March 17-19, 2017 Campus Club, Princeton University Pre-Register Here! On-site registration and check-in starts at 3 PM First runs start at 5 PM Close parking in Lot 10, much more in Lot 21 Cost: $25 ($30 on-site), or $10 with college student ID ($15 on-site), or free for Princeton students. Add $40 for a D&D 5th Edition Player’s...
PrinceCon is a 46-hour role-playing marathon held on the Princeton University campus every Spring (since 1976). The character you create on Friday afternoon stays with you throughout the weekend, growing more powerful and accumulating potent magical items as you adventure in a single world with many different talented GMs. What’s the...
Princecon is organized and run entirely by volunteers, including both Princeton alumni and long-time Princecon devotees. Are you interested in taking your participation to the next level? Consider: Leading discussions in the Google and Facebook Groups. Playing in a playtest campaign (at Princeton or elsewhere) to iron out proposed system...
THE BACKSTORY: The background fiction made it clear to me that Drugar, the Primordial Troll, had a specially profound hatred of Daglir. At the same time it seemed clear that trolls, being essentially made of living stone, were excruciatingly vulnerable to the Lord of Stone. So I decided that two of the giant races were pulling a switcheroo: the Trolls gave the Tetrakheires charge of Daglir’s Fatestone and consequent assassination, while in return accepting a commission to take Danu’s Fatestone and see to it that Danu met the Fate inscribed thereon.
1. Luruk Kraagh, Tomb Raider: In terms of the overall plot this existed only to reveal some clues and point the way to more. I also wanted to have a short, straightforward run where PCs could get some useful items and get quickly back to Valor Hall. The situation was that some trolls had broken into the tomb of an Axe Age king to steal one of his grave goods, a set of magical Runestones that were a powerful prophetic device. (Malice aforethought, the item would allow players to extract additional information from any GM running for them and I figured with all the plots and counterplots running around the players could use as much help as they could get.) Part of Hrolf’s funeral ritual was a promise from the Gods themselves that any violation of his rest would be punished. The Valiant are, among other things, the Gods’ enforcers. So, the trolls open the tomb, thereby desecrating it, and *poof* a party of Valiant materialize to show them the error of their ways. I tried to make it clear on the poster that, although *players* had a free choice of whether to go on this run, the *characters* were, in concept, drafted without warning — in the blink of an eye you go from kicking back and relaxing in Valor Hall to being full-armed and armored, standing in a tomb confronting some trolls. No time for in-game prep like casting lasting spells.
The characters fought well but found themselves overmatched (there were only three trolls but they were higher level than the PCS). They fought effectively (among other things, they kept the Troll Guardian from ever managing to cast anything until he ran out of the room to break LOS) but they were running out of spell and prayer points faster than the trolls were running out of hit points. Magical characters who were low on power started looking around for useable items. The cleric found a magical horn which he decided not to use until it was a last resort, but a mage who was completely out of spell points rummaged up a dagger which put him into mental contact with King Hrolf’s ghost. The ghost offered help if the character would drop his saves; he assented, and was promptly possessed by Hrolf and went charging into battle berserk with Hrolf’s combat skills and Hrolf’s enchanted axe. This boosted the party’s damage potential enough that they finally managed to take down the trolls. Hrolf thanked the PCs for their intervention and gave them leave to take all of his magical grave goods back to Valor Hall — he’d arranged to be buried with them specifically to preserve them against the ultimate need, namely now. He also advised them to seek out the wisest man in the world.
One clue that emerged was a rainbow-colored stone enchanted with power stolen from Bifrost. A structure built from such stones could create an additional bridge between Mannheim and Godsheim.
2. Nikto the Undying: Following up clues the PCs went looking for the wisest man in the world, Nikto the Undying, whose last known residence was the mountains north of Hekla. Arriving, they found a cave on a high ledge with signs of recent occupancy and a door that opened onto a blank stone wall — they inferred that there had previously been a Dimension Door behind the stone door. Unfortunately they realized that a party of Tetrakheires was climbing the ledge toward them. While the rest of the party prepared to attack from the cave, the Storm Lion-worshipping berserker mage Black Sun used ashes from the cave’s firepit to make his hair look gray and charged out of the cave to make the giants think the cave’s aged inhabitant was fleeing from them. Diving over the side of the ledge, he failed to arrest his fall and ended up sliding painfully down a steep (but not vertical) slope. As it happened the lead giant chasing him didn’t manage to stop in time and joined him in skidding down the slope. A vigorous fight ensued, highlights included the sliding giant clambering back up to the ledge only to be knocked off again by a well-timed Trip spell, the Tetrakh Guardian being blinded by summoned Jub Jub birds, and one of the party’s heroes being beaten to a pulp in one round by getting caught between two gargantuan clubs (two-handed weapons for Tetrakheires, who are merely Huge, but it was wielding one in both right hands and another in both left hands, and could do massive extra crushing damage if it caught a single target between both clubs.) I should mention that this combat encounter also involved a great deal of argument between Black Sun and the Storm Lion cleric Thunder about what was or was not fair in combat.
After the fight was well over, an ancient wizened white-bearded Mannfolk arrived, riding on an oversized flying mortar (and apparently making it fly by continuously pounding its pestle into it). He summarily told the players to follow him to his current home and “led” them by simply flying off without checking to see if they would, or could, follow. Fortunately the party had some flight-capable characters who followed him home and then went back to help the rest of the party find the way (get over terrain obstacles, etc.) When they arrived they were curtly informed that they needed to clean out his stables and tend to his horse before he would talk to them; Nikto remained rude and overbearing throughout. The party worked well and industriously on this project despite a “horse” with a flaming mane, “feed” that included sulfur and mineral oil, and “manure” more appropriate to a toxic waste dump. In-character conversation between Markus the Danu cleric and the “horse” produced some genuinely delightful roleplaying. Ultimately Nikto greeted them back in his house proper and began behaving like a gracious host, now that the PCs had demonstrated that they were capable of humility as well as valorous glory. He revealed many crucial pieces of information, including the two key plots. Drugar had hidden Danu’s Fatestone inside Drugar’s own torso, opening her own flesh with a magical blade, putting the Fatestone inside, and letting the wound regenerate over it. (Drugar is female despite having somehow fathered the World-Serpent on Ratri. Examining the sex lives of deities too closely endangers one’s sanity.) The Trolls were using Bifrost-infused stones to build a tunnel from Mannheim to Godsheim, specifically from the northeast of Jannmark to underneath Alfheim; Danu’s Fate would allow them to erupt from their tunnels to abduct and slay her. Nikto could tell the Valiant that there existed a magical weapon that could pierce Drugar’s invulnerable hide and shatter the Fatestone within, but he had not yet ascertained where that weapon might be found. Meanwhile the Tetrakheires had denuded many forested slopes in southwest Stoenheim to build a huge wooden raft anchored in a sheltered bay there. Atop the raft was a wooden tower; atop the tower a vast wooden pot filled with fertile soil; growing from the pot was a majestic live-oak; and embedded in the oak’s trunk, with wood grown all around it, was Daglir’s Fatestone. For multiple reasons, one of which was his special relationship to stone, Daglir had the unique ability to destroy his own Fatestone, something no other god could do. The fate inscribed on the stone decreed Daglir would die in ambush, alone and far from the stone of his domain. The Tetrakh plan was to isolate the Fatestone as far from any stone as they could get it, and to ambush Daglir when he came after it; Mathiron-Grund the Primal Tetrakh was itself on the scene to deliver the deathblow. Nikto provided the party with a variety of useful items from his stores and wished them well.
(The party also discovered that Nikto was “Undying” because he was a title rather than a person; a secretive order of sages and magicians hidden among Mannfolk had been gathering knowledge for generations, with the wisest among them being appointed the new Nikto [a name meaning "Nobody" in an archaic language] upon the death of the previous incumbent. The party also learned that this order favored neither the gods nor the giants but rather was concerned with insuring that whatever world existed after the coming death-struggle, whether the old world preserved or a new world reborn, would be a fit place for Mannfolk and other mortals to live.)
3. Tetrakh Tetris: With the weapon for use against Drugar still missing the Tetrakh Sea-Tower was the target of this expedition. The party gambled that with stealth and guile a party of mortals might accomplish what a God in full power could not do by brute force. They landed in the hills of Stoenheim just out of sight of the great raft, and recruited local birds to scout it for them. Knowing that Tetrakheires, unlike all other giants, are diurnal with no innate ability to see in the dark, they decided to slip in by night, with one mage keeping the party airborne in a Levitation Sphere and another with a Fly spell towing them. Careful scrutiny as they approached revealed the hidden watchers with Darkvision spells, and because the watchers were scanning the sky through small slits (in order to remain hidden), delicate timing allowed the PCs to reach the pot and the tree unseen. They had planned to use lightning to burst open the trunk where the Fatestone was embedded, and use Clerical Silence to keep the noise of the blast from being noticed; but this plan failed when a Magic Mouth cast on the tree trunk began bellowing about the approach of intruders. In a hectic battle the PCs managed to retrieve the Fatestone and fight their way clear of the flying Tetrakh who accosted them, warriors who obviously had benefited from multiple spells cast by others. Once clear of the melee the players learned that they could outfly their pursuers, but that invisibility was of no avail against See Invisible. When they were halfway to the safety(?) of land they saw a flying boat emerge from the tower and chase them at a speed greater than their own; they made landfall before it overtook them and hid in rugged terrain while summoning the Valkyries to retrieve them. Although they dodged the ship, a high-level Tetrakh Guardian with a Locate spell tracking the Fatestone teleported after them with a warrior passenger. The teleport landed low, killing the caster, and while the warrior was formidable the party was (narrowly) able to overcome him. The Valkyries retrieved the party, who presented the Fatestone to Daglir; the God broke the Fatestone and rewarded the party richly.
