Khevoran 2: The Lord of Ash and Stone
GM Campaign Guide
The PCs, having enlisted in Mengst’s army at Hillcrest for their own reasons, are pulled out of the ranks and set up together as a unit of irregulars, tasked with completing various and sundry special assignments. Over the course of their adventures, secrets concerning the construction of High-Guard fortress and the nature of the Ringwielders are revealed, allowing the campaign to climax with a dramatic battle to take High-Guard fortress and defeat Ari Stonehand – Ringwielder of Earth.
There are essentially four elements required for the army to take High-Guard, all of which will be acquired over the course of the campaign:
High-Guard’s multiple batteries of Bubblesneezer Cannon need to be neutralized so troops may approach the fortress.
Ari Stonehand himself must be neutralized in some way, or else he could likely hold the fortress single-handedly.
Surreptitious entry must be gained to the fortress to allow the completion of the previous objectives.
The PCs have to survive the machinations of traitors in their midst.
Ari Stonehand has a spy in the Society, referred to as Mr. Black. This agent is highly-placed, and has been in the Society since its inception at Westergarde. Mr. Black consistently shifts troops in such a way as to very subtly foil the strategic goals of the North.
Within a few years of the breakthrough of the deep ones into the Dwarven system, King Thane Ironfist, wracked with guilt over what he felt was his single-handed role in the annihilation of his entire civilization, cast aside his rank and station, got some hair gel and scars, and became the troll-slayer known as Gronk. Even though he is still well-loved by his people, his only hope of redemption is to somehow find a way to drive the hordes back. Discovering that the opening of the Waygate drove the deep ones into madness will help, but in the end, the only way is to take on the Ring of Earth and use the geomantic powers to help bring the Dwarves back from the brink. Or, he could just get killed somewhere along the way.
At the Battle of Westergarde, a young Banagher witnessed divine intervention when Aluviel came to Mengst and handed him a sword that would help him eventually defeat Tahl’mearis in battle. The event has become the stuff of legends, told and retold through the North, and naturally had a profound impact on the young scholar.
But it wasn’t Aluviel who aided Mengst. Aluviel is an absentee landlord.
Taking advantage of this, Kishara has begun appearing to several of the faithful through the North, Banagher included, appearing similar to the apparition from Westergarde (she doesn’t know who it was either, and is understandably curious). She filters them small amounts of her power, and gains not only strength, but also a kind of intelligence from their devotions.
The Bubblesneezer Cannon
The Bubblesneezer Long-Range Anti-Infantry Scattershot Cannon is arguably a bigger terror to Mengst and his army than the Ringwielders themselves. The device itself is a cross between a cannon and an artillery piece, twelve feet long with an eight inch bore and are typically crewed by four men – one to operate the cranks that adjust the aim of the device and three to reload the manufactured cartridges through a breach at its base. The breach and cartridge is what provides the gun its flexibility and lethality – allowing the crew to load solid or explosive slugs for indirect fire and shot-based cartridges for direct-fire into infantry formations very rapidly. It’s rumored that Bubblesneezer is developing a new version at the Academy in Penshin that reloads the gun automatically via magazine – a prospect that fills the Northland commanders with no small amount of dread. To add insult to injury, the Southlanders are rabidly protective of these pieces. On every occasion where a Bubblesneezer position was threatened, the guns were spited and cartridges detonated or destroyed in such a way as no one in the North has been able to make use of them. Independent efforts to reproduce the technology based on the wreckage of captured guns and accounts from prisoners and defectors have proven curiously fruitless – leading the leadership to believe there is some unknown component or material that is critical to their construction.
There are a number of ways a small party could disable the gun batteries on High-Guard:
- Brute Force: By the time the party gets into High-Guard they’ll likely be a merry band of badasses and might just decide to brute-force their way to the cannons and disable them. This is a really bad idea for a number of reasons. Firstly the cannons are manned at all times and guarded by an elite unit of Peacekeepers – so no matter how badass they party may be, they’re likely to be in for a messy, messy fight. Secondly, Mengst needs the cannons to survive so they can be turned to the South wall to defend the fortress from reprisals. The brute-force approach will result in every single cannon being scuttled and the fortress, if secured, to be lost within the month (kick em in the nuts in the epilogue).
- The Smart Way: There are two great secrets of the Bubblesneezer cannon. First – the firing mechanism of each cannon and the primer charge of each cartridge is stabilized by a special material non-native to Khevoran that is brought in by Kishara’s troops through the Waygate. This material completely evaporates when exposed to air, which makes it extremely easy to booby-trap the cannons and ammunition and make them utterly impossible for enemies of the occupation to reproduce. Second, and most importantly – the cannon wasn’t actually invented by Vernon Bubblesneezer. The cannon wasn’t even designed by a gnome at all, but a startlingly intelligent and truly peculiar halfling by the name of Corky Bogbottom, who was a student of Bubblesneezer’s in Penshin before the invasion. After Penshin fell and Bubblesneezer learned of the Kisharan’s proclivity to hang halflings, he stashed Corky in the basement and for a number of years claimed all of the halfling’s work as his own, including the cannon (which started out as a rediculous plan for sowing tobacco fields without leaving one’s comfy chair). Corky is still in a private lab-prison under the University of Invention in Penshin – if freed, he could very easily come up with a means of temporarily destabilizing the otherworldly substance without destroying it.
