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, January 27, 2012

Letter 20—Justice Sits Not Easy

We decided to explore upstairs before opening the bronze doors at the heart of the complex. There we found an octagonal chamber under a 20 foot tall dome made of slabs of opaque white crystal glowing like pale moonlight, knitted together as if it were a giant inverted eye. The walls were covered with arcane symbols, stylized line art, and images of cyclopes. A 20 foot circle was incised into the stone of the floor directly below the eye's focus.

“It’s a trap,” I said, stating the obvious.

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“It could be a teleportation circle,” Lev speculated.

“Which usually means someone is going to kill you and they don’t want to mess up the room,” Cane added.

Lev said there was overwhelming conjuration and divination magic here but with no obvious clues and unwilling to unleash whatever the room was representing, we moved on to the massive bronze doors where yet another giant eyeball was graved. A trough of water leading to the basin ran beneath it.

The doors parted with a loud squeak, the channel of sulfurous water continuing down the center of the chamber. With a prayer to all that is good in the world, I cast light into the room. As I’d feared, we were met with a grisly sight—a small stone shrine bearing several heads, blood freshly clotted around their necks. Farther along the channel, now tinged with red, reached a pool, twin to the one where we’d fought the water elemental. In it knelt several headless men before a hideous charnel throne made from the victims of the one seated there—Vordakai.
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“Justice!” I whispered in awe.

He watched us for a moment unconcerned by our presence, as if dumb beasts had wandered in off the prairie. His one jeweled eye crinkling with amusement, or maybe greed. Then he stood regally, towering above us like the god he was pretending to be, ancient abomination, thrice-cursed lich.

As you know from your studies, “a lich is a necromancer who has chosen to become undead as a method of cheating death. The process involves the extraction of his life-force and its imprisonment in a specially prepared phylactery. As long as his phylactery remains intact he can ignore the passage of time.”

“We’re not prepared for this guy,” Trask gulped.

“I’m not prepared for undead at all,” Lev added with a worried voice.

“I’m a little prepared,” Cane shrugged, setting Sizzles down with care. “She’s snoring,” he added affectionately, giving her one last caress.

I considered casting hide from undead but Trask shook his head, counseling that a lich was too sharp to fall for that one. Then Vlad created a diversion with a blast of searing light as Lev teleported me beside the monster.

Trask riddled the lich with blunt, flaming arrows but his true battle was with Vordakai's assault on his will, leaving him unsure, cursing the day he had met us, threatening to walk away and leave us to our fate.

I saw Cane stop in mid-movement, like one of those mimes Little Billee mocks at the fair. A few seconds later he reanimated, as if nothing had happened, looking about himself with a  puzzled expression. Then he froze again—succumbing to what must have been to Vordakai's fowl curse.

Vlad used his last spell of searing light while Lev gave us a hearty pep talk: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall!” he enthused, running to assist Cane. Trask shot another flurry of bludgeoning arrows, scoring four times. Vordakai stopped laughing as I lashed out, barely nicking him but my backswing took off a pallid chunk from his desiccated haunch.

He disappeared.

“He’s invisible, teleported, or gone through a dimension door,” Trask growled.

“And healing!”

While we waited tensely for his inevitable return I set up my spiritual weapon, then had second thoughts and cast flames of the faithful on my sword instead. With just the sound of running water in the background, incongruous yet threatening as a dog’s growl, we carefully searched the rest of his chambers. On one side we discovered an ancient library behind a bookcase of heavy leather-cased tomes, separating it from the central chamber.

The respite allowed Lev to temporarily suppress Vordakai’s curse upon Cane, who looked up from the floor blinking, angry.

Meanwhile, Vlad began removing the bodies from the pool, hoping this might lessen Vordakai’s power. Trask disappeared, fading into darkness to catch Vordakai unaware. The rest of us looked warily around the room.

“He’s over here!” Trask shouted from behind the bookcase.

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I was standing right in front of him, thanks to Lev’s teleportation, as two of Trask’s arrows whipped past my ear to strike home. I thrust my sword into his medsection and was rewarded with the zombie’s grunt, whither of pain or remonstrance, I know not but I was immediately flooded with remorse—'What was I, pitiful man, trying to accomplish by challenging this powerful creature? He will consume me as he has all the others!' I nearly threw down my weapon in despair when I remembered that I was not just any pitiful man but sent by Old Deadeye, true to the mark.

“Justice!” I cried, raising my sword.

“You don’t question the Inquisitor’s will!” I heard Trask bellow as I returned to the fray, “He burns people!” Which isn’t entirely true—I didn’t burn Lily Tesketin.

