The Barren Kingdoms

2.03: Over the River or Through the Woods

Having exposed the Blackstone elements amongst the Duer Defense Force, the party returned to Krieger Schaldhamer. However, it seems the real mastermind behind the plot to disturb the harvest was one step ahead of the party; Schaldhamer’s clerk, Damodar, had disappeared in the middle of the night along with many other duer along the border. It seemed that, now exposed, the Blackstone had chosen to flee, perhaps to marshal their forces elsewhere.

Soon after, the party was given a mission: travel to Highkirke to seek out important documents. There was a sacred church to the Twins in Highkirke, which was supposedly built on a sacred place; and somewhere beneath the church was supposedly an old archive of the church’s most sacred documents. Simon Keeper has come to believe that there is a document there that might hold answers to the Great Dying. He instructs the PCs to investigate and return with anything of interest.

Highkirke lies across the lake, in the area of old Lioncourt, along the Hy’dranois. The party had three reasonable options for approach: go directly up the Hy’dranois to Highkirke via Lionsmouth; put in at the more southerly Baentun and walk the road to Highkirke; or put in on an undeveloped stretch of beach and go the overland route. The party chose the third option, as it avoided having to travel to a potentially undead-infested city.

Their travels were eventful. First, they stumbled into the hunting grounds of some hungry shambling mounds; then they came across an abandoned camp that they later discovered may have been a gnoll encampment; and finally, they encountered a trio of small dragons being attacked by a corrupted tree (evil treant). They defeated the mounds; searched the encampment for clues (coming up with little other than the mysterious totem pole); and defeated the corrupted tree, saving two of the three dragons.

The small dragons revealed themselves as faerie dragons named Gillywing and Shimmer Shadow. They tell the party that things in the woods have become bad of late, especially since a tribe of gnolls, the Talon tribe, moved into nearby Highkirke. Which just happens to be where the party is going …

2.02: Politics is Complicated
Including a brief history of the Duer Uprising

The party headed back to Simon Keeper with news of the bulette’s defeat and the discovery of what appeared to be a plot to disrupt the harvest. The tabard that the party discovered is identified as a symbol of the Kronnerath, specifically the old duer Battle Flag of the Revolution. A century ago, the duer people rose up against their King and installed a populist Parliament in its place. As it turned out, there were still duer in Uduerinstand who remain loyal to the old duer monarchy, and a particular sect of the Kronnerath, the Black Masks, actively agitated against the duer government. One common saying amongst the Kronnerath is that “the revolution is not yet over,” this explaining why they adopted the flag of revolt as their symbol.

After a history lesson, the PCs set off to see if they could find anything out about the Kronnerath in Freehold. They quickly tired of rumor-seeking and eventually figured out that the most likely place to start was with the Duer Defense Force. There they met with Krieger Schaldhamer, the general in charge. Schaldhamer was a dour old survivor of the Revolution, and though he acknowledged that a Kronnerath element likely existed within the DDF, he did not think them the likely culprits. His focus was outward, on securing the frontier of the Reclaimed Lands against threats from without.

Schaldhamer’s clerk, a portly duer named Damodar, felt otherwise, and after the PCs left Schaldhamer, the clerk confided in the PCs. He said that he felt the Kronnerath were a more insidious element than Schaldhamer believed, and he suggested that the PCs speak with a ranger named Hardwood at the Stone Champion tavern.

The Stone Champion, it turned out, was an out of the way place in an otherwise sparsely repopulated area of the city. The party entered the tavern, earning many wary glances and unwelcome stares from the off-duty duer soldiers there. The party members spread out. Aurora asked the bartender pointedly about Hardwood, invoking some of her Warlock powers to charm the barkeep into being open to her. The barkeep went off to see where Hardwood had gone off to.

Meanwhile, the party had spread out, variously watching the duer patrons, devouring steak without the use of utensils, and generally staying alert for danger. Killian stepped up to the tavern’s open balcony and began to play an old duer ballad from the days of the monarchy, “The Rains of Castle Duer.” His performance captivated the audience.

