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Kingmaker: War of the River Kings, Session 3, Part 2

The PCs returned from the ruins of the Rushlight tournament to their partially ruined capital, Stagfell. They were chomping at the bit to raise armies and march on Pitax! But first, there were a few odds and ends to take care of.

The aquatic assault on the capital had been led by a rusalka sorcerer, a kind of watery faerie siren. The PCs had beheaded her, and kept the head and body for spell purposes. First, Remesio the cleric tried to speak with dead on the head, though as their alignments were wildly different there was a saving throw involved – which the rusalka easily made. I speculated that perhaps someone could use the Use Magic Device skill to cast the spell from a scroll and, at the same time, impersonate the right alignment, thus bypassing the save, but the players weren’t too interested in the idea. They figured that they had other ways of unearthing information. A pity, I thought that would have been a clever use of the skill, which hasn’t seen much action in this campaign.

The second spell was create treasure map, which requires a sizable portion of a creature’s skin. Ew. The map produced by the spell can be aimed at different scales, depending on how much you already know about where to go looking. Aakif the arcanist chose the broadest scale, as they knew nothing, and got a map that was for an unfamiliar kingdom. The leather map was passed off to a cartography guild in the kingdom, who were likewise stumped. The players assumed this meant the rusalka’s treasure was on the First World and shelved the map for now.

Finally Remesio resorted to communing with his deity. The group theorized that there might be some sort of portal to the First World in Lake Tuskwater, and the divine presence confirmed it. The cleric then played twenty questions, trying to nail down if they could use portal right now (they could not) and when it might be usable again (more than a year, less than a decade). I hadn’t thought much about exactly where the fey armies had come from, but now I’m considering the possibility that this whole event – the tournament, the invasion – had been timed around that portal opening up, so that the fey could pass through and set up the assault. In any case, it explains why it can’t happen again, or at least not anytime soon.

Punching Down

Frustrated in their attempts to learn anything of note from the rusalka or the gods, the PCs went to go stomp on an easy target: King Vesket’s lizardfolk in the hex west of Candlemere. Years and years ago, the party had gotten spanked by the lizardfolk and subsequently ended hostilities by forging a mutual non-aggression pact with them. And while there had been no outright aggression since then, Caerelia had grown to surround the lizardfolk’s island, humans had intruded on their territory, and worst of all a city had been built at the mouth of the river that the lizards lived on (Salar’s Rest), and all the humans’ waste had been flowing downstream! With so few and against so many, there was little Vesket could do against these passive aggressions except fume. But when he was approached with an offer of an alliance against Caerelia from a mighty fey, he leaped at the opportunity.

Unfortunately, the attack on Stagfell failed and the lizardfolk were now the targets closest at hand for some good old fashioned retribution. The group teleported to the island, the spellcasters rained down death and destruction onto the lizardfolk, and then Satampra went out to confront Vesket one-on-one. The Lizard King didn’t stand a chance. Then Remesio summoned a chaotic dire crocodile to eat Vesket’s corpse.

There was some discussion about taking Vesket alive and using him to end the zombie curse on the Stag Lord’s hill, but Drew objected. “I like the zombies!” he said. The players then joked about how surviving a run up the hill should be rite of passage for Caerelians.

Heavy Metal

With all that out of the way, it was time to raise some armies! You would think a kingdom with over 1,300 BP in its treasury could afford the most outrageous forces, but as it turned out, you would be wrong. Equipping a Colossal army of 5th level fighters with magic arms and armor is monstrously expensive, and for rather little benefit at that. The council settled on commissioning three somewhat humbler armies (the most they could in a turn):

  • The Steel Panthers, a Medium army of ranger 5’s with heavy horses, ranged weapons, and magic arms & armor
  • The Electric Wizards, a Colossal army of wizard 3’s with no extras
  • Crimson Glory, a Colossal army of fighter 5’s with five siege engines

…and also rebuilt Stagfell’s waterfront. And finally claimed the lizardfolk’s hex – it was the end of an era, to be sure.

During the kingdom turn, they heard from the ambassador from Mivon, who expressed outrage at Pitax’s cowardly backstabbing attack! He began to list his own kingdom’s long history of grudges and feuds and battles with Pitax as proof of the kingdom’s foul nature, and went on at length about King Irovetti’s numerous character flaws. He ranted on and on, until Satampra caught him short with a question.

“So does that mean that noble Mivon will stand beside us, as we march into battle against the stain upon the River Kingdoms that is Pitax?”

