Pathfinder: Mother of Monsters
Chapter One, Part One: Burnt Offerings
Following is the chronicle of the fevered year spent roleplaying Paizo’s first adventure path: Rise of the Runelords. The sessions follow the exploits of a dancer, a brawler, a magus, and a witch.
The Swallowtail Festival went pretty much as scripted. The mayor, Kendra Deverin, welcomed everyone and made reference to the Late Unpleasantness and how the lifting of its shadow should be symbolized by this new cathedral. Also, some words from the bard Drokkus about his latest opera, The Harpy Queen, and a grumbling security briefing from Sheriff Hemlock.
My first departure was with Father Zantus. For his part in the ceremonies, I had him recite the story of the Swallowtail: how one day long ago the goddess Desna did battle in heaven with the Mother of Monsters, Lamashtu. Desna was defeated and fell to earth, a stranded foundling. In her time of need, Desna was rescued by a child, who nursed her back to health, and for this kindness was turned into an immortal Swallowtail Butterfly, free to experience the beauty of eternity.
This is where our characters entered.
Our main protagonist was An-Nur Tobyn, a peri-blooded bard who had chosen today, of all days, to make her prodigal return to Sandpoint. She had been an aasimar foundling, just like Nualia Tobyn — no doubt a prophecy for the town. They had been raised together as sisters by Father Ezekien Tobyn. But whereas Nualia was treated like an angel, sought out for blessings and charms by the townsfolk, An-Nur was the opposite. She was treated as a being of sin, a person to be shunned and blamed for the worst parts of human nature. This is the idea of the scapegoat, found in Judaism. In Biblical accounts, a community would offer up one goat to Yahweh, and one to Azazel, and the latter would be scorned, driven from town, and cast to its death. For reasons not yet known, Father Tobyn endorsed this practice, and offered no intervention as the town began to treat the two aasimar in this dichotomous fashion. An-Nur’s childhood was hard and full of neglect, and when she was old enough she hatched a plan for herself and Nualia to leave Sandpoint with the next Varisian caravan. But on the night of their flight, Nualia did not meet An-Nur. She was too afraid. So in fury, An-Nur left Sandpoint, and never knew what fate befell her sister a few months later when the Runewell flared to life.
An-Nur’s choice to return to Sandpoint, after five years, on the day of the Swallowtail Festival, was not fully her own. After travelling with the gypsies, her late father’s people, the girl had found herself in the company of a Varisian fighter-ranger named Kolto. They had met in the backstreets of Riddleport and formed the kind of drunken adventuring bond that only a couple of drifters could. Kolto was an ex-sellsword, who had left the Hook Scar mercenary company after a fist-fight with his captain (he had tried to pass it off as a religious rite of Cayden Cailean, but to no avail). Now Kolto was roaming the Hinterlands as a bounty hunter, enjoying little success until the day he befriended the bard. A contract had lately come his way, offering a bounty on the head of a Sczarni agent known as the Blackbird — reportedly an oracle whose powers of foresight had kept the Sandpoint Sczarni one step ahead of the Sheriff for many years. The bounty was too tempting to refuse, and the employer — a shifty dwarf who wore a necklace of padlocks and met Kolto in a roadside tavern — promised that this job would be the one to make Kolto a household name in the world of bounty hunting.
Kolto took the contract, and arrived in Sandpoint at the time of the festival, dragging a tentative An-Nur with him.
While An-Nur and Kolto mingled at the festival, placing bets and dancing for coin, they encountered a few of the town’s NPCs. Ironically, one of them was none other than Gressel Tenniwar, the local front man for the Sczarni, who today was in his guise as the bartender of the Fatman’s Feedbag. Kolto helped the fat bastard unload some ale barrels, and for his troubles was offered some more “honest work” should he visit the Feedbag tavern later. Secondly, Kolto broke up an argument between Aesrick Battlehorn, head of the carpenter’s guild, and Ina Oster, a strange yet cheerful elf who worked as a timber scout for Lord Scarnetti. The argument was concerning the timber supply — Ina Oster always found the best lumber for Scarnetti, and refused to source directly to the carpenter’s guild. It was something that infuriated Battlehorn, and only Kolto’s peaceful intervention stopped him from all-out attacking the elf.
For most of the first chapter, Ina Oster was considered a friend by the party. It was only later revealed that he was, in fact, a field agent for the Brothers of the Seven. More to come on that.
While An-Nur and Kolto established themselves, two other characters were entering the scene. Father Zantus was preparing the Swallowtail butterflies for release, and in this task had the assistance of his transcriber, a half elf known as Serenus. The daughter of a blacksmith (Das Korvut’s business partner) and an elf of the Mierani Forest, Serenus had been raised with the elves but quickly earned their disfavor by proving too clumsy and irritable to assist them in their watch upon the Forsaken City of Celwnyvian. When the racial contempt got too much, Serenus departed the forest and moved in with her father in Sandpoint, taking a job with the clergy during their efforts to restore the church records.
