The Spires of Xin-Shalast, Vignettes 3

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Letter to Valeria (by Haggor’s player)

Dearest Valeria,

We’ve only met a few times but I hope you’ll remember me. I am Haggor, the half-orc monk. We met first in Sandpoint and later in Magnimar. I took you as a stalwart woman of determination and purpose. It is for these reasons and another that I am writing to you. This last year of adventuring has led us on a trail to Xin-Shalast to face the Runelord named Karzoug. He is an evil, powerful tyrant from thousands of years past, and, if he’s allowed to reawaken completely and regain his powers, he will conquer all the lands and enslave all of the world with his vile magics. I wanted to write to you and warn you, for by the time you receive this letter we will have entered Xin-Shalast and be working our way to facing him. I wanted someone outside our group to be prepared should we fail, and your face came to me in my dreams.

I will do my best to retrace our footsteps. Enclosed with this letter you will find some maps I created to try and help you as best I can. The first map is to the location of the Runeforge, where you can use its power to craft weapons that can be used against the Runelord himself. The second map is, as near as we can tell, the route to Xin-Shalast. I wish I had more time to explain how we came to possess this knowledge or any other knowledge that might help you. But know that the Runelords are of an ancient civilization that once ruled all these lands, 10,000 or more years ago. They wield power beyond comprehension and, near the end of their reign, nearly destroyed the world itself before going into sleep.

If you do not hear from me in 1 month’s time you will know that we have failed, and that my final thoughts were of you. Know that, upon first having set eyes upon you, I was entranced by you. I wanted to go with you off to wherever your travels took you, but I am duty bound to see this quest to its end. The world will suffer under the chains of slavery and tyranny if we should fail, and I cannot just look aside. If I do not see you again in this life then I will seek you in the next.

Haggor

(signature drawn with little eyes and fangs in a smile in the O)

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Pathfinder, Kingmaker: House Rules

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The second adventure path I’ve started running is Kingmaker. As a more sandbox-type setting, I wanted to make the rules less forgiving than my Rise of the Runelords house rules. However, many of the same fixes and imports from Trailblazer are still apparent.

Not listed are the Chase rules or the Weariness and Foraging rules but I’m using those as well.

Character Creation

  • All PCs are built with your choice of 15 point buy (elite array/standard fantasy) or 4d6 standard dice method (reroll only if total ability bonuses come out negative).
  • All PCs get half (rounded up) HP for each die at each level, with a +6 HP bonus at first level.
  • Only core classes are available (Advanced PG classes may be selectively available once it comes out).

Character Advancement and Replacement

  • All prestige classes must be earned through roleplaying/training in game, and then only setting-specific classes (Pathfinder, Hellknight, etc.) or limited core classes will be available.
  • All PCs get half (rounded up) HP for each die at each level, with a +6 HP bonus at first level.
  • We will be tracking experience per normal rules, and using the medium advancement speed for Pathfinder.
  • Characters do not need training to level (except in Prestige Classes), but do require time to rest and reflect, typically with no Weariness tokens (see Weariness). Essentially, leveling happens between games when the characters are in town. Action Points refresh when this happens (see Action Points, under Trailblazer Rules).
  • Item Crafting feats other than Scribe Scroll and Brew Potion are not available in this campaign. Class abilities that grant the ability to imbue items (like the wizard’s bonded item) still function normally. See magic items, below.
  • All experience is evenly shared among all present PCs, and absent and replacement characters gain the party total exp when entering the game.
  • New characters will receive level-appropriate gear, but will purchase magic items from a random assortment of available options.

Magic Items

  • No item crafting feats are available (except Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion, and class-granted abilities).
  • All magic items are assumed to be either:
    • Remnants of Thassilon or other ancient cultures
    • Newly created upon rare and potent forges or altars in the greatest cities
    • The unique and limited product of a culture or being of rare potency
    • Imbued by the essence of a dead hero
  • This is not to say that magic items are incredibly rare, simply that the ability to custom-tailor one’s arsenal is out of the reach of most individuals.
  • Items both found and available for purchase will be predetermined by the modules or random. However, the occasional trader may be willing to special order an item of a particular type for payment up front if he knows where to get it.
  • Player characters can invest hero points into an item to have it level with them (see Hero Points, under Trailblazer Rules).
  • Wands can be recharged much like Staves, even when reduced to 0 charges, to a maximum of 50 charges:
    • The same spell as contained within the wand can be cast to recover 1 charge.
    • Only the wand’s Caster Level in charges can be renewed per day.
    • The recharging caster does not have to meet the caster level of the wand to recharge it.
  • When item creation is allowed, the Spellcraft check for creating the item is replaced by a Caster Level check, much as with Concentration (as, otherwise, there is effectively 0 chance of failure).

Trailblazer Rules

Iterative Attacks

  • When a PC gets his first iterative attack (at BaB +6), he gets the ability to take a full attack and a -2 penalty to all attacks for the round to gain another attack at full BaB.
  • This attack functions similarly to Flurry of Blows, Two Weapon Fighting, and Rapid Shot, and stacks with these abilities.
  • When the character would normally get subsequent iterative attacks (at BaB +11 and +16), he instead reduces the penalty for taking iterative attacks by 1 (e.g., a character with BaB +11 can take an extra attack at only a -1 penalty to all attacks).

Action Points

  • Each character refreshes to 6 Action Points on leveling (or keeps current APs if higher than 6).
  • Events in game may award AP that is added to a party pool. APs in the party pool can be spent by any PC, and do not change when the characters level.
  • APs can be spent to:
    • Improve any d20 roll (attack roll, skill check, saving throw, caster level check, etc.). Roll an action die (typically, d6) and add the result to your d20 check. You may only use an action point to improve the result of a roll before the DM informs you of the outcome of the roll. You may only use one AP per roll to improve any given d20 check.
    • Re-roll a failed d20 roll. In this case, you spend the action point after the DM informs you of the outcome of the roll. Spend an action point to roll again. The second result stands. (You may spend another action point to improve this second roll.) Note that the average improvement when taking the better of two d20 rolls is about +3; in most cases, you are better off using your action point to improve your first roll.
    • Negate a critical threat scored on you by an opponent.
    • Confirm a critical threat without having to re-roll your attack.
    • Use a limited resource ability (“per rest/per day”) an additional time (even if you have exhausted your normal supply).
    • Take an additional attack or move action on your turn. An extra attack is at the same bonus or penalty as your other attacks that round. (Once per turn only.)
    • Emergency stabilize – If you have 0 or fewer hit points and are dying, you may spend an action point to automatically stabilize; you do not have to make a Fort save to stabilize.
    • Make a “second chance” saving throw or SR check on a subsequent round. This use is only permitted if the target failed his first saving throw/ SR check and is subject to an ongoing (not instantaneous) effect.
    • Finally, a PC must spend an AP to bring his soul back from the dead.
  • AP dice are exploding (i.e., on a roll of 6, roll a second d6 and add it).
  • An AP can be invested in any magic item that gives a +1-+5 bonus (armor, weapons, or any item that modifies Natural AC, Deflection, or Resistance). The item’s bonus increases to the characters level divided by 3 (i.e., +2 at 6th, +3 at 9th, etc.). For each item so invested, the character spends an AP on investment and reduces his AP refresh by one.