The ambassador looked embarrassed. “Your Grace, the courageous people of Mivon most certainly stand with you in spirit! However, Your Grace understands that I must confer with my superiors before I could confirm any material support…”

The council also received tidings that Fort Drelev Heptamus was under siege by Pitax, and belatedly realized that Irovetti was a fore that they needed to take seriously. The Steel Panthers could reach the city in 4 days’ time, but the journey would take about 10 days for the Electric Wizards and Crimson Glory. They also had the Emperor’s Guard at their disposal (a Huge army of fighter 5’s), but thought it wise to leave them stationed in Stagfell.

While the logistics of defending Fort Heptamus were being discussed, Bill left the table to take a “tactical tinkle.” After he left, Drew proposed that they tell him when he returned that they had decided to surrender to Irovetti. “We surrender! Pitax wins! Campaign’s over!” We all found this hilarious, and I considered posting a fake entry to this blog to that effect: “I’m shutting it all down! No more posts, no more Kingdom Manager updates!” But, obviously, I didn’t do that! And Bill did not quite believe us that it was all over when he returned. 🙂

The rulers ordered the armies into motion to relieve Fort Heptamus, lamenting that they didn’t have a more direct route from the capital to the western front. But while the troops were in motion, the party planned to teleport over and disrupt the siege as much as possible.

Next: falling!

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Kingmaker: War of the River Kings, Session 3, Part 1

Aakif the arcanist teleported the party back to the Rushlight fairgrounds, or rather, near the grounds but out of sight so that they could make their appearance while riding on their flying carpet. With the morning sun at their backs, they swooped in to find the hacked-up corpses of the Caerelian entourage scattered about, their pavilion laying trampled on the ground, and the remaining menagerie animals killed in their cages. One of the great cats was still alive, barely, and being poked at with spears from laughing Pitax soldiers as blood ran from of its many wounds. Other soldiers were scavenging the dead or cutting through the fallen tent to look for treasures underneath. It looked as if most everyone else had cleared out in a hurry, no doubt fearing that they would be next.

The carpet was spotted, and arrows were dutifully shot in its direction, to no effect. Satampra the swashbuckler quickly scanned the bodies that were visible, but saw no sign of his wife, the Empress Sojana Varn Zieros. He took the carpet in a quick circle of the area, noting that Irovetti’s tent had already been taken down; the villain was undoubtedly safe back in Pitax.

The group did see several groups of mounted Pitax knights doing sweeps of the perimeter, and in the air a bat-winged humanoid appeared to be circling, searching for something on the ground. Or someone? Satampra aimed the carpet at the flying figure, and as they got closer they could see that was a gargoyle – presumably the same one that had sat atop Irovetti’s throne in Pitax.

The arcanist had cast an invisibility sphere over the party as they surveyed the fairgrounds, so the gargoyle had not spotted them. Whlie the others sat on the carpet and debated tactics, Orseen the warpriest buffed himself with what divine power was left to him, summoned his Battle Companion (a two-headed bird of sunlight), activated his ebony fly figurine, mounted the black insect, and charged!

The appearance of the fly (which had to be summoned outside of the invisibility sphere, owing to its size) and the bird of fire (ditto) caught Gedovius the gargoyle rogue’s attention! When a large armored gnoll then appeared out of nowhere to hop atop the insect and ride it towards him, the flying creature wheeled about and charged in turn! Gedovius won initiative and got to attack first, landing a sneak attack/vital strike on Orseen that did 8d6+9 damage and 5 bleed (I had given him the Scout archetype, which leaves targets flat-footed on rounds where he moves at least 10′). “Um, a little help?” the warpriest yelled in the direction of the invisible carpet.

Orseen used his last Fervor to swiftly heal himself, stopping the bleeding, then attacked with righteous fury. His battle companion breathed converging lines of white-hot sunlight from both heads, which the gargoyle easily evaded. Satampra brought the carpet around to flank Geodovius in mid-air, but the rogue was too nimble for that. Nevertheless, the swashbuckler managed to strike the creature, which left himself and the carpet visible. Aakif hurt the gargoyle with magic missiles and Remesio the cleric used a prayer of mass cure something to help out Orseen without having to worry about also healing their foe (his preferred healing method is Channel Energy, which is normally indiscriminate about who it affects).

Gedovius, who had only gotten one action so far, was rapidly running out of hit points! He realized he was badly outmatched, but did not want to leave without a parting shot. He aerially tumbled away from the carpet, around the back of the warpriest, and attempted one final strike which… missed by one point. Then he flew away using Flyby Attack.