Cane, Lev, and Trask used the distraction to hurt Vordakai further as he turned from one of us to the other in frustrated rage. Even so, he seemed to be gaining strength while ours dwindled away until he suddenly collapsed into a pile of foul smelling dust, jewel eye rolling to a stop by my feet. In the background I heard Cane sobbing about his greatest fear (whether a male direwolf or a human female I never learned).

It was Vlad that turned the trick, as much surprised as we were.

“He was that close to smoking us,”  Trask said with wonder, holding his fingers about half an inch apart. Later Bert Askew ecstatically informed us that by his estimate Vordakai had been in the tomb so long he had atrophied to less than half his strength. “You boys don’t deserve that kind of luck,” he crowed.

He’s right for once, praise Erastil for His protection.

Lev wrote this haiku:

Heart fiercely pounding
Comrades’ breathing; the trickle
of bloodied water.

We found:
+3 cloak of resistance
headband of mental prowess
+2 ring of protection
soul jar
Phylactery worth 3500 gold pieces as an art object
There was an ancient mound behind the throne, apparently where Vordakai threw the worldly wealth of his victims:
1140 platinum pieces
13,000 gold
103,000 silver
art objects worth19,500 gold
ring of friend shield (matching the one we found in Varnhold)
+2 ring of protection
+1 cloak of resistance
gloves of swimming and climbing
pouch holding 3 packets of dust of dryness
+1 cold iron magical beast bane flail
In the library were:
dozens of stone tablets weighing nearly 1000 pounds in all worth 10,000 gold to the appropriate scholar
Enough pages of spells to form a spellbook of every spell Vordakai had prepared in addition to 6 spells of each level up through 9—priceless
The last chamber was much like the others, a domed room filled with niches holding abominations—forty-two strangely shaped glass jars. Each one, about a foot tall and stopped with a clot of black wax, contained a swirling plume of glowing white smoke.

“Let’s take them back to the cathedral, release the good ones. . . .”

“And sell the evil ones,” Cane agreed, before stopping to stare listlessly at nothing in particular, the curse having returned.

“You can’t tell their alignments from the outside,” Trask lectured, sounding more like Kelm every day. How does he know so much about soul switching unless he and Kelm . . . no, in that way madness lies. I’m just glad they’re on my side.

“You can only research the jar, not the individual inside the jar,” he continued.

“Can’t a bad guy be in a good jar?” I asked.

“Look,” Lev flailed his arms, “The soul is still there, it’s been imprisoned!”

“It’s in a jar!” Trask countered brusquely.

“If a guy is in a jail cell, he can still freakin’! . . .” Lev stopped, for once at a loss. “You can touch them and talk to them, can’t you?” he said, reaching for one of the jars.

“Nooooo!” Don’t touch that,” Trask cried. “If you touch the jar it switches souls!”

“Are you sure?” Lev hesitated.

“Pretty sure. Don’t touch the jars.”

We carefully wrapped cloth around each one before packing it away with the rest of our luggage. Lev picked up the gem of Vordakai using mage hand and immediately tried to claw his own eye out. Fortunately Trask grabbed him first.

“Jeez, Lev wouldn’t pick up a soul jar but he grappled Vordakai!” Trask said while using a rear naked choke to put Lev down until the gem rolled from his grasp. We tied the dangerous thing in a cloth before putting it away for Kelm to study.

(In the City rumor has it of the strange things that occur in Kelm’s mage tower. I don’t want you to believe them, Pino, but unfortunately they’re true. That's why I think we should establish a community on Vordakai's island and encourage Kelm to rule here. He would enjoy sitting in this foul sulfuric chamber—although the blood staining the pools would be his own—performing dangerous experiments across the planes of existence instead of in a tower a couple blocks from my house.)

Cane wanted to carry Sizzles out but his condition was such that we ended up shoving them both inside the bag of holding. "Don't touch anything!" I told him while tying it closed.

Leaving Vordakai's Island
“Hey, guys, we just killed us an ancient cyclops lich—that’s pretty badass!” Trask crowed as we emerged into the sweet air. We continued to puzzle over Vordakai’s mystery while crossing the river, mounting our horses, and making our way back to civilization. For instance, the jade bracelet we’d found was likely a ring from Vordakai’s finger—we saw him wearing another. Maybe when Willis Gunderson found this place he removed this ring, waking the lich, and arousing his hunger.

“That wraith was Gunderson!” Lev suddenly realized of the elven body we’d found.

