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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 3

June 16, 2016

evil_gnome_by_meiverin-d7ve2zkThe rulers of Caerelia made it back to the capital just before the first big snow of the season fell. Ensconced within their cozy castle, they reported what they had discovered to the council and listened to what had occurred in their absence. While Restov had been forced to cut ties with the Stolen Land colonies, Grand Diplomat Vendelin Fodorov had kept in touch with the Swordlords’ former ambassador to Caerelia, and she had relayed the city-state’s concerns to him. Namely, they were worried that the Nomen centaurs would use whatever had wiped out Varnhold on Restov itself, and also that the horsefolk would reclaim land that Varnhold had spent the last several years pushing them out of. To see that neither outcome would come to take place, they were offering to discreetly deposit 20,000 gp into a private account if the Nomen should be eliminated or driven out of the Dunsward, or if they were to sign a treaty agreeing to peace at the current borders.

In the published adventure, the reward for this quest is much lower! I raised it because (a) it’s a serious undertaking that’s of the utmost importance to Restov, (b) I’m eliminating the “fetch animal parts” quests and rolling those rewards into this one, and (c) I’m trying to distract the players from their investigations into the whereabouts of the Varnhold townsfolk.

Additionally, the council heard from two supplicants: Jemanda Orlashen of Oppara’s Kitharodian Academy was searching for the missing Maestro Ervil Pendrod, and local Lord Edrist Hanvaki was seeking his brother. Said brother had been passing through Varn territory when Varnhold vanished and had not been seen since. I changed Jemanda’s reward to a wand of locate object, as a wand of find traps didn’t seem very useful in an adventure path with few dungeons, and I wanted to stick with a divination spell of the same level.

Despite the misgivings of the Swordlords, the group was not so sure the Nomen were responsible for what had befallen Varnhold. They resolved to go back and clear out the stockade, hoping to find more answers once they had cleansed the town of its fey squatters. Iofur the druid warded the party and its mounts from the elements, and they set off for Varnhold once more.

Storming the Castle

The journey took longer than normal, owing to the weather. Even though the travelers were protected from the freezing cold, the roads were treacherous with snow and ice. When they reached their destination, they found a serene and silent town covered in white. They left the horses in a barn, used a prayer of water walking to cross the Kiravoy River, and slowly made their way south towards the fort. They prodded the ground before them as they went, wary of more spiked pit traps.

As the party approached the hill that the stockade sat atop of, spriggans appeared on the walls and the watchtower. The bald, grey gnomes shouted insults and jeered at the humans, and aimed a few bolts from their crossbows at the group. The adventurers stopped before they got too close, however, and then Iofur raised his arms to the sky and invoked the spirits of the air. A wind wall sprung up next to the walls of the fort, between the spriggans and the party. As the fey fired their crossbows, the wind caught the bolts and threw them wildly off target.

Now safe from getting shot at, the PCs strolled up to the closest gate, with Orseen the warpriest fortifying himself with prayers as he went. Iofur threw in a cat’s grace for Satampra the swashbuckler, and Remesio the cleric enlarged the warpriest, who was now a walking giant holy killing machine with a fiery greatsword. Iofur pointed at the gate, and caused the wooden stakes that it was composed of to warp and twist apart, creating a space for the group to pass through. One by one, the humans walked through the blast of air from the wind wall  and then stepped through the hole in the now-ruined gate. The spriggans on the wall and in the courtyard, seeing this display of magical baddassery, fled into the squat blockhouse.

Now that the PCs were inside the courtyard and past the wind wall, archers from the garrison could fire on them through arrow slits. The humans jogged forward to escape the hail of bolts, whereupon Orseen fell into a spiked pit. Oops! As he climbed out, Remesio bathed him in positive energy, and the giant warpriest got to bashing in the barred door to the blockhouse. Satampra, meanwhile, decided that he wanted to climb to the top of the structure by himself. The spriggans manning the watchpost on the roof shot at him in vain, and then retreated into the building as he got closer, barring the hatch behind them.