The Nature of the Ringwielders
Very little is known about the nature of the Ringwielders except that they wield spectacular powers beyond the ken of even the most powerful wizards of Khevoran. Most believe they are priests channeling the power of their goddess Kishara directly through the rings they wear. The truth of the matter is that it is the rings themselves which contain the power. Cyan Marinetta, for example, is not the name of the woman bearing the Ring of Water, it is the name of an immensely powerful sorceress enthralled by Kishara at the dawn of time, her spirit and power bound to the artifact. These individual spirits are so powerful that they tend to completely decimate the personality of the ring-bearer, essentially granting the spirit a form of parasitic reincarnation. When the bearer is killed or grows too old for the spirit’s power to sustain them, the ring is transferred to a new host and the cycle begins again. For this reason, the Ringwielders usually appear in public shrouded or masked in order to preserve continuity with the populace if and when they take new hosts.
Unbeknownst to just about everyone, Ari Stonehand is a little different. Stonehand was a geomancer of incredible power in his day, but unlike his peers was very grounded (no pun intended) and even-keeled. He was not seduced, but defeated and enslaved by Kishara and Tahl’Mearis. As such, his hosts are chosen differently than those of his peers (who tend to choose strong, attractive, weak-willed sods as hosts). Hosts for the Ring of Earth tend to come from the Stranglers – the Kisharan priesthood – and usually involve a lifetime of grooming a fanatically loyal and incredibly strong-willed psychopathic killing machine who can dominate the spirit of Stonehand and manipulate his power. This selection process, combined with the goddess’ ability to destroy the rings and their imbued spirits essentially at will, has kept Ari Stonehand prisoner for millennia.
So how can our intrepid adventurers neutralize Stonehand?
- Brute Force: It’s possible that the players will be packing enough Fate Points by the end of the game that they could survive the near-instantaneous deaths that Ari would dish out. Good luck!
- Two thousand years previously, when most of the humans on Khevoran were hitting each other with sticks and poo – a small group of elven and dwarven scholars got together to study the Waygate. During their excavations they found, amongst other artifacts, a written history of the creation of the rings, including mention of Stonehand’s predicament. There are dwarven scholars who know of the work, but not the details, whereas there are some elves in the Ar’Avarial forest who actually studied them though most of the relics themselves are held by the elves in the Ar’Marinwe forest. One relic, however, is in the hands of the dwarves (or was the last time the elves saw it) and that is a device inscribed with a lament to Stonehand’s enslavement. The device was created by Ari’s daughter and when activated, plays a tune he and his wife would sing to her in her childhood like a music-box. Perhaps its dulcet tunes could bring the true Ari to the surface? Perhaps after millennia of enslavement and extortion he’s not batshit fucking loco?
- That being said, Dorn Heavyfoot, advisor to the young King Borin Ironfist on the front lines of the war against the deep hordes near Karak Ven, has a plan. When you’re fighting a losing war underground against an enemy with seemingly unlimited resources, having an immortal, epically-powerful geomancer on your side sounds like an excellent idea. If the players come to Dorn with the knowledge that Stonehand really isn’t a bad guy when not riding around inside a psychopath, a lot of pieces of a plan fall into place.
Getting Into High-Guard
High-Guard Fortress (originally named Karak Sin) was built by the dwarves some five-hundred years ago in quite a legendary dick move. When the budding human empire realized that the dwarves had essentially tamed the great pass through the Masaan Mountains, it opened up a great deal of trade from the more primitive agrarian humans of the north with the more urban humans in the south. Furthermore, even though they wouldn’t admit it, it made it easier for the elves to move goods between the Ar’Avarial and Ar’Marinwe forests. The dwarves decided that they deserved a little compensation for their efforts. And were ignored. So they built a bigassed fortress blocking the pass and forced everyone to pay a toll to get through. Which started a brief war which the humans and a small contingent of elven allies lost. So everyone sucked it up and paid the toll until High Lord Erik essentially bought the keep from them in 180 P.K. after the elves began to withdraw from sight and a wave of isolationism had gripped the dwarven kingdoms. Erik had the gates removed and turned the fortress into a waystation to provide help for travellers through the pass.
So yes, the dwarves built High-Guard and as such “duh” there are one or two ways into the place for a small group of people to fit through. One of which Stonehand knows about and has well-guarded, the other is via an abandoned branch of Karak Fel which is swarming with Druegar, orcs, goblins, and lots of small icky spiders.