4. Last Chance to Save Danu: The Great Weapon needed for use against Drugar was finally available; a spear that could be used in melee although its true metier was being thrown. “Fatebreaker” was a sentient weapon with various senses, an eager personality, and the power of speech. The small party (only three, a Hero, a Mage, and a Cleric) that set forth to break Danu’s Fate had a simple plan; since there was no way for them to overcome the vast numbers of trolls surrounding the Mannheim end of the Rainbow Tunnel (and the Godsheim end had not broken the surface, and would not until the trolls were actually in the act of abducting Danu), they would approach Drugar by stealth and get close enough to make a single cast of the spear against the scar on her belly. (Their plan was partly shaped by their possession of an item that could guarantee one attack roll of natural 20.) They approached cautiously, and so survived their discovery that the Troll encampment contained numerous casters and was protected by magical as well as mundane sentries. They were also somewhat nonplussed to learn that Drugar was already in the tunnel, traveling toward Godsheim. Indeed, while they were nearing her location the Locate spell broke, indicating that she had passed the Rainbow Arch within the tunnel that connected Mannheim to Godsheim. Ever adaptable, they went to the spot on the ground just above their last location for Drugar and used a Dimension Door to go to the last spot the Locate had indicated. They knew she was traveling at a walking pace and were quick enough that she would be no more than 100 to 200 feet ahead of them. They had not, however, realized that the tunnel was packed across its full width with the army of Trolls marching with Drugar. (Actually only three abreast, but Trolls take up a lot of space.) Since the tunnel was arched, there was room for the party to fly above the heads of the middle rank, and this they did, swiftly overtaking Drugar. Casters cast at them and warriors swung at them, but the party’s mage kept them alive with judicious use of Power Word: Web. Desperate improvisation kept them alive long enough for Yew the Alf Hero to get in front of Drugar, activate the “Strike True” magic, and make the spear-cast; at that moment Thunvald the Cleric was alive only by having Decreed Fate to minimize the damage of a deadly spell cast on him, and Ozymandias the Mage was alive only because of an item that would (once only) cause a killing blow struck at him to instead leave him with 1 hit point. (Ozy didn’t know his item would do that. I love the hotlist!) While magic guaranteed the true strike, it was the Hero’s own skill that caused the True Strike to also be a confirmed critical hit, doing devastating damage to Drugar herself as well as shattering the Fatestone. Fatebreaker perished (as must all mortals who break a Fatestone), wailing in agony; her destruction lit a fire in Drugar’s belly that would not be quenched until the Primal Troll was crippled. With the other Trolls now cowering in terror it was easy for the PCs to escape and return to Valor Hall.
AFTERMATH: The Tetrakh scheme against Daglir was completely defeated, but Mathiron-Grund was never harmed. (Actually, the PCs avoided ever encountering it, which probably helped their survival.) Unfortunately Daglir managed to die anyway — the fact that you’re no longer doomed to die in a specific way doesn’t mean you can’t be killed. Danu was rescued and survived, and Drugar was crippled for the next Age of the World, the War Age.Read More
PrinceCon 40: Twilight of the Gods
March 13-15, 2015
Valor Hall, part 1
“But Dad, I can fight!”
He scoffed. “You can fight in the tavern.”
“I’ve taken Self-Defense and Arms And Armor just like everyone else!”
“I’m not contesting your skill on the training ground. But listen to me Thorlev,” he continued, emphasizing every word, “You are not a Warrior. You are a Fisherman. There’s no shame in it. I’m a Fisherman too.”
“So what then, we’ll just fish the giants to death?” I couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice.
“Do you even listen the histories? Why are there giants alive today?”
“Gnut the Mighty led an army of five hundred thousand men, elves, and dwarves to crush the giants in their hills.”
Everybody knew that. Gnut’s army marched well over a league per hour, carrying their packs on their backs. It was almost half again as fast as an army was supposed to be able to travel. For the Dwarves, it was virtually inconceivable. It seemed brilliant, and he had the giants completely back on their heels.
“So why aren’t the giants all dead?”
I couldn’t think my way out in time. “Because they burned the villages and fields as they retreated.”
“So there was no food left. So our whole army starved. So when Gnut returned in the Spring he had seven thousand men. So that was like three Ages ago.”
He took me by the shoulders and waited until I looked him in the eye. “We have Warriors to fight the giants. And we are the Fishermen who feed the Warriors. Without us, they will die just as surely as if a giant crushed their skull to pulp. Which, by the way, is what will happen to any Fisherman stupid enough to challenge a giant. Do you understand me?”
I looked away, furious. But there was only one way to get out of this so-called conversation. “I understand.”
* * *
I had to bite a fishing rod while I did it, but I managed to cut right through the catch I was gutting, straight into the flesh of my hand. I barely had to fake the cry as I spit out the rod and grabbed my palm, bleeding profusely. My left, of course. Mom came running, and took my directly under her wing.
Dad, of course, was furious. “The Valkyrie leaves at dawn! What am I supposed to do with a short crew?”
She would have none of it. “The same as you did when Armand got tangled in the net. Work harder and fish longer.”
“But now we’ve got the entire defense force to support!”
“And there’s an entire fleet of fisherman to do it. They’re not relying on you alone.”
“I will not. Shirk. My duty.”
“You will not give a hireling time to recover and then force your own son into slavery with a gored hand. You will leave at dawn and Thorlev will not. Or you will find a new wife when you return.”
He was an idiot to even argue. He had married the woman, he ought to know he wasn’t going to talk her out of this. I couldn’t help but smile while I eavesdropped. The entire thing had worked beautifully.
* * *
“And you have your parents’ blessing?”
This was the moment of truth. It must have been obvious to the Sergeant that I did not. But if they didn’t want every warm body in the field, why was he attending the recruiting post in the dead of night?
“Of course, I have the full support of my family.” I held up the wooden sword and padded practice armor I had stolen from the training ground. Just as if my father had sent me fully equipped.
“Can you fight with that hand?”
A bit of an ironic question, since he was missing an entire arm, and apparently it hadn’t disqualified him from service. I waved the bandages at him. “Just a scrape. I’ve trained to strap on my shield, in any case.”
“Excellent.” He handed me a sharpened stick of charcoal, and laid down a half-filled sheet of blank lines. “Certify here.”
As I scrawled my signar, I couldn’t help but think it had been too easy. Even if they needed every warm body in the field, there should have been some resistance to an injured, underage, illicit recruit. Could the situation be more desperate than we knew?
“Uh, it’s sort of the middle of the night. When do I report to the Academy?” I wasn’t terribly looking forward to the three-week Indoctrination, but at least the Academy was inviolate when it came to reluctant parents.
He guffawed. “You’ll report directly to the Second Tinglith, Fifty-Seventh Hafna. Pick any of the nags out back, head for the East Gate, the guards will direct you further.”
I gulped, suddenly wishing I was holding the signed canvas instead of him.
He smiled cruelly. “You’re in the army now. Desertion is punishable by death.”
Valor Hall, part 2
“Name?” the Sergeant in charge of arrivals asked.
“Hroar,” the man next to me, well, roared. He was twice as thick as me in every dimension, and all of it looked like muscle. If I had his size or even half his enthusiasm, maybe I wouldn’t have spent the whole ride brooding on the note I had left my mother.
“Name?” he asked me next.
“Hroar, Thorlev, you are shieldbrothers. Whatever you do, you will not leave each other’s side.” He pointed at Hroar. “If he eats, you eat.” He pointed at me. “If he pisses, you piss.” Then he grabbed us both by our padded jerkins. “If I see one of you without the other, you’ll be cleaning latrines for the rest of your sharply abbreviated lives. Now get out of my sight.”
Some introduction to military life. On the way out, I heard him snap at someone to get the horses back to town.
But this was the middle of an improvised camp that served as the mustering point for half a dozen small towns. We didn’t know where to go. I pulled up short, and Hroar stopped as soon as he noticed.
“You two! Frogs! Over here!” someone else commanded. I looked, and he was pointing to us. Frogs?
“Because we’re green,” Hroar muttered.
The next Sergeant issued us a large canvas square, a couple of sticks, and a pair of boots each. They were too big for me, too small for Hroar. Then he pointed out the fifty-seventh hafna, and ordered us to pitch our tent.
“Uh,” I waved my wooden practice sword inquiringly. He grimaced at me and looked at Hroar expectantly. Hroar produced an axe. It must have been for chopping wood; it was much too small to fight with.
The Sergeant pointed at me. “You — take one of those.” There was a pile of weapons behind him. I couldn’t help but notice they were all battered, chipped, and blood-stained. Secondhand, to say the least.
