Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red Session Thirteen

Apologies for the late posting schedule– a busy two weeks for me, and no session last week.  We shall however press onwards!

 

Having spent a bit of downtime hanging around their capital city of Elbat Dnuor, the party was now ready to set off again.  Taking along their newfound un-crazy hermit friend, they made their way north to old Bokken’s hut, the *other* crazy hermit they last saw about a year ago.  Upon arriving, Bokken greeted them, and then gasped with amazement at the sight of this other man– his brother!  “My brother!  You have returned!  It’s been so long, I…I thought you had perished!”  A happy tearful reunion followed, wherein Bokken revealed that his brother had run off to the southern Narlmarshes many decades ago after some….thing…that happened, he couldn’t recall.  Unfortunately, both men were so addled with age and possible dementia that neither could remember the brother’s name– but that did not stop a celebration!  Bokken, so happy to have his brother returned to him, rushed into his hut, fumbled around with some vials, and came out to hand the party a number of potions and oils, a gift for the group!

The next morning it was time to set off for more exploration.  Gavriil the Human Arcanist wanted to map out more of the territory to the north-west, and so they set off in that direction, stopping by Oleg’s Trading Post on their way to see how Oleg and Svetlana Leveton were doing.  The traders seemed to be doing well-off; the trading post had a new structure for housing added on in order to help accommodate the larger than normal travelers moving through the area towards Tolemac, and most of the bandit heads that the party had given Oleg were taken down from the poles along the walls– most of them.

Moving on from there, a few days were spent exploring the northern reaches of the Narlmarshes and onto the plains beyond them.  A few days in, Elysia the Half-Elven Ranger spied a pile of rocks perched in a peculiar way– and they were stacked in such a way as to make themselves stand out.  Pointing out this feature to her friends, the group approached.  Eneko the Human Bard, after a few moments of inspection, declared the pile to be a burial cairn, one which was used a long time ago by the Tiger Lord Barbarians, a tribal group of fearsome warriors.  Deciding that disturbing the body would result in no long-term consequences, the cairn was carefully deconstructed and the body examined.  It was old, and the only thing of value found upon the body was a strangely decorated ring, which Gavriil was able to identify as a Ring of Swimming.  Satisfied, though not wishing to keep the ring for personal use (“If we need to cross water, we can just use magic!”), the group piled the rocks back up in the proper formation, then left the cairn behind.

The next few days saw the exploration of the plains to the west of the Narlmarshes, mapping out the area but finding nothing of great interest.  Apparently satisfied with the mapped area, the group cut back east into the forest, where they found the origin of the Skunk river– two bubbling hot springs, which had become home to several territorial giant frogs!  Gavriil marked down the spot on the party map as one deserving some development– these hot springs could become a great spa and relaxation area, if only someone shooed those frogs away!  The party continued moving to the south, where they found an old statue of Erastil in the forest.  Taking note so that they could inform the priests when they returned to Elbat Dnuor, the group decided that they would head just to the east, where they could visit their Boggard friend they had met in the swamp there some time ago– the Arcanist had decided to learn how to speak Boggard just so that he could communicate with the creature!

Arriving late in the day at the Boggard’s lair, Noruas the Human Gunslinger’s ears perked up– she could hear guttural trollish undertones, along with many broken phrases in Common!  Thankfully, Eneko had learned to speak Troll, and as the party moved around an old broken-down building, they came upon the scene of three trolls, large and shaggy, standing over their Boggard friend and his pet Sluurk.  One troll, with a blue cap upon his head, was attempting to communicate with the Boggard in broken Common, while the Boggard was attempting to do the same– neither seemed to be having much success, and the two remaining trolls seemed to be full of frustration and ready to resort to violence.  Gavriil and Eneko began to mediate– The troll speaking to Eneko in Troll, who relayed the information to Gavriil in Common, who then spoke it to the Boggard in his own language.  The troll, an emissary from Lord Hargulka, told the Boggard “Squishfrog will join Lord Hargulka’s kingdom,” in more of a statement than a question.  The Boggard did not wish for this to happen, and expressed as such.

After some negotiation, it seemed clear that the trolls were not willing to take no for an answer– until Noruas took it upon herself to impress upon them the wisdom of respecting the Boggard’s wishes, warning the trolls to back off and leave him alone.  The troll diplomat, disgusted, turned his back and motioned for his party to follow him– “We will leave the squishfrog alone….for now.”  After a few more steps, they were interrupted as Noruas, unhappy with this threat, leveled her musket and fired at the diplomat, reducing him to shreds.

The remaining two trolls roared!  Turning, they attacked the party, clawing at the group with razor-sharp claws, roaring that Hargulka would have their heads for this atrocity!  When the second of three trolls was slain in short order, the last, taking stock of the situation, made the wiser choice and ran, heading south out of the party’s sight.  The boggard thanked the PC’s for their help, and let them know that from here on out they would be welcome in his swamp, and could stay there whenever they liked.

Having dealt with the trolls, the next stop in the party’s journey was south to Tatzleford, to see how it had been coming along since they helped Loy and Latricia Rezbin get the town on its feet.  An inn, blacksmith, and several small shops were but a few of the things they spied in their visit, and they met with the mayor and his wife in the central town hall to discuss how things were going.  Upon hearing of the trolls in the area, Loy became excessively nervous, due to the vastly limited ability of his citizens to defend themselves– one of the conditions of their founding was that they would have no standing military or defense force, and that Tolemac would come to their aid if need be.  After some time, Eneko and Elysia were able to put to rest any fears that Loy had– though he was still a little nervous about their presence.

South again– and this time, the party stumbled into the middle of a delicate situation!  A clearing, several tree stumps surrounding a pool of water, and a group of angry men with axes standing around it; facing them, two men dressed in similar garb and also wielding axes were standing knee-deep in the pond, and floating further out in the pond was a Nixie, a fey creature who make their homes in pools of water.  One man, the leader of these apparent loggers named Corax, was busy yelling at the Nixie Melianse, who he claimed had charmed his men after they had cut down some of their latest find– this valuable grove of Coachwood trees.  Speaking with Melianse, her side of the story was that these loggers had come to destroy her trees, and that she wasn’t about to let them defile nature like that– loggers were evil, cutting down ancient trees before their time, for naught but personal gain!

After some talk back and forth, a good compromise was reached– Melianse would release the two loggers from her charmed graces, and the druids of The Green Faith would come from Elbat Dnuor to replant her Coachwood trees; Corax and his loggers, on the other hand, would follow the party back to the capital, where they would be signed up to work in some of the state-sponsored logging camps to keep them happy.  The situation thus averted, the group made a beeline back to the capital, where they had business to settle briefly before attending to the duties of state.

Taking two weeks to settle kingdom affairs, during which the frog pond and statue of Erastil were claimed as territories, and a trade route was established between Elbat Dnuor and Restov in order to help boost the kingdom’s economy– much needed, as they’d been living pretty hand-to-mouth in their kingdom for awhile, spending the taxes they collected as soon as they could.  Additionally, Eneko went on another date that Noruas set up for him, and their garrison was filled with the Seventh Lodovkan Platoon, the promised military regiment promised from House Lodovka upon fulfilling their responsibilities to the house.  After inspecting the troops, the leaders decided to put their kingdom General, Davik Azaezel, in charge of the army– and now they were a properly defended kingdom!

After they spent their time managing their domain, the party was ready to set out to explore again– they still had not found the lands claimed by ‘Lord Hargulka,’ and were still contending with the rumors of troll activity to the south.  Following along the Tuskwater, the PC’s went south of the Old Beldame’s hut, exploring along the shore of the lake there, and spying what they’d heard was called Candlemere– a haunted island in the middle of the lake, where it is said no one who visits ever comes back.  Stymied by the lack of ways across the water (who needs rings of swimming, it had already been sold for cash!), instead of heading back for the boat they had constructed some time ago, the group decided to continue onwards instead– and look, they were pretty close to that Lizardman camp that Jubilost Narthropple had warned them about!  Perhaps they’d pay them a visit….

