More Adventure's of Zora's Legion: Half-way Through the Dark

Our Legion is nearly at Skydagger, so I’m trying to catch up on these AARs this weekend. I’m going to post multiple mission reports in this thread, along with the thumbnail introductions of each mission afterwards.

9th Mission

Back at Camp

With Render’s armies stymied from advancing to Barrak Mines, and the Legion hoping he is buried under a mountainside, the Commander has decided they must seize this opportunity to move forward into Gallow’s Pass and visit the Kalevala monastery so Zora can partake of their blessings, then hurry into the Talgon Forest before Render’s forces can recover and cut them off from the south.

During the command staff meeting, the scout manages to convince the Commander they should prioritize tracking down Zenya and stopping her from retrieving whatever it is she’s been searching for in the mountains. Really, the scout is more interested in taking vengeance for her slaughtered squad…but the Commander agrees and dispatches her with the Ghost Owls, while the rest of the Legion readies themselves to escort Zora to the Kevala monastery.

Meanwhile, mercenaries and soldiers from St. Oysingra seeking to travel east petition the Marshal for Legion membership – including a Zemyati woman who had crossed the mountains specifically to find the Legion so she could join Zora. The Marshal accepts a few of the candidates, including the woman, to fill out the squads who have suffered casualties.

Just before the main force leaves, the Quartermaster quietly provides a choice to the Eastern soldiers the Legion conscripted into labor: help him out and take permanent leave in St. Oysingra, or keep digging latrines for the Legion. The soldiers take the former option, and provide him with some less-than-reputable contacts who are interested in war profiteering – people to whom the Quartermaster can sell the Aldermani artifact obtained in Plainsworth.

Selling the artifact, while probably sacrilegious, also proves extremely lucrative, and the Quartermaster manages to procure multiple crates of blackshot in exchange for the object. He proudly informs the Commander he has managed to trade and scrounge for enough blackshot to keep the undead off the Legion’s tail from the mines all the way to Skydagger Keep itself.

Deal done, the soldiers disappear into the town, with the exception of one: his sword-arm was injured beyond recovery and he had been pressed into organizing the Legion’s records. He’s found he has a knack for it, and with the command staff’s blessing, he stays on as the Legion’s new Lorekeeper. And rather too late realizes just how far out of his depth he is.

The main force of the Legion moves out and are forced to fight off attacks from not just Breaker’s Devourers on their supply carts (but handily do so, thanks to the net-throwers the QM developed to deal with the beasts) but also the mountain cannibals, whom Ache has pressed into his service to harass and slow the Legion’s progress. Making matters worse, before they can leave the pass, they may be forced to cross a mountain valley covered by a cursed mist – luckily, their scouts discover a quicker path around it to reach the Talgon.

The Ghost Owls, accompanied by the sniper and led by the scout, manage to slip past Zenya’s patrols and arrive on a ridge over-looking a large camp of Black Oak scouts setting-up at the base of the Three Kings – immense statues from before the age of the Empire. They spot Zenya in the camp, directing her forces, getting set to climb the statues, though the squad doesn’t yet know why.

Luckily, the whole group manages to slip around Zenya’s forces, and heads up the far side of the valley, looking for a good ambush spot they hope to lead her into. About halfway up, they find a small cave in a forested area under the rising cliffs and set up a “camp”. For the lure, they quickly paint a large shield to look like that of the legionnaire the Black Oak have put a death sentence on, knowing (from their intelligence gathering) that Zenya won’t be able to pass up the opportunity to hunt them down once spotted.

One of the squad rides back down the pass and into the valley, wheels around in front of the Black Oak forces and charges away back up the pass, making sure the distinctive shield was visible. It works like a charm. Zenya and a few of her scouts quickly give chase.

Meanwhile, the rest of the squad has lit a smoky fire, tied-up their horses horses, cut back the brush and small trees to create a clearing, and set up a small camp inside the cavern with their bedrolls and rations. Then the Ghost Owls melt into the trees and brush around the clearing and wait. Their bait charges back into the camp and scurries into the trees for cover. They wait. Zenya and her scouts move silently and almost invisibly through the trees, but the Ghost Owls are better and remain undetected. The smoky fire obscures everyone’s vision, and masks the interior of the cave.

Two Black Oak scouts move up to the cavern entrance, Zenya slips into hiding nearby, and the squad notices others moving and hiding as well. When the scouts relax and call back that the area is clear, Zenya moves forward into the clearing and the squad rushes in to attack with close quarters melee weapons, negating her advantage with the bow!

But Zenya isn’t one of Render’s lieutenants for nothing: she raises her bow with an inhuman quickness and fires multiple shots at the rookies, nearly killing one of them. They almost lose her…but the scout and sniper have already rigged a trap for just this occasion. A cascade of dusty boulders rolls off the cliff-side, raising a thick, choking dust that blinds Zenya and all her scouts. The rookies finish closing with her, surrounding the Black Oak lieutenant, jabbing and swinging blindly.

The Legion’s sniper, however, is not bothered by the storm of dust and smoke, and her new alchemical eye can “see” through it. Her shot takes Zenya in the square center of her forehead, and the lieutenant drops. With the dust settling, the squad engages in a brief skirmish with the other Black Oak scouts, who are cut or shot down quickly. Except for one whom the legionnaires allow to escape and tell the rest of their leader’s death.

The Ghost Owls follow quickly, taking up positions in the trees and bramble around the encampment, firing sniper shots into the camp, moving around so the Black Oak can’t pinpoint anyone. Their goal is to harass the soldiers and spread fear and confusion before they move back up the ridge towards the cliff and the statues carved into it. On the way, as they pass above the tree-line, they are ambushed by a lone Black Oak sniper, but manage to take him down with only minor injuries. Once on the clifftop overlooking the statues and encampment, they begin harassing the camp again, from above…driving the Black Oak down off the statues. The sniper takes a few shots at those trying to organize their fellows, and those encamped below finally break, scattering into the trees and away from the statues.

With the Black Oak driven away, and quiet reigning for a bit, half the squad pulls out their climbing gear and descends over the face of the central-most figure, into the open mouth. A long tunnel leads into the cliff, into a temple, with a large central chamber where a pure white flame of true fire burns impossibly in the air at the peak of a dais.

One of the newest recruits and the corporal of the squad ascended the dias, and as the new recruit stepped onto the height, the flame expanded, almost enveloping her…the corporal leapt into action, trying to tackle her and drag her down the steps of the dais. But too late. The flame touched them both, marking the both of them…and bringing both a vision of the Cinder King, and the Cinder King’s attention to them. The last thing he said to them before the vision faded was, “I see you have what is mine. I will take it back.”

Notes

We made a fortune roll to see how much the artifact was “worth” in the QM’s trade negotiations (turns out it was very valuable), and he used that to bump an already excellent Acquire Assets roll for Blackshot from “you trade for a crap-ton of blackshot” to “you trade for a metric shit-ton of blackshot” result. I sure hope that artifact wasn’t important…but we may never know. At any rate, the Legion is so set with blackshot, it’s like an Oprah car giveaway.

