The last I left my players, they had slain a Mist Drake that had been chewing at the taproot of a “World Tree.” They had dressed and armed themselves in the crafted remains of the dragon carcass and had set back out into the world.
Remember, Rahjin, the half-troll barbarian, is searching for the test tube in which he was concocted. A trapper that once served with the Blackravens, the very people who had destroyed all the vile half-trolls and had spared just this one (Rajhin, the “runt” of the litter, a meager Medium-sized humanoid), had told Rahjin that the frost-giant sorcerer had reinhabited the icy ruins at the Winterwall Glacier across the Hagreach border in Irrisen. So that’s where they were heading.
I promised Rahjin’s player that he would have trolls to beat up on, so that’s what I brought him. But first…
On watch while camping during the darkest, early hours of the first night since leaving Huldra Hill, Dromar’s (the Drow Magus) Dire Bat mount noticed something in the sky with him. Dromar immediately Feather Fell off the mount (he had been patrolling by air), shouting for the camp to awake. That’s when Drow Rangers, likewise mounted on Dire Bats, began firing arrows into the camp. The arrowheads were tipped with Drow poison, of course, and spelled with Darkness. Some PCs took some of these arrows, but they succeeded at their saving throws and didn’t succumb to unconsciousness, which is an effect of Drow poison.
And that was about as exciting as it got. A Drow Inquisitor landed some distance from the camp and was making for his quarry, Dromar (the reason for this pursuit to be explained in a moment), when Dromar got a lucky hit on him, a strike lucky because Virlin’ez, the name of this NPC and fated to have only this one appearance, had cast Mirror Image, and Dromar happened to hit the image that was really him, thereby felling him. Bo agreed to stabilize the Inquisitor so that Dromar could interrogate (or torture) his pursuer when he recovered. One Drow Ranger was slain and the last one got away to report to Dromar’s people in the Darklands.
It’s time to say a few things about Dromar, this Drow Blackbound Magus. Dromar is a noble in a house pledged to Nocticula, a succubus Demon Lord. Nocticula gifted this Drow house with a Black Blade. Every time a matron of the house dies, the Black Blade is to bond with the next ruler. Since Drow culture is matriarchal, it is expected that the Blade is to bond with a worthy female in the line of succession. This time, however, it passed not to Mardro, Dromar’s twin sister, as expected, but to Dromar. This freak immediately sent the house into unrest. Dromar had to flee, fearing for his life at the hands of his closest kin, and the rest of the Drow houses in that region of the Darklands, sensing weakness and unrest, mobilized against the till-now most solid and powerful Drow Matriarchy in the area.
This Virlin’ez, a mid-level Journeyman Inquisitor from Nocticula’s Houses of Pleasure in Dromar’s homeland (I really have to take some time and build this region, even though I don’t expect my campaign to really “get there” till after level ten or so) was sent to interrogate Dromar as a heretic to his house and to return with the Black Blade to be placed into the proper hands of Mardro, who now reigns in her region of the Darklands even without the Black Blade. Incidentally, the name of the Black Blade is Ssin’urn Medri, which means “Sexy Deathdealer” in Elven.
The next day Virlin’ez told Dromar all that Dromar wanted to know about his homeland. No torture was necessary. Then Dromar dispatched him. The party continued their journey east.
It began to snow, and with the snow came a raiding party of Ice-Trolls with a Winter Wolf. Again this proved to be a fairly small feat for the party. It helps to have your own half-troll, but it also helps to have a Magus. At this level, this Class is quite overpowered. On the message boards gamers have nicknamed the Magus’s massive-damage-dealing Spellstrike ability “going nova.” The Magus can do three or four of these per combat, usually killing a target in a single hit. The message boards suggest that this kind of power will flatten around levels ten or 11.
After the fight, Giant Eagles landed. Upon their backs were Blackravens. The PCs were “invited” back to Stormspear Keep, the nearest Blackraven outpost. Ostensibly, Rahjin, Bo, and Gish all to some extent are honorary Blackravens. So they agreed.