People of Note
Sergeant Major Gareth Stein is the chief special projects recruiter reporting directly to Lieutenant Melvar (and now Mengst with Melvar missing in the South). He’ll act as the PC’s taskmaster for most of their time in the Northlands army. Stein is a shrewd, highly intelligent, ball-busting asshole suffering from a complete lack of patience when dealing with the whiny, insubordinate “creative thinkers” that usually get sent his way for special duty.
Itchy is the ranking distribution officer for the Northlands army. The somewhat hyperactive halfling mans the business end of the Society’s procurement operations, and manages the distribution of goods to the troops via the large warehouse in Hillcrest. No one below the rank of Master Sergeant is so much as allowed through the door, but special projects troops are often given chits to requisition gear on their own. Itchy will be the players’ primary source of goods for the entirety of the campaign.
Futz Fiddlygibblet is an awkward gnome who lives in an unused storage room in the Hillcrest procurement warehouse. Futz has a bit of an elf fetish, and Futz has a plan. Futz intends to repopulate Khevoran with elves. Artificial elves. He’s actually managed to produce eerily lifelike golems, but they can’t reproduce on their own – so now he’s trying to figure out what’s missing in his golems so they can reproduce naturally (love?). Besides being batshit fucking loco, Futz is important in the grand scheme of the players’ lives because he was a dean at the University of Invention in Penshin at the time of the invasion and he knows Vernon Bubblesneezer personally. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that Vernon is completely and totally incapable of producing something so frighteningly effective as the field cannon bearing his name. If he were to guess? Hmm…it really sounds like something Corky would’ve come up with. Where’s Corky? If he stayed in Penshin, I’d assume he’s dead!
Master Sergeant Sergei Volkov is on the run, but he doesn’t know it yet. Sergei is the leader of a crack team of billy badasses, pulled out of the rank and file of the Black Rose Society and sent off on perilous special missions to accomplish impossible goals in the name of the Company and the people. Sounds familiar? Well it should, because that’s what Mr. Black is hoping the PCs will become, because Volkov’s crew is off the reservation (read: they’re actually doing good for the cause instead of harm). Volkov and his men are cool, collected, competent professionals (everything the PCs will probably never be), and the fact that they haven’t returned from a long mission terrifies Mr. Black. The fact of the matter is that they’re following many of the same leads that the PCs will be following – learning many of the same things that the PCs will be learning. The only difference is that Volkov will be trying to advance Mengst’s cause, and the PCs will be trying to kill Volkov.
Warder Erik is an Etu-sauri swordmaster, having spent his life training to use the unique elven sword under its prevous owner. The problem is that the previous owner, an Elf named Ri’tu Delail, was batty as a bedbug, and his madness has tainted the subconscious memory of the sword, very slowly but surely twisting Erik’s mind. The Circle – a group of Etu’sauri who have sworn to preserve the lines of the blades – have sent one of their senior members, a man named Lucas, to hunt him down and bring him back to The Circle in Erebor – preferably alive.
Warder Thomas is, essentially, a Paladin of Aluviel.
Warder Joseph is the son of the former Captain of the Knights Leopold, Sebastien Bineau – the Emperor’s Guard.
Kironius Mengst is the man, the myth, the legend. If the PCs are really good maybe they’ll meet him. Hopefully not to get yelled at.
Let’s start the game off on the right foot – with the PCs thinking they’re doing something useful when, in fact, they’re doing exactly the opposite. Get em’ in the mood.
A goblin bloom has occurred in a series of caverns that riddle the northern end of the mountain range. Their digs threaten to break through into the tunnels directly below High-Guard, and that has the Kisharan forces there very worried. As the goblins have branched out through the capillary tunnels, they’ve set up a small encampment close to the surface near Hillcrest to make sure no one from the North interferes with their expansion through the deeps. Those in charge of High-Guard would much rather the goblins harrass the Northlanders than the Southlanders – and here’s where the PCs come in.
Stein orders the PCs into the caves to the north of Hillcrest to wipe out the goblin menace that threatens the people of the town and the Northlands army and prove they have what it takes to be in the special duty corps. This turns into a fairly typical cave-crawl to wipe out some goblins and other critters of the deeps. No big deal. Stein’s happy they did the work, they get some weight to throw around with Itchy, and all is well.
After the PCs leave, thinking they’ve saved the world as we know it, the main force of the goblins figures out that something poked their rear-guard and they get really pissy about it. The lightly-fortified outpost becomes a brigade-grade fortress of really big goblins. Small raids begin to be carried out into Hillcrest and Everwatch. The PCs may encounter a small raid here or there into town – but it does eventually come to a head late in the campaign when the goblins initiate a full-scale invasion.
The entire cave provides even more mystery. It appears that the orcs and goblins have tunneled into a mining operation – definitely Dwarven work. Gronk points out immeidately once the place is explored through that they were probably mining star-metal due to the magical containment in the storage room. It looks like the rail and foot access to wheever they were taking the material has been purposefully collapsed – recently. No one knows of any Dwarven mining operations in the region, and the mine was too far away from Karak’Fel to be an extension.
Mengst Addresses the Society
Every member of the Society (except the Warders, who are busy) gathers at Everwatch to get a speech from Mengst, where he outlines his strategic goals. Neutralize the cannons. Neutralize Stonehand. Secure High-Guard.
The First Patrol
Peacekeeper units often come through some of the smaller mountain passes to cause trouble for the Northlanders, and Stein wants the party to go look for some on a long-distance patrol across the edge of the mountains. A number of events take place:
A few days out the party encounters a pair of Warders (Erik and Xander) late in the day on business of their own – they should be impressed – maybe they can convince them to stay for dinner! (heh)
A few days later, the party comes across a group of refugees – mostly Halflings from the underground railroad and their aging Northlands coordinator Annabelle Cirrus – they’re on the run from a Southlands patrol that has crossed the mountains after them in the hopes of collecting the bounty on the six halflings she has with her (usually something like 50gp and a promotion). The pursuers are on foot but closing in fast and consist of a handful of army regulars and a Peacekeeper officer.
A few more days later, the party hears a war horn in the distance. When they arrive on the scene, they find the two Warders from earlier under attack from goblins and an Avenger. Xander is dead, and an Avenger is about to deliver the death blow to Erik (saving him would be a good idea). Once the Avenger is dealt with, an examination of the scene reveals the following:
Xander doesn’t appear to have been killed by the greenskins – his wounds seem to be from much more refined weapons (steel swords). Indeed Erik has a few well-fletched arrows in him. They’re covered in all sorts of blood, but not all of the red stuff is theirs.
Erik is either very unconscious or dead. They can try to get him back to Hillcrest. Both of the Warders’ horses has survived with only a few cuts and scratches, but will require quite a bit of finagling to cooperate.
There are two other humans nearby, both seemingly slain by the Warders and not the greenskins (who just happened upon the battle and took advantage), and both are wearing Society uniforms and markings. The woman, Fern, is very dead, the man, Donus Farrier is about to join her. When questioned:
CSI Summary: Xander tomahawks Fern, Donus snipes Xander through the eye-slit, Erik slashes Donus, Erik shoots Fern in the forehead, a hundred goblins attack Erik, Erik kills goblins, Avenger beats Erik.
It is a profoundly vital fact that the Avenger was herding the goblins – that creates a direct correlation between the Kisharans and the hordes of the deep.
The Avenger also has a description of the party with him (one dwarf, one elf, one halfling, some humans).
Presumably, the party heads back to report this new information. Maybe they save Erik, maybe they don’t. Stein tells the party about the traitor Volkov.
By the time they arrive back, there have been several well-organized goblin raids, some of the town’s populace have been killed and some supply stores have been stolen. Itchy is apoplectic. Oh, and maybe they hear about an outpost that got overrun in the other direction from the patrol because there weren’t enough scout patrols out.
The party meets Warder Thomas, who cares for Xander’s body (if they return with it).
Track the Traitors
Stein has intelligence that indicates Volkov and his men are heading towards the Ar’Avarial forest for reasons unknown. He tasks the party with finding out what he’s up to and stopping him. If the party asks around, it’s common knowledge among the Society (not the regulars) that Volkov is a traitor and there are numerous stories about how his team have surgically thwarted Mengst’s efforts to take High Guard. Most still can’t believe it – Volkov was very highly-respected.
Inevitably, the party will interrogate Futz about what Donus meant about going to the source. If they ask the right questions, they’ll find out about Corky. If Mr. Black finds out about what Donus said and the party takes too long to talk to Futz, he’ll be mysteriously murdered before the PCs get a chance to talk to him.
The Road South
At some point, the PCs will head into the Southlands in search of Corky. They’re given Warder escort through an obscure pass in the mountains, and then they’re on their own.
The Cave and The Etu’sauri
Warders Erik and Joseph are assigned to the party to aid in their mission to Penshin. The party travels into the mountains and enters the cave system created by an ancient underground river. A day or so into the depths, the party encounters Lucas, an aging Etu’sauri swordmaster who has been sent by The Circle to stop Erik. He lets the party proceed through the caves, but Erik remains behind, presumably to duel Lucas. The next chamber down, the party encounters the rest of the contigent sent to kill them – three Avengers. At some point in the battle, Warder Joseph is slain. The rest of the journey through the cave system goes without incident – though at one point the cave crosses an old Dwarven highway that smells of death and decay.
Gronk receives the following notice when policing Joseph’s body:
“A cursory glance through Warder Joseph’s things reveals only one item of any particular interest, but it’s a doozie: a medallion that is only ever worn by the Knights Leopold – and you suddenly realize why the kid seemed so familiar and why you took a shine to him.