Aid Another

  • When characters are working together on a task, each rolls the same skill (or a related set of skills).
  • The character that rolled highest is the leader.
  • Each additional character that beat DC 10 adds +2 to the leader’s roll.

Diplomacy

You can propose a trade, agreement, or conflict resolution to another creature with your words; a successful check can then persuade them that accepting it is a good idea. Either side of the deal may involve physical goods, money, services, promises, or abstract concepts like “satisfaction.” The difficulty of the Diplomacy check is based on three factors: who the target is, the relationship between the target and the character making the check, and the risk vs. reward factor of the deal proposed.

The Target: Your Diplomacy check is opposed by the highest Sense Motive or Diplomacy check of all creatures in a group you are trying to influence. All such creatures use the Aid Another rules for skill checks. (For this purpose, a number of characters is only a “group” if they are committed to all following the same course of action. Either one NPC is in charge, or they agree to act by consensus. If each member is going to make up their mind on their own, they do not get the benefit of Aid Another, and you may roll separate checks against each.)

The Relationship: The DC modifier depends not only on the personal relationship between you and the target (if any), but also on the magnitude of their feelings for you.

Relationship Example DC
Intimate A faithful lover or spouse. -10
Friend A long-time friend or family member -7
Ally A member of the same army, team, or church. (Helpful) -5
Acquaintance (positive) A business associate with whom you do regular (satisfactory) business. (Friendly) -2
Just met A town guard (Indifferent) +0
Acquaintance (negative) Someone you have met regularly with negative consequences. (Unfriendly) +2
Enemy A member of an opposing army, team, or church; a bandit. (Hostile) +5
Personal Foe An antagonist who knows and opposes you personally +7
Nemesis Someone who has sworn to you, personally, harm +10

Risk/Reward Analysis: The amount of personal benefit must always be weighed against the potential risks for any deal proposed. It is important to remember to consider this adjustment from the point of view of the NPC; what is highly valuable to one may not be equally valued by another. When dealing with multiple people at once, always consider the benefits to the person who is in clear command, if any hierarchy exists within the group.

Risk/Reward Example DC
Fantastic Great reward, negligible risk; a best case scenario. -10
Favorable Deal favors the target. The reward is good and the risk is tolerable. -5
Even No reward, no risk; or an even swap. +0
Unfavorable Deal does not favor the target. Either the reward is not great enough or the risk is intolerable. +5
Horrible There is no way the deal can favor the target; a worst-case scenario. +10

Success or Failure of Diplomacy: If the Persuasion check beats the DC, the subject accepts the proposal, with no changes or with only minor (mostly idiosyncratic) changes. If the deal favored the target, his attitude improves by one category.

If the check fails, the subject does not accept the deal but may, at the DM’s option, present a counter-offer that would push the deal up on the risk-vs.-reward list. For example, a counter-offer might make an Even deal Favorable for the subject. The character who initiated the Diplomacy check can then simply accept the counter-offer, if they choose; no further check will be required.

If the check fails by more than 10, his attitude worsens by one category.

Complex negotiations may involve multiple checks, especially when determining the details of a treaty for example.

Combat Reactions

  • Every character gets 1 Combat Reaction plus an additional one when he would normally get iterative attacks (at +6, +11, and +16 BaB). Combat Reflexes adds positive Dex mod to BaB to determine when one gets new Reactions (e.g., +2 Dex gets new reactions at +4, +9, +14).
  • The reactions refresh at the beginning of the character’s turn, and can be used as immediate reactions when the monsters or the other PCs act. They can be used for:
    • Attack of Opportunity: Same as before, just uses up a Reaction.
    • Aid Attack: Add +2 to the melee attack of another PC against a target threatened.
    • Aid Defense: Subtract 2 from the attack of a target threatened when it makes a melee attack against another PC.
    • Dodge: When an attack is declared against you, but before the result is announced, add half your BaB to your AC for that attack.
    • Parry: When an attack is declared against you, but before the result is announced, add half your BaB plus your Shield AC as DR X/- for that attack.

Attacks of Opportunity

  • Moving around in someone’s threat range doesn’t provoke an AoO, only trying to leave it without a retreat or 5-foot step.
  • Other actions like spellcasting or drinking a potion still provoke normally.
  • Reach weapons still allow an AoO on moving adjacent (as the target leaves the threatened space), but creatures with natural reach that covers all space up to the reach will not provoke AoOs from approaching the monster.

Downtime Money

  • Craft, Profession, and Perform all use the same system for earning money:
    • This system can be attempted once per week spent working for money.
    • Declare a DC (representing the quality of work the character is attempting)
    • Roll a test of the skill used vs. the declared DC. If the roll is successful, multiply the result times half the DC and earn that much money in silver pieces. If the roll is a failure, earn no money for this week.
  • Lifestyle costs are in effect unless superseded by in-game cost of living systems.

Dying

  • Characters are Disabled between 0 HP and their Level in negative HP (e.g., a 3rd level character is Disabled between 0 and -3 HP).
  • Characters are Dead at a negative number equal to 0 minus Constitution minus level (e.g., a 3rd level character with Con 12 is dead at -15 HP).
  • Healing and stabilization is per the normal rules.

Initiative and Combat Order

Combat order is a shared experience:

  • All enemies act on the same initiative roll (generally an average of enemy initiative scores), and can coordinate their actions if appropriate.
  • During surprise rounds and the first round of combat, PCs roll initiative normally, and act in their normal order until the enemies act in the first non-surprise round.
  • After the enemies have acted in the first round of combat, initiative becomes a tradeoff between enemies and PCs: the PCs go, and then the enemies go (and allies might go on a third tick if appropriate).
  • PCs are encouraged to coordinate their actions on their initiative mark, though this coordination may be cut short if it becomes excessively complex for what could be conveyed in a combat round.
  • Once the PCs have coordinated their actions, actions are resolved clockwise around the table unless some actions need to take place before others (e.g., “I have to move over there so the cleric can heal me.”).
  • PCs may split their move and standard actions, to perform maneuvers such as two PCs moving to flank an enemy before either takes an attack

The Spires of Xin-Shalast, Vignettes 2

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Reunions in Light (via chat with Veshenga’s player)

It was later in the evening when Veshenga wandered into the Commander’s office. No longer a scene of destruction, nor decorated as a lamia’s boudoir, the room was currently in a very uncluttered state. Only a desk, piled high with papers, marred the clean lines of the room. That, and what at first glance was a bearskin rug flopped out in front of the roaring fire. At the desk, light from the fire and several candles glistened on the older Varisian woman’s bent head, showing off new streaks of gray. As Veshenga crossed the threshold, the “rug” glanced up and rumbled a greeting.

Veshenga reached out to Kibb as she crossed into the room. He was given a rub behind his ears, and Veshenga glanced at the woman behind the desk. There were new lines of gray in her hair, her calm face was stooped away from the candle-light for the most part. There were still some features available to see. Just seeing her face set Veshenga at ease. She could not describe the sensation, or even why it was there. “I hope I em not disturbing you, Commander.” Veshenga spoke up softly, she did not want to be intrusive. “I wanted to see you before the night was out. We leave tomorrow.” Veshenga’s eyes wandered, the new chamber really was nice and different. She felt at home here with the Commander.

The Commander finished writing something on a paper, then looked up at Veshenga with a smile. Dark, human eyes met hers from across the room, distraction from the fact that her face was otherwise like a mirror for Veshenga’s own. Perhaps that was why she had not noticed it months ago. “Not at all. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it down. Running this place turns out to be more work than I’d expected,” she glanced at the half-elven woman’s clothing, not quite disturbed as they would be from the ride to the fort, “I was going to ask if Vale took care of you, but…” she grinned, more peace and warm emotion displayed in fewer words than Veshenga had seen during the entire previous ordeal at the fort.

Veshenga was fast to cancel any gape that could have come from the Commander’s comments, and instead beamed broadly as she released an embarrassed titter. “Well, I suppose you could say that,” she cleared her throat, and moved a little deeper into the room. She adjusted her tunic momentarily. “You appear well!” She recovered from her blush, opened her arms to the Commander. “I wish I could be at peace like you,” she shook her head, that smile faded as the gray in the Commander’s hair, “but my mind is heavy, Commander.” She barely knew this woman, why was she confiding in her?

The woman pushed the documents to the side and gestured with a practiced grace to a wooden chair placed in front of the desk. She was clearly used to having these kinds of talks with the men, or at least so she thought. “It’s a peace born of routine, dear. It’s amazing how fast the mind adjusts back to normalcy. What’s on your mind?”

Veshenga eyed the chair guardedly, glanced the Commander’s way, thought about it another second more and snagged the seat. She was not really sure – “Where to start,” Veshenga smiled nervously. “All of these farewells. I never really thought about what could happen if I never cem’ back from these… adventures. What I would be missing,” she rubbed the back of her neck, she was cringing. “Who I would be missing. I could not even bring myself to say good bye to my own father right. Well, he’s… not my father, but he’s my father,” she shook her head, dismissed the foggy tangent. “It’s a long story…”

Tessa leaned back and nodded for Veshenga to go on. Her eyes betrayed a growing experience with serving as a sounding board for young recruits, but she was warring with an inkling that it was, however, strange for the half-elf to confide in her this way.

“I,” her hands wrestled loosely with one another, they were restlessly rolling together, “lost my mother. My father was not my father, he was her friend. My mother was trying to save me, and so was he. He has raised me since.” Veshenga’s gaze was distant, her voice different. That merriment gone, instead there was a distracted imagery to her words. “I wonder how I would be missed if like her I never cem’ back. Who would be left behind. What Vale would feel. What father would feel. And more than that, I don’t want to leave them. I want to stay, but this has to be done. And for once the way for me is cloudy,” she narrowed her eyes, “and filled with so much doubt.”

She nodded, something about the tale bothered her… called to memories long buried. But the ranger rolled cleanly into the advice of a long time leader. “At some point, we all made a choice to give up the illusion of safety. Of turning our backs on the world to be with our loved ones. Everyone here has made that choice. Some because they knew that their actions had repercussions, choosing to commit crimes that led them here. Others, because they knew that the right choice was the hard choice,” she winces a little bit at this, clearly indicative of which story is her own. “You already made your choice when you started walking the path Desna and Erastil set before you. You can stop moving, but you can’t ever leave the road until you reach your destination.”

“You’re right…” Veshenga was not bright like Balehk, not even like Vale was. She could not have crafted items like Balehk, or breathed life into a ruin like Vale had. But she was a keen woman, and observant. Her smarts lay elsewhere, and such a wit had noted the Commander’s reactions. “I know you are right.” Veshenga took a steady breath, she knew her question was a personal one. “What was your choice?”

Tessa was caught out. Veshenga saw a flash of the walls trying to slam back down. To protect the still-broken core of the woman’s soul. But the question was fast enough, on the heels of doubt and memory, such that her lips were moving obviously before she could restrain them, “I gave up my last ounce of happiness trying to save it. But I failed. All I can do now is try to stop anyone from having to go through what I did.”

Veshenga was caught off-guard now, a surge of empathy, and an understanding she found difficult to place. Before she could recover, her eyes filled with tears. She shifted in her seat, no position was comfortable. Her own skin felt tight, her heart was slamming in her chest. No matter what she did, the tears eventually tumbled. She did not wipe them away, she did not want to acknowledge them.

“My father Danel gev’ me a family, Vale gev’ me a heart, my friends a home… I cannot stop until I know they are all safe. I suppose I will hev’ to find a way to not be so afraid, eh?” She stood from the chair. “In the end, I will say it was you that gev’ me this bravery,” she smiled sadly, and her eye contact faltered. “I hev’ kept your time, I do apologize.”

The woman had tried to pull back only to be baffled by the tears. On the verge of comprehension, she stood, staggering, having to brace herself against the desk, “Your father who ?”

Veshenga had turned to go, but stopped. Her head slowly turned, and those blue eyes probed the Commander’s bewildered look. “… My father? Danel.” She turned more fully to face her, instead of peering over her shoulder.

The woman was shaking, the urge to protect herself visibly at war with a hope that had burned her every time it had been allowed to shine in the past. Speech long polished to fit in with a predominantly Chelish organization began to fall away into a Varisian dialect, different from Veshenga’s but very close to her father’s. “Jour accent is Mierani. It must be. Vhere is your caravan from!?”

The change was startling to Veshenga, who retreated. She was on her guard, she was not sure what was happening with the Commander. Her emotional and vocal shift, however, set Veshenga’s heart to thundering again. She was caught up in the woman’s reaction. “Your voice,” she said, her own accent a faint echo of hers, “is changed,” she stammered, but righted her speech. “Beyond Riddleport, we camp near the Mierani Forest border.”

“But Danel is a family name from my tribe… vhy vould that be jour father’s name?”

Many Varisians were lost, in one form or a grim other, when the Korvosa patrols attacked, she remembered that part of Danel’s story. She could have been one of the many lost. Still, something was happening here in the office, something Veshenga was unprepared for. “Because Danel Tranger is my father. He rescued me from a Korvosan attack, he raised me. You,” she approached the Commander now, “you knew my father?”

The Commander fell to her elbows at her desk, weeping as she caught herself.

“Commander,” Veshenga said, unsure exactly how to proceed. She walked around her chair, and reached across the desk for her. It was an instant that passed, and in that instant, the Commander was around the desk and in Veshenga’s face. She grabbed her shoulders and shook. Tears flowed freely, “It can’t be. He is dead. Zhey are all dead. How old are you!?”

Veshenga held her, eyes pleaded with the Commander’s. “Almost thirty, uh, twenty-nine,” she answered swiftly, in the rush of the occurrence nearly forgetting her own age. “How did you know my father!? Answer me! Please!

Tear-blurred eyes stared at the half-elven girl, finally seeing, her frantic rhythm slowing, “He vas my friend. I gave him my baby girl to protect. I thought zhey only vanted me. I thought I could save zhem, that it vas the only way. But zhey showed me things at my trial. So many pieces of proof to break me. Get me to confess to killing him. To confess to killing jour father. Zhey told me you were dead,” huge wracking sobs broke her cadence, and shook Veshenga as the woman braced herself against her shoulders, “And I, a fool, for thirty years, believed zhem.”

Veshenga was stunned and silent for only a second. Suddenly, she grabbed the Commander’s face and held it up to her. There. She could see it, too. It really was like looking in a mirror. Small differences, but those hardly mattered. Veshenga was torn between smiling and screaming. She touched the Commander’s face. She touched her mother’s face. She held her shoulders now, and burst into tears. “I’m here,” she said as her mother collapsed against her. “I’m right here,” Veshenga held her tightly, her arms braided around her shoulders, secured her close to her heart. “You are a miracle to me here,” she wept, and she bowed her face into Tessa’s dark hair. “I thought you were dead, I thought I would never see you again,” she shook with her own sobs, her embrace tightened, her voice broke. “I thought I would never see you again…”

Kibb, nodding to himself in his very ursine way, pushed to his massive feet, walked across the room to nudge the door closed. He flopped down to keep it closed, giving the two women privacy as they sat in the middle of the fire lit room.

Sobbing into her daughter’s shoulder, Tessa Andrima managed to say, “My little Quida. My own little Quida.”

MMO Crafting’s Vicious Cycle

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The amount of currency earned from selling crafted items is less than earned from selling the components required to craft the same item. Savvy players don’t bother to craft at lower levels; they only harvest components and sell them (for enough currency to simply buy items and have cash left over).
These players buy up lots of lower level components, turn them into crafted items to grind up their craft skills, and then sell off the crafted goods for almost nothing (the item was just a side effect of the skill-up). Once they get their character to high levels, players begin to desire the end-game benefits of maximized craft skills. They find they have enough wealth to buy up lots of components that seemed very expensive at lower level.

Reference

The Spires of Xin-Shalast, Vignettes 1

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Reunions in Dark (via chat with Veshenga’s player)

The sounds of conversation quickly faded, as Vale and Veshenga left Balehk and Taeva to fend for themselves. After only a dozen steps, the thick stone walls muffled their words to nothing. Or perhaps they had rapidly run out of things to talk about. Vale did not seem concerned as he gestured at various places that had been in a wrecked state the last time Veshenga was there. He was beaming like a madman.

“That one was tricky. One of those fireballs Balehk’s woman threw dug a short sword five inches into the stone. But we dug it out, patched it, and it’s almost good as new.”

Veshenga managed to keep up with him. Restoring the fort had obviously been a labor of love, this was the sort of thing Vale did. His steps were fast, his excitement was infectious and Veshenga soon cracked a grin.

“Shayliss? The girl has a mean throw,” Veshenga chuckled and followed him further on the tour. A half dozen more such repairs appeared at the end of the Shoanti warrior’s gesture, each paired with a reminder of the terrible battled that was fought in these halls less than a year before, now nearly completely erased by the diligent work of the rangers. It was odd revisiting the fort this way, the unrelenting work had nearly masked the signs of struggle, loss, victory, and carnage. Veshenga shrugged her cloak back from her shoulders, and leaned against one of the walls as Vale turned to her.

“I’m not boring you, am I?”

A sly, but warm smile stretched across her lips, and she shook her head at the inquiry. “Not at all. I am amazed by the work you and the Arrows hev’ done and in such short time.”

“Then I’ll show you my new favorite spot,” he grinned, and turned, heading north without any further explanation. One of Veshenga’s narrow brows arched over a quizzical blue stare.

“Favorite spot, eh?” Veshenga could not deny sticking close to a grin like that. She kept up with him as they wound through the fort. He appeared to be making for the storage closet, and then kept going. He walked down the set of stairs that had been a secret entry into a fort once occupied by ogre invaders. Every now and then he would hear the smallest laugh from her, obviously excited about this adventure. It was refreshing, considering most adventures were soaked in blood, painful, hard to shake. At the end of such adventures, Veshenga felt like a drink, but on this one? She felt like a child again, when she would run through the woods with her friends to secret hideaways. Some by the lake, some under willow trees or among thick, arched roots.

They moved through the basement prison, now refreshingly wight-free, and Vale slowed down to carefully, quietly push open the secret door into the caves. Veshenga tread softly after him, her breath softened. She was present and silent, and stuck close to him as a shadow would. It was as warm and damp as she remembered from the previous visit, and the smell of ozone and distant flashes of lightning made it abundantly clear that the cave was still infested with the shocker lizards. Upon seeing the lizards, a startled smile lightened Veshenga’s features, but she kept herself from making any sudden noise.

“Now I’m never going to be as good with the little guys as you or the Cap… Commander,” he said in a low town, and then reached for a box hidden in a crevasse high up the wall, “but I’ve got my tricks.” Reaching into the container, he pulled out a handful of some kind of treat and flung it ahead into the pile of lizards. As they were fed, Veshenga snickered and shook her head. Small contented sighs quickly began to come from the pile.

“Clever, very clever,” she watched from over his shoulder. “Next thing I know you will hev’ them doing tricks.” She grinned up at him. “Maybe jumping through hoops? Dancing?”

His teeth flashed white in the shadows as he reached into the box and pulled out a candle and a striker. He delicately lit it and nudged the door closed. It became the only light in the darkness.

“Nah. I like these guys right where they are. They do their thing. I just want to make sure they let me do mine. C’mon.” He attentively shielded the candle with his hand so as to not disturb the lizards, then began to cautiously skirt the area they filled as he made for the far reaches of the caverns.

“Right behind you,” Veshenga confirmed, and journeyed further with him. That little light sat golden in the palm of his hand as the wax shimmered just beneath the wick. Even in that tiny brilliance she could see the fingers of the engineer. Not the digits of a noble; smooth, cool, and unused. These were rough, callused, warm fingertips she could not forget. Veshenga kept the thought to herself, buttoned it shut behind a bit lip. She pressed on, the candle light was a floating star in the blackness around them.

It did not take long to reach what would have seemed to be a dead end, a wrong turn, if not for the old, soft-looking blanket hung on the wall. The end of the corridor was small, barely big enough for two people to sit in. Vale handed Veshenga the candle as he spread the blanket across the rough cave floor.

“Here,” she said, and took the offered candle, “I got it,” she shielded the fluttering flame, the miniature radiance suddenly anxious now that Vale’s hand was gone. The candlelight settled, and the warmth against her palm was relaxing. Her eyes began to roam, the blue gaze coasted along the walls. Adventuring left her with the habit of checking every room she entered. Check the corners, know the exits. Eventually, her gaze settled on Vale again. Veshenga smiled fondly as he lay the blanket down, and she made a gesture as if to ask: May I?

