Ackranon – The Guardian of Kienor (The Dwarf)
Imalen – The Current High Priestess of the Temple of the Sun
The Heroes – The Player Characters
The Villagers – Denizens of Anakien, a village in the valley
The Enemy Soldiers – A company of about 500 white cloaked Imperial pathfinders making their way up the valley (searching for the PCs)
The Valley of the Senscalene – A coniferous valley draped in snow and battered by gusts of wind. The valley is a desolate place with but one village and no roads to speak of. In summertime there is a small river here, but now the river is hidden beneath the thick carpet of snow. Ravens and crows make the valley their home, and it is ripe with game such as deer and wild boar.
Anakien, the Haku village - Anakien is a walled compound wherein the Haku dwell in longhouses. There is a minor temple of the Sun God here, and the adventurers can trade with the villagers for primitive equipment, food and clothing.
Mount Kiebral or simply The Kiebral- The Kiebral is a snow draped mountain with more steep cliffs than any of the other mountains in the entire range. It is almost as if some angry god once lashed violently at the Kiebral, splitting it and piling huge rocks atop each other. As a result rocks jut out from their perched placement, and most of its sides are sheer cliffs. A tremor in these mountains would be devastating, as city sized rocks would come crashing down from the Kiebral.
The Kiebral is a place haunted by moaning winds. It is a place where few dare venture. Its terrain is rugged and few trees make it their home; the trees that do exist are bent and twisted mockeries of their brethren, almost seeming hateful, like they curse the gods for their very existence.
The Halls of Kienor – This is a huge, dome shaped surface citadel of dwarvish make. On the exterior the dome has arching windows and the walls might once have been sturdy, but are now in partial ruin. At the far back end of the domed citadel, it connects with the mountain, and it is here that the Stairs of Kienor begin. The dwarven Halls are fleshed out more properly in the text far below.
The Cave of the Black Haku - This is a natural cave whose entrance is almost blocked by ice and snow. To enter it, a traveler might have to dig a hole as the entrance is snowed shut. The cave extends a few hundred yards until it ends in a large chamber with a central shaft descending further into the mountain. This is where the Black Haku live. They are a small clan consisting of 9 individuals, and they sleep on beds of fur. The Black Haku worship the mountain and rock carvings adorn every wall. Treasure found herein are of the colourful rock, fur and primitive weaponry variant.
This is a journey based plot. When the characters flee from hostile forces, to save their lives and that of an infant child, they enter the valley of Senscalene*. Here the mighty Mount Kiebral bars their path and to pass it they either have to head further down the valley, and sneak past a force of Imperial pathfinders, or they must go by the Kiebral. There are two ways in which they can do this: Through the ancient halls of Kienor, or by using the old mountain paths. But the Kiebral is an accursed place and it will not let the PCs pass willingly.
What initially appears to be another trek through wintry mountain landscapes will be revealed as a true struggle for survival. For the mountain known as the Kiebral is an ancient evil, its secrets are countless and its power is immense. Can the PCs outwit a power from the dawn of time, or will they succumb and be trapped for all eternity?
* So named after a religious group of old that once made their home here. The only remains of this group are the ruins of their old monestary far east in the valley, but that place is now covered with winter snow.
- The title “the Stairs of Kienor” refer to the highly magical stairs found within the Kiebral, stairs made by dwarves and the Kiebral as a result from a pact many centuries ago.
- This plot uses spirits of nature as a premise for understanding. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, you can read about it here: 1201
- Credits goes to Murometz, manfred and Scrasamax (in no particular order), thank you guys.
- The Kiebral Unearthed
- The Pact of the Dwarves
- The Village of the Haku
- Path #1: The Stairs of Kienor
- Path #2: Ascending the Kiebral
- In the Home of Long Man Death
- Path #3: Sneaking Past the Imperial Pathfinders
- Legends of the Kiebral
- Roleplaying the NPCs
Additional Ideas (4)
The Kiebral is an ancient spirit of nature that has existed since the dawn of time. In this scenario the PCs will be pitted against its will.
