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Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 12, Part 1

With the jaunts to the faerie realm and then Iobaria concluded, and Orseen the warpriest reincarnated again as a gnoll, it was finally time to address the effects of the First World bloom that had overtaken part of Caerelia. Five hexes in the Narlmarches had been basically destroyed by the rampant growth of giant mushrooms, not to mention an infestation of countless mandragoras. Even worse, the town of Salar’s Rest, built atop the Dancing Lady’s castle, had been obliterated! About one-tenth of the kingdom’s population was just gone, as was the rulers’ “summer” Palace, not to mention – the horror – their door Museum! Unrest was also now at a very unhealthy 16.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on the next kingdom turn, the initial Stability check was failed. The people were angry and fearful – they could be the next victims of a faerie invasion! Luckily the kingdom’s Unrest was only pushed up to 17, and anarchy was averted for the moment. The ruling council, seeking to project and aura of strength, immediately announced plans to clear the unnatural growths and rebuild Salar’s Rest.

As far as reclaiming the hexes went, I looked at what it cost to clear space for a settlement in a forest hex and charged the players that much BP and time. So they had a couple of months before they could rebuild that region, and started looking for ways to bring down Unrest right away. And also to shore up their kingdom bonuses, which were in the gutter – developed settlements generate a lot of pluses, and losing Salar’s Rest had hurt their numbers badly.

So in the meantime they built up Varnhold, which had barely been touched since it had been re-settled, and Last Hope (built atop the once-hidden stag temple) with as much Unrest-lowering, bonus-boosting buildings as they could, with an emphasis on Stability and Loyalty (the kingdom’s Economy was still doing fine). They also commissioned a bunch of new mines in the Kamelands, and founded a new settlement where the Gurdin River emptied into the Lake Silverstep – though it would be a month before they could start building there because of the terrain (hills).

Finally, the disaster had evidently brought the stakeholders in the young kingdom together, for a Political Calm event prevailed as everyone worked together to rebuild.

Caerelia
NG Autocratic Kingdom (pop. 59,600)
Fireday, Arodus 08, 4719 (Turn 107)

Size: 133; Cities: 7; Control DC: 164
Economy: +227; Loyalty: +145; Stability: +165

Fame: +33; Infamy: +7; Unrest: 3; Unrest/Turn: 0
Treasury: 184 BP; Consumption: 0 (-7) BP/turn; Income: +62 BP/turn

What Has Eight Hairy Legs and Isn’t a Spider?

Exploration teams were also sent to fill in the map around Fort Heptamus (a renamed Fort Drelev), but after they did not return, Salar’s Rangers (a Tiny Army of elite ranger 5’s) was sent to do the work instead. On their return, the Rangers reported encounters with a grizzled old giant tiger known locally as Old Speartooth, and an aurumvorax nest, neither of which they were able to clear on their own.

It sounded like a call for action for the heroes of Caerelia! The PCs promptly teleported to Fort Heptamus and flew northwest on their magic carpet, using maps prepared by the Rangers to find their way. Before it was even lunchtime, they had located the creatures’ den – a great hill riddled with burrow holes. (I had mixed up the encounter locations here, accidentally switching Speartooth & the aurumvoraxes’ hexes. As a result the party ran into the aurumvoraxes first, heading NW from Fort Heptamus.)

The PCs stood on the hillside debating how to approach the situation – they didn’t want to go down into the holes, and were thinking about smoking the aurumvoraxes out – when the highly territorial creatures took matters into their own hands! The lair was home to a pair of the beasts, and they had crept out of their burrow out of sight of the adventurers. The dog-sized creatures then slid through the shrubbery on their many legs, sneaking up on the intruders, before pouncing! One slashed at Satampra the swashbuckler, doing minimal damage – even un-buffed, his AC is rather high – and the other leaped onto Orseen’s back, savaging the as-yet unbuffed warrior. However, Aakif the arcanist quickly suffocated the aurumvorax attacking Orseen, and then dazed the other one with a metamagic’d spell, and the violent critters were soon dead.

A lot of hemming and hawing followed – the PCs really didn’t want to go crawling into the burrow! Eventually Aakif cast a locate object spell, looking for gold, after arranging everyone so that the party’s money wouldn’t be the closest result, and got a hit from within the hillside. With confirmation in hand that crawling through the dirt would have a definite payoff, the adventurers dug in. If I wanted to be really cruel here, I would have had them find a single gold coin inside the burrow. 😀 Instead, after hours of crawling around, Satampra’s nose for treasure led them to the aurumvoraxes’ den, where they found bones, lots of coins, a jeweled scepter, a ring of climbing, and a defending kukri +2. Aakif took the kukri for the AC bonus, and they pressed on to the next hex.

