[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 111: Demons and Dead
[no intro this session]
Session 112: Small Forge, Big Forge
Margaret Arodeni’s keen, beady eyes roam over the mausoleum floor. So many weapons. So many scraps of armor. Dozens, no hundreds, of each litter the cracked stone floor. Margaret searches for the inscription of runes, something pristine amidst the piles that would suggest magic. But everything looks ravaged by age. Hammers are rusted. Axe blades are chipped and broken. Armor is pock-marked and dented. Everything in the room appears to be the refuse of a fallen army, an army that fought valiantly but had ultimately lost.
Still, Margaret holds faith in Iomedae to guide her way. She steps into the room, scanning left to right. Hundreds upon hundreds of small stone or metal urns line narrow shelves along the walls, like silent sentinels to the discarded, ruined armaments that had failed to save their dwarven hosts.
Coxsackie, ever curious, follows at Margaret’s heels. Both of their footsteps echo in the chamber.
The ratfolk paladin grunts in disappointment and opens her mouth to say something, then stops.
An axe is vibrating, wobbling on the floor. In an instant, everything on the floor is shuddering. Then, as Margaret and Coxsackie’s eyes widen, the pieces of armor and weapons begin sliding noisily towards the center of the room as if dragged by invisible hosts.
As they join in a mountainous pile, blood begins pooling. It is thicker than blood should be, more like sap or clotted gravy. And as it gathers within and between the pieces of metal and split leather, the blood takes on a solidity of form. Margaret has seen many people’s bodies torn asunder, their organs spilled onto the battlefield. That is what she is seeing now, she realizes, as if a giant has been turned inside out, its insides congealed around the axes and hammers and armor into a single, undulating mass of terror.
That mass rises, towering over the two small figures in the room.
Session 113: The Battle with Ilssrah
Session 114: Ilssrah’s End
If you’re reading this, it means that I was not in fact worthy under Droskar’s eyes and have been cast into the Dark Smith’s embrace to work tirelessly and endlessly under his watchful gaze.
I have no family with which to give my worldly possessions, nor do I have a desire to see my hard work perverted in such a way as to undo what I have managed to accomplish in my ceaseless attempts to exact revenge in the name of my god.
With that in mind, any wealth that I have obtained should be distributed to the Scarlet Triad’s coffers. I do not believe in everything Uri and the Triad do, but they have proven aligned enough to my goals to make good use of my hard-earned coin.
My weapons and armor, on the other hand, including my holy chain Fleshroaster, should be given to the duergar slave lords of Hagegraf. I hope that a champion among them will find strength in these armaments to rise up to the Five Kings Mountains and subjugate every member of the dwarven race they can find.
It is my final wish that my body be consumed in the fires of a forge, with my holy symbol adorning my corpse. It is the only possession with which I will face my god and atone for the weakness that led to my demise.Ilssrah Embermead’s last will and testament
Session 115: Get Ready for the Dragon
The duergar slave lord that Ilssrah had called Innika scans the room, squinting in the bright light. Every single one of her allies now lies dead, dying, or destroyed, while her five opponents yet live. Impossible, yet undeniable.
She drops her longbow clattering to the stone floor.
Innika raises both hands and says to Margaret in broken common, “I surrender.”
The armored, ratfolk champion nods once and begins to sheath her sword. Coxsackie, seeing Margaret’s gesture shrugs and relaxes, the fight over.
And that is when Leilani Greyara, the curse of her mystery plain across her corpse-like, rotting features strides forward. She mutters and gestures violently toward the duergar.
Innika’s eyes go wide and she screams a pain-wracked, existential scream. Her spirit blasted from her broken body, she falls dead to the ground.
Session 116: The Dragonscarred & Kradolai
As you open the heavy iron door, the temperature rises, not dramatically but noticeably. You’re faced with a square chamber with no defining characteristics at all–no furniture, no carvings in the walls, no hint at its purpose.
You get the sense that the five skeletal figures within the chamber had been utterly still until the door opened, yet now their eyes glow with inner flame and limbs move fluidly.
Recall that in the notes from the room upstairs with the treachery demons, you discovered that the dragon Veshumirix has several guardians in his realm, including a group of valiant dwarven heroes from Highhelm who attempted to slay him 50 years ago. The notes said that Veshumirix admired their tenacity and spirit and ensorcelled their souls to guard the entrance of his lair.
These are clearly those vanquished souls. Each has the stocky dwarven build, obvious despite the lack of flesh. Each is armed and armored differently [describe], but their weapons are wreathed in identical flames. And, as I said last week, they speak with identical voices, almost like some creepy, undead hivemind.
“Who is this?”
“Not the cleric.”
“There are intruders in Veshumirix’s domain.”
“We must destroy them for our master.”
Session 117: Veshumirix
The pile of treasure shimmers and dances in the superheated air. And then, large bubbles begin to appear on the magma’s surface, expanding and popping in slow motion.
What at first you think is a large rock begins pushing out of the lava. And then it rises, up and up and up, until you are confronted with this: [show image] [roll frightful presence]
“Ah, so the cleric is dead. She saw you all as a test of her faith. Apparently it is a test that she failed. What do you want here, small ones? What quest has led to the destruction of my guardians and allies? Are you treasure hunters or simply mad for power?”