Once we reached Ilsegrad we gathered at the cathedral and prepared, with holy sanctity, to deal with anything we released from the jars be they demon, beast, or man. The ceremony began with an hymn sung by Trask and Cane (although Cane could only manage every other line, more or less, due to the curse).

Soul Jar*
Coming to you on a dusty road
Good loving, I got a cart load
And when you get it, you got something
So don't worry, 'cause I'm coming

I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
And that ain't all

Got what I got the hard way
And I'll make better each and every day
So honey, don't you fret
'Cause you ain't seen nothing yet

I'm a soul jar, oh
I'm a soul jar, play it Steve
I'm a soul jar, ha
I'm a soul jar

Grab the rope and I'll pull you in
Give you hope and be your only boyfriend
Yeah (yeah) yeah (yeah)

I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar
I'm a soul jar

Removing the black wax, we stood aside, the priest muttering prayers, while white smoke emerged, roiling intensely, forming a silvery gel where white bone appeared, then dark nerve, muscle, and vein. Organs slowly congealed and the heart began pumping crimson blood as lungs filled to capacity before erupting in the frightful scream of agony of the reborn. Finally, skin grew to swaddle them as the man, woman. or child—for it was the unlucky citizens of Varnhold that emerged—slid unconscious to the floor.

We met with them later that week at a feast in their honor at the town hall. We came unprepared for their lack of gratitude and the sheer anger they greeted us with, including Maestro Ervil Penrod, who wanted his books returned immediately, “That you stole from my room!” Apparently they had received a message borne by raven sent by a certain “B.A.” telling them of the ransacking of their town.

“Well you can’t have them!” I could imagine Kelm calling down from his tower.

The villagers crowded around us, more concerned about the state of their property than thankful for their lives. “What’s up with our town?”

“Welcome to the People’s Republic of the River Kingdoms,” Lev replied coolly, if inaccurately. “You’ve been assimilated.”

“Where’s our homes?” they demanded.

“If your homes have been integrated into . . . the  . . . uh . . . we’ll build you new homes. . . .” Lev said, voice trailing off as the citizenry erupted in fury.

I was incredulous. “After we released you from the soul jars?”

“Yeah,” Cane said, backing me up, “We saved your lives.”

“And while we were out you went and took our town, is that what you’re saying?” a villager spat, quivering like a rat terrier.

“While you were out?” Cane laughed. “Did you guys go out and eat dinner? You were dead!”

“I think I’m going to have to go out and tell some people,” Ervil pouted, like Bert Askew does when the Inn is out of his favorite flavor of ice cream. “I’m going to Tuskland to tell all about what you guys did to Varnhold.”

“How we freed you?” Lev sneered.

“Yeah, and then took our village.”

“We saved it from spriggans!”

“Thanks for waiting,” he replied with bitter contempt. “Thanks for believing that we were still alive.”

Well, we calmed them the best we could promising this deal:

1. We build them new homes or
2. They take their old home back and we build a new home twice that size for the citizens they displace

I"m overjoyed to report that the brewer of Cheerful Delver Stout had been among the refuges. We had a long discussion and he promised to visit Tuskland soon to open a brewery there. I offered to partner him and think it might be just the place to apprentice Little Billee the next time he drops out of school.

Once we’d settled the Varnholders back in Varnville we encountered the centaur princess Xamanthe on the outskirts of town at the head of twenty centaur warriors. She greeted us warmly, looking much refreshed, although her wounds had yet to completely heal. She led us to a circle near by a small creek where we watered and fed our horses. Then we joined them around a large fire as dusk settled the land to pass around the “peace” pipe.

“Look you guys, we got off on the wrong foot,” she said. “I talked to my mom and as long as we have our autonomy I think we can get along.”

They wanted us to guarantee that we will not clam their area east of the mountains.

“What will we get in return?” Cane asked.

“You don’t get war with us.”

We laughed nervously and took another puff from the pipe.

“Seriously, what have you got to trade?”

“We carry what we need on our backs," she replied exhaling smoke through her nostrils. "We feed our bellies and then we move on.”

“We make really good rope out of zong fiber,” another giggled.

“Fertilizer,” I suggested as a trade good to raucous laughter. I had to laugh, too. In fact everything seemed funny.

“We will guarantee your independence,” Chairman Lev proclaimed to gales of laughter. Then he pulled out our map of the region to pass around, broad black x’s covering a wide space east of the mountains, and the laughter died.

“Is that it?” Xamanthe said with a look of outrage. “That’s all I get?”

“That’s all from the territory we own,” Trask shrugged.