The Commander spent Intel to replace two of the missions I’d rolled up with two of the Special Missions instead. Interestingly, the players decided the Kevala mission would be their secondary mission, and the Kings of Fire mission would be primary. They replaced: a mission where Devourers were attacking the supply wagons and one where the Legion had to deal with a mist-cursed valley. The third mission, which they ignored, was a mission to deal with Ache and his cannibals.

For the primary, the squad started in a Controlled position for this mission, and just kept rolling well-enough to keep that position for most of the ambush. In fact, the sniper rolled a critical, had used Aim, and pushed to great effect, so I ruled that, with the given fictional set-up, the flashback about the trap, and the surrounding rolls by other players, it was enough to simply end the encounter with Zenya right there. Boom. Headshot.

There was also a conversation about what to do with Zenya’s body afterwards. One of the arguments was to cut off her head and throw it to her underlings…but that would have been against the Legion’s values: “Never desecrate the dead nor experiment upon them.” Their values won out and they gave a quick, proper burial to her and the other Black Oak they had cut down.

By the time they reached the temple, it was getting fairly late, so we decided to reduce everything to a couple rolls and quick fiction to finish up. The obtainment of the True Fire was fit in at the end – with the “two are marked” – and now the Legion is considering what to do with this power to see the Cinder King…and worried what it means for their plans and future schemes against the Broken. We didn’t have time to resolve the secondary at Kevala, so we’re saving that for next time.

I have noted over the course of the game that a few missions have resolved faster than I would like, and end up kind of rushed through at the end to make them fit. When I run BoB again, I’m definitely going to encourage missions be split across evenings, as in some cases, there simply isn’t enough challenge by that point and the wraps feel a bit forced.

These are the thumbnail write-ups for the missions above. Note that Operation Azure Guardian and Operation Shattered Tiger were both replaced by two of the special missions available in Gallow’s Pass.

(Those were: Operation Hidden Flame: Returning pilgrims in St. Oysingra reported Black Oak scouts scouring the area near a trio of statues called “The Kings of Fire”, which Silver Flowing Wind has affirmed. She vengefully insists the Legion use the chance to take down Zenya while she and her troops are isolated.

Operation Blessed Flame: The monastery of Kevala is certainly worth a stop by the Legion. When you arrive, however, the monks greet you solemnly and warn that something unseen and terrible stalks the halls at night, and the Legion remains at their own risk…)

Phase 9 Missions (Gallow’s Pass)

Assault, Powerful Undead
Operation Shattered Tower
Rewards: +4 Morale
Penalties: +1 Pressure

Ache and his Black Oak forces have fortified an ancient tower overlooking the pass the Legion will have to travel through. Destroying Ache would strike another bitter blow against Render and make your passage through the mountains safer. And you would lay to rest Lady Tsaga from her tortured existence as an undead oracle in the Infamous’ chest cavity.

Type: Assault, Powerful Undead
Operation Azure Guardian
Rewards: +3 Morale
Penalties: -1 Supply

Devourers continually attack the Legion’s supply train, occasionally carrying off porters, led, it seems, by Breaker’s personal Devourer, Silver, a beast twice as large as any of the others. If you can find the peak where the Devourers are nesting, a small strike force might be able to climb up unseen, catch them unawares, and put an end to their raids.

Recon, Route Recon
Operation Shattered Tiger
Rewards: Fine Asset, +1 Intel, Favor (Wild)
Penalties: +1 Pressure

The Legion must pass through a mountain valley hidden beneath an unsettling mist. If the valley can be cleansed of corruption, passage through the area would be much safer. A local priest, discovered hiding nearby, claims an ancient temple to the Living God lies in the valley, containing relics the Legion could use to ward off the corrupting influence of the Broken.

Great write up.

My experience has been with the same with session pacing. I began pretty quickly to start with one half of the mission, then stop at a exciting time and next session would be the last obstacle of the mission and then rinse and repeat.

I found that I got a little bit fatigued when trying to rush an entire mission in a 3 hour session, and cut corners and made it too easy for the players.

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10th Mission

Notes

The secondary mission last game was the Kevala mission, so we rolled to see what happened this game: a complete success. I believe the Legion decided to stay one additional time tick and took both the XP reward and the additional Favor reward. With the favor gained from the missions and from the monastery, Zora gained the ability to earn favor from multiple sources, with almost enough to earn another special ability.

Fictionally, the results of the events at Kevala are that Zora’s body becomes covered with a mystical, glowing script and her blade begins to blaze with a cool blue-white flame of greater heat and power. The Legion, too, has gained significant wisdom and bonded even more closely with their battle-goddess…except for the command staff (with the exception of the starry-eyed new Lorekeeper), who are becoming wary of these new developments.

Back at Camp

At the behest of Zora, the Quartermaster has allowed the Legion to engage in revelry and relaxation, to celebrate their great victories over the forces of the Cinder King, and the blessings the Living God has bestowed upon her and the Legion’s finest. But while the Legion tarries at the monastery, their spies return from the Talgon, bringing news of what the Legion can expect to find ahead. As well as news that some of Render’s troops, guided by his surviving lieutenants, were hurrying into the forest to cut them off. This, in part, drives the decision to press ahead rather than remain longer.

When the Legion finally arrives in the heart of the Talgon Forest and make camp, they learn that some of Render’s forces have beat them here, but the resistance is much less than they expected. There’s a single, poorly defended forward outpost in the Legion’s way, providing an opportunity to find out what the status of Render’s armies are…but there are also other problems and opportunities. With the mystical help of the priest who tends Talgon’s largest shrine, fears about Hexed infiltrators within the Legion prove unfounded – though he has a task for them in return: someone or something seeks to defile another site sacred to the Panyar, calling down unnatural storms and setting the trees alight.

The Star Vipers, led by the officer and heavy, head into the forest to investigate and stop the defilement. Meanwhile, the Ghost Owls, along with the scout, sniper, and medic, head in the opposite direction, towards the place their scouts indicated the locals claim a piece of the moon goddess fell. They hope they might be able to bring back material that could be rendered into reliquaries or relics.

With the scout (and the Zora-fanatic rookie) in the lead, the squad manages to make their way through the tangled forest without running into the hostile creatures rumored to stalk the area. Though it means they abandoned the rest of the squad for a while in the forest, and so no one else arrives until twilight, they study the cliffs at the top of lies the fallen piece of Nyx, and determine the easiest route to the top.

Once the rest of the squad arrives, the scout insists they climb immediately, rather than waiting until morning. This does not go over well with the others, who think it is a terrible idea to try and climb a cliff in the dark. There is almost a mutiny, but the scout points out she and the fanatic rookie have already set the pitons and strung ropes, and pulls rank. The medic helps get everyone into their climbing harnesses and ascending. As the sun sets, bio-luminescent birds begin to appear, and startle some of the squad mid-climb, but no one falls.

At the summit, the squad finds itself in a large, open area, free of trees, in the center of which is a large crater surrounded by boulders and rocks, with the skulls and bones of both humans and animals strewn in the grasses around the cliff’s edge. They can just make out an immense, white rock in the center of the crater. As the last glimmers of day disappear, shimmering, silvery spirits – vaguely man-like, but with featureless deer or antelope-like heads – arise from the ground, slowly circling the outside of the crater at various distances. At the center, circling the very rim of the crater, is a spirit much larger than the others which bears a glimmering crown of huge, sweeping horns.

