The Krosven Steppe

Session Four: The Keep of Sir Toven
wherein our heroes make some new evil friends

The Party arrived at the keep, surveying the scene: castle walls with large runes inset in the stone. Vall surmised they were runes to keep something out of the castle, and Guidance used his breadth of knowledge to recognize them as runes from religious iconography of the Old Gods.

The floating carriage flew around the castle. Cori checked the ground for any tracks; she discerned that there was a trail the goblins regularly used on their journey here, and that the last tracks were heading to the White Wood. Likely the goblins they attacked last time.

Speaking of goblins, the goblin boss they captured had little info to tell them, only that there was a creature with beady glowing red eyes that would snatch their offerings from a window in the door. He was bound and left in the carriage.

So Vall went up and knocked on the door. The sliding slot opened up and there were the beady red eyes, with nothing but black behind them. Vall said hello and asked to speak to the master of the house. The voice replied, “Where is your offering?” Vall asked, “What would you like?” and the voice replied, “I would like an offering.”

So Vall gave him a small pouch of coins, slinging them over the window. They were snatched immediately, and then there was a pause and the sound of two voices bickering. The bickering ended and the door opened, and inside were two elves clad in red robes: Iren and Shosa, cultists.

Iren beckoned them inside (Vall tested the entrance to ensure they would not be stuck inside forever). In the castle they discovered it was night, despite it being mid-morning outside. It was also about 20 degrees colder. They saw various red-robed elves wandering through the courtyard, along with a lot of undead—zombies, ghouls, and ghasts, who all appeared to be in league with the cultists.

Iren and Shosa led them into a mess hall that had been somewhat converted into a meeting room. He explained the situation: they were Tovenites, cultists who worshiped Sir Toven as a god. Toven was a paladin from Iro who worshiped Midya, the Mother. He somehow crossed the Spine with his squire, Ascalan (a half-elf fighter), thousands of years ago. Toven had many adventures in Phynsia before descending into the Darkwood, which is what the White Wood was before Toven arrived. The Darkwood was a naturally mysterious and evil place, and as Toven traveled through it he became increasingly corrupted by it. (Surprisingly, like Sam in LotR, Ascalan was not corrupted by it, perhaps because she was not as connected to her deity like Toven was.) At one point he saw a nightmare (a big evil flame horse) and pursued it, as he wanted to tame it and ride it. However this only pulled him deeper into the forest, causing him to become even more corrupted.

One day he caught the nightmare and climbed on its back. He then rode out of the Darkwood, but as he did, the darkness of the wood itself somehow was sucked into his body, and he took it with him. Thus, the White Wood was born.

Toven was clear-headed enough to be aware that this darkness was corrupting him, so he built a castle in the middle of nowhere, and had a friend of his named Ovemaw (who Iren describes as “the green man”) inscribe runes on the outside that would prevent him from ever leaving the castle. Meanwhile, the darkness corrupted him to the point where he ended up killing Ascalan. This murder broke his sacred oath to Midya, and he became a fallen paladin at that point. However, the corruption also took over his body, which ended up transforming him into a powerful Death Knight.

Currently, Toven resides in the keep inside the castle, which he does not leave. The cultists started showing up about a thousand years ago. The undead, Iren explains, are from Toven’s old elf guard, who were all turned undead once Toven became a death knight. The cultists and the undead have a stable relationship, and the cultists basically take care of the keep. Ascalan’s ghost wanders the halls as well.

Iren wants the begin trading with other people in the Steppe so that they do not need to rely on Edwin’s continual offerings, while Shosa vehemently distrusts all other creatures besides the cultists, including Edwin. They continually bicker about this pressing issue.

(I don’t remember how this happened, but) at some point, the party learns that in the dungeons of the keep is a woman, Kyrina, who was once the guardian of the Wending Tree, before Edwin Alcaster took it over. Edwin bound Kyrina and offered her to the cultists, who reluctantly accepted. Kyrina can conjure magical weapons at will due to a strange pact she has with “Uredon the Destroyer,” and so the cultists bound her hands together and put a gag in her mouth just to be safe, and chained her in one of the dungeon cells. “The dungeon has a bodak in it,” Iren says. Vall and Cori had kind of heard of bodaks before.

(Oh, also, Shosa cast Comprehend Languages on Cori and Guidance so that they could understand everyone.)

As they talk, the party discovers a couple of things:

1. The cultists are evil and seek the release of Toven so that he may rule the world. They believe a “great battle” is about to occur between Toven and Atren, one of the Titans.

2. Edwin is attempting to gain favor with Toven so that he may gain info on the whereabouts of Atren; Edwin believes Toven knows where due to his connection with Ovemaw.

3. [side note: I literally stopped writing this part last night at this number 3. I have no idea what I was going to write. Let this be a lesson: never finish writing in the middle of a list.]

[also, my brain is fuzzy on the next part, sorry guys]

The party is allowed to roam the keep as they wish, and are even given a room to rest in, should they need it. However, the party is interested in Kyrina, and Vall is interested in finding Ascalan to see if he can speak to her. So they find a cultist who can distract the bodak in the dungeon and allow our heroes access to Kyrina. As they head to the dungeon, Vall whispers Ascalan’s name in the hopes of making her appear, to no avail. The cultist successfully distracts the bodak, giving them five minutes to talk. Kyrina is gagged, but she can speak telepathically. She was the protector of the Wending Tree and desperately wishes to be freed so she can kill Edwin. The party decides to ask Iren if they can take her.