Next: Old Speartooth!

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Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 11, Part 2

Out of Gnoll-Where

I mentioned in the previous post that Orseen the human orc warpriest’s player, Bill, had long wanted to play a lizardfolk. I don’t remember when he started bringing it up at the table – sometime during The Varnhold Vanishing, I think – but I didn’t think much of it at first. He has a lot of unusual ideas, and seems like the kind of player who wants to try out lots of different ideas. At first it was just a, “Oh if Orseen dies for good it’s not a big deal, I already know what I want to play next – a lizardfolk magus!” But it kept coming up, so I let him know in no uncertain terms that he could retire Orseen and we’d find a way to work this character into the story, if that’s what he wanted. He always demurred. He really liked Orseen, he said, and didn’t want to stop playing him.

Later we found out Bill had created a whole campaign world that was populated by nothing but the various D&D reptilian humanoid species, and I wondered if maybe this was more than a passing fancy!

Getting back to the current session, I had chosen to base the Iobarian city that the group found themselves in on the old AD&D module I1, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, also known as the first appearance of yuan-ti. Yuan-ti had a thing for turning people into snake-people, and so I carried that aspect over to the serpentfolk located in the city. And as I was planning on what the snake-god’s little speech would be, I realized that rather than finding it horrifying (or at least unpleasant), Bill would probably be really into it (and he was). Which presented the possibility of an odd situation where the antagonists wanted to kidnap the PCs and subject them to awful rituals to turn them into monstrous snake-people, and one of the PCs would be all for it!

Now, as it happened, Orseen dutifully fought by his companions’ side despite his species-dysmorphia and killed the snake-god when the opportunity presented itself. But after beheading the abomination, he made the curious decision to drink its blood, which must have sounded like a really strange decision to make to those reading at home. So there is the missing background information on the warpriest’s odd course of action.

Having anticipated that Bill might do something like that, I had given some thought to how it would turn out. Even if conducted correctly, the transformation process isn’t guaranteed – the degenerate snake people in the sewers attested to the possibility of it going wrong. I imagine that many subjects simply do not survive the process at all. So at the very least, some Fortitude saves were probably in order. Orseen passed those without a problem. Then I had him collapse so I could have time to think about what to do next.

By the time the group had gone through the treasure and returned to Stagfell, I decided that the nature of the act – drinking a serpentfolk abomination’s blood to try and turn into a serpentfolk – was kinda crazy to begin with. In the end, I let his fate fall to dice – get a high (at least 15) result on a Constitution check, and maybe it would kinda sorta work. Bill rolled… poorly. Orseen shuffled off this mortal coil.

Hey, said Bill, that was no problem! It was another shot at the reincarnation roulette wheel! Which would cost another 3,000 gp (1k for the spell, 2k to get rid of the permanent negative levels), which Aakif the arcanist insisted should come out of Orseen’s share of the treasure. A reasonable demand, given that he had died doing something rather dumb and completely voluntary. Bill rolled the percentile, and came up with – gnoll!

As it turned out, this was a pretty good result! Going from human to orc had netted him a +2 increase to Strength and darkvision, albeit at the cost of being sensitive to light. Going from orc to gnoll gave him a +2 increase to Constitution, kept the darkvision, and removed the light sensitivity. Every time Orseen got reincarnated, he traded up!

Furthermore, while gnolls are not reptilian, they are apparently sufficiently monstrous enough that Bill said he felt satisfied. He would no longer strive to play a lizard person.

Instead, he now wanted a fire elemental for a pet. *sigh*

A Good Day to Rest Hard?

Getting back to Caerelia and the main plot, the party divvied up the Iobarian loot and discussed what to do with the magical morningstar that they had found. It was +3 with the disruption and undead bane special abilities, and was worth around 72,000 gp. Remesio the cleric didn’t want it – he had a +2 rapier and Weapon Finesse, and didn’t really hit things anyway. Aakif and Satampra the swashbuckler wanted to sell it and use the gold to make magic items. Orseen argued that it should go in Stagfell’s museum for the Loyalty bonus, which was sorely needed now that one of their major cities had been wiped out in an incursion from the First World. The others went along with the idea – they could certainly use the bonus now, and could always sell the weapon later.

Speaking of the incursion, while the wild fungal growth that had overtaken their territory had stopped expanding, it was slow in dying off. The Caerelian ruling council decided that they would reclaim that land and re-establish a city on the site of Salar’s Rest, though doing so would surely require a lot of effort – and BP! And they would call the new city… Salar’s Rest II – Rest Harder! Or, maybe not.