While the medic carefully studies the spirits, and reads over documents borrowed from the Lorekeeper that talk about Nyx and her rites, the fanatic rookie decides to see what the spirits will do if she approaches, and how close you can get. She finds out that the spirits chase you…right up onto one of the large boulders. Where one of the spirit stops, and begins slowly circling, trapping her. The rest return to their slow circling of the crater.

After some arguments about what to do, while the trapped rookie examines the rocks and finds ancient carvings too worn to decipher, the squad’s corporal decides to simply run for it and sprints between some of the spirits until he reaches one of the larger boulders, and scrambles up on to it. After a brief pause, waiting for the spirit circling his boulder to be on the other side, and a path to clear through the rest circling the crater, he leaps off and sprints for the crater, barely reaching it and throwing himself down into it before the spirits grab him.

Dusting himself off after the tumble down the sides of the crater wall, he realizes the large “rock” they could see from above is actually…an immense bust of Nyx carved of faintly luminescent white stone, lying on its side. While the others pace nervously at the outer edge of where the spirits circle, the corporal wanders around the floor of the crater, examining the bust, even knocking a piece of broken stone off the neck…the piece immediately stopped luminescing, and yelling reports back to the others.

The scout eventually decides allowing the (non-Panyar) corporal to handle this clearly very Panyar matter is a bad idea, and makes a run for the crater…but is chased up onto one of the large boulders, and circled by multiple spirits. The rest of the squad tries a tricky maneuver to draw the spirits away, creating enough of an opening for the scout to leap down and make it to the crater alongside the corporal. She spends some time praying to Nyx and performing an ancient Panyar dance meant to honor the moon goddess…to no effect.

It is, in fact, the corporal who thinks he hears the bust whispering “join the dance”…but isn’t certain what that means. Or if he heard it at all. The scout doesn’t believe him, as she heard nothing, and has been dancing. She attempts to teach him the ritual dance, but it does not go well. And his attempt changes or reveals nothing.

The medic finally finishes her studies of the parchment – drawing out patterns in the dirt, wandering the extreme edge of where the spirits are moving and recording their movements – and realizes they are all moving in predictable patterns. She declares she is fairly certain the only way to avoid the spirits’ wrath is to follow in the exact same pattern the spirits are moving according to. The trapped rookie is the first to do so, and discovers the medic is correct.

Nervously, the rest of the squad starts taking up positions, following the spirits and their movements precisely. The corporal and the scout climb out of the crater and join in, with the Panyar in the group instructing the others how to perform certain dance steps thought to be sacred to Nyx. The group spends the rest of the exhausting night dancing through the pattern with the spirits, until sunrise, when the spirits fade away…leaving behind only the crown worn by the largest spirit, which floats to the ground.

The squad takes the crown, with the medic cautioning that no one should place it on their head until the Legion’s command staff can decide what to do with it (although, secretly, she has been considering placing it on her own head, but the last time she wore a divine relic, it had unfortunate consequences). The scout agrees, adding that the use and ownership of this religious relic is a matter for the Panyar of the Legion to deal with. The squad gathers up a few pieces of broken stone from the giant bust of Nyx, thinking that perhaps reliquaries could be created with them, and then prepare to scale the cliff back down and return to camp.

They return to a very somber camp, discovering that the Star Vipers’ mission went very poorly…

Notes

The secondary mission here would end up being retconned in an interesting way during the next session: it turns out the real reason the Legion went into the forest to find the source of the corruption was as part of an attempt to contact the Hag, and offer their assistance to her in bringing down Breaker at Fort Calisco (the Legion having learned of the Hag’s treachery while in the mountains, as part of the information the scout had gathered). The Hag accepted the offer, but killed most of the squad anyways, allowing the survivors to return with her message, and her plans, as a show of “good faith.”

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These are the thumbnail write-ups for the missions above. (Note that Operation Screaming Tiger was replaced with the Special mission to retrieve the Lunar Crown.)

Phase 10 Missions (Talgon Forest)

Recon, Troop
Operation Forthright Feather
Rewards: +3 Intel
Penalties: None

Some of Render’s advance forces have made it to Talgon forest, but with the chaos you’ve sown there has been less pressure here than expected. One of their forward outposts lies ahead, presenting a perfect opportunity to find out what the army’s current state is, and to plant false and misleading information…or even true information that could foment further chaos…giving the Legion the upper hand in future conflicts.

Religious, Cleansing
Operation Grasping Citadel
Rewards: -1 Time and +2 xp
Penalties: +1 Pressure

The corrupting mists of the mountain valley above flow down into the Talgon forest and Panyar among the Legion report lightning is repeatedly striking the trees in a sacred grove ahead. You can smell the smoke intertwined with the thick, humid mist. Driving the defilers off would make passage through the forest much safer for the Legion, and grant its saviours a blessing from the forest’s spirits.

Recon, Troop Recon
Operation Screaming Tiger
Rewards: +2 Intel
Penalties: 2 Deaths

Hexed hidden among the Legion have fled into the forest, called to betray its secrets to Breaker and her witches. If the Hexed escape, they may reveal what the Legion has learned about Breaker’s deceits and nullify the advantage you’ve gained with the secret intrigues you’ve learned of. Find her forces’ camp and stop the Hexed from reporting – perhaps you can even somehow turn this situation to your advantage?

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11th Mission

This is the initial Calisco mission, and unfortunately, we lost a player here. They had been intermittently absent for a few sessions, and told me just before this session that they weren’t feeling the game. It felt too late in the campaign to try and replace them, so we didn’t put out feelers for another player as we had when our original Lorekeeper had to bow out (though we had known from the start he wasn’t going to be able to play through the whole campaign, so we’d already had a contingency for that event).

As we had established fiction around our spies and their network already, we decided we would keep the Spymaster role and have another player take over the duties.

Back at Camp

After the funerals the Legion holds for the fallen Star Vipers, two of the Grinning Ravens rookies steal and split the possessions of the dead between them. Only one of them is caught by the Marshal, who lectures him on the values of the Legion and gives him extra work details, plus the “honor” of writing letters to the families of the fallen, to try and teach him the error of disrespecting his fallen brethren. The Marshal insists the letters must be heartfelt and compassionate, and sends him to speak with the surviving members of the Star Vipers to learn about them. The survivors are unhappy to see him given what he’s done, making his task even more difficult.

The Quartermaster has taken possession of the Lunar Crown retrieved by the Ghost Owls, keeping it under lock-and-key, despite the insistence of the Nyx worshipers in the Legion that it is a sacred relic and be handed over to them. The medic takes their side, claiming to be a follower of Nyx and using deep study of their rituals and beliefs to convince most of them. She confronts the Quartermaster and demands its return on their behalf. He doesn’t believe she is serious in her dedication, and strikes a deal with her: if she can awaken Oysingra from the coma she has been in since the legionnaires brought her back from her “tomb”, he will give her the Lunar Crown. He is desperate to learn what secrets Oysingra holds regarding Zora – certain it will reveal something unsavory and prove correct his suspicions.

