Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 112

Summary:
The PCs discover secret shrines to Koschei the Deathless, destroy a strange manifestation of his, and are presented with a cryptic message/riddle they will need to solve.

PC’s:
Llewelyn, Elf Cleric 8/Wizard 8 of Sehanine Moonbow
Gnoosh, Gnome Rogue 11/Illusionist 9 of Baravar Cloakshadow
Kiaria, Human Seeker 7 Bast
Tiberius, Human Cleric 7/Paladin 3 of St. Ingrid
Kyron, Human Cleric 9 of Charon
Magni, Dwarf Fighter 6 of Barundar Battleaxe
Sagira, Human Cleric 6 of Horus
Ria, Pacer 7 of Loki
Zen, Human Monk 8 of St. Agathos
Rosaline, Half-Elf (Elf lineage) Druid 9 of The Daghda

Game Diary:
– Background:

One subplot in this campaign involved Kyron wielding the Staff of Zuul. It forced him to become his priest, and he accidentally summoned a drought that devastated the region and prevented crops from growing for most of the year followed by catastrophic storms before he found a way to release the staff (it was left abandoned in a flooded part of the Barrowmaze) and he shifted back to being a priest of Charon.

Additionally, from previous adventures, the PCs fought demons of the Slavic god Chernobog and learned about an ancient wizard (Kolduny) king named Koschei (who once ruled the lands before the Ironguards moved in and created the Duchy of Aerik) and may not have ever died. Several farmers have built secret shrines to Koschei and they have been praying for the return of their mighty lord. This has increased a lot after the “Summer of Zuul” drought and flood.

– The Present
Magni, seeking a unique mystical companion to help him in his warrior ways, and knowing he would likely be sent on a quest to acquire such a creature, prayed to his god Barundar Battleaxe on how he could please his god and receive this mystical companion (a saber-toothed cat). Barundar came to him in a dream and told him to seek out and destroy the Staff of Zuul, for its source of chaos still exists and is beginning to spread under a new wielder. If Magni destroys the Staff of Zuul he will get his mystical companion.

Other members of the Army of the Light wanted to follow up on the growing number of peasants of Slavic heritage who had been turning to Chernobog and Koshei to feel empowered again in the face of the environmental disaster and unsatisfaction with the leadership under the Viscount Kell Ironguard.

It is now mid-January (a one-month time jump from the previous session). Even though there is more than a foot of snow on the ground, the group knows paths to take that go from Ironguard Motte south to Bogtown and further south until the forests meet the Moon Peaks to seek out the hidden caves where cultists to Koshei or Chernobog might be. Rosaline, the druid, was also aware of strange shifts in the weather for that area, and Magni, through his dream from Barundar, speculated that this is where the current wielder of the Staff of Zuul might be, and so they headed out to deal with both these situations.

After an encounter with skeletons attacking from under the feet of the adventurers (they were walking over deep drifts of snow) and from a rocky plateau above them, they moved into a series of caves where they thought the Koshei cultists might be. It was clearly a place that had seen visitors on and off over the centuries with sometimes years passing with no activity. However, with the recent Zuul problems, the descendants of Koshei’s lost empire began to increase their visitation to the location.

The Army of the Light discovered a tunnel only high enough for humans to crawl through covered by some rocks. Part of the group remained in the larger chamber and a smaller group crawled through into a small 5-foot high chamber with a stone statue of a robed figure wearing a mighty crown, a long beard, and a large sword (see picture below). The people in the small room guessed that this might be a representation of Koshei from long ago. Magni slashed at the stone statuette, destroying it.

Koschei model from Miniset.net

In the larger chamber, the ground began to shake and a skeletal army emerged from the center of the room (although Kyron could tell that this creature was not undead). Llewelyn told everyone to scatter to the corner of the room and he focused a fireball at the emerging figure. While this happened Magni felt a desire to swing his sword and slay his friends. He rolled a Charisma saving throw – and passed! – and the feeling faded. After the deafening explosion of the fireball in the main chamber and after the flash of the explosion allowed normal eyesight to return, they saw that the skeletal-like being – seemingly untouched by the fireball – had descended back into the ground.

The group decided they had better leave these caves, for this was now the second time that they attacked and seemed to “defeat” a Koschei-like being yet also was aware that it did not seem to take any damage from their attacks. Kyron, a worshipper of Charon (the Greek god who carries the souls of the deceased from the world of the living to the dead), wanted to better understand more about this apparently immortal sorcerer but who was not undead. He cast divination and the player asked, “what is Koschei’s location?” Normally a grammatical mistake like that can give me as a GM some fun since the spell dictates that my response can be cryptic, or a riddle. But in fact, this was actually a very good way to phrase the question, since the PCs were beginning to think that Koschei is part of something they have not encountered, thought of, or experienced before, and may involve other parallel realms. While the players thought out loud about this I had time to formulate a response:

“What is Koschei’s location?” Kyron asked.
“chest, egg, duck, hare/hair.”

They wrote it down and gathered around over the written words to think about it some more. They were even more puzzled! Is “duck” a reference to the animal, or the need to “duck” down from something? And how was hair/hare spelled? Was it a reference to “hare” the animal, or the “hair” on our heads? (I am intentionally including both spellings of the word to keep things cryptic).

It was now approaching dusk and the players needed to find shelter in this mid-January weather where the temperature was -5°C during the day, but going back into the Koschei cult caves was not something they wanted to do. So they moved on to some new caves that were a part of a large rocky plateau. There they discovered caves where some sort of giants lived (based on their footprints in the snow). The entrance had a left and right tunnel with most activity and sound coming from the right. A circle of invisibility was cast on some of the group and they entered the cave to the right as others remained at the left entrance to watch their backs.

Coming upon these 10-foot-tall giants preparing a meal and playing some drums with their clubs leaned up against a wall, the group placed themselves between the giants and the clubs and began to attack. The surprise round they gained gave them a great advantage. Weapons were swung, the monk managed to stun a few of them, and magic missiles were fired. The giants got a few good hits in, but they were beginning to fall. The noise they made was heard by the giants in the left tunnel and that group began to move to help their friends, but the remaining members of the Army of the Light were waiting for them. Fighting in such tight quarters gave the giants a disadvantage and the group took advantage of that.

The group won and now needed to heal up. But they now had a place to rest for the night. They also wanted to search for loot! But the game session was over and that will have to be done in the next session. Also, in the next session, after the group heals up, they will be on the search for the new wielder of the Staff of Zuul. Who are they and can Magni defeat them and destroy the staff?

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