, encircled it, and were moved by its dense gravity. But that meant that he was in a weakened state, and when he faced that burping snake, and when its fangs sank into his chest…

Somehow he knew that the battle outside of where he was now raged, that that other tiny, irksome, venomous viper even now was stabbing into his neck and sucking yet more of the vitality out of him. But none of that mattered now. It was meant to be. All had happened so that he could be here, behind his forehead, and the image before his eyes fell away. Shapes and patterns blurred until he was standing in a void. He was at the beginning of all things, even though he knew that such terms, here, didn’t even exist, for nothing yet was. He was in the time before conflict, the time before matter itself.

Then, in the time before times, on one side rose heat, light, flame, energy. Cyris knew that it didn’t suddenly just “rise up” though, for there was no time. Such terms were meaningless. It simply “was.”

At the same “time,” on the other side, inexorably assailed cold, mist, atomization, dust.

Between the two something formed.

When Cyris tried to focus on this, his mind screamed. He saw suddenly rushing by him a monstrous flaming sword. He saw a serpent’s fang, slashing through the air. He saw a spreading tree. If there had been sky, it would have filled it. And then, in the next moment, the tree’s leaves became the stars, its trunk and branches the swirls and folds of nebulae, the porous ends of its roots singularities that welcomed and crushed energy into other planes and modes of existence.

“The balance must be maintained,” a voice said in Cyris’s forehead. “Life requires tension. Life requires death…

“Someone has to die.”

At this point, someone was sent to Deadeye Rock — the island in the middle of the lake in the middle of the town — in order to find a healer for Cyris. Brought back were Eirvit (Cleric of Erastil) and Skild (Shield Champion), two sisters, both daughters of Aldis, the chief Cleric of Erastil on this island.

Deadeye Rock has a grove consecrated to Erastil, two houses of hospitality, and a training camp for Shield Champions. I was attracted to the Shield Champion because of the concept of an Old Norse “shield maiden.” I originally envisioned this island being inhabited solely by women, but then I realized that I was erring too far in my intended direction. (Note: One of the things I love about Pathfinder and other games like Dungeons & Dragons is its gender balance. My players, mostly males playing males, caused me to almost invariably make my NPCs female.) Both men and women inhabit Deadeye Rock, but its leaders are mostly women.

Deadeye Rock
Deadeye Rock

Aldis, the main cleric of Erastil on the island, is older, wide hipped and wide bosomed with many lines on her face. Her eyes are gray. Her hair retains its gold hues, though, with traces of white in it. She wears it pulled back in a simple ponytail. She also wears a simple gray wadmal gown with elegant arrowhead-patterned stitching in it — both the weave and the embroidery the work of the clerics of Deadeye Rock.

Aldis’s  right forearm is missing. Earlier in her career, a Winter Wolf plagued a community. The community tried to protect itself, setting up many traps and watches. At last, the Wolf blundered into an arrow trap. The arrowhead was one of the old arrowheads from Erastil, and it burned inside the wolf’s body. This only enraged the Wolf so that it killed all the more. When the villagers finally surrounded it, they swore that they would removed the arrowhead if the wolf promised to go in peace. It swore, but insisted that their temple leader, as a gesture of goodwill, place her arm in its mouth. Aldis did so. The arrowhead was removed, but the Winter Wolf couldn’t resist biting off Aldis’s arm at the elbow. The Wolf otherwise kept its promise and left that community in peace ever after. (Note: Yes, this is a very conscious melding of both Tolkien’s tale of Beren and Luthien and the Old Norse myth of the binding of the Fenris-wolf.)