She took a seat on the sprawled blanket, still conscious of the candle in her hand. She leaned back on her elbows, and extended her head back. The wild dark locks, some braided, some beaded, some free, spilled down from her shoulders to brush the blanket. She smiled, her face upside down. “Out with it – you missed me, didn’t you?” She played the reunion serenely, but the moment she had seen him she wanted nothing more than to embrace him.

The big man gingerly sat down next to her, snugly, winked and then blew out the candle.

“Quite a bit,” he said in the darkness, humor in his voice.

It took only a few moments for Veshenga’s half-elven senses to adjust. Smell came first, the scent of the extinguished candle fading to reveal Vale, breathing next to her, leather and stone charmingly covered with a quick scrub and a clean shirt. All he had time for on their unannounced arrival. Next was sight, or, moreover, the lack of it. The utter blackness of the cavern daunted her eyes’ attempt to account for even the faintest light. Finally, the absolute silence revealed its secrets; a thousand small creaks and vibrations running through the rock.

Vale whispered, “You hear it?”

She found him in the dark, her head rest against his. “I do,” her voice trailed into the black that had enveloped them once the candle was put out. There was more she wanted to say, but a moment like this deserved only a tender silence. She listened to him breathe and the floor shiver. Her eyes shut, not just to help her adjust to the darkness, but the rhythm of his breath was enough to let her drift in this instant. Soon, he felt her stir from their sweet stillness, heard a quick breath escape her. Her question was teaming with contained laughter. “What is that anyway?”

“Near as I can figure, this is the heart of the fortress. If you could draw a cutaway of the place from every angle, draw the direction each block of stone would go if it wasn’t stopped by another one, most of the lines would go through here. Thousands of tons of stone bearing down on this one point, then rushing over us like a river. Every time the wind blows, or someone moves, or the slightest thing happens to shift the fort, you feel it here.”

Veshenga gave a mirthful cry. “That’s amazing, I would hev’ never figured this out. Never,” she shook her head, the guffaw echoed around them. She reached for him, blindly, her fingers strayed across his cheek hesitantly until she was sure she would not poke an eye, or put a thumb up his nose. “You are incredible,” she said tenderly, and bowed her brow along his temple. He felt her smile, even if he could not see it. “But you knew that,” she smirked playfully.

His arm wrapped around her in the darkness. “I’m glad you like it. I wanted to turn that all into a metaphor about how I feel, but I couldn’t find the words. It’s just my favorite spot. And now my favorite person’s in it.”

She cradled his face, her fingertips were her eyes for now. “Not long before I came here, I thought of everything I would say to you. Everything. Now,” she kissed him, “all I want is to stay here, I don’t want to go,” he would hear a sad chuckle close to his mouth, she shook her head. “When we make it through this, I’ll be back again. You know this, too.”

“That’s what you guys do. You go straight through problems, like an arrow. Plus,” he chuckled, “I’m not cut out to organize a resistance movement to a magical god king, so you guys better take care of it.”

“Hey,” she exclaimed, “I hev’ this handled ! This would not be the first magical god king I hev’ hed to take care of,” she paused. “Okay, this may be the first.” She did not want to think about the struggle she and her friends would face. “Take this,” she unclasped the opal that usually hung low from her neck on a thin chain. She took his hand. “I want you to hev’ it.” The chain coiled on his palm and she folded her fingers over it. “Now,” she eased him onto his back, “I believe there is something we need to take care of…”

Dungeon Crawl, Part 3

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Game Systems

Core System

Most systems in Dungeon Crawl work on one of three principles:

  • 3d6 + Bonus, try to equal or exceed a target number for success
  • 3×6, try to roll equal to or lower than an ability score:
    • For a high difficulty roll, choose the highest die
    • For a moderate difficulty roll, choose the middle die
    • For a low difficulty roll, choose the lowest die
  • 3×6, try to roll high:
    • For a very effective weapon or tactic, choose the highest die
    • For a normal weapon or tactic, choose the middle die
    • For a less effective weapon or tactic, choose the lowest die

As mentioned earlier, some rolls, such as for attack and damage, will use the same result on three dice for more than one effect.

Feats

Feats cover most situations in the game that are not combat. Based on the difficulty of the Feat, roll 3×6, keep the appropriate die (higher is more difficult), and compare the result to the appropriate ability score. If the result is equal to or lower than the score, the Feat succeeds. What success and failure mean is up to the GM.

Character with a 6 ability will normally never fail at even High difficulty Feats. This is intentional, as those characters are the pinnacle of quality at that ability, and shouldn’t have much difficulty with tasks surrounding it. However, when Wounded (see Dying and Recovery), the character’s abilities are lowered for the purposes of Feats, so failure has a chance to creep in. Even when success is assured, simply succeeding doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences of success or that it happens instantly (e.g., a rogue with Reflex 6 will be able to pick any lock, even a High difficulty one, but doing so may take several rounds and might provoke notice from the lock’s owner).

Feats generally cover tests of adeptness or resilience. What they don’t cover are perception, logic, cleverness, knowledge, and craft: these things should either be awarded automatically by the GM if appropriate to the character’s background and player’s descriptions, or should be left up to the player to roleplay as desired. There is no die roll in Dungeon Crawl to separate lies from truth, solve a riddle, or remember a monster’s weakness; however, a clever player may figure out how spells or Feats can make all of these things easier.

Abilities

Each ability has multiple features. Most of these features are mentioned elsewhere, but they are summarized her for reference:

  • Fortitude:
    • Characters roll against Fortitude for Feats of strength and resistance.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Fortitude to inflict poison, diseases, and wracking effects.
    • A character’s base HP is derived from Fortitude.
  • Reflex:
    • Characters roll against Reflex for Feats of agility and acrobatics.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Reflex to inflict most aimed and area effects.
    • A character’s movement rate (overland and when using the Move action in combat) is based on Reflex.
  • Will:
    • Characters roll against Will for Feats of perseverance and concentration.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Will to inflict mind control and confusion effects.
    • A spellcaster’s base SP is derived from Will.
  • Vigor:
    • Characters roll Vigor for Feats of physical endurance.
    • All characters regain HP and, if a caster, SP at a rate per hour equal to Vigor.
    • A character attempting to recover from Wounds may make one test against Vigor each day, success removing a Wound (The test is normally Hard, but becomes Moderate with full rest, and Easy with full rest and a healer’s attention).
  • Luck:
    • Characters roll Luck as a Feat to avoid completely randomly inflicted effects.
    • Whenever an NPC, monster, or effect chooses a random target (but will definitely choose one target), each potential target rolls 1d6 + Luck; the lowest roll indicates the target.
    • A character can permanently reduce Luck by one level (to a minimum of 1) to avoid certain doom.
  • Charm:
    • Characters roll Charm for Feats of persuasion (easy, moderate, or hard based on how convincing argument was)
    • Characters roll Charm as a Feat to see if hirelings will take a dangerous action (easy, moderate, hard based on the danger of the request).
    • Characters cannot attract more personal henchmen than Charm.

Combat

Combat takes place in rounds of roughly three seconds. Actions alternate between player characters and their enemies, each acting as a group.