The barkeep returned and escorted Aurora and Chance back to speak to Hardwood. They found the ranger preparing to mount the head of the bulette as a trophy. “You’re the ones who killed the bulette,” he said, “And after I went to all the trouble of drawing it here.” Then he ordered his dire wolf companion to attack!

Outside in the tavern, the initial sounds of combat were largely ignored by the duer, all of whom were tearing up as Killiian reached the climax of the third verse (the part where they mount the traitor’s head on a stake). This gave the party a vital moment of reaction before combat ensued.

IN THE BOWELS OF THE TAVERN: Aurora and Chance engaged Hardwood and his wolf. Aurora cast an ear-splitting Shatter before misty stepping away to safety. Chance, who is a staunch loyalist to the Parliament of Duer, laid into the traitorous ranger with unequalled fury, soon reducing Hardwood to deadwood. Moon Glitter, who had come after hearing Aurora’s shatter arrived just in time to help pummel the dire wolf into unconsciousness.

IN THE MAIN TAVERN ROOM: The duer, robbed of their chance to don their really cool black masks before attacking, were roused into action by the sound of the shatter. It turned out that the entire bar was a hotspot for Kronnerath loyalists. Tris was surrounded; the doors were barred; Killian leapt heroically off of the railing and onto the bar; Moon Glitter rushed off to help Aurora and Chance. It was a true scrum.

In the end, a shatter from Killian, followed by a tactical kill by Moon Glitter and a gout of acid breath from Tris, helped reduce the Kronnerath numbers significantly, and the remaining four , outnumbered and outgunned, surrendered to the party.

“It’s time to get some answers,” Aurora said, preparing to cast a spell …

2.01 Three Months Later
or, "How to Pronounce Difficult Words"

Autumn has arrived, Barliman holds sway over the land, and the city of Freehold is preparing to reap the most successful harvest it has had since the Great Dying. Meanwhile, the ranks of the party had greatly diminished, with only Chance Hammerstone, duerkin fighter; Biff Longfellow, fyrell wizard; and Caelynn Galanadel, fyrell ranger/fighter, still together and doing the good work of the Keeper’s Krewe.

Luckily for the stalwart heroes, Simon Keeper teamed them up with new companions in an exciting pre-adventure cutscene that introduced.

  • Aurora, a fairekin warlock who serves the Summer Queen
  • Kelgorion (Kel) Thunderfist, a duer cleric deeply dedicated to his deity
  • Killian Tyme, a fairekin bard, talented but not very sharp
  • Moon Glitter, acursed ponytaur monk with a peculiar way of speaking her mind
  • Tris Talath, a dragonborn Paladin with serious parent issues

Now flush with fresh bodies, the party set out on a mission. Two cows and a farmer had gone missing in the last week or so, and strange sinkholes had been discovered in the areas where they had disappeared. The harvest workers were beginning to get scared; if the disappearances continued or escalated, they would likely refuse to continue harvesting. An incomplete harvest would mean hungry bellies or worse come wintertime.

The party began by investigating the newest of the sinkholes, where they discovered a suspicious stone that bore a rune and radiated residual summoning magic. Aurora befriended some nearby harvesters and discovered that, just days before, some duer had been seen walking the field in full armor; while the workers had just assumed the duer were part of the defense force, the party suspected differently.

Playing their hunch, Caelynn searched for, and found, footsteps made by heavy duer military boots. Recent rain had left enough tracks for the party to follow into the next field, where Caelynn finally lost the trail.

At that moment, the harvesters whom Aurora had befriended called out to her from across the field. “Miss! Is this one of them rocks you was looking for?”

Indeed it was, and though the party shouted a warning and made haste towards the stone, they were not fast enough to save the unlucky halfling as a huge, beautifully painted creature burst out of the ground beneath his feet and swallowed him.

A quick knowledge roll on the part of the PCs discerned some basic information about the beast, as follows:

Aptly called a landshark, the bulette (pronounced Boo-lay) is a terrifying predator that lives only to eat. (AD&D Monstrous Compendium, 1989)

So armed with this knowledge, the party laid into the beast. They took some hard hits, but they delivered even harder hits. Before long they were able to fell the monster before it could kill again.