Cyris recovered. Now that the doll had animated and they realized the full extent of the danger at Orphan Hall, they realized that they had to go back there. But on their way they were met by a rider who said that all the adults at Orphan Hall were slain, the children vanished. The PCs realized that the dolls, aware now that their covers were blown, must have animated and followed through with as many of their orders as possible, doing as much destruction as they could. When the PCs returned to Orphan Hall, they did in fact find all three adults dead, but the seven of the nine children were in the cellar, sleeping and trussed up in the rafters like drying herbs, or sealed in barrels like ale or cider. They were just coming awake. Apparently the dolls had tried to abduct the children in their normal method, but the Bogeyman had not taken kindly to having his prey made off with in this way. So he smashed all the dolls — they, too, were bound up in the rafters and crammed into barrels, dismembered, faces cracked, all their gems taken out of their sightless eyes, strange smiles or frowns or screams carved on their faces with coal, hanging in various degrees from the rafters, perched on top of casks, some heads facing backwards into the dark. It appeared that one child — perhaps two — had been murdered. A human skin — a demonstration of necromantic magic — was stretched over the barrel, and on its flesh were these words from the Bogeyman:

I borrow a living ink pot,
And since I fear he suffered a lot
He might as well help you
The dolls come up from under the earth
But the passage here contains no clue
Check in Cold Hearth

One child was missing. If anyone checks the entry in the relevant Bestiary, that person will learn that the Bogeyman sometimes take one male child as a protege. It may be that we not only will be hearing again from this Bogeyman but from another one, as well, one that the PCs failed to save.

Scenario Three: Cold Hearth

Time to bring all of this to Kolbern, and this would mean, for the first time in game, the PCs arriving at Arrowstone, where they all live. I encouraged them all to tell me what kind of accommodations they imagine for their characters. Then, to try to fix their abodes in my mind and perhaps in theirs, I wrote the following:

Arrowstone is a tall, white rock that thrusts up out of the ground, slanting and tapering to a point that reaches directly north. By necessity, then, the only way to approach the structures built on Arrowstone  is from the south, where the lands have been cultivated by the Blackravens, and the First Men before them, into gardens and pastures. At length these gardens and pastures meet palisades, and the easiest passage beyond them, a gate, is tended by the most common of Blackraven recruits. Most Blackravens know each other by sight, but still a visitor might be asked to state his or her name or business.

Beyond these palisades are yet more gardens and pastures, but now there are fences and stables containing horses and cattle and pigs and chickens. In the largest barn dwell the Vargren – a group of skin-changers that Kolbern recruited from the Stormspear Mountains. Many of the farmhands live here, too, in small cottages and outbuildings.

To the west at this point the ground begins to fall deeply down to what is beginning to be referred to as Duf’s Grove. It is accessible only by a steep path – farther up the mountain and beyond yet another set of palisades, a ditch, and then a high, stone wall that is constantly patrolled. Duf has been gathering many fey to his cause, fey ready to oppose what Duf prophesies will be an insurgency of one or more Cold Riders and a number of cold fey from Irrisen across the border.

After the stone wall, passage through being only one gate over a rampart over the ditch, one comes to the more personalized dwellings of the Blackravens. They vie for position in a field that is many leagues long but falls sheer on the western and eastern sides. Here Blackravens can take rooms with other Blackravens, or build their own domiciles as they see fit. Kolbern has built an extensive training center for Crixus, as a matter of fact, at almost the westernmost edge.

Higher yet, wide stone steps ascend to the main communal hall. Doors from there lead to stairs that ascend to Kolbern’s private hall. And from there steps wind up to the Point. Here two are on watch at all times, looking east to Irrisen, watching for aggressors.

Arrowstone. I know that this isn't the name that this scribble has in the upper left. It took me some time to settle on a designation.
Arrowstone. I know that this isn’t the name that this scribble has in the upper left. It took me some time to settle on a designation.

Back at Arrowstone, the PCs learn that Kolbern already has heard about the tragedy at Orphan Hall: news travels fast, news hastened all the more by Un the Fishmonger and her many kin. The suspicion is that Un wants to discredit the Blackravens, to foster animosity against their presence, because she wants to create a way through which she might have access to Arrowstone, so that she and her kin might make a trade out of the arrowheads found there or perhaps even discover the priceless treasure that is rumored to have been left by the First Men deep in the caverns that honeycomb the rock. When the PCs talk to Kolbern, they learn that even now he and Hild are preparing to join a Thing at Deadeye Rock.