 

Tolemac, month 17:

Tolemac 17 months

Advertisements

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red Session Twelve

With the Black Rattlecaps secured, all haste was made to arrive at the Old Beldame’s hut to get help for their poor, magically-insane hermit.  Arriving, they bargained their way back inside again– “We brought you the mushrooms you were looking for, will you help our friend now?”  Cried out Gavriil, the Human Arcanist.  Taking the man inside, the Beldame was her usual gruff self, grumbling about having so many people in her hut watching her work.  It did not take long, thankfully, before her spells were complete however– at which point Noruas, the Human Gunslinger, rushed the rest of the party out of the hut with their friend to talk to him in a less grumpy location.

Indeed, the party made haste back to Elbat Dnuor in order to get their hermit friend proper care– he was malnourished, and still quite old.  Leaving him for a time in the care of Eleo Masim, their Druidess Councilor, the group prepared themselves to take care of their duties about town– though they did have a single day’s time to themselves.  Gavriil used this day to mark down, translate, and otherwise research the ruins of the Stag Lord’s Fort which their capital was built around, in order to see if he was able to draw any connections between the deity of Gyronna who used to be worshiped there, and the ‘Lady’ which had been mentioned by the Wight in the Lonely Barrow.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day he had nothing else to turn up with– no firm connection between the two could be made.

Eneko the Human Bard/Cavalier spent much of his time that day studying in the library, learning more about undead and controlling magic.  If left to his own devices, he would have remained there for the rest of the day– unfortunately for him, Noruas had other plans.  That night was to be the full moon of the month, known as the Lover’s Moon, and traditionally was a time to be spent with your love interests.  Noruas spent a considerable amount of her time that day and evening encouraging the eligible young ladies of the town to approach the Baron, hoping to spark a lasting connection.  Only one such lady made proper advances…a nervous, dark-haired woman with blue eyes who timidly approached Eneko and struck up a conversation.  It went well, and in fact resulted in the Baron agreeing to a date with the woman– two days hence, on Oathday!

Unfortunately, Eneko’s duties took his mind off this romantic endeavor for a time, and he completely forgot about his date when the time came!  Noruas, realizing that this had not come to pass as she had carefully planned, was quick to send, in the Baron’s name, several flowers and chocolates, as well as a note of apology and a request to meet for dinner a different night.  To the Gunslinger’s delight, this date went off without a hitch, and the woman, Julie, seemed quite smitten with the Baron by the end of it– even if he was not quite as convinced.  He requested that Noruas, as Spymaster, devote some time to investigating the woman and her family, to make sure that she was of good repute.

In the meantime, the party had another crisis to face:  Early one morning, Grand Diplomat Gavriil was approached by one of his scribes, Thomnas, who had urgent news– there was a man in the town common, speaking up against the kingdom’s leaders!  Gavriil gathered his companions and the group of them made their way down to the commons, where they found the man Grigori standing upon a small box, orating to a large crowd of citizens!  Grigori was speaking blasphemies against the PC’s, of how they were unfit to rule, how they would leave for weeks at a time to go gallivanting about the countryside, and did not properly take care of their citizens!

Unfortunately for the PC’s, many in the gathered crowd seemed to be going along with Grigori’s claims, and so Eneko and Gavriil began to refute the orator’s points, attempting to match him claim for claim.  Noruas, on the other hand, began to make her way through the crowd towards the podium.  While the argument between Grigori and the PC’s continued, much of the crowd seemed to be siding for the most part with the rabble-rouser– up until Noruas finally made her way to the podium, stuck her musket in Grigori’s back, and announced that he would be run out of town for his trouble-making.  Gavriil was able to talk the crowd down, almost shaming them into leaving, and the issue of Grigori was, they believed, solved– “Leave town, and if you come back again we will shoot you.”

Things were quiet for a time– the party went back to their kingdom duties, and things were fine for a time.  A dump for trash collection was placed in a far section of the city, and a garrison was built for the city guard– with Gavriil then sending word to House Lodovka of the successful construction, as they had promised to fill such housing with an army for the kingdom.  A few days after construction completed, Thomnas the Scribe approached Gavriil again– Grigori was back, speaking out against them once again!  Wearily, the Grand Diplomat grabbed his companions, and they made their way to the town commons, where much the same scene as a week or so earlier greeted them.

Noruas once again made her way straight to the podium where Grigori was speaking, while Eneko and the rest offered brief rebuttals of the man’s clearly biased points.  It didn’t take long for the Gunslinger to reach her destination, and she abruptly smacked Grigori– lightly– across the face with the butt of her rifle, saying, “You have impugned upon my honor, and in accordance with the laws of the kingdom, I challenge you to a duel!”  Grigori’s face paled, but he had little choice but accept– he had been preaching that they were not people of honor, that they had ran him out of town for doing nothing but speaking his mind, but if he declined his challenge he would clearly lose his audience.

With resignation, Grigori accepted Noruas’ challenge– and in accordance with established dueling laws, set the terms of engagement.  The duel would be between just the two; only melee weapons would be allowed; no moving outside of the fighting circle.  Grigori had the choice of how to fight– to the first pushed out of the circle, until one relented to the other, or to the death.  Though he was clearly wishing to declare one of two outcomes, the crowd– stirred into action by both Eneko’s ventriloquism spells and Elysia the Half-Elf Ranger’s chants of “to the death!  To the death!”, demanded that this be a decisive duel to the death.

The crowd gathered in around the dueling circle, the party moved out of the way, Grigori drew his jeweled rapier– and the fight was on!  Noruas moved first, closing and striking Grigori on his shoulder with the butt of her musket.  Grigori stumbled back and waved his sword at the Spymaster, but her firearm, wielded like a quarterstaff, blocked the blows.  Again Noruas struck, a blow to the gut taking the breath out of his lungs, but this time the orator was able to recover, and slid his blade into a chink between Noruas’s armor, drawing blood.  It did him no good in the long-run however, as Noruas’s next blow was to his jaw, knocking him down into the dirt, where he begged her for mercy– but received none.  Noruas raised up her musket, and *slammed* the butt into his face, crushing the remaining life out of him, and ending his troublemaking for good.  A cry went up from Gavriil– “Justice has been served!”  It was echoed by Elysia, and soon picked up by the crowd, who hailed Noruas as the hero, slaying the slanderous rabble-rouser!

This event behind them, the party was back on track to taking care of their kingdom– deciding this month to spend their time on required duties at the beginning of the month, instead of at the end.  Once this was completed, the party returned to Eleo– who had spent much of her time helping to nurse the old hermit back to health.  The group opened up with questions on the hermit– who was he, where did he come from, did he remember who put the spell on him?  Unfortunately, most of these questions had no answers, for the hermit seemed quite addled even without the magic.  He was wholeheartedly grateful for the lack of voices now whispering in his head, but could not recall his name, where he came from, nor anything about the lady whispering dire words in his head all those years.  The one thing that he could remember, he told the party, was a name:  Bokken.  “Bokken?  Like…the old hermit living near Oleg’s Trading Post?”  Elysia spoke up.  Noting this, a plan was made to travel to Bokken’s Hut to see if they could get any answers.  Before leaving, several days were spent in Elbat Dnuor, wherein Eneko studiously learned the ways of the Dirge Bards, and Gavriil spent much of his cash crafting wands of healing for the party, so that they could stay on their feet longer in dire situations.

 

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red Session Eleven

Gnomes in need– this sounded like a job for our adventurers!  With the danger of the ever-flowing water threatening the wagon and all of their supplies, it was time for action.  Gavriil the Human Arcanist levitated himself across the waters out to the wagon.  Eneko the Human Bard/Cavalier spurred his mount forward into the waters, guiding him through along a safe path until he reached the distressed Gnomes, and helped to calm down the panicking horses.  Gavriil, utilizing his Floating Disc, placed the spell underneath the cart, lifting it out of the waters.  With a bit of a push, he floated along calmly above the waves with the wagon behind him, to many cheers of Gnomes from the far shore.  Elysia the Half-Elf Ranger and Noruas the Human Gunslinger were not far behind, trotting their horses carefully through the river– though Elysia fell off hers at one point, and was rescued by Noruas.

When everyone arrived on the opposite bank, they were greeted by a particularly important-sounding Gnome who identified himself as Jubilost Narthropple, leader of his very own Narthropple Expedition!  This band of explorers had been searching the Narlmarshes for some time, looking to find old ruins of a Dwarven keep rumored to be in the area.  This interested the group, because they suspected, correctly, that Jubilost had maps of the area– and they wished to trade!  Unfortunately for them the Gnome was very protective of his maps, and wished to sell them to the party for quite the exorbitant price.  Thanks to the efforts of Gavriil and, slightly, Eneko, he was convinced to trade off some landmarks in the areas based on the information that the party gave him of the forest to the north.  In this way, the party learned of the Lizardman camp to the south of their position, where a group had chased the gnomes this far and into the stream before being beaten back.