The corpse of the bulette revealed more clues: runes that seemed to match the stones, magically inked onto the beast’s chitinous (pronounced Kyte-in-us) plating. The party drew the conclusion that the stone somehow called or summoned the bulette when the stone was touched, and that the bulette was therefore sent by someone to disrupt the harvest. But who?

The party ultimately ended up in a nearby copse (pronounced Kahps) of trees. There they found a small site where someone had apparently been camped. The site was in view of both of the recent bulette attacks. Amidst the gear abandoned there, they found a tabard (pronounced taberd) with a symbol on it that looked familiar to Kel, but remained unidentified.

1.06. Tomb of the Swamp King
Consisting of several nights of adventure

The PCs set off with Gurp, a Wawaru elder, to the Wawaru village where the lizard folk, no longer needing to hide their intentions, were mustering to assault the Outpost. The PCs sent Gurp in to convince the Wawaru not to fight for the lizard folk.

The plan worked; the Wawaru did not answer the call to arms that night when the PCs attempted a nighttime raid with “confusion” and “smoke and mirrors” as a running theme. Things started off well but they had to weather waves of incoming enemies before being able to make for the far side of the camp and confront the leaders of the lizard folk force. They won the day, but discovered that the skull had already been sent to the tomb of Sakatha. They would have to go into the swamp to stop the ritual before the lizard folk unleashed whatever dark power resided in the skull!

The next few days were spent navigating the confusing maze of waters in the swamp, chasing after the skull. The PCs faced a number of dangers, including giant frogs, otyughs, and a young catoblepas. Much fun was had by all.

Eventually, the party made it to the tomb of Sakatha, on the very night the ritual was to take place. They assaulted the heavily guarded entrance, killed an ettin, and then busted into the ceremony. They had a brief opportunity to stop the ceremony, but they failed to think quickly and so the ritual was completed and so Sakatha — or something that grew from the unholy combination of Sakatha’s remains and whatever dark energies resided in the skull — rose triumphantly. The PCs, already weakened from their initial assault, nonetheless fought on.

In the end, they were victorious! The Sakatha-thing was defeated, the lizard folk routed, and both the Wawaru and Heredun Outpost were saved. Sadly, the party lost their cleric, the dragonborn Thrundr Bluespark, during the battle.

1.05. The Peace Summit
Not surprisingly, things go south

After a week, the peace talks between the Wawarau and Heredun Outpost began. The Wawarau arrived in force, bringing a small army of bullywugs, turtle folk, and lizard folk warriors. Papa Slau and a smaller contingent — including a pair of lizard folk who were not introduced but who seemed to hold some influence over Papa Slau — entered into talks with Commander Verestone.

The PCs, tasked with security, were in the room when negotiations took a sudden turn for the violent. The lizard folk, who turned out to be two shamans, tried to assassinate both Papa Slau and Commander Verestone, shouting “For Sakatha!” as they did so. The shamans looked to their bulkywugs guards to defend them in the wake of the attempt (which failed), but the bullywugs were not feeling very loyal after seeing their leader cut down. The PCs managed to slay the two assassins, and the Heredun force drove off the army outside. The remaining bullywugs in the peace talk contingent surrendered.

In the aftermath, it was revealed that the peace talks were a ruse for the lizard folk to get into Heredun Outpost. They strong-armed the bullywugs into helping them against the Outpost. As it turns out, they were after a strange artifact that the Outpost had uncovered during its construction: a deformed skull that radiated necromantic magic. Saves at the outpost were convinced it might have some tie to the Great Dying and were preparing to send it to Freehold. The lizard folk were convinced it was the lost skull of Sakatha the Swamp King, whose headless body lie in a tomb deep within the swamp.

The party soon learned that, in the commotion, a lizard folk rogue had indeed made off with the skull. The party had a new mission: retrieve the skull before the lizard folk could unleash its magic!

