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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 4

June 29, 2016

PainiteAfter Caerelia had rung in the year of 4719, its rulers got back to work, hangovers be damned. First they raised a unit of soldiers to garrison Varnhold on a more permanent basis than the militia that was currently there. Then they poured over what little they knew of what happened to Varnhold. Satampra the swashbuckler was convinced it had something to do with the jade bracelet that had been recovered, and presumed that the river it was discovered near was linked with the dread island of Vordakai, to which they had found a reference in an old tome. But their research turned up no knowledge of who or what Vordakai was, nor could they determine where the isle was, aside from apparently being located within the Tors of Levenies. From their maps and general knowledge, they knew there were many rivers that came down from Tors, so presumably if they started exploring the mountains they would eventually find the island. But mapping out even the lower elevations of the Tors at the height of winter was not the best idea, and so they resolved to hold off on that plan until spring arrived.

However, their patience fell apart a few weeks later when the militia, relieved from their watch over Varnhold, came back home with grim news. The Varns had had built a fort at the edge of the Dunsward to consolidate their gains against the Nomen centaurs and to protect their supply train – Fort Akiros, named for the Varn general and former lieutenant of the Stag Lord. While the militia were stationed in forlorn Varnhold, a rider from the fort passed through and informed them that the place was under siege by the centaurs. Upon hearing the news, the Caerelians resolved to rustle up some cavalry and break the siege before it was too late.

So, my plan to distract the players from solving the mystery of Varnhold succeeded, at least temporarily. 🙂

varnhold vanishing session 3 map 1The column rode out for the fort in the second week of Calistril (February). They passed through the town of Varnhold, still empty save for the Caerelian troops, followed the road north to a bridge that crossed the Kiravoy River, and headed east through the snow and the hills. Several days later, they saw the smoke rising into the air. Fort Akiros was under siege no longer.

The walls had been scorched by fire and cracked open by force. The fallen defenders lay scattered about, pierced by arrow and spear or struck by lightning. Flocks of carrion birds feasted on the cold remains. The detritus of magically grown brambles and vines were strewn about, withering away under the winter sun. Of the attackers, there was no other sign, save for their hoofprints in the frozen earth.

The dispirited war party examined the aftermath in a cursory fashion. There were no survivors to be found, and the food stores, weapons, and other supplies had been taken. Iofur the druid examined the terrain and concluded that the centaurs had returned to the east after the slaughter.

The PCs’ main concern now was that the Nomen might carry out a similar attack against their men in Varnhold. But they weren’t quite sure what to do about the possibility. As a compromise, they ordered the cavalry to bury the dead at the fort, then for half to support the garrison in Varnhold and the other half to return home. As for the rulers? They were off to search Tors for an island! Maybe my plan hadn’t worked so well, after all… which just means that I will need to increase the pressure!

Getting Stoned

varnhold vanishing session 3 map 3The group decided to start at the northern end of the range and work their way south. Because it was the middle of winter, I added on an extra day for the time to travel through and explore hexes, which not only limited what the party could accomplish before the next kingdom turn, but also heightened the possibility of random encounters.

In that northernmost hex, they ran into a prepared encounter instead – a trap set by a cluster of ettercaps! The explorers came to a chasm, spanned by a conspicuous bridge made of webs. On the other side was a small ledge, upon which lay a dwarf and a glowing hammer. The cliffs below the bridge contained dozens of small caves – undoubtedly the home of the bridge-builders, or so the players assumed. They tested the sticky span a few times before ultimately deciding that this obstacle was pretty easy to circumnavigate at their level without walking across the obvious trap. Iofur wildshaped into a dire bat and carried Satampra to the other side. Satampra found that the dwarf was dead, and rather desiccated to boot, and after looking for traps he looted the body. The dire bat then carried the swashbuckler back over, and the group departed. Down in the caves, the ettercaps gnashed their mandibles in frustration. Damn you, PCs having flight! I guess I could have had the ettercaps attack the others while Iofur and Satampra were separated from the group – or vice versa – but they were already not much of a threat so I didn’t see much point in spending precious game time on it.

Several days and one hex later, the adventurers were attacked at night by a pair of stygiras! This was a new monster from book 3’s bestiary, and I requested a short break so I could look over its entry and familiarize myself with its abilities. Stygiras are also known as “stone witches”, and they appear as bent-back crones with no eyes, carrying a gemstone that they use to see through. But they have two claw attacks, so they must perform an impressive juggling act with the stone during combat. Claw-toss-claw-catch! They’re basically hags, and I’m a little surprised they haven’t been lumped into that monster grouping. I randomly gave one a painite, pictured above (I had never heard of that gemstone before and had to look it up), and one a beryl, using the “Sample Stygira Gems” table from their entry. The fight was over rather quickly – the stone witches don’t have much damage potential for their CR, although they are difficult to kill. But the battle did result in Orseen the warpriest getting afflicted with the crone’s stone curse!

I suppose in a way one could view the stygiras solely as a way to infect the party with the curse. Their damage is so low that they aren’t going to seriously hurt the PCs, but with their DR/adamantite and SR they should survive long enough to spread the curse around before dying.

Anyway, the curse does Dex damage at random intervals. If you fail 3 saves or your Dex gets to zero, you turn to stone. Luckily the encounter was at night, because one easy way to remove the curse is to spend an hour in sunlight. Orseen’s saving throws are pretty good, but he had still gotten tagged by the Dex damage twice before the sun broke the curse – obviously a boon from Iomedae, Orseen’s patron deity. Before that point, the healers spent a frantic night trying to stave off petrification. Iofur used lesser restorations to keep the warpriest’s Dex up, while Remesio the cleric doled out remove curse potions that unfortunately had no effect.

Once the curse was dealt with, the explorers pressed on to the southeast. They had no more encounters aside from some roc sightings as they mapped out stretches of the Crooked and Kiravoy rivers. They had found no islands and no answers before they had to turn back for the next kingdom turn.

Just to show that I haven’t improved on managing triggered or background events at all, one might wonder where the soul eater is. It should have been launched against the PCs when they were following the townsfolks’ trail out of Varnhold back in the 2nd session. But I forgot. Then it probably should have made an appearance when they went back to Varnhold in session 3. But I forgot. And now it could have attacked them while they were traipsing around the Tors, but I forgot again. As a justification, I imagine the BBEG is waiting to see if the characters are capable of finding him, or if they will be drawn into war against the centaurs instead while he works on his plans. And if they get attacked out of the blue by an extra-planar creature, they’ll know something probably unrelated to the centaurs is going on. So, that’s my post hoc rationalization for my screw-ups. 🙂

Next: terror at Talon Peak!

  1. Not sure how your group works, but to be honest, I’m worried about sending in that Souleater.
    Odds are, it’ll tip off my players that there’s actually a real threat there, and not just some ruins.

    • It’s conceivable they might think it’s from the centaurs… Well, actually I finally pulled the trigger on the soul eater in our last session and they didn’t think that. The key issue right now is that they don’t know where the BBEG’s lair is, and it’s questionable at this point that they’ll find out that information from the centaurs.

      • Makes sense. They’re still going to gear up for a BBEG though, is my guess.

      • Pinkius permalink

        The assumption i find is usually that so long as you’ve found all the loot you’ve been able to find up to that point, you assume you’re prepared for the boss, even if you were perhaps meant to hit the next level and unlock more spells first, or do a few sidequests and get more equipment. I do hope the group doesn’t make the same error our group made and let the wizard have the ring of freedom of movement you can find. He made a really big deal about grappling so we just sorta let him have it ;p

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 3 | Daddy DM
  2. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 5, Part 2 | Daddy DM

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