The team leave Breachill early the next morning and make their way to Citadel Altaerein, which is situated on the top of a steep grassy hill to the north.
[GM: In our previous playtest of this mod, we found the original citadel map quite difficult to use if we covered up one room at a time, since there are so many little minor rooms, especially as my players took an unorthodox route in, rather than walking in the front entrance. This time around, I am using the Keep flip-mat as Citadel Altaerein. Post-it notes with the book’s room references written on them help to map the Adventure Path book to the flip-mat.
As the players enter an area, I will know which encounter the map code corresponds to. Because of this change to the Watch Station flip-mat, the castle is not in ruins and the players are able to enter by the main portcullis. So that we did not have to cover any of the rooms up, which can hamper the speed of gameplay, I allowed the players to acquire a blueprint of the original build of the castle (see previous episodes). They know some of the rooms and that their intended uses may have changed with time. The players are also aware of something being suspicious about the build of the dungeons below, as all the workers were fired before completion.]
The castle portcullis is rusted, broken and stuck in place halfway open – the characters are able to walk straight in. Above, there is a battlement; no one is on guard. There are no immediate sounds from the near vicinity, although the grey smoke, which has caused the goblin ambassador, Warbul so much worry, continuously curls up into the sky.
The route to the main courtyard is through a gate – the team can just make out that the smoke is coming through a grate in the centre of the stone-paved courtyard area. As they get closer, they hear in the distance animalistic roars and growls. It gives the castle a menacing feel, but is far enough that the team can explore their immediate surroundings first.
After a quick discussion, they decide to try the door closest to them. They check for traps and noises within – nothing. There is, however, an overwhelming smell of something rotten and decaying.
[GM: This is the relocated room A13, Court of the Nail from Chapter 2 of Hellknight Hill. I have given the graveshells Mwangi as a language, rather than Common and that they have arrived in this place via the portal, alongside the other exotic animals in the keep. The graveshells require more humid temperatures and therefore have clung near to this shallow fetid pool where they have made their den. ]
Opening the unlocked entrance reveals a small room with a door leading off to the left and a stone staircase leading up to the right. John correctly assumes that this will lead out to the battlement across the portcullis. The room is covered in debris – shards of wood and broken furniture. In the centre of the room is the source of the horrible vapour, a shallow pool of rancid water with a mound of debris in the centre. Closer inspection reveals it to be a corpse that has been run through with some kind of metal spike.
Taking no chances, and sensing a trap, John charges into the room and plunges his polearm through the corpse. This causes the graveshell, hidden beneath the corpse, to rear up and retaliate.
[GM: I rolled a 1d8 for several of the monsters’ stats. A 5 meant they stayed the same, a 6 increased them by 1, 7 increased by 2, a 4 decreased them by 1 and so on. This gave me one graveshell with high stats and a harder AC (the creature about to attack John) and one much smaller graveshell with a lower AC. I decided the weaker creature would be submissive to the water trap graveshell and would therefore be hiding under the stairs.]
As Hax and Hal join the fight, the second graveshell emerges from hiding under the stairs and jumps at Hal, thankfully miscalculating its leap and narrowly missing. When John savagely crits the original graveshell on a third hit, (using Paizo’s Pathfinder critical hit cards: double damage and fear) it is bleeding heavily (1 hit point left) and offers surrender to the greater fighter. The second, smaller graveshell surrenders alongside its companion.
To everyone’s surprise, the creatures speak in a broken, rasping undercommon, which Hal is familiar with [GM: allowed as a starter language due to Hal’s lore knowledge of certain monsters]. The graveshells explain in vague terms that they came here from another land, a lush jungle.
John ushers them into the corner beneath the staircase and interrogates them as to what is happening in the citadel. The graveshells know of a small man (assumed to be Calmont) who often travels to and from the fort. They also talk of other wilder creatures in the area. They offer the treasure caught on their spiny backs as a tribute and agree to refrain from killing any humanoids or goblins for several days whilst the team explores the dungeon. A lot of the armour and clothing is damaged beyond use, but they do salvage some coins. The Mwangi creatures are hungry, weak and in need of denser air and a better water source.
The team explore the room and find broken lecterns amongst the smashed furniture all around. Benches have been thrown at the walls. Hax determines that this used to be a courtroom of some kind – his companions convince him away from more detailed exploration (as a Scribe he is clearly diverted by any writing desk); Hal and John insist time is of the essence.
With a final warning to the graveshells that they will face certain death if they break their word, the adventurers head up the stairs.
John takes the lead as they run across the battlements. He takes in the view beyond the fort from this vantage point: the whole of the town is laid out before him below. Beyond the streets he can see the masts of ships in the riverside port. Onwards, after Hax check the door is safe, they cross into another set of rooms. This was clearly an old mess hall [GM: room A5], just as their blueprint suggests. Leftover food rots amongst smashed plates. The Hellknights might have made an orderly exit, but the final meal was clearly a rushed affair. Rats scurry under the tables.
Hax inspects a west-leading door and as he leans in to check it, something picks up his scent. Sniffing and muffled growling can be heard on the other side.