I’ve been looking to launch some Pathfinder Adventure Card Game sessions within our Boardgaming group. Lack of time & energy last year, it has been slipping through up to now. It also requires quite some investment in material (dices & boxes) to get this rolling with 12+ players. I finally gathered all what is needed, including more than 10 character decks that will allow players to keep the decks complete from one session to the other.
I was looking for the latest updates about the game, and stumbled across a cool topic on BGG.
You might have missed a great BGG Post while being too busy playing Rise of the Runelords or other games, but here is a series of Prologues/Epilogues to be read before and after each Scenario in Rise of the Runelords, to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and events that take place ! This is, if you don’t have your hands full with the Adventure Guide compiled by Autoduelist (with over 50 pages of content).
Here’s the blurp of text below – would the post go down for any reason, at least we have a backup here. Be sure to check out the original topic on the BGG forum and share your thoughts there or directly to Byron Campbell.
(borrowed from the rulebook)
Welcome to Varisia. It’s a realm dotted with the monolithic relics of an empire long since crumbled. A rough but majestic land of mist forests and rolling plains bordered by sharp peaks and bountiful seas. Its people are hardy pioneers and newly minted nobles, all eager to carve names for themselves from the stern landscape. Beyond the settled lands, beasts and giants unused to civilization’s encroachment stalk the hills and woods, making short work of the unwary and legends of the bold. Yet none can claim to know all of Varisia’s secrets, and in its darkest shadows an ages-old evil stirs once more.
You’ve arrived in Sandpoint, a small town on the Varisian Lost Coast, to witness the inauguration of its new cathedral, where worshippers of Varisia’s six primary deities–Desna, goddess of travelers and luck; Abadar, Master of the First Vault; Sarenrae, the Healing Light; Shelyn, goddess of beauty, love and art; Gozreh, the nature deity; and Erastil, known as “Old Deadeye” among his followers. The old chapel burned down 5 years ago during a tragic period in Sandpoint know as the Late Unpleasantness, taking with it the lives of its priest, Father Tobyn, and his half-celestial adopted daughter Nualia, still revered throughout Sandpoint for her beauty and purity.
As soon as you arrive in town, you buy lodgings at The Rusty Dragon, Sandpoint’s most popular inn, known for the storytelling prowess of its proprietress, Ameiko Kaijitsu, a former adventurer herself. Pressing Ameiko for juicy details about the mostly quiet town, she tells you about the Old Light, a genuine Thassilonian Ruin of unknown purpose. She goes on to describe Sandpoint’s four aristocratic families, each responsible for a major aspect of Sandpoint’s business: the Scarnettis, who have a monopoly on the logging and milling business; the Valdemars, shipbuilders and carpenters; the Deverins, farmers and brewers; and the Kaijitsus, who run the local glassworks and of whom Ameiko is the sole heir, her half-elf half-brother Tsuto having been driven from the family due to his obviously mixed heritage. The current mayor of Sandpoint is a Deverin.
Finally, as the darkness creeps in, she tells you about the Late Unpleasantness, which began with the death of Ameiko’s mother, who was found battered at the bottom of a cliff, and ended with the burning of the old Sandpoint Chapel in which Father Tobyn and Nualia perished. However, the star of the Late Unpleasantness was a serial murderer named Chopper, who was revealed, to the shock of all, to be the mild-mannered Jervis Stoot. Chopper claimed 25 victims before he was captured, all of them horribly disfigured, and his memory still darkens the town 5 years later. It seemed to be a month of bad luck for all of Sandpoint: even the beautiful Nualia, who had recently fallen pregnant (quite the scandal for an unwed priest’s daughter), suffered a miscarriage shortly before her death. The child was rumored to have been grotesquely deformed, so unlike its aasimar mother.
As this tale winds down, you glance at the other faces around the table and notice that all are as tired as you suddenly feel. You retire to your rooms, eager to banish the recent tragedy from your mind and join in the revels surrounding the Sandpoint Cathedral’s inauguration, timed to coincide with Sandpoint’s famous Swallowtail Festival in celebration of the goddess Desna.
The inauguration of Sandpoint Cathedral is a solemn affair; it’s clear that everybody assembled for the event is just patiently waiting for it to be over so that they can get back to the revels of the Swallowtail Festival. A small platform has been erected in front of the building. First, Mayor Kendra Deverin makes a short speech celebrating Father Zantus, founder of the new cathedral, and his decision to maintain the multi-demoninational function of the old chapel. Then, Sheriff Hemlock takes the podium and makes a humorless speech urging the festival-goers to celebrate responsibly. One by one, members from each of the town’s aristocratic families take the stage and utter words of praise for the new cathedral. As Lonjiku Kaijitsu, Ameiko’s father, is giving his speech, though, the crowd becomes aware of another sound, growing louder. It sounds like shrill voices chanting an off-key, maniacal song:
Goblins chew and goblins bite.
Goblins cut and goblins fight.
Stab the dog and cut the horse,
Goblins eat and take by force!
Goblins race and goblins jump.
Goblins slash and goblins bump.
Burn the skin and mash the head,
Goblins here and you be dead!
Chase the baby, catch the pup.
Bonk the head to shut it up.
Bones be cracked, flesh be stewed,
We be goblins! You be food!
Suddenly, goblins erupt from the crowd, sending the assembled villagers into a panic. Some of them are riding their rat-like goblin dogs, while others are on foot; some wield dogslicers and horsechoppers, traditional goblin weaponry, while others are holding blazing torches, touching them to whatever they find that looks like it might burn. With horror, you realize that Sandpoint Cathedral is already ablaze!
The goblins are everywhere, slicing and singing merrily, but the chaos seems to be centered around a particularly bloodthirsty goblin who appears to be commanding the others from the back of a giant gecko. Out of the corner of your eye, you also notice a dark-haired half-elf who stands amidst the teeming goblin horde, looking unexpectedly calm.
After you manage to kill the gecko-mounted goblin warlord, the rest of the goblin raiders disperse. Without their leader, they seem to have lost a sense of purpose in the attack. About an hour later, Sheriff Hemlock declares it safe for the citizens of Sandpoint to come out of hiding, although for obvious reasons, the Swallowtail Festival has been canceled this year.
After the attack, you’re called to a meeting with Sheriff Hemlock and Kendra Deverin. Shalelu Androsana, an elven ranger who is familiar with the wilds around Sandpoint, is there as well. She identifies the gecko-riding goblin as Ripnugget, the leader of the Thistletop goblins, the strongest tribe in Sandpoint’s vicinity. What’s unusual, however, is that goblins from all four of the other local tribes–the Birdcrunchers, the Mosswoods, the Licktoads and the Seven Tooth tribe–were spotted among the goblin invaders. Goblin tribes are notoriously territorial and spend more time fighting each other, thankfully, than they do bothering nearby humans. What could possibly have persuaded them to act in concert?
Sheriff Hemlock identifies the black-haired half-elf as Tsuto Kaijitsu, Ameiko’s half-brother. You were able to capture him alive, but so far, he isn’t cooperating very well with the sheriff’s interrogations. It seems that he was responsible for sneaking the goblins into Sandpoint, although he won’t say how. He appears to have been motivated by an intense hatred for his “father,” Lonjiku Kaijitsu, who he claims was responsible for Tsuto’s mother’s death. However, the half-elf insists that he was not the mastermind behind the goblin attack. When asked who was responsible, Tsuto merely smiles, a dreamy look in his eyes.
Although the village of Sandpoint is safe, for now, you can’t help feeling that this is only the first chapter of a much darker and more dangerous story…
Although you’ve driven off the main attack force, a few goblins still linger in Sandpoint, hiding in closets or dressers, preying on pets, children and the elderly. Sheriff Hemlock, impressed by your exploits during the attack, enlists your help in clearing out the remaining goblins and patrolling the nearby wilderness for signs of further danger.
Meanwhile, the residents of Sandpoint are falling over themselves to express their gratitude for your heroic deeds. Cyrdak Drokkus, proprietor of the Sandpoint Theater, wants to pen a play in your honor; Aldern Foxglove, a noble whose manor-house lies nearby, invites you to his manor for a private luncheon; and Shayliss, beautiful daughter of Ven Vinder, owner of the General Store, says that she wants to “thank you personally.” You notice the burly shopkeeper glaring at you as she says this, and pray to Sarenrae for the wisdom to resist temptation.
Splitting your time between cleaning up Sandpoint and carousing with its residents, you’ve learned more about the local situation. Brodert Quink, a local scholar who has spent his life studying the Old Light and other Thasillonian ruins, fills you in, in excruciating detail, on the folkways and customs of the local goblin tribes, but he is unable to explain what could have caused the warring tribes to band together under Ripnugget, leader of the Thistletop goblins, except that the Thistletops are the strongest tribe in the region, with most of the other goblin tribes lacking a strong leader, such as Ripnugget was. Koruvus, a goblin champion, used to belong to the Seven Tooth tribe that raids Sandpoint’s junk heaps, but he went missing some time ago, and the strongest remaining goblin known to Quink, Bruthazmus the bugbear ranger, is not aligned with any tribe. Now that Ripnugget is dead, Quink supposes that leadership of the Thistletop tribe has fallen to Gogmurt, Ripnugget’s chief advisor and a powerful goblin shaman.
You made the acquaintance of Ilsoari Gandethus, the headmaster of the Turandarok Academy and an ex-adventurer with many trophies from his former life in the basement of the academy–all quite safe, despite rumors among his pupils that he keeps the legendary Sandpoint Devil and other child-snatching horrors down there. Finally, you met with Father Zantus, who luckily survived the attack on the cathedral, and learned a disturbing fact: some graves behind the cathedral had been disturbed during the goblin raid. In particular, Father Tobyn’s grave has been dug up and emptied, and Nualia’s headstone was also disturbed.
You arrive back at the Rusty Dragon nearly bursting from all the gifts of wine and baked goods you received. Just as you are about to fall into your bed, however, Ameiko Kaijitsu informs you that you’ve received a message from Sheriff Hemlock. “It’s about my brother,” she says sadly.
It seems that the sheriff’s had further luck in his interrogations of Tsuto Kaijitsu, and has forced the half-elf to reveal how he managed to sneak the goblin army into the heart of Sandpoint: a hidden network of tunnels beneath the glassworks. The sheriff sent a few of his men to investigate, and they came back with reports of horrific abominations unlike any monster they’d encountered before. There was also a shrine to Lamashtu, the demon-goddess known as the Mother of Monsters, and a mysterious chamber decorated with a large seven-pointed star. They also heard an evil tittering, but couldn’t identify the source.
Sheriff Hemlock will pay you a small stipend if you agree to investigate the tunnels, find any information suggesting a second goblin raid, and eliminate the strange abominations that threaten to spread to the surface now that Tsuto has opened the passages.
After hours of searching the subterranean chambers, you corner the source of the horrific abominations, which indeed are unlike anything you have seen or heard of before. They seem to be emerging from a small pool in a rune-covered chamber near a shrine to the demon goddess Lamashtu; you notice that the seven-pointed star design is common here, as well. At first, you can’t figure out how to stop their spawning, but you soon notice a tiny, tittering demon hovering about the rune, occasionally spilling a few drops of her own blood into the pool. Her small size and powerful magic make her a formidable foe, but eventually you corner the demon and eliminate the threat.
