Yes, it had to happen: Kumal’s luck finally ran out.
This was an improvised scenario aimed at switching the narrative track towards Caldeia, where I intend to run the Kithtakharos adventures next. Sitting down at the table, I pulled together a number of leftover plot threads – campaigns start to write themselves after a while. So there were undead guardians, a Daughter of Hordan, a handsome slave in vigorous good health, a Valkyrie, assorted Valk on warponies, a dark and stormy night, and a cave.
"We are NOT going in that cave," said the Warforged. "There’s always something nasty in caves."
Deftly bypassing the cave (and its undead guardians), the party treks on through the night and the pouring rain.
At length, they come upon an encampment, with a couple of dozen Valk and their tents, the leaders debating something with a Valkyrie. The Warforged hates Valk, and is all for slaughtering them on the spot. Nessime takes a more reasoned approach, and being unsure what to do, consults the Hindrances on her character sheet as I often counsel players to do in these situations.
- Heroic. Are the Valk in trouble? No, so Nessime does not have to help them.
- Loyal: Friends. Are the Valk her friends? No, so this Hindrance doesn’t come into play.
- Vow: Fight evil until the last fire goes out (she is a paladin of Hulian, in effect). Are the Valk evil? Well… they worship demons. They speak the same language as demons. Close enough.
They approach stealthily, and The Warforged opens hostilities with a Fear spell. All the lesser Valk and the warponies flee in panic, but by virtue of not running away, the Valkyrie reveals herself to be a Wild Card. Gutz then taunts her something rotten, one of his favourite tactics, and she becomes Shaken. This buys the party enough time to drop an overpowered Blast spell on her, killing her outright despite the liberal application of GM Bennies.
Searching the wreckage, they discover a slave hiding in the Valkyrie’s tent, which also contains a map, a half-written letter, and a strange leathery object somewhat bigger than a football.
"Do you have a name?" asked Nessime.
"Yes, ma’am," replied the now-freed slave. "Antaeus."
"Oh you poor thing," she said. "I am so sorry."
This leaves Antaeus in a state of confusion, little knowing that throughout the campaign the only NPCs to survive encounters with the party have been those without names (and Kumal the Smiling); having a name ensures NPC death, or so the party now believes.
Antaeus declines to join the party, even after gifts of weapons and armour, but does agree to travel with them to the next town, wherever that might be. He explains that he was a prisoner of war from the Kyrosian rebellion the PCs fought in some time ago, sold as a slave and passed from merchant to merchant until the Valk picked him up. Had they kept on with this line of questioning they might have learned something truly useful, but since it’s not something Antaeus wants to talk about he doesn’t volunteer it. The party instead becomes distracted by the map and letter. The letter is apparently from the Valkyrie to someone called Baltazar, which several of the party recognised as a Tricarnian name, explaining that she has the object he seeks and is bringing it to him in Caldeia. (Gutz immediately reasons that this must be the leathery object, and it is therefore valuable and should be carried off.) The map is interesting partly because it exactly matches the map Gutz liberated from his erstwhile colleagues early in the campaign, which he was told by said colleagues showed the location of a great treasure, and partly because it has little pictures of Warforged on it, in the Caldeian swamps.
By now the party is getting the idea, and decides to press on south towards Caldeia. They come to a river, and determine (rightly) that if they follow it downstream they should come to the swamps. After a little while, they encounter the warponies, who have somehow got onto the other side of the river. There is much debate about how to cross the river to get to them, but at length this plan is abandoned.
A little while later, they encounter the Valk, who are looking for their warponies. Now that it is daylight, Kumal the Smiling (for it is he) recognises his opponents. He bullies the other Valk into attacking the party (because he hates them), then attempts to sneak off (because he is terrified of The Warforged, and not without reason).
Outnumbered three to one by dismounted nomad archers, the party is undaunted. The Warforged fires off his signature Blast spell against Kumal, and incinerates him, again despite GM Bennies.
Gutz takes a moment to honour the memory of a worthy foe, while Nessime uses Beast Friend and an excellent Persuasion roll to convince a swarm of nearby meerkats that the Valk are attempting to steal their territory. Two of them fall under a whirlwind of tiny teeth, claws, and offers of cheap warpony insurance.
Gutz drops a couple with arrows, The Warforged barrels into the closest group and whacks them silly with his Enchanted Sorceror’s Frying Pan, and once they reach 70% casualties the survivors break and run.
Antaeus is volunteered to pick up and carry the loot (mostly composite bows), since the party forgot he was there and didn’t use him in the fight. (He was quite happy with that, and they didn’t seem to need his help.)
It is without further incident that the group travels downriver into the swamps, to the sleepy village of Kithtakharos, which I must now read up on.
If you have worked out what that leathery object is, don’t tell them, it’ll spoil the surprise.