As they start heading back, Ascalan is seen in the dungeon hallway. Vall decides to talk to her while Cori and Guidance head up to ask Iren for Kyrina.

Vall finds out that trying to get Toven to atone for his sins and “shake off” the darkness that has enveloped him is not an easy task: first, Ascalan must be “killed” to dissolve her bond with Toven; second, Toven must return to the White Wood and let the darkness retake it; and third, Toven must pray for forgiveness to the Mother. Vall kind of gets the idea that that’s not a doable task right now.

Meanwhile, Iren is surprisingly gracious about letting Kyrina go. All he asks is that she remains bound and gagged until she leaves the keep, and that she never returns again. Some of the nicest evil cultists you’ll meet!

After distracting the bodak again, the party releases Kyrina, who lets them know that she doesn’t have a piece of the Wending Tree. The only pieces she knows of are from an old shield that broke into three pieces: the piece Edwin has, the piece the hobgoblin warlord has, and a third piece in the hands of the dragonborn in the Glass City. Disappointed in their futile search, the party leaves the keep and boards their hover carriage back to the White Wood, with a request from Iren: kill Edwin Alcaster.

Along the way they come across four hobgoblins taking more offerings to the keep. Our Heroes make short work of them, despite the goblin boss (who was still in the carriage) freeing himself from his bonds and nearly grappling Kyrina. Vall rotated the carriage while Cori and Kyrina took pot shots, and Guidance ended up flaying the goblin boss alive with a particularly nasty Inflict Wounds spell.

After the hobgoblins were taken care of, our heroes grabbed the loot in offering sack and drove it back to the keep, giving it to Iren, who thanked them with special weapons: a magical rapier for Vall, a Dagger of Returning for Cori, and the “throw ’em scrotum,” a sling attachment for Guidance’s whip.

Goodies dropped off, the party returned to its journey back to the White Wood, to ake the wooden medallion from the hobgoblin warlord. (Maybe.)

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Session Three: A Very Long and Eventful Night
or, Guidance and His Research Addiction

[Note: there is more backstory in here than what I described during the session. I left out the stuff that wasn’t immediately necessary!]

After being discovered by the elves, Vahk and his crew escorted Our Heroes to their small camp in the White Wood, allowing them to rest and recuperate while Vahk explained the situation to them, with Vall translating.

The land they were in is called Phynsia, and is home to a variety of races, just like Iro. The races here worship a pantheon of gods known as the Diandians (called this because they hail from a realm known as Diandia). They believe the world is flat. West of the party’s location is where the elves generally live; north of them is a broad desert known as the Blinding Sands, and is where the dragonborn live. The party also happened to pass between the gnolls of the Painted Hills, and the orcs of [remember name later]. There is currently a turf war happening in the Steppe due to the elves receding from guarding trade routes and roads after someone known as the Sky Lord broke apart the earth west of the Crystal City 200 years ago with the help of enormous iron and diamond constructs. (This is known as the Sundering.)

[For the record, I think Guidance and Vall would be able to put these pieces together: Vahk describes the Sky Lord as a “being who fell from the sky” thousands of years ago. The Sky Lord then wandered westward, frail and sickly, passing through the elf lands and beyond, and disappeared from memory until about 208 years ago, when he returned to the elf lands (known as Norvair) with an army of constructs. Vahk also calls the Sky Lord “The Builder.” Long story short: the Sky Lord is Covoran the Builder, the Titan who brought the Old Gods to Iro. In Irolean mythology, Covoran is thought to have died after bringing the Old Gods, as the journey was too tough for him. However he actually just traveled west. No one is sure why he returned to Norvair to battle with the elves.]

The elves, distraught at losing their brethren, withdrew from the world and into their homes to grieve. They did this for about 100 years. During that time, the dragonborn of the Blinding Sands took over the guard posts, and since dragonborn don’t live as long as elves, their sons and daughters, unsure if the elves would return*, basically decided the Steppe was theirs. Then, when they elves came back, they were like, “No the Steppe is ours,” which set off the turf war, which has mostly been minor skirmishes because no side wants full on war, but both sides want the Steppe because of trade routes with the dwarves of the Eastern Mountains (the Spine) and the mithril deposits in the Painted Hills.

*Khorrsun the dragonborn was one of an envoy of ambassadors sent to the Crystal City to investigate the disappearance of the elves. What she found was that the elves had gone into some type of unconsolable torpor in their houses and businesses, sitting with their legs folded underneath them, silently weeping, some of them with their hands over their faces. The ambassadors tried to rouse them from this grief but the elves did not respond. They apparently did not sleep or food. (And in Khorrsun’s report to the Cabal of the City of Glass, she said, “What a bunch of pansies.”)