The party departed on good terms with the Narthropple Expedition, after inviting them to come visit Elbat Dnuor (“Wombat Dinner?  What kind of name for a city is that?”) once their expedition was complete.  From there, their explorations took them south again– this time along the shores of the Tuskwater, taking stock of the surroundings near their city.  It was around mid-day that they came across an old shack, surrounded completely by a wooden fence, with vegetable patches and a scarecrow scattered through the yard.  Noting a bell on a post, the group rang the bell to get the attention of whomever was at home.  The noise certainly attracted attention– an old, wrinkled, greenish-looking face stuck itself out of the door, shouting in an old-woman voice across the not-inconsiderable distance, “Go away!”

Diplomacy was conducted at a distance for a time, with each party shouting back and forth at each other.  At one point, Gavriil attempted to walk inside the fence to speak at a closer distance, at which point the woman screeched and told him to get out, as the scarecrow in the yard began to slowly animate and lurch towards the party!  Gavriil quickly backed out, and the scarecrow settled itself down to its post once again.

More convincing continued, but it wasn’t until the woman was convinced of Gavriil and Noruas’s gardening interests that she invited the party inside to talk.  An hour passed, where she spoke at great length of her garden.  She told them that people called her the Old Beldame– Eneko recalled several tales about her eating children, being a witch, having sold her soul to demons, and many other such horrors.  They didn’t seem to be true as far as the party could tell– her strange appearance, Gavriil deemed, was due to some kind of Fey ancestry manifesting itself in her looks.  After the gardening talk was done, they exchanged some other information– The Old Beldame told them to avoid the Lizardmen tribe, to be cautious in the forest to the west, for there was a mad hermit living in the area, and to stay away from Candlemere in the middle of the nearby lake– people who traveled there never returned!  She also mentioned that if they happened upon some Black Rattlecap Mushrooms, she would be very grateful for some, as they made excellent tea.

More exploration!  Leaving the Old Beldame’s hut, the party found themselves deeper into the Narlmarshes.   Towards evening, while walking through a particularly narrow portion of trees, the party was ambushed!  Elysia and Eneko, walking in front of the party, were surprised as the ground beneath their feet began to fall away!  While the Bard was able to spot the signs of crumbling ground just before he tread forward, the Ranger was not so lucky– she began to fall, and was only barely caught by Eneko before falling several feet to the hard ground.  Before anyone else was able to react, a crazed-looking man, wild hair and a horrible smile upon his face, leaned out from behind the cover of a tree several feet in the air, and shot a blowdart into Elysia’s neck!  Simultaneously, a large feral cat creature leaped down from the trees behind the group and onto Noruas, scratching at her face and biting at her legs!

The party quickly moved to take care of the man, with Noruas shooting him with her full double-barrel musket compliment, hurting him badly.  He called out to stop, have mercy on him!  When the group held back for a moment, he laughed and began to run away, climbing out of sight behind a tree and scurrying away, his cat following suit.  Gavriil quickly cast a Web spell at him to entangle him (he’d previously cast one on the hermit, but the man made his save and all of the Escape Artist checks to avoid being grappled by the webbing), this time successfully, and everyone caught up with him and brought him down from above easily.  A bit of interrogation, which proved mostly fruitless, did let them know that he had some voices in his head telling him to do things– Eneko wondered if perhaps the man was under the influence of the Geas spell, and after some magical checking, the Arcanist was able to confirm that this seemed to be so.  Determining that the best way to help the man was to break the spell, they realized that none of their friends back in Tolemac were educated enough to cast a spell that could break him free of the enchantment– but what about their new friend, the Old Beldame?

Tying up this mad hermit, who could not even recall his own name, they trekked their way back to the Beldame’s hut, once again getting her attention before being invited inside.  They made their request of her– but, like before, she bordered on the edge of rude and aggressive, refusing to aid the man.  Finally she was convinced to lend her aid– but only if she was given several of the Black Rattlecap Mushrooms she so deeply desired.  Giving them a general location– ‘oh, there’s a mudbowl a few miles to the east of here’– she sent them on their way.  Though not happy about the task, the party shrugged and headed out– they wanted to help their mad hermit, so they’d put up with the tasks.  After a bit more than a day’s exploration, they found what they were looking for– a stinky, smelly pit of mud surrounded by a large variety of mushrooms!

Though Elysia kept herself back– not wanting to come too close to the mud and its rather…unique…smell, the rest of the party slowly approached.  Gavriil took the smell the hardest– he found himself rather nauseated.  As they began identifying the Black Rattlecatps and approaching them, the party was surprised to note that one of the largest mushrooms appeared to be moving, ever so slowly!  They began by attempting to steer clear of it– but it was not very long before the plant-like creature attacked!

Though slow, the creature, later found to be a Tendriculus, was fierce– its tentacles lashed out far in front of it to wrap around first Gavriil, and then Noruas, though not before taking bullets to its body.  Thankfully, before the Arcanist or Gunslinger were drawn into the creature’s mouth, Elysia’s arrows and Eneko’s whip were able to finish off the plant, ending the immediate threat.  Though the Tendriculus had managed to crush four of the Black Rattlecaps with its thrashing movements, the party still recovered fourteen of them, as well as several other interesting mushroom species, and began the trek back to the Old Beldame’s hut, hoping to restore their crazy hermit to health.

 

 

 

PAYERS, DO NOT READ!

 

 

 

Once again my group threw me for a loop– measuring their exploration progression from the last session, I figured that they would continue from the Narthropple Expedition to the west, towards the distressing situation which will eventually be discovered between the loggers and the Fey.  Because of this, I read up on the encounters in that general area to make sure I was fully refreshed on what they could come across– and the information on the Old Beldame, the Mud Bowl, and the Mad Hermit were not in the front of my mind.  As such each time they came across these encounters, I had to take a small bit of time to quickly re-read to make sure there weren’t any specifics that I needed to know– like remembering that the Old Beldame wouldn’t come out of her house to talk to the party unless properly talked into it.  Even then, I ended up modifying the encounters; my party clearly wanted to talk to the Beldame instead of fight with her, and so when one made the mistake of stepping into her land, the scarecrow was sent back to its resting place by the offending party retreating properly.

When it came to the old hermit– waaaaaay back in the last book towards the beginning, when speaking of Old Bokken, I recall telling the PC’s the story of his brother and how he’d gone crazy, but none of the party seemed to put two and two together– fair enough, it’s been several months of real-world time and more than a year of in-game time since that story was last heard, though the comment was made that the area seemed to be positively full of crazy old people, between these two hermits and the Old Beldame!  Still, ‘crazy voices in his head’ didn’t seem very satisfying to the players…as they mulled over what had happened to him, Eneko’s player asked if he could make a check to see if the man was under the influence of a Quest/Geas spell, and that made up my mind– yes, yes he was.  More destabilization for the Stolen Lands fits perfectly with our BBEG– it sounds just right for her to magically compel someone to cause trouble for others, when her usual methods of persuasion fails.  Similarly, the Old Beldame is a seventh level sorcerer, which is not high enough level for her to cast Break Enchantment, which would be required to free the hermit from the spell…but hey, they thought of her and knew her to be a sorcerer, so I wanted to reward them for their choices, and decided that she’d have some way or another to cast the spell for them.

The party’s time is ticking down to the end of the month– I’m looking forward to their next kingdom phase, as when they return they will get a special event!  I’ve decided to do away with Kundal the werewolf, which is a suggested encounter for when the party first returns to their kingdom after adventuring.  We’re hopping right into the rabble-rousing Bard himself, and with the way that the group has constructed their city so far (stats and obligations first, roleplaying structures last), he’ll have a large number of legitimate complains to level against them!

