So, having alienated the Blackravens of Stormspear Keep, the PCs at last departed for the Winterwall Glacier with a resolution to further both Rahjin’s quest to learn more about his “father” and origin and Bo Monro’s search for the elusive and possibly mythical Erastil’s Shot. But not before Dromar decided to wing it over to Summerglen to purchase some magic items. It meant the rest of the party had to wait another day or so. They did.
I’m not sure if last post I mentioned the romantic rivalry between Dromar and Bo Monro for the affections of the dark-featured and strong of stature Irriseni witch Rava. I have conceived of her as having a mite of giant blood. (Incidentally, in a moment of Freudian psychology, one of my players was confusing me until at length I understood that when I had described Rava as “big” he had interpreted the characterization as “big-bosomed.” Sure, I guess this is so, but I also meant wide of hip and shoulders, tall and stout of body.) In time Bo won Rava’s affections, as perhaps shall be related anon.
The party made its way to the Rimeflow River, the source of which flows out of a cleft in the Winterwall Glacier. I had decided that the ruined tower of the Frost Giant who had alchemically created Rahjin was in this deep gorge, overlooking the river. When the PCs reached the river, however, they had to decide what to do about the Irriseni Sentinel Hut on the other side.
For those who don’t know, a Sentinel Hut looks like — well, it pretty much is — a quaint cottage elevated on massive chicken legs. One of my players told me that this monstrosity has its origins in a kind of joke from an early edition of Dungeons and Dragons, a joke that Pathfinder and its campaign setting has made into something relevant. Whatever the origin, these Sentinel Huts guard the borders of Irrisen. They can be pretty vicious for a party of this level (though I can’t remember quite what level the party was at at this time), because of their trample and slam attacks and construct traits.
The party avoided it, though. The Drow simply levitated everything–characters, animal companions, and wagons–high into the air and then towed this nonsense over onto the glacier. They then proceeded to climb the mountainous ice. The Sentinel Hut scratched a bit at the incline at the base of the glacier but otherwise left them alone.
Now my PCs were on the opposite bank of a snow goblin/ettin encounter that I had planned, and I chose to allow them to avoid it–for now. Instead Dromar sighted a young white dragon, which reinforced a lesson I really should have understood by this point of the campaign.
Dromar flew up to it! (He wanted it for a mount; I hadn’t made it clear that the monster was medium size.) He talked to it! I at first had the dragon dive for one of Dromar’s oxen (a tasty treat), but Dromar defused that situation by expending a Hero Point. The dragon rushed back to his den in the frost giant’s tower. And Dromar, mounted on his riding bat, followed.
And managed to keep on the dragon’s trail! He followed the dragon to the spire and right into the cave opening.
I mentioned a lesson: It now was reiterated for me that, you dangle ANYTHING in front of Dromar, he will go right after it! This was a bit of a problem for me as GM. Here’s why:
- This storyline was to be a culmination of a Rahjin arc. Rahjin was supposed to be the “star of the show ” here. But, by chasing and tracking the dragon, Dromar not only had got to the tower first but (as shall soon be seen) made initial contact with Rahjin’s “dad.” This certainly muted the experience of Rahjin’s player, sitting patiently nearby.
- This split up the party, first with Dromar alone, second, as shall be seen, with Dromar and Rahjin together.
- In many ways this made Rahjin’s story, his big climax, ALSO Dromar’s. Paizo’s Gamemastery Guide details some player types, and Dromar’s player is a bit like the “Diva”. I believe I’ve already mentioned that he’s also a bit of a “Power Gamer”, min maxing. This became apparent here when we learned that Dromar ALSO wanted some alchemical body modifications in the form of Fast Healing 1, and the ostensible reason why Dromar felt he needed this was so that he would be more capable of “protecting the rest of the party when challenges increase at higher levels.” The other players, one would hope, are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. This is a bit of the point of the game.
I’m not a fan of GM obstructionism, however, so, as already related, I allowed Dromar to reach the white dragon Breivang; Dromar had his audience with Urvig, the transmutative alchemist creator of Rahjin; and Dromar rushed back to the party to pick up Rahjin and to introduce him to his father.