Brodert Quink, the scholar, seems interested in studying the pool from which the creatures emerged, thinking it a Thasillonian artifact, but it’s still too dangerous for anybody but heroes to venture into the tunnels for now. Speaking of heroes, you also tangled with a large, deformed goblin wielding a magic sword in one of the many arms that sprouted from his trunk. You bring the sword to the surface, and Quink identifies it as the one wielded by the goblin hero Koruvus, thought dead, but he can’t explain what might have caused the creature’s deformity.
And speaking of goblins, the papers you found down in the tunnels indeed speak of another, larger invasion force massing on the island fortress known as Thistletop. They also hint at a far more chilling revelation: that the commander of the goblin armies, the mastermind behind this entire scheme, is none other than Nualia, the beautiful priest’s daughter thought to have perished in the Sandpoint Chapel blaze 5 years ago.
If the second goblin invasion is allowed to happen, then there will be no way to defend Sandpoint; the only hope is to go to Thistletop and eliminate the threat at its source. To reach the island fortress, you’ll need to pass through the Nettlewood, a thick forest of briars and bramble that can only be traversed comfortably by creatures of goblin size.
Before you depart, Shalelu Androsana, the elven ranger, warns you to be especially wary of Gogmurt, the druidic shaman of the Thistletop tribe, who makes the Nettlewood his home. Now that Ripnugget is dead, it’s likely that Gogmurt has risen as the new warchief of the tribe. A powerful foe by himself, he is even more dangerous when accompanied by Tangletooth, the tamed firepelt cougar that is always to be found by his side. She also tells you to keep an eye out for Bruthazmus, the brutish bugbear ranger, who stages frequent raids in the area.
You are bruised, cramped, and your skin and armor are torn to ribbons by the everpresent bramble by the time you emerge from the Nettlewood and make your final approach to the island fortress of Thistletop. As you take measure of its defenses, you reflect on the battle to come. You know that the greater part of the struggle lies ahead of you, but still, you are relieved to have vanquished Gogmurt, the powerful goblin shaman of the Thistletop tribe, leaving the bloodthirsty creatures without a leader.
Unless…you wonder for the hundredth time if what you discovered in the catacombs beneath Sandpoint could really be true, if beautiful, pure Nualia could be responsible for the goblin raid. You shake your head. It raises too many questions: How did she survive the chapel fire? And what could possibly be her goal?
As you stealthily approach the Thistletop fortress, you hear human voices raised in argument. Through a narrow casement window, you catch a glimpse of a beautiful, white-haired woman who can only be Nualia. Except there is something odd about her…as she moves about the room, you get an occasional sight of a twisted, monstrous red arm and, on her bear stomach, a scar in the shape of the mark of Lamashtu, demon goddess of monsters.
Eventually, she storms from the room, revealing the recipients of her litany: a white-hooded female mage and a well-armed male fighter, presumably some sort of mercenaries or bodyguards. They quarrel among each other briefly in low voices, as though they don’t see eye to eye about the orders they’ve received from their half-celestial mistress, but eventually they follow her from the room.
Just as you are contemplating the meaning of this scene, you hear the shrill cry of a goblin from the ramparts. You’ve been spotted! Whatever Nualia’s motivations, killing her will be the only way to end the threat to Sandpoint, and you’ll have to act quickly, before she has the chance to flee.
Even as you fought, you could not believe that this was the same Nualia of whom Sandpoint’s villagers had spoken with such reverence and awe. She fought with a barely contained fury, more like a beast than a human, let alone a celestial being, spewing foul curses and invocations of Lamashtu. There seemed to be no end to her brutal attacks, and the monstrous red claw growing from her arm seemed to fight with a mind of its own, so that blows rained down on you from both sides. However, eventually she fell, and now her corpse lies crumpled at your feet.
You notice a medallion in the shape of a seven-pointed star hanging from her neck and, sensing a powerful magical artifact, liberate it from her corpse. During the fight, just when you were about to land what you were sure was to be the killing blow, you noticed the medallion glow for a second, seemingly absorbing the attack. Surely this sort of thing will come in handy, should you encounter any further unforeseen danger.
After seeing to Nualia’s belongings, you explore the rest of the Thistletop fortress, slaying any remaining goblins you find as a message to any would-be raiders of Sandpoint. You subdue the human mercenaries that Nualia had hired, Orik Vancaskerkin and Lyrie Akenja, and take them into custody to answer for any crimes they may have committed against the people of Sandpoint. Finally, in what appears to have been Nualia’s sleeping quarters, you find a small shrine to Lamashtu, as well as a journal stretching back at least six years, which you stow away to peruse later. Hopefully, it will contain the answer to the seemingly random acts of violence perpetrated over the past week.
You spend the next week recovering from your recent adventures and receiving the hearty commendations of Mayor Deverin, Sheriff Hemlock and the other luminaries of the town. The two mercenaries, as well as Tsuto Kaijitsu, Ameiko’s half-brother, are transported to the nearby city of Magnimar to stand trial for their crimes. You smile when you hear that the infamously ruthless Justice Ironbriar will be presiding.
Perusing Nualia’s journal, you finally understand some of the impetus behind the atrocities committed during the Swallowtail Festival. Although the people of Sandpoint remembered Nualia with awe, her journal tells a different story: as a child, her unique appearance invited the mockery and torment of other children, and as she grew into a beautiful woman, the fearful reverence shown by the villagers seemed to cement her reputation as an outcast. She fell in love with one of the only villagers who dared approach her like a human being, and soon they were meeting nightly in the smugglers’ tunnels beneath the glassworks. This was where Nualia conceived her child…unbeknownst to her, separated from the shrine to Lamashtu by only a single wall of stone. It was no wonder that the spawn turned out to be a monster.
One night after her miscarriage, Nualia’s rage came to a head, and she locked her foster father inside the chapel before burning it to the ground. (You find out later that Nualia’s headstone is simply a placemarker; her remains were thought to have been completely destroyed in the blaze.) Then, she fled Sandpoint for nearby Magnimar, where, in an attempt to rid herself of what she called her “celestial taint,” she devoted her life to the worship of Lamashtu and revenge on the people of Sandpoint. There, she met a group she refers to as the “Skinsaw Men,” who gave her the mysterious medallion and pointed her toward a secret chamber in the tunnels beneath Sandpoint, where she met the tiny demon known as Erylium and learned the ways of Lamashtu-worship. Eventually, she leveraged her unearthly beauty to unite the greedy goblin tribes and hatched the scheme that you have now thwarted.
The journals also mention a demon called Malfeshnekor, which Nualia had been in the process of freeing, with the goal of unleashing it upon a defenseless Sandpoint. Thankfully, you stopped her before she could enact this plan.
You also learn from Brodert Quink, who specializes in Thasillonian history, that the seven-pointed star on Nualia’s medallion is known as the Sihedron Rune, a powerful symbol in ancient Thasillonian society. The seven points of the star represent the seven great virtues revered by the Thasillonians: wealth, fertility, honest pride, abundance, eager striving, righteous anger, and well-deserved rest. How the so-called “Skinsaw Men” came by such a Thasillonian artifact is unknown. You also show the medallion to Headmaster Gandethus at the Academy, who confirms that it contains powerful warding magic that protects the wearer from harm and can even preserve dead bodies for an indefinite period of time.
The rumors spread throughout Sandpoint like wildfire: Chopper has returned.
As you sip your ale in the common room at the Rusty Dragon, watching the haggard, frightened faces of the locals, you think back to the night you arrived in Sandpoint. It seems like years ago, after what you’ve been through, but was actually a matter of weeks. You remember the tales told you by Ameiko Kaijitsu, and recall that the fire that consumed the Sandpoint Chapel, which started beautiful Nualia on the path to revenge, was only one incident in a month of tragedy known as the Late Unpleasantness.
Due to the recent events, Nualia’s story has taken a place of precedence in your mind, but before it was known that she survived (and in fact caused) the chapel fire, most villagers remembered the Late Unpleasantness as the reign of Chopper, a mass murderer know for hideously mutilating his victims, who turned out to be the mild-mannered, if eccentric, Jervis Stoot. Just minutes before his identity was discovered, Stoot claimed his own life in what appeared to be a sacrifice to the demon lord Pazuzu.
Which begs the question: who, or what, is behind the recent string of murders that have plagued Sandpoint and nearby Magnimar? Bodies are appearing once more, from local bankers and merchants to miserly farmers. Like the murders five years ago, the bodies are terribly mutilated. All over Sandpoint, gravesites have been desecrated, their earth freshly disturbed. What is most frightening to the local villagers, though, is the smell that lingers around the victims’ bodies: the unmistakable, putrid stench of decay. Could Chopper have risen from the grave to continue his killings?
You don’t dare share this with the townsfolk, for fear of inciting a panicked riot, but one more detail of the murders has caught your eye: according to the reports from Sheriff Hemslock’s men, each of the victims has been mutilated in a very particular way, unlike that seen in the murders five years ago. Specifically, they’ve all had a seven-pointed star carved deep into their flesh…
A local constable pounds on the door to your rooms, rousing you in the middle of the night. He bears an urgent message from Sheriff Hemlock: they’ve apprehended a suspect in the recent murders.
In fact, they have not needed to apprehend him, as he has already been in the care of Dr. Habe, who runs the local sanitorium. The constable warns you to watch your words around Dr. Habe, whose methods are unusual, bordering on cruel: he’s been accused of having more interest in studying his inmates than trying to help them. For instance, a were-rat named Pidget Tergelson has been in Dr. Habe’s care for many years, during which time Dr. Habe has published several papers on the nature of therianthropy, but has made no progress in curing Pidget of his dangerous obsession with sharp objects.
A few days ago, the man, Grayst Sevilla, was discovered fleeing from the site of a murder, where two other men (former business partners of Sevilla, all three of whom belonged to the Sczarni, an infamous group of local bandits) were found dead with the sihedron rune carved into their chests. Sevilla showed several deep lacerations of his own, as though a struggle had taken place, and by the time the law enforcement found him, he was ranting and foaming at the mouth. Although he behaved extremely aggressively toward anybody near him, he was deemed not in his right mind and sent to the sanitorium to recover his wits.
That’s not all, though. A few hours ago, another victim was discovered, the foreman of the Scarnetti lumbermill (you recall that the Scarnettis are one of the four noble families of Sandpoint, and exercise a tight control over the local milling industry). This victim, also marked with the Sihedron rune and surrounded by a foul stench, bore a note addressed to…you, raving and obsessed, signed simply “Your Lordship.” So it seems that Sevilla is not a suspect after all, but a witness…or, if he was behind the murders, he is not acting alone.
As you head out into the moonless night to investigate these matters, you hear a low moan and a shuffling of feet as dozens of half-rotten corpses emerge from the darkness. As if murderers and madmen weren’t enough, you appear to have a plague of zombies on your hands. Could there be any connection?
You’ve discovered the source of Sandpoint’s zombie infestation, but are no closer to reaching the identity of “Your Lordship” or the cause of the recent murders.
When you arrived to interview Grayst Sevilla, you found the straitjacketed bandit in an advanced state of the disease known as ghoul fever, contracted from the bite of a ghoul or ghast. Dr. Habe’s study was filled with volume upon volume of research on the subject of ghouls and their ilk, intelligent undead who feast upon the rotten remains of their fellow humans. Anybody who perishes from ghoul fever will rise the next night as a ghoul themselves. Grayst’s illness, together with the foul stench associated with the murders, implies that a ghoul or ghast is behind the attacks. Unfortunately, Sevilla was beyond questioning by the time you found him. He could only repeat the nonsensical message that his “master” had given him:
“He said that if you came to his Misgivings, that if you joined his Pack, he would end his harvest in your honor.”
