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Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Session 19, Part 1

March 7, 2015

Baby Swap

hellboy_the_corpse_1As the winter dragged on, disturbing stories made their way to Councilor Breen Everstead’s ears: infants in Caerelia had become possessed by dark forces! The babies acted normal most of the time, the rumors claimed, but when they were alone with their mothers, they would speak! And they would not just talk, but they would say awful, terrible things. Panic began to spread as parents all over the area interpreted any change in their children’s behavior as a sign of demonic possession.

Working together, High Priest Simon Wellread and the new Magister Silva Zareen investigated the claims. They found no proof of possession, but they did discover three babies that had somehow been replaced by changelings – the offspring of a human male and a hag, who are often placed in human homes to be raised. The changelings could be identified because they recoiled from the touch of cold iron. The ruling council confiscated the three little guys and told their parents that they would locate and return their real children.

This was an event of my own devising. Inspired by the “Cult of Gyronna” event in the adventure (which will be coming up soon), and by the Hellboy comic “The Corpse” (which is about getting a baby back from the faeries), I wanted to create an event that would weave together both the hag and the faerie subplots of the adventure path, and at the same time pay homage to a story that I really love. But as the session approached, I realized that this adventure had already gone on for a long time, and I should be looking to wrap it up rather than to stuff more into it. After all, the 1st book had lasted 14 sessions, and we were already on the 19th for this one. So while I kept my original set-up, I decided to turn it into more of a roleplaying event, as well as an opportunity for the players to get some answers to their questions.

So, back to the recap! The council appointed the young Magister to watch over, care for, and if possible interrogate the changeling children. After performing what research she could in Stagfell’s libraries and consulting with the Old Beldame, Silva went back to the changelings and invoked ancient pacts that would require them to give her a hint of where the human children were. The changeling infants responded in unison that she should travel to the old river crossroads at midnight, when the moon is waxing gibbous.

A few days later, the PCs rode north from Stagfell under the cold light of the waxing moon. They traveled to the ford where the Thorn River flowed into the Shrike, and camped near the river crossing until the dead of night. At midnight, a creaking sound heralded the sudden appearance of a ghostly hanging post, complete with a ghostly rope attached to a ghostly hanging corpse. The body slowly swung to and fro, silent save for the complaints of the rope and the post. As the living gathered around, the ethereal figure raised one of its dead arms to point to the north. After walking a short distance in that direction, the rulers discovered a strange gathering atop a hill that was untouched by the snow.

There was a bald man who was at least 7 feet tall, with skin the color of dusk and wearing a long, heavy cloak made of owl feathers. He appeared to have antlers growing from his head, but as the group approached they saw that they were actually tree branches. The man was surrounded by small faeries of all sorts: spriggans, pixies, grigs, brownies, and more. There was even a faerie dragon, which Simon the cleric found to be incredibly adorable. The assemblage turned to confront the approaching humans, and the man briefly bowed his head to Satampra Zieros the swashbuckler. “Greetings, O Emperor Zieros. What brings you to our hill upon this winter night?” Upon hearing their Ruler be addressed in that manner, some of the other players congratulated Satampra’s for finally getting someone to call him “Emperor” (his preferred title) without sarcasm.

The man introduced himself as the Owl Prince. When the rulers asked about the babies, he pulled aside his cloak to show the three infants, sitting by his feet and playing with tiny little faeries that flitted about their heads. We did not take the children, he informed the humans, they were gifts from “the three witches” (the hag coven). My intention was that the players could perhaps learn more about the hags that had been causing problems for them, but they didn’t bother to ask. Instead they were more curious about why exactly faeries accepted human babies as gifts, which led to a whole discussion about the ecology of the fey folk and the nature of the First World. Once that line of inquiry was exhausted, they just wanted to know how to go about getting the kids back.

The Owl Prince was willing to return the children in return for an unspecified favor in the future. After some discussion, Satampra agreed with the stipulation that the favor not involve doing anything really evil, or giving up any of the council member’s own future offspring. Also, the fey had to stop accepting babies from the hags. The faerie prince agreed, and returned the infants.

With the babies secured, Satampra did ask the faerie gathering about Hargulka. Who was he? Was he a troll? The prince wasn’t too interested in discussing trolls, but he did say that there was a storm gathering that threatened to blow Caerelia away, and that Hargulka and the hags were but the first drops of rain. That caught their attention! They wanted to know more about “the storm,” and the fey lord replied, “But you already know her. One of you even wears her favor upon your finger.” And he nodded at Mestinous the elven wizard, current bearer of the Stag Lord’s magic ring.

And so I got to drop some information on them after all, even if it was about the BBEG and not the more immediate threats. The Owl Prince did not name the Green Lady, but he did repeat some of her titles that the group has already heard – the Mistress of Whispers, the Queen of Forgotten Time. He told them that she had laid claim to these lands, and would not tolerate their presence here. They asked if she was a god, and that led to an explanation of how there are no gods in the First World, but there are the supremely powerful Elders. Was the Green Lady an Elder? The prince would not comment.

The humans took their leave, and on the journey home fell into a long discussion about what to do with the magic ring. Boliden the barbarian and Mestinous related to the group tales of the dreams and visions they had experienced while wearing the ring: lust and conquest with a woman who was the ideal of beauty for each of them. Oh, and a thorn-wrapped sword was sometimes involved. Mestinous decided to remove the ring from his hand, and after hearing about the nature of the dreams, Simon volunteered to wear it next. But the group forbade it, reasoning that actually wearing the ring was potentially dangerous. There was talk of destroying it, but in the end Mestinous simply put it on a chain around his neck. He wanted to see if it still affected him when it wasn’t on his finger.

After returning to Stagfell, the children were reunited with their grateful parents. As for the changelings, they were simply gone. They had disappeared from their cribs on the same night that the rulers had gotten the human babies back. And you know, the council never did bother to figure out just who switched the babies in the first place…

With that matter seemingly resolved, the adventurers set out to explore the last corner of the Narlmarches on their map of the Greenbelt. For it was surely there that they would finally locate the domain of Hargulka and the hags.

Next: into the woods!

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