The medic agrees, but makes plans to steal the Crown – “because the QM is an infidel” – while he is busy directing work on a rapid-fire ballista the Legion can use during sieges. Her plan proves unnecessary as she manages to awaken the former Chosen…and the Quartermaster keeps his word. Unfortunately for him, when she awakens, she has no memory of who she is or any moment before awakening in the medical tent.

With the Crown in hand, the medic manages to convince most of the Nyx worshipers among the Legion that she should bear the crown – a few dissent, since she is not Panyar. Still at the temple in the Talgon, the Legion’s Panyar perform a ritual to Nyx under the broken moon, crowning the medic, only to discover (somewhat to her horror, given her prior experiences with mystical headwear) that the the Crown of horns fuses to her head and cannot be removed.

At the same time, working with the keeper of Talgon’s temple and the more zealous among the Legion, Zora discovers that the mystical writing on her body can be copied to strips of paper that, when affixed to armor or weapons with a wax seal mixed with her blood, bear a sacred power to protect the bearer from the mystical and corrupting influence of Breaker and her Shadow Witches.

However, the forces of the Cinder King are closing in. Storms wrack the skies, blasting the Talgon with lightning and starting wildfires, while Render’s troops hack and burn their way through the ancient woodland. To the Quartermaster’s horror, the Legion’s scouts return with world that Render’s forces have laid siege to Westlake, the home of his family, and that it may have already fallen to the Cinder King’s forces.

With the Talgon burning around them and the air choked with smoke, the Legion packs up and moves through the woodland as quickly as possible, hoping for a reprieve when they reach Fort Calisco at its eastern edge. This hope is struck down when they arrive at the edge of the woodland to find the fort is under siege by Breaker’s forces: Devourers circle above, ranks of Burned surround the walls, and the chanting of her Shadow Witches fills the smoky air.

Somewhere along the way, the Legion’s Spymaster disappears…and doesn’t return. No one knows where she went or why, leaving their information network in shambles. The command staff votes, and the new Lorekeeper is saddled with her responsibilities, and run ragged not just keeping track of and updating the Legion’s records, but trying to keep tabs on the Legion’s informants while directing its scouts and spies and collating the information they bring in.

While Zora, and two hand-picked members of the Legion – the Zemyati bearing the True Fire and the religious Bartan, wearing the Circlet of the Twins – ride out to distract the majority of Breaker’s forces on the opposite side of the fort, the Ember Wolves are tasked with clearing a path to the fort through whatever forces remain. They ready their horses, blackshot, the Zora-blood blessed reliquaries, a disassembled field canon, and a good supply of blackshot for their charge at the walls and the fort’s western gate.

With surprise and fury on their side, they crash through the thinned ranks of the Burned, cutting and shooting them down, and through the gates before any resistance can be raised. The defenders of the fort saw them coming, and thanks to Pitt-soldier’s commanding bellows, throw the gates open for them to ride swiftly through. Once inside, he instructs the remaining leadership at this gate to ready themselves t open the gates for the rest of the Legion…but they point out a problem. Their ranks have been decimated, and their morale destroyed, by Devourers swooping down and carrying off their archers and soldiers whenever they try to hold the wall, while Breaker’s witches stand outside, unmolested, chanting and preparing a dark ritual.

The sniper and a spear-carrying rookie charge up the battlements and take position on the walls, deliberately trying to draw the Devourers down on them while another of the rookies starts setting up the field gun. Two of the Devourers go down: black shot killing one in mid-air, and the other almost taking the spear-carrying rookie away until he manages to drive his weapon through it, causing it to tumble back onto the battlements. With this show of force, Pitt soldier manages to inspire the defenders of the fort…a number rush back up onto the battlements after him, where he directs them to start tying everyone down, so the Devourers can’t simply swoop down and make off with them.

Unfortunately, in the midst of his directions, two Devourers appear out of the darkness and smoke and start tearing at him. But the rookie setting up the field gun drops her task and fires the Quartermaster’s “net gun” at them, tangling up not just the Devourers, but Pitt-soldier as well. Luckily, grounded and tangled up, the Devourers prove less fearsome, and a few well-placed blackshot bullets put an end to them while the soldier cuts himself free.

The sniper rushes to the edge of the battlement to get an overview of the siege below…and notes the Hag moving among the Shadow Witches below!

This is when we ret-conned the prior secondary mission using a flashback, effectively removing the Hag from the equation – the sniper signals her, and she rushes away to join in Zora’s attack on Breaker.

Only a few circling, swooping Devourers remain, and with one final effort, the squad and the defenders of the keep unload a barrage of mixed blackshot and lead slugs at them, killing some and driving the rest away. The sniper, watching the ritual taking place below and noting the hex marks painted in blood on the walls below and certain the shadow witches mean to use it to open a breach in the stone, thinks quickly – she grabs her reliquary and pours it down the barrel of her rifle. The oils smoke and glow as they touch the air, and she quickly fires at the Shadow Witches.

The bullet launches from the barrel like a fiery lance, striking one of the witches and enveloping her in flame. She thrashes, screams, and abandons the ritual, quickly collapsing into smoking rags. Pitt-soldier roars at the fort’s defenders to take the walls and follow the sniper’s lead. The squad expends most of their reliquaries pouring the fiery oil into everyone’s rifles and muskets before they all open fire on the remaining witches. None of the enemy escapes the barrage, and the ground outside the walls burns with a holy, white fire.

With the area safe for the moment, and the western gate cleared for the rest of the Legion, led by one of the fort’s younger soldiers, the Wolves set out at a run through the streets of the fort to relieve Zora from her battle at the main gate on the southeastern wall.

The game ran long, so it ended up being a split session. We decided this was an excellent place to stop for the evening and to pick up from the next week.

At the main gate, Commander Jonakas welcomes the Legion and thanks them for their help, but proves reticent about opening the gates for the Legion, citing his troops are already having difficulty holding back the masses of Burned outside the walls. When the squad finally convinces him they can’t leave Zora fighting off an army herself, the most he will agree to is to open the gates to let them out…but insists they either clear the gates themselves if they want them re-opened, or find another way back in.

From the battlements, through the fog and smoke, the Wolves can see the titanic battle taking place on the plains outside the fort: the Hag and Breaker are hurling lightning at one another, and their respective forces of Burned and Shadow Witches are trying to tear through each other to reach their enemy leader. The Legion’s plan has worked better than expected: they’ve ignited a civil war within Breaker’s own ranks. The Cinder Guard, Ogyier, is locked in a struggle with Zora, preventing her from reaching Breaker at all, while the two legionnaires on the field defend her flanks from those few enemy forces not busy with one another.

The sniper takes one of the field guns the Legion has brought inside and settles in to a high point on the battlements above, setting up the gun and its specialized blackshot charges. Oysingra walks the walls nearby, shouting encouragement to its defenders, preparing them to unleash a barrage on the Burned massed in front of the gate. The Wolves mount up again and prepare to charge once the signal is given. The signal is the sniper’s attack with the field canon on the forces below, with concentrated fire from the defenders on the wall. The field canon and the guns boom, the gates swing open with the Wolves already whipping their mounts into a frenzied charge…directly towards Ogyier.

They thunder swiftly across the battlefield and catch the Cinder Guard by surprise from behind, knocking him down and opening cracks in his armor. Pitt-soldier charges in behind them, taking advantage of the distracted Ogyier, slams a field gun (specially prepared with a holy fire reliquary) into a gap between the plates of his armor, and fires it at point blank range. Ogyier explodes in a column of consuming white fire, and the soldier disappears in the blinding flash.