Next: pulled back from the brink!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 11, Part 1

After some time wandering through the stone halls of the serpent fortress, the adventurers and the human sacrifices that they had liberated came to a chamber with large double doors at the opposite end. It seemed a reasonable assumption that the snake-god was behind those doors, for there was a crowd of snake people guarding them! Or “sneeple,” as they had come to be known among the players. The vile humanoids immediately opened the confrontation by attempting their mind tricks on the PCs, but a dominate failed to control Orseen the orc warpriest, and a suggestion (barely) failed to convince Aakif the enchanter to flee. After that, a more general melee broke out. Despite the serpentfolk’s innate blur and mirror image abilities, they were quickly chopped into serpent chunks.

After the battle, Orseen spent a few minutes admiring the carved wooden double doors and going on about how great they would look in the kingdom’s Door Museum (a running gag that was inspired by the giant bronze doors in Vordakai’s tomb). Then the future museum pieces were kicked open, and the PCs strutted into the hall beyond.

It was a large, long room with a vaulted ceiling that was supported by a half dozen pillars. The far end had a wide dais, and atop that dais sat a massive snake monster! Its coiled body was at least 15 feet in diameter, and the front end of the serpentine body rose 20 feet more to end in a human-like head that swayed back and forth! The giant abomination was flanked by two robed serpentfolk, and six sneeple guards stood by the pillars, scimitars at the ready.

“You have invaded our sssanctum,” boomed a powerful voice in the PCs’ heads. “Ssspilled divine blood. Ssstolen our recruitsss! Intruded upon that which you do not under-ssstand. You could have joined usss! Become like unto godsss, drank from the divine font, sssloughed off your weak flesh… replace-sssed your too-warm blood. You ssstill could… Ssset assside your misss-guided intentionsss. Lay down your weaponsss and spellsss… Crawl to me, crawl to your new massster…”

The PCs all made their saves against the mass suggestion, though the liberated prisoners did not. The ragged humans promptly dropped whatever improvised weapons they had acquired, fell to their knees, and began to crawl forwards.

Aakif quickly summoned a wide circle of black tentacles, which easily ensnared two of the guards. One of the robed figures on the other side of the room moved into the shadows and vanished, and Satampra the swashbuckler activated his boots of haste and ran up to see where it went. However, he failed his Perception check and settled for one-shotting the nearest guard. In retaliation, the other robed serpentfolk, a 10th level psychic sorcerer, rent the swashbuckler’s thoughts (somewhat) asunder with a mind crush. The remaining guards charged Satampra and the casters, accomplishing little but giving Orseen plenty of targets for his flaming greatsword.

After identifying the sneeple sorcerer, Aakif dropped it into an acid pit, which it then dispelled, effectively cancelling out their actions for the round. Remesio finished summoning an insect plague on top of the snake-god and the sorcerer, but they only took minimal damage. That’s one of those spells that’s great against mooks, but it’s not like high-level characters need their top spell slots to deal with mooks in Pathfinder. The hidden serpentfolk, a rogue, appeared and attacked Satampra, but it and the guards didn’t have much luck against his AC and parries, and he sliced them up with ripostes. The abomination hit the arcanist with a spellcrash, and then was charged by the warpriest, who missed.

Aakif started off round three with a suffocation spell on the snake-god, and… it worked. 😦 The sorcerer used id insinuation to confuse Satampra and Remesio (who had run up to heal the swashbuckler) as they finished off the rogue and guards, and they suddenly perceived each other turning into snake people! On its turn, the snake-god failed its second save (maybe this should have happened on Aakif’s next turn, as he basically got two rounds of effectiveness out of the spell), fell to -1 hit points, and was then coup de grace‘d by Orseen.

The serpentfolk sorcerer got dropped into another acid pit, which it did not emerge from, as it had teleported away. Orseen’s player Bill, who had been wanting to play a lizardfolk for ages now, took the snake-god’s words to heart and thought he still might have a chance to grow scales if he drank of its essence. He was all in for sloughing off his flesh and whatnot. And the thing’s blood was obviously the “divine font,” right?! So having chopped off its head, Orseen started sucking down the fluids spurting out of its massive neck. The others pried him off the corpse, but he soon became ill and collapsed into a feverish sleep.

While the cleric tended to the warpriest, the others discovered that behind the snake-god’s body was its treasure! Arrayed around a blood-stained stone altar were piles of coins and gems and jewelry. Aakif soon identified several magic items as well, including a +3 disruption undead-bane morningstar that was worth a lot of gold.