Initiative

Each round, one player and the GM roll 3d6 for initiative. On a tie, compare the highest die, then the middle die, then the low die (reroll if it’s a complete tie). Certain circumstances might give a bonus or penalty to the result.

The side that won initiative gets to act first. When the player characters act, they can briefly discuss their tactics if this seems reasonable, then actions are resolved clockwise from the GM. When the GM’s characters act, they act in the order required by the GM.

Since initiative is rolled each round, a group that goes last might go first the next round, essentially getting two turns in a row. Care should be taken to make sure turns aren’t skipped.

Actions

On any character’s turn, he or she can choose from several actions:

  • Attack: Use a melee weapon to attack a character in reach or a ranged weapon to attack a character in range. See the Attack section.
  • Move: Move a number of spaces (roughly 5 feet) equal to Speed. Movement may include a Feat (such as testing against Reflex to avoid obstacles or leap a pit), though the GM may require spaces of movement to be “spent” to perform the feat if it seems like it would slow the character down.
  • Spell: Cast a prepared spell, spending the requisite SP.
  • Dodge: Stand still but add you Speed to your AC on the opponents’ next turn.
  • Charge: Move up to your speed and then make a melee attack against a target in reach. Your AC is reduced by 2 during the opponents’ next turn.
  • Brace: Prepare to receive a Charge. Your AC is increased by 2 against any enemies that Charge on their next turn. If you have a weapon, such as a spear, that you can set, you deal +2 damage if you attack and hit on your next turn.
  • Guard: When wielding a melee weapon, designate a specific individual within reach who you are guarding. On the attackers’ next turn, if anyone attempts to attack your ward (who you can also reach), you may immediately make an attack against that target at a +2 bonus. If you hit, the target loses its intended action. You may make one such attack per Guard attempt (i.e., if multiple individuals try to attack your ward, you may only attack one of them).
  • Cover: When wielding a ranged weapon with which you have at least one level of Weapon Proficiency, you may cover one space within your range per level of proficiency (all spaces must be contiguous). If any enemy moves into a covered space, you may immediately make a ranged attack against at a +2 bonus. If the attack is successful, the enemy loses the rest of its movement. You may make one such attack per Cover attempt (i.e., if multiple individuals try to cross your area, you may only attack one of them).
  • Reload: If your weapon, such as a crossbow, requires a complicated reload, you muse use an action to do so.
  • Feat: You may attempt any Feat which could logically take place within a combat round of three seconds. The GM may rule that a particular Feat requires multiple rounds of using this action.
  • First Aid: You may give First Aid to a wounded character, preventing him or her from bleeding to death. See the Death rules.
  • Retrieve Item: If an item is buried in your pack or otherwise inaccessible, it may require one or more actions to retrieve it.
  • Use Item: You may use an item that is ready to hand, using the rules for that item.
  • Prepare: You may begin or continue an action that takes multiple rounds, such as a spell with a longer-than-normal casting time. These actions will typically require a certain number of turns in a row spent Preparing before they can be used.

Attack and Defense

To make an attack roll, the player of the attacking character rolls 3d6 and adds any applicable bonuses, such as from weapon proficiency. If at least two of the dice have a result of 6, and the result hits the target’s AC, the attack is a critical hit (see below).

The target’s Armor Class (AC) is equal to 10 plus bonuses from armor, shield, and other sources. The result of the attack is compared to the target’s AC. If it equals or exceeds this number, it is a hit. The attacker will consult the 3d6 roll as a 3×6 roll to generate damage.

Damage

If an attack successfully hits, the attacker deals damage. Based on the size of the weapon (small, normal, or large), the attacker chooses the low, middle, or high die from the 3d6 roll used to make the attack. This result, plus any bonuses, is the damage dealt to the target: his or her HP is reduced by that amount. If the target is reduced to 0 or fewer HP, see the Dying rules, below.

For example, a character with a +2 Blades proficiency attacks a target when wielding a sword. He rolls 4, 2, and 5 for a total of 13 (the 3d6 result plus the proficiency). The target is wearing padded armor (+1 AC), for a total AC of 11, so the attack hits. Since the sword is a normal sized weapon, the character picks the middle die from the attack roll (the 4) and deals 4 damage. If the target has 4 or less HP, he is now dying.

Critical Hits

Any attack roll that results in at least two 6s and hits is considered a critical hit, and has additional effects based on the weapon type:

  • Blunt: The target is stunned and loses his or her next turn.
  • Slashing: The target is bleeding and takes one point of damage at the end of its next turn and for a number of turns equal to the damage dealt. The target can stop this bleeding by spending a First Aid action on himself or herself.
  • Piercing: The attack may have hit a vital organ. After applying damage, roll 1d6. If the result would be enough damage to take the target to 0 HP or less, apply it (otherwise, nothing vital was hit and no additional damage is dealt).
  • Large: In addition to the effect of whether the weapon is blunt, slashing, or piercing, a critical hit with a large weapon knocks the target down (and, at the GM’s discretion, into any nearby hazards). He or she must use an action to stand up.

Magic

Spellcasters typically have to overcome a target’s defenses to affect him or her with an attack spell. Each spell will designate a primary ability score as its target. Each spell will also designate its attack potency as Strong (High), Moderate (Middle), or Weak (Low).

To attack with a spell, roll 3×6, keep the appropriate die based on is potency, and add the caster’s level. Compare the result to the target’s appropriate ability score added to the target’s level. If the result equals or exceeds the difficulty, the spell delivers its effect. Some spells have a reduced effect on a failure.

Area of effect spells make a single roll and compare the results to every target in the area. Some such spells have a Strong effect within a certain area, a Moderate effect in an area beyond that, and a Weak effect at the fringes. In these cases, determine which region of the effect each target is in, and select the correct result from the 3×6 roll.

For example, a 5th level wizard casts Burning Hands at a group of monsters. This spell has a Strong effect that will hit two monsters directly in front of the caster, a Moderate effect against another monster further away, and a Weak effect against two monsters at the fringe of the explosion. The Wizard rolls 5, 1, and 4. At the center, the spell has a total of 10, in the middle band it has a total of 9, and at the fringe it has a total of 6. These numbers are compared to the Reflex + Level of the monsters in the areas of effect to see if the spell hits.

Dying

A character reduced to 0 or fewer HP is dying.

Each time the character is reduced to dying, or takes additional damage while dying:

  • Roll a Hard test against the absolute current negative value of HP:
    • If the roll succeeds (rolls less than the negative value of HP), the character dies.
    • Essentially, a character at 0 HP is not in danger of dying, and a character at -6 or more HP automatically dies.
  • If the character is still alive after the test, he or she is Unconscious and also takes a Wound.
  • If the character is Unconscious at less than 0 HP, repeat the test at the end of the round each round.
    • In this case, the character dies if the test is failed, but does not take an additional Wound if it succeeds.
    • Another character can prevent this test by taking a First Aid action to try to stabilize the dying character.
    • Each First Aid action heals the dying character by 1 HP, to a maximum of 0 HP (essentially, healing the character to the point he or she is no longer in danger of bleeding to death).

