Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rise of the Seithran

The Rise of the Seithran can be played as part of the Bone King adventure path or as a stand-alone, but before we get started, here are a couple things from the Bone King campaign that ended up being pretty important for our playgroup.

The Bone King's Ruby Eyes and Iron Ring (see description in the Bone King)

The Cup: Discovered in what seems like years ago, this silver cup was borne out of the shadow keep of a once powerful noble. Since found, it has already changed two of our number that dared to drink from it. Once in the Material World, the cup changes into a gold goblet encrusted with sapphires and emeralds. Our two adventurers that drunk from the cup were brought closer to the Shadow Realm. They now see in the dark and figments of their companions thoughts and fleeting images of their dreams. On this leg of the adventure, the cup has new surprises. You might end up in the Aether, where the cup can take on any number of shapes depending on the realm it's brought into. In the Halls of the Dead, it manifests into a blaze of white fire. Of course one of our foolhardy adventurers decided to fill it with wine and drink from it. What would ever cause a sane person to put a ball of fire to their lips, who knows (not their GM!), but it happened and she was consumed with incredible burning pain. After a few moments of pain that felt much, much longer, she was changed. Her spirit fused to her body, erasing her previous self and making her a planar creature. This has made innumerable changes to her not the least of which allows her to use the reflection in the cup to see images of things she concentrates on.
Magdalena Zwierzchowska

The sea spray greets you like an old friend as the prow of the ship dips down the chop and back up again. At the top of the next wave, the city of Torvald crests the horizon and almost at the same time the sun peaks out of the east. Suddenly it feels two degrees warmer.

Then out of the coastal waves, a ship and then another and another. Three rectangular sails, red striped and decorated with a black ring across the the center, the ships quickly close the distance between you. "Who is that?" You shout to the old captain over the surf. "They are the Seggring," replies Ask, "Leaving for the raids."

Soon the ships are passing and Ask shouts something in Skald at them while raising a shield from the railing and you gawk at the ships full of tall muscular women working the ropes.

The Setting: Torvald is huge for a town in Nord Fyel. In fact, the Vann consider it a city. The streets aren't paved and most buildings are single story long houses that shelter multiple families. There is little else as far as structures, but the docks are something to behold with many dozens of ships at rest on the beach and each at the base of a 50 ft. tall wooden sculpture carved with many faces, some like animals or monsters and painted with blacks, reds, greens, and sometimes blues. There's another such wooden pillar or totem at the center of town, but it stands well over a 100 ft. with a base at least ten feet wide at the bottom.

Making your way through Torvald you'll find many people toiling about but little in way of a market- or really any place to sell goods. In fact, it seems most residents are very self-sufficient (at least in the view of an outsider) and what they can't get they buy from their neighbors. It seems local knowledge will be necessary for navigating the ins and outs of Torvald, especially for acquiring food and hawking goods. Just the same, the subtle wealth of the Vann is apparent in the well-fed populace. There is plenty of drying fish, kelp, and squid hanging on racks outside, also fine fishing nets, dyed furs, and steelwork.

At the center of Torvald is the largest of the longhouses. It is incredibly large for a single story wooden structure. Its walls are lined with doors, now open to the elements, and its roof reaches at least sixty feet tall. From a long way off you see a crowd assembled inside.

The Scene: Once near the structure, you see a short black haired woman dressed in travel-wear, fur, and a woven cedar cape, addressing a much taller women clothed in many furs dyed red and black. The woman, named Hilde is recounting the story of her search for her lost son, only to return to her home to find the rest of the family had disappeared. After searching frantically for some hours, she found only these unusual spheres. Then she holds out one of the four transparent globes. The woman in furs, named Torunn is the Jarl of Torvald. She takes one sphere. It seems like glass, but extremely light and durable. She passes the globe to a strange looking man covered in tattoos and wearing antlers on his head. This is Leif, the town Verndari or druid. He sets the globe down and asks how many she found. She procures 3 others and postulates there is one for each of her children and husband. Next to him another strange looking man, he is thin and short and dressed in only a cedar skirt and an elk-skin cape. This is Knut, an excentric but good-natured witch.

The Spheres: Each sphere is indeed the remains of Hilde's husband, two children, and Hilde as well. In fact, the woman claiming her name is Hilde, is actually a woman named Gudrun- but we'll return to that later. Leif and Knut are unable to discern the spheres' nature, but while experimenting Knut may accidentally open a portal to the Halls of the Dead as that is where they come from. Each sphere once held the spirit of a living being, but they are spent. They were created by the warrior spirits named Valkyrja, but without exploring the other side of the portal it is impossible to discern anything except that they were formed from the chaos of the Aether.

Halls of the Dead: The Halls are immense, mindbendingly so. You can walk for what seems like miles and still be standing at its center. The hall is flanked by statues of women warriors, seemingly made from marble and silver, and standing miles upon miles tall. Adding to the strangeness of the place, the hall has no windows, but it is filled light, so much so that you have absolutely no shadow.