As for the zombie outbreak, it appears to have been the work of a necromancer by the name of Caizarlu Zerren. Living in the basement of Habe’s Sanitorium, Zerren had secretly helped to finance Dr. Habe’s studies for years, as well as conducting foul experiments of his own. The latest of these experiments was an attempt to trace the “lineage” of a ghoul through several generations of ghoul fever; it was Zerren’s theory that Sandpoint had been the site of a powerful “ghoulish source” in years past. Once you’d had enough of his ravings, you slew the foul necromancer and put down his zombie minions. You are now on your way back to town to report your findings to Sheriff Hemlock.
You arrive at the watch station brimming with news about ghouls, ghasts and necromancy, only to find another crisis awaiting you: the station is filled with the sound of sobbing coming from many near-hysterical farmers, their wives or children. The sheriff’s men are completely occupied in consoling the grieving farmers. Maester Grump, an elderly farmer from Sandpoint’s hinterlands, is seated in a corner cradling a tankard of mead, a shell-shocked expression on his face. Shaking his head slowly to and fro, he keeps muttering a sentence to himself, over and over:
“They even ate the dogs…”
When he notices your presence, Maester Grump’s eyes focus, and he shoots out of his seat, making his way unsteadily toward you. “You…you have to help,” he quavers. He proceeds to tell you what would sound like a tall tale if not for the horrors you’ve already witnessed tonight. He tells you of strange noises emanating from a neighbor’s farm at night…of a frantic farmer’s daughter arriving at his doorstep, unable to find her parents…of running into more and more confused souls who had been separated from their loved ones…of the feral, human-like creatures that had emerged from his neighbor’s barn, slaughtering several farmers, and even Maester Grump’s best dogs. More ghouls, you have no doubt, turned by the mysterious killer. If the ghoulish murderer is at large among Sandpoint’s farmlands tonight, this may be your best chance to catch it…
Before you go, Maester Grump warns you in a half-crazed voice, “Watch out for the scarecrows…some of them, they’re real…” Puzzling over these ominous words, you head back out into the night.
“Watch out for the scarecrows” is right. It was only through Maester Grump’s advice that you managed to avoid the infectious bites of these dangerous creatures, which turned out to be ghouls or farmers in the throes of ghoul fever, dressed as scarecrows and chained to posts in the middle of overgrown fields of wheat and corn. Rescuing those you could and slaying the rest, you found yourself wondering what sort of warped and fiendish mind could conceive of such a trap. There was also, to your great shock, one particularly rugged scarecrow that appeared to be some sort of stitched-together flesh golem. How that ties in to the ghoul outbreak is anybody’s guess.
You soon discovered exactly who could have conceived of the scarecrow traps as you investigated the abandoned farm (which contained, to no great surprise, the sihedron-scarred corpse of its former owner) and ran into a particularly gaunt ghoul wielding a bloodied knife. Sheriff Hemlock, who arrived just as you slew the foul creature, recognized him as Rogors Craesby, caretaker to Aldern Foxglove’s ancestral home on the outskirts of Sandpoint. Before dying, Craesby croaks another invitation to visit “my Lord at his Misgivings,” and suddenly it all makes sense…Foxglove Manor is locally referred to as “the Misgivings,” Hemlock tells you, due to rumors of terrible crimes that occurred there when Aldern was still just a boy. Travelers who pass by the place swear they see ghostly lights and half-transparent figures haunting its upper windows.
That would suggest that Aldern Foxglove is the one responsible for these hideous murders. But could that really be true? When you met him last, he’d seem so…harmless. And why mark his victims with an ancient Thassilonian rune? Sheriff Hemlock is as perplexed by the possibility as you are, but there is only one way to get the answers you seek: push onward through the darkness toward the looming shadow of Foxglove Manor.
As you make your way toward the dilapidated manor, Sheriff Hemlock fills you in on the colorful history of the place. It was constructed almost 100 years ago by Vorel Foxglove, Aldern’s great-great-uncle. Vorel was a strange man, obsessed with the study of exotic and, some would say, unholy rituals. 20 years after building the sprawling manor, Vorel and his entire family were suddenly wiped out by an unknown disease. The mansion lay uninhabited after that until Traver Foxglove, Vorel’s great-nephew and Aldern’s father, moved in, with the intent of restoring Foxglove Manor to its former opulence. Instead of happiness, however, the manor brought Traver only misery. He became increasingly reclusive and depressed, eventually murdering his wife Cyralie and taking his own life, leaving Aldern an orphan.
“Why Lord Foxglove has chosen to return to this place, after what happened to him here, is beyond me,” Sheriff Hemlock confesses as you near the building’s warped and rusted gates. Aldern had tried to renovate and occupy the manor previously, but he abandoned the task after the sudden disappearance of his beautiful wife Iesha, to whom he had been married for only five months. “Come to think about it,” Hemlock continues, “that was about the time of old Chopper’s murders, too.”
Red-eyed crows hunch in the bare branches of what trees remain on the estate–these are likely to be carrionstorm, undead birds who’ve feasted on those infected by ghoul fever. Sheriff Hemlock also mentions that the corpses of bloated, tumor-covered rats have shown up in the area, given a wide berth by farmers and hunters for fear of plague. “Be on your guard,” the sheriff warns you. “If the rumors of hauntings be true…well, this place has seen no shortage of death.”
Your mind still reels at the horrors you witnessed within Foxglove Manor, far greater than even the darkest whisperings of the locals.
Haunted the place was indeed. Within its walls, you felt your will constantly under assault as your defenseless mind was confronted by the memories of the dead, of three generations of the once noble Foxglove family. You learned the truth behind Vorel’s death: how he had sought immortality by enacting a foul ritual to transform himself into a lich, lord of the undead. But he was interrupted at a crucial moment by his wife, who had discovered Vorel’s secret alchemical laboratory in the dungeons underneath the manor. The ritual failed, Vorel’s skin was instantly covered with disgusting pustules and tumors, a disease that rapidly spread throughout the house, taking his entire family. You learned how Traver, Aldern’s father, had his mind affected by the same disease and by Vorel’s spirit, which still lingers on the grounds, driving him to murder his beloved wife and take his own life.
And finally, you learned the truth of Iesha Foxglove’s death, shown to you by the restless spirit of Iesha herself. She and Aldern were deeply in love, but he was jealous, his mind warped by the curse of Foxglove Manor. One day, he returned home to find Iesha in the library with one of the carpenters Aldern had hired to fix up the manor. In a jealous rage, he killed them both. Incidentally, this coincided exactly with the time of Nualia’s disappearance and Chopper’s murders.
You finally confront Aldern himself in the ruins of what once was Vorel’s laboratory. He has been transformed into a hideous ghoul, perhaps as a corruption of Vorel’s necromantic magic, and was almost certainly the source of the ghoul outbreak in Sandpoint. He wields a war razor, the same tool used to carve the sihedron rune into his victims’ bodies. When you ask him why he committed the murders, Aldern becomes confused. “It wasn’t me,” he protests. “It was the Skinsaw Man who killed them.”
Those are Aldern Foxglove’s final words. You take his head, to ensure that he will not rise again.
Going through the papers in Vorel’s laboratory, you find that both Vorel and Aldern had ties with an organization in Magnimar called “The Brothers of the Seven.” Vorel describes them as a secret society for wealthy and influential Magnimarian men, and it appears that they funded most of the construction, and later the renovation, of Foxglove Manor. They also financed Vorel’s construction of the Scarecrow Golem you faced earlier, and helped Aldern cover up the murder of his wife Iesha.
However, at some points, a second group is mentioned, somehow wrapped up with the Brothers of the Seven: the Skinsaw Men, a religious cult worshipping a god called Father Skinsaw. It’s not a name you recognize, but most of Golarion’s gods go by various names to their different followers. What’s most interesting is that, after the even 5 years ago, Aldern Foxglove has apparently been taking orders directly from the Skinsaw Men. If it was the Skinsaw Men who instructed him to carry out the foul murders and to carve the sihedron rune into his victims, then it is almost certain that the same cult is responsible for the similar murders that have been occurring in Magnimar.
While details on the Skinsaw Men are thin, you pick up two useful facts: their leader is a white-haired elf who holds some position of authority in Magnimar’s famously corrupt justice system, and they convene at a location referred to as the “Seven’s Sawmill.” Armed with this knowledge, you set out for the city of Magnimar, determined to unmask this vile cult and put an end to their bloody murders.
The Skinsaw cultists’ influence is more far-reaching than you could have guessed. You faced countless of their numbers, clad in peaked, patchwork hooded robes and faceless one-eyed masks, before confronting their leader, Justice Ironbriar, a high-ranking figure in the Magnimarian courts. He fought you bravely at first, calling more and more allies to his aid, but when it becomes clear he has run out of backup, he reverts to the fearful coward he has always been and pleads with you for mercy.
Taking advantage of his spirit of cooperation, you interrogate Justice Ironbriar about the nature and acts of the Skinsaw cult. He tells you everything you want to know. The cult is a radical sect who worship Norgorber, god of greed, in his guise as Father Skinsaw. They carry out assassinations and ritual murder in service to Father Skinsaw, eliminating those who they judge to have shown greed in excess of their station. You recall that the men and women killed in Sandpoint were mostly merchants or bankers, and all had a reputation for greed or miserliness.
As for the sihedron rune, Ironbriar claims that it is a holy symbol of Father Skinsaw, and becomes confused when you tell him that the symbol appears frequently in ancient Thassilonian artifacts. He says that, for the past few months, he has been receiving orders directly from an angel of Norgorber who dwells in an abandoned clock tower in Magnimar called the Shadow Clock.
You leave Justice Ironbriar’s fate in the hands of his fellow judges (Magnimar’s prisons, known as “The Hells,” are infamous across Varisia) and head toward the Shadow Clock. It seems that, even with Ironbriar and the cult vanquished, the murders won’t end until you’ve confronted this “angel.”
As you enter the base of the Shadow Clock, in the shade of Magnimar’s great Irespan bridge, you are ambushed by…Aldern and Iesha Foxglove? Your confusion at facing the apparently alive and intact nobles makes the fight chaotic, but once you’ve defeated them, you see the truth of the matter at once, as they revert to their true form: reddish-brown humanoids that appear as though they were sculpted from soft clay, with mushy, shapeless lumps where their heads should be. These are ugothol, or faceless stalkers, an ancient slave race. Tales abound of the faceless stalkers quietly infiltrating human society, and you reflect that this must be how the Brothers of the Seven kept Iesha’s murder and Aldern’s ghoulish transformation a secret.
As the last stalker dies, it sputters a threat: “You stand no chance against Mistress Xanesha. She will destroy you utterly,” turning its featureless head toward the old clock tower. Now you know the name of Justice Ironbriar’s “angel”…but what is her motive?
You confront the “angel” Xanesha in the belfry of the old clock tower. She turns out to be no angel at all—her appearance is, if anything, more demonic. From the torso up, she is a sultry human female; but from the waist down, her body ends in a gigantic, scale-covered snake’s tail, thick around as a tree trunk. Xanesha seems to have fully embraced her serpentine half: she wears a golden mask with a crown of snake-like figures, a tight-fitting snakeskin tunic, and wields a terrible longspear that emits animal-like shrieks and saps you of your will to fight. She also wears, around her neck, another sihedron medallion, identical to the one you found on Nualia.