Orseen forced his ways through a couple of barred doors while taking fire, while Remesio and Iofur brought up the rear. Once they got past the doors and the arrow slits and penetrated the soft, gooey interior of the blockhouse, it was basically all over. A fully-buffed Orseen rampaged through the rooms and halls, dropping spriggans in one hit each. The druid backed him up with some lightning, and the cleric (wanting to get in on the summons game) gated in a celestial lion, but for the most part they were on mop-up duty. They cleared the first level and ran up the stairs to the second, where they confronted the spriggan chieftan, Agai, in the kitchen. Orseen charged forward, swung his sword, and… missed. And then his short-term buffs ran out! His sword went from awesome to merely +1, and he lost the luck bonuses that Iomedae had granted him, just as Agai grew to giant size and struck the warpriest repeatedly with his poleaxe.

Up on the roof, Satampra found a large metal signal brazier and a small barrel of fuel for it. He poured the oil over the barred trap door, lit it with an alchemist’s fire, and then after it burned for a bit he toppled the heavy brazier on top of it. It crashed through the wooden door, spilling fire and metal into the room below. The swashbuckler tumbled through the hole himself, nimbly avoiding the flames and debris, and surprising two spriggans in the process. Before they could react, he stabbed one with his fey-bane spear, killing it. He soon dispatched the other before making his way out into a hall, where he was attacked from both sides by another pair of the creatures!

Remesio’s lion pounced onto Agai, and held him fast in its jaws. While the chieftan struggled to kill the beast, he was hammered from all sides by the warpriest and druid, and soon fell. Foes without good DR and/or spell resistances just don’t last very long these days. Satampra rushed into the room just as the battle was over. When he realized that he had missed the big brawl, he pouted and slumped his shoulders in disappointment.

Mopping Up

Having dispatched all of the occupiers, the group searched the stockade from top to bottom and were surprised to find… nothing much at all. On Agai, they discovered a bag of holding that contained oodles of coins, gems, and jewelry, along with Maegar Varn’s sword, an exquisite darkwood & ivory bow, a wand, and a magic ring. In Maegar’s chambers, they found a map of Varn’s territory and the surrounding area. In the room of Cephal Lorentus, one of Maegar’s lietenants, the floor was covered in scattered messages between Varn and its neighbors of no particular importance. Among the papers, they did find some pages that had apparently been torn from Cephal’s spellbook. With no further clues to be found, the discouraged party hunkered down in the blockhouse to rest.

In the morning, Iofur shifted into a hawk and flew back over the pass to the farms on the other side, in order to arrange to have a message delivered to Stagfell. While he was gone, the others went back to Gunderson’s house and searched it again, this time discovering the folding boat therein. Ten days later, a small garrison of militia arrived to take charge of Varnhold and keep further squatters out, until they could be relieved by actual soldiers. The militia were not happy to be in the cursed town, but they had little choice but to follow orders for now. And in any case, they would be safe enough in the stockade, right? Or they would be once they repaired the warped gate…

With the security of Varnhold nominally taken care of, the rulers headed to their capital for the new year’s celebrations. Once back in Stagfell, they turned over the loot to Mestinous the elven wizard for identification purposes. The wand was of spectral hand, and the ring was a ring of friend shield, which always comes in pairs. But in this case, the other ring was missing. The wizard also was able to determine, thanks to Maestro Pendrod’s research that they had retrieved from Varnhold in their previous expedition, that the craftsmanship of the darkwood & ivory bow was indicative of the ancient Iobarian centaurs. Did the spriggan steal it from the Nomen, the group wondered? Or had Varn’s armies taken it in battle? Or was it looted from a burial mound?

And while the PCs were away, Empress Sojana had given birth to a healthy baby girl that the couple named Madouc. Between the birth and the new year, it was a time of happy celebrations in Caerelia. But the rulers were sensing storm clouds on the horizon.

Next: lightning strikes!

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