According to the tales of the Haku, it was possessed by the beauty of its twin peak, and it wanted to claim her as his own. It was denied that love and with time his sanity dwindled and it became an enraged entity, a place of storms and enslaved, maddened spirits. The Royal Scholars claim otherwise; they have come to the conclusion that the Kiebral was such a powerful spirit, that his might threatened that of the very gods. So it came to be that the young, powerful spirit was approached by two unnamed gods, and the battle that followed was cataclysmic. The surface of the beautiful mountain was marred and he was chained, forever forced to abide in one location*. Embittered by this, the Kiebral despaired, and despair turned to hatred, and with time the once proud spirit came to resent all of creation.
The first story is the one the PCs are likely to hear in the village and no one but Imalen knows of the second version. She will not tell the second version near any villagers though, and will have to be persuaded by the PCs to even mention it. If the superstitious Haku were to believe their mountain had been cursed by the Gods, they would despair.
Whatever the origin of the Kiebral the fact remains that it is a particular hateful and malevolent spirit. It has trapped scores of souls that died on the mountain and even the entire clan of dwarves that once made a pact with it. The pact is still binding and the Kiebral resorted to trickery to circumvent it, its tool being the deranged dwarf known as Ackranon.
The PCs can defy the Kiebral in four different ways:
1 – Avoiding it
2 – Fighting it (extremely hard to fight all the spirit minions, forces of nature, Black Haku and other critters inhabiting the stairs and otherwise living on the mountain.
3 – Carrying the token of the pact. The Kiebral cannot touch anyone carrying an Amulet of Kienor, for it is bound by the ancient pact. Ackranon has hidden these amulets.
4 – By receiving the blessing of the other peak, the Chakada. This blessing can be received by drinking from the twilight pool of the Chakada, a pool that never freezes and that can be found 1/3rd up the mountain slopes. The powers of the Kiebral are diminished when someone has been blessed by the Chakada.
*According to some religions, the spirits of nature are free to move, albeit their true home remains forever in one location. So the spirit of a mountain can roam through the soil, even though the mountain stands immobile. Not so with the Kiebral for he is forever trapped and no other spirit will come to his mountain to do the dance of eternity.
The Pact of the Dwarves:
Once, long ago the dwarves of Kienor made a pact with the Kiebral. Through spells of the earth and the wind the priests were able to communicate with the ancient mountain spirit and a pact was made. That pact resulted in the Stairs of Kienor, stairs that are highly magical of nature. The pact hinders the Kiebral from touching those wearing the Amulets of Kienor, though the spirit found a way to circumvent that (Using the weak willed Prince Ackranon). Additionally the Kiebral promised to eternally host the Stairs of Kienor which is a gateway to other places in creation.
What could the dwarves possibly offer in return? They promised the Kiebral liberation. They promised it the ability to once again dance the dance of eternity with the other spirits of nature, and the Kiebral rejoiced. For a while the storms of the peak stilled and it was considered a less dangerous place than before. but however hard the dwarves worked they found no way to undo the curse of the Gods. And the Kiebral turned once more to anger, seeing its hopes dwindle and seeing the dwarves break the bargain. Still the pact was binding and the Kiebral felt tricked, it was then that it resorted to trickery.
The dreams of a particularily weak willed dwarf, Ackranon - the son of the King of the Mountain, became haunted by visions of madness and doom. With time the sanity of the poor dwarf unraveled and in the end his mind was sundered into two distinct personalities. The first, Ackranon, was the fun loving, lazy Prince it always had been, but a more sinister seed had taken root in the other half. Ackranon began having black outs and during these times that other part exercised ever greater control. It all ended in tragedy during the night of broken dreams, when the entire clan excepting Ackranon perished, their throats slit while Ackranon was on watch. What was left of poor Ackranon’s sanity broke, and the delusional good part of his mind came to believe the head of his sister still lived. So he took to carrying it around. Though not instantly recognizable as a madman, Ackranon sometimes draws the shriveled head of his sister from his backpack and talks to it, caress it and kiss it on the cheeks and mouth. He keeps it moist with ointments of old and that has prevented the skin from totally rotting away. He combs the few remaining strands of beard and hair, and he is totally committed to her. If the evil part of Ackranon awakens during such a session, he will throw it away with a snort, and later the good part will come screaming, scooping her up and caressing her, his tears falling.
