Crystal Noose (Adventure)

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  1. Opening storm and refugees.
  1. Day 0-1: party rests after prior adventure – preparing to head out to Grebell forest and next leg of research:
  1. “Though your sojourn in the feywild took no time in this world, it did not leave you without effect. Some may have tried to get a couple more hours sleep after your wee-early-hours return to this plane, but largely failed. Shortly after dawn you’ve all given up on sleep and repair to the Ponce for breakfast. You feel battered physically and mentally; waves of nausea wash past throughout the day, as do headaches and dizziness. You mull events, trying to get a grip on the strangeness of your adventure, which is already taking on a dreamlike quality. Looking down a street you experience a double-vision effect and see the landscape of the feywild overlaying it – or is it just a hallucination? In the dining room of the inn all the patrons briefly flicker into visions of fey creatures – don’t they? You wander the city for a couple hours and find your way back to the keep and the lodge; it’s a day for rest, healing, repair, and perhaps even a moment of relaxation if possible. (Party can make use of shops, market, armorers, etc.) By evening the effects have mostly passed. It’s autumn in Dunstrand vale and you’re able to enjoy a ‘dinner in’ at the lodge Sir Anthony and the lord have provided, and somewhat come to grips with what’s real and what might have been imagined (or what you might want to tell yourself you only imagined). Fresh venison from the fall hunt with late season vegetables give you a sense of being grounded in a more normal world again. Leaves rattle around the courtyard in the gusting wind, but the skies are clear and the duchy is a good place to be in the harvest season.”
  2. Just after twilight a commotion – people running up the hill to the keep. Blue flashing lights are seen over the horizon to SE; after an hour the lights are on the opposite horizon (NW) and still moving; by two hours it’s moved all the way back around to the SE and winks out – always apparently just beyond the horizon. Accompanying faint ‘thunder’ or hoofbeat sounds. It’s autumn, just as the harvest is getting started, so it might be an early winter storm, except the circling thing is really weird.
  3. Belim: “I sure hope this hasn’t got something to do with what happened to us in the lands of the fey…”
  4. Party has open options. Sir Anthony has offered the continued use of the lodge, or the south wing, as the party wants. For this evening exhaustion drives the party to sleep.
  1. Day 2: Most having slept mercifully well, you are however awakened by much colder temperatures than in previous days (it never gets above freezing).
  1. Beedel slept fitfully, is aware something “doesn’t feel right” in the land.
  2. Dark clouds seen in every direction, though skies remain clear at Zerburre. Animals acting strangely – skittish and upset. Two of the party’s horses have come up lame from kicking at the stables overnight.
  3. The day is open but the party still isn’t well rested. Rest, repair, provision, research as desired by the party. Belim suggests research on the background on the crypts, and route thereto, should be undertaken.
  4. By evening the clouds are much closer, closing in from all sides.
  5. The group is hosted for dinner by Sir Anthony, but mood is somber. Late in the evening the local woodsman/hunter who brought in yesterday’s venison (Kristov, R2) arrives, voicing concern about weather. “I’ve lived my whole life taking care of these lands; this cold, that storm last night – or whatever it was? Just doesn’t feel right. The wild animals are acting strangely and the birds are flying every-which-a-way.”
  6. You join Sir Anthony outside (for a smoke and stroll) after dark and see the clouds have crept in; the last stars directly overhead wink out as the clouds completely cover the sky. A lone snowflake drifts down through the torchlight and settles on the ground in the middle of the group. It doesn’t melt. Everything seems a bit quieter. You look up again to see many, many snowflakes coming down.