All that was left were the ex-sacrifices, who had thankfully been freed from their compulsion to crawl before they had gotten too far. Not wanting to waste time finding a route out of the fortress, Remesio and Aakif ferried the wretches and the other PCs to the streets outside with teleports, and then the flying carpet was used to take the people back to their villages. The rescuers were asked to stay on and celebrate the unexpected return of the villagers and, more importantly, the destruction of the sneeples, and although the accommodations were humble, the PCs appreciated the sentiment.

Once the festivities wound down, the group gathered up and teleported one last time, bound for home.

Next: Orseen’s fate!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 10, Part 2

The adventurers were picking their way through an ancient cyclops sewer, running underneath an “abandoned” city in the cursed land of Iobaria. Save for the sound of trickling water, an eerie silence suffused the tunnels and channels that they traversed; the darkness seemed to swallow the very sound of their footsteps, and there were no animal noises to be heard.

When Someone Asks You If You’re a God

After the group spent some time wandering the decrepit passageways, they did eventually stumble across some signs of life. Unfortunately it came in the form of an attack, as they found themselves surrounded by a motley crew of misshapen humanoids! The assailants were dressed in rags, and looked as if random bits and parts of their bodies had been replaced by reptile bits. Patches of scales instead of skin, snakes instead of limbs, lidless eyes and venom-filled fangs, scaly tails, and so on. The mongrel creatures roared at the explorers, and commanded them to depart, though their mouths did not move and there was no sound – they were communicating telepathically!

Satampra the swashbuckler stepped forward and unleashed a dazzling display of sword-play, seemingly striking each of the mongrel snake-people in front of him before they could react, but in reality not harming any of them. The creatures, awed by his deadly skill, cowered and fell back, allowing the PCs to strut past.

“Wait!” said a voice in their minds, before they had passed the mogrelmen completely by. “Pleassse ssstay, oh mighty onesss!” (why did they hiss when speaking telepathically? why not!) The praise surprised Satampra, and he turned back to see what it was that these pathetic wretches wanted with his greatness. “Sssnake people up above, hurt usss, forssse usss to live down here… But you are ssstrong, ssstronger even than their god, you can hurt them! Then they cannot hurt usss anymore…”

“Well, we are stronger than many gods, it’s true,” admitted the humble swashbuckler. “Show us where these other snake people are, and we will see what we can do.”

Snake Me Home Tonight

The adventurers were led through the sewer tunnels to the bottom of… a privy shaft. Hey, if you want to break into a place through the plumbing, you gotta expect to get a little dirty! The PCs were squeamish, aside from Orseen the warpriest, who impatiently pushed the others aside and squeezed himself up and through. After he called down the all-clear, the others reluctantly followed.

Beyond the latrine was the interior of a crumbling stone building. Its inhabitants (for the place was definitely inhabited, as a lit torch in a sconce attested to) had seemingly tried to cover up the signs of decay with tapestries and rugs and elaborately carved furniture. The decorations did not match in any way, and the explorers could only assume they had been plundered from all over the city, and perhaps beyond.

Aakif the arcanist covered the group in an invisibility sphere, though without a miracle of silence they had no real hope for moving around undetected. So Satampra scouted ahead on his own, and soon found a small meeting hall that was currently in use! Five serpent-people in robes were engaged in what appeared to be an animated conversation, except there was no sound and their mouths didn’t move. Like the mangled creatures in the sewers, these snake-folk could speak with their minds! The group gradually left the room, “talking” as they went.

The swashbuckler went on, spying on a few more serpentfolk walking around, and then snuck back to the others to fill them in. Orseen wanted to make friends, of course, and while the others had a dim view of the prospects of such a course of action, they figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The PCs thus set out to find some snake-people to introduce themselves to. But before they could find a suitable diplomatic representative, they came across a room of caged humans!

The prisoners, under the dirt and blood, looked like they came from a society of simple hunter-gatherers. When they saw Satampra, they hissed a warning to him, telling him to get out before he, too, was captured. Instead, he got out his lockpicks and worked on freeing them! Once the cages had been opened, the former occupants thanked Satampra for the rescue… but also, they had no idea how to get back to their homes! The adventurers resolved to lead them to safety – or at least over to the latrine.

Along the way, they ran into another group of snake-people (now dubbed “sneeples” by Orseen), who didn’t seem too inclined to talk, and instead attacked! The monstrous humanoids were quickly dispatched, despite them all exhibiting magical abilities and Orseen falling into one of Aakif’s acid pits. Soon after, the PCs were back at the privy, exhorting the former captives to climb inside. The captives, unsurprisingly, balked.

“It’s safe enough,” assured Orseen, “There are some half-snake people down there, but they like us.”

“Sure, they like you. They’re going to eat us!”

The players were unsure of how to proceed – they didn’t want to leave a potential loot situation to escort these people to safety. After questioning the prisoners a bit, they learned that they had lived in the forests around the forbidden ruins of the city, and had been captured there by the serpentfolk. As far as they knew, the sneeples were planning to sacrifice them to their snake-god. The players then concluded that the quickest way to save everyone was to kill the god! They set out again, looking for the human sacrifice room, liberated prisoners in tow.

Next: to slay a snake-god!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 10, Part 1

So, what do we know about Iobaria? It’s the large area off of the eastern edge of the Stolen Lands map, neighbor to Brevoy and the Nomen Heights. It is a land that seen the rise and fall of several empires, both human and cyclops. And it has been so devastated by various plagues over the millennia that most of its cities lay abandoned, and the few remaining people live primitive lives in the harsh wilderness. Why do plagues love Iobaria so much? It’s not said, but given that there have been several major ones there and hardly a mention of any Black Death-like events elsewhere in Golarion (that I’m aware of, anyway) makes it seem like there’s a definite (unstated?) reason behind it all.

Fun fact: Choral the Conqueror, who invaded Issia and Rostland and turned them into Brevoy, originally hailed from Iobaria!

The PCs had arrived in this cursed land thanks to a plane shift spell, and were stuck there until happy hour (when Remesio the cleric could recover his spells and teleport them home). The group’s knowledge of Iobaria was sparse; they had never had a reason to go there before, and anyway, it was off the map! Although it should be said that Orseen the warpriest has wanted to conquer the place since he first learned of its existence, as he does with any neighboring realms, despite being repeatedly told that there wasn’t much there to conquer. As this might have been my only opportunity to showcase the place, and as the party probably wouldn’t even be spending the night, I wanted to make it memorable.

After reading up on it (here is the wiki page; which is mostly drawn from the gazetteer in Varnhold Vanishing) I thought an abandoned city built atop an ancient cyclopean ruin would make for an interesting location. It might even tempt the players to do some treasure hunting while they wait! The setup reminded me a bit of the old AD&D module I1, Dwellers of the Forbidden City. A ruined city populated by mutants and degenerate snake-people certainly seemed in keeping with a place ripped apart by magical plagues. That the ghouls in I1 turned their victims to jelly even lined up with one of the listed plagues! In the end I took some ideas from the gazetteer, mixed in other ideas from the module, and kitbashed some monster stats in Hero Lab. And hoped that the party wouldn’t just hop on their carpet and fly away!

As an aside, that Choral was from such a cursed place, and was either allied with red dragons or was one himself, and that red and white dragons had allied with the last real kingdom in Iobaria (before the “drakeplague” killed most of them off) and were actually allied at the time of his conquest of Issia and Rostland, and that the condition of that alliance was that the cyclopes’ ruins be ceded to the wyrms, and that the drakeplague occurred a mere 20 years after Choral created Brevoy, (deep breath) and that the Vanishing of Choral’s bloodline happened exactly 200 years after that conquest… well. Putting all of that together says to me that the Vanishing was caused by some ancient cyclops curse, or some cyclops debt come due. As my players have been interested in the cause of the Vanishing and have gone looking for answers, it feels good to have finally arrived at the beginnings of an answer.

I didn’t want to detail the city or its inhabitants too much, since as I mentioned the players likely wouldn’t be staying long. I quickly settled on Leng ghouls as ghouls that could actually play in the PCs’ ballpark, and modified gelatinous cubes for the once-humans who had been turned to ooze by the ghouls. There’s no yuan-ti in Pathfinder, but the serpentfolk are similar enough. I built some different options by adding class levels, and picked a deep naga with a couple of sorcerer levels as a stand-in for the yuan-ti abomination, on the off chance the PCs went after their lair.

The City That Never Sleeps

So, our adventurers arrived in the middle of an abandoned city that looked like it had been built by giants and refurbished by humans. Cliffs surrounded the ruin on all sides. The group debated whether to just wait in a rope trick until happy hour or to go looking for treasure, and the desire for treasure won out. They hopped on their flying carpet and floated close to the ground, so as not to be spotted, heading towards the closest tall structure: a four-sided stone pyramid. The pyramid had no obvious entrances at its base, but flying upwards they saw part of its upper portion had collapsed, allowing entry to a chamber inside. The areas that had been exposed to the elements were covered in dirt and debris, but they found passageways that led further in, to better preserved chambers.