The Village of the Haku:
Anakien is a walled compound in the style typical of the Haku and the Ugeroth. This compound is ringed by a strong stone wall, however, and not by the typical log palisade that the mountain peoples usually favour. It is a rather plain village, with long houses circling the village square. The only unusal feature is the fact that it houses a temple of the sun god. The temple is in the centre of the square and is a two story rotund stone tower. It has four windows: East, West, North and South. Through these windows Imalen, the current High Priestess of the temple, watch the Sun as it journeys through the sky. The Chakada (the twin peak of the Kiebral) block the journey of the sun at noon, and at this hour Imalen comforts the villagers who are huddling together. They fear the power of the Kiebral over the valley, and at this time the winds grow too strong and too cold. The villagers have all heard the moans on the winds and the whispers of voices thought long dead. The villagers know all too well what happens to those who die atop that mountain, and as the winter winds blow around their homes, they hear the despairing wails of those that died alone.
Anakien is a good place to seek healing and food, primitive weapons and armour (spears, knives, bows, leather and hide armour). In Anakien they can hear the legends about the Kiebral, or they can join the locals over a slab of roast boar in their long houses. The Haku are a quiet people, and they have a tendency to name everyone and everything with a “The” in front of their name. So “Gawohn the Paladin” will be called “The Gawohn” while he stays in Anakien.
Note: Some of the Haku collects stones that have fallen from the Kiebral, and they gather these on necklaces and spears. These charms are considered talismans of power, albeit evil power. Black Haku these men and women are called and they are outcast from society, doomed to walk alone, shun by their brethren. Unbeknownst to the villagers a small clan of such outcasts lair on the upper slopes of the Kiebral, and they embrace it in worship and sacrifice. These lost souls are tolerated by the powerful mountain spirit and woe to the traveler who are caught unaware by a band of marauding Black Haku, for they will surely sacrifice him to the mountain and consume the remains.
The Citadel of Kienor is a large granite rotunda. Its domed ceiling has been plated with slabs of polished and black lacquered granite. It is now partially a ruin with big holes in the dome and a portion of the wall collapsed, the interior has been covered with snow close to the collapsed portions.
There are several rooms that have been exposed to the exterior and the rotunda seems to have been divided into two floors. On the upper floor are deserted bed chambers with skeletal remains of sleeping dwarves in the beds. Any medically oriented PC will notice that the cervical vertebrae have been damaged by an edged weapon. In the lower chambers there is a largely destroyed entrance hall, wherein smothered statues of dwarves in regal plate armour lie crumbled on the floor. Beyond the double doors from the entrance hall a smaller hallway can be found. There are two doors on the right and two doors on the left of that hallway, and on the end a set of huge double doors can be found. All doors within the rotunda are made of copper with decorative etchings of armoured dwarves wielding hammers and axes. In the sky, further up on the copper doors, winged things are depicted.
Oddly enough ochre stains can be found on the floors throughout the rotunda. These stains originate from the Shadow Cicadas found in the Stairs of Kienor. Of course, close to the fallen walls and ceiling the snow covers any trace of such stains.
The doors on the left conceal the smithies of the Kienor Clan, and the doors to the right expose the baths and the kitchen. The right hand rooms have destroyed walls, so the doors can be difficult to open due to the amount of snow on the floor. Should the PCs dig through the snow they might discover high quality dwarven cutlery, brass bath tubs and decorative mosaics hidden by snow. Should they search long enough they might even discover a bucket full of bronze medallions resembling an entwined snake. These medallions are forty in number and provide protection from the powers of the Kiebral. The bucket is difficult to find however, and has been hidden beneath an upside down tub by the dark side of the dwarf Ackranon’s split personality.
Behind the last doors of the hallway a huge reception and dining hall can be found. This room is somewhat dismal and the stairs to the second story can be found herein. A stairwell down into the earth can also be found, but that path has been blocked for ages and sealed with true dwarven magic. Should the PCs opt to try opening the rune covered stone hatch, they need to have access to powerful unraveling magic or a dwarven trade key. There are no such keys in the rotunda however. The corridor leads down into the underhalls and will not be described further in this text.