  7. The party is back in the lodge with Sir Anthony and Kristov the hunter. A young boy (Bronislaus) arrives – kind of just appears from nowhere. He looks around, spots and approaches party. “My mother sends…” (struggles with language, has odd accent.) Passes a note: “I have an idea what’s going on and may be able to help stop it. I need to meet you to discuss this.” – you can ‘smuggle’ her into the city. Sir Anthony says basically “No way, she’s a witch, she can stay out of our city”. Kristov argues “That’s just the ignorance of the locals, she’s saved many lives here – more than most of the so-called healers” etc. Argument goes back and forth but Sir Anthony prevails. Bronislaus leaves. Sir Anthony retires and as Kristov is leaving he says “She and her son live alone in a grove; she makes poultices, helps local women. She doesn’t necessarily recognize the superiority of men, which doesn’t make her popular with a lot of them” etc.
  1. Day 3: The sky is gray, temps even colder (think high teens F). Lots of snow is falling and by mid-morning  refugees begin to trickle in. Stories of heavy snowfall, always approaching from opposite the city, no matter where the refugees are from. (i.e. closing noose).
  1. Refugee: “A bloody wall of snowfall! Moving in as quickly as a man can walk!”
  2. Birds seen circling the city as if driven inward.
  3. Anyone with Dunstrand survival lore knows this is unprecedented.
  4. This is very bad travelling weather, really heavy snow with swirling winds; the party needs to wait it out before next stage of Ancient Blood research. You do have a good place to rest, warm and dry. Everything can be repaired, researched; party can be rested.
  5. Wildest refugee stories, from the furthest out in the countryside, describe a ghostly blue stampede of bulls in the sky, racing past. Sparks burst up from their hooves and what would normally be dust kicking up behind such creatures became clouds that thundered and dumped snow. Kristov: “Sounds like a line of squalling thunder-snow and overactive peasant imaginations. Maybe…”
  1. Day 4: By morning the party realizes the city’s empty buildings and open spaces are filling with refugees from the countryside. They're camping under wagons or in the open. They only brought the food they could carry and animals they could drive, so the daily import of food to the city’s markets and businesses is getting short. Concerns about food in general, as the harvest was just getting started and the warehouses are largely empty. People are hoarding firewood and fighting over it.
  1. Snow has stopped, leaving nearly two feet on the ground. Temps are bitter – in the teens in the afternoon.
  2. Sir Anthony reports there was unrest overnight between townsfolk and refugees; asks the party to go out and “be an armed presence” because the guards are mostly just scared and staying out of the way. He deputizes the party; issued quarterstaves to keep the lethality down, but all other weapons are OK as needed.
  3. Party should move about the town and talk to refugees for details, but little is known. Seems the worst conditions are in the direction of the Grebell forest.
  4. Travel seems like a poor idea but the party can start working on supplies for cold weather; they’ll have to outbid others seeking the scarce cold weather gear (if they haven’t thought of this already). Might be able to travel tomorrow but difficult for horses and hard to walk.
  5. While out ‘patrolling’ in the city and working on gear purchases a fight erupts between a refugee family and a couple men from the city. They’re fighting over a goat the family brought with – pulling on it from both sides. In the current tensions it quickly escalates and the crowd turns ugly, but the party has plenty of martial prowess to wade in and bust things up without much damage. (Each player should make 2 attack and 2 defense rolls – just don’t fumble either and there won’t be any damage that won’t heal with a short rest.) However, someone has pulled up a paving stone to throw and Belim takes it in the head, goes down in the mob. Takes a few kicks and is in bad shape but alive. Once things calm Bronislaus appears as if out of nowhere (is he following the group?); he points to Belim, his head injury, says “my mother heals”. (Belim will need to stay in the care of the lord’s household.)
  6. Time to smuggle Tazia in to the city. Pretty easy with the deputization of the group and the chaos of the refugees; can be accomplished before the gates are sealed at dark.