The Knights Leopold are/were an order of knights sworn to the protect the Emperor, all of them exceptional warriors who also had, at the barest minimum, a short apprenticeship at the College Arcanum in Teribain – so think badass knights with fireballs. Joseph is the spitting image of the Captain of the Knights Leopold Sebastien Bineau – who you knew very well since you and Emperor Altair were very, very good friends (seriously, each year after he was crowned, either he would come to the north to hunt or you would go to Penshin for a bit of sailing/puking).
This means a few things – if Joseph is Sebastien’s son, it would mean that he had survived the invasion by at least seven or eight years – you had assumed all of the Knights perished at Aidan’s Crossing in defense of the Emperor. It would stand to reason that Altair may not have taken the entire Order with him to field, perhaps he left Sebastien behind in Penshin to defend Altair’s wife and three children. Maybe he’s still out there. Maybe the heirs are still out there too – Sebastien would never have left them, and there’s no way Joseph was old enough to have been conceived before the invasion.”
The High Lord
While the PCs are moving down from the mountains, they observe a column heading towards High Guard. Assuming they hide and observe it go by, they see a number of supply and slave wagons as well as a few companies of Southland troops and a platoon of Peacekeepers. Diego has a remote chance to notice and Gronk is guaranteed to notice a very old man in one of the slave wagons, easily in his sixties or seventies. It is High Lord Altair. They can do nothing about it, of course, but they continue with the knowledge that he’s at High Guard.
As it turns out, Emperor Altair was captured by Tahl Mearis at Aidan’s Crossing and, as a cruel joke, was spelled into amnesia and sent to the slave pens to spend his days in hard-labor. In the ensuing years, a surviving Knight Leopold, Sir Gavin deLange, managed to get himself sent to the slave pens so he could be close to his charge. When Tahl’Mearis marched to the North years later, he left Altair behind, and when he was defeated, the Emperor’s true nature was forgotten. He has survived by sheer chance (and the occasional intervention of Sir Gavin) but his age and decades of hard labor are starting to get the best of him.
Jacob Dain and/or Peruppi
If the PCs get near Riverton, they’ll be contacted by Jacob Dain, or maybe Peruppi Dentkettle who will fill them in on Riverton’s status and where he suspects Melvar was taken (to the Waygate). They will provide material support for the trip if asked. They are planning to surrender their position as Riverton’s shadow government by the spring – the risk has simply become too great, and “there is simply no one left to save…”.
Around the time that the party is getting ready to leave the city, a force led by Aril Flambeau herself arrives out of the blue to take control of the city. Harfur and Peruppi put up a defense directly against the Ringwielder, allowing the party and other refugees sheltered there to escape. If the party doesn’t reveal how they made it into the South via the caves, the refugees – including Jacob Dain and Shara Tev – will be hunted down and killed waiting for the Spring thaws.
The party finds the erudite Riverton half-giant captured by Peacekeepers on the road.
You Killed My Father, Prepare to Die
An old friend of Diego’s finds the party in Penshin and informs them that Diego’s mother died in service to Count Richelieu, and his sister is still there. A raid on Richelieu’s estate is certainly in the cards.
If the PCs hang out long enough in Penshin, they’ll eventually be approached by a mob boss who wants them to deliver a small box of “tomatoes”. They can complete the job or keep the “tomatoes”. If they complete the job, he’ll ask the party to assassinate a competitor, if they keep the “tomatoes”, they’ll be hunted the rest of the campaign by assassins.
At some point in the South, the party feels the twisting sensation of the Waygate being opened at Tablenhelm Keep.
The PCs get a glimpse of the harbor – there are hundreds upon hundreds of troop transports anchored in the bay, obviously in preparation for a sea invasion of the North. If they don’t do anything about it, the epilogue will be depressing.
If the PCs investigate the University of Invention, they’ll discover that Corky disappeared shortly before The Extermination began in earnest. If you combine that with the fact that Bubblesneezer is still laying claim to a number of very useful inventions, the PCs should realize eventually that Corky is probably still producing somewhere. And by “somewhere”, we mean the basement of the well-guarded University. This should be fun. Rescuing Corky (or his notes) will allow the PCs to discover the means for disabling the guns – a specialized device built with star-metal that will temporarily disrupt the charges. Now…where do we find a bunch of star-metal? Like, twenty pounds of the stuff per device (that number will make Gronk sputter uncontrollably). Extra points for destroying or capturing the plans for the auto-loading mechanism. Also in Corky’s lab is a functional 1/5-scale version of the automated cannon and scale ammunition. It could be packed out by the party but it is incredibly cumbersome. They should at the very least destroy the thing.
To discover the information they need (and to find Volkov as ordered), the PCs will need to head into the Ar’Avarial and find them some Elves.