At this point I did enforce some GM obstructionism. Just now I dug into my somewhat scattered notes for these sessions, and I’m having difficulty with the continuity, but I’m pretty sure this is what happened: When Dromar went back to get Rahjin, Breivang was sent along to confirm what Dromar claimed — that there was a half-troll in the party that seemed to be the result of Urvig’s work and to deliver a message to the effect of “If you truly are Urvig’s son, then you must demonstrate it to him.” Therefore, when Dromar and Rahjin arrived at the tower and found the only opening to the tower — what had once been the entryway to Breivang’s lair — closed to them, not even after repeated fire spells from Dromar, Dromar landed Rahjin at the ruined base of the keep and said to him, “You must prove yourself to your father by climbing the tower.” But Rahjin could not.
As I have said, this tower overlooks the Rimeflow River in a deep gorge in the glacier. It was nightfall — a flight away, on the high surface of the glacier, the rest of the party was preparing to camp by carving out a shelter in the ice. The cleft of the glacier in which rested the river was dark, and out of that deep river an Aboleth emerged. It succeeded in getting many tentacle attacks off on both Dromar and Rahjin, but only Rahjin began to succumb to the strange effects of the Aboleth’s slime. Dromar chose to amputate the leg with a borrowed sword (not Ssin’urn Medri, which might have fatally poisoned him), and succeeded at a heroically high Heal save to stop the spread of the slime effects. Otherwise, Rahjin’s flesh would have become soft and damaged by open air so that he would have had to stay in water as much as possible. Would have been a great story piece. Missed opportunity.
At this moment wind skirled down from the now-open tunnel to Breivang’s lair above. Both Urvig and Breivang looked down on the pair, and the Whispering Wind delivered the following message:
If son you truly are, prove yourself to me. I can’t play favorites, but I welcome you. My doors are closed, but find your way.
Go ahead and count them; that is exactly 25 words, a limitation of the spell. Needless to say, after these words hissed in the air and through shards of ice, Urvig and his white dragon companion stepped back into the tower and the den sealed behind them.
I should mention here how fey the tower appeared. I use the term “fey” here not in the Pathfinder sense for categorizing a creature type but in the Old Norse/Anglo Saxon sense of the uncanny tinged with a sense of doom or foreboding. Multicolored witch lights, quite suggestive of the aurora borealis, ceaselessly appeared and drifted and disappeared up and down the length of the perfectly smooth tower of pure ice jutting up like a needle of bone out of the rubble of a fort that once had been ruined by the Blackravens, years ago, during the same attack that had resulted in Rahjin’s discovery — and his “redemption.”
So this was my “railroad.” Dromar and Rahjin (just these two, as the adventure turned out) HAD to dig their way through the rubble, up through the ruined rooms of the fort and all the abandoned, forgotten nasties that dwelt therein, into the glacier and then into the tower for no other reason than that I had spent a fair bit of time on a dungeon and I wanted to use it. I also wanted my players to encounter the vast space within the glacier and the “Dark Trolls”, a breed of my own devising, that inhabit that cold, lightless area. The rest of the party, still a flight away and ready to make camp, efficiently dealt with an attack by a patrol of snow goblins and their goblin dog mounts (I threw this in so they could have a bit of excitement for the session). Then, it being 4 pm — closing time at River Quest on a Sunday — we disbanded and Dromar’s player, Rahjin’s player, and myself rebanded at a private residence in order to play through my ice tower dungeon.
The important part: Dromar and Rahjin climbed through the ruin to a vast habitation in which Dark Trolls are born, grow , and then battle ceaselessly in a huge arena. They “die” many times, but always regenerate, and in time enter the pit again to test their battle prowess yet again. The PCs learned that if a Dark Troll is successful enough to win a duel 999 times, then it is “retired” into the “outer darkness,” a somewhat extra-dimensional space in the center of the glacier where it will freeze in supernatural mists into a perpetual stasis, to be awakened at the last battle, when Nidhig will call upon his armies to destroy Golarion. The PCs ascended stairs of ice that rested in the semblance of a linnorm’s long tongue that twisted out of its gaping maw, which was the seat for the arena, and up to the very high ceilings at which were two doors that led into Urvig’s private chambers in his tower.
