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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 8, Part 1

September 30, 2016

Iofur the bat-druid flapped and flitted his way back to the rest of the party, whereupon he transformed into his human form. He related the good news to his companions – he found what was probably Vordakai Island! – along with the bad news – there was a wyvern flying around it. The party had never fought such a beast before, but they knew that it had a poison stinger that was extremely deadly.

Several players proposed flying up to the top of the 300′ tall cliff, instead of taking the path cut into the rock. Satampra the swashbuckler briefly considered doing some more climbing, but concluded that he didn’t want to miss any potential fun this time, and thus went along with the others’ plan. Surprisingly, Mestinous the elven wizard – who is usually the first one to take to the air when there’s trouble – refused. The others could fly up; he would go the long way and walk.

We’re Walking, We’re Walking

Remesio the cleric said a prayer of flying for himself while Iofur wildshaped into a dire bat. Satampra and Orseen the warpriest grabbed onto the giant rodent’s claws, and they all headed for the sky.

Mestinous walked.

The fliers were soon surveying the area atop the cliffs – the smaller limestone cliffs, the waterfall that rushed over them, the swiftly-moving river, the tall, smoking column of limestone that rose from the water. Orseen assumed that there must be a secret cave behind the waterfall, and convinced the group that they should go investigate that first. But before they reached the water, they spotted the wyvern, and the wyvern spotted them. The flying lizard quickly changed course to intercept its next meal.

Mestinous walked.

The cleric, the owl, and its two passengers quickly dove for cover at the base of the limestone cliffs. Once on the ground, Iofur wildshaped into a man-sized cloud and the others hid amidst the brush. The wyvern swooped by a few times, but couldn’t easily get at them so close to the cliff-face. After a time, it wandered off to look for easier prey.

Mestinous walked. The trail up the cliffs was a long one, full of switchbacks and blind turns. At one such turn, the wizard came around the bend to find that he was not alone! His way was barred by a large one-eyed giant wearing scraps and carrying a club. An unexpected encounter, to say the least! The tall brute’s flesh was peeling and even missing in places – it looked very much like it was dead. Except that it was standing upright – and then it was moving, striding down the path towards the elf, its weapon raised as if to ready for a strike. Its single red eye gleamed as it stared down at its target.

Mestinous flew! After casting a fly spell, of course. As the wizard rose up into the air, the cyclops halted and tracked the elf’s ascent until he disappeared from view. Mestinous zipped up to get a good look at the plateau, whereupon he attracted the attention of the hunting wyvern. The rest of the party yelled and waved their arms to catch his attention, and he quickly zoomed down to hide with them. Again, the frustrated beast buzzed by their location a few times, and again it left to find food elsewhere.

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

vordakai-tomb-outsideThe adventurers made their way along the base of the cliff, heading for the current object of their obsession: the 100′ tall waterfall that tumbled over the limestone wall that towered above them. When the explorers drew closer, they could see there were areas behind the huge sheet of falling water, where secret spaces could possibly exist. Getting to those spaces and exploring them, without being swept away, was more of an issue. The players fell into fruitless discussions about how exactly they were going to do it safely when I just skipped to the end. I informed them that their PCs got back there, somehow, and found nothing. We only get to play for 3-4 hours once every two weeks, at best, and I didn’t want them to spend the whole session on a flight of fancy.

Thus their attention returned to the island. It was about 400-500 feet across the river at the shortest point, and they did have this handy folding boat… But no one wanted to go out into the open with the wyvern flying around, and besides, there was probably monsters in the water too, right? So, step 1: get rid of the large poisonous flying predator.

The spellcasters buffed the heck out of the party, with plans to cast the round per level stuff once the beast was incoming. An enlarged Orseen ignited his greatsword with the flames of Iomedae and strode out into the open, intentionally lighting the brush on fire as he did so. The others followed behind him, crouching low to avoid being a target and avoiding the smoke and the flames that the warpriest left in his wake. Once Orseen felt that he was obvious enough, he let out a great bellow that echoed off the cliffs. After scanning the skies and seeing nothing, he bellowed again. And again.

It didn’t take long for the wyvern to take notice. It came soaring over the cliffs to investigate what sounded like a wounded mammoth, whereupon it saw the giant and its smaller companions, and the fires. Finally, it had a chance to eat the humans! They might even be a little crispy, thanks to the flames. It circled around and then dove towards the big one, tail and stinger at the ready.

Hasteprayer, and Orseen’s shorter-term buffs followed. The armored warrior hefted his flaming greatsword and prepared to meet the flying lizard’s charge. Everyone else hung a little ways back, but was likewise ready to pounce. The wyvern hurtled down towards the warpriest, then at the last moment angled its body up and swung its hindquarters forward, bringing its tail around with all the momentum of the dive, the stinger aimed right at Orseen’s enlarged heart, and…

I rolled a 1. The stinger struck the warrior’s breastplate at an angle and skidded off with a terrible screech. The CR 6 wyvern was then quickly mutilated by the buffed-to-the-gills 9th level party.

The Swimming Dead

While the adventurers were still basking in the glory of their victory, a far-off cry caught their attention. They turned and looked in the direction of the Valley of the Dead, where they witnessed the zombie cyclops that Mestinous had encountered earlier finally reach the top of the trail. The zombie stopped, pointed its club at the humans, and yelled again. Its words were either nonexistent, incoherent, or in a language that no one recognized. Then it aimed its weapon at the island, and yelled again. It continued to shout as it raised its other hand towards the sky, palm upwards, fingers clenched, as if it was calling forth some dread monster from the isle. Or the water.

“Uh oh,” said Satampra, “I get the feeling that that wasn’t just for show.”

And then the group watched with horror as dead human after dead human – young, old, man, woman, child – dragged their soggy corpses out of the river and stumbled and shambled forward. More and more clambered out of the water and added to the numbers marching towards them. They just kept coming! There were hundreds of them. No, thousands! A veritable wall of undead advanced upon the rulers of Caerelia.

They had finally found the inhabitants of Varnhold.

Next: the walking dead!

One important bit that I forgot to consider with the larger Varnhold: where is Vordakai putting these thousands of bodies while he raises the army? I didn’t want them sitting out in the open, as that would have been a poor reveal for the players, and also make them easy targets for aerial fireballs. Shortly before this session, I hit upon the idea that, hey, they’re dead, they can just be in the water weighted down with rocks or something. Hidden in almost plain sight. But I had to distract the players from the river until I could I could pull off this more dramatic reveal.

  1. Good point about the bodies actually. I’d just assumed the bodies got sucked into the soul jars, making those rather oddly named.

    • The soul jars are a bit odd in that way, aren’t they? In any case, the soul jars are still there, these are just the thousands of other Varnholdians that V didn’t have soul jars for, or didn’t deem them worthy enough of jarring.

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  1. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 7, Part 3 | Daddy DM

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