By this point, Volkov is starting to feel the sword of Damocles over his head, and he knows he’s being followed. He leaves a squad behind to slow anyone following him. They’ll attempt non-lethal tactics against people wearing the colors, but if it turns bloody they won’t hesitate.
Faye’s Hope is a tiny half-elf settlement on the edge of the Ar’Varial forest. If asked, the townsfolk remember Volkov and his people passing through – there was ten of them total at the time. Volkov was asking about a fairly renown elven thinker named Etari’sul – last anyone heard Etari’sul lived in Sidarthe’minwe, deep in the forest – which also houses the Ar’Avarial Elves’ Evarre’tenin – their Trust. The people of the village are ill at ease, most of them have a feeling that something sinister is happening in the forest, but they know not what. They haven’t heard much of anything out of the forest for a while, which isn’t particularly abnormal.
Dorothea, J’sta, and Tir’Valar
Dorothea is an outlier Elven village – home of Moriel and briefly of Poppy. The village has remained unchanged for thousands of years and retains that unearthly Elven feel. What’s more is that it’s completely deserted. Not a soul. No people, no animals, no insects if anyone wants to get picky. There’s no signs of life either, cabinets are bare, etc. If someone gets really, really clever they can discover that the lifelessness exists in a clean perfect circle around the village, starting at about fifty yards out from the furthest structure and centered on the geometric center of the outpost. The next village over, J’sta is the same. And the largest city in the Ar’Avarial: Tir’Valar, is the same (though this one is guarded by killer golems designed to keep younger races from looting the city until they’re old enough – Moriel could go in if she wanted, but no one else is getting past). At one of these locales the PCs notice an inscription on a tree or in the dirt – “LEITUS”. Moriel, Banagher (int), and Gronk (int) will recognize the name and can convey the story.
Leitus ar’Shimrael Vin was one of the greatest thinkers of the Elven people and obsessed with what came before the Elves – of which there is no history or, indeed, evidence beyond the Waygate and its immediate vicinity. He is staggeringly old, well over seven-thousand years, and once you get that old you don’t really think in terms mortals can particularly understand. Two thousand years previously, Leitus was involved in the Waygate excavation and, according to Etari’sul – who was also there – found something that drove his obsession to new heights. It was never discussed what he found, and there is debate as to whether it was an artifact or simply a revelation, but he very rapidly began to distance himself from his peers and, eventually, left the forest altogether. There are rumors that he lives in a hovel somewhere in the wooded hills north of Karak’Fel.
Leitus didn’t really discover anything new at the dig besides what became common knowledge later – there’s a dark goddess beyond the gate, and she’s a conqueror. He became rabidly paranoid that she would eventually come through the gate and subjugate all the peoples of Khevoran – so for all intents and purposes he was a very progressive thinker – just two thousand years early. He dedicated himself to preparing for her arrival. Eventually, a few people started drinking his Kool-Aid and he ended up with a small, multi-generational cult all dedicated to somehow dealing with Kishara when she arrived. They currently occupy a fairly well-hidden compound north of Karak’Fel where they have been developing ways to prevent (and in the last thirty years, stop) the invasion. Leitus is convinced that he can develop a counter to the Waygate, essentially sealing it closed, but he requires vast volumes of star-metal to accomplish his goals – which is why he has been mining the region as he’s discovered impact sites – the mine behind the goblin bloom is one such mine (they collapsed and flooded it when they realized they wouldn’t be able to keep the goblins out). They neutrality of the elven peoples hit Leitus hard, and for thirty years (a moment in time to him, really) he’s harbored quite a bit of anger. So when it came time to test one of his devices – a device which shifts the very fabric of the universe around a locale – he chose Tir’Valar. The device essentially locks every living thing frozen in time.
There’s a lot of good the PCs will be able to do by raiding (or, I suppose, knocking on the front door of) Leitus’ compound:
Leitus’ suitcase-sized device could be stolen or taken (over Leitus’ dead body) and used to reverse the process in the three affected cities, thus ending the crisis and compelling the Sidarth’minwe elves to open the proverbial gates. A very hard Int check will be reqired to figure the device out; Futz or Corky could probably figure out how to use it as well. Leitus could be talked out of the device by Mengst, but by this point in the game, Mengst is probably out of action.
The necessary star-metal to build Corky’s device could be retrieved – again requiring a good bit of convincing, a good bit of stealth, or a river of blood. If the party does clean the place out, the Society would definitely be interested in occupying it and its extensive laboratory facilities. If they clean the place out and don’t take the star-metal right then and there, it will be gone by the time an occupying force arrives.
Leitus does have some of the same info as Etari’sul – but basically serves to point the party to Etari’Sul and to the Dwarven archives at Karak’Ven.
There are two members of Volkov’s unit – Halfling Ferris and Human Shep – tortured to death in Leitus’ cells – they attempted to infiltrate the compound and steal the device.
The compound provides essentially a back-door into the troublesome goblin bloom.