Bolstered by these magical artifacts, Xanesha is cocky in combat. She gloats that “my master’s awakening is inevitable” and that you “cannot stop the harvest of souls.” Eventually she falls, and you strip her of the powerful magical items and the protective sihedron medallion. You have stopped this wave of killings, but Xanesha’s venomous words paralyze you with uncertainty. The presence of the medallions suggests that she was somehow connected with Nualia and the goblin raid on Sandpoint. If that’s true, how many more of them could be out there, and what could they be planning?
Having put down the ghoulish taint threatening Sandpoint, stopped the Skinsaw murders and brought Ironbriar to justice, you return to Sandpoint to try to piece together the connection between these events and the recent goblin raid. What did Xanesha mean by her “master’s awakening,” and what could possibly explain the prevalence of the sihedron rune, a symbol of the long-dead Thassilonian Empire?
Brodert Quink, the scholar specializing in studies of ancient Thassilon, has some ideas. There are theories that, before the fall of Thassilon, its society became corrupt. The seven-pointed sihedron rune, which had previously stood for the seven Thassilonian virtues–wealth, fertility, honest pride, abundance, eager striving, righteous anger, and well-deserved rest—became a symbol for their new, corrupted form, what we now know as the seven great sins of the soul: greed, lust, boastful pride, gluttony, envy, wrath, and sloth. The seven great leaders, known as Runelords, each came to embody one of those sins.
If this is true, then the men and women killed in the Skinsaw murders and carved with the Sihedron symbol could have been meant as a sacrifice in honor of the long-dead Runelords. You remember that each of the victims was known for exceptional greed or stinginess, which would suggest that whoever is responsible for these crimes is somehow aligned with Karzoug, the ancient Runelord of Greed. Based on your description of Xanesha, Quink identifies her as a lamia matriarch, and mentions that the historical records suggests that the lamia race long ago lived in service to the Runelords of Thassilon. Could they have rediscovered some of the fallen empire’s ancient rune magic?
Brodert Quink, an irrepressible scholar, seems thrilled at the possibility, but it strikes you as ominous. What started as an assault on a small town on the Lost Coast could, in fact, threaten all of Varisia…
After stopping Xanesha and the Skinsaw Men, you keep your ears perked for any news of further Thassilon-related happenings across Varisia, but all is quiet for a while…until the day that Shalelu Androsana, the elvish ranger, approaches you, her eyes red with crying. She silently hands you a note bearing three words and a signature:
“Rannick is fallen.
When she has composed herself, Shalelu explains how, many years ago, she had had a falling-out with her stepfather, a human ranger named Jakardros Sovark. In the years since she had last seen him, Jakardros had risen to a position of command among the Black Arrow Rangers, a secretive group tasked with manning Fort Rannick in the harsh, frozen Varisian frontier, at the foot of Hook Mountain in the forbidding Iron Peaks. Hook Mountain is teeming with ogres belonging to the vicious Kreeg clan, and Turtleback Ferry, a frontier town on the Skull River and landhold of Magnimar, would be under constant threat of attack were it not for the existence of Fort Rannick between them and the mountains.
While scouting the woods around Sandpoint for any evidence of goblin activity, Shalelu spotted a messenger hawk bearing the note you now hold in your hands. If it’s true—if Fort Rannick has fallen—it could spell doom for the frontiersman of central Varisia. Shalelu is also worried about Jakardros, with whom she never had the chance to make amends, and she begs you to accompany her in investigating the situation at the fort.
You agree to her request. You’ve saved two cities now…why not a third?
Turtleback Ferry is a shock compared to multi-district city of Magnimar. It is even smaller than Sandpoint, and it’s inhabitants are as rough as the lands they claim hold of. They are a simple, hardy folk, miners and loggers who spend most of their earnings at Paradise, a floating barge devoted to gambling, carousing and other vices. Paradise is run by a beautiful, fiery-haired woman named Lucrecia. Everyone in town seems smitten with her, and you vow to make her acquaintance as soon as you’ve sorted out the present danger.
First, you must determine how the fort fell and whether there is the possibility of survivors. Rumors around Turtleback Ferry confirm your suspicions that it was indeed an attack by the Kreeg ogre clan, giant brutes who make their home in Hook Mountain. Apparently, according to miners who caught a glimpse of the attack, it was a force of ogres far greater than any of the mild skirmishes that had broken out at Fort Rannick in the years since its construction. They crushed the Black Arrows completely, and are now occupying the fort, though they have not yet marched on Turtleback Ferry, for reasons unknown. The possibility of survivors is slim.
Except…a hunter tells you that he heard human cries of pain in the woods between Turtleback Ferry and Fort Rannick. Known as Kreegwood, the forest is impassable to all but the most seasoned hunters, filled with dangerous beasts and crude but deadly traps. Though nobody has seen them, there are rumors that the woods are occupied by a degenerate clan of inbred, deformed half-ogres, the spawn of human prisoners claimed by Kreeg ogre skirmishers. If any Black Arrow Rangers managed to escape the attack on Fort Rannick, they may have been later captured by these dull-witted ogrekin.
You can tell by the look in Shalelu’s eyes that, as slim as the possibility may be, you will have to explore it. Steeling yourself for anything, you venture into the shadows of Kreegwood…
You were right to trust Shalelu’s hunch: you find a woefully small contingent of Black Arrow Rangers in the ramshackle houses thrown up by the large, disgusting half-ogres calling themselves the “Graul clan.”
Whether as a result of the intermingling of human and ogre blood, or their rumored incestuous relationships, the Grauls are a study in deformity that would fascinate any scholar of anatomy or the grotesque. Each of the wee-brained half-ogres exhibited a different deformity. You found their village by following Ruckus Graul, a relatively humanoid hunter with an enormous potbelly and mushroom-like tumors sprouting from his skin in various places. The compound was guarded by an ogrekin who called himself Crowfood, apparently because of the disgusting mass of tumors that dominated half of his head, making it look like an overripe pumpkin and giving him the overall appearance of a scarecrow. Indeed, his primary role in the Graul clan seemed to be patrolling the Grauls’ pathetic patch of weeds, scaring off any animals dumb enough to try to eat them. The ogrekin village was also home to several equally disgusting creatures, such as massive donkey rats and a tentacled, carnivorous plant that the half-ogres referred to, strangely, as “brother Muck.”
The most disgusting of all, however, was Mammy Graul, a stinking, morbidly obese woman who was clearly the leader (and mother, grandmother, aunt and sister) of the rest of the Graul clan. Clearly a powerful necromancer, she was barely held up by an enormous bed, surrounded by the revenants of her undead sons, who tended to her every whim. This accounted for some of the stink, but most of it was emanating from Mammy herself, who had apparently lost the ability to wash between the folds of her flabby, bloated flesh. Firing upon you with a variety of wands and surrounded by shimmering mirror images that deflected damage to her, she was frustratingly hard to kill, but you succeeded eventually, taking a bronze key off of her whale-sized corpse.
You used this key to unlock a shed near the Grauls’ garden, revealing the few surviving prisoners of the ogrekin (those who had not died defending Fort Rannick had been tortured and eaten by the Grauls). Luckily, Jakardros is among them. Shalelu runs to embrace him, weeping again, this time with joy.
Also present among the Grauls’ prisoners is Vale Temros, a hulking Shoanti man who, according to Jakardros, is equally endowed in strategic insight and brute strength. He has already hatched a plan to retake Fort Rannick from the Kreeg ogres, and desires that you and Shelelu assist them in this dangerous mission. Seeing the sad state of the imprisoned rangers, you find it impossible to refuse.
Aside from the rangers you see before you, there are two that Jakardros hopes have survived. One is Lamatar Bayden, the commander of the Black Arrow Rangers and the man in charge of Fort Rannick. During the attack, Jakardros saw Lamatar being painfully detained by two gigantic ogres, and he hopes that the brutes were smart enough to take the Black Arrow commander as a live hostage to discourage a counterattack from Magnimar’s forces. The other is Kaven Windstrike, who was with Jakardros and Vale on a scouting mission when the attack occurred (which is the only way the rangers survived). In fact, Kaven had been in charge of the expedition, but he disappeared during the chaos that ensued when the surviving rangers drew close to the ogre-occupied fort.
Vale’s plan is to assault the fort from below, using a secret passage that only Lamatar, Jakardros and a few other high-ranking rangers know about. There’s a secret stash of equipment directly beneath some of the bunkers, including several barrels of gunpowder—a possible way to reduce the ogres’ numbers and cause confusion during the assault. However, there are a few big (and I mean BIG) threats you’ll likely have to deal with. The biggest will be Jaagrath, leader of the Kreeg clan, who’s large even for an ogre. Jaagrath has two sons, Silas and Hookmaw, and the latter is especially dangerous—he had the lower half of his face torn off in a skirmish with the Black Arrow Rangers, but he’s grown even more vicious since then, and his entire jaw has been replaced by a razor-sharp beartrap. The Kreeg clan is also host to a powerful ogre shaman, Dorella. And who is to say what other forces you’ll encounter within the walls of Fort Rannick?
After Vale Temros checks, double-checks and triple-checks your battle plan, you head out immediately to assaut the ogre-infested fortress.
Jakardros shakes his head. “Kaven was always jealous of my leadership, but I never expected…”
“Nobody did,” Vale breaks in, consoling his friend. “Nobody could have.”
The swipes from Jaagrath’s ogre hook were painful, but your wounds don’t sting as badly as Kaven’s betrayal. You discovered him in one of Fort Rannick’s rooms. At first, you thought that he was a prisoner, but Vale sensed that something was not right and restrained you from entering the room. Soon, another human figure came into view, a shockingly beautiful woman with fiery red hair: Lucrecia, mistress of the pleasure barge known as Paradise. She seemed to be trying to convince Kaven of something, and he was nodding his head dumbly, as if under some sort of spell. Neither was tied up or otherwise restrained. Finally, you could take no more, and you stormed into the room, demanding an explanation.
Immediately, Lucrecia lost the appearance of a normal woman and transformed into a half-serpentine monster: another Lamia matriarch! Seeing this transformation left Kaven in a state of shock, and he did nothing to prevent or assist you in ending the monster’s life. Finally, once she was gone, he seemed to come to his senses and turned toward Jakardros, weapon drawn, but the young ranger was easily bested. Once he had been incapacitated, you again demanded explanation, and discovered the following facts:
The scouting mission that Kaven had led, which lured some of Fort Rannick’s best defenders away from its walls during the ogre attack, had been an intentional decoy, carried out at the request of Lucrecia, who apparently had Kaven entirely under her thrall—lamia are known for their ability to charm humans and monsters alike. He had no suspicion of her true identity, and no clear sense of the details of the ogre attack, only that he would be rewarded for his cooperation. He did overhear some of the Kreeg ogres talking another army amassing in their clanhold up in Hook Mountain, something about a weapon-forging operation, and talking about their new leader, “the big-big” (ogres judge all living things primarily by their size, the bigger the better). He offered to accompany you to attack the ogre clanhold, but Jakardros shook his head sadly; although he was not a prisoner before, he is now, until he can stand at a court marshal for his crimes against the Black Arrows.
Before leaving, you notice a small tattoo on Kaven’s ankle in the shape of a seven-pointed star. You ask him what he knows about Runelords, Karzoug and the sihedron, but he becomes perplexed and tells you that the tattoo is just a kind of ticket, given only to “Lucrecia’s favorites,” granting entrance to the best parts of the pleasure-barge Paradise. After interrogating him further, you are convinced that he is truly oblivious of the rune’s true meaning, but now you know something that striked dread into your heart: that the ogre attack, too, is tied into the mysteries of the sihedron and ancient Thassilon.
