The session began with the opening of a jar of baby aboleth. There were three jars sealed with silver (I’m not quite certain what was meant by that in the adventure description, but I assumed clay jars with molten silver used to seal the plug), that they had found in the library, and they were naturally curious as to what they contained. Eventually one was broken open, and a jar-full of preservation fluid and a semi-preserved baby aboleth poured out.
After much overthinking about what the purpose of these was (the assumption I was running with was merely simple specimens for biological research), they resorted to using their Revelation Quill to divine “What should we do with this?”. The answer I gave was a simple “Some seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake”, meaning a sage or wizard might be interested in buying them just out of academic curiosity. Obviously that wasn’t clear enough since discussion then went down a completely different route, but an eventual “you can sell them for 200gp” solved the problem of what they were going to do with them.
The following morning, on 17th Pharast, the party sets out to search for the Spires of Xin-Shalast, using the dwarven ranger Harsk as their guide. The original adventure was more or less a “you follow the notes, you get there”, so I tried to gamify things a bit.
There were three Knowledge (Geography) checks that were required to find the lost route. Since they were flying, each check took four hours (rather than a week), and given the daylight available this allowed two checks a day.
The Geography check could be aided by other skills, each providing a different set of bonuses and information.
- DC 10: +2 to aid the Geography check
- DC 20: You can tell if you’ve already covered this ground before, so get a cumulative +1 bonus.
- DC 30: You find some hints that can help you. The DC of each subsequent hint increases.
- First time (DC 30): Signs of an ancient dwarven campsite chiseled into a mountain side, which may have belonged to the Vekker brothers. This helps you narrow your search, granting +2 to all further Geography checks.
- Second time (DC 33): Find some tracks of giants, it looks like a small warband of Frost Giants. If they came this way, then you may be on the right track. Grants a further +2 to all further Geography checks.
- Third time (DC 36): Find some markings scratched into the rock. These are Kellid way markings, and generally point to a secret or hidden place. Grants a further +2 bonus to all Geography checks.
- Fourth time (DC 39): There is a broken corpse of a Kuchrimas, recently uncovered by a snow fall. Around it’s neck is a Sihedron Medallion. If the PCs are aware that the Kuchrimas came from Xin-Shalast, they gain a +2 bonus to all future Geography checks.
- Fifth time (DC 42): Finally, you see that there are some ancient trails here, but they were temporary and have mostly been lost to time. Gain a +2 bonus to all future Geography checks.
- DC 10: +2 to aid the Geography check.
- DC 20: Once only. Looking at the way the rivers flow, you think you have a better understanding of which one is the real Avah. Provide a +3 bonus on all future Geography checks.
- DC 30: Once only. Some of this rock isn’t natural, and actually looks like parts of an ancient, worn, Thassilonian roadway. Now you know what to look for, provide a +3 bonus on all future Geography checks.
- DC 10: +2 to aid the Geography check
Once (and only once) the PC’s have progressed to looking for the final stage of the journey, they can try to aid by making a Knowledge (Planes) check.
- DC 10: +2 to aid the Geography check
- DC 20: This area is overlaid on another plane
- DC 30: The shadow of Leng lays over this land
Any PC can use Knowledge (Geography) to aid the main navigator. Making a simple DC 10 check will grant a +2 to the roll. If PCs have read the torn notes from the Vekker Brothers, then they gain a +20 bonus to the primary Knowledge (Geography) check (but not to aid).
If they are wearing a Sihedron Medallion, then this will also help guide them, granting a further +20 bonus to their Knowledge (Geography) checks. However, Karzoug will definitely know that they are coming in this case.
Each part of the journey must be completed before the next can be attempted. Failure simply means that time is wasted.
The first attempt was to find the Skull Shaped Rock from which poured water, mentioned in the dwarven ledger. The skill DC for this was 45, which seems high, but Harsk started with +47 (+15 skill, with +4 favoured terrain for mountains, +8 bonus from what they found in Guiltspur, and +20 for using the dwarven expedition notes).
By mid-day they had located the rock, and also came across three frost giants winding their way up through the mountains. Esheiri took the form of a cloud giant and dropped down to meet them, demanding to know what they were doing and why.