They found signs of burial artifacts, but it looked as if much that could have been valuable had already been picked over. After some time they were surprised by a group of translucent human-shaped oozes, but the creatures were easily dispatched.

Eventually they located what appeared to be the main burial chamber of the pyramid, but it had already been looted – from the inside! A dusty tunnel that led underground still remained, perhaps leading back to the thieves… The group decided to go down. They found rough earthen tunnels and rooms, bones, bits of broken and discarded items from the pyramid above, and… fresh tracks in the dirt! The prints looked like they came from barefoot, clawed humanoids. They pressed on, only to be ambushed by three ghouls hanging from the ceiling!

After weathering the surprise round, Satampra the swashbuckler and Orseen fought back while Aakif the arcanist used Arcane Step to transport himself to the ceiling. Remesio was quickly paralyzed by the ghoul’s touch, and matters went downhill from there. One ghoul joined the arcanist on the ceiling, forcing him to retreat more and more from the rest of the party. One was cut down by Satampra’s sword and a barrage of magic missiles, but not before the swashbuckler was paralyzed as well. Orseen picked up a nasty disease from the last ghoul, which started to turn his flesh into ooze, and then he, too was paralyzed!

The one ghoul on the ground started to feast on Orseen, who was alive but could not move, and soon the one on the ceiling had paralyzed Aakif. Luckily Remesio had overcome his paralyzation by that point. Seeing that the warpriest was likely dead, he grabbed the immobile swashbuckler, Dimension Hopped over to Aakif, reached up, and dimension door’d them back up to the surface. After they could move again and were healed, they headed back for their fallen companion.

They found the remaining ghouls still eating the warpriest – he’s a big guy! – though they heard the adventurers approaching and went into hiding. The PCs flushed them out with AoE spells, and then went to town. The last one ended up trapped by Evard’s black tentacles, and pleaded for its unlife to no avail. Once it had expired, the group scooped up the warpriest’s remains and one of the ghouls (for a create treasure map spell) and teleported home to Stagfell.

It’s Not Easy Being Orseen

Now, Orseen’s player Bill really likes lizard people, and wanted to eschew the traditional raise dead for a reincarnate from the kingdom’s druid PC-turned-NPC Iofur on the off-chance he could become one. He had a 1% chance – a result of 94 on d100 – to change his race to lizardfolk. He rolled… a 93! But the 3 was cocked a little, and anyway becoming a kobold would have probably meant the end for Orseen, so I let him re-roll that die. Now he had a 10% chance! He rolled a 7, for a 97 total, meaning that Orseen came back as… an orc. Orseen was now “Orc-seen,” also known as “Porcine.” On the plus side, the change boosted his Strength and gave him Darkvision. On the downside, he was now a warpriest for a sun goddess who was sensitive to sunlight.

While the warpriest recovered, Aakif sliced the withered skin off the back of the ghoul they had taken home and used it for a create treasure map spell. The roll of skin was filled with a map of the caverns under the pyramid, showing X‘s where all the ghouls’ treasure was located. On the next day, they teleported back to the ghouls’ lair, tracked down the treasure, disarmed the traps, and counted their loot (lots of coins, potions, and scrolls).

Feeling invigorated by treasure haul, the group wanted to explore more of the area. A thorough reconnoitering of the tunnels turned up an entrance into an ancient giant-sized sewer system, which they thought might be a handy way to get around the city unseen. And so they plunged into the inky depths.

Next: sewers of the serpent people!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 9, Part 2

One plane shift later, and the adventurers found themselves in the First World city of Gorias. They had come, as before, seeking information, and headed directly to the library that they had visited on their previous journey. The library’s caretaker, a giant talking owl named Ibis Sophus, greeted them as they entered. Forgetting their original intention of learning how to contact the Owl Prince, a powerful fey they sometimes met with in Golarion, they peppered the avian sage with questions about the Green Lady and these new beings that they guessed to be working with her – the Misbegotten Troll, the Gnurly Witch, the Wriggling Man.

Ibis told them what he knew of the Green Lady – that she had been a lover of one of the Elders of the First World in ages past. That Elder, Count Ranalc, had been banished to the Shadow Realm and had not been heard from since. The Green Lady suffered as well – the Elders punished her, and since that time she has spent her days in her demesne of Thousandbreaths, rarely venturing outside of its borders. He added that she had invited figures of a similar stature to herself to come live in her realm, but only those of the lowest repute would associate with one who had earned the ire of the Elders.