Anyhoo, point is, Springvale and Our Heroes are situated nearly smack dab in the middle of the Disputed Lands. But the elves have a more pressing issue: Edwin Alcaster, a wizard who resides in the Wending Tree, an enormous tree in the southern White Wood which can only be found if one has a piece of it. Edwin was the robed man seen in the mausoleum in the lowest part of the kobold ruins. When Vahk learned of the blood ritual going on down there, it made him very nervous. Also in the south: a hobgoblin encampment that does Edwin’s bidding and is cutting down the supernatural trees that grow here. The goblins occasionally send offerings eastward, to an old keep situated in the middle of nowhere. Vahk is concerned about the blood and the offerings to the keep, as there is something sinister in that keep, something that no one wants to go near.

As the group rested, Cori recuperated from her grievous wounds and was visited by a large badger, who seemed to be seeking her out. The badger put her head on Cori’s lap and fell asleep. Why the badger chose her, she did not know, but she welcomed the warm friend

Meanwhile, Guidance argued with Mitcham, the leader of the Peacekeeper troop, as to how many injured soldiers he could keep to “help.” Mitcham easily saw through Guidance’s deception and only agreed to letting him keep the least injured soldier, Rowan, who had Guidance’s vine blight poultice slapped onto his leg wound. At first the poultice was bubbling, then it made his leg numb, and now Rowan’s toes are turning black—with Guidance taking notes as it happened.

Well Vall heard rumblings of the soldier whose leg was dying and went to visit Rowan. With his new paladin skills he was able to heal Rowan’s leg simply by touching it, which impressed the other soldiers (though they did grumble about not getting healing as well). Now that Rowan was safe, Mitcham rescinded his agreement and decided to take all of the soldiers back to Springvale, much to Guidance’s chagrin.

It was also decided that due to Springvale being located in the Disputed Lands, the entire Peacekeeper and soldier force would return there to protect it in case any skirmishes came their way. So in the morning the elves constructed some stretchers out of their fur-and-spiderweb hammocks, and the soldiers left the White Wood.

Overnight, Guidance, desperate to satiate his desire for research subjects, snuck into the carriage housing the five injured soldiers and began experimenting on Rowan while he slept. He tried to get Rowan to drink the baby’s blood [or kobold blood? How the hell did Guidance get a hold of the baby’s blood?], but Rowan moved his head at the last moment. Then, fed up and frustrated, he poured the lambskin of decomposing rat water into the poor bastard’s mouth. Rowan woke up vomiting. He vomited on the soldier next to him, which made that soldier vomit. A third soldier picked up a club and tried to beat Guidance out of the carriage. At this point everyone was awake. Mitcham grabbed Guidance and yanked him out of the carriage and onto the ground. He asked Guidance what’s going on, and Guidance tried to lie and blame it on the soldiers. But Mitcham had heard enough and full on punched Guidance in the face, shouting, “BE QUIET.” Mitcham turned to speak to Vall and since Guidance rolled a nat 20 on his attempt to escape, when Mitcham turned back to him, Guidance was gone, having run back into the kobold ruins to sleep in the rat cellar.

In the morning, Guidance emerged from the ruins wearing the skin of a hobgoblin he skinned overnight, trying to convince Cori that he was a hobgoblin. She didn’t buy it, even after he used Mending to remove the sewing.

Our Heroes then spent a considerable amount of time assessing the situation with the hobgoblin camp. Vahk explained that there was a hobgoblin warlord in the center of the camp who wore a wooden medallion made with the wood of the Wending Tree. Vall questioned the intelligence of a camp protecting a tree that can’t be found, and Vahk elaborated on the hobgoblin’s duties, explaining the offerings sent to the keep, the goblinoids cutting down the trees of the White Wood, and the presumed desire of Alcaster to have a goblinoid army for other reasons.

The party ends up deciding to go to the keep to find out what’s going on there. The elves remain in the White Wood to protect it from hobgoblins.

On the first day of travel the party comes across some goblins presumably returning from the keep. They attack the goblins (Vall again using the carriage as a battering ram, which works with lesser results than last time), and in the melee, Cori’s badger is killed by one of the goblins’ wolves. Guidance is also nearly killed but then in the last second one of the goblins realizes he’s attacking a hobgoblin (with horns!) and deflects his scimitar swing. In the end the party manages to defeat the goblins and both Vall and Guidance hold the goblin boss so they can interrogate him.

[And I think that’s where we ended.]

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Session Two: The Man in Black (and Red) (Robes)
in which Our Heroes narrowly escape Death by Skeleton

As Our Heroes and the soldiers begin to close in on the ruins, the sounds of kobolds in the distance causes the Peacekeeper Mykom to rally the troops. He gives Vall six weak healing potions and requests that they descend into the ruins while the other remain on the surface to kill the remaining kobold horde.

Our Heroes descend a low, narrow tunnel dug out of the stone debris that once was this chapel or temple or whatever it was. The tunnel opens up into a fragment of the basement. Two kobolds, dead on the floor, swarms of rats nibbling on their corpses, and beyond, a passageway leading down and a door leading to the right. Many of the skitter away upon seeing the party, but some are just too hungry to leave.

Vall leans over to investigate the kobold bodies when the rats attack! Two large swarms surround him and Valcoria, and three very large rats (one might say giant, in fact) attempt to bite at Vall. The party manages to make short work of them, and Valcoria discovers a new talent: as he shoot an arrow at one of the swarms, a hail of thorns erupts, pinning many of the rats to the ground. Guidance attempts to whip a rat out of the swarm so he can capture it, but it falls behind him and skitters off. In the end though, the party makes short work of the rats fairly quickly.