The Lands of the Linnorm Kings campaign materials describes Stormspear Keep as being a collection of towers on a steep plateau that commands the surrounding countryside. It is inhabited by a “skeleton crew” of Blackravens and their Giant Eagle allies that live in nearby eyries. So I got to design it. I made the walls of the plateau about 1,000 feet high. A narrow five-foot stairway, called the “Witches’ Walk,” because of the cauldrons of acid and burning oil on the wall above it, is the only way to get to the keep — unless one takes the elevator at the base of the stairs or flies in, as the Blackravens do on Eagles. The PCs have a bizarre train of gear — a bunch of loot loaded into wagons seized from murdered animal traders and floated behind, through the use of a Drow Levitation spell, a few Aurochs. So they had to gain the keep by means of the elevator.
The PCs were ushered into the main hall, in the base of the largest tower, which looks down on wind-riven heaths directly to the south. Upon entering into the warm, smoky, fire-lit interior at the base of the tower, quite musky with the fermenting stench of last year’s mead-splashed rushes still on the floors, Rahjin detected a surprisingly familiar scent. In the very moment his brain was trying to work out just what this was, the scent was jointed by a deep, authoritative voice. “Hello, Son.”
The broad shoulders of a large, hunched shape sat in a wide, wooden chair. The voice had come from here. Standing tall beside the chair was Heild Kolbernskald in her golden braids.
Kolbern, Rahjin’s half-orc “father,” rose from the chair. “I have been concerned, my son. It seems that you have been on some personal quest, and you did not find it necessary to alert me of it. I ask, what is it you seek, and why?”
While the party had waited the two weeks for their new gear to be forged in Huldra Hill, Bo had made a side trip to Arrowstone, in order to report to Kolbern what had befallen Hornhall. Since his adopted son had not returned with Bo, Kolbern had assumed that he had fallen in battle and asked for details of his son’s heroic last stand. Bo had to tell him that his son yet lived, and Kolbern was greatly alarmed that his son hadn’t chosen to come report to him. As soon as Bo left, Kolbern sent Rangers after the Dwarf, to discover his son’s whereabouts, but the Rangers were bewildered by Sprites at the outskirts of Huldra Hill. Bo had told Kolbern where the party was heading, though, so Kolbern immediately set forth for Stormspear Keep.
During the initial confrontation at Stormspear Keep, Heild cast Detect Thoughts on Kolbern (it would have been better if I could have had her cast something like Detect Alignment, but I had no one logically about to do this). Rahjin easily accomplished his saving throw to resist the effects of the spell. Still, I was surprised at how negatively the rest of the party reacted to seeing this. Very swiftly Heild, who I always had imagined as being stately and heroic, was reviled and villainized. Now they have it in for her! I had wanted Heild to be able to cast Detect Alignment and have her report to Kolbern, “Well, he’s not evil… At least not yet.” But, not being able to cast a divine spell of that nature, instead I had her try to skim his surface thoughts for alarming clues to his intentions — at least to determine what reaction he might have to being suddenly confronted by his Neutral Good father.
Rahjin attempted to explain himself, not entirely to Kolbern’s satisfaction. Still, after the interview the half-orc captain was disposed to leave his son at liberty. But not without sharing this slightly affecting (if I may say so myself) anecdote: “Do you know why I named you Rahjin,” Kolbern said, “in the Giant language?” [You know what the name means, I said to Rahjin’s player, because you speak Giant. But until now you haven’t quite considered…] “It means ‘Redeemed,'” Kolbern said. “I sought, by giving you that name, not only to redeem you from the inherent evil in your Giant nature but also to redeem myself for my actions that day, for my orders that very well might be interpreted as an act akin to genocide.”
[I feel uncomfortable, said Gish Gallup’s player.]
“But enough!” Kolbern clapped his hands, abruptly relieving the tension. “This is my son, and I have not seen him in some time! Let us drink! And feast!”
So the roast meats and vegetables and fresh baked rye breads were brought in. The mead-casks were tapped. A night of feasting commenced.