  7. Meet Tazia, stabilize Belim, discuss options. Tazia has worn a deeply hooded cloak to hide her identity moving through the city; she removes it to reveal—someone who doesn’t look much like the tales of a scary witch. (Not witch-like; fairly attractive blond, late 20’s(?); son but no evidence or mention of a husband. Started out as student of Gaia priesthood but immediately found to be more adept at natural magic. Shares the same bond with Dunstrand nature as Beedel. Uses short bow; uses nature based cantrips; can make simple potions and poultices based on ‘feel’.) She looks at Beedel – he can see a slight green glow in her eyes that no one else comments on. “You and I have a common bond with the land of this valley. And your whole group has a scent of the Feywild still upon you.” Tazia and Kristov obviously acquainted and friendly.
  8. Party retires for the night.
  1. Riots
  1. Day 5: Tension between city dwellers and refugees; some fights throughout the day.. Sir Anthony says “It’s as if an entire lost growing season and refugee crisis is being compressed into a week!”
  1. Late in the day Sir Anthony visits the group to request more help with rioting. He’s convinced there are a few bad apples inciting most of the trouble. If party can capture (or kill) the ringleaders it will probably quell most trouble. Names Maz the Tall and Odrik Big Nose.
  2. “A few (of the already few) guardsmen have deserted. Probably because Maz has befriended them by sending women.”
  3. “There are reports of refugee families being robbed, and worse.”
  4. Relatively large scale rioting starts before sunset; party has to get out and find ringleaders. Sir Anthony has provided a couple names, but party will have to make in situ determination.
  5. 4 ea. L2 fighters, dagger and cudgel.
  6. 2 ea. L4 fighters, dagger and short sword, dagger and staff. Maz ‘the Tall’, and Odrik Big Nose. +1 strength, +1 int; , +2 strength.
  7. L0 mob.
  8. After the encounter of the rioting Tazia says “We need to go find the source of this and stop it – I don’t think anyone else is going to help us.” Sir Anthony, for once, agrees – “Now that the troublemakers are taken care of we can probably maintain some form of peace. In fact if you can manage to discover the source of this and put a stop to it I’ll speak to the lordship on your behalf to determine an appropriate reward.”
  9. Rest, heal, sleep – for tomorrow we ride! Errr, walk.
  1. Travel to Tazia’s forest
  1. Day 6: Party leaves the city as a few stragglers are still coming in, in very bad shape.
  1. Snow quickly gets so deep it’s difficult on the horses and to walk. Kristov suggests a detour to his cabin, provides 2 pair snowshoes and himself with skis (from deep in his storage).
  2. Continue the last couple miles to Tazia’s house in the woods. She has a small stable, and root cellar, and a small but good quality house. Snow is 3’ deep by this point. Cabin is filled with herbs, jars, preserved food and other things, etc. Very large hunting dog. There’s a broom right by the front door – could that be…? Nah.
  3. She equips for winter travel and survival.
  4. At dinner says she going to step out and send a message for another hunter/tracker with more skis/snowshoes. (Goes out for a few minutes to send message – flapping wings heard.)
  5. Tazia says that she thinks (or “it feels”) like a powerful artifact is being used to draw power from the land and create this weather. (Not entirely accurate, but close.)
  1. Day 7: Edvald the tracker arrives in the early morning with skis and snowshoes for the party. (“They don’t see much use except in bad winters, but lucky I keep them around.”) Faster moving and more agile should use skis.
  1. Together Tazia and Beedel can ‘triangulate’ the source of the problem – the Grebell forest is the correct direction.
  2. Party departs in calm but bitter cold weather and deep snow; have to leave horses. Tazia will come with but Bronislaus will stay, with the dog. Edvald and Kristov staying near grove/town as well.
  1. Travel to source of magic, woods.
  1. Day 7 cont’d: First of unusual animals; driven out by weather. Party will travel ~8 miles today. (Con checks, agility checks to learn equipment.)
  1. Crazed bear attack from small copse. Large size – brown bear, will not subdue or flee – all offense. This thing is crazed – snapping its jaws, bloody muzzle, chunk of *something’s* skin caught in it’s teeth. Tazia knows it’s not going to be reasoned with. Might be subject to controlling spell but saves at +2.
  2. GM can ‘scale’ the bear to be challenging for the party.
  3. Party to pick campsite; possible night encounter at GM’s discretion.
  4. It is very cold and very still at night; carrying a lot of gear to try to sleep warm. Party can literally hear plants splitting from the sudden cold.