Guidance gets to work collecting specimens while Vall investigates the kobolds and Cori goes to the entrance of the stairway to scout. She hears kobolds below, splashing in water. Vall notices that the kobolds’ feet are bloody and that they are wearing cheap amulets that seem to have something embedded in them that exploded. Didn’t seem to kill them though. He also notices bits of a magenta colored gem that he collects.

Vall bashes open the wooden door with his shield and is greeted by a stench that nearly makes him vomit. Inside the room is a couple of barrels, some sacks, a table, and a small moldy chest. One of the barrels is filled with dead rats who fell in rainwater and couldn’t escape. Guidance plunges his hand in there investigate and takes some of the disgusting rat water with a lambskin, then takes his rats and water off to the carriage.

[It should be noted, too, that since Jayc didn’t ask what was going on on the surface when he got up there, that Guidance doesn’t know—he was so invested in his rats that he basically didn’t notice anything else.]

The box contains silver coins—some cheaply stamped with a hammer and other more professionally minted—a worn dagger, and two copper rings. Guidance uses Identify on the dagger (not magic) and one of the rings (fire resistance + firebolt 3/day). He keeps that ring and Vall takes the other, which remains unidentified.

Cori stealthily tries to descend the staircase, but slips on one of the steps and clatters down, managing to stop herself from being revealed entirely. Vall and Cori peek their heads into the entryway, revealing catacombs lit by magical light. The walls of the catacombs are just dug earth, with long, deep nooks dug out for bodies to be interred. Vall and Cori also notice that there are eight kobolds who are all looking directly at them, weapons drawn. A short skirmish ensues: the kobolds are easily bested by the party and each one that dies is subsequently ripped to pieces by small black fish inhabiting the six inches of standing water (definitely water—Guidance checks) in the catacombs. Fortunately the fish don’t seem to care about living tissue—or they are hindered by boots. Guidance also manages to capture a nearly dead kobold, as well as a fish.

At the end of the catacombs is a short hallway and a door. The door had a eyehole slit which is slightly open. Vall looks through the slit and sees a small mausoleum. Nearest the door is the back of a person in black and red robes, standing in front of a sarcophagus. On the sarcophagus is a bowl, which is being filled with the blood of a dead baby, hanging upside down with rope. Behind the sarcophagus is a hobgoblin captain, his guard, and a wolf, chained up to the wall.

The man in the robes is berating the hobgoblins, and Vall recognizes the speech as a sort of vulgar Old Elven (also known as Pyrnx). Vall gestures for Cori to shoot through the slit. Cori readies her bow and shoots an arrow at the bowl; the bowl flies up and spills blood all over the hobgoblin captain.

Then, very quickly, the robed man grabs the bowl (or the bowl comes to him), touches the baby corpse, and disappears. The hobgoblin captain comes storming for the door. His guard starts unchaining the wolf. And, perhaps worst of all—the skeletons in the catacombs come to life.

A grueling battle begins: Vall holds ground against the hob captain; Cori manages to take out the hob guard so that the wolf remains chained; and Guidance, stuck between a rock and a hard place, grabs his dick and shouts “GET OUTTA HERE” which makes one skeleton straight up die, and another one run off, never to be seen again. Still, the skeletons swarm him and Cori and Cori ends up getting slashed nearly to death. While fighting for her life, Guidance has little choice but to run to aid Vall, attempting to slide underneath the hob cap’n’s legs so that he can get to the wolf. He fails and then tries to stab the captain in the balls, but also fails that too. However, Vall manages to kill the captain, who falls back into the mausoleum.

Now Vall is fighting off skeletons and Cori manages to stabilize herself (barely!). Guidance attempts to calm the wolf down and notices the dead hob guard had treats, in the form of dried humanoid ears. He feeds one to the wolf and it is calmed, and he uses the wolf to fight the skeletons. Now the skeletons are bottlenecked and Vall, Guidance, and the wolf make short work of them.

After the battle is over Cori is healed and the party investigates the mausoleum. Vall attempts to figure out if he can tell where the robed man went, with no success. Guidance starts gathering the leaves and herbs in the room. Cori checks the sarcophagus, finding inside a skeleton that wasn’t raised, a nice (and likely magical) greatsword, a ceremonial shield, an amulet (which Vall takes), and 300 gold pieces.

Upon returning to the surface, Cori finds herself surrounded by spear points. A group of elves in furs and tattered fabric are above them, their ears abnormally long. The leader of the elves, Vahk, beckons them out of the tunnel. The elves are leery about Cori, surprised about Vall (and his short ears), and VERY leery about Guidance.

Vahk is curious as to who they are and why they are fraternizing with a dragonborn. Vall explains who they are and where they come from, and Vahk thanks them for taking care of the kobold problem. When Vall explains that there was a man in robes in the mausoleum, the elves all perk up and Vahk says, “Come, we must talk.”

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Session One: The Baby Theft!
in which our heroes decide to become Our Heroes

[as always, if I’m forgetting something, let me know]

In the middle of the night, during a torrential downpour, a woman screams. “My baby!” she cries. “They took my baby!”