Recovery

  • A character at 0 HP heals normally according to Vigor.
    • The character remains unconscious until healed to at least 1 HP.
    • The character retains all Wounds suffered even after being healed.
  • Each Wound currently suffered by the character imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to all Feats based on primary abilities.
    • For example, a character with two Wounds would treat Fortitude, Reflex, and Will all as two points lower than normal when attempting to succeed at Feats.
    • If a character has an effective 0 in an ability, he or she automatically fails at feats using that ability.
  • Once per day, while sleeping, the character may roll a Feat of Vigor to remove a single Wound:
    • While adventuring, the difficulty of the Feat is High.
    • If the character has full bed rest and/or very limited exertion (i.e., is safe and not adventuring or doing otherwise strenuous activity), the difficulty of the Feat is Moderate.
    • If the character is tended by a healer while getting full rest (as above), the difficulty of the Feat is Low.
  • Some magic and other effects may speed recovery of both HP and Wounds.

The Spires of Xin-Shalast, Part 1

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Game Time: Winter, 4708
Real Time: June, 2010

“I don’t even have hair.”

The party returns from Runeforge with a new sense of competence. Perhaps it was the magical emanations of the place or just the natural result of the accelerated pace of hazards over the past few weeks, but each of them feels as if they have leaped in power. Though the danger of the risen runelord is pressing, they all agree to take a few weeks to prepare. Perhaps stereotypically, Haggor and Balekh sequester themselves to learn new spells (Haggor, though the runic tattoos he learned about in the Therassic Library) while Taeva, Veshenga, and Shayliss expect to shop for magic items in Magnimar and then relax in Sandpoint… perhaps for the last time if they cannot stop their foe.

It’s only a day into this working vacation when Taeva is interrupted from home improvements by a somberly dressed and sober looking man that seems to have appeared from nowhere. He presents her what he calls a “bequeathment” in a small mahogany box adorned with the rune of Wrath. He is mysteriously gone again before shedding much light on the situation. Taeva immediately marches the suspicious parcel to Balekh, interrupting his and Haggor’s tattooing session. Briefly blinded by the evocation magic present in the box when he detects for magic, Balekh suggests that they open it far away from town. Doing so, it fails to explode, instead revealing a finely worked key in precious metals, its head and grip both stylized runes of wrath. Taking the key, Taeva feels a substantial power within, seeking a direction to lead her and settling on a metaphorical down. She can also feel the shape of the catacombs of Wrath beneath the town, and the presence of the Old Light. Haggor attempts to touch the key and pulls away moments before he sensed that it would not accept being handled by anyone other than Taeva. For now, the party decides to put this mystery off until after dealing with the current crisis.

Over the next couple of weeks, the girls make several trips to Magnimar, trading in superfluous loot found at Runeforge for more desirable items. When not so engaged, Taeva works on her house and Veshenga and Shayliss begin to develop a much closer bond than ever, largely based around Shayliss’ new interest in pub crawls that end in regular benders at some of the seedier taverns in town. Unaware of these goings-on, Balekh remains enmeshed in his studies and the creation of Haggor’s mystical tattoos, until one day he actually sees his wife in good light. Perhaps it’s the months of exercise and dangerous experiences, a natural progression in aging during the late teens, or maybe something with less of a natural explanation, but at some point the young sorceress has turned from a cute village girl to a stunningly attractive woman. Balekh seems inclined to assume that there is nothing abnormal going on and simply appreciate his good fortune, until Haggor notices that her hair has taken on a life of its own. Full and growing long faster than should be possible, they both swear they see it braid itself as she’s going out for a night on the town. Again, for now they assume this is a mystery that can be solved later.

A mystery for now, though, at least in Sheriff Hemlock’s conception, is brought to their attention not long after. Apparently, since they’ve been back the guardhouse has had a significant upturn in Sczarni thugs and other criminal lowlifes turning themselves in bearing confessions and proof of their misdeeds. The garrison is filling up with hardened criminals that seem to have had a change of heart one night, then tried to recant (unfortunately ironclad) confessions the next day. Balekh swears he’s not involved, and suggests that spells such as that could be manifested by any number of spellcasters. Hemlock doesn’t seem to completely buy that, but figures that, as long as it’s just someone solving crime, he’s not going to worry about his good fortune too much. Later, Balekh asks Shayliss whether she’s been doing something, and she very convincingly denies any such suggestions.

Taeva is a little more interested, and begins asking around about who could be doing such things. It doesn’t take her long to realize that the confessions seem to have coincided with Shayliss’ pub crawls down at the docks, and, also, to realize that she hadn’t been invited (a realization that stings more when, on attempting to enroll her in surveillance, Veshenga admits that she has been a part of the fun). The Sheriff doesn’t seem to believe her, insisting that Shayliss is a “Peach of a girl that never caused any problems,” worrying Taeva that the sorceress has already gotten to Hemlock. Veshenga does promise Taeva that she’ll keep an eye on Shayliss the next time they’re out and watch for anything suspicious.

However, the idea of convincing people to do things for the good of all, even if they don’t realize it, has reminded Balekh that he’s afraid Karzoug’s destruction could mean the fall of Skull’s Crossing. He gathers the group to go suggest that Turtleback Ferry and Fort Rannick evacuate until after they’ve dealt with the runelord. This idea, when broached to the mayor of the town, does not inspire confidence; the mayor opines that evacuating town for a few weeks on a vague threat of danger right before winter would be incredibly dangerous to the town, possibly more so than a potential flood. Hoping to at least convince the rangers, Balekh is instead met with very solid reassurances by Vale that the dam is unlikely to fall apart catastrophically even if it’s being held together by the will of a great mage. Mollified by the warrior-engineer, they catch him up on the latest goings on. Balekh and Taeva hang out for a while as Veshenga takes Vale off for a more personal level of catching up. Haggor, for his part, hit the lake the moment they got into town, still hoping to catch Black Magga: the one that got away.

Later in the week, when Balekh has finally finished Haggor’s tattoos and almost finished his own spell research, Veshenga decides it’s time to keep an eye on Shayliss. That this involves a pub crawl doesn’t matter much to her. As it has previously, the bar hopping ends down by the docks, and Veshenga is more sober than she usually is in such situations. Keeping an eye on the sorceress, she does notice that the girl has been waxing philosophical on the idiocy of committing crimes in the hometown of a bunch of famous adventurers, and yet making fast friends of the scum in the bar. On one such announcement, a young man that Shayliss was looking at while she was talking says he goodbyes and leaves the bar. But Veshenga can’t see anything to prove about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Taeva has been drinking alone, still not invited to the pub crawl. She gets bored and starts to mess with the key of Wrath, very interested in the sense of the dungeon beneath the town it gives her. She decides to wander up towards the Old Light that she can so keenly feel, scowling at the sound of revelry at the bar and scaring late-night passersby as she crosses town. As she walks towards the fallen tower, she thinks she can make out a faint glow on the old building. As she reaches the stones, she’s certain that a faint amount of witchlight is suffusing the rocks of the structure. She taps the structure with the key and a faint thrumming noise is heard, as the ground begins to gently vibrate, as if ancient magics were coming back online. After the glow and vibrating hum slowly grow, she decides to get help solving the mystery. Since she’s still somewhat convinced that Veshenga and Balekh are just as mind-controlled by Shayliss as the Sheriff, she goes to get Haggor.