  1. Day 8: Travel; party can move further today due to familiarity, terrain. Weather is clear but very cold.
  1. Unless something was done to mitigate cold temps at night, all checks are at -1. (Mitigating actions might include spells, powers, other ‘elective’ sacrifices, potions, etc.)
  2. Party can move more effectively if they split up – get better sense of direction with Tazia and Beedel separate. But party is separated, so there’s risk – GM’s discretion.
  3. Afternoon: 2 Orcs; might be avoided if party sees them and successfully hides (10% chance?). Orcs are unusually large, fierce, and well armed/armored – could be Orogs? 1 With chainmail, 2-hand spear; other with studded, large 1-hand hammer, and shield.
  1. Day 9: Party reaches target.
  1. Unless something was done to mitigate cold temps at night, all checks are at additional -1; same as previous night.
  2. By late morning the party will faintly see the ‘twister’ going up into the cloudbank. The sky above is still clear but you can see the ‘cloud wall’ bending around in each direction.At a distance, early in the day, the party will spot the blue/white ‘twister’ effect going up into the clouds. Any reasonable scouting and stealth will allow them to spot the enemy.
  3. By about mid-day the guards and site are in range. 6 guards surrounding source at about 300 m out. Wind picks up and increases within a mile of source (wind blows L-to-R). F2, crossbow, shortsword.
  4. If party chooses to wait for nightfall the guard complement will go down to 3, with 3 at camp.
  5. Source is just inside the forest, so 2 guards are out on the plain, 2 on the forest edge, 2 assumed to be in the forest. Party might be able to take out 1 or 2 at a time, but some guards can see each other. Outer guards have dug snow pits with low snow walls for concealment, and boot-packed path/trenches exist between guard posts.
  6. 2 priests ‘maintaining’ source with chanting; it will slowly ‘wind down’ if chanting stops; takes about 8 hours to stop. Party might not be able to determine this. P3 and P2; GM to adjust priests as needed.
  7. Source: Faun-like creature – elemental? Spirit of the land? Beedel & Tazia sense terrible pain from it. It’s buried up to waist and tormented looking; blue ‘light/mist’ swirls rapidly around it thence up to the sky – affecting clouds. Requires 60 pts of damage to destroy. It can’t be saved or dispelled – its spirit is being used to draw energy from Dunstrand to power the weather; must be ‘put down’. Entering within melee range causes 2 pts dam/rd. At GM’s discretion the faun might be pulled loose with an arbitrary amount of strength points (~75). It will be severely sickened and need high level healing – and will still be traumatized.
  1. Post Vivem:
  1. Immediately after destroying the source the temperature will rise about 10 degrees. In a half-hour it will be above freezing and the melt starts. The snow will be nothing but patches in the shade within a day. Dry winds rise and clear up most of the water; essentially the magic effect fades entirely. Remarkably, because the cold came on so quickly, most of the crops are preserved and can be salvaged – at least enough so there won’t be famine this winter.
  2. Found:
  1. 110 SP worth of semi-precious gems – if anyone has a way to determine it, some are Gwinnish.
  2. Burned (used up) remnants of 2 scrolls. Indeterminate, but probably had to do with casting the weather spell.
  3. Weapons as listed.
  4. 38 SP total on guards.
  5. Small wagon (no pony to be found) with 8 days rations for 8 people, cold weather camp gear, standard survival gear.
  1. A few hours after the snow is mostly gone three coyotes lope up to Tazia (tails wagging, yipping as they approach); they communicate that two more of their pack are leading Belim with the party’s horses; will arrive by late tomorrow.
  2. Notes:
  1. Patron god of the priests is at GM’s discretion; this was a (pretty successful) test of ways Umbak and the merchant cities can screw with Dunstrand.
  2. Note that while the effects of the magic were very powerful, they were essentially ‘indirect’ to people. By creating panic, refugees, crowding, etc. the real outcome was to prey on humans’ behaviors to hurt each other.
  3. Also note that while the priests were pretty low-level this whole thing required scrolls created by much higher level priests, the summoning of a magical creature, and the priests to use up their own essence. This was essentially a suicide mission by fanatical clerics.

