The Kingmaker

"Enter the Stolen Lands, a wilderness claimed by nobles, bandits, and beasts alike. Into this territory the fractious country of Brevoy sends its emissaries, tasking them with subduing the lawless folk and deadly creatures that have made it a realm of savagery and shame. Beyond the last rugged frontier stretches the home of voracious monsters, capricious fey, wily natives, and bandits who bow to the rule of a merciless lord none dare defy. Can the PCs survive the Stolen Lands, bring their dangers to heel, and lay the foundations of a new kingdom? Or will they just be one more fateful band, lost forever to the ravenous wilds?"

The Stolen Lands, a wild lawless place awaiting the hand of strong justice. A politically ambiguous place where many parties vie for control. Into this cauldron of woe walk five heroes-in-the-making to create their own nation. Patriots—but to what cause?

Kingmaker is a Pathfinder Adventure Path role playing game published by Paizo Publishing under the terms of the Open Game License. It provides a rich backdrop for a group of pioneers as they attempt to bring civilization to a wild, untrammeled land. This website is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing.

This blog represents the letters of one of these characters, Marquand, a bitter, righteous man—an Inquisitor defending his faith in the deity Erastil against all the enemies of civilization.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Letter Ten—Death Eats a Cracker

Skot Skevens strummed the guitar in front of his rhythm section—a thin long-limbed elf on bass, a kobold on piano, a mite on washboard, and a dwarf on bongos. He let them settle into a long, mournful groove before singing:

Hey, hey
Love, love
Yeah, yeah
Ah, ha
Marquand is dead
That's what I said
Let the rap a plan
Said he'd see him home
But his hope was a rope
And he should've known
It's hard to understand
That there's love in this man
I'm sure all would agree
That his misery was his
Woman and things
Now Marquand is dead
That's what I said
Everybody's misused him
Ripped him up and abused him
Another Inquisitor’s plan
Killin’ owlbears for the man
A terrible blow
But that's how it goes
A gamer’s on the corner now
If you wanna be an Inquisitor, wow
Remember Marquand’s dead
We're all built up with progress
But sometimes I must confess
We can deal with kobolds and fey
But reality, what does it mean
Ain't nothing said
'Cause Marquand is dead
Hey, hey
Love, love
Hey, hey
Yeah, yeah
Ha, ha
Love, love
Yeah, yeah
Ha, ha
Yeah, yeah
Marquand is dead
All I want is some peace of mind
With a little love I'm trying to find
This could be such a beautiful world
With a wonderful girl
Why I need a woman child
Don't wanna be like Marquand now
'Cause Marquand’s dead
Hey, hey
Yeah, yeah
If you don't try
You're gonna die
Why can't we brothers
Protect one another
No one's serious
And it makes me furious
Don't be misled
Just think Marquand
Everybody's misused him
Ripped him up and abused him
Another Inquisitor's plan
Killin’ owlbears for the man
A gamer’s on the corner now
If you wanna be an Inquisitor, why
Remember Marquand is dead
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
Marquand is dead
Hey, hey
Ha, ha
Love, love
Ha, ha...
Many apologies to the late, great Curtis Mayfield

Pathfinder copyright 2011 Paizo Publishing, LLC
Gosh, sorry Pino,

 I’m writing this to tell you that your uncle, Marquand, was killed deader than a skunk-mackerel today. He died bravely, though, and we brought him back to Tuskland packed in ice in my saddlebags on the off chance that the Duke can find someone to put him back together again, just like Humpty Dump . . . maybe that’s not the best example.

While inventorying his personal belongings I came across this unfinished letter to you and thought that I’d send it along posthaste.

Don’t lose heart,
Bert Askew

Dear Pino,
The month of Rova dawned clear and crisp but I wish I could say the same for the politics of the city of Tuskland for I awoke to the news that scandal has visited our little town. You’ve undoubtedly seen the graffiti that’s been defacing walls of late—of a man in open congress with a wolf. You’re too young to know what that means, of course, but I don’t fool myself thinking you don’t. It’s a disreputable act at best and hurts the worse for knowing the two souls involved.