Every town in Varisia has its local legends of horrible monsters, whose primary purpose seems to be giving bards something to taking about on chilled, moonless nights and giving overtaxed parents a way to scare some morality into their children. In Sandpoint, it was the Sandpoint Devil, a demonic winged horse that walks upright like a man. In Turtleback Ferry, people tell of Black Magga, a gigantic snake-headed, tentacled lake monster that haunts the Storval Deep, a manmade lake dating to Thassilonian times. Storval Deep is held in by an enormous dam called Skull’s Crossing, from which the Skull River takes its name. It’s said that Black Magga is impervious even to the power of gods, and that whoever manages to kill her will attain near-immortality.
Rain pelts you as you return to Turtleback Ferry to regroup and recover. Additionally, Jakardros wants to send a message to Magnimar to request reinforcements to defend the now unoccupied Fort Rannick. As you approach the village, you notice that the water level of the Skull River has increased considerably since you were last there, lapping at the foundations of houses and flooding the streets. You also notice that the pleasure-barge Paradise is absent.
The local mayor notices your arrival and hurries to your side. “Heroes!” he exclaims. “You have arrived just in time! The Paradise has been capsized by the storm, and our village is next!” He takes you to the local church, where countless drowned bodies are arrayed in quiet rows. With a sinking feeling, you observe that each of the drowned men bears a tattoo on his forearm or ankle, identical to the tattoo that Kaven wears: the sihedron rune. Could the deaths of these men be tied in to whatever rune magic the lamias are trying to wield?
“You have to do something!” the mayor continues. “The Skull River never floods like this; something must be wrong at the dam. And…” He pauses, unconsciously repeating a gesture of devotion to Gozreh, god of storm and sky, whose favor is especially important to those braving Varisia’s frontiers. “Some of the villagers reported seeing dark shapes in the waters. If there is a flaw in the dam, then that could mean Black Magga…” He turns pale, unable to continue.
Just then, you hear an enormous roaring sound as the water level surges upward. You are now up to your waist in floodwater, and you can hear the cries of villagers whose pets and children have been caught up in the sudden wave. And, in the distances, you see what looks like a black knot of tentacles writhing beneath the surface…
You fight valiantly against the rising tide and the writhing, serpentine monsters beneath it, and after what seems like an hours-long war of attrition, the water finally starts to recede. Black Magga, totally unfazed by your attacks, dives beneath the surface and vanishes into some other plane of existence. The threat has ended, for now, and you saved as many villagers as you could, but the danger was too all-encompassing, and there were many, far too many, that slipped from your grasp. It is very much, you realize, like the situation with the sihedron rune: you do what you can to minimize the damage, but still, the rising tide of evil claims its victims.
Once the flow of the river has receded to somewhat normal levels, you converse with Jakardros, Shalelu and Turtleback Ferry’s mayor about what could have caused the sudden flooding. It can only be the result of some structural damage to the Thassilonian dam known as Skull’s Crossing, which created the artificial lake of Storval Deep. Even a small leak in the dam could create the flood conditions you witnessed today; if the entire structure were to fall, Turtleback Ferry and most other towns on the Varisian frontier would be swallowed utterly.
The timing, just after the ogre raid and sinking of the Paradise, is too perfect to be a coincidence. Could the damage to Skull’s Crossing have been deliberate? If so, it’s imperative that you stop whoever or whatever is behind it before they can unleash an even greater flood of destruction.
Before you can depart for the dam, you are accosted by a small, blue-skinned man in outlandish clothes and beautiful gossamer wings: a pixie. “I’ve been told that there are great heroes present in Turtleback Ferry…” he begins.
“You and everybody else,” Shalelu mutters.
“You must help us,” the pixie continues, pretending not to have heard. “My name is Yap. My mistress, Myriana, is deathly ill. Worse than ill; her soul has been corrupted by sorrow! You see, her lover has been taken from her, and…”
“We are actually in the middle of something right now,” you begin, but Jakardros cuts you off.
“Myriana…I recognize that name,” he says. “Commander Bayden would compose love sonnets to a woman named Myriana. We teased him mercilessly about that.”
“You already know my mistress’ lover, then!” Yap the Pixie exclaims, astonished. “For they are one and the same. But she is not a woman, sir! A nymph! And not just any nymph, but ruler of the fey here in Whitewood! You see, we fey have a powerful connection to the land, and since Myriana’s lover was taken, all of the Shimmerglens has been affected! The plants are dying, and the spirits and fey creatures are being slowly corrupted. If you do not reunite them soon, the corruption will spread beyond the Shimmerglens and affect even the land we stand on…”
“Understood,” Jakardros says. “We are on an urgent errand right now, but we will look for your mistress’ lover as soon as we possibly can. Do you have any idea where Lamatar–I mean, your mistress’ lover might be found?”
“Yes! He was taken prisoner by those nasty ogres, brought back to their clanhold on Hook Mountain. My mistress can sense that he still lives, but she says that terrible tortures are being wrought on his soul! I can show you the way!”
You, Jakardros and Shalelu exchange glances. Once you have secured the dam, it sounds as though you’ll be bringing the fight to the Kreegs. It’s comforting to know that Lamatar Bayden, commander of the Black Arrow Rangers, is alive, but the pixies intimations of torture make you uneasy.
Making arrangements to meet back with Yap later, you head toward Skull’s Crossing. As you get close, you see that there is indeed a massive fault running down the middle of the dam, gushing water from Storval Deep. It’s surrounded by scars from numerous pickaxes, and you can hear ogres barking orders. Jakardros recognizes the ogre doing most of the shouting as Malugus Kreeg, brother to Jaagrath Kreeg and presumably next in line to lead the Kreeg clan. You prepare yourself for battle…
The dam, as expected, is swarming with ogres, who were already locked in battle with a gang of trolls that had apparently been occupying the dam in the past, led by a dangerous water troll they reverently refer to as “Wet Papa Grazuul.” You exterminate both threats, including the Kreegs’ leader, Malugus.
Even as you have him cornered, the big brute taunts you, saying, “You never beat the Kreeg clan. We have big-big on our side now! Barl Breakbones with crush you punies!” You wonder at the meaning of this threat as you slice the ogre’s oversized neck. Barl Breakbones does not sound like an ogre name, and from the way the ogres are talking, it sounds as though this “big-big” might be some sort of giant. There are many races of giant in the Iron Peaks, but they seldom associate with one another, let alone with ogres, who are both smaller and less intelligent than giant folk. Why now? You’re sure it’s somehow connected to the sihedron and the lamias, but how, you can’t say.
Yap the Pixie leads your march up Hook Mountain to assault the clanhold of the Kreeg ogres, now apparently led by some variety of giant going by the name of Barl Breakbones. As terrifying as you find the prospect of doing battle with a giant, his presence seems to have inspired a dangerous cockiness in the ogres, and you’re certain that no matter how many of their number you kill, they won’t admit defeat until you’ve dealt with Barl Breakbones himself. You’re also on a mission to rescue Lamatar Bayden, the commander of the Black Arrow Rangers, who has been kidnapped and has undergone some terrible form of torture.
As you draw near enough the clanhold that you can smell the ogres’ foul sweat, the pixie stops you short. “I sense evil magic at work,” he warns you. “A covey of black hags. It’s very likely that they’re responsible for the recent storm. They probably share the caves here with the ogres. I can sense…I can sense that they’re responsible for Sir Lamatar’s torture. They’ve made him into…”
The little pixie’s eyes go wide with fear. “Oh, no. He is lost to us now. The hags have twisted him into a frost wight, a terrible undead with icicle-like claws. You must put him to rest, or my mistress Myriana will never know peace!” He looks at you with pleading eyes.
“We’ll do our best,” you respond, wondering how you always get roped into these things.
The fight against Bayden and the hags was taxing, both mentally and physically, particularly for the Black Arrow Rangers who had served under him for many years. However, by the time you arrived, he was no longer the just, kind man he had been in life; he was a monster, driven by a bestial hunger for the one thing he lacked: life. His merest touch nearly chilled your heart to death.
An even tougher adversary was Barl Breakbones, the stone giant leader of the Kreeg clan. He sat on a an enormous throne, apparently carved from the mountain itself to accomodate his presence. When he saw you, instead of betraying anger or rage, he merely sneered as though you and the Rangers were worthless insects. “You have won back the fort from my ogres, but it is no matter,” he laughed, surprisingly articulate for a being his size. “By the time you arrived, my work here was nearly complete. You have done nothing to disrupt Lord Mokmurian’s plans.”
“Who is this Lord Mokmurian you speak of?” you shouted. “Tell us where he is, so that we may have his head!”
Barl Breakbones laughed again. “Your people are as weak-minded as they are small. How can it be true that you were once our masters? You truly are ignorant of Lord Mokmurian, the ruler of all giantfolk? Well. You shall not be for long.” And with that, he rose from his throne and floated into the air, wielding powerful magic forces and pelting you with boulder-sized fireballs. It was, without a doubt, the most difficult battle you have faced yet, and yet somehow, you have triumphed. The Kreeg ogres will bother the people of Turtleback Ferry no more.
Although you have saved the frontiersmen of Varisia from the threat of Barl Breakbones and his ogre minions, the things that you saw within the Kreeg clanhold, and the words the stone giant spoke to you, have you concerned. Most ogres are known for their laziness, when not feasting or fighting, but the stone giant appears to have converted the ogre stronghold to some sort of factory. In enormous forges warmed by blistering flames, ogres worked, harnessed to their stations like slaves, larger ogres patrolling their ranks carrying cats o’ nine tails, clearly eager for a chance to mete out punishment to their fellows clansmen—such is the brutal nature of ogres. At these stations, the indentured Kreegs melted huge vats of iron and steel from the armor and weapons of the vanquished Black Arrow Rangers; other ogres could be seen hammering away at giant-sized weapons and armor. The operation was enormous, and could mean only one thing: Barl Breakbones was supplying an army. An army of giants.
You’ve put an end to his operations, but who can say how many weapons he has already produced and sent back to this “Lord Mokmurian”? You barely survived the fight against one giant; how will you possibly handle a dozen? A hundred?
“It’s curious,” Headmaster Gandethus says when you, Shalelu, Jakardros and Vale share the tales of your adventures to a rapt crowd at the Rusty Dragon back in Sandpoint. “Mokmurian sounds like a giant name, but the first part, this ‘Lord’…no giant society that I am aware of is structured like that. They are a democratic race led by a council of elders. If this Mokmurian really does wield autocratic power over all species of giants, then he must be incredibly powerful. Virtually unstoppable, I’d wager.” Gandethus looks up and notices the dark shroud that has fallen over the room. “I’m sorry,” he asks, “was it something I said?”
In the months that follow the ogre attack on Fort Rannick and your confrontation with the giant sorceror Barl Breakbones, you hear scattered rumors of forces of giants spotted across Varisia. At first, they are small, groups of four or five at a time, and they keep their distance, seeming to disappear behind hills and mountains when they realize that they’ve been spotted. Then, things become worse. Squadrons of stone giants, accompanied by dire bears, mammoths and dull-witted ogres, begin attacking the human settlements of Varisia. Some survivors even claim that the giants fought alongside a great red dragon. They fight without mercy, stamping out any humans they find, whether or not their victims try to resist (except for those they throw into their sacks, probably to eat later). The only ones who survive to tell of these attacks are those small or quick enough to hide where the giants can’t find them.