Satampra the swashbuckler showed the owl the map of Thousandbreaths from Zuddiger’s Picnic, which interested the creature greatly. Satampra’s player had theorized that the locations on the map might correspond to places in the First World that they had previously visited, including Gorias itself. But Ibis told him that he was mistaken. Their questions exhausted, the group paid the sage for his services and promised to return with a copy of the Thousandbreaths map.

Welcome to My Nightmare

The Emperor’s next big idea was to plane shift and then teleport to the one place they had been to that appeared to be part of Thousandbreaths, according to Zuddiger’s Picnic and its map – the giant frozen graveyard (location C in Thousandbreaths). Ooops. I had let the party visit there a long time back, as part of my efforts to foreshadow book 6. But now they were 12th level and could travel there at will! A smarter DM would have had the post-plane shift teleport fail, as part of the weirdness surrounding the Green Lady’s home. Instead I figured they would go there, get spanked by the first thing they ran into, and run home in short order.

What ended up happening instead was they arrived in the graveyard, where it was eternally winter and the markers rose taller than people, and promptly got on their flying carpet and headed north. This took them past the massive Nightmare Rook (location D), who saw them and launched into the sky to run them down. It was faster than they were, so the adventurers flew down into the forest to avoid the bird, only stopping when they reached the wall around the Fruiting Orchard (location E), which Satampra wanted to see to confirm his theory that it was a mushroom city. The Rook swooped down, ripping up trees with its massive talons as it sought to reach the PCs. Aakif the arcanist cast fly on Orseen the warpriest and then lobbed enervation after enervation at the beast, until it was forced to run away. Don’t tell anyone, but I let it take damage beyond its hit points so that it wouldn’t die at this early stage… All in all, the Rook was a real disappointment for its CR.

Meanwhile, Satampra scaled the wall around the orchard, determined to find out what was there. What he found was an area that looked much like the bloom that had spawned in Caerelia, and that was similarly overrun with mandragoras. But the little blood sucking plants, instead of swarming over the swashbuckler and draining his blood, gathered together in a great mass that grew taller and taller, until it resembled a giant mandrake monster!

To cover the Nightmare Rook’s escape, I brought in the black dragon Ilthuliak (from nearby location J), who was invisible and conjured an acid fog to hinder the PCs. My foreshadowing had turned into a full-blown spoiler! Luckily, the adventurers decided that between the unknown caster and the giant mandragora, it was a good moment to run away, and I didn’t have to bring in any more of the Green Lady’s minions to chase off four 12th-level PCs…

When the party tries to return, I will probably say that the Green Lady, Wriggling Man, and Gnurly Witch will have erected a teleport-proof barrier around Thousandbreaths. Within the story, this will have the effect of delaying progress on their larger goal, so that whether they discover the truth or not, the players will have made a difference in the fate of the Stolen Lands with their impromptu assault. I am also going to rebuild the Nightmare Rook. It should, at the very least, have Power Attack, and looking at the latest version of the Advanced Bestiary, I see it should have the Nightmare Lord template instead of Nightmare Creature, owing to its Hit Dice.

Note: It’s come to my attention that the First World isn’t supposed to be accessible via plane shift. This is mentioned in the final adventure, and it’s why the PCs need trophies from the blooms to access Thousandbreaths at that point. I goofed on that ages ago, I suppose. On the other hand, the party still could have traveled to the First World by finding another portal (like a faerie ring) and then teleporting to Gorias or Thousandbreaths or wherever after stepping through. I’ll have to have a talk with the players about this.

Anyway, the plane shift back to Golarion took them a couple of hundred miles to the east, which landed them in the cursed land of Iobaria. Normally the PCs would teleport to their true destination after traversing dimensions, but Remesio the cleric had used his one domain spell to get them to the graveyard, and Aakif had used up all of his high level slots during the battle. So they were stuck, at least until they could recover spells.

Next: layover in Iobaria!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 9, Part 1

The group had been surrounded by innumerable mandragoras – evil mandrake plant creatures – who now threatened to bury the adverturers! The mandragora swarm is a CR 13 creature (taken from book 6 of the adventure path), which I figured should be a fairly easy battle for four 12th level characters. As it turned out, though, I didn’t look closely enough at the stat block, which appeared to have been designed by a real rat bastard of a DM.