The PCs basically could choose wherever they wanted to sleep. Bo stayed with the Mountain Dwarf Druid Fjallit. In fact, in the succeeding days they formed a bit of a relationship. Incidentally, Bo hadn’t witnessed any of the confrontation with Kolbern, because he was in conclave in Fjallit’s private Eagle Tower poring over old druidic texts related to the area, following his never-ending pursuit of Erastil’s Shot. Since there is such a low population of Blackravens in Stormspear Keep, the PCs each could have slept in their own private towers, if they had wanted to (some decided that this was a good idea). Before resting at their ultimate accommodations, however, they learned of the one available course of adventure for them in the Keep.
Bo had noticed it atop the Eagle mount Fjallit had shared with him, of course. Those other PCs who were able to take to the skies had noticed it, as well: a dark tower of ancient, cyclopean construction visibly radiating magic (at least to the Drow). There were no windows. No doors. Well, perhaps there had been at least one door, but a massive pile of ordinary rock rubble was mounded up before the tower’s south face. When asked about this, Vedgeir, captain of Stormspear Keep, told the PCs that she had ordered this rubble built up before the only door because she had grown tired of her Blackravens entering into that unholy pile and never coming back out. “We have more important battles to fight,” she said. “The tower never has disturbed us, other than through its uncanny proximity, so I see no reason to keep losing good rangers to something that doesn’t pose any obvious threat.”
Of course, the PCs were for entering the tower. Vedgeir said, not being beholden to her own will, they had her leave. In fact, if they could clear out whatever might lurk there, they’d have her appreciation. And of course they could keep whatever loot they uncovered.
Oh! I must include another subplot. While Bo had been researching and talking over his quest with Fjallit in her Eagle Tower, much of which is open to the sky, he noticed a Raven seemingly listening in at a window. Fjallit noticed it, too, shooed it away, and grumbled about it being the newly summoned Familiar of an Irriseni Witch they had imprisoned in a tower. Later, Bo had words with this Raven alone outside the tower. The Raven told Bo that the Witch could help Bo in his quest. For her aid she requested that Bo free her from her captivity.
Canny GMs out there might recognize that I chose a Raven Familiar for its ability to speak. All other gear and spell components would have been taken from the prisoner, so this was Rava’s only means of communication with the outside world. This had not been my first plan, however. As a means of keeping ALL of my players involved in the story, I had designed her first newly-summoned familiar as a Rat. This was because of the Ratfolk Rat Empathy that would have come in real handy (and two Ratfolk Rogues would be quite open to springing a prisoner, I should think), but about this time Khiriil’s player switched characters. This worked out for the plot, too, for the Drow burgled the keep’s storehouse and the Ratfolk, who had Irriseni accents anyway and now were vanished, were blamed.
So, next morning, after spending an hour or so unburdening the single door of the Black Tower of its mound of rubble, the PCs entered a dungeon.
I gave it about six rooms. It was pretty fun. My overpowered Drow and Half-troll summarily took out most of the monsters, but nonetheless Bo was reduced to one Strength (by Shadows), which led to a rules question and even a post on the Pathfinder forums. Incidentally, I’ve also had occasion to revivify a forum about the Magus. My favorite player here emerged as the one playing Norden the Half-elf Warpriest. This character started using his channel ability to good effect. He also cast Comprehend Languages and merrily took the time to piece together the fairly incidental plot I had devised.
Here comes another GM observation: despite the enculturating process of a lot of video games that provide clues and scraps of text for players to piece together a larger narrative, in my experience my players tend to be resistant to this. I’m not sure exactly why this is. Either it’s because they don’t fully trust my ability to make this fun for them, or it’s just not something they want to do at a tabletop game. Most of the time I put the clues and devices into the adventures for my own benefit. I need logical consistency even if my players don’t necessarily care! (When it comes to dungeons, however, I’ve given up on the logical consistency to the extent that I feel I need to design every kitchen, servant’s quarters, latrine, etc.: now I just focus on the cool stuff and say logical consistency be damned! The players simply bypassed these rooms!) Often at the end of an adventure I have to tell the players what their characters, now that they have had time to think and reflect on their experiences, have worked out what must have happened. But not this time. Norden started reading runic inscriptions and collecting ancient Thassilonian tomes, and in time the PLAYER HIMSELF figured out the meta plot of the dungeon! Consequently, I’m giving the party the equivalent of another encounter of experience points for his participation.