Session 118: The Queen of Saggorak
Little Margaret Arodeni, mechanically small, is flying fifteen feet above a lake of bubbling magma, her armor and longsword gleaming in the orange light. She is miniscule compared to the dragon made of molten rock, mechanically huge, directly in front of her. Veshumirix glows with an inner light, cracks in his rocky scales an eerie burnt orange. That inner glow begins to expand in the dragon’s chest as Veshumirix rears his head back, positioning his maw right before the champion of Iomedae. And then, with a roar, lava floods out in a wide cone.
[later in the session…]
When he sees the crown in Obe’s hands, everything about the room changes in subtle but noticeable ways. The graveknights step back, and you realize the vague air of menace is gone. King Harral’s face transforms, his glowing green eyes going wide.
“Ah… You, you brought it back. Despite my behavior earlier, despite my mistrust, you bring me back the crown of Saggorak. Well. That is something.”
He takes the crown reverently but doesn’t put it on his head. Those glowing eyes turn to regard each of you, lingering on Sabine longest, and eventually settling on Margaret.
“Lady Knight, I do request of you a private audience with Leilani. I vow to you on my undying protection of this city that she will not be harmed in my presence.”
When the rest of you are gone, King Harral turns the crown wonderingly in his fingers.
“Leilani Greyara. My attendant tells me you worship Pharasma, not Magrim.”
“I am not much of a theologian, truth be told. I didn’t wonder at matters of afterlife until I found myself unable to perish in the protection of this city. But I have spent countless hours since wondering and praying. Perhaps you can help me. What am I, Leilani? Am I force for Good in this dark place, or am I a perversion, shaped by its Evil?”
Session 119: Jethro’s Almost-Rise
We have a montage of scenes as you all exit Kovlar, with no Leilani Greyara but with Archmage Hromgar Nalruven, who has a travel sack brimming with scrolls. This is not an end of Return of the Jedi scene where everyone is partying and music is blaring. Instead, there is an awe to it. You have done things that only the dwarven heroes of legend have done, if rumors can be believed, and you all I’m imagining are radiating confidence and power whether you mean to or not. The entire city has turned out, all wanting to see you one last time. But as you walk from the city’s walls and into Saggorak, there is also an air of uncertainty and fear. Leilani Greyara has announced a time of change, and they don’t know what that change means for their safety.
We then see you all picking your way through the ruins of Saggorak. There are less undead than any other time you’ve been there.
Did you all want to make a last stop to see Leilani, or have you made your goodbyes?
We then see you in the bejeweled caverns outside the waystation, carefully avoiding the patches of lifeleech crystals (which Hromgar wants to investigate as you pull him along).
And finally, you are standing outside of Jewelgate, on the cavern side.
“Oh, well. This is quite exciting, indubitably. Fascinating, even. What happens next?”
You emerge into Alseta’s Ring, a large circular chamber with a domed ceiling. The walls and ceiling are elegantly carved with elven script. To the north are twin double doors in a squared-off column, doors that you know animate to become door wardens. In the center of the room stand six statues of elves, all facing outward and arranged around a pleasantly-burbling fountain. The statue facing you is Yuelral the Wise, the elven goddess of magic, crystals, and jewelers.
As you emerge, the person who was clearly napping on one of the western benches rolls off with a yelp and a start. He is a halfling, his hair overly oiled so that it looks sort of stylish, but actually kind of gross. He’s wearing what appear to fine clothes, but Obe’s eyes quickly pick up that they are faux imitations of nice clothes, badly rumbled. He rubs at his eyes.
“Oh Gods! You came back! On my watch! What luck!”
“Oh, right.” He rubs his palms on his pants and when he shakes yours it’s still super sweaty. “My name is Lucky, Sunknight trainee. Picked by Jacques du Tank himself at the last Call for Heroes!” “And of course I know who you are. Oh wow, Jacques is going to–Oh! Jacques! He’s going to want to see you! Well come on then! No time to wait!”
Lucky scampers through the citadel, and though it’s a bit of a blur what you note is that it is unusually empty. There are laborers and artisans clearly there for some kind of work, though Obe you don’t spot Amera Lang among them, and there are various people, mostly elderly and teens, sweeping or cleaning. They all startle at seeing you, gasping and freezing with hands to mouths, eyes as big as saucers. But there are no other Sunknights, no sounds of practice swords clattering together or other noises you’d become familiar with before heading through Jewelgate.
Almost before you can take it all in, you’re exiting the castle and heading down the road east towards Breachill. Suddenly, for the first time in a month, you experience… sunshine. The weather is perfect on this mid-summer day: Upper-70s, with wisps of cloud scattered across the glorious dome of blue sky overhead. I imagine that despite Lucky’s urging, you all pause for a moment a lift your faces to take in the fresh air and outdoors.
