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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 5, Part 2

July 9, 2016

After leaving behind the mystery of the sapphire-spitting goat, the explorers continued their mountain expedition, still searching for the mysterious island.

It’s Just a Wisp of Cloud

One evening while the group was sleeping, Orseen the warpriest was on watch and Satampra the swashbuckler was bored. His ring of sustenance meant he only needed two hours of sleep each night to be fully rested – blessing or curse? Back in Stagfell, he spent the bulk of each night running around as a masked vigilante. Here, in the snow-covered Tors, there wasn’t much call for that sort of thing.

Perhaps it was because of this boredom, not to mention low Perception bonuses, that the pair completely failed their checks to notice the black cloud that was sneakily floating up on them. They first learned of it when two clawed hands emerged from its smoky body and sliced at the swashbuckler! As the strange claws cut into his flesh, they seemed to pull at his essence, trying to draw it out.

I had randomly picked Satampra as the soul eater’s target out of the entire party, although as it happened he was the ideal victim because his Wisdom was so low (7) and his Fortitude save was poor. Two good claw hits could theoretically kill him. And as the Ruler and the only one with a decent Charisma, it was a natural assumption on the summoner’s part that Satampra was the group’s leader, and that killing him would throw Caerelia and the adventurers into chaos. As it happened, though, this particular soul eater was rather ineffective – the swashbuckler made every saving throw against the Wisdom damage and only suffered some minor wounds before the cloud was destroyed by the adventurers.

After the battle, Mestinous the elven wizard explained that the creature was called a soul eater, that it could obliterate a person’s very soul – hence the name – and that it hailed from the lower plane of Abaddon. The soul eater’s presence in this world meant it was likely summoned, and given its choice of targets, the party assumed that some rival was gunning for Caerelia. The rest of the night was met with unease and suspicion, but no more attacks came. After the sun finally rose, the group wrapped up their exploration of the current hex and packed up for home.

Promised Land

Before leaving for Talon Peak, the council had arranged for a messenger to attend the next meeting of the Owl Prince’s fey court, and to request that the Prince arrange a sitdown with the Nomen centaurs. Their thinking was that before they let matters escalate to war, they should at least talk with the horsefolk first to see if some compromise could be reached, and the Owl Prince had provided a neutral space for such a meeting in the past. When they returned to Stagfell, they were informed that the Prince had agreed to invite the centaurs for a parley. If the Nomen accepted, they would all gather at the court’s next meeting, which would take place shortly after the Gozran (April) kingdom turn.

During that turn, though, the council received word from its soldiers in Varnhold. They reported that centaur scouts had been sniffing around the ghost town; the cavalry garrisoned there had chased them off and was now vigorously patrolling the town borders. But there was concern that the Nomen were preparing to do to Varnhold what they had already done to Fort Akiros. And if the Nomen had not known before that Varnhold had been depopulated and was now ripe for conquest, they surely were aware of that now.

Soon after their official duties were concluded, the PCs took their Grand Diplomat, Vendelin Fodorov, and rode north for a few days to a hill just past where the Shrike and Thorn Rivers met. As they traveled, the group discussed their aims. Varn had gone to war against the centaurs, and Caerelia had lent troops to their efforts for years. The war had been prompted by Restov, who was now offering a large sum of gold if the centaurs were driven off, destroyed, or at the very least made willing to abide by the current borders restricting them to the plains of the Dunsward. Did Caerelia want war, and if so, for what reason? If not, what price would they be willing to pay for peace?

Having come to no particular answers, they arrived at the site of the meeting in the evening and made ready to wait. At midnight, the Owl Prince and his court emerged from behind a boulder and strode up to the hilltop. The humans greeted the Prince and his courtiers, and introductions were made all around. But the pleasantries were interrupted by a thunder of hooves – the Nomen had arrived as well. More introductions were made, and then the proceedings fell into an uncomfortable silence.

The lead Nomen, a fierce-looking female centaur, snorted. “You two-legs called us here to talk. So why aren’t you talking?”

Satampra stepped forward and spoke in the centaur’s native tongue. “We come here representing both Caerelia and Varnhold, two kingdoms that have fought with your people. Varn’s leader is no longer able to speak for himself, but as his son by marriage I speak on his behalf. We are here to ask how we can put an end to the killing. Is it possible that our two peoples – two-legs and four – can live together in peace?” The Emperor held up a hand. “But before you answer that, we must know: are you responsible for what happened to the town of Varnhold?”

The centaur envoy said nothing. She may even have smirked a little. Vendelin whispered in his ruler’s ear, “We are on the edge of war with them, Your Highness. Whether they were responsible or not, it would be foolish of them to reveal their capabilities to us.”

Satampra grimaced. “Very well,” he said, “I withdraw the question. What say you to peace between us?”

“Can there be peace?” asked the lead centaur rhetorically. “Yes. Certainly. Leave our lands, acknowledge our right to them, and never come back. Then there will be peace.”

What do you consider your lands, specifically, the human delegation wanted to know. The centaurs replied that they claimed everything east of the Tors and south of the Shrike. “But that includes half of Varnhold’s territory!” exclaimed Varn’s son-in-law.


The Nomen Proposal

“It was never their territory,” responded the Nomen envoy with obvious anger. “You two-legs came and built houses and roads and farms and mines in our hills. You sent your soldiers to kill our folk. You chased us, cut us down, beneath our skies. You can recognize this truth, and move to the other side of the mountains and rivers, and we will not follow.” What would happen if that course of action was not taken was left unsaid.