Zalaster was a Runelord. But not a real Runelord. He was able to pass himself off as a Runelord because of a Rod of Rulership (Giants only) he managed to get a hold of. To add to his inferiority complex, it appeared in time that all the proper Runelords were going to sleep, preparing to avoid a dark time following Earthfall with plans to rise again during a better epoch. Zalaster tried to do this, too, through imperfect methods. In short, it resulted in his brain becoming a Brain Ooze while the rest of his spirit became a Wraith. There you have it.
It seemed like a bit of synchronicity to me. About this time I also happened to listen to the Chronicles podcast review of Dragon’s Demand and learned that this module contained the first appearance of the Brain Ooze.
After the dungeon, the campaign took a surprisingly dramatic turn. Dromar decided that a way in which he was going to rescue Rava from her tower was through challenging a champion of the Blackravens to a duel to the death. Meta, Dromar’s player knew that I had spent some time designing a champion for just this eventuality. However, when Bo came to Vedgeir with his request, and his reasoning for it, Vedgeir agreed to release Rava into his custody. Dromar insisted on her “full liberty,” however, and again asked for a duel to the death.
“Since you’re so clearly out for blood,” Vedgeir said, “I will give it to my rangers.” She raised her voice. “Are there any here who wish to answer the desire of this Dark Elf?”
There was a long silence, and then a voice answered. “I will.”
It was Norden! Dromar attempted to disqualify the Warpriest by saying that Norden was not a Blackraven, but Vedgeir replied that the Blackravens were a free company of volunteers. Any who identified themselves as Blackravens were so sworn in her view. Dromar was forced to relent, for he chose to see a challenge once accepted as inviolate and that to break it would be a disgrace to his Drow culture.
But next Norden met him in the courtyard with no weapon or armor. Norden knew he was going to die (he had seen the Drow’s Spellstrike in action on many occasions, and knew that if he didn’t go down with the very first blow — for the Drow also was quicker than he was — then he certainly wouldn’t last through a second). Again the Drow fumed. “Someone give this man a sword!” he cried. Wordlessly, over a dozen Blackravens, in mute unbelief, tossed clatteringly swords and axes and spears and knives that formed a ring of gleaming steel and polished wood and leather around the Warpriest. But Norden refused to take one to hand.
The Drow knew that Norden was capable of summoning a Spiritual Weapon, so he stepped forward and struck him down.
His sword passed through empty robes and Blackraven feathers. Norden had discorporated at the very moment of the swing.
There was yet one more beat of drama when Vedgeir then insisted on weregild for her fallen Blackraven in the amount of 400 gold pieces. Dromar said that he should have been informed of this custom beforehand. Vedgeir said she knew that he came from an evil land and from an evil people but that she could not be responsible for his ignorance. If Dromar would not pay the blood price, then Dromar was considered outlaw, and the Blackravens would have to draw it from the Dark Elf’s own flesh. The Blackravens drew or reclaimed their weapons, and Dromar grudgingly hurled the weregild at Vedgeir’s face. The captain endured the resulting purpling mark with dignity and then suggested that the PCs quite the Keep at that moment.