The residents of Springvale are alerted. Valcoria the dragonborn scours the scene from her treetop perch but can only see the crowd beginning to mill about the carriage where Emma, the woman, slept.

Guidance uses his weird charm to calm Emma down while Vall asks Holston Trevere, the caraven leader, what’s going on. Guidance’s attempts to “soothe” Emma fall upon deaf, and frightened, ears, so he gives up the chase. Meanwhile Valcoria descends her tree and goes into Emma’s carriage to look for clues. Inside, the scene is a mess, and Cori notices scratch marks that seem familiar…

Outside, Vall uses his thaumaturgy to brighten the lanterns around him , and in doing so, notices strange non-human footprints gathering water in the mud. He calls for a tracker and Cori obliges. She notices the tracks but can’t follow them past the muddy footprints of the crowd milling about. But she does notice a single set of footprints that head off around the carriage. She, Vall, and Guidance investigate.

Across the spring, our heroes notice one of the carriages, the larder specifically, has been broken into—a hole has been ripped into the cloth. Vall makes the carriage shake to spook whatever’s inside, while Cori notches an arrow into her bow just in case. And from inside, out pops—a kobold head!, its mouth stuffed with biscuits. Cori can’t stop herself, however, and she shoots an arrow right into its neck, killing it instantly. Poor guy.

Guidance takes the body and eviscerates it; no baby inside. He then cuts the head off to keep, and no one is surprised because that’s what he does. A small group of onlookers watches them, including Holston.

The group heads back to Emma’s carriage and Holston orders everyone away and back to their carriages. Cori notices footprints past the muddied spot. Four kobolds, heading south. Guidance convinces the Inhalers to give them their hovering carriage, while Vall asks for soldiers and receives them—four soldiers, and four Peacekeepers. They climb into the carriage and head south, following the footprints.

The trek takes a full day. As they are traveling they come across two dead kobolds who appear to be strangled and bound by vines on the ground. As they investigate, the vines reach out and grab Cori, and nearly grab Guidance. A vine blight appears, as well as a bunch of twig blights. Guidance attempts to damage the vine blight but keeps missing (and pours salt on the vines to “dehydrate” them), and Vall drives the carriage into the blights, killing a couple and damaging the vine blight. In the end, they manage to kill the damn thing, and at the end of the battle, our heroes realize—they ain’t in Kansas anymore, and can really consider themselves adventurers.

One of the soldiers, Rowan, is injured in the battle, and Guidance grinds up the blights to make a poultice to “heal the wound.” Whether or not that is his actual goal, no one is sure.

The carriage continues south, heading toward a sparsely wooded area, reaching it by nightfall. The trees here are all white, even the leaves. Our heroes notice a ruined building, perhaps a chapel. Vall orders the soldiers to fan out so they can come upon the ruins from a wide angle, and Cori climbs one of the trees for a higher vantage point. (Guidance hides behind Vall, and cuts some of the bark from a tree for further investigation.) But before anyone can move inward, more kobolds attack, including some with wings. The party battles them, and Guidance gets a little distracted in trying to keep some of them alive, but in the end, the party manages to kill or disable all of the kobolds. Guidance now has two kobolds who are alive, but crippled so they can’t move.

They find 17 crudely minted copper coins among the kobolds—a small treasure, but the coins themselves are interesting: one the front side, in profile, an elf with abnormally long ears, and on the back side, a city nestled against a cliffside. Obviously this means civilization is … somewhere! But where? Maybe we’ll find out next time…

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PREGAME: Some Facts About The Caravan, & Other Lore

The caravan you travel(ed) in is called the Padoran Envoy. It is a joint venture between Queen Isobel Derevia of Eora and the Padoran clergy of Ironrock. Its purpose is to explore and, hopefully, establish an Eoran colony west of the Spine. The Envoy consisted originally of 100 people: 25 Padoran clergy and Peacekeepers, 4 adventurers, and the rest “commoners,” coachmen, and soldiers. (I put commoners in quotes because I mean non-adventurers, though some, like Vall, are nobles.)

There are three people to a caravan, with some exceptions. For the regular caravans, two carriages are linked and pulled by one horse; the caravans themselves have been infused with minor magics that makes them lighter. The leader of the expedition, Holston Trevere (human male, squat, stumpy guy, kind of an asshole), has his own caravan; Vall (Nate’s character) has his own caravan; and the 4 adventurers have their own caravan. The adventurers’ caravan is essentially a magic car that they can drive around. It also, like the TARDIS, is bigger on the inside. They received it after saving a gnome from some mind flayers. (It’s a long story that you’ve heard multiple times from Henry, the human paladin.) When the adventurers left to go on their mission south, they took the caravan with them.

The Padorans have one caravan which holds 7 Inhalers, three caravans for each of the 3 Exhalers, and one very extravagant double-decker caravan for the 5 Skeptics. There are also 10 Peacekeepers but they sleep outside on bedrolls. The Padoran caravans do not have horses, nor do they have wheels—they hover and are instead moved by “Padora’s Breath,” which you assume is some kind of divine magic. The Skeptics’ caravan is laden with tools and various doodads they use to conduct experiments while on the journey. The Padorans tend to keep to themselves in general, though the Inhalers will gladly chat with anyone if spoken to.