At first, the attacks seem random, but after a while, a pattern emerges. The attacks always occur on settlements built near known Thassilonian ruins. And, after decimating the human population, the giants always leave with a trophy, a stone pried from the ancient Thassilonian structures.
You recall that the Old Light, a Thassilonian structure, stands near Sandpoint. It is only a matter of time before the giants attack. Resolute but inwardly terrified, you begin preparations for the town’s defense. This time, you won’t be caught unawares.
You have one advantage over the stone giant army: you knew that they were coming. You’ve had months to study the reports from the other attacks and prepare Sandpoints defenses, whereas you killed Barl Breakbones before he could inform his “Lord” of your existence. They will be expecting a few militiamen, maybe an adventurer or two. They’ll be getting heroes.
At least, it comforts you to tell yourself that. You almost believe you have a chance until you see the stone giant army on the horizon: at least a dozen giants, colossal dire bears, and a crimson-colored shape among the clouds that can only be a red dragon. They drag large, empty sacks behind them, to be filled with loot and prisoners, and some carry massive boulders for throwing and crushing. While most of the giants head toward the center of the village, one of them breaks off from the pack and makes a beeline for the Old Light, exactly as you had expected. This must be the raid leader; if you can incapacitate him, you might be able to obtain valuable information about the whereabouts and goal of Lord Mokmurian.
“Where is Lord Mokmurian?” you demand for the dozenth time. You’ve cast a Charm spell on Teraktinus, the leader of the raid on Sandpoint, to help encourage him to be more cooperative in your interrogation, but it’s still like pulling teeth.
“In Jorgenfist,” the giant replies. “In the Valley of the Black Tower.” But he can’t or won’t tell you where to find either location.
Eventually, you give up and ask him what the giants are doing with the stones they’re gathering. “Lord Mokmurian wants to ask them something,” Teraktinus replies. “I don’t know what. But he was very specific about which stones to get.”
You can tell that you’re getting nowhere, and leave the captive stone giant to the sheriff’s men. Although most of Sandpoint’s buildings are still standing, today was a disaster. You kept the red dragon from setting Sandpoint Cathedral alight yet again, but you were only able to wound it before it flew out of reach of your attacks. And though you captured the stone giant leader and killed several of the invaders, at least a half dozen giants left Sandpoint dragging bulging sacks filled with prisoners, as well as valuables they looted from the manor-houses of Sandpoint’s noble families. Titus Scarnetti is outraged, demanding that you hunt down the giants and bring back his fortunes at once, but you have more pressing concerns: among the people captured is Mayor Kendra Deverin.
Since it is clear that you will be getting nothing more out of Teraktinus, you have only one option: track the retreating stone giants back to Jorgenfist, wherever it is. This means that you cannot bring an army from Magnimar; they would surely alert the giants to your presence. It will have to be you, and you alone.
You track the giant raiding party for days, deep into the Iron Peaks. You’re worried about their human prisoners, but you can’t risk staging a rescue operation yet–this may be your only chance to discover the location of Jorgenfist and Lord Mokmurian’s army. Eventually, you come upon a gigantic set of stairs carved into the landscape, and then a valley opens up before you: the Valley of the Black Tower.
It is dominated, as the name suggests, by a large black tower rising up out of the middle of the stone giant fortress. Large birds circle it. The tower’s architectural style is different from that of Jorgenfist, and it seems to predate the latter construction.
The Black Tower is but a distraction, however, compared to the immense force of giants massing in and around Jorgenfist. Bivouacs and tent cities ring the massive fortress, filled with battalions of giants from every race imaginable: stone giants, frost giants, cloud giants, storm giants and fire giants, and even some encampments of ogres. You notice that only the ogres and some of the stone giants enter the fortress proper—although they include a red-haired taiga giant, easily 22 feet tall. If you can find a way to bypass the encampments outside Jorgenfist’s walls, you might stand a chance at wresting control from the inside.
You hide out in a nearby cave to observe the movements of the giants and pick up any clues that might help your rescue operations. You learn a few key facts: that there is a hidden entrance to Jorgenfist, that Lord Mokmurian is often found in the secret tunnels below the fortress, where none of the other giants dare venture; that his lieutenant is a stone giant named Galenmir, famed for his cruelty; and the approximate location where the human prisoners are being held. The odds still seem stacked against you, but now you have enough information to plan your assault.
Utilizing the secret passage, you are able to assault the fortress without encountering the giant armies encamped at its perimeter. You were still forced to battle the giants inside—including Galenmir, Mokmurian’s lieutenant; Cinderma, the red-haired taiga giant you spotted earlier; and the red dragon you faced during the attack on Sandpoint—but curiously, even though the encamped giants are aware of the battle taking place within the fortress, they do not move to defend it. A few hurl boulders at you from afar, but it seems that they are unwilling or unable to enter the fortress itself. You’ll have a difficult time of it when the time comes to leave, however.
You search the fortress high and low, but there is no sign of Lord Mokmurian. Eventually, you find the room where the prisoners from Sandpoint, and the other towns that have been pillaged, are being held. They are held in stocks, shirtless, and have clearly been tortured. On each prisoner’s chest, a sihedron rune has been burned into their flesh by a hot iron—like branding livestock. The thought makes you ill, especially when you see that Mayor Deverin and the other Sandpoint villagers have not escaped this torture. Many of the prisoners have been killed, their throats slashed and the blood allowed to flow freely from the wound, like a ritual sacrifice, but thankfully, the mayor is still alive. You unshackle her and help her to a feet.
While searching for more prisoners, you come across a room that appears to be a shrine. A female stone giant kneels in front of it, eyes closed. You are about to attack when she speaks: “Know that I am not your enemy, small ones. I am Conna, the last elder of my people.”
“You aren’t loyal to Lord Mokmurian?” you ask, incredulous.
“I am not,” she replies gently. “And he is no lord. That is a human word, used by those who were once our oppressors. To lord over another being…it is not our way.”
“Then why does he call himself that? And why do the other giants follow him?”
The giantess proceeds to relate the tale of how she became imprisoned in Jorgenfist. Mokmurian was originally born of her tribe, called the Kavarvatti. Occasionally, giants are born with innate magical ability; these giants often grow to become elders, like Conna. As a young giant, Mokmurian showed such promise, until it was revealed that all his power was obtained through trickery, by reading scrolls and books—this also is not the way of the stone giants. Mokmurian was cast out from the tribe and left to fend for himself. Nothing was heard of him for many years, until word traveled to the Kavarvatti tribe that an immensely powerful stone giant calling himself “Lord Mokmurian” was going from tribe to tribe, demanding that their elders pledge obedience to him and destroying any who disobeyed with magic the like of which had not been seen since the days of the Thassilonian oppressors. At that point, Conna knew what he had done—he had entered the Valley of the Black Tower, a cursed land forbidden to their people, and stolen the knowledge of the ancient Runelords.
Now, he is using this occult power to unite the giants under a banner of hatred for humankind, who had enslaved the giant races during the reign of the Thassilonian Runelords. His stated goal is to wipe humanity from the face of Golarion, but Conna fears that he will not stop there. She has looked into Mokmurian’s eyes and seen his greed for power—a hunger she never thought him capable of, even as an impetuous child.
Mokmurian is now hiding in the ruins beneath Jorgenfist, Conna explains. The fortress was built over a Thassilonian monastery, she explains, which contains a great library filled with the lost knowledge of the Runelords. Mokmurian is obsessed with this library, and spends all his time searching the ancient texts for some elusive secret, emerging for only a few minutes a day to relay orders to his lieutenant Galenmir. He is attended by two servants, vile Lamia who worship the goddess Lamashtu. He has also hired or charmed the other creatures who dwelt in the ruins to guard his chambers: a platoon of kobolds, small, red-scaled lizard-people who are unusually strong fighters; a band of dull-witted trolls that Mokmurian has trained to stand motionless for hours at a time to ambush unsuspecting intruders; and Lokansir, a hill giant fond of burying himself deep in the earth until the vibrations alert him of approaching footfalls.
Before you can pass through Mokmurian’s gauntlet, however, you must gain access to the ruins themselves. It is protected by a powerful runelock, which can only be broken if you know the correct incantation. Mokmurian guards this secret jealously—not even Galenmir was able to enter his secret lair—but Conna knows where it can be found. The Black Tower from which the valley gets its name was part of the original monastery, servicing a Thassilonian deity known as the Peacock Spirit. This tower contains a collection of scrolls known as the Emerald Codex of the Therassic Order. Among the rituals contained in the scroll is the one that Mokmurian used to access the ancient library.
The Black Tower is not without its protectors, however. A flock of harpies—which you mistook for birds on your approach to the fortress—has nested in the tower, and appear to be continuing the traditions of the monastic order, guarding its treasures from would-be tomb raiders. The Emerald Codex itself is entombed with one of the heads of the Therassic Order, in a chamber near the top of the tower, around which the harpies flock especially tightly. You’ll have to fight through them, avoiding their beguiling song, and break the spells preserving the monk’s final resting place before you can lay claim to the Codex and the key to Lord Mokmurian’s lair.
The harpies nearly did you in with their songs, trying to lead you off ledges or treacherous stairwells, and in the end, you had to fight the reanimated, mummified monk clutching the puissant book, but you now possess the Emerald Codex of the Therassic Order. Not only will this grant you access to Jorgenfist’s lower reaches, it is also the key to all of the secrets of Thassilon. Particularly once you have driven Lord Mokmurian from the ancient library, you can spend many weeks translating the long-buried secrets of the Thassilonian Empire, if you so desire.
However, before you can enter the library, you must pass through the gauntlet of protectors that Mokmurian has stationed in the tunnels beneath Jorgenfist. You must be prepared for anything—you know that the stone giant’s security detail will contain kobolds, trolls and lamias, which Conna has learned from Mokmurian’s gloating visits to the shrine in which she’s been imprisoned, but even she is not aware of the dangers that lurk within the ancient library itself. She has seen Mokmurian wield the power to resurrect the dead, and suspects that the arcane artifact responsible for these ungodly acts is secreted within those hidden chambers. When you return from the Black Tower, the bodies of the giants you slew earlier are nowhere to be seen, and you fear that you will be facing them again before the day is through.
The lamia sisters are annoyingly resilient, but eventually they fall, alongside the other monsters guarding the Ancient Library’s great runelocked doors. Using the incantation you learned from the Emerald Codex, you temporarily disable the runelock and pass cautiously into the great library.
The great Thassilonian library is unlike anything you have seen before, shelf upon shelf of ancient scrolls reaching high into its vaulted chambers. Massive suits of armor decorate the walls, clutching greataxes only suitable for a giant—although, eerily, one of them is missing its helmet, like the headless equestrian revenant from the old folktale. A gargantuan cauldron bubbles in the center of the room, no doubt priming some necromantic brew. At the far end of the library, obscured by a fine haze of distance, Lord Mokmurian sits at a large desk, wholly absorbed in an ancient Thassilonian scroll. He wears a long silk robe covered with Thassilonian runes of power, and a large, spike-covered club rests by his feet—even at this distance, you can sense that it radiates powerful transmutation magic.
