Part 17: The Red Woman
Act Two Chapter Nine - Last Man Standing
On our way back into Ashenwood, we come across a berserker and his dead friend confronting a Malarite.
Malarites are generic evil pagan-types so we help the berserker kill her, even though she didn't actually kill his dead friend (who actually did it is a mystery).
Then we mug him for 150 gold pieces.
For the sake of comparison, a few areas ago I found 1800gp by looking under a rock.
There's another sidequest involving a stray hunting dog, moping around Gnarlthorn's grove. Okku, Gann or nature-classed PCs can talk to the dog by getting the scent off its former owners. You don't find out anything interesting, except maybe that the hunters weren't killed by any creature, living or dead...
* * *
The second quest we have to do to bring the Wood Man back to life is kick these frost giants off this island.
Alas, the giants are non-hostile so we can't just up and kill them.
: Well if you was speaking in giant tongue to me I wouldn't expect to understand you either, don't you know?
: You is just lucky that I is not killing you right this instant for standing on my ground. But I feel lazy today.
: Why is there a tribe of frost giants here?
I love some of the dialogue in the Ashenwood module. First the hag, now these giants...
Really makes you think, considering that (like Kaelyn) the Ashenwood very nearly didn't appear at all.
: I is the jarl here. That is all that matters now.
: Well my old tribe believed that only the strongest giant should be jarl, and that if a jarl wasn't the strongest, he should leave in shame. Any of us could challenge our jarl for his crown.
: When I won the challenge, so great was my victory that I also won the respect of the entire tribe. Except for Didrik.
: Who is Didrik?
: Didrik was the runt of the tribe. But his strength was in his cleverness.
Ooh, harsh. But it gets better:
: Well, for a long time we had one jarl who was so tough that we wasn't strong enough to beat him. But after he got old and he started weakening, everybody was starting up challenges.
: We was a big tribe, several hundred strong to start. But when the challenges started, most of us was getting exiled.
God bless you little giants.
: Ja, I think he must be crying so hard that his tears is starting avalanches. Little baby avalanches, because he is so runty.
: I'm not sure how you didn't see this coming.
: Well the system wasn't the best but at least we mostly got a strong jarl. Although some tendays the jarl was better than others.
: Well we still like to have a strong jarl. This is the best way to pick him.
: You would take a challenge from anybody? What about me?
: Sure, I suppose if we want the strongest jarl that anyone can challenge. But you is not going to win so it's not a problem.
: Okay, tell me how the challenge works.
Doesn't sound too bad, does it? It's King of the Hill, but with knives.
: I challenge you for your crown, giant.
So this here's our crown.
And these are our giants. They spawn in waves of two or three at a time.
They usually make a beeline straight for the crown, to put it on their head. If they can keep it on their head for twenty rounds, the giants win. We have to beat up all the giants, fighting them to Near Death (and making them drop the crown if they're wearing it) before then - and if we do that, we win.
It's not a hard game. The giants are too focused on getting to the crown to do any real damage. I will say this is an area where Fighters come off marginally better than spellcasters, because full-attacking is easier than wasting a Meteor Swarm on these dunderheads.
Eventually the old jarl has a go himself - not that he's much tougher than his subjects.
: When you is jarl, you should strongly consider coming up with a better way to become jarl.
: As your new jarl, I demand tribute!
Well, there was this castle I had once...
This is the Neutral option: a set of gauntlets that grant bonus Druid/Ranger/Shaman spells and +3 Wisdom. Evil characters can send the giants on a destructive rampage in their name. Really Evil characters send the giants back to all the villages they previously destroyed, in order to apologise and make restitution.
Oh wait, sorry, that's the Good option. Which just goes to show that maybe good guys are the true villains or something.
But this is what we wanted to see. Best quest resolution ever.
We even get an epithet feat out of it.
We're not done, though - the sanctuary still needs a guardian spirit. First, we grab this pure water from the pool... we'll need this for Gnarlthorn's cure.
If you helped the berserker kill the Malarite earlier, his dead friend's spirit will appear on the island. You can Devour him for an essence, and he can become the new island guardian. Otherwise you have to pass a Diplomacy/Bluff check with the Telthor Berserker on the other side of the river, or Provoke, fight and Devour a telthor in combat.
In fact it's better to do both. Grigarii gives a Brilliant Spirit Essence, which is good for crafting, while the island will accept any old crappy Volatile from any old crappy telthor.