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Sessions Nine and Ten

ancient_barrow

A dark opening in the side of a hill– clearly, adventure awaited!  A few cautious steps into the darkness inside revealed a foul-smelling, dirt-walled passage, the floor of which was ripe with bat guano!  Taking a cautious look up, Elysia the Half-Elf Ranger spied numerous tiny little bat faces peering down at her!  Taking cautious steps forward, she snuck her way just past the bats, motioning for the rest to follow.  Gavriil the Human Arcanist wasn’t nearly as sneaky though– as he took a few steps forward, his foot slipped into a large pile of guano, and he let out an involuntary ‘ewwww!’  The bats, alerted by the noise, began to swarm!  With stealth no longer an option, the rest of the party hightailed it through the cavern into the room beyond, Gavriil halting the bats by throwing up numerous Webs behind them!

The circular chamber which they entered (f2) was also dark, though with their light the party made out that the room had three other openings other than where they came through; on the walls between each of these openings, large carvings of mouths featured prominently, and in the very center of the room was an old and broken skeleton.  Only a few more steps were needed before Noruas the Human Gunslinger got a better look at the rooms to the left and right– burial chambers, with skeletal warriors clad in old and broken scraps of armor clambering out of their resting places, shambling towards the party!

Eneko the Human Bard/Cavalier was quick to jump into action– he sang an inspiring song to encourage his fellows, positioning himself to protect Gavriil.  The Arcanist, for his part, moved slightly forward and cast another Web spell, keeping the skeletons who were amassing to the north (f3) from being able to reach the party and essentially taking them out of the entire fight!  The skeletons to the south (f4) advanced upwards, and a skirmish line was formed along the entrance to the circular chamber, with Noruas, Eneko, Elysia, and Elysia’s wolf Tyr providing cover for Gavriil, who wisely chose to stay far in the back of the fight this time around.  The groups traded blows, before, from the back of the barrow, the dust stirred…and from an old and broken sarcophagus, a mighty undead arose to challenge the party!  “You have dared wake me from Our Lady’s slumber?  You will perish for this trespass!”

Eneko and Gavriil were able to identify the creature as a Wight, an undead horror with a particular fondness for draining the life energy of its victims, even going so far as to create wight spawn from those it killed.  With that in mind, the group decided to stay out of its reach– until it fired a bony-white arrow rimmed in black energy at Noruas, attempting to drain away her life-force!  That made him an immediate target, and the Gunslinger made him a target as he began firing arrows at Gavriil as well.

Around this time, having taken out a few of the skeletons facing them, Eneko decided to move forward– right into the middle of the room, which triggered a trap!  From the mouths of the four stone faces on the walls came rays of necromantic energy, and the majority of the party suddenly found themselves to be rather fatigued!  Noruas, however, was not quite as hardy as the rest and became utterly exhausted, finding it harder and harder to continue onwards.  Thankfully, she was still reasonably accurate, and was able to remove the Wight’s influence in the battle with just a few short blasts from her double-barreled musket!

The fight was far from over however– Gavriil cast a third Web spell in order to keep the skeleton guards who had appeared with the Wight from reaching them, and Elysia managed to take out two more skeletons with the help of Tyr.  Meanwhile Noruas suffered a critical hit– a hideously ugly wound across her shoulder, dealing her a point of Charisma damage and a point of Charisma drain!  Fortunately the remaining skeletons who were of immediate threat to the party were few, and quickly dealt with.  The remainder, blocked off by numerous magical sticky webs, were picked off at range by all, ending the threat in the Lonely Barrow.

Taking stock of the loot available, the party was somewhat disappointed by what was left inside…no real treasure to speak of, not much in the way of equipment, but for one exception:  The fantastic, if reasonably broken, longbow which the Wight had been using!  After a bit of focus and a slight amount of magic, it was determined to be a +2 Fey Bane longbow– much to Elysia’s delight, who had a particularly rocky relationship with Fey in general and Griggs specifically since her time spent in the Narlmarshes being pranked.  The bats having dispersed themselves into the sky outside, the party was free to leave, though instead they opted to camp out in the barrow for the night in order to rest themselves from their fatigued condition.

The next few days were spent exploring more territory, heading again to the east where they stopped at Lake Silverstep below Talon Peak, before moving slightly south and looping back to the west, following the Gudrin River until it met up with the Tuskwater, the northern shore of which was not too far from Elbat Dnuor.  Around here, traveling beside a stretch of land which formed forty-foot cliffs down to the lake below, the party came across a man in a straw hat, fishing lures dangling from the brim, by the name of Arven.  Arven, after making the proper greetings to such fine and highly esteemed peoples as the leaders of Tolemac, timidly told them his troubles– a giant monster named Old Crackjaw (a legendary hookjaw turtle) had decided to make Arven’s secret fishing hole his new home!

Old Crackjaw was quite the legend among fishers of the Tuskwater– whenever he made his home in a new area of water, any fishermen who attempted to come near were attacked viciously!  There were even five boats confirmed sunk by the turtle, whose strong jaws were enough to crack through wood!  Noruas, eager to get a look at this turtle, moved through the hidden trail down the cliff that Arven had pointed out, while the rest of the group debated upon whether or not they wanted to try and capture Old Crackjaw to take back to the capital for…some reason or another?  While they debated, the Gunslinger poked at the water, making ripples and attracting the turtle’s attention.  The debate raged on as the turtle continued to get closer, until eventually it lept out of the water at Noruas, who reflexively shot it before jerking her gun out of the reach of its snapping jaws!  Tired of its antics, she shot the creature again, ending its threat.

Arven, being the happy and generous sort, gave the PC’s a gift to thank them for their help– a magical ring he found in a fish a few weeks back!  Gavriil identified it as a Ring of Feather Fall, and also attempted to again identify the magical properties of the mysterious ring which he had taken off the body of the Stag Lord a year or so back, but to no avail.  Shrugging, the party moved back to Elbat Dnuor in order to retrieve the boat they had previously cobbled together for exploration on the lake.  When they arrived, Chief Sootscale tracked them down– Mikmek, the Kobold who was in charge of the Sootscale Kobolds while the chief was away in the capital, had contacted the kingdom to let them know that in five days time, the tribe was to hold a feast for a diplomatic party of a certain ‘Lord Hargulka.’

Mikmek had also impressed upon chief Sootscale that Lord Hargulka’s delegation wished to enter discussions about the tribe joining Hargulka’s kingdom– “But wait, we claimed their territory– they’re part of our kingdom!”  Eneko’s player exclaimed!  Clearly this called for the party to visit the feast and speak with this ‘Lord Hargulka’ themselves!  So they planned for just that– after, of course, they took their boat out and explored the rest of Tuskwater Lake.  The next day was spent doing just that, and after retiring (and Noruas getting Belis Sallal to Restore her body to pre-ugly-wound condition), the group set out for the Sootscale Caverns!

The party arrived at the caverns at the right time– just an hour or so before the feast was to begin.  They met with Mikmek, who was engrossed in the preparations.  Mikmek, it seemed, had taken up reading while acting as chief of the Sootscales, and as such wished for everything to be properly and diplomatically appropriate for the feast.  There were several questions, and what they got was this:  Hargulka wanted to make a proposal for joining his kingdom, and Mikmek was afraid that the short-sighted and less-educated Kobolds of the tribe would be in full support of his offer.  While he could refuse to listen to the opinions of the tribe, he felt that it would not be good for his health to do so– and thus wished for the PC’s to be there to listen to the talks, and perhaps offer some advice on what to do.

Not long afterwards, a Kobold ran into the dining area where most of the group was gathered, and announced the arrival of the delegation– Lord Hargulka was there!  From around an outcropping in the cave, came the lumbering form of a large, shaggy…troll!  Lord Hargulka moved into the feast hall, followed by another troll, and a final, hideous two-headed monstrosity of a troll that seemed in a particularly foul mood, scowling with both heads and looking generally sullen.  Hargulka, in all his troll-y glory, pronounced that the feast was ready to begin, and the Kobolds started bringing out the food!