Rousing the monk from a sound slumber, the two of them head back to the tower, where he is forced to admit that the tower does appear to be glowing and vibrating. As the drunken gnome taps the key against the tower to demonstrate what she’d done before, this effect intensifies. They both recall that some of the Thassilonian writings they’ve been reading recently refer to this as a “Hellfire Flume.” Taeva wonders if she could make it work again. Haggor thinks that would be dangerous. Taeva asks whether anything dangerous that happened would hit her house clear on the other side of town. Haggor doesn’t like where this line of questions is going, and suggests that they ask Balekh. Taeva thinks that he’s trying to manipulate her, and storms off home. Haggor goes and gets Balekh.

When the two men return, the magic of the structure seems to be subsiding in Taeva’s absence. Balekh worries that, with it as decomposed as it is, it would be far more likely to explode than to usefully direct gouts of fire at their enemies. Besides, the range in the books was only mentioned to be a few miles, and they don’t currently have many enemies at that short a range. They go to try to convince Taeva of this. The gnome is still sauced and surly, and picks an argument through her front door with Balekh. Haggor excuses himself to go check on Veshenga.

Back at the bar, the party is in full swing, and the girls are very happy to see Haggor join in. Veshenga has been noticing that Shayliss has developed a number of strange compulsive ticks that she claims are stress-related: turning her mug three times before taking a drink, only paying the tab in multiples of four coins. Calling her on it, Shayliss admits that she’s taken a lot of adjusting to the adventurous lifestyle over the last year, and thinks that maybe some of her stress will go away after they deal with the latest crisis and can settle down, which is why she’s so keen to make sure that Sandpoint is a stress-free place to settle in.

She goes and spends some time with her new friends, and as Haggor and Veshenga are discussing her and the latest kerfluffle with Taeva, they notice yet another guy excuse himself suspiciously. Since Shayliss still seems to be engaged in conversation, they take the opportunity to slip out: Haggor in a smooth glide, Veshenga in a drunken stumble. Even after hours of solid drinking, Veshenga is a match for the monk in stealth, and the two of them manage to follow the young man as he leaves his house with a satchel and heads right to the garrison. He walks up to a night guard that no longer seems surprised at Sczarni thugs showing up to turn themselves in, and begins taking the man’s confession. The two adventurers sneak across the street to listen at the window, initially thinking that the man is turning himself in for petty crimes and then gasping at his tale about slitting a merchant’s throat.

As they wander back, they meet Shayliss leaving the bar, and help her home. Subtle questions about the man are again met with completely believable explanations. Shayliss seems convinced that, if anything, she’s simply swayed the criminals with her words. After all, it would be obvious if she was using magic on them, right? The two buy it, dropping her off at home and then Haggor leaves Veshenga at her own house before wandering back out of town to find Taeva and Balekh in full-on argument about potentially detonating an ancient magical artifact inside the city. The gnome finally relents as Haggor has something more interesting to talk about. Balekh thinks, based on Haggor’s description, that magic is likely, but that he can’t exactly fault his wife for using it to get murderers to turn themselves in to the guard. He heads home and says goodnight to her after making her drink a glass of water.

The next morning, they leave Shayliss to sleep it off but make Veshenga get up, and all of them head out to pick up Brodert, who they’d deposited back in the Therassic Library on their return to Sandpoint. The old sage has useful ideas on Taeva’s new key, suggesting that perhaps, as the de facto final lieutenant of Alaznist, the key may, in fact, be meant to rouse the mistress of Barakhan from her own ten-thousand-year slumber. He thinks they should either attempt to hide the key—though such things have a way of not staying hidden&mdashor attempt to use it and defeat her before she can come to consciousness. They table that discussion for now, as Taeva doesn’t seem to like the idea at all, and move on to finding Xin-Shalast.

Brodert has come to the same conclusion as Balekh, putting together what is essentially a map without useful landmarks, the entire face of the world having changed since Thassilon fell, and with a number of common reference points taken for granted as well. He, however, remembers a woman he was in contact with several years back, a presumed pirate queen and known treasure hunter based out of Riddleport named Viorian Dekanti. She had, as he recalls, been especially keen on artifacts of Xin-Shalast, and might have more information on the search for the legendary city. They deposit him back in Sandpoint, get the address, and then make another jaunt to the pirate city.

It’s not long before they meet a young urchin with a bad leg and a squint that goes by the name Timmy, who is quite keen to lead them to the address for a tip. When they get there, they find a mansion clearly gutted by fire and looted some years previous. Timmy leaves them at a decent hotel, goes off to find out what happened, and returns with a tale of a woman, most likely Mistress Dekanti, who had gone mad a few years ago and murdered all of her henchmen and anyone in the street as she fled the town, swinging a glowing golden sword that had once been her prize treasure. This sounds to the party quite like the same timeframe as Sandpoint’s Late Unpleasantness: the surging of the runewells that seemed to coincide with Karzoug’s initial awakening.

All is not lost, as Timmy leads them to a shop where the books looted from the house before it burned completely would have been sold off. There, the party sees less of a library and more of the used bookshop of the damned: a hole in the wall of an old market street where makeshift shelves creak with the pressure of books rescued from the sea and jammed into any old order. The strange, weaselly proprietor seems to have no real regard for books, but points them to the shelf with Viorian’s things. Balekh soon finds a book that seems to be a treasure-hunter’s journal that does, indeed, promise to fill in a lot of the missing landmarks of the road to Xin-Shalast. After paying the owner and finding out a bit more context of Viorian’s madness, at least enough to recognize her should they run across her soon, they leave the city, tipping Timmy on the way out.

From there, it’s but one more day of preparation before they party is off, teleporting to the closest Storval Plateau settlement that Balekh can reach and then transforming into wind to speed their way into the mountains up the Kazaron river. As they climb higher and higher the river becomes somehow harder to follow, until they must turn back to flesh in the bitter cold and test their wills against some kind of palpable presence trying to keep the city a legend. But they force their way through, following the unmistakable tracks of giants and other creatures into a partial valley between some of the highest peaks in the region.

Cresting a rise, they look down upon an ancient city. An immense road runs through it, seemingly paved in gold. Massive buildings fill the entire space, even poking through an ancient glacier that has engulfed half of the ruin. All lead back towards a mountain so tall it seems to scrape against the very boundaries of the world, itself bearing a wizard’s tower and the unmistakable face of Karzoug carved into the very rock to survey all that he owns. They have reached the city of legend, even now stirring with the runelord’s recalled forces. They only hope that there remains time to put the Claimer down before he attains his full power and sweeps his army across the plains of Varisia, once again plunging the world into the tyranny of an immortal despot.

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