Meanwhile, the sniper has reloaded the field gun on the wall and aimed it at Breaker, dropping the cannonball of blackshot almost in her lap…badly wounded, still trying to fight off the Hag, and seeing that things are turning against her, Breaker raises thick fogs from the ground before the sniper or the Hag can capitalize on the situation, shrouding the entire southern battlefield, then Silver swoops down from above and carries her away from the battle.

The squad reforms around Zora and attempts to make its way through the blinding fog towards the main gate, riding hard. The rookie spear-carrier, meanwhile, quickly searches the nearby area for signs of the soldier…and finds him(!) unconscious and badly injured, but still breathing. Keeping a few stumbling, jerking Burned at bay, he manages to load the big man on his horse and follow the others back to the gate. At the direction of the sniper, whose alchemical eye allows her to see through the fog, the soldiers on the walls open fire into the mist below, and Jonakas makes a last-minute decision to throw the gates open after all. A few Burned make it through, but are quickly cut down.

When Zora enters the fort, the soldiers gather around her in awe, many whispering prayers.

Notes

This was a crazy mission. The group rolled a crit for their engagement, so we narrated how their charge at the gates went off spectacularly, and then put them in a Controlled position for what followed, and then they just couldn’t roll poorly. There were 6’s and crits everywhere, and so very few consequences. Everything seemed to go (more-or-less) right for them throughout.

During the second half, the attack on Ogyier used a flashback, set-ups, assists, and pushes, and still resulted in too many injuries for the soldier character to survive, even checking all their armor. The character took a resist on top of that, which ended up causing them to trauma out of the scene but moved them down to Incapacitated. So we narrated the legionnaire’s survival as being miraculously thrown clear of the blast, unconscious…but therefore not out-of-the-woods. Luckily, one of the others stopped to look for him.

The players pushed the effect against Ogyier up so high, on top of previous injuries done to him (by Zora and the initial charge) and the narrative design of the attack, that it was enough to take him down. I suspect if the roll hadn’t gone well, the fiction of “you have fired a field canon full of holy fire into his guts but now he just sounds angry” would have been just as fun, and immensely terrifying for the Legion.

They also had the opportunity to either turn on the Hag, or attempt to take on Breaker (before she fled), but the group decided it served their purposes best to both just get out of there, and to let the Hag and Breaker continue to fight it out. They were right: the siege on the fort stalled while the undead forces outside warred against one another.

Also, we called this one Operation Open Gate, and the thumbnail I gave the players was: “Breaker’s armies of Burned surround the fort, the chanting of her Shadow Witches fills the smoke-clogged air, as do her Devourers. You’ll have to break the siege to make it into the fort, and make the undead shift their forces to defend while the Legion makes a break out of the forest and into a side gate. The ritual the undead are preparing for the walls looks like a good target.”

12th Mission

Back at Camp

Commander Jonakas has found the Legion a space in the already crowded fort where they can gather their supplies and shelter themselves. He is pleased the Legion is there: the fort’s morale is already improving, and the other forces gathered here welcome the reprieve additional squads on the walls can provide.

The Commander is happy to help defend the walls, but he and Jonakas have a disagreement about the Legion eventually moving on – it is a moot point, anyways, as Jonakas points out the fort is under siege, so no one is going anywhere, no matter what plans they make.

Given that reality, Jonakas brings up some particular issues he could use the Legion’s help with instead, which he hasn’t had the man-power to deal with himself until now.

The alchemists and the Quartermaster have finally finished their experiments with Zora’s blood, and convince her to go along with it – they want to test what is essentially a “super-soldier” serum and ask for volunteers from the Legion.

Every squad puts one volunteer forward, except the Shattered Lions, who all step forward.

The effects of the injections become apparent over a couple days, as all those affected begin to develop a strange blight on their skin that looks like glowing coals, and develop aggressive personality changes: while they gain in strength and skill, they also become overconfident and impetuous.

The Commander and Zora put an immediate end to the experiment and force the Quartermaster and the alchemists to destroy their research notes and any remaining serum.

In response to the effects of the serum, the Shattered Lions re-christen themselves the Blazing Lions. They also start making trouble with soldiers from other units in the fort, challenging them to arm-wrestling and drinking contests…and starting brawls.

The Marshal is forced to round them up, and (barely) gets them under control, disciplining the lot of them. She decides if they want to fight so badly, she has the perfect mission for them to field-test their new abilities…under the supervision of two of the Legion’s Heavies.

Trapped inside the fort, there is little for the Legion’s spies to do, but the Lorekeeper/Spymaster does send their top spy to see if she can worry one of the fort’s Mercies away from her duties to join the Legion. Whatever Antionette says to the Mercy, it works.

Meanwhile, Liya (somehow) slips through the Cinder King’s forces, over the fort’s walls, and reports back on what awaits the Legion ahead in the Maw, detailing the caverns and shrines located there, as well as the danger posed by the strange Pale Crawlers.

The Legion’s desire to move on to Skydagger has also reached the ears of a squad of Orite engineers. They approach the Legion’s command staff with a deal: they know of a potential way out of the fort that would allow them to exit unnoticed and move quickly past the enemy’s siege. But they will reveal it only if the Legion brings them along when they leave: the Orites are certain the fort cannot withstand Breaker’s siege and want out.

The Commander agrees to their terms, and has the Marshal swear them in, assigning the members to various squads for training. After, of course, they give him the information: it’s an Orite clockworks just outside the northern wall, with an unused steam-engine hidden inside, almost ready to go. It’s sitting on engine-tracks leadings northward, but they are unfinished only a few miles out. Still, it’s enough to get the Legion out and give them a head-start.

The Grinning Ravens are sent with the Scout and Officer to check it out, and secure the area, along with a couple of the Orites as guides. They lead the Ravens to a blocked off underground tunnel used to pass back-and-forth between the fort and the clockworks before the siege. The squad opens it back up and follows it to the abandoned clockworks.

Unfortunately, groups of directionless Burned are all over inside of the buildings, and the Ravens lose a few of their own while securing the area. This includes one of the recently Fire-Hearted rookies – notably, the same one who was caught stealing the Star Vipers’ possessions. But they get the steam-engine working.

Commander Jonakas has told the Legion there are significant crates of supplies buried just outside the walls, left there by a Bartan squad who died hiding them and defending the depot. One lone survivor made it to the fort and reported its existence.

The Commander decides they can’t pass up this glorious opportunity to help the fort hold out longer, and significantly extend the Legion’s own dwindling supplies. With a way out already secured by the Ravens, the Blazing Lions are able to use the clockworks to mount a swift raid outside the walls without having to use the gates and all the problems that poses.

But there’s a problem almost as soon as they emerge from the buildings: they run into a huge group of Burned…luckily, the Heavies in the lead make short work of the undead and clear the way for the emptied supply carts their horses are pulling.

Again luckily for the Legion, most of the undead are occupied elsewhere, fighting one another as the Hag and Breaker seek dominance over the army and the loyalty of the Shadow Witches. In fact, the forces remaining near the north wall are clustered around the north gate, and fail to notice the legionnaires or the fight…the squad suspects the witches who control them are elsewhere, supporting their factions.