The Adventurers

The Adventurers were all semi- or fully retired, having spent most of their lives adventuring. They have their own reasons for joining the Envoy.

Henry Iturnak, human paladin. Henry is in his 60s but looks like he’s 30 years younger. He is a champion of law and order, and he joined the Envoy seeking info about a knight named Sar Toven, who is said to have traveled west of the Spine for reasons unknown. He never returned and Henry believes finding Toven’s home will help create a link between them and the inhabitants of the Steppe. Vall (Nate’s elf paladin) became good friends with Henry over their travels, despite Henry being a devout Padorist, and Vall worshiping the Old Gods.

Kroos, elf druid. Kroos is nearly 900 years old and is known as the Protector of Blackmarsh. She is weird and keeps to herself, frequently flying above the caravan as a giant eagle, scouting the countryside. It is generally agreed upon that Kroos knows more than anyone in the caravan, and no one knows why she won’t tell anyone anything.

Malyen, human cleric. Malyen is 34, and is a worshiper of Padora. She is not formal clergy, however, due to her violent adventuring past. It’s not sure, even by her, why she has divine powers despite worshiping the Goddess of Peace. Guidance (Jayc’s tiefling) has spent a lot of time with her, but unlike most women, whom he typically seduces, he has formed a platonic relationship with her, and she taught him meditations and prayers he could use to gain favor with Padora. (Guidance spends most of his time in the bed of the Exhaler Valen Calorien, a human woman who matches Guidance’s libido step for step.)

Nova, air genasi warlock/rogue. Nova is the most enigmatic of the four by far. She is a genasi, who are the offspring of mortals and genies. No one knows how old she is or where she came from, only that she befriended Henry at some point in his travels. She is insanely powerful, likely the most powerful of the four (technically, she has a few levels of rogue, and the rest of warlock). Her patron is some god she calls the “Great Old One,” which you all believe might be Zek, the Otherworldly. Whatever her past, it is very surprising that she has not returned, although you wonder if maybe she never wanted to travel with you in the first place. Edwin Mudfoot spent a lot of time trying to get to know her, with little success, though she did teach him a few sleight-of-hand tricks.

The Gnoll Camp

About six months into your expedition west, your caravan ran into a large camp full of nasty, terrible gnolls. Gnolls in Iro are relatively stupid, savage creatures, but west of the Spine they are actually quite intelligent and cunning, and when they attacked your caravan in the night you were ill-prepared to fight back. Fortunately, the Padorans’ retinue of Peacekeepers, plus the four adventurers and the six soldiers stationed with you, managed to kill or drive them off, though six people died in the melee and many others were injured.

While you held off participating in the battle, you watched the soldiers, Peacekeepers, and adventurers fight, which is what triggered this spark of adventuring spirit within you—either the desire to defend, or gain power, or whatever motivation that stirred the need to become adventurers of your own.

At dawn a quick meeting was called, and 20 people decided to return to Fort Harador and abandon the expedition, whittling your caravan population down to 74 people, which it has remained until the adventurers went south.

The two years since the gnoll attack have been surprisingly peaceful, as you traverse the flat, windy Krosven Steppe. You spoke often with the adventurers and other soldiers, listening to their tales of bravado and terror, learning bits and pieces about them and their trade, and keeping notes about their fighting styles, spells memorized, and skills learned. You didn’t know it at the time, but this would come in handy on that one particular night, six weeks after Springvale was “founded,” when you went from ordinary people, to adventurers of your own.

LORE SHIT

This is some stuff you would know about the world of Iro, and how it may or may not affect you in the Steppe. It’s mostly magi

Magic: Arcane magic in Iro is heavily regulated. There are even “magic licenses” that you must obtain in order to practice magic. (This is a relatively new phenomenon, instituted shortly after the Republic was formed, in response to some pretty serious magic used by the Dhregen Sakhr to kill Gamavër. Basically, think Hiroshima except with Wish and Time Stop spells, etc.) Divine and natural magic is less-heavily regulated (especially Padoran magic) though it is still generally distrusted and looked down on by the populace. Magic users cause Bad Shit to happen, so commoners are usually worried about it. Ironically, bardic and warlock spells are not regulated, because they are not considered “magic.” This obviously doesn’t affect you tremendously in the Steppe, but it’s nice to know.

Religion: OVERALL, humans worship Padora, the monotheistic goddess in whose infinitely-big lungs we all live. Elves are Skallanites, who worship the Old Gods: the Father, the Mother, the Child, and the Trickster. Most other races are Skallanites as well, favoring specific deities within that pantheon, though more favor has turned toward Padora in the last few hundred years. (Also, the term “Old Gods” doesn’t refer to them being old and Padora being new, but more that those gods are older than time and stuff like that.)

Monsters and other non-benevolent races (like goblins, etc) worship various gross deities that nobody who is a civilized person would even think of remembering. The most common deity mentioned is Zek, known as the “otherworldly,” who exists beyond the veil of darkness.

Padorism: Padorism is a new religion which believes that we all exist as a tiny speck inside the infinitely large lungs of the goddess Padora. At least one Messenger of Padora, Tavot, has descended to speak this truth to the prophet Datorya. It is the primary religion of humans, after Queen Savosa had a vision of her own roughly 300 years ago and changed the official religion of Eora.