Satampra frowned. “I thought you were more of the plains type. Isn’t the Dunsward your home? Can’t we live in the eastern foothills and leave the flatlands to you?” With this, he was basically proposing the current borders that Restov desired – Varnhold’s armies had pushed the centaurs back to the eastern plains and held them there before the Vanishing.

All the lands east of the Tors and south of the Shrike have been entrusted to us by Mother Moon.* It is our sacred duty to nurture and watch over those lands, and to protect them from that which thrives in the dark. In truth, once we ranged far beyond the mountains and rivers. But,” she added, “we are willing to concede those regions to you two-legs – if you respect our remaining claim.”

Unconditional Surrender

Satampra regarded the centaur’s terms to be unacceptable. He wanted to bargain for the hills, but couldn’t find anything to offer that the Nomen were interested in. After much frustration, someone remembered the ancient centaur bow that the party had recovered from the spriggan chief. Orseen had been carrying it around – he was the only one strong enough to pull it without penalties – but wasn’t wearing it presently, as they had removed their weapons for the parlay. The darkwood and ivory composite longbow was brought forth. “What about this?” asked the swashbuckler. “Might you be willing to budge for this bow?”

When the Nomen delegation saw the item, they all gasped. One muttered, “Skybolt!” before she was shushed by the leader. The centaurs wanted to know where the bow was found, as they had lost it some time ago and had been unable to find it. When they were told the spriggan chief had it, they nodded. Then the envoy stepped forward and humbly requested that their ancient artifact be returned to them, and that giving it back would do much to restore trust between their peoples.

Before handing the longbow over, the group wanted to know if the centaurs knew what a soul eater was. The envoy glanced down at the bow before looking up again with a puzzled expression. Was this some sort of two-leg trick, she wondered? She tentatively said that they did not know, and uneasily waited for what was to come next. But as it happened, all that came was a sigh from Satampra and the bow: the humans handed it over. The Nomen reverently took it and carefully wrapped it up.

“Thank you, Emperor,” said the envoy as she bowed; her head lowered, arms spread open, and her front-half kneeling. “To return Skybolt to her rightful caretakers is an act of great honor, and of tremendous importance to my tribe. If it is peace that you desire, ride out to the Dunsward so that you can meet the Daughter Moon.* I hope that together, the two of you can come to an agreement that will forestall war between our peoples. Truly, I do. Now, we must swiftly carry this news home. Farewell, two-legs. May we never meet under an empty sky.”

The centaur delegation rode off across the moon-lit hills, leaving the humans alone with the towering Owl Prince and his tiny courtiers, who were currently peeking out from behind his voluminous robe. The Prince turned from watching the departing Nomen and looked down at the Caerelians. “Well,” he said with a slight smile, “that went rather well, don’t you think?”

I had been hoping a little that the meeting would go south, as that would give me an excuse to have the centaurs sack Varnhold and claim the pass. The envoy was actually rushing off to keep that attack from happening! A war would have really thrown everything into chaos, much to the benefit of the BBEG. Now the PCs will probably hammer out some kind of deal and learn where they need to go next. Which, in the end, is probably for the best. I don’t want this adventure to last as long as the last one did!

Next: soul eater 2, shadowy bugaboo!

* On Mother Moon

The adventure merely says that the Nomen centaurs worship “an aspect” of the deity Desna that they name Mother Moon. Desna is normally the CG goddess of dreams, stars, travelers, and luck, so it’s a little odd to associate her with the moon and have her be worshiped by a True Neutral race. The tribe’s leader isn’t given a title beyond “warrior-priestess,” so I felt that calling her “Daughter Moon” was an obvious move.

In planning this meeting between the centaurs and the PCs, and their probable future meeting with the Nomen leader, I was trying to think of what their beliefs entailed. What stories do they tell among themselves, and how do those stories shape their world view? We know from the adventure that they had been tasked with guarding against the return of this chapter’s BBEG, so there’s a protection component to why they believe the land is important to them. I combined this with the moon phases into a belief system that says when the moon is full, the Mother is watching over her children and shines down upon them, an auspicious time for calling on her for aid. But the Mother has other duties, and cannot watch over them at all times. When she has to turn away – their interpretation of the new moon – it is a time of darkness and emptiness, when evil forces may seek to wreak havoc. And thus the children must be especially vigilant during those times – the Mother is not there, and they must fend for themselves until she turns back to them.

What this ends up meaning in play is that, at the very least, a full moon or a bright night sky are considered blessings or good omens, while a new moon or darkness are considered the opposite. But it also provides a founding myth for why the Nomen take their stewardship of their territory so seriously – they must watch over the land and take care of it during Mother Moon’s frequent absences, lest it be undone while she is busy elsewhere.

  1. Pinkius permalink

    Never really delved into the Nomen theology in our run, it was a pretty one sided affair they had with Varnhold for us, and we weren’t particularly interested in what happened to Varn and his ilk aside from their mysterious mystical disappearance.
    We sort of got in their good books rather easily via the cavaliers perplexing fondness for horses (perplexing, given his general bloodlust) and giving they back skybolt as a sign of good will on first impression. There really wasn’t much they could hate about our kingdom, aside from being racist.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 5, Part 1 | Daddy DM
  2. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 6 | Daddy DM
  3. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 7, Part 1 | Daddy DM
  4. Kingmaker: Blood for Blood, Session 7, Part 2 | Daddy DM

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