The PCs were prepared to follow suit, but the sky battle had attracted attention down below – everyone heard several sharp bursts of a hunting horn, as clear as the day. Satampra recognized the pattern of sound as Sojana’s personal SOS – she’s a ranger and there’s this handy ranger spell horn of pursuit – and flew the carpet down towards where it seemed the sound had come from. Orseen followed, and the gargoyle made his escape.

The Revengers

The Empress and her lady in waiting came out of hiding and waved down the carpet and ebony fly. She embraced her husband, thanked the group for their timely arrival, and then filled the PCs in on what had happened. “We were attacked, without warning, shortly after you left,” she snarled, her anger barely contained. “Dozens of Pitax’s finest. Our people were slaughtered in their sleep, cut down as they ran. We,” she indicated herself and her lady, “were awake and dressed, thank the gods, after seeing you off. We were able to drink our potions [of invisibility] and escape under the back of the tent. I hid our tracks [using pass without a trace] and we got away, but had to hunker down after the potions expired. It’s good you came when you did, I feared that gargoyle would have soon found us sooner rather than later. What news of Stagfell?”

The Emperor filled her in on what had happened back in the capital. There was some speculation if the invasion was a diversion for the attack here, or vice versa. But after looking at the situation, the rulers admitted that tt had not seemed like a diversion. The near-simultaneous assaults were more like a declaration of all-out war.

Sojana rode on the carpet, while her lady clambered up behind Orseen on the ebony fly. Before leaving, they had one last goal in mind: petty revenge. They went back to the Rushlight grounds and repeatedly buzzed the Pitax soldiers there in order to herd them together. Then Aakif used his last fireball on the massed troops, pouring as much of his arcane reservoir as he could into the spell to make it as strong as possible. Bodies flew into the air with the force of the explosion, and the party grimly listened to the sounds of the dying men before teleporting home.

Next: picking up the pieces!

Kingmaker: Prepping War of the River Kings, NPC Edition

This post is for Kingmaker DMs and other curious parties. It’s a collection of changes that I made to the NPC stats in book 5 in the adventure path, War of the River Kings, while preparing it for my campaign. Spoilers for this adventure follow. Consider yourself warned! Read more…

Kingmaker: War of the River Kings, Session 2, Part 2

Stagfell is invaded! said the mental message from the kingdom’s Spymaster, with undisguised panic in his voice.

We’re coming, was Satampra the swashbuckler’s grim reply.

He immediately set about finding and waking the other PCs, then impatiently paced about as they donned their armor and prepared for battle. When everyone was finally ready, Remesio the cleric used a word of recall to return the group to the castle in their kingdom’s capital city. After arriving, the Emperor issued orders for his guard to attend to him, and they strode up to the walls to assess the situation.

It was the dead of night, and heavy clouds obscured the sky; the only illumination came from torches along the walls and throughout the courtyard. Men were running to and fro, shouting and firing arrows into the air, where large winged creatures wheeled about. One swooped down, impaling an archer on its tail spike as arrows bounced off its hide. The monster kept moving, retreating into the darkness and smoke, holding its tail so that the dead man did not slide off. It was a wyvern, the PCs saw, and it looked as if dozens of its kind were attacking the city from above.

Down in the city, buildings were aflame and the streets were flooded. It looked as if the waters of Lake Tuskwater itself had risen up to attack the capital. The defenders had set up a perimeter at the southern base of the hill that the castle stood upon, where the soldiers struggled to push back chaotic assaults from lumbering trolls, savage lizardfolk, and strange horse-like humanoids. Shouting, crying, wailing, and monstrous roars all mingled together with the sound of splashing water, burning buildings, and ringing bells from throughout the city.

Aakif the arcanist quickly passed out spells of flying while Remesio the cleric and Orseen the gnoll warpriest called for divine aid. Once buffed and airborne, the gnoll grabbed a wyvern that was swooping down to attack the soldiers and wrestled it back up into the air. Satampra dodged a wyvern tail and then cut the wannabe-dragon into wannabe-dragon chunks. Remesio floated down to the troops below and helped repel the trolls with flame strikes.

As the Water Come Rushing Over

Orseen’s aerial wrestling match soon resulted in both he and the wyvern crashing down into a burning structure, collapsing it around them. The warpriest finished killing the beast, then pushed his way out of the fiery debris to find himself well behind the enemy lines, and surrounded by trolls and kelpies! (the horse-like creatures, a kind of aquatic fey) He struck down many but their numbers were too great, and though it took a half dozen scrags (aquatic trolls) they had him restrained.