So we just shove some random essence into the island pool.
There. All fixed!
* * *
We now have all three ingredients for Gnarlthorn's cure. Blighted Leaves, Bark Cinders and Pure Sanctuary Water. We also have the location of a sacred spot - the Red Tree of Immil Vale.
We use all three forest items on each other, then use the anointment solution on ourselves.
Again, there's two different ways to resolve this quest. Praying to Chauntea is the Good option.
: [A sudden flood of warmth embraces your body, and you feel for an instant as if the ground has been taken out from beneath you, and you are floating in a place removed from time or space as you know them.]
: [The pangs of spirit hunger recede, and you know relief for the first time since you awoke in the barrow cavern. Wherever you are, you suffer no longer.]
: [At once, the world rushes back in to fill the void, and you are at the tree once more. Your hunger remains. Nothing has changed, save that in your hand, you now hold an extraordinary crystal bottle.]
* * *
Back to Ashenwood again.
: You have? Well don't waste it on me, little one. Just see that the other trees in this glade are restored.
: Place your gift in the pond here - their roots will drink from it.
: But you have the blight, too.
Remember what I said about divine punishment? It doesn't always target monsters and villains, you know.
: It is good that you are sensitive to such struggles, and the reasons behind such suffering, whether natural or not.
: I would not expect such understanding from one so young. But one day when your trunk is many ages thick and your roots have delved far into the earth, you, too, may realize how delicately our existence is balanced on the laws of nature.
: For me, the time has come for a peaceful and long-overdue slumber. I trust you will tend the younglings and see them healed, which means I can stop clinging at last.
Gnarlthorn, you were cool. You killed a dude by falling on him.
Good night, sweet prince.
Anyway, we drop the cure in the water to heal the trees.
Then some treants appear because this quest wasn't long enough already. Thanks Obsidian.
* * *
We've pacified the forest - pacified it real good, right into the ground.
Actually, what we've done is consecrated it. All the pagans, heretics and knowlessmen have been thrown out; the pews stood upright, the altar scrubbed and cleaned.
All we need now is a sacrifice.
: This is the first good news in some time. I am greatly relieved that you were able to do this.
: You must forgive me, but there is one further matter in which I need your assistance.
: What? We had a deal.
: I am sorry. It was not something I could speak freely of to an outsider.
: Let me speak plainly. My garrison has been betrayed. My berserkers were sent to their deaths in the forest.
: Dalenka is not who she appears to be. She is a durthan spy, here to weaken hathran influence on this place.
: How do you know this?
Ostensibly, Sheva Whitefeather sent us to the Wood Man to find a cure for our condition. Of course, what she didn't tell us was that the Wood Man hates all spirit-eaters for what they've done to him in the past. But hey! what do you expect from someone who wears a mask all day?
Now, Nadaj tells us that Dalenka is a durthan spy. Someone's telling porkies...
: For a long time I noticed nothing. Then one night I saw her sneak into the forest.
: She returned every night for a week. Before I could report this, the attacks started.
: What can be done about this?
: I do not wish for my berserkers to come to any more harm. If they die in Dalenka's defense, she will have done what she intended here.
We can wrangle about it for as long as we like, but in the end we choose to help Nadaj.
If you want the very best ending for this module, then you should refuse to help her. But that's boring and lame.
There are five berserkers, each with their own perspectives on Dalenka and Nadaj. Kozlov is properly parsimonious and cannot be converted to our rebellion.
The other four...
...are less intellectually rigorous.
You can tell Dalenka about Nadaj's plans, but she's remarkably chill about it.
: Durthan spy? Oh, my, Nadaj has been busy lately, hasn't she?
Something's not right...
* * *
It's Dalenka and Kozlov against you and the berserkers you converted to your cause. Nadaj, however, is nowhere to be seen.
: To think that you were so easily seduced by the hollow words of an utter stranger. I am truly embarrassed for you.
: Silence. You are here because you are accused of being a durthan spy. What do you say to this?
: If you believe that I am the root of the troubles here, you are in for a hard truth.
I'm almost positive the Wood Man's absence has nothing to do with us. Almost.
Could do with some support, Nadaj...
: There is but one law in Rashemen, and it is the word of the hathrans. By opposing me, you, and those who aid you, stand outside that law.
Finally. Nadaj shows up - too late to help us with Dalenka the durthan.
This was totally obvious in hindsight.