Then he looked Hroar up and down. “Yours will have to do. You can take his sword when he dies.” I stiffened, though the Sergeant ignored me. “Whatever you do, don’t take one from a giant. You’ll think you can handle it, but you can’t. In the time it takes you to swing, they’ll crush your skull to pulp.”
“And armor, sir?” I asked. I thought the emphasis nicely conveyed my opinion.
“None for you; not worth wasting the time to fit. You though,” he looked back at Hroar, “you can ask the armorer when you reach the lines. Probably they can find a set that fits.” Off a dead man, unless I missed my guess.
“Don’t worry,” Hroar said quietly as we made for the fifty-seventh. “There’s no way they talk to each other. We’ll tell the armorer to get sets for us both.” I thanked him, though I was starting to expect the armorer might take one look and make the same assessment as the last guy.
* * *
I’d like to say we pitched our tent for a sound night of sleep before a full meal and a thorough introduction to our unit, weapons, and tactics. But that was just what I wished for, while I force-marched in a sleep-deprived fog. We were struggling to fit the canvas to the sticks when the order came to march. I even smiled at the joke, before I noticed that Hroar had reversed course and wrapped his boots into the tent.
“Wait, they’re not serious?”
Hroar shook his head. Then I noticed that everyone else was already packed, and forming up into a line. My boots and sword were still on the ground. I grabbed for them. “But what about–”
“Shut it, frog!” somebody yelled. “Get your ass in line before you catch a fly!”
I thought it was a bit much, but if I had to line up, I could line up. At least in a line, we could go to the chow tent together.
Fifteen leagues later, I still hadn’t eaten. I could barely walk another step; the only thing forcing my feet to continue one after the other was the fear of what might happen if I stopped. My hand blistered and the tip of my sword dragged on the ground — apparently none of the dead men had owned a scabbard. I would have given my right arm to be out on the Valkyrie. Still at sea. Dad didn’t even know. I hoped Mom was taking this better than I was.
* * *
I dragged my head up when I heard the shouting ahead. Six days of marching, and I would have cheerfully jumped into a giant’s pot. I guess I knew the front lines weren’t right there, but I had envisioned a carriage. Or at least a horse. Or something. My legs were long since numb, and when my good hand periodically cramped, I switched the sword to the injured one. At the moment, the hand was bleeding down the hilt to my blade. Mixing my life with the blood of men and giants already there. I couldn’t imagine what anybody was yelling about. I would have liked to yell for a rest, but if I got one, I would simply fall to the ground and it would take all the heroes in Valor Hall to move me another inch.
Suddenly Hroar knocked me aside. I summoned the power to squawk, but the sound was drowned by the crunch as a massive club shattered his chest. I simply gaped at the one-eyed giant that stepped into the space. It grunted, shook the wreckage of my shield brother off its weapon, and drew it back to swing at me. In that moment, I knew my end was nigh.
A burst of flame sizzled through the air from behind, leaving bright streaks in my vision. I hadn’t even known there was a mage in our escort. The fire smashed into the giant’s eye, and over the creature’s roar, I could hear the pops and hisses as its large white orb boiled away. Blinded, with the juicy remains of its eye dribbling down its chin, it still managed to smash its club wildly into the ground. Thankfully, and miraculously, not into me.
I finally jerked my sword up, slashing the creature’s ruined face. It stood tall and roared, then leaned back down to swing again. I sidestepped the blow, and tried stabbing instead. My sword dug deep into its face. The great monster roared one last time, and then its legs collapsed out from under it. It shook the earth when it fell, and flung the sword right out of my hand.
“Fifty-Seventh! To me!” a voice called fiercely through the mayhem. There seemed to be giants all around, and the wizard’s work was the only thing keeping any of us alive. I ran for the battle standard.
Three steps from safety, or three steps from armed defenders at least, another massive club smashed my left arm and spun me around. Pain exploded into my head, and for a moment, all I could see was red. Then I saw dirt, streaked with the blood of men. I lay face-down on the ground, while the battle raged above. When I tried to push up, the pain in my arm almost broke me. And then I felt an amazing thing — my other hand was pushing against the hilt of a sword.
“Fifty-Seventh! Fifty-Seventh!” I heard. The Merkismathr holding the standard pounded the staff into the ground. A surge of energy propelled me to my feet, and I felt the wounded arm no more. Flame whooshed overhead, another giant roared, and I smelled its burning flesh. My blade followed the trail. Even Hroar could never take them one on one, but with a little aid from this wizard, I would hunt each giant to the grave.
The next time the enemy swung at me, I couldn’t help but notice how slowly its weapon moved. I ducked out of the path with ease, and sliced open its side under the arm that had passed.
The fools were barely wearing armor at all, only mismatched animal skins. My sword cut through them, as easy as gutting a fish.
In the mists of my peripheral vision, our band of defenders seemed smaller.
Something crashed into my leg, but it was only a little bother.
The next “Fifty-seventh” sounded almost half-hearted.
No more fireballs passed over my head.
The battle standard wavered.
I fought my way back, grabbing it from the dead hand of the Merkismathr as he fell.
The world narrowed around me. I could see the broken and bloodied tip of my sword, I could feel the torn standard fluttering in the wind, and I found my enemy before me.
If these creatures thought they could destroy the Fifty-Seventh, they had another thought coming.
My sword ripped another giant open from knee to groin.
Darkness closed in.
Valor Hall, part 3
When I opened my eyes, I saw nothing but granite. The smells of blood, sweat, and flesh were gone. Arches soared over my head, hundreds of feet in the air. In bas-relief, I saw each of my greatest heroes in their finest moments of glory. I heard an entire Tinglith of warriors, crashing the butts of their spears to the ground together, honoring the victories of our past. The sound echoed and re-echoed through the heights of the chamber. I turned, already knowing what I would see.
High on the far wall, opposite the Heroes, rested the Gods. Heroes and Gods as one, only in Valor Hall.
I suppose I knew I’d never survive an ambush by giants, but what cosmic mix-up of fate had delivered a Fisherman here?
I tore my gaze down from the heavens.
I stood in the Circle of Honor. Hroar knelt before me. As soon as I noticed, he bowed his head and raised his hands.
“Hroar, what are you doing? You sacrificed yourself for me! Let me offer you to the Hall!”
Hroar looked up, plainly in awe. “Thorlev, you killed seven giants today. The battle standard of the Fifty-Seventh did not fall until after the last of the enemy.” Tears streamed down his face. “You have made Heroes of us all. I am merely your witness.”
Suddenly a thousand spear hafts crashed to the marble floor, and a thousand voices rang out in unison. “The Fifty-Seventh!” I felt the tears run down my own face as I saw each and every one of my greatest heroes, fists aloft in my honor.
I raised my broken sword. “The Fifty-Seventh!” I called back, with every fibre of my being.
* * *
“So, uh, what now?” I asked Hroar. We stood off to the side, the short ceremony complete.
He cleared his throat in a way I took to be significant, and looked to the side.
I immediately straightened and fumbled my way through a bow as I recognized Ivar Erikson himself. He still had the vaguely bowlegged walk of a king who’d spent nearly his entire reign astride his warhorse. Behind him on each side walked one of his legendary Riddari — the legs and flanks of a stallion, smoothly transitioning into the powerful chests, massive shoulders, and muscled arms of elite warriors. Somehow the stories didn’t do them justice — it looked like either one could snap me in half and eat me for breakfast; just a small warm-up before moving on to the actual battle. One of them smiled at the other as they noticed me staring.
“Congratulations,” the king said, holding out a hand. Shocked, I gripped his arm in the traditional manner, before thinking it through. Probably his Riddari Guard would break me now. But he stopped me when I tried to pull back.
“No, Thorlev. No man here has claim to a title. We are simply the Valiant. And you’ve earned your place at least as much as I have. After all, I had…” and he nodded to his horse-men.
Lost for words, I just looked from him to his Guard, desperately hoping they agreed. Finally I found my tongue. “I… You do me too much honor!”
“No more than you deserve.” Finally he released my arm. “But listen, now, tell me of your journey.”
“Think back. It’ll take a moment, but then it will come to you. How did you come to be here?”
“There was a battle, the giants…” I couldn’t hide my confusion at the request.
“Most of us remember little. Just bits and pieces. Myself, I recall a soft voice, close to my sister’s, but more… innocent. A horse I knew was not my own. He moved like my armor was spun of feathers. No horse has ever carried me like that. And clouds. They tasted… cold. And… then I was here.” There was something else, something he wasn’t saying, but I wasn’t about to object. He shook himself back to the present. “The Fate Stones, though, speak of another. A man who took a longer journey. Thorlev, is that you?”
I thought back. I had taken up the standard. Killed the last giant… And finally fallen. What next?
* * *
“Thorlev,” a voice whispered. A woman’s voice, strikingly unfamiliar. The way she said my name was like no woman I had ever known. She put feeling into each syllable, as if they were gifts to be unwrapped. “Thorlev, your purpose has only begun.”
I opened my eyes, and her appearance was as striking as her voice. Lithe and beautiful, she looked almost Alfari. As she spoke again, I smelled the flowers woven into her long, brown hair. “Thorlev, Hione calls. Will you answer?”
I had to force my voice to work. “I will.”