While some polite talk was exchanged between Tolemac’s rulers and the troll, most questions were deftly avoided in favor of talk later.  The party did learn that Hargulka’s kingdom was to the south, he claimed to have no knowledge of the troll attack a few months earlier on the PC’s borders, and he wished to invite the tribe to his kingdom.  Throughout the feast Hargulka spent much time talking with all of the Kobolds who passed by, most all of which came away with what seemed like good feelings towards the troll.  Towards the end of the food-time, Mikmek was speaking with Hargulka, and motioned for the party to come over, stating, “Lord Hargulka here was telling me about his glorious opportunity for safety and profit. Why not explain it to the Baron and his friends?”  Hargulka, being more than happy, obliged, launching into a likely rehearsed speech:

“I was explaining to the little Sootscales the danger of being beholden to a human empire. I am aware that you mean well by annexing the Sootscale Kobolds, but what you hope to accomplish by ‘redeeming’ them is nothing less than cultural genocide. Given enough time in your… empire, the Kobolds would lose their cultural identity. They are fierce dragons, not a mere… halfling variant. What I offer the Sootscales is a chance for Kobolds to be Kobolds. They can continue trap-laying, and mining and scheming and rather than lose their cultural identity they can be beholden to me and still retain their… draconic heritage.”

This was of course met with several cheers of approval from nearby Kobolds, and sent frowns across the faces of the PC’s.  While Gavriil and Eneko began reasoning with Hargulka, letting him know how they were not in fact culturally suppressing the tribe, Noruas began whispering to the two-headed troll nearby:  “Hey.  It’s too bad about those trolls we faced off against.  You know– cause they died a horrible, terrible death.  As cowards.  Yup, ugly inept cowards.”  This constant ribbing from the Gunslinger grew as time went on, and, during the middle of a particularly delicate bit of negotiating, he finally had enough and snapped, roaring a wordless cry and striking out at Noruas with his claws!  This had her desired affect, and she fell backwards, crying out that she’d been attacked by the monstrous brute!

Though Hargulka and his troll honor guard were able to subdue the two-headed troll after a few moments, the damage had already been done– the trolls were cast in a negative, bestial light with no remaining chance of negotiating.  Hargulka offered a half-felt goodbye, and left with his retinue, giving the PC’s a victory on the diplomatic front.

The rest of the night was spent finishing a feast and reassuring the Sootscale tribe of the PC’s good intents, and they retired for the night in the caves.  The next morning they left, and decided to continue their explorations further to the west, checking out the territory beside their capital.  After another day’s travel, they arrived in the wilderness, following along a river that fed into the lake.  About mid-day, they arrived at a shallow point of the river, and were met with the sight of several Gnomes in distress, a wagon almost to the tipping point stuck in the middle of the waters, shouting for help!

 

 

 

 

 

PLAYERS, DO NOT READ:

 

 

 

 

This post encompasses two sessions– the first was a reschedule later in the week to make up for our regular gaming night that I was forced to miss due to illness, but was cut radically short due to losing internet connection, and thus was only able to take care of the combat in the Lonely Barrow.  The second session encompassed the exploration, fight with Old Crackjaw, and the Monster Feast– which was the result of my first inclusion of Hargulka’s Monster Kingdom, a player-made attempt to make the Rivers Run Red villain much more proactive and interesting!  I’m looking forward to several of the encounters which will spawn from this as the group begins exploring the southern Narlmarshes, and though we may have missed the opportunities to roleplay with the Warg, Howl of the North Winds, there are still a bevy of new things to do with them!

Though the revelation of Hargulka as a troll was not as shocking as I’d perhaps hoped for the party, I did receive some positive feedback– ‘I wasn’t expecting it, mostly because I thought of trolls mostly as the dumb monster instead of intelligent creature, but I liked it– it was neat!’  I’m glad to hear that it went over well, and I think that my party will definitely like the rest of the Monster Kingdom’s additions.

In the Lonely Barrow, my Gunslinger had become very interested in searching the barrow for any signs of its purpose and who the Wight had used to be.  Unfortunately for them, while the book gives us a good idea of its background, it also provides exactly zero ways for the players to know any of this– though it’s not too much of a stretch to allow them to figure out some stuff with knowledge checks I imagine.  I opted to let them find a secret compartment in a sarcophagus which had some old tablets detailing what had happened– an ancient warlord whose brother betrayed him, back from the dead by a mysterious power, never to rest in death.  His singular voice line during the beginning of his part of the fight also alluded slightly to the campaign’s Big Bad Evil Guy– er, Girl– appearing to him in his non-sleep, as I feel like he might have been another of the multiple creatures which she would have reached out to for assistance in bringing about her ultimate end-game.  The party definitely picked up on his words, but from what I can tell, haven’t made a big note of it as being worthy of investigation.

Well, that’s all for now!  Looking forward to the next few sessions, and will post with their story soon!

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Session Eight

The session began with a Kingdom Phase, which the players handled with alacrity.  At their monthly council meeting at the end of the month, the party gave a plot of their land over to the use of the Church of Gorum as per their agreement with the church for their funding, as well as ordered the construction of a guildhall for the White Wolves.  Some less-than-stellar tax rolls later, and the party was making about as much as they were spending that month.  As well, the kingdom’s General, Davik Azazeal, brought to the council’s attention the rumors that were flying around the kingdom now– that trolls were marching through the south!  These rumors were given all the more credence after the battle near the sawmill just a few months prior, but Baron Eneko, the Human Bard/Cavalier, helped the citizens of Tolemac remain calm in the face of potential threats, avoiding unrest being added to the kingdom.

Having decided that they had sat on their backs for long enough, the party took off from their capital of Elbat Dnuor the day after their council meeting, ready to explore more of their surroundings!  They decided to head north and east, to map out the Shrike River to find where the waterfalls they had been told of were located.  It didn’t take them long to find the Shrike Cascade, a tall waterfall that would halt any river-bound trade.  The next day brought them alongside the Crooked Falls, a series of smaller waterfalls which also rendered passage further north-east non-viable.

The party’s further exploration took them back west a little ways, ensuring that land closer to their chartered area did not remain unmapped for any longer.  From there, they moved back along the river which split from the Shrike at Crooked Falls, going south.  It was along here, around mid-day, that the party, riding alongside the river, began hearing an odd caw-shriek noise coming from across the river.  Elysia the Half-Elven Ranger and Gavriil the Human Arcanist moved forward a bit and looked across the river, where they saw odd-looking chicken-dragon creatures.  Elysia was able to identify these creatures as cockatrices, with several of the territorial beasts nesting on the other side of the river.  Though the Ranger wished to take them on, the rest of the party, including Noruas the Human Gunslinger, all voted to avoid them for the time being, sneaking away without them taking notice, but marking the nest on their map.

Further travel south, now into the mountains!  Here the party found an old watchtower sitting high on a mountaintop.  Noruas and Gavriil ascended, the first by climbing and the second by levitating, to investigate.  The tower was old and decrepit, with nothing interesting inside, but they were able to look out over the valley below them, and to the east saw a town sprawling out on the plains past the mountains– the capital city of Varnhold, the nation established by Maegar Varn to the east in the Nomen Heights!

Taking stock of the time they had until they needed to return to their capital, the party decided to forge on, exploring more of the mountains for the next week.  Eventually, they came to a place known as Talon Peak– which Noruas recalled, upon seeing an old structure atop a high peak, was home to an enormously large bird known for snatching whole horses off the ground!  Taking precautions like wrapping cloth around their weapons and maintaining as much silence as they could, the group decided to shy away from the peak for the moment, needing to hightail it back to Elbat Dnuor to help run their kingdom.  Indeed they made breakneck speed back home, and were able to arrive just in time to perform their administrative duties.

After a week of work and a Kingdom turn, in which Tolemac claimed the two Shrike River hexes containing the waterfalls and suppressed more rumors of troll activity to the south, our leaders went out again to explore some more!  The first day while traveling, they were almost surprised by a stalking Warg and his wolf pack!  Though the party attempted to talk with him, he seemed intent on attack, and was promptly put down with ease.  The next day, continuing west from the capital, saw Elysia spying a crag in a nearby hill which appeared to open up into a larger space inside…and so, the party entered the Lonely Barrow!

Tolemac, Year Two, Month Two:

 

Size:  15                                   Cities:  1                                   Control DC:  36

Loyalty:  34                             Stability:  32                           Economy:  32

Unrest:  0                                BP:  29                                       Consumption:  0

Holidays:  12 per year          Promotion:  Standard          Taxation:  None

Tolemac 14 months

 

 

PLAYERS, DO NOT READ!