A sudden movement in the periphery of your vision startles you, and you quickly draw your weapon. A massive, potbellied creature emerges from the stone wall of the tunnel, radiating an intense heat from its belly, which resembles a cross between a blazing forge and a jagged-toothed mouth. A few seconds later, it is gone, passing unhindered through the opposite wall of the tunnel. You recognize the creature as a Scanderig, or Forgefiend, natives of the Plane of Earth that devour raw ore and sometimes inhabit subterranean tunnels, preying on any interlopers they find. They are particularly feared by dwarves. You thank Torag that the creature did not spot you—the terrible heat of the forgefiend’s ever-burning core makes them dangerous to face in close quarters, and the last thing you need right now is another random monster to worry about.
As you turn back around, you notice that the desk at which Lord Mokmurian was sitting has been abandoned. The stone giant sorcerer must have spotted you! You step forward into the library, trying to spot him between the towering shelves, when suddenly, one of the massive suits of armor decorating the walls emits an ear-splitting creak as it flexes its arm, raising the greataxe over its helmet to strike. You realize that the armors are for more than decoration—they each contain the corpse of a long-deceased giant!
As you prepare to face off against the armored undead, the bubbling cauldron emits a loud hissing noise, and a hill giant crawls dripping from the ancient iron bowl. Its body is covered with Thassilonian runes, and it wears a vacant expression, as though its will is not its own. You can also see, from the deep slash across the giant’s throat, that it was recently dead. It appears that Mokmurian was using this contraption to slaughter any giants who opposed him, then reanimate them as his mindless servants!
A few more runeslaves emerge from the shelves as the headless suit of armor, clearly the leader, closes in on you. This is not going to be an easy fight to win…
Finally, it is over. Though massive, the Ancient Library soon became oppressively claustrophobic as you were beset from all sides by Mokmurian’s runeslaves and the planeswalking Scanderig. The stone giant fought viciously, powered by a cruel intellect unlike anything you’ve seen, even among other magically attuned giants like Conna. It soon became clear that the rune-covered robe he wore, most likely of Thassilonian origin, was augmenting the power of his magical attacks, and his great club seemed to have some vampiric ability, prolonging the battle with every true blow. Several times, he conjured beings from outside time and space to serve as his protectors, using magics far beyond your imagining.
Eventually, the so-called ruler of the giants fell…only to rise again, moments later. This time, however, something was different. His movements were jerky and uncoordinated, like a marionette controlled by invisible strings.
“So these are the heroes of the age,” a strangely accented human voice intones through the dead giant’s unmoving mouth. “More like gasping worms to me, soon to be crushed back into the earth when I awaken the armies of Xin-Shalast, when the name Karzoug is again spoken with fear and awe. Know that the deaths of those marked by the Sihedron—the giants you have so conveniently slain for me—hasten my return, just as yours soon will. Fools, all of you. Is this all you could manage in ten thousand years?”
With dawning dread, you realize that Lord Mokmurian was never the real threat—he was merely a puppet, controlled by the still-living Thassilonian Runelord of Greed, Karzoug. Every death of those branded by the sihedron rune—the murders committed by the Skinsaw Men, the men drowned on the pleasure barge Paradise, the human prisoners taken by the giants and Jorgenfist, and even the rune-marked giants whose lives you have just taken—have contributed to a ritual intended to bring the corrupt Thassilonian sorcerer back into this world. It is possible that Karzoug somehow found a way to communicate with the shunned Mokmurian, tempting him with tantalizing tales of revenge, but it’s more likely that he has been controlling the stone giant’s actions this entire time, plotting this continent-spanning ritual from the shadows. And, if his words are to be believed, you arrived too late to make any difference—though you have slaughtered his living host, you will soon face the ancient Runelord in the flesh. And if you cannot defeat him—all of Varisia will answer for your failure.
You spend the next few weeks ensconced in the Ancient Library, poring through its texts in the vain hope that you will discover some way—any way—to stop the ritual. The robes you scavenged from Mokmurian’s body aid you in this task, imbuing their wearer with an inhumanly quick intellect. You also take Mokmurian’s vampiric club, although you have less scholarly uses planned for that. After some debate over the potential benefits of an army of runeslave giants to aid in the fight against Karzoug, you eventually decide to destroy Mokmurian’s runeslave cauldron—if this is what Conna meant when she spoke of the giants’ ancient oppressors, it seems that Mokmurian’s ire toward humanity was at least partially deserved. You vow not to commit the same sins as the enemy you are destined to face.
With Conna’s aid, you convince the assembled giant tribes that Mokmurian has been vanquished. A few of them, particularly the stone and frost giants, want to march on the humans anyway, but Conna calls upon her authority as an elder and convinces them that they’d be better off maintaining the tenuous peace that has reigned for millennia. Besides, the current human settlers of Varisia are not their real enemy, and in fact, you are the giants’ only ally against their true oppressors.
You learn much of the ancient Runelords, of their seemingly endless power, but every scroll you translate only sends you deeper into despair. It appears that the only way to damage a Runelord at full power is with weapons forged by the Runelords themselves, the secrets to which were buried with the Thassilonian Empire. Even in the depths of your misery, you read, and translate, and pray. The Ancient Library holds thousands of scrolls, and there’s a slim chance that one of them contains the key to defeating Karzoug. You only hope that this time, you are not too late.
Wielding runeforged weapons infused with the sins of Lust and Pride, you are now ready to march against Karzoug, Runelord of Greed, in his lost capital of Xin-Shalast. You know that Xin-Shalast can be found near the peak of Mhar-Massif in the Kodar mountain range, but the ancient city is protected from discovery by a strong field of occlusion, and Mhar-Massif itself is nearly unscaleable. Indeed, although you now know where Xin-Shalast is, you still need to figure out how to get there.
You hold a meeting with two of Sandpoint’s preeminent scholars, Brodert Quink and Ilsoari Gandethis. After a few hours of false starts and dead ends, Gandethus recalls a mountaineering expedition of dwarves, led by brothers Silas and Karivek Vekker, who claimed to have discovered the lost road to Xin-Shalast several years back. Quink recalls the story as well: apparently, there had been quite the scandal when the dwarven party had departed for the mountain and never returned. It seems that several historical societies had offered a generous commission to fund the expedition, and many sources now dismissed the dwarven explorers as frauds, surmising that they had always intended to take the money and run. However, if there’s even a chance that the dwarves had discovered safe passage to Xin-Shalast, you must take it.
You depart immediately for their last known whereabouts, an abandoned base camp at the snow-covered foot of the Kodar mountain range.
The Kodar Mountains, also known as the World’s Roof, are forbidding but impressive. Their massive peaks seem to nearly touch the stars, and their snow-covered surface is a constant maelstrom of blizzards and avalanches. Even if you can find the path to Xin-Shalast, scaling them will not be easy.
After days of searching, you locate the abandoned cabin that served as a base camp for the dwarven expedition to find Xin-Shalast, the legendary city of gold and capital of the once-illustrious nation of Shalast, seat of Karzoug the Claimer. The front door of the Vekkers’ cabin hangs off of its hinges, and the interior of the cabin is a wreck; it’s clear that a large wild animal has gone through it. As you step inside, you are hit by an insistent twinge of hunger. Even for heroes, the trek through the frigid wastes was long and exhausting. All else being equal, given the state of the cabin, you decide to begin your investigation with the larder.
As you’re forcing open the larder’s massive door, you’re startled by a terrifying, ravenous howl from outside. It may be a trick of acoustics, but it sounded close. Soon, however, your attention is brought back to the inside of the cabin as your mind registers the contents of the larder: it’s empty except for a neat pile of squat, thick bones in the corner. It doesn’t take an anatomical expert to identify them as dwarven bones. The bizarre sensation of hunger increases at the sight.
Suddenly, the cabin’s door swings inward and a balding dwarf staggers in from the cold. You recognize him from a portrait as Silas Vekker, one of the leaders of the expedition. “Run for your life!” he shouts. “They’re going to eat you, too!” As he speaks, bite-sized chunks of flesh tear away from his body and disappear; within a few moments, he is gone completely. He must be a haunt, like the spirits you encountered inside Foxglove Manor. Another ravenous howl echoes from outside, closer this time.
During your exploration of the Vekkers’ cabin, one thing became immediately clear: the dwarves had not taken the expedition money and run, as many scholars had accused them of doing. The entire expedition party had died in these mountains, and they’d perished at each other’s hands, or more accurately, their teeth. Overcome by an insatiable hunger, the dwarves had devoured one another alive.
Several times during your search, you and your companions found yourselves overcome by the same hunger or by terrifying hallucinations, and these visions told you everything you needed to know of the Vekker expedition. Several more times, you encountered the revenant spirit of Silas Vekker, who seemed the most lucid of the dwarven haunts. His shade promised to tell you the way to Xin-Shalast if you destroyed the bones of his brother, Karivek Vekker, who had been at the center of the cannibalistic curse and whose ravenous ghost still haunted the mines near the cabin. Destroying the bones would free Vekker from the curse, and both brothers could finally rest in peace.
You soon found Karivek’s bones, guarded by his twisted spirit. He fought you like an animal, displaying none of the traces of humanity that Silas had, and curiously, both his spirit’s legs and those of his skeleton ended in charred stumps. The reason for this became clear when, on your return to the cabin, you were attacked by a tall, gaunt creature with the head of an elk, which unleashed a familiar, ravenous howl upon seeing you. It walked upright, like a man, and its legs, too, ended in burn and blackened stumps. As soon as you destroyed it, your own twinges of hunger ceased, and you understood that the strange beast was somehow infecting the minds of its victims with its own insatiable greed for sustenance.
Silas Vekker’s shade, grateful that you have layed his cursed brother to rest, tells you everything you need to know about the hidden path to Xin-Shalast, ancient city of riches. But he also begs you not to follow the path: the Kodar Mountains are cursed, he explains, especially that forgotten Thassilonian capital. Only misery awaits you there.
Heedless of the spirit’s warnings, you follow Silas Vekker’s instructions to reveal the secret path to Xin-Shalast, which is only visible if you stand at an icemelt river’s source on a night when the moon is full. Luckily, it’s only two days from the full moon; you take advantage of the wait to scout out the path and set up a camp near the river’s source.
The night before the full moon, as you sleep in your tent, you are visited by a diaphanous blue nymph. She bears a striking resemblance to Myriana, the swamp nymph you assisted while defending Fort Rannick from the Kreeg ogres. Indeed, the nymph introduces herself as Svevenka, one of Myriana’s many cousins. To repay your kindness to the fey, she has come to prepare you to what you will find in Xin-Shalast.
The Thassilonian city is not completely abandoned, Svevenka explains. Although its human inhabitants are gone and its magnificent buildings are in ruins, it is infested with lamia, notoriously greedy creatures who were quite content to inherit the opulent, gilded buildings after its human masters were wiped out. These include more snake-tailed lamia matriarchs, like you encountered before, and massive lamia harridans. After Karzoug’s awakening, it appears that these creatures have once again pledged themselves to the Runelord of Greed, and are currently at war with a blue dragon named Ghlorofaex who has taken up residence in one of Xin-Shalast’s ruined towers.
Xin-Shalast is also defended by an army of Rune Giants, creations of the Runelords that have the power to control other giants in their vicinity. It is primarily through the use of Rune Giants that the Thassilonians once enslaved the giant races, and now Karzoug has set them to work again, enslaving nearby cloud and frost giants as wardens of Xin-Shalast. Finally, in the ruins beneath Xin-Shalast, you will find a society of strange, reclusive creatures call the Spared. The Spared were once humans like you, Thassilonian slaves who somehow survived the tragedy that wiped out the rest of their empire, but they have evolved into doughy, white-skinned, black-eyed creatures with a preternatural ability to hide in the shadows. Should you encounter them, they may prove to be unlikely allies.