Soon a regal-looking woman came into view, gliding across the top of the floodwaters. She had a massive head of long, dark hair that floated about her form as if she were underwater. Her skin was pale and blueish, but nevertheless Orseen thought her to be incredibly beautiful; he stopped struggling and stared at her in slack-jawed wonder as she smoothly drew closer.

But then several silver darts streaked out of the sky above and struck the woman! She glanced upwards, and seeing Aakif floating above her, spoke a word of magic and turned invisible. “Over here!” called the arcanist to the others. “I’ve found their leader!”

Satampra disengaged from fighting wyverns and streaked over to Aakif’s position, but pulled back as a lightning bolt shot up from the ground and struck the arcanist. The woman, a rusalka with sorcerer levels, did not appear when the attack was made (thanks to greater invisibility), and so Aakif readied a glitterdust if she attacked him again. She did, and was soon covered in tiny little glowing particles, still invisible but also plain to see.

Meanwhile, Orseen had used his Fervor to swiftly pray for freedom of movement, and he slipped out of the trolls’ grasp and charged the glittering figure, only to run smack into a wall of water that rose up to stop him – two large water elementals, pets of the rusalka. Satampra flew in, but a tendril of the woman’s hair wrapped itself around him and tied him up well out of his melee range.

Remesio swooped in to give the Emperor his own freedom of movement, Orseen chopped his way through the water elementals, and the two melee dudes started chipping away at the rusalka’s hit points while she tossed about spells and lashed them with her hair. But it all came to an end when she failed a saving throw against Aakif’s suffocation spell. Satampra gave her the coup de grace and then the party started clearing out the lesser creatures.

Mopping Up

It took hours, but by the time the sun rose over the city, the aquatic invaders had been driven back into the lake. Wounded and weary, the rulers surveyed the damage to their capital: much of the waterfront (two districts’ worth) had been destroyed, but the fires had been contained, and the mysterious floodwaters had retreated with the rusalka’s demise.

Originally I had intended to have a mass combat battle take place, but after looking at the numbers it seemed kinda hopeless for the attackers. Stagfell had a high Defense bonus and a Huge army of fighter 5’s (the Emperor’s Guard) stationed there. Only the most powerful of forces stood a chance of even damaging the defenders, even taking into account that they were bypassing the walls. So I ended up just hand-waving it all.

The kingdom Spymaster, Mestinous the elven wizard, was found, and ordered to cast a spell of sending to the Caerelians still at the Rushlight Tournament. Mestinous targeted a guard captain he was friendly with and concentrated on the spell. The onlookers then saw him frown deeply. “There’s no contact, no response. Either… either he’s on another plane, or he’s… dead?”

The rulers had already been thinking that the tourney had been meant as a distraction from this attack on Stagfell. The wizard’s news only confirmed their suspicions of Pitax’s perfidy. But then the Emperor then realized that his wife was among those still at the tourney! Perhaps the attack had been the distraction from what he had planned there!

I actually had no idea that Satampra would invite his wife along to the tournament, but it was a fortuitous move, story-wise. The question of her status made for a nice cliffhanger at the end of this session.

Mestinous had no more sending spells and no scrolls, and it would take time for Orseen or Remesio to change their prayers. The fastest way to confirm the Empress Sojana Varn Zieros’ fate, and possibly rescue her, was to immediately teleport back to the Rushlight grounds.

Next: riding to the rescue!

Kingmaker: War of the River Kings, Session 2, Part 1

The Rushlight Tournament continued!

I Do Not Always Drink Mead…

As I’d covered before, I wanted each player to have at least one contest where they felt they could compete. The published adventure doesn’t have events for wizards or clerics, and I didn’t care for the ones in the original draft of the adventure either. The cleric event in particular was rather drab channel energy contest. The party cleric, Remesio, worships Cayden Cailean and is primarily interested in brewing and drinking, so I thought a brewing competition would be right up his alley and would fit in perfectly with the flavor of the fair.

For rules, I simply said that he could make three Craft (brewing) checks, and if they were successful, add up the totals. It’s similar to how the Boasting competition was scored, minus the Perform multiplier at the end. Maybe I should have thrown something of the sort into the calculations, like a Profession (barkeep) check or something for the presentation, but it’s all beer under the bridge now. Remesio rolled decently but I don’t think he actually had that many skill points in brewing, and he came in a respectable second place, behind Pitax.

The Tower of Fools

For the final regular event before the Midnight Joust, I lifted the Tower of Jewels from the original draft. It’s a great idea for an event, thematically appropriate for the River Kingdoms, and a good fit (or so I thought) for non-social rogues, who otherwise have no events to show off their skills in. The setup is that there are are several greased poles, painted to look like stone towers, with a locked chest on top containing gemstones of different values. You could win in two ways – being the first one back with any stone, or being the first one back with the most valuable of the stones.