Cane and Sizzles were caught in a corner of the park reserved for illicit love making little half-human-wolflings and the news spread through town like wildfire. We all met to decide our strategy while Cane and Sizzles competed on who could wear the most hangdog expression.

Lev made a long speech in the town square, which was filled with citizens, many hoping for a hanging, or at least a serious scourging, and watching me expectantly.

It was a good speech, full of the milk of human kindness. “It’s alright to be whatever you want to be, that’s what P.U.R.K. is all about,” Lev orated hoarsely, sincerity etching a sigil across his brow. “After all, we left Brevoy to be free—human, fey, beast alike. As long as there is mutual respect amongst us we can join together to create the most powerful nation in all the River Kingdoms. One that will benefit and enrich everyone—every person, every unperson—fulfilling their destiny, fulfilling themselves—everybody giving, everyone taking—without sacrificing individuality or point of view."

"Unless your name is Grigory!" someone yelled from the back of the crowd.

"Freedom's only boundary is the boundary of another's freedom," Lev summed up.

Then a druid halfling called Frulamin Milltall was brought up to publicly question Sizzles. On the dais where Skot Skevins gives his lunchtime concerts we'd set up a desk, chairs, and a waterdish. The old druid asked the wolf a few short questions. Sizzles answered with growls and yips, copious whining, and scratching behind his ear.

The druid turned to the crowd as Sizzles lay beside him, worried eyes watching every move. “Yes,” he reported the wolf saying, “Moochie (his pet-name for Cane) and I go a long way back. He’s been my constant companion since I was a pup freshly weaned from my mother’s tit. We feed each other, comfort one another, and share a den. We're much closer than man and wife. Do you eat the fleas and ticks that inhabit your lover?” she asked rhetorically. “We do. Do you lick their wounds and genitals? We do. Do you sniff each others b . . . ?”

“Ahem,” Lev interrupted. He pointed to the condemned lovers. “As you can see, it was a mutually consenting relationship. Isn’t that the essence of freedom?”

The crowd cheered Lev, carrying him off on their shoulders. “At least he’s not a rapist,” Piea shrugged.

At the Stag Lord's tree stump we found this notice:

Wanted: Troll Blood! One full waterskin of troll blood to use as a catalyst for healing potions. Reward of 1,200 gold pieces in potions. "Help make alchemical history!"

Conveniently, a messenger arrived from Restov with a offer to reward for us for clearing the southern border of a covey of Troll bandits. More disturbing, we also we received a report that a giant owlbear was wrecking havoc to the south, killing travelers and destroying farms. So we quickly mounted our horses and were soon on the road southward. We traveled along the east coast of the Tuskwater, crossing the Murque well upstream where, at this time of year, barely a trickle of water wet the horse's hooves. Finally, we reached a wooded karst, all rimmed crags and deep sinkholes.

I found myself riding next to Piea as we carefully inched along. She asked me how my romance with Lily was coming. I shrugged. Since the night of Lev and Ilse's wedding she has mostly greeted me with indifference. I’ve heard rumor that she’s been seen with a roguish half-elf known as Havain.

“You know my feelings about her,” Piea erupted. “I won’t say it again—yes I will—she’s a b—, a c—, and a w—! You can do better than that. Look, I got a friend I want you to meet, she can do 1000 push-ups with one hand!”

Mostly to distract her I asked about Arven. “We’re doing well,” she replied, brow furrowed. “I’m not going to marry him because I’m too young to settle down—also, I have to kill things, you know?”

Suddenly, we heard voices coming from the rocks ahead. Embarrassingly, it was a couple commingling in love. Piea gasped, for one of the voices we heard sounded like that of her beloved Arven!

She slumped in her saddle. “This makes me lose faith in all love in this world,” she lamented, then suddenly brightened. “I’m going to great-axe him in the back! I’m the jealous type!”