Other things can be found in the reception and dining hall. This is where Ackranon resides and this is where the great banquet table is, and the last King of Kienor is still sitting in his regal chair, his head residing on his platter. At the far end of this room is where the Stairs of Kienor begin. The stairs are dark and damp with fu-dog heads protruding from the walls, and long, pointed tongues hanging out from the open mouths of the dogs. The tongues of the Fu-Dogs seem to move in the darkness, but just a little and never when you look directly at them, just in the corner of the eye. Strangely some sort of mist is forever rolling down the stairs dissipating at the bottom, and the baritone wailing of unseen spirits is ever present. The sound is not loud, but it resonates through the bodies of the PCs, making their solar plexus hurt slightly.
There are things living in these stairs, and some are slithering dark things, burrowing into the flesh of men and animals alike. These short serpentine maggots burrow about 1 inch into the flesh and there they stay, injecting their eggs into the veins of the host. A lone infection is no danger for a healthy individual, but with enough of these eggs in his veins, a grown man would have a heart seizure and then die. Then, with the cooling of the blood, the eggs would hatch and the tiny serpentine maggots would feast on the carcass.
Inside the cavity of the Fu-Dogs’ mouths, a rare subspecies of Cicadas make their nests. These are dark grey insect that seem to thrive in damp and dark places. Despite the wintry exterior of the rotunda, the temperature of the stairs is about right for the Cicadas and these large things crawl out from the Fu-Dogs mouths and fly dazedly towards humanoids. Their reactions are sluggish and they seek to land on the bare skin of a PCs, no matter how much they try to wave them away. When they are squished, they reveal themselves as highly moist, blood filled things whose fluids seem to stick to the shoes no matter how much they scrape. (And this is the origin of all the ochre stains in the Citadel).
The Stairs of Kienor leads up until they reach a terminal platform, there are doors there, each guarded by a bound spirit. Beyond the doors are destinations, places reached by the magic of wind and sky, long since driven mad by imprisonment in the cold earth. There are five doors, and the destinations have been scratched away by the spirits anger. Thus it has come to be that stepping through a doorway is a game of chance. One of these doors leads to the place the PCs are trying to go, another leads to an old city, deep in the antique district, another drops the guest into a great southern bog where there are ruins of a once great city. The fourth door leads to a dark forest of giant thorns, brambles, and nettles. Victims hang on these thorns impaled throughout, waiting to be eaten by Cicadas like those found in the stairs. The fifth door has lost its calibration and passing through this door would now dump the PCs unceremoniously in the middle of the Great Inland Lake, close to the Island Infyrion, home of Khandkhoran the Black Diviner.
The stairs and the terminal platform are haunted by the incessant sobbing of children who got lost in the mountains, the wailing of those who perished on the mountain, but also of the baritone grumble of the Kiebral. Whenever a PC approach a door without wearing an amulet, spirits will appear barring their path. An obscene hunger will shine from their eyes, as they long for nothing more than dragging down the PC, draining the life from his eyes and forcing him to forever partake in their ball of misery. Any PC with the blessing of the Chakada or wearing an Amulet of Kienor will discover that the spirits are powerless against him.
Time, magic and gravity are distorted in the stairs. Sometimes they can seem to have walked for an eternity and not have moved one step further up. At other times they seem to walk the entire stairwell in but a second. Casting magic is futile as the Kiebral feeds upon such things and the results are always unpredictable. Even gravity is defied in the stairs and suddenly even the strongest warrior can collapse, unable to take another step, while the party mage suddenly floats through the air.
As they ascend the mountain the PCs will hear the wind moan, it will be almost like the painful raking of claws when the cold, cold snowy wind lash their bared skin. The snow is gathered in huge drifts here, and the path is a narrow trail wedged into the face of a cliff. There is only one trail that can be used to cross the mountain, unless they want to hang from a cliff while hateful spirits and gusts of wind harass them at every inch of their journey. The Kiebral is indeed a perilous and inhospitable mountain.
Higher up it is even worse. They will have to journey through the Scar of the Spirit, a treacherous defile where avalanches are frequent. Anyone traveling through this narrow pass will finally reach a log palisade in the mountains, in the style of the Haku and the Ugeroth tribes. Outside the fierce winds of the mountain batter the palisades, creating drifts of snow that still does not quite reach to the top of the palisade. This is the home of Long Man Death.
Note 1: The Black Haku (See The Village of the Haku) can sometimes be encountered in the mountains. They are hunched beings with long, greasy black hair. They often wear leather necklaces with polished stones on and pelts seem to be their favoured clothing. They will assault travelers first with javelins and then with short spears in close combat.