1.04. Funeral Rites for Warwarau Boggen
"Rodents of Unusual Sizes? I don't think they exist."

The party was tasked with heading out to meet with the Swamp People, on the hopes that Heredun Outpost could avoid more open hostilities. They were to escort a diplomat, Larus, and to keep him safe.

A pair of scouts, Mek and Klogen, led the PCs into the swamp and to the village. After a brief misunderstanding and skirmish, the party was brought to the village, where they met Pappa Slau, the leader of the Wararau (their tribal name). The PCs notice not only Bullywugs, but also kobolds, turtle folk, and lizard folk in the camp; one lizard folk in particular seemed to be some sort of village leader, though he never talked to the PCs directly.

Pappa Slau demanded that the party participate in the funeral rites of Wararau Boggen, one of the Bullywugs slain in a previous combat with the party. The PCs felt they were being put on, but they gamely played along as rites were recited, libations were offered, and a wrestling match was commenced (Chance handily defeated his foe).

Finally, the party had to bring a litter bearing Boggen’s body to a hidden place in the middle of the Fire Bog …. a part of the swamp full of dangerous flame gouts, lightning pits, and the dreaded Great Roux. The party quickly learned how to avoid the flame gouts (they made a noise before they blew) and how to avoid the lightning pits (Caelynn smartly began prodding the ground in front of her with a stick). Avoiding the Great Roux was not so easy; the cattle-sized dire rat attacked along with a swarm of dire rats and regular rats. Using their wits and weapons, the party managed to fell the Great Roux, lay Boggen’s body to rest, and leave the swamp. They even brought the body of the Great Roux with them to offer the Bullywugs a funeral feast (an act that definitely won the Bullywugs over).

Pappa Slau and Larus parlayed, and it was agreed that more formal peace talks between the swamp folk and Heredun Outpost would take place.

1.03. The Heredun Outpost
New threats emerge ...

The party decides it is best to avoid a full confrontation with the orken force. They sneak into the woods, ready to retreat and continue their mission, when Biff spots three prisoners with the orken group. Now that there are innocent lives at stake, Caelynn favors a rescue effort. The others ultimately agree.

The party wisely waits until the wee hours of the morning before attempting their rescue. Aelar and Caelynn try to sneak into the keep, but they are detected and rouse the nearby night watch, including a brutish ogre. The pair retreat but are followed, leading to a brief scuffle. With the keep alerted, the party decides that a second rescue attempt is unwise. They continue in their journey.

Two days of travel brings the PCs little action, but they do discover some treasure in a hidden monastic village.

At the Heredun Outpost, it is decided that Aelar will continue on to Freehold with the log book that the party recovered from the keep. Meanwhile, the rest of the party is assigned building duty — the outpost is expanding into a more permanent settlement and they need stone walls. The non-enlisted members of the party strangely agree to do this for no gold, despite not being enlisted members of the Vanguard. The DM rolls with it.

A week into their indentured servitude, the PCs face a new threat: an incursion of inhabitants from the local swamp who are apparently unhappy with the impending permanent military presence on their doorstep. A group of Bullywugs and giant frogs, backed by an unseen spellcaster, assault the party’s work crew. The party drives the amphibious force off, but they know that this is only a warning; if someone doesn’t do something about it, there will be more attacks. I wonder whom the outpost will turn to for help?

1.02. The Soldier Who Stayed
The keep reveals its dark secret

The shambling menace beyond the secret door turned out to be a pair of zombies, which the party quickly dispatched. They found a ring of keys on one zombie and surmised that this must have been the jailer and his assistant in life.

Now that they could open the jail cell door, the party returned to the dwarf in the jail cell. They tried to negotiate terms with them, but his constant complaints of hunger prevented any negotiation. Eventually (like super eventually) Biff figured out that the ghoul could be reasoned with only while it was eating.

They learned what the dwarf knew about the “incident”: That one soldier, a human named Lemkin, had been bitten by something in the days prior to the Great Dying. When the rest of the soldiers “left” (the dwarf did not know about the Great Dying) Lemkin was the “last good soldier” who stayed at his post. The dwarf said that he had not seen Lemkin in the years since, as Lemkin didn’t have a key, but that he had heard him through the years.