An excerpt from the journal of Brenas Eyebright, member of the Pathfinder Society (in Druidic, a runic alphabet designed for minimal strike-marks on stone and wood; this page itself is a magically-preserved sheet of birchbark with characters that have been scored with a metal “pen” with an end much like a chisel)
By now I am utterly convinced that the original site – the original tree that Erastil struck with his arrow – now must reside in the Winterwall Glacier. What can I possible mean by “reside”? Well, that I cannot say. All reason argues that it and all life must by now have been obliterated by crushing ice in the eons that saw the glaciers slow creep from the north. And yet, yet, something in my bones – Nay! Something in the Earth’s bones! – tells me that this is not the case. According to the legend, Erastil blessed his holy miss as a boon for all life. How can such a miracle be destroyed by something as banal as common ice? I don’t even believe that the extraterrestrial sorceries of the Winter Queen can threaten such a boon. No, the original site of Erastil’s Shot still exists, if not under the glacier itself, then somewhere else, perhaps some other plane. But exist it does, and I am convinced that it remains connected somehow to this earth.
There must be more information out there, some other maps, something to give me some indication of the lay of the land in the prehistorical times before Earthfall. Before Earthfall! If any culture took time to serious chart this landscape before now, it must have been the Thassilonians. I must find some more of their ruins. It might be that the answers I seek still exist, moldering away, perhaps, in some secret chamber that no monster or treasure hunter has been able to get into yet.
From Zalaster’s private journal…
(In Thassilonian) They say I am not a true Runelord. So I don’t have mastery of the draconic runes, the abolethian glyphs! Fah! Do I not control giants—or at least the weaker-willed ones?—with my Rod of Giant Rulership? Did I not instruct them to build me this tower? And do I not command them to hunt far and wide for the components I need to produce my eternal, necromantic sleep? Yes, they say that an age of calamity comes, and that the other Runelords, knowing it, are slipping away, hiding away, into realms where they might sleep until the apportioned time in which they will once again wake. I seek my own sleep, as well, and I think it’s finally upon me.
Unlike the other Runelords, who I hear have made pacts with devils and diabolical servants who are tasked to wake them, I trust no one. That’s not to say that I won’t make my two barons inextricably my servants, cursed with unlife until my time again, tasked to serve me when I again arise. But I will rise on my own, and for that my mind must be kept independent from my body. While my body sleeps, my mind must not—and this shall serve to make me, over the coming centuries, more intelligent and more powerful than ever before!
Vedgeir CR 7
Varki Half-elf (Arctic) bloodrager (Celestial) 4/Ranger 4
LG Medium humanoid
Init +1; Senses Low-light vision, Perception +13
AC 16, touch 11, flat 15, raging 14 (+1 Dex, +5 armor)
Hp 47/55 temporary while raging
Defensive Abilities: immune to magic sleep, +2 vs. enchantments; acid/cold resistance 5; blood sanctuary +2 vs. saving throws from own or allies’ attacks
Melee greatsword +9/+11 while raging (2d6, 2d6+3 when raging) 19-20/x2
Ranged javelins +10 (1d6, 1d6+2 when raging) x2 (5) 30’
Special Attacks bloodrage 13 rds/day; weapons good aligned, +1d6 vs. evil outsiders; favored enemy Giant +2 related skills, +2 attack roll and damage roll
1 – protection from evil (creature touched, 1 min/lvl, +2 AC, +2 saves), touch of combustion (touch attack, Ref negates, 1d6 fire damage, next round creatures adjacent including caster Ref or take 1d4 fire damage), animal messenger
Before combat – greater magic fang is cast on giant eagle mount (and all the giant eagles in the encounter, giving each eagle +2 attack and +2 damage).
During combat – Vedgeir first attacks by throwing javelins from above. If anyone appears in direct need of defense or aid, she will rapidly dismount using acrobatics, and come up raging with her broadsword. Her mount will continue to fight with magic fang, and she will rage until all the opponents are killed.