She stood, and helped me up beside her. The remains of the battle were there, only… faded. I saw the standard at my feet, but couldn’t make out the symbols. My sword lay next to it, and I could no longer tell whose blood it held. A monstrous leg led away, to a torso with four enormous arms. How I avoided succumbing to that great beast, I’ll never know. I shuddered as I gazed over the field, but I couldn’t see much more than my immediate surroundings. I clutched the woman’s arm.
“You may call me Analia. And this is Runar.” I jerked my head around, having no idea who else she was talking about. There, snorting impatiently, was a small brown horse. He was saddled for two, and while Analia would be light, I had no idea how he’d manage to carry us both. He looked me in the eye and jerked his head as if to say, ‘let’s get on with this!’
Analia slipped onto Runar without hesitation. They both looked back at me. What else could I do? Fearing for the blood, sweat, and iron I was about to subject them to, I mounted behind her.
“Thorlev, there’s something you need to see. It’ll take some time, but it’s a story that must be told.”
Then her legs moved, and Runar leaped into the sky.
* * *
The clouds blew past frenetically as Runar strode through the air. We flew toward the coast, and a great storm loomed, washed over us with all the fury of the Storm Lion, and passed in the wink of an eye. Ships flew madly in and out of their ports. But few, too few. I looked for the Valkyrie, and thought maybe I saw it, though it was too far to be sure. A heavy winter storm blasted through, leaving the nothing but slowly spinning wreckage in its place. The sea frothed and churned, tossing the remaining ships like toys.
“Analia, what… what is this?”
She looked back at me sadly. “This, Thorlev, is what you must tell the Valiant.” It made no sense.
Runar turned inland, as summers and winters passed in rapid succession. I looked back, and counted only three ships. The entire fishing fleet?
“This will not be easy,” she warned, as Runar swooped down from the clouds.
I wasn’t sure what she meant. It was just the burned-out remains of some village. As sun and moon passed over, I saw some pathetic survivor dash out of the nearby hills, pick through the ruins, and flee again into the cover of darkness. As we watched, the sun dawned again and she came back, scouring another part of the remains. Another day, another visit. Each time, she seemed to lurk for a longer time at the ruins of one particular structure. This time she was going to pay for it — the attackers were back. Not even giants; a raiding party from the next village. They sped in and spread out to loot whatever they could, and as Runar turned to depart, the lone survivor was heading back toward her favorite place, unaware. Surrounded, and she didn’t even know it. She arrived just as I lost sight, her destination on the edge of a large clearing. If this was home, that would be the space for the market. Our house had also been on the edge, just about…
“I’m sorry, Thorlev.”
As we disappeared back into the clouds, I heard someone screaming.
Then I realized it was me.
* * *
“At least we fought the giants to a standstill,” I concluded. It wasn’t worth much. I couldn’t even see the ground toward the end, with the land sweeping Jaanmark with a winter the likes of which she had never seen. Three summers missed and it was only getting started. “I think I’m glad I didn’t live to see the rest.”
Ivar Erikson considered my story and nodded. “You’re the one, then. The Last of the Valiant.” He blew out a sigh. “We must warn the others. The end is near.”Read More
The Wyrd Sisters have spoken of the Destiny of the Gods: the time when all barriers would be broken, Ratri would be freed, and the gods’ ancient foes would march on Valor Hall to the ruin of all.
Through the long years we have waited, the army of the gods to counter the army of the giants. In life, all of us were great heroes, worthy of selection to Valor Hall. In this afterlife, we have grown soft, our skills slowly eroded by too much food and drink, too many nights spent carousing. We are not ready.
But those of us who have remained alert have sensed it, and those who would heed the lines of prophecy can see that the twilight of the gods is drawing nigh. We must prepare ourselves, and rouse our fellow Valiant to the defense of this world.
Run #1: Meeting the Ghost River People
PC’s: Macan, Notin Tolkien, Rorsharch, Guildmaster Bob, Frozen Stream, Aria, and Bob (not to be confused with Guildmaster Bob)
The adventuring team meets with Magistrate Nicholai Zed, (see the attached pic: Magistrate Nicholai Zed.png) a very old elf who is known for having some prophetic abilities and for standing above the destruction of the Idyllican Valley calming everyone by playing his wood/bone/glass flute. A spirit of his flute has told him of a place to the south west in a crack in the earth where a stone sarcophagus from Sitriph lies. The people that moved it there wrote a story of their journey on the sarcophagus detailing their trip from Sitriph to their latest home. It is his hope that they can study the sarcophagus and find out how the Sitriph citizens survived the wastelands and by studying the records of their journey they can find the exact location of Sitriph. Without the location information, the Horde may not make it there on time before the wall of Shroud magic reaches them. They leave immediately.
The party encounters and talks with eight-legged squirrels and large tentacles in waterpools where they refill their water. One morning, close to dawn, they hear babies crying and after a quick scouting mission by Macan in panther form, he discovers from a distance an old religious building in serious disrepair with one baby human boy on the interior steps and possibly two more in the shadows. He also sees at least three predator beasts that look like oily horses with pointed teeth and grasping hands at the ends of their long limbs and hooves on their elbow joints. Macan leads them back to the party and the party quickly kill them. Aria picks up the baby boy on the steps and the baby starts to spit up red feathers. As the baby starts to turn itself inside out and become a bird, single named-Bob, smacks the transforming baby out of Aria’s hands. Horrified, Notin tries to burn the abomination with magic. Guildmaster Bob almost gets his eyes pecked out by the bird. Finally the other two birds attack and all three are killed. That morning, single-named Bob has bird for breakfast and finds that the birds have baby skin on the inside. It does not destroy his appetite.
Shortly before dusk under a heat-lightning filled sky the party encounters a group of six bird-headed humanoids bullying on a twelve year old naked human girl very near a huge chasm in the earth. The girl’s wrists and ankles are bound with rope and she has a sack on her head. The six humanoids have red-feathered bird heads and red feathers around their ankles. The red feathers remind the party of the birds they fought previously. They also seem to have leather loincloths and speak in a strange language.
While the lightning and thunder above hides the party’s whereabouts, they attack with surprise. Once they kill about half of the humanoids, they realize that the bird heads are masks/ helmets and that the people they are fighting are humans. The girl finds her way to one of the fallen humans and using the person’s obsidian dagger cuts her legs free. As the battle does not look like it is going well for the natives one of the spellcasters runs to the edge of the chasm and jumps! Without uttering an incantation, she begins flying away impersonating swimming movements. The girl yanks the hood off her head and Macan sees that the girl had been crying but instead of tears, blood is leaking from her eyes. As the girl also charges toward the chasm edge, Macan tells her to stop. The girl freezes in her tracks obviously recognizing the language. She says, “Must kill her!” And then leaps off the edge flying in the same way. Rorsharch starts to have a crisis of faith. He believes he has just stopped the local law enforcement from exiling a vampire and he may lose his Mavor-given powers. Macan follows along the edge as the girl and the spellcaster have an aerial battle. The naked girl finally drives the obsidian blade into the caster’s heart. The caster’s body then plummets to the chasm floor. As the last of the humans adversaries is killed, Macan returns with the girl.
The girl explains that her name is Upon A Time, and that she is (or was) a member of the Ghost River People. She was exiled for having bleeding eyes, the first signs of the Curse of the Seventh Citizen. The guards were escorting her down river and they wore the feathered masks and anklets of the red feathered Ava Birds. She laughs at the party for falling for the cries of the bird things earlier. The history of the Ghost River People is that they were originally from the city of Sitriph. When her ancestors fled persecution, they did so in a large sarcophagus to protect themselves from the wild Shroud magic present in the Wasteland. But only six citizens could fit standing in the box. A seventh citizen clung to the back of the tamed wolf that was used to pull the cart and the sarcophagus. As they travelled, the six were changed only a little but the Seventh Citizen suffered more problems and began to merge with the wolf. Even after the escapees found the Ghost River, the Seventh Citizen, now merged with the wolf, became further unstable and angry. She attacked the Ghost River People (as they were now calling themselves) and their offspring and when they finally did more than protect themselves, they delivered her a mortal blow but she would not die. They sealed her up in the original sarcophagus and hid her away. But the curse lived on. The people that she attacked and their offspring had a chance of bleeding from the eyes and eventually becoming homicidal. No one had seen the sarcophagus in about 100 years and the only one who might know where its current location would be the king. She went on to explain that there are only six variations of faces among the Ghost River People and that each person is an exact replica of one of the original six people that created this civilization. She has the face of the woman who was known as One Who Protects.
Although Guildmaster Bob, a dwarf, had some difficulty initially with the concept and related skill needed to swim/fly, everyone eventually got it. With Upon A Time disguised in one of the bird helms, she led them into the cliff-side city to request an audience with the king. It was decided that Rorsharch should be the one to formally request an audience with the king. Upon A Time told him to stand tall and not give up. Although the palace attendant put him through the ringer by first denying him and then angering him, he eventually apologized for testing him for the Curse of the Seventh Citizen. The palace attendant returned with notice that the king would give him an audience in fourteen days.
Upon being told that fourteen days was a short amount of time, they decided to go the quarters being prepared for them and possibly return in morning to insist upon a sooner audience. Magistrate Zed suggests that they sneak into his quarters and awaken him. Upon A Time used to be servant in the palace and shares her vivid living memories by puncturing the roof of her mouth and sharing her blood with the party. At about 3am, they implement their new plan to have their forced early morning audience.