The party left the ghoul to his eating and entered into the dungeon proper, where the dwarf said Lemkin could be found (as might the tome they sought). They quickly found a trail of unusual ichor leading to a large door. Ever brave, the heroes threw the door open and strode boldly in, ready to face unknown monsters beyond.

Karn awaited them. Four dog-sized creatures that appeared to have once been rats dropped from hiding and attacked, letting loose foul clouds of stench that left Biff poisoned. Then Lemkin himself appeared — no longer human, he was bloated and mutated into something vile and alien, something so unnatural that it shook the very sanity of the heroes. Caelynn, a daughter of the wood elves and tied so closely to nature, felt her confidence crumble at the sight of the monster.

The ensuing battle saw both Chance and Biff temporarily felled, but Caelynn, Thrunder, and the Bard Who Still Hasn’t Sent Me His Name persevered; a quick heal brought Chance back to his feet and, after barking a few quick orders to help rally his comrades, he crushed Lemkin’s skull with his maul. The rat-things were dispatched soon after.

The party searched the rest of the small underground, finding an armory, fighting off a couple more rat-things, and discovering a stashed treasure chest. They debated the final fate of the dwarf ghoul, decided to let the creature wallow in its un-life. Finally, they prepared to leave … only to hear the approaching sounds of an orken warband, the companions of the orken they slew earlier that day.

1.01. Keep in the Barren Lands
The adventure commences!

Five intrepid adventurers — Chance Hammerstone, duerkin fighter; Biff Longfellow, elf wizard; Caelynn Galanadel, elf ranger/fighter; Thrunder Bluespark, dragonborn cleric; and a bard with no name (yet) — trekked northeast into the Barren Kingdoms in search of information. They had been given orders to seek out an old garrison near the town of Cardevale where an “incident” had supposedly taken place just days prior to the Great Dying. Their mission was to find the garrison captain’s log book and any other information on what happened.

(Read Simon Keeper’s Written Orders)

Upon approaching the garrison, the group spied smoke from a cook-fire and quickly discovered that orken were camping in the keep (which was really just a tower with a basic defensive wall and some outbuildings). Rather than approach the front, the PCs snuck around back, where a wooden door had already been broken open. Caelynn tried to sneak inside, but she inadvertently alerted the enemies to her presence.

A fight ensued; Chance clobbered orken both large and small, while Thrunder found himself overwhelmed by the might of the powerful orken in charge and fell unconscious. Ultimately, the party prevailed over the orken and saved their cleric. A handful of small orken got away, one of them blowing a hunting horn as it ran.

Exploring the keep, the party found evidence that a larger orken force had been camping here. They also found the door to the keep’s dungeon, which the orken had barred and blocked with rubble; near that door was a dead orken, his head cleaved nearly in half, a festering bite-mark on his arm. They found little of value, and specifically did not find the book they sought.

In one of the outbuildings (a smithy) they found a second enterance to the dungeon, this one unblocked, but locked. Chance forced the door open. Beyond they found a jail area and another locked door leading to the rest of the dungeon.

In one of the cells was a dwarf, almost certainly undead, who pleaded with them to let him out and who kept complaining of hunger. It was determined that he had been locked up just prior to the Great Dying, and therefore might know something about the incident the party was here to investigate; however, the party was not inclined to let him out and so he refused to share what he knew.

The party looked around the rest of the jail area. They found a lockbox (not yet opened), and also a secret door. As the night ended, something could be heard shambling out of the darkness at them …

Campaign Prelude
What has come before.

The PCs all reside in the city of Freehold. They are members of the Freehold Vanguard, a group of adventurers tasked with going out in the Barren Kingdoms to gather artifacts, scout territories, and generally serve as the first warning for threats to Freehold and Uduerinstand. They have been together for about a month at the time the campaign starts, having been trained together and then sent on some small retrieval missions prior to the start of the campaign.

As the campaign begins, the Kreue have been sent deeper into the Barren Kingdoms then they have ever ventured before, in search of valuable texts that may hold clues to the grim fate that befell humanity.


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