However, I noticed there was a problem with the target DCs while pre-rolling the outcomes of the NPC competitors. A contestant had to make around four (possibly fewer, depending on speed and skill) Climb checks in a row with DCs of 25, 25, 30, and 30 to get to the top of the pole. Then you had to do it again to get down. If you failed by more than 5, you fell and had to start all over again; if you fell while climbing down, you would have to climb back up to the top and then climb down again, meaning you’d need eight awesome Climb checks in a row. The NPCs that the author offered as competitors were barely able to do it, save for one (the halfling barbarian, who had a monstrous Climb score). I stopped rolling for one of the NPCs (the human rogue) because it was obvious that she could not string together that many good rolls, absent some amazing luck. So, good concept, poor execution. I would lower the Climb DCs by 5 or 10 if I were going to do it again, and tone down the halfling contestant so that other characters might have a chance.

When it came time for Satampra the swashbuckler to perform, in his secret identity as the Red Kestrel, he didn’t fare any better than the human rogue had, and eventually gave up in frustration. The halfling barbarian got back the fastest, and a human barbarian got back, quite by accident, with the most valuable gem. In the draft, all the NPCs are from Pitax, so I arbitrarily assigned them to different kingdoms before I made any rolls; the halfling represented Tymon and the other barbarian came from Gralton.

The Midnight Roust

Following the end of the regular competitions, there was a day of rest. The standings were:

  1. Tymon (3 wins)
  2. Caerelia (2 wins)
  3. Gralton (1 win)
  4. Pitax (1 win)
  5. everyone else

which put Caerelia in a position where it could at least tie for first place (what then? the adventure doesn’t say!). Orseen the gnoll warpriest wanted to participate in the final event, the Midnight Joust, which is held at midnight (of course) with drunken knights. As an aside, the adventure says all the NPCs are drunk save for Irovetti’s champion, Villamor Koth, but it doesn’t say if their stats have already been adjusted or not. I figured they weren’t and gave them the -2 penalty from being drunk/sickened.

During the day of rest, Orseen was approached by one Bixen Libixyten, a brewer who was impressed with the gnoll’s speed and power during the logging competition. Bixen had created a special batch of blackberry mead, and he wanted the warpriest to joust while drunk on it as a marketing gimmick. But first Orseen had to learn to say, “I’m drinking Bixen Libixyten’s blackberry mead!” That did not go so well, so they settled on him just saying “Bixen’s blackberry mead” instead.

Orseen’s first joust was against a Pitax warden, whom he easily defeated. “I’m drunk on Bixen’s blackberry mead!” the gnoll shouted to the crowd. Unfortunately for Bixen Libixyten and his mead, however, the warpriest was promptly unhorsed right after by Damanjot, a half-orc from Tymon. Damanjot was the one to beat, as it turned out, and he advanced up to the final joust. There he would ride against the previous year’s champion, the exiled Tiger Lord Villamor Koth.

The two broke several lances jousting against one another. Orseen drunkenly cackled at Koth’s poor aim – “He must be so deep in his cups! He can’t even hit Damanjot’s shield!”

“He’s not aiming for his shield,” soberly noted Khristel Cotoio of Mivon, a much more experienced rider who had been the last to fall before Damanjot. “And he isn’t in his cups. Look – Koth is aiming at the rider himself. Damanjot does not understand that Irovetti’s pet plays a different game.”

As if to emphasize Cotoio’s point, Koth soon thrust the tip of his lance right through the visor of Damanjot’s helm! The shaft of the spear splintered into a thousand pieces, but the end remained, sticking grotesquely out of Damanjot’s bent faceplate. The half-orc reeled for a moment, then tumbled from his horse, got caught in the stirrups, and was dragged by his mount, dead, to the end of the lists. Koth ignored his opponent as he rode a victory lap, holding high the handle of his broken weapon. King Irovetti stood and clapped vigorously.

“An accident,” spat Cotoio, “or so they will all tell themselves. But it was not.” And with that, he turned and stalked off the field.

Just Rewards

After a brief recess, everyone assembled for the closing ceremony. Irovetti awarded the grand prize to King Ullorth Ungin of Tymon, there were some fireworks, and then everyone stumbled back to their pavilions to sleep it off. The Rushlight Tournament of 4721 had ended. In the morning, the tents and stalls and booths would be packed up and torn down, and everyone would begin their respective journeys home.