It was a spectacular ice palace. Chairs and tables and divans and utensils and chandeliers brightly colored with witch lights added some character to the icy interior, though all these items likewise were formed of ice. And here Rahjin met–and was welcomed by–his father. And Rahjin and Dromar both met also, for the first time, Urvig’s assistant, a Drow fleshwarper and an essential key to Urvig’s ability. Her name is Cahlin.
In short, Rahjin negotiated for Regen 5/acid and fire, Large size, the troll natural armor bonus, and all of a troll’s natural attacks at the expense of three weeks of painful fleshwarping and some risk. Dromar negotiated for Fast Healing 1 for a lot of gold, three weeks of unconscious fleshwarping, and quite a bit more risk. Here the ancillary session ended.
This led to a difficulty: despite (specifically) Dromar’s wishes, it was highly unlikely that the rest of the party was going to (as Dromar proposed) just hang around camping in a glacier, outside a tower inhabited by Chaotic Evil trolls next to frigid, aboleth-infested water, for three weeks or more while the two alignment-questionable members of the party indulged in body modifications! Especially when one of the druids was on a holy quest with a bit of a time requirement attached to it! While Dromar prepared his pitch, I recommended that both players create temporary characters to run in the likelihood that the party would continue on.
Now here’s a conundrum that I faced as GM: I couldn’t believe that Dromar was actually considering putting himself wholly and helplessly into the hands of another Drow! Now, Cahlin was a fleshwarper of a rival House Jivith committed to the demon lord of alchemy, which made her and her house best, of all the Drow, at this science. Cahlin of course knew about Dromar–he is of the ruling House Zenzolar, after all, and the story of that house’s unrest obviously was too valuable and salacious to be kept a secret for long. Cahlin expressed her delight and admiration, on behalf of her house, for what Dromar had done to his, and even suggested the possibility of an alliance between Jivith and Dromar.
Of course, all along I expected a Sense Motive check from Dromar.
No, he never asked for one! He appeared to fall entirely for Cahlin and her proposition!
What GM ever has faced a greater temptation to royally torture his or her player (her evil player, even though the player as of yet will not admit it) and–what’s more–be utterly justified in doing so! After all, it’s only because of the stupidity, shortsightedness, or greed of the character (or even of the player–in these kinds of situations the separation blurs) that such misfortunes would occur.
What possibilities revolved enticingly within my consciousness! It was so hard to choose! At last I narrowed them down
- The most obvious eventuality would be for Cahlin to transform Dromar into a drider. There was little motivation to receive Dromar as an ally. Cahlin’s house wasn’t ruling, but it was powerful, especially as it was bolstered militarily by tributes of Dark Troll warrior-slaves for Cahlin’s expertise. With Dromar’s House Zenzolar in unrest, Cahlin’s reasonably could be expected to take it without Dromar’s help. In fact, Dromar would be a needless liability, if this was the goal. No, better to turn Dromar into a drider and present him to Mardro to curry favor.
- Kill Dromar and present his corpse to Dromar’s house, for the same reason as above.
- Incapacitate and imprison Dromar as a pawn in the game of realpolitik between houses.
- Give Dromar what he wants in exchange for his money and let him go his way? How could this make sense when Cahlin simply could take the money and sell Dromar’s drider body or corpse too?
- Join House Jivith to Dromar? Again, I couldn’t see what Jivith would gain.
I decided I had to give Dromar one more chance to realize how lost he was here. While Rahjin’s process was begun, more Drow fleshwarpers would teleport in to assist Cahlin. Dromar would have another opportunity to Sense Motive, and if Dromar didn’t, then Ssin’urn Medri certainly would.
We didn’t get there. Rahjin’s player missed a session, so while Rahjin was screaming in the fiery throes of his alchemical bath, Dromar found the other members of the party in the midst of another fight with snow goblins–and worse!
This episode was fun and has encouraged me to roleplay goblins again sometime in the future. The party had made its way back into the river valley — once it became clear that continuing along the top of the glacier was going to get difficult and out of the way. Once in the glacier, the party realized that the Sentinel Hut had managed to pace it, long-stepping its way, looking like a floating house, right up through the center of the river channel. Fonkin decided to fly over the Hut and coax it back down the river. But then the PCs encountered snow goblins. The goblins were fishing, on the opposite bank (as I originally had designed the encounter).