Notin Tolkien, a hobbit who looks more like a short human due to his corruptions, levitates into his bedchamber window and wakes the king by casting a suggestion spell on him. “Grant me an audience” was his command. King All Fall Down reaches for a white cloth on his night table, wipes his face and agrees. Notin begs the king for the location of the sarcophagus but the king grows increasingly angrier and angrier. He accused Notin of being full of lies as he is obviously a ‘Half-man” in disguise and probably in league with the forces of Sitriph. Constantly reaching up to touch his face with the cloth, the audience escalates into a combat when the king launches himself at the now-hovering Hobbit outside his window. Notin recognizes the fury he has seen before and although the king is not bleeding from his eyes suspects that he is under the Curse of the Seventh Citizen but using a magic cloth to clean his face. Notin keeps his calm and calms the king as well. Notin tells the king that he will tell his people of his curse unless he tells him the location of the sarcophagus. All Fall Down tells him that he does not know the exact location except that it is down river. People who are under the Curse of the Seventh Citizen tend to seek it out. Until about 100 years ago, it was kept in the palace but whenever a cursed individual would seek it out it would lead the maniac to the palace where kings and queens lived. Many rulers had been murdered. One of the past rulers figured it out and had the stone box shipped away. Now when someone is found to bleed from their eyes they are exiled and escorted down river. The guards are instructed to let them go once they begin to feel the pull and move along in that direction under their own power. Notin knows they have Upon A Time and that she could probably lead them but doesn’t tell the king this.
Using Ghost River People blood magic, three wise women almost completely drain Macan to open a portal to one of his illegitimate children travelling with The Horde. Grasping vials of blood which will impart the knowledge of Long Bow creation and the Snapshot feat, the party enters the red portal and find themselves back with The Horde. Magistrate Zed and Upon A Time remain and await a new refreshed group to continue the quest for the sarcophagus of Sitriph.
Run #2: Wall of The Black Canyon
PC’s: Brock Samson, Brother Sue Cantacle, Dimo of Clan Jager, Marvin, Poppy O Rue, Thaddeus Venture
When the new party crosses through the red portal they arrive in the palace and the three wise women close the portal with great relief. They find Magistrate Zed and Upon A Time to fill them in on recent events. Poppy asks to see the flute that Magistrate Zed possesses and although he does not allow her to hold the artifact of Samedhi he does promise to will it to her when he dies. She accepts this considering it looks as if Magistrate Zed has one foot in the grave already.
Everyone sets off to swim/fly down river and only Dimo, a dwarf, has any difficulty, but he catches on. Poppy enjoys the swim immensely, feeling the ancient spirit of the river that cut the canyon all around her. They arrive in the plains of the Black Canyon as their ability to fly begins to cough and sputter. They walk across the plain following the river to a large white wall preceded by four strange towers. (see attached pic: Wall of the Black Canyon.jpg) They proceed into the carved out hole at the wall base into which the river flows. Under Upon A Time’s guidance, they eventually find their way into a long ancient chamber filled with mounds of rusty brown earth covered in vegetation thriving in the moist environment.
Suddenly, about fifteen ragged humanoids emerge from the mounds. Each one has elongated claws on the ends of their fingers, animalistic features and angry bleeding eyes. They pause when they view Upon A Time whose eyes are bleeding with this added stress but then launch themselves at the other intruders with rage and fury. Brock wrestles one victim of the Curse of the Seventh Citizen to the ground but the numbers threaten to overrun them all. Upon A Time points toward a deep pit and tells everyone she feels the pull of the sarcophagus down it. Brother Sue instructs everyone to come towards him for he has a plan. Thaddeus gets seriously injured. Magistrate Zed starts to exhale into his flute and call forth the spirits of the dead to fight off the many many enemies. With expert precision, Brother Sue, the cleric of Daglir, cuts the stone free below them so that it gently slides downward into the pit thereby reducing the fall by more than half. Poppy knocks the native girl onto the moving platform just in time. Due to the solid spirits above, only two enemies make their way onto the white stone platform with the party. When everyone lands at the bottom and Thaddeus gets knocked unconscious, Marvin casts a web over the top of the pit. They kill the two that fell with them and run towards the now-stronger pull of the sarcophagus.
They emerge in round room under the bedrock where they hear the rush of the waterfall above them. Before them is what they seek, the sarcophagus of Sitriph. And immediately Brother Sue begins construction on a wall to seal them off from the imminent rush of enemies from the room above while others begin reading the more recent stone plates attached to the top. The stone plates describe the journey from Sitriph, the history of the Ghost River People and the tragedy of The Seventh Citizen. (see the two attached images: Carved Stone Plates 1&2.jpg,Carved Stone Plates 3&4.jpg)
They examine the box and determine it is not stone but some form of hardened ceramic and that it has been affected by the Shroud and has become part of the rough-hewn grand-patterned floor. Carved clearly on the front surface are the words, “CONTAMINATED APHAR. DO NOT OPEN”. (see the attached doctored image:Sarcophagus of Sitriph.jpg) It has a series of four locks that once open at once. But Brock does not share with anyone that he can open the locks especially Upon A Time who is getting more and more impatient and angrier until she finally breaks down and sobs. Although they were not going to open it, Magistrate Zed says he can see an important key inside that they will possess.
As the scraping sounds from Brother Sue’s wall are getting louder they realize speed is of the essence. If they plan on opening the box, now is the time. Brother Sue begins by tunneling upwards toward the sound of the waterfall. And when he begins feeling dripping, Brock disengages the locks and both Brock and Dimo lift up the heavy lid.
Poppy and Upon A Time look in and see the desiccated naked human form of a woman clinging to the back of a wolf pelt. The woman has a healed exit wound in the center of her back. Suddenly the single creature springs up onto its hind legs and stands in the sarcophagus. There is human skin forming an “x” on the wolf’s chest where the woman’s arms have been absorbed into the wolf with an entry wound of a spear is at its center. The woman’s face is a smear on the creatures back but one eye is bright and blue and begins to dart around. She is wrapped in a loose rope. As Poppy tries to speak to the combined woman/wolf, The Seventh Citizen swiped at her with a pair of claws calling her a dirty Half-man from her wolf mouth. Dimo and Brock drop the lid behind the sarcophagus as Poppy falls back. Soon members of the party start blaming Poppy for being bad. She looks at them incredulously. Upon A Time, bleeding from the eyes, steps back muttering that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. The other cursed people on the other side of the wall start going bezerk and start howling. The Seventh Citizen tells Upon A Time she can go. She refuses and joins in the attack set off by Dimo and Brock but every blow is healing slowly. So as water trickles in with increasing speed, Marvin who is up in the hole with Brother Sue starts lighting flasks of flaming oil to drop onto their adversary. Dimo sees a Dwarven key on chain partially absorbed into the neck skin of the joined creature but can’t get rip it off. Thaddeus sees one spell thrown by Poppy get obliterated before it even reaches the wolf as the wolf’s mosaic amulet hums. Nickolai Zed summons up more warrior spirits who start to guard the breaking wall as Thaddeus hurls spells into the newly formed holes. Two other warriors lift the sarcophagus lid.
Water starts pouring down from the hole above as the human cleric of Daglir, Brother Sue breaks into the water pool. Brock opens The Sevenths Citizen’s side and reveals her internal organs but she does not die. With direction from one of the spirits, Brock plunges the silver ‘moon metal’ dagger into the beast’s heart and she falls slumped over the sarcophagus edge finally dead after so long. Dimo yanks off the Dwarven key and others pull other items off her still form.
The party goes up the hole helping each other along the way but Magistrate Zed wants to be last. He chooses to stay with his spirit warriors and when they call down to him he gets into the sarcophagus and says he will not be joining them. He tells them to leave and then look in Poppy’s pack for a letter that will explain everything. Before swim flying up river to the Ghost River People they read the Magistrate’s letter. The letter along with a sealed glass bottle confesses that he was the one who set about the events that destroyed the Idyllican Valley! (see the attached image: Magistrate Zed’s Letter of Confession.jpg)
A young girl with large lidless eyes asks the group to quiet a noisy talkative man in the cart travelling next to hers. And it smells also. They enter the cart and the smell is near unbearable and the sight of this man is grotesque. His corruptions are numerable. His eyes in his sockets are rotted and black but he has a crop of new eyes sprouting on his neck. His skin is green and leathery with some of his overgrown bones protruding from it. He has small legs sprouting from medium legs growing from long monstrous legs. His mouth is frozen open but he has a second smaller mouth inside the original that he may speak with. And it is those words that exemplify his madness. Gergely is his name although no one ever asked for it. (To see Gergely see the attached image: Gergely.jpg) He claims to have visions of other areas in the Wastelands, in all times but he is sometimes unsure when they have or will occur. He described a place that they could get to by following the last rays of the setting sun. That hole under the white square that holds a mirror that shows what once was, that could be again. He calls it the Mirror of Baylis and it is in the still lake in the cave. They ask him how he could have gotten so corrupted. He claims to have travelled far and wide with his visions and that may be the reason. But he admitted to have never been lucky.
