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Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Session 21, Part 1

April 5, 2015

What’s a Little Intortugation between Friends?

While protestors gathered outside of the Stag Lord’s fort and the other PCs wondered about the efficacy of fireball as a long-term crowd-control tool, Simon Wellread the cleric sat in his private room with the head of the rabble-rouser, Grigori. Right before his arrest and execution, Grigori had claimed to have a witness to the murder of commoners by Caerelia’s rulers. Although many (all?) of Grigori’s accusations had at least a kernel of truth to them, none of the other PCs had seemed interested in knowing where that particular charge came from, or who his witness was, during the “intortugation.” (a new word coined by Breen’s player this session) Now that Grigori was dead, Mestinous the elven wizard and Spymaster had his spies out searching for the witness, if the man existed. But to what end? Was Mestinous trying to silence the witness? Or maybe the Spymaster was just following up on loose ends? Simon wasn’t sure anymore. But he knew where he might find some answers.

He prayed to the gods for the power to speak with dead, and then commanded a splinter of Grigori’s spirit to return to its former shell. The head twitched and moaned, and Simon began to question it. Did the witness exist, he asked. Yes, whispered the head in a dry, raspy rush of phantom breath. How would I recognize the witness in a crowd? The top is black, but the roots are red, said the head. Where should I look for the witness? Where the lost elk was found, answered the head, and then it ceased its motion as the spirit departed the flesh.

The Trouble with Riddles

So, speak with dead says the answers should be short and cryptic. When handing out clues, especially mysterious clues, the challenge as the DM in my opinion is to make them so easy that a child could solve them, without making it look like they’re all that easy. If the riddle appears to be too simple, you’re possibly insulting your players’ intelligence but also, if the mystery is guarding something (e.g. answer this riddle to get past this door), then the players are going to wonder why no one has already solved it. But my point is, anything truly cryptic will be mis-interpreted or will simply stump the players. Every time. Every. Time. In this case, Simon’s Q&A was taking place outside of the game so I thought that I could go a little cryptic, but it didn’t work. Simon’s player is smart but not the most engaged, and what is obvious to me is not obvious to people who only interact with the story for a few hours every other week.

I won’t say yet what I was going for with my answers, in case anyone wants to guess (please do!), but it’s safe to say that Simon’s player didn’t figure it out, at least not at this time. He had his underlings look for a man with red boots in town, searched the fort for incriminating evidence against his companions, and then started having Mestinous followed. None of which has born any fruit, as of yet.

Perhaps a better way to go with riddles is to be super vague and mysterious, without assigning a particular meaning to any of it. When the players fixate on a particular interpretation, make that the truth and run with it. That’s probably what I should have done here.

As an aside, I find Simon’s investigation to be more than a little ironic since it was Simon’s player who instigated the murders (as his former character, Travaris) that his current character is now looking into.

Ocarina of DEATH!

The other follow-up from the previous session was the new excavation in the fort’s earthen cellar. The players noticed it when they brought Grigori down there, but were too busy intortugating to deal with it. Now that the basement was empty of prisoners again, they could take the time for a proper look. What they found is that someone had created an opening through the hard-packed dirt to reveal a pre-existing 5’ diameter hollow. There was a rectangular impression on the bottom of the space where, perhaps, a chest had once rested, and the walls held strange writings and drawings. Mestinous used his bonded sword to recall a comprehend languages spell, and deciphered the text. It spoke of a musical instrument that could be used to summon and control a fell beast. The images on the walls depicted some huge bipedal monster killing and eating people.

For those who are familiar with Dudemeister’s Monster Kingdom mod, this was my way of introducing Talonquake, and how Hargulka would summon it, to the players.

The group assembled the servants and guards of the fort and asked them about the new room in the basement. From what they were able to gather, the opening appeared around the time that the changeling babies disappeared. They players suspected that the babies had somehow broken into the chamber and stolen the instrument (a magical flute) before fleeing. I doubt they’ll ever discover the truth, but what really happened is that the hag coven was responsible for liberating their children, and broke into the hollow and took the flute on the same night.