Heading in the direction of the statues will eventually lead to what you thought was a hall but is in fact, an endless number of passageways stretching away from the main hall. Going down any one of them will lead you to an identical great hall, except this one is filled with innumerable rows of men and women in maille and furs drinking and eating. They are being served by lithe silver clad women identical to the statued pillars of the hall. They stand well over ten feet tall and seem to serve no function other than refilling cups of wine and carrying trays of food, despite their full armor and many worn weapons. Scanning the room, your eye is drawn to the "end" of the hall, which when you concentrate seems to actually be the center of the hall. An even taller woman, also clad in silver sits on a throne, her black hair sticks out from under her helm and she sits at the center of the only dark part of the room, an immense black blot on the cobbled floor.

The hall is filled with the raucous of a million warriors. You may approach unhindered. All the silver-clad warrior women ignore you as long as you are unthreatening and the undecipherable buzz of voices continues for as long as you stand in the room. Once you sit at any of the tables, the talking turns from white noise to coherent chatter. The warriors are warm company. They will regale you with stories, including the story of each of their deaths. They know why they are there, though none seem to know to what end (though they have stories for that too). The woman at the center of the hall is Alfhildr, goddess of war.

The Plot: Alfhildr is an oft revered deity that serves as the protagonist in many tales. She is also described as a ruthless slaver that wears the gilded teeth of the previous Alfhildr around her neck. Regardless, she like most beings in the Aether are far removed from materiality. Why they would be involved in this mystery is befuddling to say the least, so bear with me. A once-prominent and now persecuted political faction named the Seithren is making a gambit for the seat at Torvald, attempting to overthrow centuries of democratic tradition to establish an oligarchy and also push out the Verndari (druids) as the spiritual leaders of the Vann.

To achieve their ends, this small but powerful group of wilders has enlisted the help of Magnhildr, sister and rival of Alfhildr. In exchange for the sacrifice of four of her sister slaves, the Valkyrja, she will aid them. A difficult task to be sure, but now organized the seithran are resourceful. They summoned four Valkyrja and with the souls of Hilde and her family they dispelled the enchantments that force the Valkyrja to obey, knowing they would attempt to kill Alfhildr and take her place on the throne. Now, the Seithren need only wait for the freed Valkyrjas' likely deaths.

When the adventurers play through Torvald to the Hall, they are likely to discover the spheres once housed the souls of Hilde and her family, but they were spent. It is possible to discover the identity associated with each sphere. Likewise, it is possible to use the spheres to return home (but a word of warning, each time a portal is created, a sphere is destroyed) They are also likely to witness the four Valkyrja attack Alfhildr and die in the process. Their blood will be added to the ever-growing dark blot on the floor.

Arthur Rackham
When you return to Torvald, a startled Knut is in the middle of making stew when you spring from his cooking pot. Once the confusion passes you'll realize you've been gone for weeks (or at least much longer than you suppose). Immediately you make your way to Torunn to tell her what you discovered.

You learn from Torunn that Leif left for a village called Kimbr to better study Hilde's home, but he has not returned. Torunn introduces you to a man covered from head to toe in tattoos. Despite the chill of fall, he is almost naked. His name is Hakon, a painted warrior and tracker. He is as blunt as he is skilled. She was just about to send him to Kimbr to track down some thieves stealing sheep from the counties around Torvald. She seems unconcerned about Leif's absence because apparently the Verndari are outside her control and frequently gather for meetings, but since the trouble with Kimbr and the apparent thievery in the same area, she would like you to accompany Hakon on the two-day trek to find him.

Kimbr: A small village with friendly people. When you arrive, Hakon leaves to track the stolen sheep. The villagers point you to Hilde's home at the edge of town and also confirm that Hilde had three children, not two (exactly as she claimed but curious if you discovered the identities of the orbs). Also strange, the villagers are unable to talk about the youngest of the children. Whenever a villager mentions the child they begin to contradict themselves. Curiously the villagers seem to be aware that what they are saying doesn't make sense, but they can't help it. In fact, once they start contradicting themselves about the child they start contradicting themselves about the whole family, eventually resulting in a splitting migraine and confused mumbling. Something else, they become confused about the whereabouts of Leif. Not only that, but the whereabouts of any Verndari. There should be at least one in each county and all the villagers should know the identity of the local Verndari.

Each of the villagers is marked, though they don't know it. The Seithran have enchanted all the townsfolk to obey their commands and avoid certain topics, all without them ever knowing the Seithran were ever there, despite the fact that the Seithran's main gathering point is the vale only ten miles up the forest path.

One thing the villagers do know is a woman named Gudrun. Gudrun was ostracized from Kimbr as a child (for being a Seithren or wilder). She was long thought dead, but some of the local farmers recognized a woman in the forest that resembled her (now a woman in her late teens).