Virlinth, a very young elf a little over one year old, uses his magic to tap into the mind of Gergely to get images. Virlinth and Gergeley sees the place the party is supposed to go and suddenly the horribly corrupted man knows his time is up. His very existence unravels before their eyes and he is gone. Since Virlinth was connected to his mind when he was unmade by the sheer mass of corruptions, he asks which god claimed his soul since Gergely was a devout worshipper of the Quartet (Pantheist). No one claimed him because his soul unraveled as well. This unsettled the entire party. They exit the cart and tell the girl that he will no longer disturb her sleep. She thanks them.
The party leaves The Horde as the sun goes down and after about an hour they find themselves in an area strewn with large piles of rubble. They find the large white square seen in the visions shared between Gergeley and Virlinth and pull it up. They descend into the damp darkness. They follow the passage and fight a few monstrous silverfish of varying sizes but the adversaries do not prove to be any major concern. Down one of the dead end passages they discover a place to fill up bowls with water but it seems like it has not been used in many many years. Inscribed in stone above small platform is an eight pointed crown and the words “Gold in Peace, Iron in War.”
Behind a large locked door, they discover what used to an amphitheater now filled with water. They have entered at the top of the theater and across the still pool they see a mirror frame with one golden rod placed within a holder on the left and another empty holder on the right.
Suddenly splashing puts the party on alarm as one very large koi begins speaking to them. Another one also joins the conversation. In their story they tell of a time when they were once human and were part of the elite royal guard of Sitriph. The brother & sister pair was charged with the safety of the Baylis family, the last non-hobbit rulers of Sitriph. Before the Army of Salvation took over rulership of the city, the Baylis family was intent on sending missions into the Wastelands to open communication with the separated havens of survivors. To make sure those that went on those missions could return to their original form despite the corrupting forces of the Wastelands, they developed a special tool that would turn back the hands of time. If a person connected the two rods of Baylis to the empty frame a mirror would appear and show the person the image of what they looked like exactly one year ago. If they so chose, they could switch places and accept their younger form and when their older form looked out from the mirror they could remove the rods and banish the older form forever. This would allow someone who was corrupted to return to their original uncorrupted body as long as they were not affected for more than a year.
However, the Mirror of Baylis was never tested because the coupe led by the Army of Salvation occurred and although General Teodore Valiff was able to capture the Iron Rod of Baylis, the frame and the golden rod was whisked away to the safe house by the two sibling elite guard. Although the party failed to ask again, their names were Knight Nealeo and Dame Annette Kyukaku.
The pair never knew what happened to the Baylises. They suspect the king and queen were captured and possibly executed but the young princess named Threnody Baylis had a craftiness and life about her. She would have put up quite a fight.
When they arrived at the safe house, they lived in the amphitheater intent on waiting until the right people should claim the mirror frame and rod. They waited for over a century and a half. The amphitheater flooded and due to their corruptions they slowly adapted to fit their new environment unintentionally, they took on the form of the pair of large blind cave fish. When asked how The Shroud threads had changed them into fish they replied with, “We’re lucky, I guess.” McCormik said they knew someone who viewed himself as unlucky referring to the horribly corrupted man that sent them on the mission.
They offered the party the mirror and as the party was ready to leave they asked them if they needed other items for their mission back to Sitriph. The pair of fish offered them the items they could no longer wear like their boots, glass armor and a cloak.
The party said goodbye to the elite guard and headed back to The Horde with some hope of reversing the corruptions in their hands.
Princess Threnody Baylis escaped and went into hiding for about 20 years with the early members of the resistance. When she was finally able to escape the city she and six others left in a ceramic vessel usually used to dispose of corrupted Aphar. They called it a sarcophagus and she renamed herself One Who Protects. She and the others became the first of the Ghost River People. See information contained in Run #2.
Run #4: General Electric
PC’s: Brother Sue Cantacle, Dimo of Clan Jager, Hildegard Finelli, Iggy, Knob, Naylor, Rhopinu, Winters Wisper
The party is on an advanced scouting mission and is camped for the evening, by all estimates, about two days east of the City of Sitriph. Near to dawn, a limping Hobbit enters their camp. He explains his name is Ogadai and that due to his imperfection, he was not allowed in the Army of Salvation. So he joined the city’s resistance group nicknamed the Phoenix. He drew a map of Sitriph in the dust and they formulated a plan. With help of Dimo’s Dwarven Master Key, they would enter the city via the long lost secret passage in the Southern Wall and eventually find Rich Fellstaff, a merchant man is also secretly part of the Phoenix. After loudly rousing everyone to get moving, Ogadai moves back into the wildness and teleports back to Sitriph.
The party arrives in the purple swamps to the south and makes their way to the secret passage in the dwarven made wall. They emerge in the neighborhood of Shutterland which is a large illegal market. They make contact with Rich Fellstaff who lives close to the Aphar Mill and is aware that the place that transmits the power to the Aphar Golems is hidden in the building. He agrees to help them on the condition that the Phoenix resistance and the members’ families will be allowed to enter the Fortress of Sitriph before The Shroud descends. The party agrees to these conditions and leaves the mirror frame and golden rod of Baylis in the merchant’s possession.
The party plans their assault as a group of Golems move the large ceramic ‘sarcophagi’ out of the building for disposal. Brother Sue uses his abilities to remove the lock in the metal doors and the party enters. Naylor and Dimo rush in to deliver a serious beating on a Hobbit who has exited his crude golem to handle some paperwork. Knob gets into the golem and tries to fit in with the other workers. As the party begins to see the sheer numbers of adversaries, the city alarm starts to scream. Other members of The Horde have set off the alarms elsewhere in the city and the majority of the Aphar muscle leaves to attend to the disturbance. That was certainly lucky.
Iggy and others notice a panicked Hobbit run to blank spot on the wall and enter a secret doorway that closes behind him when he enters. The party runs underneath the dead bodies on hooks being prepared to be changed into Aphar and make it to the area they saw the nervous Hobbit disappear. Brother Sue casts another spell and gains the ability to mold stone and carves open the door to allow everyone through. The party descends down a long staircase and emerges into a strange room.
An eight foot diameter orb floats in the center with seven rotating pendulums swinging throughout the room touching key points within the room. The ceramic sphere is pulsating with electricity and delivering that energy to the walls where it is absorbed and theoretically delivered through the earth to the Golems throughout the city and beyond.
Naylor and Dimo go about destroying the pendulum arms of the strange device. Hildegard goes head to head with some medium golems and gets targeted by an automatic javelin launching backpack from another. Iggy targets the running nervous Hobbit. Knob casts hold person on the lower half pilots of huge golems so that the entire golem gets knocked over by the swinging arms. Rhopinu summons a gryphon to attack the golems. Everyone participates to disable the device or fend off the golems.
The energy demand is greater with the assault from The Horde’s forces throughout the city. The remaining arms start spinning faster and the orb’s energies pulsate in a quicker pattern but without a way for it to dissipate, the orb explodes and pieces embed themselves in the walls, floors and ceiling. Everywhere, golems fall dormant. Soldiers of the Army of Salvation try to claw their ways out of their clay prisons.
From within the shattering power orb, a small blackened ribcage and skull fall to the floor. Encased within the ribcage is a blue beating heart. With each beat, bolts of electricity illuminate the ghostlike humanoid form of a Hobbit holding what appears to be a lightning rod.
Full of hate and rage, the Hobbit points his iron rod at the members of The Horde and labels them as ‘Abominations!’ With a simple statement, Brother Sue says it is The General.
General Theodore Valiff, raises the rod in the air and shouts “Iron in war!” releasing a storm of broken glass, catching both abominations and imprisoners in his malicious spell. Anyone who gets too close to the general’s form is electrocuted. But as the party surrounds him, they smash his bones, and pierce his heart, forever putting the hate-filled creature to rest. The blue light in his eye socket goes out and his heart finally stops beating. No one chooses to consume the heart, although Dimo considers it for an instance. They pick up the Iron Rod of Baylis and make their way up the stairs.
When the party emerges above ground again, the city is in chaos and they can see The Shroud consuming the Eastern Bridge. They collect the Fellstaff family with the mirror and Golden Rod of Baylis. Then they run to the Fortress of Sitriph that is being fortified by other members of The Horde and close the doors just in time as The Shroud passes over.
The last time the Dwarven Master Key was used was when the seven people escaped the city to eventually become the Ghost River people. One of those people was Threnody Baylis, the last non-hobbit ruler of Sitriph. She would later abandon her name and become One Who Protects.
The story of General Theodore Valiff:
An excerpt from the stone carvings on the Sarcophagus of Sitriph reads ‘The Army of Sitriph used to be composed of all kinds and races and their greatest hero was the Half-a-man, ‘General Teodore Valiff’. Early in his military career, his family was murdered by creatures from The Wastelands. Later, he preached the eradication of all those who were Shroud-touched. He even led raiding parties into the wastelands to destroy the vile creatures where they lived. Since he led so many excursions, he was the first to become enshrouded. When his symptoms became apparent, he was overcome by his own army and destroyed for they felt his mission was just and noble mission. And so that their excursions could continue, the Aphar was made. Aphar could shield only the Half-a-men in the army. Since the Aphar made the Half-a-men so strong, soon the entire army was made up of only Half-a-men. All other kinds were distrusted and treated as low.’