We quietly dismounted and approached the sounds, which were steadily coming more impassioned. Piea could barely restrain herself, such was her urgency to confront the couple, but the rugged landscape made finding them difficult. Then Cane was set upon by a ferocious leucrotta.

Write down the definition of leucrotta, Pino, and then compare it to my description. “This freakish beast has the head of a badger, the hooves of a stag, and a wide mouth with sharp ridges of bone instead of teeth. Reputed to be descended from hyenas and a demon lord, these creatures are intelligent and cruel, using their astounding vocal mimicry to lure foolish and unsuspecting creatures to where it can torment them at its leisure before finally devouring them.”*

They are fearsome clever beasts that stalk their prey until they’ve discovered its weakness, then use their gift of mimicry to exploit it—in this case Piea’s insecurity about her lover. It hoped to make her angry, jealous, and careless. That a creature smart enough to do all this would be stupid enough to attack the six of us is a puzzle we'll save for another time.

“Have we had a fatality in this party yet?” Kelm suddenly asked apropos of nothing—another of his predictions? As Piea and I carefully climbed towards the combatants he stood unmoving nearby, staring at the rocky outcropping with a perplexed look on his face. “Should I climb?” he said, putting up one hand tentatively then lowering it again. “Should I stay?”

Cane had killed the beast by the time we could reach him. “Its brain makes a good pudding,” he said as way of explanation.

We followed its tracks back to its lair, finding:

•    blue dragonhide breastplate
•    blue dragonhide heavy shield
•    tree feather token
•    ivory comb worth 50 gp

Piea made her claim on the comb, coyly batting her eyelashes and asking, “See how long my hair is?”

There were also:

•    86 gold pieces coated in a fowl smelling slime

Bert Askew refused to touch them. “I think they were pooped up!” he shivered.

As we patched Cane up he noted that Kelm had no trouble getting over the rocks once the battle was finished.

“I just didn’t want to climb when there was fighting over there,” Kelm said.

But this was getting us no closer to the owlbear so we next headed along the southern shore of the Murque, then the Candlemere, until we were once again on the plains east of the mudhole where we killed the tendriculous.
We began seeing signs of destruction by a very powerful creature. Trees were broken and ripped from the earth, tufts of dark fur were snagged in the branches, and huge feathers littered the ground. We sent Kelm into the entrance of a dark, gaping cave. While his vision is limited at the best of times it is the same whether it's light or dark. “I have faith in magic,” he said, “and in Nethys, the god of magic.”

Lev followed him inside and soon they were cloaked in darkness. We strained to hear their progress but there was only silence dripping like a faucet at midnight. Then a nerve-jangling shriek!

Cane and I quickly entered as I cast light. We saw that the entire cave was filled with a dark fungi. There was a sea of large, red mushrooms. Amongst them were larger gilled fungi with writhing tentacles atop their glistening purple heads. With a shout Piea charged, lopping the top off the one that was shrieking and the room fell eerily silent. A second one suddenly moved and attacked her, its poison causing the flesh of her arm to shrivel grotesquely, exposing the bone. Worse, several more of the marauding purple morels turned slowly to the attack.

“Think of it as a learning experience,” Bert Askew called from the cave’s entrance.
Copyright Paizo Publishing, LLC.

Cane attacked one while I shot another. Lev handed Piea his morningstar and she fought on one-handed. I don’t know how she withstood the pain. Then Lev unlimbered his crossbow and finished off the one I’d hit.

One of the mushrooms juiced Kelm and his flesh began to rot in front of our eyes, bubbling off the bone, its stench overwhelming. I felt myself slipping exhausted to the floor.

Piea whacked it with Lev’s morningstar, then Kelm killed it with magic missile. “Touch me again!” he taunted the now flaccid creature.

“You’re still rotting, aren’t you?” Cane asked him. “Your arm smells like death.”