Aakif the arcanist leveled a fireball into the crowd of little root babies as the plants rushed towards, dropped onto, or came up under the party. Satampra the swashbuckler, not having any particularly good area of effect attacks and noting that his sword would do little against such numbers, broke out his wand of sound burst. Orseen the warpriest didn’t even have that, so he swung his flaming greatsword around even though it had no appreciable effect. But it looked cool?

The creatures shrieked, and everyone had to make a DC 25 Fort save or be nauseated for 1d4 rounds. Then everyone took 5d6 points of damage, 1d6 points of Strength damage from blood drain, had to make a DC 27 Fort save or be confused by poison (which required 2 consecutive saves to get rid of), and then had to make a DC 25 Fortitude save or be nauseated by the standard swarm distraction ability.

The arcanist, who was the group’s best weapon against the swarm, failed his saves against basically everything. The others endured the mandrakes’ terrible shriek and resisted their poison for a few rounds, but were up and down on whether they could do anything useful due to the distraction of being covered in little venomous monsters that were biting them and sucking their blood. Orseen held out the longest with a string of impressive Fort saves, which was unfortunate in that he was the one character who couldn’t do much against the swarm. He bravely attempted to carry immobile people out of the swarm, but didn’t have much luck. Especially when a confused Satampra started trying to stab him.

On the positive side, all the Strength damage meant that attacking oneself or another party member due to the confusion resulted in less than normal damage!

When lucid and able to act, Aakif and Remesio the cleric managed to hit the swarm with some area of effect spells, but after several rounds it was still at around half hit points and the situation was looking like a potential TPK if they didn’t run. Luckily, they did run, teleporting back to the capital and leaving their flying carpet behind.

That Sucked… Blood

After recovering from the poison, resting, restorting the Strength damage (most of the PCs took 10 points!), resting again, and going back all sneaky-like to get their carpet, the rulers of Caerelia were ready to assess the damage. The bloom’s growth had slowed, but not before it had engulfed Salar’s Rest, the Versailles to Stagfell’s Paris! An examination from above revealed that the city buildings had been destroyed by rampant plant growth, which shot through roofs and toppled over walls. Of the 6,000 some inhabitants – 10% of the kingdom’s population – there was no sign. “They probably got their blood sucked out by those mandragoras and turned into compost,” grimly noted the Emperor.

What to do when the kingdom loses a small city? If I individually demolished every plot, that would increase Unrest by 1 per occupied square on the district map, or +61 Unrest for Salar’s Rest. By the rules, you lose control at an Unrest of 20! I decided this horrific event was worth +15 Unrest just to keep things manageable (10 for the city + 1 for each lost hex). Even so, the kingdom still couldn’t fail an Economy check, though with the loss of such a big settlement its Loyalty and Stability checks became near-impossible.

Iofur the druid spent some days examining the area while Marshall Pelagia and her rangers patrolled its borders. The mandragoras weren’t too tough in small numbers, and the kingdom’s guardians were able to keep the threat contained. Iofur eventually reported that it looked like the incursion had lost steam, and it was dying off faster than it was expanding.

Aakif spent some time, aided by Stagfell’s +12 to Knowledge (arcana) checks, trying to formulate some theory about what had occurred. It seemed like the strange figures encountered at the bloom’s epicenter had conducted an epic sort of ritual that could transplant part of one reality into another. Though from what they had said, it wasn’t working the way they wanted it to… yet.

The arcanist, aided by Stagfell’s general +8 to non-arcana Knowledge checks, also sought clues as to the identities of those visitors. In books of stories from the land of faeries, he found references to the Misbegotten Troll, whose name had been spoken by the hag. Further research in that vein led to mentions of other strange, wondrous, and fearful beings. Two likely candidates for the hag and worm-man were:

The Gnurly Witch, one of three sisters who had cruelly betrayed her family and had been cursed for her wickedness, and

The Wriggling Man, a wizard whose will to know everything was so strong that he bargained with an Elder of the First World for immortality. While he did die, his consciousness lived on in the worms that consumed his mortal remains.

Satampra had the idea that they should consult the Owl Prince, a noble fey that held court a couple of hexes north of the capital. But the proper phase of the moon that would herald his presence was still two weeks away. “We don’t know where he lives in the First World, do we,” said Drew, Satampra’s player. Which struck me as an odd idea – I have never thought where the Owl Prince or other faeries were located when they weren’t appearing in the human world. Would they be in the First World? But it didn’t matter, they had no more idea than I did where the Prince could be. Drew reasoned that they could find out, perhaps, in the faerie city of Gorias, where they had visited seeking answers once before. And so preparations were made to travel to the faerie realm, hopefully to get some answers.

Next: give a hoot!