You thank the ice nymph for this information and await the light of the full moon and your chance to finally enter Xin-Shalast, the home of your greatest enemy.
When you passed through the occlusion field surrounding Xin-Shalast—which doubles as a security system, according to Svevenka, releasing sporadic jolts of destructive energy at any living creatures in its vicinity that do not bear the Sihedron on their person—you were momentarily struck dumb by the sight of Karzoug’s fallen capital. Even in ruins, it is greater and richer than any city you have encountered, a glittering expanse of vast collosseums and cloud-capped spires glittering with gold, diamonds, rubies and other precious minerals.
Then, your eyes settled on the massive Rune Giants and treacherous lamias teeming in Xin-Shalasts opulent courtyards and keeping watch from its glistening towers, and you knew that you had no time to marvel at this monument to greed. You began your assault, facing a near-constant onslaught of the toughest foes you’ve yet encountered. As you fought, you sometimes caught a flap of blue wings out of the corner of your eye and had the feeling that something was watching you from the ruins, but you had no time to marvel at this. Strangely, in certain locations in the city, you felt your strength ebb, and spells that should have slain your opponents fizzled into nothing. You quickly learned to avoid those areas; the threat of death can be a strong motivator.
As the last Rune Giant fell, the blue dragon Ghlorofaex appeared, thanking you for taking care of his opponents. “It’s too bad I can’t keep you around,” he mused. “Those lamias will be along any minute. But I’m starving…it’s been ages since I’ve eaten anything but crunchy giants and stringy lamias.” The lightning-breathing blue dragon proved to be more powerful than the red or white dragons you have fought so far, but he eventually falls…and a small, doughy shape emerges from the shadows.
“You’ve slain Ghlorofaex!” the Spared marvels in a hoarse whisper, as if unused to speaking aloud. “You must be the ones spoken of in the prophecies! Ones such as we once were, who would emerge from the outer world to free us again!”
Just then, you hear the scrabbling claws of approaching lamias. Melting into the shadows again, the Spared hisses at you to follow him into the ruins beneath Xin-Shalast, where he will explain more.
The Spared, who introduces himself as Morgiv, takes you deep into the shadows beneath Xin-Shalast. Along the way, he shows you stone wall-carvings depicting the history of his people: how they were once the slaves of the Runelord Karzoug; how a priestess of Lissala, goddess of runes, freed them and led them beneath Xin-Shalast, where they survived the tragedy that wiped out Thassilon; how before her death, the Lissalan priestess prophecied that one day, the Spared would be enslaved again, and great heroes would come from the outside world to free them, this time for good.
The Spared lived in peace for many centuries, learning to be quiet and inconspicuous in everything they did, until one day, a new master appeared in the Spared’s home and enslaved them yet again. Known as the Hidden Beast, nobody has actually seen it and lived, but it still has the Spared in its thrall, whispering its orders from the darkness. Morgiv seems convinced that you have come to rescue the Spared from this creature. When you explain that you are here to slay Karzoug, Morgiv hisses in fear. “The Runelord lives?” he whispers.
You explain that you will do what you can to take care of the Hidden Beast, and ask the Spared for assistance finding and killing Karzoug. If the Runelord still lives, Morgiv explains, he will be in the largest spire at the peak of Mhar Massif; this was where the Runelord ruled when he lived. However, to reach the spire, you’ll have to pass through an area the Spared call the Death Zone. They say that several years ago, a new range of black mountains appeared among the Kodar Mountains, radiating a strange energy. Bizarre creatures have emerged from these mountains, and Morgiv believes them to be being from another plane of existence, a place called the Plateau of Leng. The Spared believe that the denizens of Leng are attempting to merge their world with Golarion. In places close to this dimensional incursion, the rules of the universe do not function the same, which is why magic becomes unreliable near the black mountain range.
Scaling the treacherous Mhar Massif, you recall the words of caution written by Ronagard “Two-Toes” Roteguard, pathfinder mountaineer, directed to any adventurers foolish enough to think they could survive the massive mountains of the World’s Roof:
“The cold’s not your enemy. No, when you get it in your fool head to go gallivanting up to the top of the world, there’s plenty else to be worried of. Up there, there’s mountains that roar and try to eat you alive. There’s air that quits caring and does you about as much good as trying to breathe a lake. There’s rock that’s solid as a fortress wall ’til it’s the only thing holding you over a gap a mile deep. And then there’s the things. The snowy, hungry things that don’t let anything made of meat just pass on by.
The cold, though, it’ll kill you slow and quiet. It’ll be there when you’re fallen and broken, half-eaten at the bottom of some ravine. It’ll make the hurting stop, wrap you up in that dull, soft numbness, and make your forget any thought of climbing back down.
No, the cold’s not your enemy. Up there, it’s the best friend you’ve got.”
Of course, even Roteguard could not have anticipated the bizarre planar incursion by the world of Leng and its skittering, spider-like inhabitants. Passing through this other plane of existence, you witness things and undergo trials that would drive a lesser person insane, but eventually, you emerge in the cold, thin air of Mhar Massif’s peak. Above you, Karzoug’s spire stretches like a greedy arm toward the diamonds of the stars.
This is it: the final assault against Karzoug the Claimer, Runelord of Greed, in his spire overlooking the ruins of Xin-Shalast.
This close to the Runelord’s lair, you feel the Runeforged weapons pulse with power. Forged from pride and lust, they are bane against Karzoug’s transmutation magic and will both protect you and enhance your attacks; without them, your blows would be useless against the powerful artificer.
First, though, you have to find him. As you search the spire, you encounter rooms filled with swirling transmutational fog; every once in a while, Karzoug’s familiar, gem-encrusted face forms out of this fog, watching you pass. But it is not the Runelord himself. You suspect that his true form is somewhere at the pinnacle of the spire, guarded by his most loyal servants: the lamia harridan Most High Ceoptra and Karzoug’s two human proteges. You learn a little about these guardians from the Spared, who observe everybody who passes through Xin-Shalast from the shadows. One is Khalib, a mage with a lust for power who appears to have come here of his own free will. The other is a powerful female warrior in golden armor named Viorian Dekanti. Morgiv does not think she serves Karzoug willingly; she seems to be controlled by the cursed scimitar she wields.
As you climb toward the spire’s pinnacle, you come upon a room dominated by a strange portal emitting flashing lights and unusual sounds. Denizens of Leng skitter back and forth, manipulating otherwordly machinery. This must be part of their plan to infiltrate your plane. Although stopping Karzoug has to be your top priority, you now have another task: destroying this portail before it opens and unleashes…whatever it is upon your world.
Once you’ve fought through the Rune Giants, the vicious lamia harridan and Karzoug’s two human proteges, you storm the Runelord’s throne room, blades and spells at the ready, only to find…an empty chamber.
Almost empty, that is. An empty sarcophagus rests in the middle of the room, surrounded by golden statues depicting the Runelord of Greed. In front of the sarcophagus, the largest statue clasps an emerald-green disc in its hands. Squinting into the disc, you realize that it is a crystalline lens reflecting…somewhere else. A separate plane of existence, like Runeforge. It is a fairly small arena surrounding by a maelstrom of transmutational fog. Every so often, a tormented face emerges from the fog. You recognize a few of these faces, and realize that they are the souls of those sacrificed with the Sihedron mark carved into their flesh. In the center of the arena, a Runewell glows, similar to the Runewell of Wrath you found below Sandpoint…except that this is surely the Runewell of Greed, the center of Karzoug’s power.
You understand that if you are to find Karzoug anywhere, it will be near the Runewell reflected in this crystalline lens, where he can drink in the power of greedy souls. But how to access this pocked plane?
As if in answer, the runeforged weapons stir in your hands. They coax you to strike the emerald-green lens. Tentatively, you raise the charmed weapons overhead and bring them down with all the force you have. The lens shatters, and in the same moment, the throne room melts away, replaced by a maelstrom of swirling fog. In front of you stands Karzoug, Runelord of Greed and the greatest threat Golarion has ever known. If you do not end his life now, once and for all, it will be over for not just you, but the entire civilized world….
It is finished. You have ended the life of Karzoug the Claimer, Runelord of Greed. Powered by his Runewell, overflowing with avaricious souls, he blasted you with withering magic that nearly killed you on the spot, while your most powerful attacks barely seemed to affect him. Yet somehow, you succeeded. You claim his powerful artifacts for your own: his burning glaive, his occult robes, and his book of spells, containing the most powerful transmutation magic Varisia has ever known. Just as you do, the last of the Runewell’s power dies away, and you find yourself back in Karzoug’s throne room. You breathe a sigh of relief. The last Thassilonian is dead.
Except…that isn’t true, is it? According to what you learned in the Ancient Library, each of the Runelords found some way to preserve their life during the cataclysm that ended their empire. You’ve killed one of them; there are six more out there somewhere, biding their time, growing in power. If this was what greed looked like, you shudder to imagine facing off against the necromantic Runelord of Gluttony or the destructive Runelord of Wrath.
You push the worries from your mind. Karzoug slumbered for ten thousand years…maybe it will be ten thousand more before the next Runelord awakens, or maybe they will not awaken at all. In any case, now is not the time for such dark thoughts. Now is the time for celebrating! You begin a teleportation ritual, eager to share the good news with the people of Sandpoint, who you’ve grown to love like your own family.
Mayor Deverin declares a month of feasting and festivities in honor of the heroes who saved Golarion from disaster. You think that might be a bit excessive, but you can’t say you haven’t earned it.
In your days, you lose yourself in wine and song, sharing your stories of adventure with eager listeners who come from miles around to meet the heroes of Varisia. Ameiko Kaijitsu fills in whenever your voice gets hoarse, and Cyrdrak Drokkus even pens an opera in your honor. Headmaster Gandethus insists that you give a lecture to his students on all you’ve learned about Thassilonian history, and if you ever get tired of the adventuring life, the powerful artifacts you earned along your way are enough to make you wealthy beyond your wildest imaginings.
With Karzoug dead, you have little use for the runeforged weapons, especially given their corrupting influence, but you can’t bring yourself to destroy them. Eventually, you decide to lock them away in the basement of Sandpoint’s Academy, among Ilsoari Gandethus’ other dangerous artifacts. A small, scared voice in your head reminds you that there are still six more Runelords out there. You pray that you will never need to wield such profane weapons again, but you want to keep them close at hand…just in case.
Every once in a while you take a moment to reflect on all you have accomplished since first coming to Sandpoint. You fought off a band of goblins and their Lamashtu-worshipping human leader. You stopped an undead murderer and the cult who commanded him. You rescued a fort from peril and invaded an ogre clanhold. You laid siege on a fortress of stone giants, conquered a ten thousand year old pocket dimension, and defeated a Runelord himself. After all that, it’s hard to get excited about guarding a few shepherds’ flocks.
The life of a celebrated hero is good, but a part of you still yearns for new adventures, new frontiers. From your contacts in the Pathfinder Society, you hear that the real action these days is on the high seas, where the Free Captains of the Shackles engage in piracy and debauchery from the eye of an eternal hurricane. You hear that at the disreputable Port Peril, strong-looking civilians are being press-ganged into service aboard such pirate vessels. Perhaps you’ll check it out, one of these days.