The Vale: Having found only a dead farmer, and tracks of sheep leading into the forest, Hakon comes to find you. Hakon, blunt as he is, wants to track them into the forest but with night falling seems to want some backup. The mood of the town and the wanton nature of the farmer's death has him a little spooked. Making your way through the forest, you come to a point where there is a light flickering through the cedars ahead. After a mile or more, you come upon an incredible scene.

An inferno casts long shadows across the cliffs. There are more than twenty women sitting around a huge bonfire. Behind them are the men. An equal amount of men are split into two groups and between them is a group of children. From the protection of boulders, you can make out provisions, wagons, and two squatted forms beside what looks like bears. One of the women stand up and come near the fire, so close that it should burn her. Suddenly she thrusts a hand into the flames and opens it. The fire erupts to the heights of the cliffs and morphs into the shape of a tall bird, perhaps an egret or crane, and then into the shape of a woman- a familiar silver clad warrior woman. Staring down at the woman now clutching her burnt arm, a voice fills the camp, "You have done well," spoke the fire woman, "Your reward." And she holds out a hand. Quickly, each of the women stand up and one at a time approach the proffered hand. It's difficult to see, but each returns with a gold ring and a blackened hand. When the twentieth ring is given, the fire dies to mere embers, and the short woman that first thrust her hand in the fire turns to her followers and presents her ringed finger, "Our labor," she says,"Sleep well tonight my brothers and sisters. Tomorrow the Eldring recaptures Torvald."

What Comes After: Hakon recognizes the seithren for what they are and is eager to make for Torvald tonight. He will want to warn Torunn and muster all the warriors in Torvald. If you wish to head back (Hakon may elect to leave you immediately so as to get the word to Torunn faster), you will find the city abuzz. Palisades are being erected around Torvald. It seems the whole city has answered the muster.

The Seithren and their Plan: Twice a seithran warrior raised an army and conquered Nord Fyel. The seithran, Alfarr the Great ruled Nord Fyel as king for nearly 80 years. In this short time, seithren were accepted members of society. At the height of Alfarr’s reign, the council of seithren, called the Eldring, rose to power. In only a short time the Eldring displaced the Verndari as the spiritual leaders of the Vann. But once Alfarr passed, the Eldring became corrupt and fraught with infighting. Not long after, the jarls returned to power. A decade later, Hjalmar the Fierce seized control of the Eldring and led the surviving seithren once again to power and glory, reconquering Nord Fyel in a bloody war, and after many years, Hjalmar claimed the throne at Torvald. The night of his coronation, he was poisoned and the Eldring that remained were slaughtered in their sleep. Since his fall, the seithren were branded anathema. In most places, the seithren are now reviled and feared. They are known as forath or monsters, and once discovered many are ostracized or killed. In some places the seithren are pitied. They are hidden, shunned, or left to die. There are, however, a few remote villages where the seithren are respected and honored. The seithren are born with an innate ability to spellcraft. They are gifted or tainted with this power at birth. Roughly one in ten thousand Vann folk are born seithren (the seithren are wilders).

The Eldring is long gone but the seithren are not. Left for dead, Gudrun, the black-haired young woman posing as Hilde, wandered the forests around Kimbr surviving two frigid winters before meeting Astrid, the short woman that thrust her hand in the fire to summon Magnhildr. Astrid is five years her elder and had been wandering the forests for a decade before meeting Gudrun. Astrid, ambitious and embittered by the trials she was forced to overcome, gathered other ostracized children. Astrid delved deep into the Shadow Realm to learn the intricacies of demon magic and mentored Gudrun. Upon meeting a demon named Turel, Astrid learned about the realms within Aether and a way to contact the "gods" for aid. With Magnhildr's gift, the seithran plan to catch Torvald at unawares. Gudrun's visit to the city set the plans in motion, setting the orbs as a trigger for the Valkyrja to attack and starting a countdown for the infiltrators that have taken up residence in the city. Now that all the Verndari in the counties are dead, there is no one skilled in casting spells to stand against them, but they are trusting in more than just brute strength. Their attack will take two forms, within the city and at its flanks. The plan has many risks. They are vastly outnumbered, but Astrid has put all bets on the table. It's all or nothing.

The Gold Rings:
It says a lot about the character of a wilder that manages to survive past childhood, but adulthood does not signal the end of danger. Pouring even a moderate amount of power into casting spells creates unpredictable and sometimes lethal side effects for wilders. Magnhildr's gift prevents this (negating the identical dice effect). It also ramps up the amplitude of the spell (always roll 4 dice when casting spells and resisting them). Each of the seithren women was gifted a ring. The ring is tied to the seithrans' will. With time, each seithran with a ring will be utterly destroyed- another sacrifice to Magnhildr.

Arthur Rackham