Serenus was a guarded individual, even on the day of the Swallowtail Festival. For she held two secrets — firstly that she had begun to fall in love with Zantus; and secondly that she had begun to practice witchcraft, after finding an amulet in the Tickwood Forest that had brought her into resonance with a shadowy, mysterious patron.
Lastly, as fate would have it, local eccentric Brodert Quink had chosen that particular day to conduct studies in the square outside the cathedral, and had brought with him an equally eccentric student named Voren. This tiefling magus had dwelled in Sandpoint for many years, after exile from Magnimar. His father was one of the Brothers of the Seven (a secret he concealed), and had sired Voren after consorting with a Korvosan devil. When Voren was brought home he was locked in a violent childhood struggle with his father’s wife, who saw him only as the foul symbol of her husband’s infidelity. Their battle of wits and torment ended on the day Voren discovered magic and used it to horribly burn his mother. After that he left Magnimar, with an enduring hatred of women. He traveled for many decades and learned how to disguise his fiendish heritage, before finally arriving at Sandpoint after hearing of the Chopper murders. Some deviancy in his own nature, or perhaps simply the chance to continue the magical studies he had begun with his father, convinced him that this was the place to stay. Voren found acceptance in the unlikely form of Brodert Quink, who didn’t give a damn who his parents were as long as he believed his theories.
Suffice to say, Voren was dubious, and more than once entertained thoughts of smothering the old man in his sleep; but the tiefling held his tongue and treated Quink as a doorway to deeper studies on the arcane and ancient Thassilon.
That particular morning, Voren was following his master along the route of a suspected ley line — one of many, according to Quink, that connected the Old Light to the site of Sandpoint Cathedral. More to come on this. Voren was loathe to encourage his mentor’s mad idea, but contented himself by watching the crowds and trying the local foods (many provided by Ameiko Kaijistsu, who he had had his eye on for some time).
Of course, before the butterflies could be released, and because this is a level one encounter, a horde of goblins showed up in all their manic, incompetent glory. Serenus immediately joined the fray as the goblins tried to steal/eat the butterfly cages. Kolto seemed a little reluctant to engage, but was spurred on by the fact that his friend An-Nur threw herself immediately into the fight. And Voren… well… he just wanted to take a rare opportunity to hurt things with impunity.
I dropped some extra hints about the goblins here.
For example, the wagons they burst from belonged to the Kaijitsu estate and had been wheeled into place by unsuspecting servants of the traitor noble. Furthermore, I hinted that these goblins had received a smattering of military training from their “Longshank” puppeteers. Notably, Orik Vancaskerkin had trained them in formal warfare. The goblins yelled out things like “Flanking!”, “Distraction!” and “Echelon Retreat!”, while doing nothing of the sort and instead just waving their blades around. This confused the Sandpoint defenders, but did not slow the scrap.
The cathedral soon caught fire, because goblins.
But into this scene rushed An-Nur, who immediately drew attention to herself by fire-dancing (a bardic archetype ability) to contain the flames. It was an ironic moment. Her sister had burned the church, and now An-Nur was saving it. If she had not left 5 years ago, perhaps An-Nur would have done the same and averted the Sandpoint fire.
In the midst of this fire-dancing, Sheriff Hemlock arrived (after killing Brunkel, the goblin torturer whose rooms we would later find at Thistletop), and witnessed the heroism of the four. Father Zantus also made contact with An-Nur, recognizing her as Tobyn’s other child, who he had sometimes glimpsed when attending acolyte training with Tobyn at the church. An-Nur demanded to know where Nualia was, and Zantus was speechless. With chaos reigning around them, he realized that An-Nur did not know that Nualia had died with Tobyn. He blurted out the truth, and received a smack in the face for it. An-Nur refused to believe that her sister was dead, and when a cry for help came from a beleaguered Lord Foxglove, she was still in fighting form.
The four heroes converged upon the North Gate, seeing it unlocked and unguarded, and set about rescuing an unduly panicky Lord Foxglove. As we know, Foxglove had arrived here shortly after murdering his wife, Iesha, and he naturally assumed that the goblins were agents of the Brothers of the Seven, come to punish him for not delivering the sample of Vorel’s Phage. The noble fell apart, and was ready to accept death at the hands of the goblin commando. But then he was saved.
I wanted to lend genuine plausibility and weight to Foxglove’s obsession. So when the time came to choose the PC who he would fixate upon, there was no clearer choice than An-Nur. She, like Iesha, was a beautiful gypsy with long dark hair, Varisian scarf, and a talent for music. But more than that, she was virtually a dead ringer for Iesha.