But Kolbern wants the PCs to salvage what they can from the debacle. He asks the PCs to go to Cold Hearth and learn what they can there. For the purpose, each is given a potion of Slow Poison (for Chillbane still infects the area). They also are given opportunity to purchase provisions from the Arrowstone stores. (Note: early in gameplay I answered a PC request for the opportunity for an outlet through which to buy magic weapons by deciding that Arrowstone will have a kind of canteen through which PCs might be able to buy supplies not normally available to others in the area — Pogonip Falls is just a “village.” As the PCs’ coffers fill, I might start charging double price, as import duties, on anything outside of the village range.)

Many leagues west of Cold Hearth, the everlasting snow begins. All the trees, except for the invasive Winteryew from Irrisen, are dead. Most buildings the PCs might encounter are empty, for brigands, outlaws, and even brave Ice Trolls, crossing the borders from Irrisen, have combed through this area many times. If the PCs insist on exploring some or all of the many crumbling structures in the town, however, they may encounter various Vermin.

The only structure that remains fairly intact is “Valgar’s Howe,” the old temple to Erastil, a twenty-foot stone wall (now covered in slick ice) surrounding nine mounds, the centermost of which upholds standing stones. All the inhabitants of the mounds have been corrupted by Skark. Only the centermost and strongest of them – the Skeletal Champion, Valgar – retains enough intelligence to be swayed by a Hero Point and/or a Diplomacy check (DC 25). He is Valgar, the founder of Warm Hearth. He and his nine jarls gave their lives here fighting off the first incursion from Irrisen. They were therefore buried at this site, where they fell, and the temple was consecrated.

As soon as the PCs pass through the outer wall, a preternaturally cold mist begins to flow out of the open mounds. Nine Skeletons emerge. Valgar steps through the open doorway in the centermost mound — his mound, Valgar’s Howe. Stone steps lead up to his stone doors. On top of this mound is the ring of standing stones, the centermost missing, since it has been moved to Deadeye Rock in Pogonip Falls. I recommend substituting the Skeletal Champion’s longsword with a great sword or battle-ax. The Skeletons should have battle-axes, too.

My players dealt with the Skeletons and the Skeletal Champion handily, so much so that Valgar was killed and not negotiated with. Before stepping into Valgar’s Howe, the PCs searched the chapel. Erastil is a god of hearth, home, and family, so his chapels usually aren’t much more than a simple house or cottage. This was no different, though a +1 Longbow was discovered underneath the hearthstone.

When the PCs finally stepped into Valgar’s Howe, Valgar’s spirit appeared to them — sitting on a throne, facing east, whereon his corpse once had sat. For a moment, the PCs saw a sunset flash of illusory light, smelled summer field grass, and heard the thudding hooves of a herd of antelope in the distance: Valgar had just come from Erastil’s hunting grounds.

Valgar thanked the PCs for killing his corpse and thereby freeing his spirit from the evil bondage he had been suffering. Valgar told the PCs that, even in his afterlife in Erastil’s hunting grounds, he had fancied he heard the tapping of hammers far underneath his feet. He gave his treasure (of all the mounds, it alone has not been pillaged by what lay underneath the howe, otherwise the evil spell on Valgar would have been broken). His treasure is a Masterwork Breastplate, Masterwork Steel Shield, Masterwork Battleaxe or Longsword or Greatsword (subtract Steel Shield in the last case), 800 gp in Arm Rings in chest at foot of throne, a Drinking Horn that will shatter if poison ever is put in it (150 gp), and a glittering White Opal (500 gp).

The PCs discovered that the dais upon which was Valgar’s throne could be moved, and they thereby entered the Duergar Lair.

Steep stairs descend to a Long Gallery. The roof is supported by three, ice-covered pillars on either wing of the gallery. At the far end is a locked door and two Duergar, crossbows at the ready, on guard. The room is in complete darkness, since Duergar have dark vision.