An entire squad of Volkov’s unit – Cutter, Lars, Steen, and Kirk – is stuck in time in Tir’Valar. They were actually trying to pounce Leitus when he set off the device, so are right on top of the party if they’re there to de-activate the field. They’re quick thinkers and will stop if the party doesn’t do anything threatening to them.
The Elves of Sidarthe’minwe have erected a deadly fog-like barrier around the entire city and will not lower it until the crisis with the missing cities and villages is resolved. When it is, the party is very grudgingly allowed entrance to a few of the outer parlors and an audience with
Etari’sul, who has the following knowledge to impart:
Etari’sul has studied the nature of the ringwielders and knows just about everything there is to know, including Ari’s special circumstances.
He knows that the dwarves – including Gronk’s great-great grandfather, who actually went on the expedition (because he didn’t trust the elves to be forthright with their discoveries) – possess some artifacts that are specific to Ari, maybe even personal possessions from before his enslavement. There is a working theory that Ari was originally from Khevoran (true) – his original incarnation could perhaps be a pre-historic Elf (false).
While it’s unlikely but possible that there are some Dwarven scholars remaining who might have researched Ari, the artifacts, if they still exist, would likely be held at the library in Karak’Ven or the vaults of Karak’ap’Karak.
Oh yeah, and Volkov’s there, meeting with Etari’sul, along with the last three of his unit that I haven’t yet accounted for, Elf Shar’we, Bink, and Lassiter. And now, the truth comes out:
“You idiots…<Mr. Black Set-Up> is a Kisharan!”
The party will undoubtedly head home to turn in Mr. Black – but unfortunately he’s jabbed Mengst with a poison dagger and bolted with the Ring of Spirit. It was discovered that he was manipulating everyone under his command to very subtly undermine the efforts of the Northlanders. He’s responsible for the loss of several outposts, the starvation and under-supply of entire companies of regulars, the very slow attrition of the Warders, the slaughter of most of Volkov’s entire team, the death of Annabelle and one of the two Company wizards, and let’s not forget the…
There’s an army of orcs and goblins coming down from the hills towards Hillcrest, Mengst is in a coma and there are no Warders in the encampment. A quick tally of Society men actually left alive finds Volkov in command – but people aren’t feeling terribly trusting, so he divides up the effort a bit. The party is divided up and put in command of individual companies of the Northlands army encamped at Hillcrest. Begin big epic tactical battle. If the party completely fucks up, the Warders save them with a contingent from Everwatch. Once the battle is over, it’s clear that something has to be done about the cave-turned-fortress – scouting it out shows that there’s no way the army could take it out with the near-unlimited reinforcements available. Going in through the back door in Leitus’ compound and collapsing the cave is probably the best bet. Once the bloom is gone, the goblins and the orcs at the fortress can be cleaned up with a short battle.
The Quake, Part 2
The party is witness to a massive earthquake, and an entire peak of the Massaan collapsing in the far distance. Gronk recognizes this as a likely collapse of the Great Way. He’s probably not telling.
It’s time to head to the mountains to find the Ari Stonehand artifacts. The party is welcome to choose between Karak’Ven and Karak’ap’Karak. Karak’Ven is technically closer and easier to get to, there’s an old grown road from Hillcrest going straight up to an entrance, otherwise the party will have to climb to Garrack’s Pass and enter the dwarven system from there. There’s also the small matter of the dwarves not seeing anyone, ever, for any reason – and essentially no non-dwarf going in and out of the system for thirty years. And Gronk isn’t talking about the dwarves, but at this point he can probably let out that since the dwarves built High-Guard, the original plans are probably still in the archives (his father had the thing built to begin with).
Volkov orders the party to Karak’Ven to see if there’s any way to get a handle on Ari and find a way into High-Guard.
On approach to Karak’Ven, Gronk is going to have to come clean with the party about what’s been going on with the Dwarves for the last thirty years, there’s just no way around it. The denizens of the deep broke forth from the Karak’Mithril digs and have been unstoppable. They took the entire southern Masaan range in the first year and have been slowly decimating the Dwarves ever since. Gronk left the mountains almost twenty years ago, so he shudders to think about the current state of affairs. It’s absolutely possible that the entire Dwarven race is gone and their civilization supplanted by the Deep Ones.
Thankfully, it’s not quite that bad, though it’s bad. The hordes have taken the entire southern Masaan ridge and have sacked Karak’ap’Karak, the Dwarven ancestral seat of power. They’ve pushed up and are now threatening Karak’Ven and Karak’Nul. Prince Borin Ironfist (Thane’s son) has ordered the collapse of the Great Way in order to stop their advance. Furthermore, contact has been lost with most of the Northern Kar’Naketh range – no one has any idea why and everyone’s too busy fighting off the hordes to give it much thought – though as time passes there’s considerable consternation about it if the southern Dwarves have to retreat across Garrack’s Pass.