“We can help you take other territory,” Cane offered unhelpfully.

This did little to placate her. “It seems to me someone is trying to steal everything we own. I won’t let these farmers of yours,” she sneered, “disrupt my Nomen’s ancestral grounds!”

“We won’t touch your lands and as long as you don’t disturb ours . . .”

“We’ll pass through if we want to,” she sniffed.

“Exactly,” he agreed. “You won’t have problems with us.”

“We’re neighbors and that’s how neighbors are,” Cane added, for once forgetting how much he loathes neighbors.

“Until someone puts up fences, man,” Trask whispered fretfully. “I tell you, this is not going to end well!”

We negotiated for hours as she continued passing around her pipe while expertly wheedling every possible concession from us. “We have sacred lands up here where we find sacred mushrooms and so forth,” she said, eyes half closed, a smile playing on her lips. “We go on vision quests.”

“All right, all right,” we conceded in resignation. Always remember this, dear Pino, “Good neighbors make good fences.”

Statue of Vordakai in Tuskland
Afterward we opened Zzamas’s chest—remember the giant phase spider lady from the ethereal plane?—where we found:

wand of dimension door with 22 charges
spellbook worth 2475 gold

Finally, it was our great joy to return to Tuskland where we were greeted by Bert Askew, who laughed with joy when one of his messenger birds saluted me with a streak of off-white droppings across my broad black hat. His smile quickly faded, though, as he read the contents of the letter, which arrived from our neighbors to the west. It was the mayor of Tatzylford, Loy Rezbin, beseeching our help against “armies of bandits.” So once again I leave my bed unrumpled as I ride to defend our land and the dreams of your father.

With regrets at not seeing you,
Uncle Marquand

* Expected apologies to David Porter, Sam Moore, and Isaac Hayes (not to mention Booker T. & the M.G.’s). 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Letter Nineteen—Bird is the Word

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of roc-sausage, groats, and centaur milk we kissed Xamanthe goodbye and hurried back to the island to the long, dark tunnel where I’d poked my head in the day earlier. After about 100 yards we came to a closed door where the room was empty except for shelves and a few bits of pottery—a burial ground.

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We were immediately set upon by two soul eaters, attacking Sizzles and myself. As you know from your studies a soul eater has, “Two elongated and deathly pallid arms protruding from its smoky body as it slithers silently through the air. The soul eater prowls and hunts, constantly seeking living souls upon which to gorge itself.”

I remembered Bert Askew cackling as he told us about the abilities of the soul eater during one of his interminable lectures. “When they’ve deprived you of all your wisdom,” he leered, “that’s when they suck up your soul!”

And that’s what they were doing to me, I felt myself grow woozy, my thoughts unravel. But whatever my problems were, they were far worse for Sizzles who, with a low moan, fell unconscious to the floor. Knowing that the best way to protect her was to kill the creatures before they could drain her life force, Cane and I softened them up for Trask to kill.

Being unable to revive the unconscious Sizzles and unwilling to leave her behind, Cane carried her around his neck like a big fur collar. Perhaps I only imagined that I could hear her purring.

We had three doors to search, Cane checking for traps as we entered the first one. There was a shoulder-height stone bench against the far wall. Apparently, this chamber was used to prepare the dead for internment, littered with stone vases and bronze funerary tools. A man-sized statue of a swayback humanoid, hand clamped over his single eye, stood morosely against the north wall. Cane set Sizzles down gently.

“A brain-poker,” Trask said cheerfully, picking a device with a sharp round prod at one end. (“Worth about 350 gold,” I imagined Bert Askew saying, rubbing his hands with glee.)

Behind a secret door we found another empty room, walls patterned with large staring eyes, all honing onto one spot on the north wall where a carving of a giant stylized eye loomed, the pupil an intricately engraved relief about the size of the palm of my hand.

We studied it for some time, even dangling the bracelet in front of it. We could tell that strong conjuration magic was emanating from there but we eventually admitted defeat, reluctantly leaving it for a later time.

Public Domain*
The next room’s walls were covered in lime-plaster frescos, colors vibrant, of swayback cyclopes when they ruled these lands.

We returned to the larger room, searching its alcoves carefully in growing frustration. “Vordakai come out!” Lev shouted, voice echoing unanswered in the darkness

Behind yet another door we found a tunnel rank with the stench of sulfur and tar, leading to a fetid lake of burning black tar. In the gloom I could see milky water bubbling from the rock walls of the far side where a stony shelf emerged beneath a door swollen in its frame. The broken stumps of two support posts protruded where a wooden bridge once spanned the morass.