 

 

 

 

Back to exploration!  Party-level gameplay, for the majority of the session, for the first time since the kingdom was founded!  I was a bit surprised about the party’s direction of exploration at first– preliminary ideas had them telling me that they were interested in revealing the rest of the map that was present from the first book, yet instead it was decided to check out the river and space to the east near Varnhold.  Thankfully at the end of the last session, I had planned out and placed borders for where I thought Varnhold had expanded to up to that point, and so they were interested to see the kingdom borders along side many of the hexes they explored.  The Varnhold Pass was claimed and named in the kingdom turn directly after the PC’s explored it, giving them their first actual glimpse of another kingdom claiming territory.  There is already talk of trying to expand quickly to Talon Peak and the hex where they found the Cockatrice Den in order to keep Varnhold from claiming sources of interesting interestingness.

The Cockatrice den was an old random encounter that I’d prepared weeks ago for the party, when they talked about exploring the river hexes on their way back from Restov before their kingdom was built.  Thankfully, all I had to do to level it up to them was add another Cockatrice, but as it turned out most weren’t interested in fighting them (the ranger on the other hand was eager to fight, since they were Magical Beasts, Elysia’s favored enemy!).  They did wish to mark the location in case they came back though, which I see as promising– perhaps they will want to come back one day and make pets!

Talon Peak was another interesting location– the party got lucky in that the Roc which is supposed to live there (a CR9 Encounter I believe, and with its ability to fly, it would likely have spelled doom to at least one PC) rolled the percentile chance to not be home, and so they snuck away unfettered.  This too they want to come back for– I think they got the idea that the giant bird, though never named as a Roc, was above their abilities at the moment.

For our campaign we use Roll20 as a virtual tabletop and a way to video in to all of our players in various locations.  One big bonus of this medium is that I was able to find online a hex map of the entire Stolen Lands, from books one through six, all in a single image.  This image was uploaded to Roll20 and placed on-screen for the players to explore, and so they can travel through the entirety of the Stolen Lands at will, as it were, if they so wish!  I love that in this adventure path, they are completely able to explore the Nomen Heights while they still know nothing of the area to the south of them– it’s very open-worldy, and I love the player choice and agency involved!

That’s all for now– join us next time as the party enters into the Lonely Barrow to face the undead horrors within!

The Revenge of Mogg the Machine

It was a day like any other– I had been prowling around the rooftops of Minas Ithil, stealthily putting orcs out of their misery, searching for stolen Gondorian artifacts.  After locating a ceremonial red arrow, presented in times past to the men of Rohan during times of dire need to invoke ancient pacts of aid, I set my sights on a new artifact, laying just outside the city walls.  Traipsing across the bridge leading to the nearby orc encampment, I jumped down to the earth below, slicing into an orc warrior, shooting another two in the head with my bow, and knocking a fourth to the ground while taking several swings at the final orc.  While beating back his pitiful attempts at defending himself, I prepared to take his head off– when out from behind a nearby tree, comes these words:

“FLESHLING!  You cleaved me in two.  Any other orc would have died, but I survived.  More than that:  I thrived.  My brothers put me back together, stronger than ever, but they didn’t make me into what I am.  You did.  You created…The Machine.”

Stepping around the tree came an orc straight out of my nightmares:  Tall, encased in metal armor, a curved bone piercing his nose, and an overwhelming sense of the familiar…yet different.  Hadn’t I…hadn’t I killed this orc before?  Did he not have the decency to stay dead?  Was I truly so overconfident in my skills that I left him with a modicum of life, to be pieced back together bit by bit, now more machine than man?  Had I truly made him what he was…created him?

Yes.  Yes I did.  For you see, Mogg the Machine wasn’t always like this.  No, when I first met him, he was only known as Mogg the Messenger, a lowly level eleven Mystic Beastmaster.  Now, Mogg was first encountered not too far into my playthrough of Middle Earth:  Shadow of War, when I was only level four in fact.  He decided to ambush me while I was attempting to take on Takra the Infernal, a firey archer whose equal I had yet to meet.  Unfortunately, while my attention was focused on Takra, Mogg took advantage of my distraction to step in and slay me, uttering as he did:  “I hope it’s true there’s a reward for your head!”

Shadow of War, similar to its predecessor Shadow of Mordor, does not allow death to be the end however!  In this duo of games based off of the world set forth by J. R. R. Tolkien, set in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you play the Gondorian Ranger Talion.  Stationed along the border of Gondor and Mordor, Talion falls prey to an orc attack on his outpost, which kills his friends, his family– and himself.  Wait, you might ask, but if Talion is dead…how do you keep playing the game? You see, through the dark magic made possible by a fantasy world, Talion is now bound in death to the ancient Elven spirit of Celebrimbor, cursed to never pass through death to the other side to see his family again.  Upon realizing his family’s death, Talion spends the majority of the first game attempting to seek revenge upon those responsible– which I feel was a half-accomplished goal at best.

That being put aside, in Shadow of War, we return to playing the Ranger and the Wraith, the two bound as one in undeath, Talion and Celebrimbor.  This time, they are all over Mordor, moving from the two locations of the previous game to a full five areas to explore and exploit.  The story follows the two as they witness the fall of Minis Ithil, deal with iconic Middle Earth characters such as Shelob and the Balrog, and engage in fortress warfare as they begin their own army by dominating the minds of Mordor’s orcs, via a newly forged Ring of Power.  However, I really don’t want to touch much upon the story when it comes to this review– the story that the game’s creators scripted out isn’t nearly as interesting as the stories which they left unscripted for the players to create.

You see, when you die, you do not reload your last save, come back to a checkpoint, or otherwise rewrite the history of the in-game story– no, you die, and you are drug back kicking and screaming to life, unable to fully enter the void like you might wish to in order to rejoin your wife and child.  Talion and Celebrimbor awaken at the top of one of three local towers, and time moves on– the various orc Captains in the current location’s army will continue about their days, complete struggles for power, and so on.  Having just been killed by a captain, I determined that the best course of action would be to track him down and eliminate him, by any means necessary!  This Mogg, he would be as hot butter to my knife, for I was out for blood!

And then things went wrong.  I was nearly within sight of the last known location of Mogg the Messenger, when, upon my high perch in a small tower, a lumbering Caragor clambered up to my level, preparing to pounce!

Caragor

Ugly, right?

Well, here’s the thing about Shadow of War:  You will find Caragors roaming about the wilderness willy-nilly, but if you happen upon one in the middle of a city?  It’s been tamed for Orcish use.  Fearing for my life and the success of my revenge, I leaped onto an outcropping and turned, hearing a dreadful sniffing noise…sure enough, below me and looking upwards, was none other than Takra the Infernal!  Hurriedly, I activated my Eagle Visio–oh, uh, I mean, Wraith Sight– and reviewed what I knew about Takra.  As it turns out, Takra the Infernal was indeed a Fiery Terror Tracker– an orc wielding flame weapons, from the orcish Terror tribe, and of the Tracker class.  Orc captains who specialize in tracking will latch onto the scent of Talion when he’s nearby, and pursue him to no end– often times gathering other nearby orcs to join in the hunt!

Hoping to avoid the inevitable and keep my chance at revenge, I turned and ran, scaling a nearby wall to advance onto the rooftop across the way, giving me a vantage point on Mogg in the courtyard below, while putting some distance between me and Takra.  Steeling my nerves, I crouched…and down I jumped!  Right onto the back of Mogg the Messenger, whose shoulder I happily graced with a dagger!  But this did not put him down, and he threw me off, stumbling a moment and allowing the time to strike the firepit next to him with my wraith hammer– sending an explosion of fire outwards!  With this strong opening, I turned and clashed blades with Mogg’s club, locking weapons, while he greeted me with these words:  “It was a mistake to challenge me the first time.  Now I must assume you enjoy dying!”

For the next minute and a half, we danced together, slashing weapons and leaping figures.  Mogg endeavored to keep a screen of lowly orcish bodies between me and him, while I attempted to put each of them out of their misery quick enough to allow me a slash at Mogg.  After much struggle, I had him– I dealt a crushing blow with my sword, running it through my foe’s gut, dropping him to his knees!  “The Witch-King will have his city.  But you.  You were just for me.”  Defiant to the end, huh?  That’s alright– I was ready to deliver the killing blow!  Preparing to slay him, I was thus surprised when he suddenly attacked, swinging his club at my head!  While I was quick enough to block the blow, I unfortunately was thrown off-balance, allowing Mogg the chance to use his free hand to knock away my sword, and stun me briefly with a headbutt!  Mogg escaped that day, much to my chagrin, leaving me to be battered by his minions while he got to safety.