The entrance to the network has an old trading post outside of it, abandoned for thirty years, so it’s very nearly gone. Gronk gets the party in the door and down into the Karak’Ven outer tunnels. This region was primarily used for transporting trade goods to and from the Northlands, so there’s a wide thoroughfare with cart tracks running the length of it. There are a number of storage warehouses at the head and a few branches to some small mines.
The lane down to Karak’Ven passes a fairly critical bit of stonework that is vital for the survival of the city, it is a series of tunnels and chutes that act as a gas exchange with the surface. The party hears some commotion coming from the direction of the exchange. As it turns out, there’s a party of orcs, goblins, and dark dwarves that have managed to bypass the dwarven defenses and reach the exchange, and they intend to collapse the tunnels (and maybe even the surface lane) and choke out Karak’Ven. The encounter should make the party much more wary about what they’ll find when they make it to the city.
Prince Borin Ironfist has sent Dorn Heavyfoot to Karak’Ven to evacuate it. It’s become apparent that the hordes are targeting Karak’Ven next and there’s no practical way to defend it, since it was designed more as a hub for trade and learning and has a perimeter like sieve. It doesn’t take long before the non-dwarves led by a shamed one are noticed, and because no one really knows what to do with them, they’re arrested (the severity of the arrest depends on how good of talkers they are). It doesn’t take very long for Gronk to be quietly recognized and word to get to Dorn – maybe the party can even talk their handlers into notifying him directly – either way, they’re taken to the location where he is coordinating the evacuation.
Dorn is, naturally, extremely busy – but he’s obviously barely containing his joy at seeing his old friend still alive after leaving twenty years previously to find death while still attempting to respect Gronk’s anonymity. A discussion occurs about what the party is after, they’re updated a bit on the state of the dwarves (really directed more at Gronk, but spoken to the party as if Dorn really cares about sharing). If the party speaks of Ari to Dorn, he instantly sees the advantages of having Ari on the side of the dwarves int he conflict. In fact, it may be the only way the dwarven civilization could survive. The party also meets Uldan.
General Uldan Bloodpick is essentially Dorn’s military liason, he’s in charge of coordinating the defensive efforts through the entire network aaaaaand…he’s a traitor. He didn’t start out a traitor, but after twenty years of continued, relentless losses after spending his entire previous life and career at peace, the poor chap snapped when the hordes marched on Karak’ap’Karak. He’s been orchestrating a careful succession of strategic failures that have been forcing the dwarves to streadily retreat – but at a much lower cost in lives than there may have been otherwise. While this is a very un-dwarven thing to do, he’s easily saved thousands of dwarven lives by causing the collapse of the defensive hard-points and essentially forcing a relatively bloodless retreat. If the party pays attention to their surroundings and the people they encounter, they should be able to put together a picture and expose Uldan (Academic Knowledge (Strategy) would help. If they do, the dwarves will begin holding the line again, if they do not, the dwarves will be pushed beyond Garrack’s pass within the year.
The party needs to get to two locations within Karak’Ven to get what they need, both are within a gray area where forces are generally mixed and confused. Retreating dwarves interspersed with pockets of the hordes. The first location is the easiest, it is an evacuation point for the more important documents from the great archives where a number of dwarves are attempting to pack things for travel – they have the original plans for high-guard in amongst their maps. The second location is in the archives themselves, very deep, to find the artifacts from the original Waygate expedition, where they’ve been largely forgotten.
When they party manages to get the Waygate artifacts, they’re treated to Ari’s story by way of a narrated stone zoetrope put together by Ari’s apprentice after his capture. They also now have the music box in-hand. There’s very little the party can do to materially help the dwarves, it seems like doing something about Ari is the best possible use of their talents.
The party returns to Everwatch to come up with a plan of action for taking High-Guard. They’re also offered premium careers at this point. The objectives are as follows:
Disable the Bubblesneezer cannons
Help the army get through the gates
Prevent reinforcements from the southern encampment
Rescue Lord Altair
The First Ring
At one point near the end of their endeavors, the party comes across a room in which the man Mr. Black framed is hung, having been tortured and the Ring of Spirit is laid out on display. Mr Black is waiting in the shadows and is revealed. Banagher is confronted by the truth as Kishara tries to get him to take the Ring of Spirit and take a place at her side. Banagher can either take the ring and become an enemy, or burn his pool of fate points in a spectacular final blow against the Kisharans. If this final act doesn’t involve killing Mr. Black, the party will have to deal with him.
- Points to recall for the flashback:
- “Erik’s in trouble!”
- Lady of Westergarde remembered wrong
- Cyan in Penshin saying she didn’t wish to be watched
- Rush of power when the WayGate is opened
- Increasing viciousness of the visions (“Smite them!”)
- “So paranoid he uses the Warders as messengers…”
- “I smell her taint on you…”
- Sadness touching Poppy twisted
- “The Woman Is A Lie”