Spires of Xin-Shalast – 1
In order to kick off the final chapter of Rise of the Runelords, I started with a short mini-adventure to get the players back into the mindset for the game. It’s been about nine months since we last played the campaign (we tend to rotate GMs and games), so ensuring everyone can remember what their character can do before they’re dumped into the main adventure seemed wise.
I also wanted to try out some new mechanics I’m planning on using for the search for the lost city of Xin-Shalast. The adventure as written basically just has a “here’s where to go”… “you find it” part to it, and I wanted to gamify the process a bit.
As I mentioned in the previous post, two of the characters have left the group (due to the loss of one player, and a second player changing his character to fill in the now empty cleric slot), so there was also a need to introduce the new character. The two characters who left received dreams from Iomedae calling for them to to aid near the Worldwound. The dream also mentioned that the others would receive aid from a raven.
The Twisted Three
On leaving Runeforge, the PCs see on the shore the viking longship the Cryptic Corvid, captained by Jirobo, a Tengu Pathfinder. He is seeking the Norns known as the Twisted Three, who are famed for telling the fate of northern heroes, especially those that use sentient magical weapons.
One member of the crew is Serena, a cleric and the new character for the group, so it’s as much an introduction of her as it is everything else.
Though Jirobo can’t offer much if the PCs can help him locate the Norns, he suggests that the Norns might be able to provide guidance in whatever quests the party have.
I allowed the party to make Knowledge (local) or Lore (Oracles) checks to know about this group of Norns, alternatively they could just ask Jirobo. For such things, I give bonuses if the Lore skill is used, since it’s a lot narrower, and I try to be flexible if they have something similar (such as with Fey, the Linnorm Kings etc).
The norns live in a cave somewhere to the north of Lake Stormunder, but their exact location isn’t known. However, Jirobo has translated some old epic poetry which gives clues to their location.
Following the Epic
Finding the location of the Norn’s cave required using the Epic of Gudjoni to match poetic descriptions to land marks. For this, I principally make use of the Knowledge (Geography) skill, and it requires three checks of increasing difficulty. The rules I used, including an example using this scenario, can be found here.
Jirobo actually had all the skills necessary to find the norns, but since he had a fear of flying, it was much quicker for the players to scout ahead. This provided a backup in case the players weren’t able to find the location, but also a reason for them to do it rather than Jirobo if they could. They did find it, and Jirobo teleported to their location.
The Cave of Twisted Shadow
Finding the cave was relatively easy, but it was empty and showed sign of a large fight. A mixture of skill checks could be used to try and determine what happened (Survival, Perception, Knowledge (Arcana and Nature) and Spellcraft). Each skill found out different clues, and the characters found most of the information available – enough to conclude that a Crag Linnorm had attacked here and probably captured the norns.
Once Jirobi turned up, he was able to provide knowledge that the nearest Crag Linnorm was known as Djupr Dauthi (“Deep Death”). He had recently been defeated (but not slain) by a barbarian chieftain named Eyfura Hunsvoldotter, wielder of the Blue Flame, a spear of flaming cold that was the bane of fire creatures. She in turn had been killed by the wyrm blue dragon Cadrilkasta. The main reason for this background is though I wanted to give XP for slaying Djupr Dauthi, I didn’t want to give out lots of treasure, since the group is getting enough of the latter from the standard adventure path encounters.
The original plan was that the next part would be a search for the Linnorm’s cave, but it was getting on so I decided to skip that and just let everyone find the cave where the Linnorm was.
The Valley of Djupr Duathi
The Linnorm lived in some caves behind a waterfall at the end of a valley, where he had the norns imprisoned. Since norns (even immature ones such as these) had various abilities that would have allowed them to escape, I had the cave exist in an aura that made conjuration and transmutation effects very difficult.
There was a small shrine near the waterfall, which could have given clues as to the presence of undead here, but the characters didn’t investigate this far enough to find out about the history of the place.
The pool outside the gave had two troops of Draugr within it (cursed by the sorceress who was buried by the shrine). Troops are a group of human sized creatures that fight as a single unit. Their advantage from my perspective is that since they simply do damage to those near to them, they can get past the high ACs of high level characters and act as a little bit of a threat. Unlike swarms, they can be damaged normally (and even sneak attacked, which I got wrong during the session) so aren’t too difficult to deal with by physical characters – they’re just resistant to some magical effects such as mind control, which can make them annoying for spell casters.
Since I wanted to finish up the scenario that evening, I had the Linnorm come out of the cave tunnels once the undead were killed, rather than having a more complex fight within the tunnels. The Linnorm was slain, but was a suitable challenge for an end of session fight. I allowed a Disintegrate to kill it for good despite its regeneration, because at that point it was defeated and there was nothing to be gained by simply having it continuing to regenerate.
What was left was rescuing the norns and retrieving the huge treasure horde of the linnorm – which turned out to be pitiful (and he ended up gaining some belated sympathy from the players due to this). There were also crude drawings on the cave walls, which told some of his story, along with some wishful thinking on his part.
The main ending though was that the norns were grateful to be rescued, and were willing to foretell the futures of their rescuers, which allowed me to do a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the adventure.
We see weapons that dominate your foe, but the path ahead is a long one for those who do not know the land. You should seek the librarian of the lighthouse for the names of those who have gone before you. Their words will guide you.— A general prophecy for the group as a whole. The librarian of the lighthouse is of course Brodert Quink in Sandpoint.
Then each character was given individual advice:
You shall meet one for whom the bonds of love even death cannot break, though she will be frigid to you.— Told to Esheire, a comment on her past and future.
Take his greedy eyes to ascend his face, or else covet the rings that do not see.— Told to Solassar, the group’s rogue.
Those who serve food often resent those who eat it. Give praise where it is due.— Told to Grodok, who does love to eat.
— Told to Serena. Since she is a new character there’s no history I could draw on, so just an in-game reason for her to join the group.
The world is out of balance. History seeks to undo itself. Go with those that seek to heal the wounds of history in the mountain city.
Finally, each norn in turn gave a final prophecy to the group, to help guide them in their quest.
There are others that tell prophecies, and some that seek saviours. Beware the one that is hidden beneath a false face.— Prophecy of the first norn.
Paths to the golden city are inscribed in the library of dust and beyond the painted doors, where the one in blue digs for the pit beyond, but finds only the pit below. But seek not beyond the sunless water where the serpents dwell.— Prophecy of the second norn.
The Moon will turn its bright face upon us once more in this time. Before it is again consumed by darkness, the lord of Greed will have risen and the fate of the world will have been decided.— Prophecy of the third norn.
The final prophecy basically states that they have just over a month to stop Karzoug, and was really the main prophecy I wanted to tell – the rest were really just me getting carried away. Though there is definitely a desire in the group to spend a lot of time shopping and getting new items crafted, I felt that saving the world should have some level of urgency to it. Up until now, there hasn’t really been much time pressure. Now there is.
The current date in the campaign is 9th Pharast 4708, with the Moon at waning crescent. The new Moon referenced in the prophecy will be around 12th Gozren. A while back I did write a small utility to calculate the calendar of the Inner Sea. If you want it, it’s available on Git Hub as a Python script: