[Author’s note: What are these “AoA” tags? Check out this post to know why I’m writing these and why they don’t have anything to do with superheroes. After writing only the occasional cut-scene, I decided to do a quick narrative before every Pathfinder session instead of a recap. We already had someone in the group writing recaps, so mine felt redundant, and there were too many opportunities for fiction writing that I was letting pass me by. Below are a collection of intros from our sessions. I don’t love using present tense, but it’s what fits best into these tabletop roleplaying sessions.]
Session 99: Back in Saggorak
The black-clad duergar dashes into the room on short legs, her pale eyes taking in the wall of wind across the dining hall’s doorway. She curses in Undercommon, draws her shortsword, and plunges ahead, past one of the dwarves. Wind tears at the cloth around her armor and she’s through to the other side, where the pitched battle is underway.
“The alchemist–” she begins in Undercommon, then looks to her allies, frowns, and switches to Dwarven. “The alchemist is dead. Their invisible assassin killed her with a single shot. We can’t run, so either we kill them now or die.”
“We kill them, then!” one of the dwarves bellows, and swings his flail wide over his head.
Session 100: King Harral
Sabine Sterling picks her way around the apparently former-palace of King Harral. To Sabine’s wide, yellow eyes the structure–the very stone–has been reduced to slag from extreme heat. Undoubtedly the heat of a magma dragon’s breath, she thinks. Yes, see there? Those vertical slashes in that bit of unmelted stone may very well be claw marks. She studies the place, walking slowly in her perimeter study. The moans and wails of Saggorak’s undead have faded to the background. Indeed, she is concentrating so thoroughly that she hardly notices her surroundings at all, including the other structures nearby.
So it is a great surprise when a voice interrupts. “Sabine Sterling… Seeker of knowledge and arcane lore. Wisdom hoarder. Enter this place, Sabine… Come.”
She glances around to see who else had heard the voice, but Obedience is inspecting another part of the rubble, the closest but still too far to hear a whispered voice. None of her other companions are looking up from their own inspections. Only her. Only she had heard it. And the voice had called her by name, hadn’t it?
“Come Sabine. Important knowledge. Vital. Things you must know. In here…” She examines the structure from which this beckoning call seems to be emanating. Like most of Saggorak, the stone is crumbled by age and battle, its original purpose difficult to discern. But its pillars and towering walls are impressive, and relatively untouched by whatever had destroyed the palace. And is that the image of a book in the fresco there, worn away? She takes a step forward, King Harral’s palace momentarily forgotten. What is this place?
Session 101: Dead Man’s Party
The difficult-to-discern form of Casper the wraith appears and bows low to you all.
“Honored allies. My mighty King asks that I escort you to the regalia he wore in life. It is not a long journey. Please, follow me.”
While he escorts you, anything you want to say to each other or Casper?
“Powerful magics surround the King’s regalia. It is also the site of Old King Harral’s death, and where members of his personal guard made a last stand to protect him. As a result, powerful members of the Bound guard the robes, and they will attack anyone who enters without parley or discernment.”
“Only someone with Good in their heart may wear the King’s regalia. Indeed, Old King Harral has often said it is why he has not returned to that place – for fear that his undeath has twisted him in some way so as to prevent him from even touching the robes. He often worries about such things. It says quite a bit about what he sees in you that he suggests you obtain it.”
And after some travel through the ruined streets of Saggorak, you come to a once-great manor. It is two stories, and once supported six small towers, designed to echo the architecture of a castle in miniature. One of these towers has utterly crumbled, while another has collapsed, falling across the building and heavily damaging it. In contrast to the majority of the building, the southernmost room and towers are in relatively good repair, and stone doors seal up the place in several places, though the doors only hang loosely in their frames.
“Good luck, honored allies. I shall see you when the task is done.” And with that he blinks out.
Session 102: Saggorak Poltergeists
The foyer of this haunted hall had been a welcoming place. Falsely welcoming, it turned out, yet still a brief respite from the decaying ruins of Saggorak.
Beyond the foyer, you are back to decaying ruins. The most alarming feature of this once-great hall is the shattered ceiling, where one of building’s six towers has fallen long ago, crushing the second floor and sending pieces of the ceiling everywhere. Bits of broken and desiccated furniture mix with the rubble, making the original purpose of this place difficult to discern.
You all take in the sprawling hall through black-and-white darkvision. Between cracks in the walls and doorways leaning in their frames to the outside, the screams and moans of Saggorak drift into the interior.
The party begins to fan out, Coxsackie and Margaret taking point. But then Sabine’s voice echoes within the ruins to stop, as her arcane sight takes in the room. The dragon sorcerer warns of several unseen ghosts, just as they raise their clawed hands to attack.
Session 103: The King’s Regalia
Session 104: The King’s Fury
As you exit the once-great halls of King Harral’s former residence, the outlined form of Casper appears and bows low to you all.
“Oh. My. It is– I apologize. It is difficult to find words seeing someone in the King’s regalia. I did not believe that I could be moved this long after my death. Well done, honored allies.”
And he stays silent, bowing, until you believe he may be frozen like the poltergeists inside. With his head down, though, he speaks again.
“Perhaps you will defeat the usurper after all. You are truly sent by the gods. You have my thanks and respect, and if I may say so, elf, the robes suit you. Where may I escort you now?”
Session 105: Sanctum of the Starved
“Three days.” Commander Grokar Hammersong sighs heavily and smooths his black, thick beard with a calloused hand.
“What do you make of it, Sergeant Arna? Three days and we have heard nothing. Still believe that it means the threat is simply not yet handled? Not that they’re dead?” His thick fingers absently move from his beard to the hilt of his warhammer.
The sergeant shrugs. She still has the black line painted from the left side of her forehead, down through her eye to chin.
“It’s not as if an enemy has emerged from the tunnel either, sir. And other than the continued tension and guild skirmishes in the city, we don’t have evidence that any new acts of terrorism have occurred. So they’re not dead, I reckon.”
“Indeed. Your faith in our outsider friends remains… bolstering, Sergeant.”
“Yes sir. I try, sir.”
Hammersong’s hand strays back to his beard, smoothing it. “Still, it does not strike me as a good sign. Organize a scouting party to send in at first torch tomorrow. I want to know what’s happening out there.”
Both dwarves’ eyes are locked on the tunnel entrance within the Hidden Forge. It is a dark, rough-hewn hole into the earth. Our camera zooms slowly in on that hole until it is simply a black screen. And we pull back, with many sets of eyes locked on another dark, rough-hewn hole into the earth. But this one has old, battered ties and tracks leading into it, and the sound of moans and shrieks echoing in the air.
Session 106: Falrok Denied
Wump, wump, wump–The sound we described last time as a subwoofer–fills the mines’ caverns as a crudely-made stone golem pounds relentlessly on an invisible wall. Veins of lazurite glow along cracks and joints in the golem, filling the chamber with an eerie light akin to a blacklight.
Wump, wump, wump.
Behind the golem, swaying but otherwise still, is a skeleton so enormous its head almost touches the marrowstone ceiling. The glowing pits of its eyes roam from figure to figure, studying you all like a hungry tiger behind glass. Its huge, clawed hands flex and relax repeatedly. Whatever noise it may be making is lost behind the enchanted wall, and the constant barrage of the golem’s fists.
Wump, wump, wump.
Sabine knows that any moment her spell will have run its course, and the wall will cease to exist. And when it does, the tiger will be free.
Wump, wump, wump.
Session 107: The End of the Starved
Only minutes ago, when Sabine’s first wall of force had dropped, you all were ready for the golem and gashadokuro. As soon as the barrier disappeared, you swung into frenzied action.
This time is different. The wall vanishes with a whispering puff of magic, and the only sound rushing in to fill the space is… silence.
You’ve come to this place, deeper into the earth than you’ve ever traveled–miles below ground with tons of rock above you–to find and destroy a ghoul named Falrok. Yet last you saw he was loping deeper into the mine before he disappeared. And now, no sign of him remains.