Str 10/-, 14/+2 while raging, Dex 12/+1, Con 16/+3, 20/+5 while raging, Int 12/+1, Wis 14/+2, Cha 18/+4
Base Atk +8, CMB +8/+10 while raging, CMD 19/21 while raging
Feats Mounted Combat, Mounted Archery, Ride-by-attack, Precise Shot
Skills Acrobatics +7, Climb +7, Handle Animal +11, Intimidate +13, KS (arcana) +6, Perception +13, Ride +10, Spellcraft +8, Survival +9, Swim +7, KS (nature) +8, KS (geography) +8, Stealth +8
Languages Skald, Elven, Auran
SQ fast movement, uncanny dodge, track, wild empathy, combat style feat (archery), endurance, favored terrain (cold), hunter’s bond (move action = ½ favored bonus for 2 rds to single target to all allies in 30’ who can hear and see her)
Gear +1 mistmail (UE 127), +1 javelin and four other masterwork javelins, ring of feather falling, masterwork greatsword, giant eagle mount (Breving)
Other gear and treasure
Appearance: A bronzed, wind-burned face; gold in her large irises; white and ice-blue hair braided in the northern fashion under her winter wolf cloak; the links of her mistmail seem to move around, merging with each other, like shifting clouds in a northern summer sky.
Backstory: Her father was Vulgren, a son of a Valkyrie that found a Ranger of the Varki tribe fair for her bed. Naturally, one time at the Elfmeet, he caught the attention of a Snowcaster Elf. In a year’s time the progeny of this union was given to the tribe to raise. As a Varki, she found it easy to wander, and the Valkyrie in her sought out a worthy cause with which to fight. She was named Stormspear after the mountains in which she was conceived, and found it natural to go to Stormspear Keep to lead the battle against Irrisen.
Fjallit CR 6
Dwarf mountain druid 5/ranger 1
LG Medium humanoid
Init +2; Perception +12
AC 17, touch 12, flat 15 (+2 Dex, +5 armor)
Defensive Abilities: +4 AC vs. giants, +2 saves poisons, spells, spell abilities; +4 saves vs. fey and plant effects
Melee club +7 (1d6) x2 10’
Ranged sling +7/+8 magic (2 magic stones 1d6 + 1/8 bullets 1d4) x2 50’
Special attacks favored enemy (giant) +2 related skills, +2 attack roll and damage roll
Spell abilities wild shape (small or medium animal) 1 hr/lvl; 8/day acid dart – 30’ touch (1d6+2)
3 – call lightning, quench, stone shape
2 – flaming sphere x2, flame blade, soften earth/stone
1 – produce flame, cure light wds x3, magic stone
0 (at will) – flare, guidance, resistance, stabilize, virtue
Before combat – all giant eagle mounts spelled with greater magic fang.
During combat – will assist the combat by using either flame spells or acid darts to remove the defenses of any trolls that still have them. If anyone needs healing or assistance, will dismount some distance away. Mount will return to the combat and Fjallit will heal anyone grievously wounded.
Str 14/+2, Dex 14/+2, Con 16/+3, Int 13/+1, Wis 20/+5, Cha 11/-
Base Atk +4, CMB +6, CMD 18
Feats Mounted Combat, Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion
Skills Climb +9, Craft (stone) +11, Handle Animal +7, Heal +14, KS (geography) +6, KS (nature) +8, Perception +12, Ride +9, Spellcraft +6, Survival +14, Swim +7
Languages Elven, Undercommon
SQ mountaineer (do not lose Dex to AC making Climb or Acrobatics on narrow or slippery surfaces), surface survivalist (wind and cold one step less severe), stone singer (+1 CL in earth domain), nature bond (earth), nature sense, wild empathy, woodland stride, trackless step
Gear +1 hide armor of stanching (UE 122), +1 club of Summerglen quartz, ring of feather fall, masterwork sling (8 bullets/2 magic stone), 5 potions of cure light wounds, 3 scrolls of greater magic fang, giant eagle mount (Beksten)
Other gear and treasure
Appearance: Fjallit’s flesh is as gray and craggy as stone. Her long hair hangs flush down the sides of her face in dreadlocks that seem like the waves rock formations in caves. Similarly, spikes like little gray stalactites push out of her chin. Her hide armor of stanching is composed of a motley of still-furred animal skins and seem to shift, undulate, and breathe as if they are still alive. The most noticeable thing about her is her handmade club of Summerglen quartz.