Note 2: Traveling this way should be extremely difficult. Not only must the players sometimes travel on mountain shelves with too much snow and slippery footing, but the sheer force of the wind will be staggering. The wind will seem to scream and moan* and sometimes the PCs will be whipped so hard by it that they get visible wounds where they are unprotected by thick layers of clothing. There is little or no shelter on this mountain, with two notable exceptions: The House of Long Man Death is one and the Cave of the Black Haku is another.
* And indeed it does, for the spirits of those that died in this place are bound to defend the mountain. The winds sometimes carry these tormented spirits and their only solace lies in the pain of others.
Side Quest: In the House of Long Man Death
Long Man Death is a minor spirit of death and disease. He has been trapped by the might of the Kiebral and cannot venture outside the palisade he has erected as defense against the Kiebral. His essence is contained within a small wooden statuette and only by putting the wooden statuette inside an especially prepared urn can the Long Man Death escape the grip of the Kiebral, who'd really like to enslave Long Man Death.
The House of Long Man death is a log palisade in the mountains, in the style of the Haku and the Ugeroth. Outside the fierce winds of the mountain batter the palisades, creating drifs of snow that still does not reach quite to the top of the palisade. Inside is a secluded garden. Here the snow is but a thin layer on top of an orchard surrounding a single two story log cabin. The place seems strangely secluded, yet it is the home of long man death, a spirit of old. There are only two things of note in the cabin: A small wooden statuette of a long man with a stiff pale face and body, like of a corpse. Yet that statuette cast strange shadows that flicker unlike the other shadows in the room, like it had a will of its own. The other item is a plain, unadorned ceramic jar atop the shelf on the fireplace.
When the PCs settle in for the night, safely tucked in winter blankets and listening to the crackle of the fireplace and sheltered from the storm outside, they enter the realm of long man death. Suddenly they find themselves naked in the snow outside, hiding behind the trees, and they somehow just know that inside the weird statuette has become a real man; a grim, long man whose shadow is even more dangerous than the man himself. As they hear him step out into the snow, they know one thing for sure: They are about to die. And with that, the PCs awake silently screaming. Apparently they just fell asleep and they are still beneath their winter blankets inside the cabin. But in the stairs footsteps can be heard and the statuette can no longer be seen. If the PCs go up the stairs they will find the corpse of a long man clad in black, but his heart has been carved out.
If the PCs search they will find that the unremarkable urn now holds the heart of the corpse upstairs. Just as they discover that, they will remember something strange from the dream... The only way to escape certain death, like the death that had now visited the man upstairs, was to deliver this urn to Black M'Kaba in Gerthenburg in the next valley.
In reality these are just illusions planted by Long Man Death in their subconscious. Should they choose to abandon him here he might assault them, for he is a powerful minor spirit of death, but he would also doom himself. The truth is that the spirit sorely needs the PCs.
If they bring the urn they will actually be rewarded with unnatural gifts upon delivery, but they would also once again release one of this worlds darker spirits upon the world.
This path is largely self explanatory. The Imperial Pathfinders is an elite contingent of soldiers adept at hunting and killing behind enemy lines. They number slightly more than 500 men and the PCs should understand that confronting these is a risky option at best and sheer suicide at worst (In my setting the PCs, who are skillful individuals, would be sorely pressed to face 10 pathfinders, let alone 500). If the PCs choose this path they would face an evening of stalking through the snow draped coniferous valley, avoiding squads of extremely skilled scouts. Make sure they understand the risk, make sure they sweat a lot and make sure any mistake is fatal. But if they manage this: whoa, they deserve it.
Local legends about the Mountain:
#1: The Mountain known as the Kiebral, the immense peak over there. *the local points at a soaring mountain draped in white* It is a powerful one. It is one of the elder spirits of this world, and it is lonely, for since the dawn of time it has loved its twin peak, the Chakada, on the other side of the valley. But the Chakada won’t return his love, and throughout the ages the Kiebral has turned to hatred. In the winter, cold and hateful winds blow down from the Kiebral and assault the Chakada, but she won’t yield and with the ages, the Kiebral has turned from anger to insane rage. Now the Kiebral only wants to crush the Chakada and we, the Haku, are caught in the middle. Such was ever the way of things.