My immediate response of tracking Mogg down again was delayed when Takra the Infernal finally caught up with me, giving me new problems to deal with– but this story isn’t about Takra, despite how often he’s been showing up.  This story is about Mogg.  Speaking of Mogg– I didn’t really know too much about him.  It was high time that was not so.  Moving through Minas Ithil, I came across a Worm– an orc with both information, and a desire not to die to my interrogation (spoiler alert:  he died).  From this worm I learned more about Mogg– an orc from the Mystic tribe, specializing as a Beastmaster, controller of Caragors and killer of Graugs.  Though he had managed to kill me once and escape from me a second time, Mogg was known to be clumsy, had a fear of spiders, and from all the arrows I had sank into his skull, was soft-headed.  An excellent plan of attack was formed– swoop down upon him from above as last time, then fill his head with arrows, stunning him into being unable to defend against my sword!

After a bit of tracking, there he was again– I could see him from the roof of the ruined building I had climbed.  While he had two tamed Caragors moving about beside him, it seemed no other orcs were in sight.  I sprung into action– again!  A stealthy knife in the back, then several arrows to his face brought him low, and a lightning-quick flurry of blows almost took him out immediately!  Finally he rallied enough to raise his club to defend himself, shouting at me “You should have stayed dead!  Now I will humiliate you a second time!”  It was then I noticed– this was not actually Mogg the Messenger.  This was, in fact…Mogg the Gutless!  After having to run away from me in our last fight, his title was changed to reflect what others thought of him– no longer a useful messenger, but rather a sniveling coward!  This brought me a bit of satisfaction, as clearly my revenge was already working on a psychological level.

Since I wasn’t going to say no to another hands-up, I quickly loosed another arrow into Mogg’s head, dazing him, and giving me enough time to once again slide my blade into his gut– this time, though he defiantly uttered the words “This is far from over, tark,” I did not let him get away– I chopped off an arm and a leg, and slew him.  VICTORY!

Or so I had thought…until, two levels and an hour and a half later, I encountered Mogg the Machine outside of Minas Ithil, having cheated death.  But you’ve already heard about that…

 

Middle Earth:  Shadow of Mordor was one of 2014’s best games, in my opinion.  Though I did not play this game until two years after its release, the Nemesis System it introduced proved to me time and again how cool fighting an army of orcs can actually be.  The Nemesis System is Monolith’s game mechanic which allows for the Orc Captains that you face to remember your encounters, evolve their techniques, become better faster stronger and all that.  Each Orc Captain, special Orcs roaming around the region, had a series of special traits which made their strengths and weaknesses– one may be arrow-proof and vulnerable to stealth attacks; another could be soft-headed yet strikes savagely for massive amounts of damage!  The numerous special traits could combine in several ways to make unique villains with a personality and connection to you as a player, a pretty unique thing compared to what I’ve seen in other video games.

Middle Earth:  Shadow of War doubled-down on this design, offering improvements in graphics and the Nemesis System itself.  The new game took many aspects of its predecessor and built upon it– the Orc captains now have a class and tribe that determine some of its special abilities, and more advantages and weaknesses were added to the roster.  Additionally, a very very different equipment system was included in Shadow of War.  Shadow of Mordor allowed you to collect runes from the captains you killed, and these runes would allow you to upgrade either your Bow, your Sword, or your Dagger for various different benefits.  Shadow of War takes this a step further; you are able to collect actual pieces of equipment from the captains you kill, and this can gain you new weapons, armor, or magical rings.  Some of these pieces of equipment have challenges to complete in order to upgrade them– kill five enemies on fire and your sword may have a 15% chance to light enemies on fire on a critical hit!

The unlockable skill system in Shadow of War also received an upgrade– every level you gain unlocks a new skill point, which can unlock new skills for Talion.  Many skills make a comeback– the ability to freeze an enemy as you leap over their back, the ability to detonate fire pits into an explosion, and the ability to ride various creatures from around Mordor to name but a few.  In addition, several new abilities came around, such as the ability to quickly climb buildings by making vertical leaps, a mid-air double-jump, and the ability to chain several stealth kills into one action.  Each of these skills also come with two or three upgrades, requiring a skill point to unlock the upgrade.  Though a skill can only have one upgrade active at a time, you are able to freely swap between any unlocked upgrades at any time.

Similar to Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War brings back the Domination of orcs, allowing you to add orcs and captains to your side, building up an army of followers bound to your will.  In this way, you can recruit your own Orc Captains to fight alongside you in Fortress Sieges to take control of regions away from Sauron’s own orcs.  After you obtain the appropriate skill, you can even gain an Orc bodyguard who you can call in at any time to help you in a fight, and who sometimes will even protect you from what would have been certain death!

Those are, in my opinion, some pretty positive things that the game changed from its elder– but this has not touched upon what some consider to have been the most controversial feature.  Included in Shadow of War is a Marketplace– a way to spend in-game and real currency to purchase warchests full of equipable items, or even Elite or Legendary orcs to place into your army.  Training orders are also possible to purchase, which will modify existing Orcs in your army by making them elite, adding a gang of followers, or giving them poisoned or cursed weapons to name but a few.  Finally, you can purchase XP boosts to allow you to gain experience faster, leveling you up quicker.

While it is true that these things are present and can be purchased with real-world currency, this doesn’t make it an inherently bad game.  Indeed, many of these gains do not even need to be purchased with real-world currency.  The in-game currency can be used to purchase some of these chests, and the Gold which is obtainable through microtransactions can be earned, slowly, by completing daily challenges in-game.  Additionally, while an XP boost might seem like a direct pay-to-win, the game is strictly singleplayer with only a type of asynchronous multiplayer which pits your orcs against the orcs of other players.  Additionally, after you hit the maximum level of sixty, which is easily achievable in the course of normal gameplay, you no longer have a need for XP gain.

So– where does that put us, in all?  I have had an enormous amount of fun with the stories these orcs have helped me tell.  The story of the game itself, well honestly, I could take it or leave it for the most part.  The first act follows Talion as he attempts to keep Minas Ithil from falling to Sauron, and attempting to recover his Ring of Power from Shelob.  Eh meh, nothing too special coming in here.  The second act introduces the rest of the regions of the game, and sees you beginning to build your army up, eventually putting under siege the region fortresses to take control of Mordor.  During act two, you also get access to your alternate quest arcs.  A story involving the remaining defenders of Minas Ithil proved to be reasonably dull to me, while the most challenging part of the game came when I had to battle various members of the Nazgul during Eltariel’s quest line.  Overall, my favorite bit of story were the quests that involved the orcs Ratbag and Bruz– Ratbag making a return from Shadow of Mordor, and Bruz serving the dual role of trusted adviser and hated foe.

This certainly speaks volumes then as to what the game did the best– for it was the orcs with which I most identified with and wished to learn more about!  Their dialogue and personalities drew me in far more than the mysterious background of Shelob, or even the character development that Talion and Celebrimbor went through by the end of the plot.  The Orcs and the Nemesis System come in at the top highlights of this game for me, bar none.  It almost makes getting killed fun, as if a grunt orc slays me we learn more about him as he is promoted to captain, and we form a relationship with him– we might encounter him again and die to him again, or perhaps fight him to a draw and watch him run away.  And he remembers every encounter!  This was such a delight to see time and time again.

 

I’ve focused on a lot of the high points of this game– so let us touch, briefly, upon the low points:  What I didn’t like.  The game’s third act was a reasonably impressive set of increasingly difficult encounters, culminating in a ‘soft ending’ of the game.  However there was more, because Shadow of War has in fact four acts, the last of which is known as The Shadow Wars.  During the Shadow Wars, which you must complete in order to unlock the game’s ‘final’ ending, you must complete a total of twenty fortress defenses, where you and your orcs must hold off invading enemy forces until you manage to defeat all six of their Warchieves (the Orcs who hold dominion over Captains!).  While in theory this can be fun and entertaining, as you are able to set various fortress defenses such as thickened walls, fiery siege beasts, or even poison mines scattered through the courtyards, completing what is essentially the same mission twenty times in a row can be a long drain on time and interest.  I found myself only able to handle one, or possibly even two if I was feeling energetic, sieges per play.  Any more became quite dull and repetitive.