“It’s all an illusion, a flesh wound. See?” Kelm waved it at Kane. Ahhh!!!!” he cried in anguish.

We found:
•    5 gold pieces
•    12 copper
•    +2 dagger with a dragon carved in the handle

Suddenly we heard another nerve-jangling shriek, only this time it was Bert Askew crying a warning, “Shambling Mound!” and we turned to see one of the bushy bruisers approaching us from the cave’s mouth.

Lev scored the first hit with a ray of exhaustion, causing the Mound to stagger like an overfed mule. I found that I had recovered somewhat but still needed help standing before I could shoot it with my longbow.

Piea hit it with the morningstar, but it whacked her hard on the head, grappling her like Arven after an evening's drinks. “Why are they always grabbing me?” she cried in frustration. By then I had recovered somewhat, driving my sword home and ending its misbegotten life before it could damage her further.

We had barely caught our breaths when we heard Bert scream again, “Centipedes!” We looked up in time to see three giant black creatures emerging from the Mound’s heart. Fortunately, they proved easy to kill.

In the Shambling Mound’s lair we discovered the week-old tracks of an immense owlbear. Another tunnel led back from there and, to our relief, we found the owlbear’s rotting corpse amongst the bodies of the eight bandits it had killed. We stripped the corpses before giving them cursory burial. Perhaps one of them was a believer.

•    8 suits of studded leather
•    8 light wooden shields
•    8 daggers
•    8 longswords
•    8 shortbows
•    84 arrows
•    96 gold

We were arguing about how to claim the reward when Cane noticed that there were also fresh owlbear tracks amongst the carnage. “It had a mate,” he stated grimly.

“And it’s probably out for revenge,” Lev gulped.

Quickly we limped back to Tuskland, Piea and Kelm, riding downwind, putting on brave faces despite their discomfort. “I like scar-flesh,” Piea insisted. “It’ll heal cool!”

Copyright 2011 Paizo Publishing, LLC.
We heard the frantic approach of a horse and were soon intercepted by Skot Skevins. “Where have you been?” he cried, voice cracking. “A huge enraged owlbear just ripped up the town. It tore everything to shreds!”

We followed him back/ "Make way, make way!" he cried to every cow and hog that we met. Lev was a’twitter, thinking about our potential losses. We saw ripe fields ruined before their harvest; trees uprooted and thrown against houses and barns. A pall of smoke and dust hung over Tuskland and even from a distance we could see that part of the city was in ruin. Citizens walked around with dazed looks, in shock. We learned that five squares had been destroyed. Only a pile of blood-soaked splinters remained.

We lost a:
•    dump
•    tannery
•    graveyard
•    mill
•    brothel

“Maybe it’s a good thing,” Kelm noted hopefully, already planning our new waterfront."

“We’ll see what you say when the taxes come due,” Lev grumbled. “Time for a speech!”

Lev sent for Jhod who took Piea and Kelm off for what he called “Holy scalding,” as the rest of us inspected the damage and quieted the town. Thank you and little Billee for bringing the refreshing mint tea, although I think Billee may have put a tad too much hot sauce in mine.

Lev gave a real barnburner of a speech, promising to nail the owlbear’s ears to the front gate.

“Yahoo!,” the crowd cheered. “We’re going to rebuild better than ever! Tuskland! Tuskland! Tuskland!" the chants resounded.

For a moment I spied Lily, peering from an alleyway that leads to the Stumble Inn. The look of concern on her pretty face quickly melted to feigned indifference when she saw I was watching. I bowed my head to her as I rode past. Did I imagine her mouthing the words, “Be careful”? Or was it, "Get stuffed"?

I felt a sudden rush of despair. I let it go on for a moment, build to a crescendo, and then I took myself in hand and joined my colleagues on the road south. When all else fails there is always duty. “I feel sorry for that owlbear,” I said, morose.

“Aw,” Piea mocked as she and Kelm joined us, their skin red where Jhod had healed them.