On the ledge an ancient zombie wizard stood—human, its flesh foul and blackened by the room’s vapors, standing motionless, wearing tatters of robes, jaw slack, holding in its fist a curved knife.

“I don’t suppose you could lower a cage for us, sir?” Cane called, setting Sizzles down. He and Trask unlimbered their longbows, raining a terrible storm of arrows upon the hapless creature. Shredded like Opparan beef, it toppled headlong into the tarpit.

Thanks to his ring of freedom of movement Cane was able to ignore the clinging effect of the boiling tar—if not its burning—to quickly retrieve the zombie’s corpse, returning with it to the ledge where it had stood for so long. It carried:
+1 silver dagger
+2 ring of protection
book in tar-stained pouch
With a howl of glee Trask loped to the edge of the tar and flung himself across, landing atop the zombie and causing its intestines to squirt like snot out of Little Billee’s nose. Cane then carried the rest of us across, including his beloved wolf, still unconscious.

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As Vlad healed a miserable and scorched Cane we forced our way through the tightly jammed door onto a rock fall, then followed a corridor leading to a stairwell. We continued like this until reaching one more set of doors.

Behind them was a large chamber where shadows vied for attention with a scene of carnage so gruesome that, dear Pino, I pause here to remind myself that it is my duty to inform you of the horror that inhabits our world, so that you may be better prepared for life in this world when I'm no longer here to protect you.

A great stone table occupied the center of the room, seated around it were nearly three dozen men, women, and children slumped in their death throes, mouths agape in terror, heads broken open and their brains removed, all that’s left of the poor citizenry of Varnhold, their rigor jaws screaming one word:


At the head of the table was a regally dressed gentleman, heavy gouts of dried blood staining his jacket and pieces of his brain, one eye looking bemused, as if he was about to ask a question, the other hanging forlornly from his head. On his hand an ornate ring with an emblem that I recognized as the state seal of Varnhold. He was the honorable Maegar Varn. Who, or what, brought them here? Does Xamanthe know?

That’s when we noticed there were zombies in the house.

Vlad quickly blessed us as we moved to confront them. I shot one but by then he was at me, chopping away with his honking big great-axe. If it’d had lips it would have smacked them with anticipation. I could hear Lev telling us how wonderful we were from the alcove. “Believe in yourselves,” he called just as a second cyclops closed in on me, growling through rotted vocal cords. “I’ll be able to do more soon,” Lev added helpfully.

Trask filled one of them with arrows and Cane finished him. Vlad cast holy smite, blinding a couple of them.

“Poppa poppa oom mow mow poppa oom mow mow mow!” Trask yelled with excitement. "Bird bird bird, bird is the word!" he continued inexplicably. “I have heard that the bird is the word!”

I hit the one who had wounded me while moving under cover from the other at my colleagues’ urging. Three more of the creatures lurched toward Cane who was badly injured, reeling from his wounds.

I killed one, his flesh soft, putrid, in my grasp, immediately piercing another one with an arrow. Cane fought back furiously as Trask’s arrows severed one cyclops zombie's medulla oblongata neatly, horizontally and vertically. “That’s why they call me the black bisector,” he bragged while his eyes searched the room for other targets.

The tide of the battle quickly turned in our favor and soon the room was dead quiet again except for the sound of Vlad’s healing prayers. I reflected on the nature of a being that could direct such carnage. Oh Pino, I have fought many dangerous and powerful creatures, both human and otherwise, and I've walked in the land of the dead with the queen of Korvosa, but for once I can honestly say: I am afraid.

Cane must feel the same way because I saw him tense as his skin turned rough and bark-like, like a cat fluffs its tail. I've never seen him do that except when Sizzles needs a scratching post when molting.

We entered a crypt next, floor strewn with rubble and the offal of open graves. On the floor was a corpse of a middle-aged blond-haired ulfen man, dead nearly two weeks. But his spirit remained as an angry dark spectre that charged us in fury. We sent him to his ancestors.

Thanks to Paizo
At the back end of the room stairs ascended to a landing where we found another secret door. Behind it a bubbling fountain stinking of sulfur disappeared into a sluice cut in the stone of the floor where it flowed beneath bronze double doors.

“Bleeargh!” A water elemental erupted from its depths, flinging itself at us like the proverbial surfin’ bird. Fire and searing light quickly tamed its roiling waves and soon we were immersed in warm steam. There we paused.

Vordakai, I promise you one thing only—Justice!

Sleep peacefully sweet princess,
Uncle Marquand
*The Cyclops Polyphemus—Annibale Carracci