Padora has four sects: Inhalers, Exhalers, Skeptics, and Peacekeepers.

Inhalers believe that Padora is breathing in—that the world is just beginning and will exist for a very, very long time. They are altruistic, hyper-benevolent people who believe in sacrifice for the greater good, delayed gratification, and constant spiritual connection with Padora.

Exhalers believe that Padora is breathing out—that the world is ending and that we should get the most out of it while we can. They are generally self-serving, crass, and brash people, who regularly use others to get what they want in an attempt to fulfill their lives before the world ends, which is always “soon.”

Skeptics follow a specific part of Padoran dogma which encourages “heightened thought.” One of Padora’s Messengers, Tavot, speaking to the prophet Datorya long ago, told her Padora wanted her people to experience “heightened thought,” and that mortals possessed the gift of “the question,” as opposed to the burden of the answer. It was one statement in a holy book’s worth of dogma, but the Skeptics took it to mean that they should question everything. So they do, even Padora’s existence. They are, effectively, proto-scientists and -philosophers. They are generally annoying, snooty, and always act like they’re better than you.

Peacekeepers are the military force of Padorism. Because Padora expressly forbade violence, specifically the “killing of my kind,” Peacekeepers take a “breaking” oath at the beginning of their service, swearing to never worship Padora or any god so long as they live. Padora then blesses them with a small amount of divine magic, and then leaves their lives forever. They are essentially paladins without a god, but work in the service of Padora, indirectly. It’s hard to explain. But if they do ever worship or pray to Padora, they lose their magical ability and are banished from Padorism.

The Old Gods: Skallanism is the worship of the Old Gods, who descended with Covoran the Builder thousands of years ago. These gods are thought to be from “beyond the veil” like Zek, and are considered a family. Many people believe that Covoran is the Father, but that is untrue. It is also important to know that the Old Gods did not create the world, but merely inhabit it. Enormous Titans created the universe thousands of years ago (in Old Gods theology).

Artok, the Father (the Worldshaper): Artok is known as a tall, broad-shouldered man, with an ox head and legs that end in ox hooves (but aren’t bent backward like a satyr). He is seen with an enormous haybale hook, which he supposedly used to pull Father’s Fire (the enormous volcano in the south) out of the ground. His icon is a volcano with a large plume of smoke coming out of the top, and his favored weapons are his hook (sub sickle stats) or a longbow. He is the god of Justice, Creation, Nature, and War.

Midya, the Mother (the Mason): Midya basically looks like a mix between a short, fat woman and a small bird, like a robin. She carries a bricklayer’s trowel in one hand and a wooden bucket of mortar in the other. Her icon is a brick wall, and her favored weapon is a sword (or “blade” in the old language, which referred to any type of bladed weapon, dagger to greatsword). She is known as the one who built Modvaya, the Golden Temple on Herst Island, whose shining spire can be seen at any place in Iro. She is the goddess of Life, Cities, Technology, and the Ocean.

Goyen, the Child (the Bridge): Goyen looks very much like the Humanoid, an androgynous being frequently confused as either male or female. (Typical pronoun use is “he.”) However, he is also the most malleable-looking of the Old Gods, as he frequently changes his appearance to act as ambassador between god and mortal creatures on Iro. Thus, to the Dragonborn he looks more like a dragon, to halflings he is much shorter, etc. He carries no weapons and is known for his great wisdom, which he uses as much in battle as anyone would with a sword. His icon is a stone bridge with a star in place of the keystone. He is the god of Light, Knowledge, Language, and Wisdom.

Sut, the Trickster: Sut has many avatars, like Goyen, and it is generally believed that he is Goyen’s brother (much like Cain to Goyen’s Abel). His most typical avatar is a small, wiry half-man, half-lizard. He likes to undo the good things that Goyen has done in Iro, frequently by pretending to be Goyen, though no matter what shape he takes, he cannot hide the scaly skin that protrudes down his neck and back. These scales have formed the basis of countless cultural and social mores throughout Iro: when people greet one another, for example, they will always touch the back of each other’s necks to feel for the scales. (Also the phrase “check the neck,” used when one person feels like another person is being two-faced.) Despite his trickery, Sut is a favored god for many races, especially the gnomes, who fucking love tricking people. The dragonborn also believe Sut to be a dragon god due to his scales, and the elves worshiped Sut for hundreds of years while Valden was essentially a mafia state. His icon is snake scales and his favored weapon is poisoned darts. He is the god of Death, Deception, Entertainment, and, surprisingly, Love.

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PREGAME: Introduction to Iro!, and, The Letter

Hello friends! Welcome to my game. In this campaign you play some explorers who inadvertently settle around a spring, jokingly calling your caravan “Springvale,” like it’s a city or something. You have settled because four adventurers (NOT you) who were guarding your expedition traveled south to investigate some woods and haven’t returned. That was six weeks ago. No one else in your caravan are adventurers. Yet.

Your characters, over the course of the 2 ½ years spent traveling through the western side of the continent of Iro, have become friendly with the adventurers who have disappeared, and while you wouldn’t call yourselves adventurers, that changes on the night of our first session. Something forces you take up a sword, or a shield, or some thieves tools, or a spellbook, and begin your adventuring career.