But the truth is this…
When the General’s eyes started glowing blue and crackling with a strange energy they did not simply kill the corrupted general, they imprisoned him and removed him from duty. Those working on the Aphar clay realized that this electrical energy could be used to control the clay and offer a way to power the Clay Golems. And although he was going mad with pain they could use his new found power to bring about his ideals, the eradication of enshrouded creatures. And as long as the Hobbit warriors were covered in Aphar clay, they would remain protected from the fate that befell General Valiff.
When the necromantic ceramic ball at the room’s center is finally opened they will find that it was keeping the General alive for these centuries. Inside they will find a being of immense energy. He will look simply like a blackened skull and rib cage surrounding a beating blue heart. With each beat, a crackle of electricity will travel down the ghostly image of his veins and one will be able to see his Hobbit form in those instances. Once the ball is shattered, the general is doomed. He cannot survive much longer. He is aware of this and will attack both the Horde and the hobbits that have kept him imprisoned for all these years.
Now this is cool…For insight into the choices for the symbols such as the eight pointed crown, the Resistance being called the Phoenix and the saying “Gold in Peace, Iron in War” see the attached link… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The new world is at peace. The credits have rolled. We fade to black.
The sun dawns over the horizon onto a lush field of wildflowers. A light breeze blows slightly and causes the wild colors of the flowers to dance. A long twisted ceramic box juts from the earth at an odd angle. It is laced profusely with white threads. A large black tree protrudes from one side of the box and odd plants sprout from its surface as if stone is as good a medium as earth.
All is calm. The wind stirs lazily on the spring morning. Suddenly a faint sound can be heard coming from within the box. It grows steadily louder until its eerie song can be recognized as flute music.
The music seems to coalesce into the spirit forms of two warriors. Each ghost bears the mark of two mountains with a key between them, the symbol of the Idyllican Valley. The primordial energies of the field seem to latch onto the spirits and flesh seems to form about the lost souls. One warrior is clothed in the flesh of a great bear possessing long claws. The other man is transformed into a large black bull with long pointed horns. Using claw and horn, they pry the lid off easily. The original locking mechanisms had turned to ash under the influence of the wild magic of The Shroud.
A young elf sits up slowly and the two creatures help him stand. His wrinkles were washed away along with the old dead world. He blinks at the light of the new dawn and sets the odd flute to his lips once again. Through the wood, bone, and glass of his flute a soft melody rises as he exhales into the mouthpiece next to the image of the golden bough, the symbol of Samedhi. More spirits emerge, such as a young dwarven child, a hobbit beggar, a human blacksmith, an elven wizard woman and too many more to count. They were the ones caught in the collapse of the Idyllican Valley. As each emerges their spirits are wrapped in flesh of one kind or another. They wore bodies of uncorrupted animals such as snakes, birds, and insects, and other stranger things. Those odd ones were legendary things described as living more than a thousand years before even the Age of Wonder. They all wore their new bodies like a favorite set of clothes.
They gathered in the emerging dawn light and in the shadow of the single twisted tree and talked with each other until they saw the radiant elf standing alone on the sarcophagus. They all quieted and Magistrate Nicholai Zed spoke. His young voice was strong and powerful yet oddly melodious as he spoke to the menagerie assembled before him.
“Thank you all for bearing with me. First let me say you are all look…wondrous. We have all seen our share of destruction and death and for that I must apologize. But the time for destruction is over. We are all reborn to go forth into this virgin land and shape it into a true paradise. Let the gods see they have spared us for a grand purpose. Come here to this stone ‘ship’ of salvation. Let us all embrace as brothers and sisters. Let us all hear each others’ voices, for this is not my world nor is it yours. It is ours. Let this box be our council table and this tree be our roof, for this is a dawn of the greatest age yet.”
The talk began. The voice of the mole was no less heard than that of the elephant or the even the fiery drake. The sun grew high and then started to descend in the sky and none of them hungered. The elf added his voice and they all listened. With their discussions nearly over, the sun set over the first council in the reborn world. Their silhouettes mingled and moved in front of the red glow over the western horizon.
Fade to black again.Read More
In the long time gone before times, a great and terrible empire rose up that cast all under its shadow. Those that were deemed unworthy by the rulers of the empire were hunted and ruthlessly exterminated. Just as the final dominion of the empire was assured, a desperate band of mystics, shamans, clerics, wizards, magi and scientists gathered together and called forth a power from the beginning of the world, a force to change the world and reshape the darkness into a place where people could start fresh, a new world free of the rules of the empire.
Whether they did not understand what they unleashed, if something went wrong, or if the empire found them as they completed their work, we will never know, for what came next was the Night of No Stars. It is impossible to say how long this lasted, some say one night, some say forty, all that is certain is that afterwards the world was changed beyond recognition and nothing and no place was safe.
Since the time of our grandfather’s grandfathers we sheltered in Idyllican Valley, trusting in the Laws of Salvation to protect us from the terrors of the wastelands. We learned to deal with each other, to celebrate the differences between human, dwarf, elf and hobbit, bound together in survival. But then disaster came upon us and we were driven forth. More than forty thousand people lived in the Valley, but when the mountains erupted in fire, we were decimated and only a remnant of a remnant escaped alive. Four thousand refugees left our home, wandering in the wastelands chasing the dream of safety to the west.
Many died of starvation, many more from the monsters we met in our travels. Our heroes, the strong, the wise and the clever, led us in fighting off the terrible creatures sent by Sitriph, helping us learn to accept the horrific changes we endured as the magic of the wastes washed through us. Some found ancient temples of knowledge to give us understanding; others found strange allies that once we would have feared.
We thought we had reached our final end when the Shroud Wall, that enigmatic white mist that had come over the land during the Night of No Stars, was about to sweep us before it as we huddled in the enigmatic structure of the ancients. Most of our heroes were away breaking the power of the villainous Army of Salvation and clearing the sanctuary of Sitriph for us, but we could not reach those walls we had struggled so to find.
But at the last moment, the strange machines were deciphered and we were able to be magically transported into the catacombs of Sitriph! Even as the Shroud fell over us, our heroes put forth an ultimate effort, several of them falling as they did so, to reinforce the walls and keep us safe. Almost half of the refugees had died on the march, but between the survivors, the allies that joined us, and a collection of animals saved by the Gaians, we packed Sitriph to the very brim.
And well for us all that we did so, for when the Shroud had passed on, all that had been was gone. The world was clean and new, our walls had turned into mountains surrounding us like a mothers arms, what was once endless sea now plains and forests ready to be repopulated. It may be that some others survived in other shelters; we must reach out and find a way for us to shape this fresh world into the world we wish our children to live in.Read More
First, Backstory: About a thousand years ago (long after the Night of No Stars, long before the invention of Aphar Clay) a largish group of refugees got booted out of Sitriph for being dissidents. (This was during the germination of the oppressive society encountered in the Con.) The dissidents had some clue that large groups of people could withstand the corruption of the Shroud remnants contaminating the wilderness, and they developed a fairly horrifying practice of human sacrifice to amplify and exploit this effect — imbuing the essence of humanity into the walls around them, through the blood of the sacrifices. It worked, but not well enough; one way or another each of their refuges failed and they would pack up and try to find a better location, each time going farther from Sitriph and heading for the legendary Shroud-free haven of Idyllicon Valley.
Along their way they discovered, but were refused entrance to, the Great Temple of Knowledge that had been built in the earliest years after the Night Of No Stars, by clerics who wielded the burgeoning powers of the new Gods but still had access to the secrets of the old world as well. The Great Temple had been founded in the certainty that the Shroud would come again and all possible knowledge must be preserved against that dire day.
The Refugees (sometimes styled the Refugees of Blood) lost knowledge and numbers both in their string of forced migrations, and ultimately only a tiny remnant made the trek from their final refuge to Idyllicon (some records indicate only one Shroud-wracked individual.) The guards turned them away and the Refugees met their final doom in the wilderness.
Run 1: “Not a Ruin”
Premise was very simple – outriders scouting for the Horde spot a building that hasn’t been eroded to nothing, so maybe it has stuff. A looting^H^H^H^H^H^H^H foraging party is sent. They find a fairly complete walled keep, and also discover an out-wall suggesting that the keep had kept a couple of square miles under cultivation in its heyday. Attempting to enter, they are briefly delayed by the trapdoor grizzly bear that had set up shop in front of the entrance. Scrutinizing the structure, the detect a residue of some kind of unwholesome magic in the mortar, and come to the conclusion that it was made with blood. Skeletal remains of an apparent suicide — he had to dive headfirst down the narrow clear shaft at the core of the spiral stair — turn up in one of the corner towers, but nothing of interest otherwise. At the Great Hall, on the other hand, several mummified corpses are found, with an interesting variety of deathwounds. Further investigation is delayed when the mummies animate and attack the party. The mummies are eventually overcome; the party is horrified at the speed of progression of the variant mummy rot they inflict, but mollified when they discover that any kind of magical healing stops it in its tracks. Scraps of a journal are found and provide some clarification despite extensive smudging (the journal-writer knocked his ink bottle over onto it in his death-throes). The players can read enough to infer the basics: human sacrifice as a way to fend off Shroud-corruption, dwindling numbers, a grim certainty of encroaching doom. The last entry in the journal ends with “The burrowers beneath are …..”