“It destroyed a quarter of our city!” Lev protested incredulously."And you're sorry for it?"

It proved dreadfully easy to track, shrieking in the distance and leaving a wake of destruction straight back to its cave.  When we reached it again we surged forward, screaming, “I want to kill this thing!”

“Hold on!” Lev commanded. “I want everyone to shut up! We'll keep our heads and go in order." He took a deep breath. "I’m going to cast Personal armor on Sizzles and myself before we go in.”

I cast Shield of faith.

At the cave we split up. Lev and Cane waited by the flue at the top of the cave while the rest of us carefully approached its mouth.

“That’s a pretty big owlbear,” Kelm mused as he noted the torso of a man who had been ripped in half and thrown against the wall. “Don’t let this happen to you,” he said disconcertingly, milky eyes appraising me closely. As we awaited Lev's signal I passed the time by updating this letter. . . This is where Marquand’s narrative ends.

Hi, Pino, it’s me, again, Bert. I thought I should finish his account before sending it to you.

I was outside with the horses, of course, but once the almighty Lev had disappeared down the flue I hurried over to watch the battle and I’m sorry I did.

Lev did some hocus-pocus to the owlbear and it reeled suddenly as if fatigued. Your uncle approached it slowly, carefully. “Go on and hit the gol-darned thing!” I shouted, unable to restrain myself. Marquand shot an arrow to little effect.

It grabbed Piea violently, blood spurting from her ears. She struggled valiantly to no avail. It then grabbed Sizzles. I covered my eyes at this point until I heard a surprised yelp and saw that Marquand had somehow missed the giant beast, shooting Sizzles instead!

I heard another cry and turned my horrified eyes to Piea, who had been throttled by the beast and was now hanging limply in its ferocious claw. It then brutally threw her to the stony floor. She looked dead as Lev hurried to reach her, pulling a vial from his pack as he ran. I shut my eyes again in horror.

“Get ’em, Sizzles!” I heard Cane cry below to snarls and howls.

How unlike the common citizens are your uncle and his friends. The owlbear had ravaged the town with barely a nick whereas here it was fighting for its life—and knew it. I admit, this frightened me more than anything else—what if they lost? I wanted to run but could not get my legs to move.

I heard Marquand shout in frustration—another miss. Then my eyes flew open against my will when he screamed horrifically as the owlbear clawed and bit him, then held him aloft. Cane and Sizzles continued their assault around its giant bulk as Lev plunked it from afar.

Pino, I don’t want to describe what happened next, so shut your eyes. Your poor uncle was torn in half like a big dog would a chicken. The sound was terrible, like ripping canvas. Even that brave man screamed like a murdered beast. Oh gods above! It sounded like the time Blinky Walker was caught between a milk cart and a stone wall, his blood and guts squirting everywhere.

“Yeeearghh!” it bellowed in triumph even as Cane found it’s weak point and thrust his blade home. It fell with a thud.

You can open your eyes now, little one, it’s mostly housekeeping from now on. Kelm gave me this list of items they found:

•    +2 chain shirt
•    +1 longsword
•    ring of bestial friendship, seemingly fashioned of hair woven around small gemstones
•    2 masterwork throwing axes
•    2 potions of speak with animals
•    a jar of restorative ointment
•    vial of antitoxin
•    2 smokesticks
•    tanglefoot bag
•    2 thunderstones
•    145 gp

The owlbear was wearing barding worth 250 gold.

I ran out to get my bags where we packed your poor uncle’s remains, including all the little pieces I could find, and several sponges filled with blood. “The good news is, we can raise him,” Kelm assured the others. “We have it in the slush fund.”

Let this be a lesson to you, little girl: never get into trouble until you know your way out.

Pray for your uncle,
Bert Askew

1 comment:

  1. Best part: the Grigori dig. Very nice. And so nice to know that P.U.R.K. is a safe haven for those who enjoy the company of animals. What other riff-raff calls you fledgling nation home?