So I want to present to you a few things: first, a letter delivered to your character shortly before you began your expedition, and second, a little bit of knowledge about the country you have left. I will present more lore on the Obsidian Portal site if you want to read that too.

First, the letter:


(A rider arrives and gives you a wooden scroll tube festooned with elaborate carvings. Inside the tube is a scroll sealed with wax and a small red gem about the size of a quarter. The symbol in the wax is the Queen's signet, which also adorns the red gem. You unroll the scroll—the paper is the nicest you have ever seen and felt in your life—and find two sheets. One sheet is a letter, the other sheet appears to be a questionnaire of some sort.

The letter has a header in gorgeous penmanship:)

By Royal Decree
of
Queen Isobel Derevia
of Magnificent Country
Of Eora
Princess of the Frozen Forest
Friend to the Blackmarsh
Holiest of Holies
The Breath of Padora
Lioness of the Wyddan Folk
Keeper of the Scepter,
&c.

(The letter then reads, in different handwriting:)

Dearest [it says your character’s name here, obviously],

Greetings. I am Lord Lyrewin Hashnell, Governor of Hashnell Province. If you are receiving this letter, it is because your name has been given to my personal team of Explorers for consideration of a Great Quest we are about to undertake. You were considered to have some advanced Knowledge or Skillset that will aid in our ongoing expedition, and you should feel honored to be spoken of in the same room as our Queen.

Queen Isobel has chosen three traveling parties to traverse the Spine and explore the Krosven Steppe to the west; to gather Knowledge of the Unknown World that lies beyond; to Contact the People or Creatures who live there; and to Establish Colonies and Trade in the name of Eora and your Queen.

Thus, by the Divine Breath, you are hereby summoned to Ironrock to be Enlisted into the Great Expedition. You will be joining the exploring group known as The Padoran Envoy, one of three groups participating in this Momentous Event. You should feel a sense of pride in being chosen to represent Our Queen and the people of Eora to the mysterious peoples of the west. This is a very special occasion that will shape the future of all Eorans, and all the people of Iro. It is not to be taken lightly.

Refusal to join the Great Expedition in any way will be considered Treason against the Queen and may be punishable by Exile or Death,. However, if you truly believe you have received this request in error, you may petition to be removed from the Expedition by pleading your case before the High Court in Ironrock.

In order to be Officially Chosen for this Expedition, you must answer the questions on the other sheet of paper in this scroll within One Week of receiving it. Once you have completed them, please wet the paper and place face up on any surface. You will see the ink bleed into the paper until it has soaked entirely into it. Then place the red gem in the center of the paper. A horse and carriage will arrive no more than one day later to take you to Ironrock.

Congratulations, and may I be the first to welcome you to a Brave New World.

Yours Truly,
Lord Lyrewin Hashnell

(At the bottom of the scroll is the Derevia coat of arms and underneath it, smaller, the Hashnell coat of arms.

You look at the second page of the scroll. It is a long questionnaire. [But for the purposes of the game, it is your character sheet.])


ADDENDUM: What do you know about this letter?

  • Queen Isobel Derevia is the queen of Eora, the northern country of Iro. She is human and has been queen for eight years following the death of her father, King Edwynd, whose reign lasted a quite lengthy 67 years. (Edwynd was known as “Good King Edwynd,” and was well-beloved by pretty much everyone.) Isobel is 36 and widowed; her husband, Colab Benawar, former Governor of Antanel Province, died of some kind of consumption three years ago.

  • Lord Lyrewin Talavier Hashnell is the Governor of Hashnell Province. Hashnell is the most northeastern province, is one of the oldest governed pieces of land in Iro, and is adjacent to Ironrock Province, where the Queen’s castle lies. Lyrewin is mostly known as the Governor and an Advisor in the Queen’s cabinet.

  • Ironrock is the name of the castle where the monarchy lives, the city in which that castle resides, and the province in which that city exists. The province is only as big as the city too—think of it like Washington D.C.

  • The Spine is the enormous north-south mountain range in the west of Iro. In the 2-½ years since you received this letter, you have since passed the mountains and are very, very deep into the Krosven Steppe. The Steppe is a broad, flat land that seems to stretch on forever, covered in short, prickly grass and shrubbery. (There are obviously more things on the map, but your character do not know about them, yet.)

  • Padora is the goddess of Padorism, the dominant monotheistic religion in Eora. Padorism became the major religion of the country after it was adopted by Queen Savosa over 300 years ago, though it has existed for about a thousand years before then. There is also a polytheistic religion of Old Gods, but it has lost popularity greatly in Eora, and is mainly practiced in Valden, the southern country ruled by the elves. The basic dogma of Padorism is that our world exists within Padora’s lungs—that we are but a mote of dust inside her, so to speak. Her “breath” is the wind, the giver of life. The theology of Padora’s Breath is heavily debated, and there are four basic “sects” of the Padoran religion: Inhalers (those who believe Padora is breathing in), Exhalers (those that believe she is breathing out), Skeptics (proto-philosophers and scientists, those who question Padora’s existence even), and Peacekeepers (Padoran paladins, basically, though they are forbidden to even practice Padorism—it’s complicated).

  • You know a lot about Padorism now because you have been traveling with the Padoran Envoy for two years and obviously the knowledge rubbed off on you.

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