In addition to this, the way I was encouraged to play the Shadow Wars– recruiting all of the best, highest-level Orcs in the region for my fortress Warchieves and their Captain bodyguards– meant that I ended up losing out on one of the most interesting aspects of the game, that being the living world.  Because I constantly needed dominated Orc bodies for my fortresses, any given region would only have two or three uncontrolled orcs roaming around at any given time– and a few of my regions sported no undominated Orcs every now and then.  If there are so few enemy orcs in a region, the chances of running in to one or having one ambush or run into you seem to plummet, and thus my orcish interaction, that which I valued the most in this game, was eliminated.

Furthermore, by the time I had hit the endgame in the Shadow Wars, many of my Captain encounters became relatively simple– the range of abilities and skills available to me, instantly customizable when needed, made any single-orc encounter a reasonably trivial time.  The number of times in this game that I died was already pretty low, but by the end of my third or so fortress siege in the Shadow Wars, I had gained so many skills that I did not die again for the rest of the game.  No dying, means no personal stories of revenge against orcs, means less attachment from me to the game.  While I admire the idea that you are not limited to just one upgrade per skill you acquire, I feel like the game would have done better in end-game balancing if there were some kind of penalty to changing around your skills, be it an in-game currency cost or a timer until being able to change them again.

My final complaint lies in a simple, yet what seems to me easy to fix, issue:  There is only a single save slot for the game.  I have now achieved 100% completion of this game, and now have free reign over the open world as it were, to encounter and fight orcs, to engage in the Endless Shadow Wars fortress sieges, and to generally have fun.  Yet I find myself wanting to begin again at times, start the story over from the beginning and build Talion up once more.  Problem is if I do this…I must delete my 100% completion save, where my Talion has all of his skills and all of his levels.  I feel very much against this, on the more-likely-than-not chance that I’d wish to play some more at max level in a completed game.  I admit I don’t know much about video game programming, yet I feel almost certain that implementing an additional save slot would not be an extravagant amount of work, and could easily have been provided at launch.

 

Final thoughts:  Is it worth it?  Though I cannot make your decisions for you, I would suggest giving this game a try.  At sixty-eight hours of play time on Steam, I feel that I have easily gotten my money’s worth for this purchase, and the entertainment that multiple orc nemeses have brought me rounds that experience out nicely.  Yes there are flaws, yet the experience as a whole has been a good one, and I feel that even after I have left this game cold and unplayed for a multitude of months, when next I decide to jump back in I will have just as much fun if not more.  When it is all said and done, I am happy with my purchase, and would choose to buy it again.

 

 

Oh, but before you go, would you perhaps like to know how the story of Mogg the Machine ends?

 

Several hours after my last encounter with Mogg, which ended in me chopping off his arm and leg, I returned to Minas Ithil after an extended stay in Cirith Ungul.  On my way to a new story mission, I came across an orc Captain just longing to be beaten up, and I was only too happy to oblige!  It was then, much the same as when I had first met him, that Mogg the Machine made his reappearance– for he had cheated death again!  Made up of even more metal than the last time I’d faced him, he greeted me with the traditional shout of “FLESHLING!”  The battle with Mogg this time was longer, as he was now level fifteen with a fire weapon and less vulnerabilities.  The end result was another death for Mogg– I hoped for the last time.

But it was not to be so!  Mogg’s final chapter comes many, many hours later, almost at the end of the game!  During a quest line which had me dealing with a vile necromancer, I learned of cultists in Minas Morgul (formerly Minas Ithil) who were attempting to raise dead Orc Captains back to life.  Arriving at the Minas Morgul arena, I found that the dastardly cultists had raised from the dead some of my most feared opponents– foremost among them being Mogg the Machine!  Though the fight was horrendously difficult, after several attempts I was able to slay Mogg– this time, for the last time.  I’d be lying however, if I didn’t tell you that I would always be extra careful to check over my shoulder for Mogg while traveling through Minas Morgul after that though….

 

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red Session Seven

Their friend having just been slain by the last remaining troll, the party was spurred into greater action!  Eneko the Human Bard/Cavalier tossed a flask of acid onto the troll, while Noruas the Human Gunslinger unloaded her own double-barrels into the monster’s hide, felling the creature, and ending the threat.  Immediately, Elysia the Half-Elf Ranger grabbed up the body of her friend Gavriil, the Human Arcanist, jumped upon her horse, and began to gallop away towards the edge of the forest!  Noruas and Eneko rushed after the pair, stopping briefly to ensure that the travelers who were under attack were taken care of, and then again when they met up with Elysia at the edge of the forest, to inform the remnants of the border patrol present that they would be riding to Restov for some ‘healing magic.’  Noruas also made certain that Gavriil’s body was propped up on the horse he was ‘riding’ with sticks and packs, to give the illusion of life– or at least, to not give the impression of death.

From there, the party rode hard into Restov, managing to make it in just four days.  The day they arrived, the group checked in with the local temple of Gorum, to find if there was a Cleric there who was experienced enough to cast Raise Dead upon their Grand Diplomat.  Fortunately, the leader of the temple was of high enough level, and requested that they return the next morning with the required funds, at which time he would have prayed to Gorum to grant him the required spells to bring back Gavriil and Restore him to life.  Receiving the grand total bill, the group frowned– they would have to scrounge their pockets for the needed money.  Several of Gavriil’s magical scrolls, potions, and items were sold to help cover the cost, as well as the vast majority of Elysia’s personal wealth, which contributed to more than half of the just over 8,000gp bill.  Eneko and Noruas’s purses contributed the leftover amounts, and they were ready!

The next morning, with their pockets laden with gold, the party arrived at the temple of Gorum, meeting with the high cleric and producing the body of Gavriil, who by now, without Gentle Repose being cast upon him, smelled quite a bit.  Thankfully nothing went wrong with the castings, and mere moments later, Gavriil stood, whole and hearty, back from the dead!  After some heartfelt greetings, the group hopped back onto their horses and made their way back to Elbat Dnuor– for if they did not make haste, they would miss out on performing their monthly duties for the kingdom!  With luck, they made it back just in time, and spent the next week ensuring that things ran smoothly for their land.

At the end of their week of work, during the council meeting, two heartfelt young entrepreneurs were presented to the leadership by Maia Prang, Tolemac’s Treasurer.  Loy Rezbin and his wife, Latricia, came before the group to inform them that they were founding a new village a few miles from the kingdom’s borders, at a spot where a natural ford occurred across the Skunk river– Tatzlford, they would call it, after the creatures they had to slay in order to ensure the safety of the area.  The Halflings were requesting any kind of financial aid that the kingdom might be able to provide them– in return, should they remain prosperous after a period of around two years, they would be highly amicable to being folded into the kingdom of Tolemac– provided that Loy would be able to remain mayor, of course.  After some discussion, slightly different terms were made– the kingdom would provide three BP worth of resources for the new village, but would carefully monitor its expansion, ensuring that no great military force would be raised, and that the town stay far away from the boggard lair several miles to its north.

During that month, the party constructed a wall along Elbat Dnuor’s northern border, to help ensure its defense.  Additionally, the Baron’s Stability check helped to reduce unrest further, and finally Chief Sootscale was seen by many citizens telling the tales of the executed trolls– how their leaders had slain a pack of seven of them, fighting valiantly tooth and claw!  With the Royal Enforcer’s successful Loyalty check, the kingdom’s Unrest was once again reset down to zero, removing the worst of the penalties.  This did have the effect of pushing the kingdom back a month in terms of planned development, unfortunately.  The next month the Monument to Brigh was constructed next to his shrine, and the month after that came a Caster’s Tower, for Arkanus Taklo’s residence.  The expense incurred in constructing the tower proved great enough that the Guildhall, promised to the White Wolves, had to be delayed by a month– Gavriil stated that it would be up to Elysia to tell them that they’d be a month late on providing that service to them.

When the session closed, we had made it to month twelve– a full year since the founding of Elbat Dnuor and the beginning of the kingdom of Tolemac!  Let’s take a look at how it’s faring thus far:

 

Tolemac, month twelve:

Size:  12                                         Cities:  1                                      Control DC:  33

Loyalty:  31                                  Stability:  27                               Economy:  33

Unrest:  0                                     BP:  39                                           Consumption:  0 (-1)

Holidays:  12 per year               Promotion:  Aggressive           Taxation:  None

 

Elbat Dnuor month twelve

Tolemac 12 months.png