Sorry!

Finally, the players had to deal with the fallout of Grigori’s martyrdom. The NPC nobles on the council were pissed – they considered this a boneheaded move and a self-inflicted wound. The idealistic Marshal, Pelagia Medyved, further considered it a crime. Warden Kesten Garess demanded that the “small” council (the 6 PCs) stopped hiding important matters from the rest of them. After some talk among themselves, and thanks to the return of Iofur’s player after missing the past few sessions, the party decided to apologize to the council (although Mestinous was defensive to the end), and to promise to consult the full council before making big decisions in the future.

With that resolved, the council considered how to address the current unrest. They came down to two possibilities – rebuild the fort into a proper castle (-4 unrest), or build a town hall as a symbol of the rulers’ willingness to listen to the wishes of the people (normally a town hall doesn’t affect unrest, but I ruled that building one at this time would lower unrest by 1). In other words, should they quell the protests with intimidation, or diplomacy? The PCs and the NPCs were evenly divided on which route to take. Five council members were in favor of each option, and the Magister (a young witch) was undecided. Finally Emperor Satampra the swashbuckler switched his vote to “intimidation” and that side won the vote. But unfortunately for the kingdom, they didn’t actually have the BP to rebuild the castle on the upcoming kingdom turn. And the high unrest meant that there was a real chance that they could fail the Economy check and thus not collect enough additional BP. So they were pinning their hopes on weathering the storm until they could scrape together enough resources to finish the castle.

Whither the Trolls?

I had been planning for a while to have a Mass Combat unit of trolls attack the player’s kingdom, as per the “ATTACK!” event from the aforementioned Monster Kingdom mod. In theory, now was the perfect time for the trolls to strike! The kingdom was paralyzed by internal issues and wouldn’t be able to mount a proper defense. But did I really want to hit the players when they were down? After some back and forth, I eventually decided to take it easy on them for now. It seemed to me that it just wouldn’t be much fun for them. And critically, I feel that it would be poor introduction to the mass combat rules if they got pushed into an encounter that they would have little hope of winning.

Next: the cult of Gyronna!

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9 Comments
  1. Pinkius permalink

    Where the lost elk was found, Temple of the Elk, dur. He’s wearing a black shirt/hat and red pants.
    You detailed the map the PCs have with what they’ve explored right? We had access to a map of the greenlands that we updated with little labelled pictograms every encounter. So Temple of the Elk was this little labelled token on our map the entire campaign.

    • The Temple of the Elk, yes. *I* thought that one was obvious, but it wasn’t to Simon’s player.

      The first clue was meant perhaps more literally, though. My thought was that if Grigori was going to bring the lone surviving woodsman back into Caerelia, he would want to disguise him. Otherwise Grigori would risk one of the council members who knew the man seeing him and recognizing him.

      • Pinkius permalink

        More literal… he painted the man black and red?

      • Ha! Painted the top, maybe…

  2. Pinkius permalink

    It’d be really interesting if the council started encountering GOOD npcs and creatures trying to investigate their crimes in the interest of justice.
    To start with, they’d have serious alignment penalties for murdering paladins and the like, which sort of makes the idea daunting. If you don’t think they could pull off a little misdirection, maybe point do-gooders at the legitimate troll threat (although claims of corrupt officials are certainly legitimate themselves) then you might have to give them a little leeway, just a little manslaughter is easily brushed aside when you kill as many bandits, undead and trolls as the Heroes!

    Perhaps they’ve karma-ly come out even?

    • I’ve toyed with the possibility that one or both of the great houses that have backed them – Medyved and Orlovsky – might take issue with how they’ve been running things. Especially Medyved, since one of their own sits on the council as Marshal and thus knows some of the dirt already.

      I dunno who else would really care. While they have committed evil acts here and there, they’re hardly genocidal tyrants.

      • Pinkius permalink

        Oh no, I meant individual crusaders or the like, maybe someone from Mendev looking for support decides to investigate or something.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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