Spires of Xin-Shalast 5
Another bank holiday weekend, so another double length session, and one which had quite a few surprises. The PCs returned to the haunted cabin of the Vekker brothers with the bones of Karivek Vekker. The ghost of his brother Silas was pleased to meet up with his brother again, but the two were not yet reconciled with each other – especially when the creature that was behind the whole incident had arrived to stir up trouble again.
There was a loud howl from immediately outside the top floor of the cabin, which again was unrecognised by everyone, but they all had to make a fear saving through – something all but Serena failed. At DC 28, this was quite a difficult save to make, so it wasn’t too surprising that lots of them failed.
Esheiri immediately teleported back to the temple of Calistria at Magnimar, Solassar and Harsk fled from the cabin in terror. Though Grodok was initially struck with terror, he managed to regain his wits and stood firm. At that point, the create began attacking the roof, so Grodok ran outside and clambered onto the roof, where a large elk-like humanoid was tearing at the tower, ripping a hole in the roof. As it did so, sending bits of roof crashing down into the stairwell, Grodok charged towards it to face the creature alone.
It was then that Serena came up the stairs and finally recognised it as a Wendigo. She successfully cast Dominate Monster on it, which turned what could have been an epic fight into a quick resolution with a single die roll.
With it dominated, I decided that it would no longer be controlling the ghosts. The alternative would be that the two ghostly brothers would never resolve their differences, and would turn on the group, starting another fight in a few minutes. It seemed the right time to resolve the situation, since they had effectively won – albeit with a couple of lucky dice rolls.
With the spirits of the dwarfs now finding rest, Silas finally provided the contents of the missing pages of the ledger to the PCs. By this point everyone else had returned to the cabin (including Esheiri, who had received a remove fear from the priests). As usual, I had prepared some extra handouts to add a bit of background to the brother’s story.
The ledger pages provided clues to find Xin-Shalast, laying out the stages of the exploration the group would need to be making to successfully find the lost city. I’m not sure whether the references to the sacred river Avah in the original adventure were a deliberate homage to the River Alph (there are too many parallels for it not to be), but I decided to double down on the references to one of the few poems I like.
With everyone recovered from their panic, the Wendigo was commanded to remain where it was and the party headed back to Magnimar to rest. At this point I awarded the party their XP for that part of the adventure – almost 100,000 XP each. Giving out XP in large chunks likes this allows me some control over when they level up, and also encourages the players to finish parts of the adventure rather than grinding to go up levels. As it happens, this wasn’t enough for them to go up to sixteenth level.
On the morning of Pharast 14th, Harsk learned Create Treasure Map, and located the site of the white dragon’s treasure. First though, they went back to where they had left the Wendigo, and decided that they needed to kill it.
Given the high intelligence and wisdom of the creature, I figured it would realise what was being planned as the party started preparing their spells, so I gave it a second will save to break out of the domination. It succeeded, and immediately flew straight up to escape. It had been beaten once, and didn’t want to try fighting the group again.
Serena had summoned a (smallish) gold dragon, which was just about able to keep up with the Wendigo. Fortunately, it got lucky with its breath attacks and was breathing fire every other round, preventing the Wendigo from regenerating. Some of the others followed, but at a slower pace.
Esheiri teleported across and fireballed it, and so it decided to stand and fight after all. It howled and the dragon curled up in terror – not a great thing to do when flying at high speed above mountains. It plummeted to the ground, leaving Esheiri as the only viable target. It flew at her, and grabbed her, which isn’t great for a sorceress, and so started another discussion on the grapple rules.
The rules for spell casting when grappled seem a bit pointless – the difficulties are generally so high that it’d almost be easier to simply rule that it’s not possible. It’s allowed for spells which don’t have somatic components, but impossible in practice. What I did rule was that a verbal only spell could be cast without a grapple check being needed – as long as it was also quickened. Since Esheiri had a rod of quickening to hand, she was able to use dimension door to escape.
Finally the others caught up, and the Wendigo was finally slain for good. So after initially side stepping a fight with it, the group ended up fighting it anyway.
The next plan was not to follow the clues to Xin-Shalast, but to head to Guiltspur to try and uncover any information hidden there – with a minor detour via the white dragon’s lair which they now had a treasure map to.
By midday they got to the ancient ruin, and saw a greenish spire rising up out of an excavation site. There was a giant sized steading there as well, along with a number of giants, mammoths and siege weapons. This side quest was actually the first half of chapter 5 of The Shattered Star adventure path, though set early in the timeline of that adventure. This means it should be a relatively easy side quest for the group, with a few additions to provide further background to this adventure, as well as an experience boost (since I’m using moderate rather than fast XP progression for the path).
I often find that players overthink things when faced with an easy foe, and they didn’t disappoint me this time. More planning than necessary (though to be fair, players don’t always know just how dangerous may, or may not, be, and they were concerned that the blue dragon that was known to be here could appear at any time) was performed, and half of the giants were confused by Esheiri. Serena summoned three Tyrannosaurus Rex, and most of the fight outside the lodge was spent trying not to hit the confused giants to allow them to hit each other, or get eaten by dinosaurs. It would have been quicker to just hit them probably.
Inside the steading, the giants were led by General Stom, a fire giantess who had better things to do than to follow the orders of the blue dragon that was elsewhere. She tried to surrender (at the expense of the hill giants), but it was difficult to do so with a dinosaur rampaging uncontrolled and eating her giants. It wasn’t until Serena decided to take control of her summoned creature that surrender was tried again and the fight was ended.
General Stom was happy to give information to the group on what was happening here – that the blue dragon Cadrilkasta had ordered the giants here to excavate the ruins, and given control to the hill giant chief Jubbek. Jubbek was down below though, leaving Stom to take charge up here.
Beneath the giants were some ancient ruins, and a lake, and according to rumour the dragon had been last seen flying down into a large hole beneath the earth. The ruins could contain a library, but information had come from overworked hill giants, so who could tell. What General Stom told them though wasn’t inconsistent with one of the prophecies of the norns:
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.
Stom was willing to recall all her fire giants, and leave the hill giants to defend themselves. She also provided a rough map of the region below, to make it easier of the party to find their way down.
One final thing that she mentioned was that she had recently been given a medallion – that of a seven pointed star – by a shaman of her tribe, and that it was giving her visions of a way north into the mountains where someone was calling to her. The call of Karzoug was open to giants of all kinds.
At this point we ended the session, with the ground floor under control and the party ready to proceed down into the depths of the Thassilonian ruin.