Thanks to his ring of sustenance, Satampra was awake and well rested after just a couple of hours of sleep. He dressed as his vigilante alter ego, the Red Kestrel, and was about to go out and patrol the fairgrounds when he received an unexpected sending from his Spymaster, Mestinous the elven wizard.

“Stagfell is invaded!”

Next: the Rushlight treachery!

Kingmaker: War of the River Kings, Session 1, Part 2

While one of their captive owlbears was being slaughtered and roasted, the rulers of Caerelia had some state business to conduct. Namely, paying a visit to their host, King Irovetti of Pitax. For the occasion they had brought along a life-sized elf statue (taken from the Dancing Lady’s castle in Rivers Run Red) as a present to the art-loving king.

Irovetti’s pavilion was supremely impressive, of course, on both the inside and out. A herald announced their presence and they entered the voluminous tent, followed by laborers carrying the heavy statue. The king greeted them warmly, thanked them for the beautiful gift, and offered them a drink. The PCs, still a bit nervous about getting poisoned, took note that Irovetti was drinking wine from the same flagon, and let him go first before quaffing the contents of their own goblets. Come to think of it, given Daggermark’s prominence within the River Kingdoms and their specialites, maybe letting your host drink first is an accepted custom in the region.

With that out of the way, the group split up to see the sights. Satampra the swashbuckler and his wife Sojana went to see the “real” menagerie, while Orseen the gnoll warpriest took a tour of the other kingdoms’ tents. Remesio the cleric sought to sample ales and meads from other lands, and Aakif the arcanist looked for opportunities to make trouble.

After taking note of which kingdoms were present – Daggermark, Gralton, Mivon, Tymon, and (suprisingly) Uringen – the arcanist devised a plan to sow some discord among the River lords (Uringen is not part of the tourney in the published adventure, but it’s nearby and I think it’s neat so I wanted to include them). Aakif went back to the Caerelian tent and forged a letter that appeared to come from Pitax and addressed to Gralton, that was proposing they work together to attack Mivon and divide it among themselves. He then disguised himself using magic as a Pitax herald, stumbled past the Mivon tent while pretending to be a little drunk, and “lost” the letter in the mud. Once out of sight, he used his ring of chameleon power to hide and watched as a Mivon guard retrieved the missive and took it back into their pavilion. This required a Language check to commit the forgery and a Bluff check to pull off the deception of being drunk and dropping the message, both of which Aakif aced. Satisfied that the Mivonese would read the letter, he dismissed his disguise and went off to enjoy the fair.

Orseen, meanwhile, was fascinated by the Uringens. Their city-state only intersects with this dimension every so often, and disappears to parts unknown the rest of the time. The gnoll spent some time asking questions of the strange foreigners about their lives and where their city went, though the Uringens (for whom I adopted a bad Norwegian accent, don’t ask me why) were friendly yet evasive on such matters.

The fairgrounds were abuzz with revelers, merchants, mountebanks, con-men, and cut-purses! And when the sun rose on the morrow it shone down on bleary eyes, pounding heads, and empty coin-purses. It was Day Two of the Rushlight, and that meant it was time for the competitions!

Target Practice

The first event was archery, a skill that only Satampra was any good at. He dithered on whether to enter the competition or not, but eventually decided that he might as well give it a shot (ba dum tss!). He donned his vigilante disguise so that (a) he wouldn’t be seen as the only Ruler actually competing, and (b) to spare himself the humiliation if he didn’t do well, and lined up with the other archers as a mystery contestant named… the Red Kestrel!

So first off, I have to say that the Rushlight competitions are set up in a really annoying way in the adventure. There’s five other contestants, who each have their own strategies for winning the contest, who require a ton of attack and damage rolls to see how they’re doing (or skill checks, or what have you). I really don’t want to be adjudicating five other PC-caliber characters’ actions for every one round of player actions. And that’s just one player acting; the others players are just sitting there observing. I could have the others roll the dice or even play the other characters, but that’s still a bit of a drag for them in my opinion – here, play this mechanically-complicated character with this pre-written strategy. Or in other words, roll some dice and do some math and make no real decisions.

As a result, I pre-rolled (using an online die-roller) all the competitors’ actions here and in the other events, but man that was a tiresome burden to thrust onto the DM’s shoulders. Just tell me how the others do and provide the numbers on the off chance I have the time or inclination to actually play it out. Major fail on the adventure’s part.

Secondly, it quickly became clear that the contest difficulty is calibrated for the best of the best. Satampra, having a high Dex but no archery feats, had basically no chance at winning. Especially given how Drew usually rolls, which is to say, poorly. The Red Kestrel came in 3rd, behind Tymon and Daggermark.

I’m a Lumberjack

Next up was the log-chopping competition. Orseen leapt at this one! He spent the first round of the contest buffing, and then went to town on the logs. Despite having no axe-related feats, his divine powers carried him through and he demolished six logs in one minute, earning first place! The next best choppers were about halfway through their fifth logs when time expired.

Open Mic Night

The Red Kestrel reappeared to enter the Boasting contest. I thought Satampra would do well for himself in this one, given that he was the one in the party with the Charisma and social skills, and he even had ranks in Perform! And Aakif loaned the swashbuckler his circlet of persuasion in order to boost his numbers. But his bonuses for Intimidate and Diplomacy were still not that great, and he rolled poorly to boot (as usual). About the best that could be said was that he didn’t place last. Tymon again came in first.

Expecto Stole-num!

I had wanted a contest tailored for the arcanist, and there wasn’t anything in the published adventure, so I consulted the original draft (which one can – or could, anyway – get from Jason Nelson, the author of this chapter). In it is an illusory maze with shadow monsters, created by the menagerie owner Madame Duclarion. I didn’t particularly care for the mechanics of it, so I ripped off Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s third Triwizard Tournament test instead: a hedge maze filled with monsters and magic. Hey, I had just finished reading the book to my daughter and it was fresh in my mind!

Aakif volunteered to brave “the magic maze,” for which I had imagined at least three challenges, plus some Int checks to navigate the twists and turns. The arcanist aced the ability checks and the obstacles he found blocking his way: an iron golem blocking the path (he immediately disposed of it with a create pit spell), a magical fog that would have turned him around like a guards and wards spell (he luckily did not get turned around), and a sphinx (that obstacle I took from the maze in Goblet of Fire). The sphinx’s riddle was, “What comes once in a minute, twice in a moment, but never in a thousand years?” Dante thought for a moment and spoke the correct answer: the letter “m.” Bill figured that Dante must have heard that riddle before and already known the answer, but Dante said that it was new to him and he just puzzled it out. Kudos to him! RIddles and puzzles have the potential to lead to a lot of player frustration so I was glad to dodge that bullet.

The arcanist had gotten through the obstacles so quickly and made the Int checks every time, so I figured he got to the center of the maze before the others, and won first place!

Current Rushlight Rankings:

  1. Caerelia (2 wins)
  2. Tymon (2 wins)
  3. everyone else

Next: who shall win the grand prize?

Kingmaker: War of the River Kings, Session 1, Part 1

For my DMs-only notes on changes I’ve made to this adventure, see here.

The seasons passed, and the kingdom of Caerelia flourished.

To the north, the civil war in Brevoy went on in fits and starts. House Lebeda, who had been supporting the Regent, had pulled back to deal with internal matters after the Tiger Lord barbarians had ravaged their unprotected southern border. The rebel House Orlovsky had also made some sizeable gains against the loyalist House Lodovsky. All in all, it was looking like the Regent’s side was slowly being ground down, and the rulers of Caerelia began to wonder if they could surreptitiously stifle the rebel side (to which they nominally belonged) in order to prolong the conflict. To that end, they used a prayer of sending to deliver a message to Boliden the barbarian, a PC-turned-NPC who was now posing as the “real” Armag and leading the Tiger Lords. They requested that he have his people strike at Pitax instead of Brevoy. He responded that he would do what he could, but that it would likely take some time before his people would be ready to raid again, as they were fat with spoils from Lebeda’s lands.

Meanwhile, our adventurers:

  • Emperor Satampra Zieros, CG male human rogue 3/swashbuckler 9
  • High Priest Remesio, CG male human cleric of Cayden Cailean 12
  • Councilor Orseen, LN male human gnoll warpriest of Iomedae 12
  • Aakif, CN male human arcanist 12

…went around eliminating nearby threats so that they could expand the kingdom’s borders. The PCs cleared out old encounters from Varnhold Vanishing: the ettercaps in the northern mountains and the xills at the Ghost Stone near Vordakai’s tomb. For both I simply narrated what they found and what happened, as neither group was worth the time to run an actual battle. They also cleared out the trio of hill giants in the hills north of Hooktongue Slough, after negotiations with the giants went poorly. Some Exploration Edicts to those same highlands miraculously survived and produced actual results (most every other expedition they had sent into the area had not returned), and the kingdom slowly spread westward.