On the other side of the locked door (DC 14), is a spiral staircase descending twenty feet to an Antechamber. Ice coats the stone floor, ceiling, and walls. In the center of the antechamber are arcane sigils that describe a fanged serpent biting at the roots of a tree. Anyone stepping into this area will be frozen solid but not die. (Note: In game terms, I haven’t quite worked this one out. I’m leaning towards a combination of Hold Person and Sleep, with cold effects, with the GM permission of Permanency or something near Permanency — Extended Spell Duration, perhaps?.) A dugout to the left of the room contains cast off children’s clothing.

A passage on the exact opposite end of the entryway opens to a passage leading to yet another chamber, the Sleigh Room. It contains an empty sleigh and two ramps of ice, one leading up and into the chamber and one leading down and out, into and over a chasm of nothing. If the PCs haven’t figured it out already, at this point they might deduce that the children have been brought here, frozen solid in the preceding antechamber, and then shipped away underground over the ramps of ice. Before my own PCs entered the room, I described an earthshaking crash from up ahead: this was, the PCs’ presence being known, the ice ramps being dropped into the chasm so as to prevent them from going any farther (and getting any further into the plot than I personally wanted). I also staged a last fight with the captain of the Duergar band, a Witch Adjunct, and the three remaining Duergar, buffed a little by the loot from the Skeletons’ mounds.

Witch Adjunct, Duergar Witch (Endurance) 3 (CR 2), LE Medium humanoid (dwarf), Init. -1; Sense darkvision 120 ft.; Perception +1, AC 11, touch 10, flat-footed 10, (+1 Dex), hp 17, Fort +2, Ref +0, Will +1; +2 vs. spells, Immune paralysis, phantasms, poison, Weaknesses light sensitivity (dazzled, -1 attack rolls and Per), Spd 20, Melee Morningstar +3 1d8+1/X2) Ranged light crossbow +3 (masterwork) (1d8/19-20), Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd) 1/day – enlarge person (self only), invisibility (self only), Str 12, Dex 13, Con 11, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 4, Base Atk +1; CMB +3; CMD 12; Feats Weapon Focus (Crossbow), Skills Intimidate +1, KS (arcana) +1, Spellcraft +3, Use Magic Device +2, Racial modifiers +2 Perception relating to stonework, +7 (+3 Familiar ability) Stealth, Languages Common, Dwarven, Undercommon, SQ slow and steady, stability Hexes Evil Eye (-2?), Cackle (effect continues), Familiar Centipede B4 97 Spells 4-0, 2-1, 1-2 Prepared: 0 – bleed (someone resumes dying), detect magic, read magic, resistance (+1 saves), 1 – ill omen (target must roll twice next roll and take the lesser), inflict light wounds, 2 – vomit swarm (B 258) (APG 254), Gear Masterwork morningstar, Masterwork crossbow, potion of mage armor (+4 AC), potion of obscuring mist (20 ft. radius), scroll cause fear (frightened, Will save DC 11, p. 252), scroll chill touch (p. 255), 150 gp.

I gave the three remaining Duergar the treasure I randomly rolled for the Skeletons, and the Stoneplate worked out neatly for my Dwarf Druid PC! One of the Duergar wears Stoneplate Armor, the other fights (very un-Duergar-like) with a Masterwork Rapier.You of course can roll up whatever treasure you want.

My own players didn’t do much exploring after this last confrontation, but, from the Sleigh Room, a passage to the left leads to a Sleeping Room, a Mess Hall, and a Store Room (containing Duergar fare: a hard, gray bread that smells like quartz and tastes like it too, and very dark, very thick, very sour ale), in which might be found combined loot of 90 gp, 6 gemstones totally 750 gp, a Potion of Arcane Mark, and a Potion of Resistance. A passage to the right leads to a Meeting Room, in which a strange symbol (which turns out to be a Map) is scored on a stone table. Beyond this room is the Witch’s own room, in which is any treasure that she did not carry on her person. I thought it would be cool if a Centipede Swarm came out of her bed.

The Map scored onto the stone table.
The Map scored onto the stone table.

The key to the Map shall be provided during the next adventure.

Falling action? The PCs arrived at the Thing with enough information about a clear enemy to blame that Un the Fishmonger’s base accusations were discredited. She’ll have to wait for next time.


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