Fonkin again stepped into the spotlight. He snatched fish out of the river, with his talons, and tossed them in front of the goblins. In a moment of inspiration, I made the goblins delighted with the antic, even though they didn’t know what to do with the catch — one of the goblins stepped up and began swatting at the fish with his pole, perhaps trying to hook it even though it no longer was in the water. The ruckus drew out of a cave a short ways up the high bank above the river an Ettin, and then a Polar Bear. And a huge fight began.
The PCs won the fight, of course, and looted the cave, and tamed the Polar Bear. And then Dromar tried to convince the PCs to hang around outside the ice spire.
They chose not to (of course), and Dromar chose to continue along with them.
At length the river channel narrowed, the banks disappeared, and the PCs had to be levitated along the surface of the water — and then into a cave. In the cave, the PCs fought two more aboleths (after Dromar dispatched the first one, mostly on his own, I had another pop up so the others could have something to do). And then the roof of the cave utterly submerged with the river. If the party wanted to continue, it would have to somehow push forward into the water.
Fonkin transformed into something (I don’t quite remember what) to scout ahead. After pressing against a fairly forceful current, he found wide-open underground ice caves and even sensed sky above. He sighted a group of Skum and managed to evade them. When he returned, the party used the residual Mucus Cloud of an aboleth carcass to breathe underwater. Then all party members and animal companions were towed along on a rope being dragged by two members transformed into underwater creatures.
Some members of the group had to refresh their water breathing a time or two, when the degrading cloud gave out. The party fought an Elasmosaurus and killed it. When it tried to keep the body, it attracted a school of sharks and therefore abandoned it. The group breached the surface of a great sea, and swam across it for some time until coming to a rocky shore.
And miraculously on this rocky shore was Rahjin, different-looking, Large size, and completely naked.
In the week before this session, I had been messaging Rahjin’s player. I told him that, in the midst of the excruciating pain attendant to the fleshwarping process and his regeneration that would not allow him to fall into merciful unconsciousness, he found his psyche in a land of mists. Above the mists, in the sky, was a tapestry of stars, and a dark shape, that seemed to be superimposed over the field of stars and having the semblance of a massive snake-head — or linnorm — seemed to be drawing the asters into its gaping maw. The stars were breaking up and streaming into the open jaws as if they were within the influence of some kind of event horizon. In the mists before Rahjin, serpentine shapes writhed, and the mists formed something that likewise appeared to be the massive head of a linnorm.
Nidhig spoke to Rahjin. Nidhig asked Rahjin to be general of his Dark Troll armies, to lead the battle on Golarion when Nidhig finally erupted into that universe. Nidhig promised Rahjin the power the troll wanted, but the destructor wanted something in return. The adversary wanted allegiance, and to prove that allegiance, the cosmic linnorm wanted Rahjin to kill both of his fathers — Kolbern and Urvig (and in game terms it would mean becoming Chaotic Evil).
Rahjin found himself back in intense agony in the fleshwarping tank. Through the glass, he saw Urvig, the giant’s back to Rahjin, as the transmuter engaged in mortal battle simultaneously with Kolbern and Vedgeir. It was evident that the Blackravens had attacked the tower. Rahjin burst out of the tank. Both fathers, for a moment, were awed by Rahjin’s sudden, miraculous transformation into a Large troll and by his display of power. Urvig was delighted. “Come,” he crowed, “let us drive the Blackravens out of our home.”
And Rahjin did so, to Kolbern’s surprise (even though Vedgeir turned to him, saying, “He is evil!”, since she had taken a level in Paladin last Rahjin had encountered her). Rahjin killed Kolbern in a few quick rakes of his claws, Kolbern being too slow to strike at his adopted son. Then Rahjin dropped Vedgeir with a vicious blow across her face.
Urvig was overjoyed by Rahjin’s prowess and dedication, but when he turned to gather supplies for a renewed attack on the other Blackravens who surely were in the tower, Rahjin struck him, as well — right in the back. Urvig cast Gaseous Form on himself and escaped through a crevice in the floor.
Then, failing to capture the second father whom Rahjin had sworn to kill, Rahjin was given a second task by Nidhig and teleported as dark matter right through the glacier and, naked, onto the banks of a jungle island in a warm, improbable sea.
This is where and when his friends showed up.