The rookie scouting ahead manages to lead the group across the hilly plains without being spotted, nearly to the base of the hill on which the supplies are buried. BBarbed wire and overturned carts still surround the site – the Bartan’s attempts to try and hold off Breaker’s forces. Now they are protecting squads of Burned standing motionless inside.

Despite the desires of the Blazing Lions to directly confront the Burned with a forward charge, the Heavies manage to talk sense into them and get them to agree to hold off until they can whittle the undead forces down. After some fumbling attempts, one of the Panyar in the squad manages to create crude blackshot “explosives” to throw at the Burned from the barbed wire perimeter.

The squad manages to army-crawl their way to the perimeter without being noticed, and hurl the explosives. Despite a number of the crude devices simply not going off, the rest successfully ignite, injuring or dropping about two-thirds of the undead. Pressing on this advantage, the group charges forward in formation, the Lions roaring. Under the disciplined direction of the Heavies, the squad’s blighted skins blazing like cracked coals, they quickly finish off the rest with only minor injuries.

Then, still under the disciplined direction of the Heavies – and thus prevented from surging back out of the area to confront more squads of Burned – the buried supplies are quickly unearthed and loaded onto the carts.

Before they leave, Brad Pitt Heavy once again paints Zora’s symbol on one of the overturned wagons, in oil, and lights it up before they rush away. This draws some attention. The squad races back over the uneven ground in the shallow valleys between the rolling hills, trying to reach the road before the (now alerted) army of Burned can block them…

…and they manage to pull it off, gaining the road to the north gate. With the Heavies in the lead knocking down the limited resistance they do meet, they make it all the way to the gate and through before an effective blockade can be formed by the undead. A few Burned stumble through the gate after them, but the fort’s guards make short work of them.

Notes

I actually rolled the Special Mission for this one, they didn’t have to spend Intel for it. Which was good, since they are running very low. We also decided to make the engagement roll for the Secondary Mission before undertaking the Primary, as the results would affect the latter’s engagement roll. I don’t know if that’s “technically” correct, but it made far more sense from a narrative stand-point.

The mission itself was a particularly short one, which the group ended up being fine with. We did a lot – and a lot of interesting things happened – in the Back at Camp and free play scenes, and our narration of how the secondary mission went. Really, the primary mission was almost an afterthought to the events in free play.

The “Zora’s Blood” long-term project has been running since early in the game, and finally came to fruition…sort of. The Quartermaster has been trying to make a Zora-version of Render’s cinder-blooded troops, like the Heartless. It’s only sort-of worked like he hoped, but the corruption of the Orite god of alchemy has created problems for his designs.

We decided those who partook received a new special ability called “Fire-Heart.” It results in the subject gaining a Blight (“Host”) and becoming reckless in their behavior, but also gain one dot in “Weave”, the use of which gives them Potency for actions involving heroics and inspiration.

Finally, I believe Bortis had finished an Augment action this turn, but we got mixed up on how it worked, and so didn’t apply it to this set of missions. Oops. Possibly because our campaign actions were run out-of-sequence. However, my notes are confused on this point, and it might have been that the Augment was just being worked on this phase, rather than being finished. At any rate, things got confused and we definitely didn’t run the augment correctly.

These are the thumbnail write-ups for the missions above. Operation Desert Thorn was the one they ignored in favor of Operation Desert Feather…either would have supplied a way out of the fort, but they preferred the rewards from Desert Feather.

Phase 12 Missions (Calisco 2)

Recon, Route
Operation Desert Feather
Rewards: Troops, +1 Intel
Penalties: +1 Time

Commander Jonakas insists the Legion remain at Calisco to help hold it against the undead. But a group of Orite soldiers are convinced the fort is going to fall, and suggest there might be ways for the Legion to exit unnoticed. They’ll provide the details if the Legion will take them in. Any route the Legion takes will have to be scouted and cleared first.

Recon, Exfiltration
Operation Desert Thorn
Rewards: +1 Intel and -1 Time
Penalties: None

Commander Jonakas’ brother took a troop of soldiers into the crypts underneath Calisco to investigate rumors of an ancient escape tunnel that exits in the hills to the east. He hasn’t returned, and there are reports of undead moving in the crypts. Jonakas wants you to find his brother before he seals the entrances. Find his brother, locate the escape tunnel, and deal with the undead.

Assault, Special
Operation Shattered Light
Rewards: -2 Time, +3 Supply, +1d to Acquire Assets this turn; Favor (Glory, Mercy)
Penalties: None
Requires: Horses

The undead horde arrived before all of the fort’s materiel made it inside. The lone survivor of a unit from Barta reported they buried a huge supply cache of Black Shot, weapons, and food just within sight of the northern wall. It’s sitting completely untouched. Sortie from the fort, deal with the undead crawling over the depot, and bring the supplies back before the siege cuts you off.

13th Mission

While moving out immediately had been discussed, our Commander wasn’t present for the session and we had to apply the Augment “can’t advance this phase” limitation, preventing them from moving out anyways. At the end of the campaign actions, we decided to delay the mission phase until the following week, hoping he would be back. He wasn’t available again. Not wanting to delay again, we voted to play, but we forgot about applying the Augment action to the missions.

Back at Camp

With the supplies rescued from beyond the walls, the command staff orders a celebration for the Legion, and the Quartermaster (surprisingly to some) acquiesces. Some of the other soldiers in the fort join them (with Jonakas’ permission).

The Quartersmaster himself, given his access to materials and time, enlists the Medic’s help in examining the fort’s siege weapons, gathering stories about clockwork weapons, and consulting with the newly oathsworn Orite engineers in an attempt to put together some new clockwork-improved siege weapons the Legion could use at Skydagger. But when he doesn’t have the Medic running ragged gathering stories and making sketches, he has her working on trying to restore Oysingra’s memories.

News has reached the Legion that Render’s forces are on the move northwards, heading towards Fort Calisco. Unfortunately, there is no word of who leads them…has Render returned? Or has one of his Lieutenants taken over?

The Commander and the Spymaster discuss the deteriorating situation inside the fort: hex-injured soldiers, a growing plague of nightmares, smugglers stealing food and supplies, and concerns that if the Legion doesn’t move out before Render’s forces arrive, the Legion won’t be able to move out at all. The decision is made to see what the Legion can do about the situation inside the fort while finishing the preparations for moving out.

This also prompts a discussion of what to do with the Black Oak prisoners in the Legion’s care: the command staff doesn’t want to bring them along to Skydagger, feed them, continue to risk their escape, etc. The Legion has been winging-it with a guarded tent and heavy chains, but Fort Calisco has proper facilities to hold prisoners. Thankfully, Jonakas is happy to take them off the Legion’s hands.

The new Heavy and the Officer head out with the Grinning Ravens to see if there’s anything they can do about the “nightmare plague” that has caused an entire unit of storied Bartan riflemen – the Fifth Thunder Brigade – to fall into terrified nightmares no one has been able to awaken them from. Not even knowing the source, the Legion’s investigation and attempts to awaken the sleepers is stymied before it begins. Most of the affected die.