Session 108: To the Temple
You had noticed it from a distance but not realized it was your destination until you are practically there. An enormous natural pillar of stone, maybe a full quarter mile in diameter, reaches from cavern ceiling to floor. Its enormity is difficult to comprehend until you approach, like ants walking up to an ancient redwood tree.
And built into the base of this natural stone giant is the Temple of All Gods.
Although worn by the thousands of years since its construction, Obe you see it is still a breathtaking marvel of stonemasonry. As you get closer you can make out that the façade has images of a single dwarven hero in various acts of defeating all manner of strange monsters, single-handedly building huge structures, and forging powerful weapons. A pair of curving stone stairs rise up to meet a looming iron double door in the middle of the building, and these doors are flanked by identical enormous statues of armored dwarves kneeling. All along the approach to the Temple and the colossal stone pillar, there is rubble, bloodstains, and bones that have been picked clean. Other than that, though, it is silent and empty and waiting.
Session 109: The Mukradi
As you approach, the pillar towering over you, something begins shifting all along the stairs. What you first assumed were deep shadows resolve themselves into black, chitinous scales of a gargantuan centipede as it untangles itself from the structure. It had apparently been wrapped all through the stairs, and as it moves and moves and moves you are like, holy shit how long is this thing? Then it rears up you and see that not only is it friggin’ huge, it has three giant heads.
Session 110: Temple’s First Floor
Jacques du Tank drums his fingers on the rough wood of his desk in a tuneless, distracted rhythm. His other arm lays tucked away on his lap. He doesn’t consciously realize that he hides the handless limb out of sight as if behind a shield. Yet he does, and these days his mighty shield is the large, functional desk of his office.
With this shield, the battle he wages is with the mounting administrative tasks of Castle Redemption. Every week, more would-be adventurers show up to Breachill to join the Sunknights, and each person must be housed, screened, trained, and found a role. Increasingly, fights break out among the recruits that need settling. The tension between the townsfolk and their would-be defenders increases every week as well. The result is that these days he finds himself arbitrating conflict within Breachill even more than addressing threats beyond.
Yet his work is more than simply a growing militia. Every week, the renovations of the citadel increase in complexity, and town artisans must be paid, listened to, or reminded for the hundredth time of the purpose behind each construction. In addition, Councilwoman Gardenia has deferred to Jacques more and more on civic matters, and recently he has become a voting member of the Breachill Town Council, the town’s representative from the growing presence of Castle Redemption.
The result is piles upon piles of scrolls needing to be read, needing to be signed, needing to be changed, or worse of all, requiring a meeting. Jacques has grown to hate administrative meetings most of all.
He can’t honestly remember the last time he was in the training yard, with his actual shield upon his handless arm.
Jacques frowns, his fingers still drumming out the distracted beat. Memories plague him, of being at Jethro Vermillion’s side, in this very citadel, uncovering the first signs of the Cinderclaw cult. Signs that would lead him to the Mwangi Expanse, sweating beneath heavy armor as a giant crocodile dragged him into the swampy depths.
Wondering plagues him as well. He is wondering for the thousandth time if he should have accompanied Jethro into Dreamgate after the Mwangi, and whether Jacques might have somehow saved his friend’s life. It is a thought that visits him constantly, day and night.
He is also wondering if he should have traveled through Jewelgate after Jethro’s death. He is wondering whether the almost three weeks of silence forebode any doom for Obe and the others. But at least on this last thought, he reminds himself, that is why he sent Tak. Jacques trusts the fighter to keep his friend safe.
Increasingly, he is wondering whether these castle defenses are the best way to uphold Jethro’s ideals, to keep the world safe from the cleric’s haunting visions. Is this mountain of administrative work the best and highest use of his skills?
After almost an hour of remembering and brooding and wondering and worrying, his fingers stop their drumming.
His eyes flick to the piles of scrolls littering every inch of the desk’s surface. He sighs, shakes his head, and reaches for the quill.
A quick knock on his door precedes it opening with a rush. The pale halfling woman with bright, braided red hair is out of breath, her eyes wide.
“Captain!” Betsy Jadefinders says. “We’ve got trouble, to the South. Big friggin’ trouble, sir. Get your armor, sword, and shield, sir. We need you, sir. Right. Now.”