Exploring the rest of the keep, the party resists the enticements of the ghost haunting the favored chambermaid’s bedroom (she projects a very alluring illusion to try to coax someone into her bed, but luckily for the party her haunting binds her to the bed and she can’t actually harm anyone she can’t reach). A large and detailed map is found in one of the master bedrooms and brought back to Hireling Hall. The party scouts the basements, notes that the mysterious “burrowers beneath” (who can drill through solid rock) seem to be returning now that there’s life in the keep again, and delay them by burning most of the combustibles left in the basement while making their own getaway. One of the items brought back restored knowledge of 4th-level Prayers to PCs.
Run 2: Shadows of Princecon Past
With all the clay running around I couldn’t resist throwing in a shout-out to Princecon 33: Ghost and Clay. Specifically, Terra Cotta Warriors. The next-oldest refuge of the Refugees had been built with the bright idea of intensifying the protective “humanity” of the walls by making them look like humans; hence, the warriors made of fired clay, made to guard the walls. Unfortunately, the ritual of creating the warriors was too close to the (not-yet-discovered) Sitriph ritual for creating Aphar Clay, which *attracts* Shroud thread instead of repelling it. The clay statues became suffused with Shroud Thread, which animated them — and the ghosts of the people sacrificed to make them filled their nascent minds with horror. One night the guardian statues climbed down from the wall and started slaughtering the Refugees, who fled with scarcely more than the nightshirts on their backs. Once the murderers had been punished, the Terra Cotta warriors had a couple of centuries to calm down and get over their PTSD before the Players encountered them.
The party en route to the next refuge didn’t know any of this, of course. They did have an edifying encounter with a long-range patrol from Sitriph, a pair of two-pilot golems. (I treasure the look on Tim DeCapio’s face when his Gaia cleric used Lifesense to find out whether these odd monsters were alive or constructs and learned that each of them was alive twice.) After the golems were broken the pilots resisted too vigorously to be taken alive, except for the one who had succumbed to a Sleep spell while the golem was still functional. Interrogation of the pilot revealed some useful information about the Army of Salvation, Aphar Clay and the nature of its protection in the wilderness, but ultimately the pilot’s fanaticism and extremism grew so frustrating that the party put him out of their misery. (In fairness, it could be said this summary execution was what the prisoner wanted — he tried to commit suicide twice during the interrogation.)
The party proceeded to the keep marked on their map and discovered one much like the first-run keep, but obviously in better repair. In fact, they saw, it was obviously being repaired, with stone and metalwork of recent vintage patching decayed portions of the ancient structure. They also discovered that somebody inside was volleying arrows at anyone who came too close. Party withdrew to a dell out of LOS from the keep to rest for the night and plan. Winter’s Whisper, hobbit Gaia cleric, decided to make a lone scouting attempt to see if the cover of darkness would make it possible to approach the keep. He narrowly avoided being captured by a thrown net and hightailed it back to the campsite.
Shortly thereafter, the party discovered themselves surrounded by Terra Cotta Warriors with drawn bows, who had come up silently enough that no one noticed them until they broke the 60′ range limit of Darkvision. The party begged to talk with them, rather than fighting or trying to escape. This sufficiently intrigued the TCW that their leader got out a slate and a piece of chalk. (The TCW cannot speak–their faces are immobile carvings–and routinely communicate in writing.) In the ensuing conversation the TCW learned that the PCs were not descended from the Refugees (whom the TCW still hated) but instead from the people who turned the last Refugees away to die in the wilderness, which earned them a claim to at least minimal hospitality. (“YOU ARE WELCOME TO REST IN SAFETY WITHIN OUR WALLS. WE CANNOT OFFER YOU FOOD. WE DO NOT EAT.”) Subsequent negotiations provided the PCs with some useful items, the restoration of the Piety and Paladin feats, and some Terra Cotta Warriors accompanying them back to the Horde to teach the arts of steelworking and longbow manufacture (it turned out that these lost arts, however, had already been rediscovered by an earlier-returning party).
Run 3: Great Temple of Knowledge
The existence and location of the Great Temple were learned from contact with the Terra Cotta Warriors. An expedition went to see if they could loot^H^H^H^H retrieve the knowledge therein. Clever use of Gaia powers allowed the party to avoid all Army of Salvation patrols (the Great Temple is uncomfortably close to Sitriph) and make a quick approach to the Temple. Detect Traps revealed that the four pillars in front of the entrance would do Something Bad to anyone trying to force the door. After puzzling over the door for a while the party simply explained their plight and the need for knowledge, and the door opened. The party entered the antechamber within and were closely scrutinized by an entity who appeared to be an animated metal statue wearing a white cloak. They were then waved down a corridor which was filled with darkness impenetrable even to Gaia cleric Alist’s Continual Light devices. They emerged, after a time, to find that they were in a small chamber with a door at the end, and that the darkness behind them had become a solid barrier, forbidding return. Having little choice, they found themselves in a pitched battle between an attacking force of warriors in black coats and helmets, wielding powerful if strange weapons, and a defending force of civilians with improvised weapons behind an improvised barricade. Since the black-coats immediately attacked the PCs for being “subhumans” the party decided to throw in with the defenders. They learned that the defenders were led by Michael Theogenes, a human prophet of the Gods that had emerged since the descent of the Shroud had destroyed the evil Empire that was in the process of conquering the world. Michael and his volunteers were defending the last unblocked approach to a refuge that would be able to resist the encroaching Shroud (much reduced by the work it had already done), and they needed to hold off this remnant of the Empire’s armies long enough for the refuge to be sealed well enough to withstand the last surviving war machines.
The PCs enthusiastically committed their resources to the defense, in the process labeling the Empire’s hand weapons Great Unknown Noisemakers (G.U.N.s) and coming up with another phrase, which I sadly didn’t note, that gave the oncoming war machines the acronym T.A.N.K. The heroic sacrifice of Tristan Draelig, flinging himself atop Michael as four grenades exploded around them, saved Michael’s life; and the interposition of a Wall of Force at just the right moment caused the charging Imperials to be shattered by their own artillery. After the air elemental got into the last tank it was a matter of mopping up. As Michael expressed his gratitude the party saw the world around them fading and becoming translucent. They found themselves within a great hall of the Temple of Knowledge, filled with bookshelves and display cases — and still talking to Michael Theogenes, now manifesting as a translucent image of an ancient white-haired man. He confirmed that they had really been in the past, and had met and talked to him there, in consequence of which he knew that the Shroud would come again and destroy even that which had survived before. He had led the worshipers of the new Gods before they separated into individual churches, founded the Great Temple, and after dying at an advanced age was permitted by the Gods to linger as a spirit-guardian of the Temple. He pointed the party to the most immediately useful items and offered them help for securing Sitriph against the Shroud. He also promised that the Temple could ride out the Second Shroud but its capacity was severely limited.
Run 4: Relief Expedition
The party raced ahead of the Horde to the Temple of Knowledge, where they were provided with a self-propelled amphibious vehicle carrying 30 Ectoplasm Generators, devices that turned the Shroud’s own power against itself to create a barrier against its approach. They would not be enough to secure an enclave of useful size but could extend the walls that other parties hoped to form around Sitriph Fortress using Aphar Clay. After some discussion the party decided to use their vehicle’s amphibious capability not just to circumvent Army of Salvation patrols and checkpoints, but to cross the bay to Sitriph Fortress itself and mount an amphibious assault. Message via Stone and Message via Trees were used to alert the other expedition, aiming to rouse the disaffected population of Sitriph into an attack on the Fortress, about the timing of their attack.
A magical item in the party’s possession allowed them to conjure a ramp which allowed their vehicle to climb from the bay directly onto the first terrace of the Fortress. Furious combat ensued in which the party attacked with overwhelming force whenever possible. They were preparing for a potentially deadly confrontation with enemies who had concentrated multiple three-pilot Golems, backed up by infantry, spellcasters, and archer/snipers armed with Arrows of Human Slaying and Arrows of Dwarf Slaying, when the party in the “General Electric” expedition removed the power source from the Aphar Golems. At this point, resistance effectively ended for this party — while the other parties storming the Fortress had to deal with forted-up die-hards, the Army members who had seen that nothing short of a Golem could even slow down this deadly war machine were completely demoralized and either fled or surrendered. The party quickly pressed the surrendered into helping with cargo hauling as they deployed the Ectoplasm Generators around the north side of the island and then started hauling deactivated golems to continue the Aphar Clay wall. Cargo hauling was greatly facilitated when the mages spent most of their points conjuring Temporary Bags of Holding and set up bucket-brigades to collect golems in the interior (as well as the 5-ton blocks someone was teleporting in from somewhere.) (Reference note: 10 hobbits equipped with one Temp Bag of Holding apiece and one large cutting tool can collect 5 tons of clay in less than 5 melee rounds.) Although many others contributed to clay-hauling and wall-building, the efforts of the Relief Expedition were a vital part of the whole.
The Aphar Clay grew into mountains while the Shroud encompassed the world. The arc of Ectoplasm Generators to the north is the reason your new valley home opens out to fertile plains on that side. (With no more Shroud threads to spin into Ectoplasm, the Generators themselves are useless though intriguingly complicated devices.) The Temple of Knowledge rode out the new Shroud as well, protecting a population of a few dozen Terra Cotta Warriors and some actual organic NPCs; its libraries and supernatural instructors are at the disposal of all who seek to rebuild a better world.