Meanwhile, the Legion’s new Mercy has come to the command staff with a request: many of the fort’s soldiers are suffering from various hex-afflictions, from unhealing burns, to bound limbs, to nightmare-fevers, and so forth. She is, herself, unable to cure these maladies – but there is a tapestry kept at the fort’s shrine to Asrika that might allow her to help. She has sent two groups to retrieve the relic, but neither has returned, and she is afraid it has been stolen by one of the groups.

The Medic, the Heavy, and the Sniper are sent out with the Blazing Lions to locate and retrieve the relic. Unfortunately, they walk into a trap. The shrine looks empty. Until a whole mess of someones emerge from hiding to open fire on the squad. The Sniper dives to the floor, pulling one of the Lions with her. The others either scramble into cover or charge at their assailants in an attempt to wrestle their rifles away.

The Medic summons up the power of the Lunar Crown to reveal the area and its assailants and sees more than she bargained for.

Almost a dozen armed individuals surround the squad, and on each one burns a moon-revealed hex-mark, with dark ropes twisting and winding from those marks back to a single source – clearly the puppeteer jerking the strings.

Urged on by her shadow twin, the Medic momentarily hopes she can use the Crown’s connection to the broken moon to convince their attackers she is also a Shadow Witch. It is a vain hope (…and worse, with this attempt, she gains the attention of the Cinder King himself…).

The Shadow Witch hurls a curse at the squad, catching one of them, who suddenly turns on his comrades.

Another of the Rookies turns and confronts the hex-controlled legionnaire in an attempt to break the witch’s hold on him. While he struggles with their squadmate, the Medic pops out of hiding for a moment to point and yell for everyone else to grab the witch.

Which gives the witch an opening: she curses at her and curses at her…but it strikes the Medic’s shadow twin instead! (Actually giving the Medic momentary relief from its dark whispers and taunts as its voice and limbs are bound!)

The others charge her through a hail of bullets and manage to tackle her, who bites and tears at their hands and arms before they can pin her down.

The squad quickly pulls off the sacred seals Zora had affixed to their armor in the morning, and press them into the witch’s flesh instead. She jerks and spasms as the holy seals affix to her body. She shrieks and pleads and apologizes and snarls and threatens as the twisting black ropes of her power leading to the Hexed burn away, leaving them dumb and guileless – they stand motionlessly with their rifles, staring.

The Rookie struggling with his Hexed squadmate uses the opportunity to get through to him, summoning up Zora’s Fire, insisting he reach out for it as well (WE ARE THE BLAZING LIONS!), inspiring him to break the witch’s hold over his mind.

Despite attempts by the Medic, the other Hexed prove to be too far gone to be saved, and are put out of their misery before the squad leaves.

However, with the witch subdued (but needing almost everyone to hold her down because she has psychotic strength) the squad questions her about the clearly missing tapestry. Whatever part of her that is still human relents.

She tells them how her sisters have hidden the tapestry in a nearby mausoleum…and then tells them how they are all going to die at her sisters’ hands. Figuring this is all they will get from her, the squad gags her, binds her hands and feet, and drags her back to the Spymaster for further questioning.

Then the Lions move out to locate the mausoleum.

Using the Sniper’s alchemical eye and the Medic’s access to the fort’s building plans, they locate the most likely location for both the tapestry to be hidden, and where in the building the witches might lie in ambush.

The former they determine quickly, but the latter is questionable. Not wanting to rush into an ambush, they take up positions around the building while the Inspiring Rookie heads back to camp. He’s there to demand the Quartermaster put together a blackshot grenade to smoke out the undead. This goes about as well as expected.

His attempt to requisition materiel through intimidation does not go over well with the Quartermaster. So the Rookie gets the Marshal involved. The Quartermaster does relent at this power play, and grants him the requested supplies…

…but has decided the haughty Lions will be denied any further supplies from the Legion’s stores. If they want anything, they’ll have to go running to the Marshal again to fight their battles for them.

However, growing tired of waiting for the Rookie to retrieve the requested supplies, the Sniper attempts to rig some cheap-and-dirty blackshot explosives together using her blackshot rounds and the alchemical charges in her wrecking kit.

They, surprisingly, prove passable enough. While the specialists toss the explosives through the door to the mausoleum as cover, the squad rushes inside set up a firing line. The explosives flood the building with blackshot dust, outlining the witches clearly in a greenish flame, causing them pain and making them angry.

However, the Sniper uses the confusion to best effect, keeping the witches distracted and away from the squad with covering fire. With the combined firepower of the squad, blackshot, and the confined area, the squad makes short work of them.

It doesn’t take long before the specialists locate and open the tomb in which the tapestry has been secreted, and quickly return it to the Mercy.

With the power inherent in the Tapestry, the Medic and the Mercy – aided by the Lions acting as nurses with a crash course in first aid, and glowing with the summoned inspiration of Zora’s Fire – the fort’s injured and hex-bound soldiers are restored to health and wellness. The lingering effects of their hexes burned away, and most are fit to return to duty on the walls.

Word spreads throughout the fort of the the Medic and the Lions deeds, and praise and adoration (and legendry) are heaped upon them by the fort’s soldiers.

Notes

Despite the mission starting in a Desperate position, the players managed to turn it around fairly quickly. And they ended the evening rolling criticals for healing up the fort’s other soldiers! The feud the Lions started with the Quartermaster was a Devil’s Bargain that worked in their favor…at that moment. But it will be interesting to see what happens if/when the Lions are sent out on any missions going forward (which they will be at Skydagger) since the Quartermaster will refuse to supply them.

With our Commander player still missing, the remaining players make the decision to head out while they still have ticks left on the second Time clock. This would result, however, in that clock filling – still leaving plenty of time to reach Skydagger.

The Legion moves to the Maw as planned, since all the special missions there had been revealed thanks to Spymaster actions. The Spymaster also starts an Ambush clock here, hoping to finish it before the Skydagger missions start.

These are the thumbnail write-ups for the above missions. Operation Diamond Hawk was the mission they chose to ignore this time.

Phase 13 Missions (Calisco 3)

Religious, Favored Unearth
Operation Broken Peak
Rewards: -1 Time, +2 xp (everyone on the mission), Favor (Mercy)
Penalties: +1 Pressure
Additional: Requires Specialist (Medic or Mercy); Can bring 3 Specialists

There are many badly wounded soldiers, and not enough medics to treat them, particularly given many are suffering from hexes cast at them by witches and such are not so easily treatable. Your Mercy tells you that the local shrine to Asrika contains a tapestry blessed by an ancient Chosen that may help, but neither of the groups she sent to retrieve it ever returned. She worries one of the groups simply absconded with the relic.

Supply, Mercenary Work (Heavy, Officer, or Scout)
Operation Diamond Hawk
Rewards: Food, +2 Supply
Penalties: None

Scavengers caught stealing supplies were interrogated by Commander Jonakas’ men, and gave up the location of a significant cache of goods stashed in the fort’s sewers. The Legion is welcome to some of the supplies, if they can retrieve them and return the rest to Jonakas to distribute. There may be more scavengers guarding the supplies, but Jonakas wants them captured, not killed, so he can make an example of them.