The frost giants were looking to join with Karzoug, but were lost after their shaman had been killed during an attack by frost worms. They had a sihedron medallion but it wasn’t doing them much good. They were already discouraged and thinking of turning back, so Esheiri ordering them to do was a command they didn’t question. They were also happy to give up the medallion.
The afternoon was spent moving further up into the mountains, and as night approached they located the Cedar Bridge as mentioned by the dwarves. The difficulty for this was DC 60, and with everyone aiding it was a relatively easy check to make. As they were gazing at the bridge, they saw a Roc pursued by several smaller creatures – Kuchrima. They watched as the Kuchrima took down the large bird and it plummeted to the ground not far away. They decided to avoid the creatures though, and settled down for the night after an argument about the best type of extra-dimensional space to use for a camp, eventually settling on a Magnificent Mansion.
The Kuchrima were meant to provide them some information, and possibly act as guides if there were in trouble by this point. The group ignoring them wasn’t really an issue though, since the information was merely optional rather than required.
The following morning they head off, and spend some hours searching the various river valleys for the route to Xin-Shalast. Hours pass, and by late afternoon they are still lost after a couple of failed skill checks. By the evening of the 18th they settle down for the night and hope for better luck the following morning.
For the following morning they don’t get better luck, but by the late afternoon they finally succeed on the DC 75 check needed to find the Fen of the Icemists, a valley covered with icy marsh. Again, they settle down in a Magnificent Mansion and have a good night’s sleep. By this point they are at extremely high altitude, but Serena uses Life Bubble so everyone can breathe without restriction.
The following morning, on the 20th, they hear some beautiful singing – a sylvan voice singing of some lost love – and follow it to an ice nymph who is overcome with emotion on the sight of Esheiri. She recognised the touch of her sister Myriana (back from chapter 3 of the adventure path) on her, and was keen to hear of her sister’s fate.
A sacred river, a fountain gushing from a chasm, a cedar cover and now a woman wailing for her love… I’m not sure whether any of the players picked up the references I was making. I’m also not sure whether the original writers of the adventure were also referring to a certain poem, but the sacred river Avah does seem a bit like the sacred river Alph, and both involved a lost city, a mountain and cries to war.
The nymph, who calls herself Svevenka, was more than happy to help the group, and tells them of what she knows. About twenty years ago a couple of rather pitiful looking dwarves came through, but she ignored them and they ignored her. It wasn’t until about five years ago though that a giant arrived and found the way to the city. Shortly after that things began to change. An increasing number of giants have come through since then, including with them other foul creatures such as ogres, orcs and worgs.
As far as she knows, the giants are controlled by the massive rune giants, and they in turn are controlled by Karzoug who is beginning to wake from his slumber. In many parts of the city still dwell Lamia, who worship the very concept of Greed.
She also tells of another group who have no love for the Runelord, and who are descendants of the humans that used to live in the city millennia ago. They now call themselves the Spared, and live in the shadows away from the Runelord’s slaves. She has not heard from them for a while though, and fears that something may have happened to silence them. If they can be found though, then they may be able to provide some information.
After talking to Svevenka the group continue to follow the river Avah further up into the mountains. Eventually they pass the ruins of some large snow covered fortress, and intrigued by the signs of many footprints, decide to investigate.
As they searched the ruins, the snow started to tremble, and then a huge swarm of undead soldiers burst forth from beneath the snow and ice. The soldiers seemed to form together into a single gigantic creature, almost worm-like in its form, though the horde flowed like an ooze across the snow and launched itself at Grodok who is the nearest. The skeletal soldiers seemed to be accompanied by dark ghosts, and their weapons glimmered with an unholy blackness.
Fortunately for Grodok, he was saved from multiple attacks by his armour, and Solossar was able to dart in and out, stabbing at individual targets within the shape. It was a Warsworn, and is quickly taken down before it could cause much harm.
A quick search of the ruins made it clear that anything of worth was probably deep beneath the snow, and it would take a while to dig down to find anything. The decision was made to leave things alone and continue on their journey.
As night approached, the path started to become easier, and the ancient road seemed to be in much better shape. Shortly, they spotted a couple of cloud giants on guard near a cave that overlooked the road, who seemed to be watching for travellers coming this way.
The party had now reached the outskirts of the city they have been looking for, and it seemed like a good place to call a halt.