The treasury was flush with BP – well over 1,000 – and there was some question of what to do with it all. Aakif the arcanist advocated (and not for the first time) withdrawing funds to outfit the group. Satampra the swashbuckler was in favor of the idea this time around, as he wanted more pluses on his sword. And Remesio the cleric suddenly decided that he wanted a disruption weapon. “You already have one sitting in your museum,” I informed him – it wasn’t even that long ago! (maybe that’s what put the idea in his head) “Oh. Why aren’t I using it?” Possibly, I thought but did not say, because your character is awful at melee. Not that it has to be that way – Remesio is high enough level that he could boost his combat potential significantly with spells – but he’s the laziest of my players when it comes to record-keeping and I shudder at the thought of trying to help him apply loads of modifiers to his character.

That King is Poison

In the spring of 4721, a herald arrived from Pitax with an invitation to the Rushlight Tournament! In my version of the Rushlight, in order to explain why the players having never heard of it or been invited to it before, it’s an event that only occurs every so often – basically, when the king feels like it – and is normally restricted to the kingdoms that abide by the Six River Freedoms (which Caerelia does not). However, Irovetti has made an exception for the PCs’ kingdom in this case, now that they are neighbors and such good friends. The rulers quizzed the herald on who will attend and what competitions will be held before sending the man back to Pitax with their RSVP. Then they got to planning!

At first they were going to use the rod of splendor that they got off of Baron Drelev to create an amazing tent, but were saddened to hear that said tent would vanish after a day, while the tourney would last a week. So they had to have a suitably magnificent pavilion commissioned. They also decided to bring their menagerie* with them to impress the yokels, which meant they needed wheeled cages. Finally, they would have Orseen the gnoll warpriest lead the procession from Caerelia to the tourney grounds, signal the group back in the capital when everything was ready, then have the Emperor teleported nearby so that he could arrive on his flying carpet. Emperess Sojana Varn Zieros chose to come along as well, but the rulers left their two children at home.

* The menagerie’s more notable inhabitants consisted of some owlbears, the Mad Hermit’s puma from Rivers Run Red, and Speartooth from Blood for Blood, who had been stabilized and brought back to the capital after its defeat.

But also, they were worried (based partly on meta knowledge, partly on the usual player paranoia) that this was a trap of some sort. Remesio communed with Cayden Cailean, or more sober representatives thereof, and asked about Irovetti’s intentions. Did he mean them harm? YES. Was he going to try and poison them at the tournament? UNCLEAR*. And so on. In the end, they had confirmed that he desired their lands – though, as I pointed out to them, they in turn desired his lands, and they often talked about invading Pitax – but they were left with no idea of the shape that his desire would take, nor of his timeline.

* I was unclear, myself, as to what would transpire. In the original draft of this adventure there is a fake plot to poison the PCs, which is supposed to lead them to go to Whiterose Abbey in the middle of the Rushlight Tournament, and I wasn’t sure in that moment if I wanted to use that or the published route to the monastery. In the end I decided to go with the published adventure’s ideas. I suppose Irovetti himself was toying with the idea of poison – hence the divine answer – but ended up rejecting it before the actual date of the event. And why shouldn’t he? Poison in 3e/PF is weaksauce, mildly debilitating at best, and not at all lethal.

The procession of soldiers and animals left Stagfell and made its way towards the tourney grounds. They arrived a few weeks later, and the laborers got to work setting up the Emperor’s pavilion around a small lake, the “Royal Blue.” While that went on, Orseen consulted with a Pitax official about tickets and whatnot. He was told that the coliseum only had a limited number of boxes for royal parties, which were almost all gone. But one could be secured for the lowly price of 1,000 gp! Bill balked at the price, but the other players (OOC) insisted that he pay the fee, lest the Emperor end up sitting in the stands like a chump.

When the tent was erected and furnished, the warpriest sent for his liege, and Aakif teleported himself, Remesio, Satampra, Sojana, and the flying carpet to just outside the fairgrounds. The group then made their entrance in style! Unfortunately, when they touched down, Orseen relayed a concerning bit of information: “There’s already a menagerie here! And it blows ours out of the water! They’ve got monsters and dinosaurs and everything!”

The Emperor was dismayed. “Well, we’ll just have to pretend that we brought these animals,” he gestured to the caged critters arrayed around the pavilion, “for food! That way we won’t be humiliated.” He turned to address the assembled entourage and informed everyone, “We’re really going to have to sell it, too!” Then Satampra loudly declared so that even those passing by could hear, “Bring me a roasted owlbear leg!” Orseen was upset at the prospect of slaughtering their entire zoo, but then concluded that they would now have a bunch of empty pens to fill with newer, more interesting beasts. Plus, it’s not everyday that one gets to feast on owlbear and dire tigers!

Next: let the games begin!