The adventure continues as the party reaches the outskirts of the lost city of Xin-Shalast. Up ahead, they can see a couple of cloud giants outside a cave overlooking the road. With the cloud giants being large and standing on a high ledge, spotting them wasn’t particularly hard, so they had time to plan and scout before approaching. The initial discussion involved the idea of brute force and magic, but in the end Esheire polymorphed herself into a Cloud Giant and put on one of the Sihedron Medallions.
She walked forward, followed by the rest of the party, and decided to intimidate them by demanding to know who they were. This was the first time anyone had tried to wear a Sihedron Medallion for quite a while, probably for good reason. She had sensibly put up a Mindblank to prevent divination, but I decided that the Medallion would act as a type of Trojan and allow divination attempts through. If this wasn’t the case, then it would sort of sidestep an important part of the adventure, which I preferred to avoid. I still allowed the Will save bonus against mind control though, so Karzoug’s attempt to control her at this point failed, but he was able to send a greeting to her – welcoming her to his city.
Keeping her composure, she was able to bluff/intimidate the giants into believing she was here on valid business, and that her companions were giants who had suffered some magical mishap. An unlikely argument, but even with a suitable bonus to the difficulty Esheire’s intimidate check was sufficient. The guards didn’t have enough reason to stop her passing, so pass they did. As soon as they were out of sight, Esheire quickly removed the medallion.
The road, which started to become gold plated, soon led them to the valley where they could see the fabled city, with the road heading up to a dark fortress which spanned most of the valley. At this point, Harsk, who had helped lead them here, decided to turn back and head home. He had done what he said he would do, and to be honest I didn’t feel like running an NPC for the rest of the adventure, especially one who wasn’t really adding much to things outside of his Knowledge skills which were no longer really needed.
Ahead, the fortress was manned by a group of Kuchrima, a sort of human-vulture hybrid. The party decided to try and bluff their way past again, but these Kuchrima really didn’t seem to care that much, and actually seemed unhappy. In the adventure as written, it seems to be pretty much assumed that a fight will happen at this point (with a suggestion that it might be possible to bluff them). Given the background that is written for them though about how badly they’ve fared since Karzoug had started waking, I thought it more likely that the Kuchrima would actually try to avoid a fight, and might even be willing to provide information to suspicious travellers, as long as there was no risk to them. As it happens, the party didn’t try to take advantage of this, and got through the gate with no harm and no information.
Within the city, they found massive buildings and also an encampment of several hundred giants – hill, stone and frost. There were also orcs, ogres, dire wolves and white dragons – the typical companions to giants. The players considered how much XP that many giants would be worth, but decided against a frontal assault, instead choosing to sneak around and find somewhere to rest for the night since the sun had pretty much set by this point.
The thing is, at this point in their progression they probably could take on an army of giants – given how high Grodok’s AC is, most would need a natural 20 to hit him, so hit and run tactics would likely work. I have decided that there would be troops of orcs and ogres though, which are a bit like swarms but larger (and which I tried out in the very first part of this chapter). This would make an attack even by high level characters a lot more dangerous, since they don’t need to make attack rolls. Given the number of rocks that could be thrown as well, success wouldn’t be guaranteed, but at these high Pathfinder/D&D levels, lots of ‘low level’ foes aren’t as much of a threat as I think they should be.
Finding an empty building (of which there were many), they found a subterranean location and set up another mage’s magnificent mansion to sleep. At first though, Esheire decided to see whether it was possible to teleport within the city – a highly sensible thing to check when it’s not an emergency.
Again, this is something that isn’t clear in the adventure notes, and I’m sure I’ve read somewhere about the city being protected from being teleported into, but couldn’t find the details when preparing. So I decided on a half-way house of it requiring a caster-level check to succeed, the difficulty based on exactly where the teleportation is to or from. Her first small hop across the room succeeded, then she got a series of bad rolls until finally she managed to dimension door up a few under feet into the sky.
She didn’t get to see much of the city, since it’s night, but did notice a glimmer of fire and the shadow of a flying, serpentine creature. At this point her attempts to dimension door failed again, but as she got the impression of something moving rapidly towards her, she finally succeeded in getting back to their camp. Just before she does, I gave the players a glimpse of what she sees – a colossal undead serpentine celestial dragon. A hint of something to hunt down and fight if they really want to (but currently well beyond their capability).
All the attempts at casting in the camp though had attracted attention – at least, I decided there had been enough noise to be able to introduce the first plot hook within the city, that of the Spared. A skulk had found their camp, and recognised them as heroes from a painting that a prophet of theirs had made. They enticed him in with food, and he was very excited that the heroes where here to save them. He was able to tell them a bit about the city, and as usual Grodok asked about giant rats, being told that the orcs had mentioned something on that subject.
The skulk took them deep into the tunnels beneath the ruins, to show them the painting, which depicted four people that looked uncannily like the party. From there he took them to the Spared leader, who was less enthusiastic – at least at first. When they handed over food from the magnificent mansion, it was decided that the party were friends who might save them from the beast. It sounded a lot like one of the norn’s prophecies:
There are others that tell prophecies, and some that seek saviours. Beware the one that is hidden beneath a false face.
The Spared told that they had been recently set upon by some unseen creature, that was preying upon their kind, killing them and turning them into slaves that would then help in hunting them down. It was thought that it might be a vampire of some kind, but again the group’s complete lack of knowledge skills outside the realm of Arcana failed them in trying to determine what a vampire’s strengths and weaknesses were.
The following morning they were led further into the ruins, to where the Beast was thought to lair.
This time they couldn’t talk their way around things, and a fight soon started. A skeleton sat on a throne, and hurled threats at them whilst the beast itself lurked beneath and prepared spells, controlling the (completely normal) skeleton with illusions. With everyone equipped with True Sight and See Invisibility the illusion was quickly seen through, and the reference to a “False Face” was also quickly guessed.
The fight was relatively one sided, though it took a while to play out. Esheire used Control Undead on the vampire slaves, and when the Beast revealed itself as a ten-tentacled vampiric abomination then Grodok’s application of an axe, as well as aid from the others eventually took it down.
Serena’s biggest contribution (with her player not available for the session) was probably summoning something (after making caster-level checks to succeed, due to the magical travel restrictions) that actually had a Religion skill and was able to tell them how to finally kill the vampire once they tracked it back to its ‘coffin’ (beneath the throne).
Of course, how do you stake a giant octopus (well, decupus) in the heart and then remove it’s head? Vampire myths weren’t really designed with non-humanoid vampires in mind. I assumed they managed to find a way, and the Hidden Beast was put to death, though its slaves mostly escaped – either after the control expired, or in gaseous form back to their own coffins after being killed.
There was not much of note on the corpse, except for a couple of rings, one of which had a Sihedron symbol upon it. They guessed that this may allow them to reach Karzoug without being spied upon, but the full truthfulness of that will be found out later.
Given the time, it was definitely a suitable place to call a stop to things for the night.