Eventually you enter town from its northeastern edge, back in Breachill. There is a mix of familiar local faces and newcomers, all going about their lives, and you’re struck at the diversity of ancestries, so different from your time underground. Those people who see you have the same reaction as those in the citadel, people jerking to a stop. Some run away to go tell friends or family members. Heads dip together, whispering feverishly. You’d felt your growing fame in this small town, but it’s on a whole new level now. It’s like people looking up and suddenly seeing Oprah Winfrey, or the Pope. As Lucky keeps jogging forward, you pass by the renovated Pickled Ear on your left and, eventually, you cross the northern bridge over Breach Creek, and out of the small town (once again, the contrast from the ruined metropolis of the 1300-person Breachill, I imagine, strikes you).
About a mile south of town you find several erected tents, flying flags with the Sunknight emblem. Standing outside one of the tents is Ik-Topis, the monk, doing forms in the sunlight. He sees Lucky and then his eyes raise to you all coming behind and he quickly ducks into the biggest tent.
Of course, you’re all distracted by what’s beyond the tents.
Thousands–and I mean thousands–of skeletons. A field of them taking up your full field of vision. They are skeletons of all sizes, all ancestries, some wearing scraps of clothes, others in tattered armor and carrying rusted weapons, and some simply bones and clawed fingers. There are animal skeletons too, horses, bears, mountain lions, and the like. Scattered here and there are larger skeletons, like the hulking brutes some of you fought in the Pickled Ear at the beginning of Book 3.
And dwarfing all of them are two enormous (mechanically Huge) zombies. They look like they might have been trolls once, but they have over a half dozen heads each crowding their shoulders, and slabs of putrefied flesh hangs limply off parts of their torsos, arms, and legs.
The skeletons and those two towering zombies are facing you, maybe a half mile away across a large grassy field. But none of them are moving. Their eye sockets glow with a violet light familiar to Obe and Coxsackie. But they are stock still.
The tent flap is pushed aside and Jacques du Tank, Betsy Jadefingers, and Ik-Topis exit it. Jacques and Betsy are armored and armed to the hilt. They don’t look like they’ve slept much in the past several days.
The wind shifts momentarily and the strong stench of rot hits you. Then it’s gone as quickly as it was there.
Session 120: Jethro’s Rise
I imagine everyone in the courtyard is panting, slightly wide-eyed at what just happened–the crazy cast of characters in a chanting circle, seeing Jethro with angelic wings for a moment before he cries out in pain and then of course him deconstructing into pieces of sunshine Tron-style–looking right into Obe’s eyes as he did!, and then of course the confused but quite scary Angel of Justice that attacked you and definitely could have killed some of the NPCs present if not for some excellent diplomacy rolls.
And as the angel fades into the daylight and as the sight returns to the eyes of those blinded, Chioma, angel of Sarenrae looks rattled. They speak in dual voices, one a lovely female soprano and another equally lovely male bass.
“I– I do not understand. The ritual should have succeeded. What could have possibly gone wrong?”
Session 121: Voz’s Last Stand
The huddle of tents, each flying the Sunknight banner, are empty and still.
The Nose is back at Castle Redemption, tending the signal fire there and likely in talks with Breachill’s town council on the situation. Octavius has taken the shift at Guardians Way.
The rest of the Sunknights are here, outside the tents, standing agape, pacing, or fidgeting as they watch, transfixed by the scene playing out before them.
An undead army shakes the ground with their advance, led by what seems to be the necromancer Voz Lirayne, though none of them had understood her to wield this kind of power.
And the newly resurrected Jethro Vermillion and his Redeemers are facing them, six against thousands.
“Jacques shouldn’t ‘a gone with them,” Betsy Jadefingers says, twirling her daggers nervously and shifting from side to side. “He’s almost dead already, and the horde isn’t even upon them yet.”
“Perhaps we should charge down into the fray! Stand with our fearless Captain, and what not?” Gerhard fondles his generous moustache with one finger, his other hand holding his blunderbuss across one shoulder.
“You’re all bluster, Pendergrast, but you know as well as I that we’d be more hindrance than help down there. We’ll be lucky if Jacques– Oh gods! He’s dropped.”
“Never fear, my dear Betsy. Jethro will save him. He’s quite good. Inspiring, isn’t it? Seeing him back?”
“Look at that champion of Iomedae charge that behemoth,” Dirk Rattlejaw rumbles. “It’s like the stuff of legends.”
“What do you think this is, boyo? The gods themselves are watching what’s happening today!”
“I say, can anyone see the goblin with the hat? It seems perhaps he’s fled. No wonder he’s survived this long, what?”
“No, he’s there. I saw a flash of him in the grass. Never imagined someone could hide in broad daylight in an open field, but it’s fucking breathtaking is what it is.”
The cacophonous roar of the multi-headed troll carries across the field. Several of the Sunknights scream. Lucky the halfling faints.
“Well, it’s come to it then. Either Jethro and his heroes end this now, or…”
“Or we’re dead, added to that bitch’s army.”
“I believe in Jethro,” Gerhard says aloud, seeming almost to surprise himself with the words. “It’s why we’re all here, what? It is the stuff of legends, Betsy. Let us all watch and appreciate what comes next.”