Addendum/Notes

Titled ‘Crystal Noose’ – as in a noose of snow and ice strangling the city of Zerburre. Apparently Disney’s ‘Frozen’ did seep into my head in a single viewing a year ago, because first I had the adventure as ‘Frozen Noose’ but didn’t like the sound of that so changed it; yet I also had the character ‘Kristov’ and originally ‘Olav’ but didn’t like the latter and changed it to ‘Odrik Big Nose’. In my defense with several of the characters I was going for a Nordic thing: Kristov, Olav, Edvald – and so was ‘Frozen’.

Tazia was originally a vaguely thought out pseudo-witch NPC, but Kelly needed a character and chose the magic route over a ranger (good call). The inspiration there was Polish/Russian folk tales, like the various things attached to the Baba Yaga stories; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasilisa_the_Beautiful for instance. Her son’s name – Bronislaus – is Polish-derived and ‘Tazia’ is likely diminutive of ‘Aniztazia’ but she doesn’t necessarily remember that clearly. See here for more influence on the character/story: http://amzn.com/0804179034 (sort of a fairy tale with updated language and sensibilities – I thought it was pretty great). While with Tazia you note no evidence of a husband or male in her cottage, nor any mention.

A line from Sir Anthony that I missed as I compressed a couple days while the party was still in the city: “It’s as if an entire lost growing season and refugee crisis is being compressed into a week! What in the Nine Hells?!” Sort of a further hint – as if needed – that these events aren’t natural. (I felt things were running a bit long in the first part – in the city – so I collapsed the events of two days into one.)

Belim regained consciousness just as you were leaving the city, but was in no shape to join – still dizzy with headaches and memory issues from the concussion. Assume he and Vrax were convalescing in the lodge we’re borrowing. After Vrax’s sudden recovery from dysentery you can probably also assume they spent the rest of the time trying to convince some of the keep’s female staff that the only way to survive this apocalyptic cold would be… etc. Heck, they might even be right.

Everyone that went can now move on skis or snowshoes (whatever you used) at your normal rate. You’re not experts but you did 20+ miles on them and are comfortable there now. (edited)

eswanson [1:12 PM] As I mentioned, while the effect of this magic was very powerful there are some things you’re able to piece together: The two priests you defeated weren’t capable of this on their own – powerful scrolls were created for them to use. This also wasn’t sustainable; some of the symbols on them indicated they started out higher level and were using up their own life essence to maintain the spell. This was a mission of fanatics that knew they weren’t coming back. (The men-at-arms on the other hand were just hired sword-arms; hence the ones that bolted into the woods when they saw the party wiping out the others. Too bad they’re not coming back out of those woods.) While obviously very powerful the magic didn’t directly kill anyone (though it could have); it sowed panic and turned people against each other. Once dispelled its effects quickly vanished and didn’t really leave much lasting effect.

Upon your return to Zerburre you find that word spread about your party going out to try to break the spell. If you come in through the official gates word will quickly spread and a cheering crowd will gather. Maz the Tall and Odrik Big Nose are locked up for inciting riots, theft, battery, etc., etc. Under ‘questioning’ one of the men you captured admitted their scheme to steal from the refugees and drop the goods in the building where you spotted Maz and Odrik.

Sir Anthony did in fact speak to the lord on your behalf, and upon your description of events and presentation of evidence you receive awards:
– 100 silvers per person(!)
– The proscription on Tazia entering the city is lifted. Suspicion will certainly still exist in most places, but Sir Anthony is willing to change his attitude (and you can accomplish a lot with 19 CHA and a kind word).

Originall run as part of http://incarna.net/verse/set/steel-realms/campaign/records/ancient-blood/ on 5/14/2016