* The Haku are a people of nature. The "assaulting" they are talking about is a reference to the cold winds that blow down from the mountain. It is their way of seeing things, but also a way to warn the PCs that there is something going on with the mountain. Note that the cold winds sometimes harbour the hateful ghosts of those that died atop the Kiebral. These souls are now imprisoned and bound by the Kiebral.
#2: Sometimes dark creatures can be seen crawling on the paths of the mountain. These are elusive beings that always disappear as they are approached.
Local childrens' sing song about Long Man Death:
#1: "Long Man Shadow, Long Man Death, give him your soul, give him your wealth. Lay thee down in snowy gloom, wake thee next in Long Mans Doom"
Poetic legends about the Mountain:
#1: They say that the Kiebral is a catalyst of fate, the very epicenter of tragedy, and to this place those doomed for fame and ill fortune come. It is like the well known, poetic words of an ancient poet: “The birds of doom, ‘round the Kiebral flock. The heroes of gloom, in fates cruel lock”. For the Kiebral is an accursed place and means “The place of the wailing dead” in the tongue of the Haku people.
#2: "The Mountain beckons to great souls, luring them, though they seem to come of their own free will. Some scholars claim that children conceived close to the mountain, or close to rocks and sand brought from it, will become remarkable individuals. But, they say, these souls will also be bound for cruel fate, and at least once in their life they will walk the cold halls of Kienor, and therein the seeds of failure will be sown."
Playing the NPCs:
Ackranon can be found wandering the Halls of Kienor. He will be a forlorn and lonely looking appartion, a beardless husk of a dwarf wearing sturdy but battered dwarven plate armour. Ackranon mutilates himself, so his face and arms are criss crossed with minute rifts and scars. As mentioned above, under the section about the pact of the dwarves, Ackranon is stark raving mad and has a split personality. If his evil half is in control (35% chance) he will try to cleave any lone PC encountered (from behind).
Care should be taken however to not make the PCs notice the dwarf is stark raving mad, at least not at first. The evil half of his personality will seem way more accommodating and pleasant at first, as it is cunning and devious. The evil half would never directly confront more than one individual. Rather he would slit their throat at night, more than willingly volunteering to protect them while they sleep.
The good part of Ackranon compulsively shave of his beard, an act of atonement for his sins (which he believes is falling asleep while on guard) and the good half of his mind would never look a PC directly in the eyes. He will sometimes cry and at other times become lost in memories with his dead sister (though she seems alive to him… There is nothing wrong with her having lost her body, for she miraculously survived that fate. Note: The evil part of Ackranon severed her head from her body in one hateful stroke against what his good part loved the most).
After a while, if the PCs are really thick skulled, you might have them find Ackranon in a candlelit session with his sister's skull (strands of hair still attached and even being combed) lost in memories of the past. Always let them notice the metallic clanking of Ackranons plate armour before their throats are slit, and remember to give them ample warning before he does so. Never, ever, kill a PC without giving the PC one or more chances to avoid that fate.
The evil within Ackranon often slumbers these days, and the GM should only check about each eight hour whether Ackranon has changed.
Imalen is a somewhat plump elder woman with dark sunken eyes and raven black, crew cut hair. She rarely smiles and can often be spotted ranting about this or that subject. She interferes in every event in the village and the village elders have consequently restricted her authority to temple matters (meaning what goes on within the walls of the two story rotund tower), but their decrees have been met with little success. She does not suffer fools, laughter and jokes easily, and sharp comments about "the frivolity of youth" or "foolishness of those who ought to know better" will usually be heard when faced with joking or smiling PCs. She has been appointed the position of High Priestess within the hierarchy of the temple of the Sun God, but was then sent into the wilderness and back to the one place she absolutely does not want to be. And that is here, in Anakien, her land of birth, a valley full of shadows. She was not always like this and was once a beautiful young woman, but in latter years her excessive eating and fits of depression have marked her.
Imalen does mean well and if treated with respect and somber sincerity, she will aid the PCs to the best of her effort. Her spells of healing are potent and her heart is warm despite her many flaws. Imalen yearns for someone to share her life with, and a middle aged respectable man of the correct demeanor might be able to win her heart. She could not care less for physical appearance, and will always judge a man by his moral fiber.