Supply, Mercenary Work
Operation Shattered Tiger
Rewards: Religious Supplies, +1 Supply
Penalties: -1 Morale

The members of the Bartan Fifth Thunder Brigade, a storied group of Bartan riflemen, have fallen into a nightmare-laden sleep from which they are not waking. The leaders of nearby units have tried and failed to end this curse, and fear it is the work of Shadow Witches seeking to kill or corrupt soldiers from within the walls. They have promised you some of their own supplies and reliquaries if you can solve the mystery and wake the sleeping soldiers.

14th Mission

Notes

I made a Fortune roll to see how the Legion’s escape on the steam-engine affected the civil war between Breaker and the Hag…and with the destruction wrought by the Legion during their escape, Breaker came out on top. It won’t be long before she finishes mopping up the Hag’s dwindling forces, and then executes her traitorous Lieutenant. With Ogyier destroyed by the Legion, Breaker is now free to pursue her studies and research free of the Cinder King’s oversight.

Unfortunately, our Commander was MIA again, so we had to make a decision about how to handle his duties during the campaign phase. We talked about it, made a choice, and then narrated exactly how our decision happened with some free play of the command staff.

Back at Camp

The Legion has spent their time slowly, furtively transferring supplies to the steam-engine, always leaving a squad on guard to get rid of anything that stumbles into the clockworks, while still maintaining their promised help in guarding Calisco’s walls. Somehow, the Quartermaster miraculously staggers these tasks enough that the Legion can rest instead of driving themselves to exhaustion.

Meanwhile, using their status among the soldiers of the fort, the Lions have been surreptitiously gathering an eclectic collection of reliquaries they plan to present to the Quartermaster…though it’s apparently not enough to blunt all his spite towards them.

It is enough, apparently, to procure them some of The Good Stuff during some allowed revelry…though he flat-out tells them it will never happen again without direct orders from the rest of the command staff.

The Spymaster has been, carefully, interrogating the Shadow Witch captured the Lions captured, and has learned some interesting things: with Ogyier no longer a barrier to her freedom (thanks to the Legion), she has returned to studying the shadows of Dar in pursuit of gathering enough power to overthrow the Cinder King, and thereby take his place.

She is also the source of the nightmares that destroyed the Bartan Fifth Thunder – she was using them as an experiment for something darker. Finally, they learn exactly how Breaker creates and controls her witches…unfortunately, removing the patch of Breaker’s flesh sewn onto the witch simply kills her. A sort-of mercy, nonetheless. The Legion take the witch’s body along in case it somehow proves useful later.

Once the steam-engine is fully loaded, the Legion gives notice to Jonakas that they are leaving for Skydagger, and they slip away. In the clockworks outside the walls, the steam-engine roars to life and surges out from the buildings, crushing entire squads of Burned that mass in an attempt to stop it (or are just in the way). With the field guns firing blackshot shells around and behind them, they cut down a huge swath of the Cinder King’s forces as they escape northwards.

The Legion abandons the vehicle at the end of the unfinished tracks, miles away from the fort, and turn east towards the Maw. The last leaves are falling from the trees, the grass is turning golden-brown, and cold winds begin raking down from the mountains as they march. The south-eastern skies have become a black shroud of smoke visible even here, and they soon realize with horror that the Cinder King’s armies are burning Panya to ash.

The Legion has more immediate problems, however: the Commander’s injuries at the hands of the Inquisitor (and the Medic’s nearly botched attempt to free him from its torture devices) have finally caught up with him. He has fallen so deeply ill he is unable to fulfill his duties. (Some even wonder if this turn in his health has anything to do with what is happening in Panya.) Someone must bear his remaining duties, so they meet in his tent along with a few of the Specialists.

The Legion’s Officer begs off as too inexperienced with high-level strategy. The Quartermaster knows he isn’t a leader and refuses. No one is even considering the Lorekeeper-Spymaster, but he quietly backs out of the tent and slips away from the meeting before anyone can even suggest the possibility. The Marshal doesn’t want the additional responsibility. Etc.

However, the Marshal is the only one with the necessary experience and understanding of the Legion’s people, and the Commander himself appoints her to lead in his stead. His last act as the Legion’s leader is to tell her to get the Legion to Skydagger safely, that he knows she can do this. The Legion is so close.

The stress turns her to drink.

Unfortunately, the Broken are right behind them – to the south, whomever is leading Render’s forces has driven them savagely northwards from Eastlake to join Breaker in the siege of Fort Calisco, and in vengeful pursuit of the Legion. Breaker herself, with her successful experiment upon the Fifth Bartan Thunder Brigade, and the Legion’s failure to counter it, has been able to create a Grand Hex affecting all the living beings remaining within Aldermark, plaguing them with nightmare visions whenever they close their eyes to rest.

The stress of the journey is taking its toll on the squads, as well. The Ghost Owls – one of the Legion’s most experienced and successful squads at this point – are collapsing due to in-fighting and argument.

The True Fire-marked Zemyati seeker and the Owls’ True Fire-marked Corporal are at logger-heads regarding how the Ghost Owls should be led: the former believes it is their duty to take on their opponents no matter the odds, not sneak around carefully and cautiously as the latter trains them to do.

They are also diametrically opposed when it comes to actually using the True Fire, with the seeker advocating its benefits, and saying that any visions of the Cinder King aren’t a problem, while the Corporal believes the mark is a problem (and certain the Cinder King is watching them even now – and why he has been surreptitiously avoiding all intelligence briefings).

The argument can be heard throughout camp, and while she thinks the situation has been resolved and they are on the same page, it turns out that isn’t exactly true and there has been a serious miscommunication…particularly about whether or not it’s up to her to call on the True Fire.

In camp, with the return of her memories, Oysingra has grown increasingly paranoid and unstable – often mumbling things no one else understands. Zora has brought her concerns to the command staff, suggesting that a squad could lead Oysingra into the mountains. She believes the mountain air and the secret arts of the Zemyati ascetics who tend to temples above the clouds may cleanse her madness.

The Ghost Owls, fractious as they are, are tasked with leading Oysingra into the mountains, and then rejoining the Legion at Skydagger. The Medic is sent along due to her extensive familiarity with Oysingra both personally, and with her symptoms and history. The Legion’s original surviving Heavy accompanies them, in case they run into trouble.

The squad unfortunately runs into trouble almost immediately, and the problems between the Corporal and the Zemyati Fanatic surface during the first major problem the squad encounters: a major winter storm envelopes an already icy, narrow pathway up the side of the mountain. While the Corporal considers finding a place to wait it out, and insists everyone stay together, the fanatic ignores him and charges ahead…summoning the True Fire to burn away the ice, and using her supernatural strength to slam iron spikes into the stone to tie off the squad’s ropes.

Unfortunately, this gives their position away to the Cinder King…and somehow Oysingra can see and sense this as well! And yet, the fanatic spits defiantly and declares that she is chosen by the Living God and Zora, the True Flame is hers, not his, and to come get it if he wants it so bad. While this show of insane bravado shakes the squad, the spiteful defiance shores up Oysingra’s deteriorating mental state.

But, perhaps twisted by the distant hand of the Cinder King, the weather turns worse: a terrible flash frost of supernaturally intense cold creeps down the mountain towards them, cracking the very rock and shattering the exposed equipment anyone who falls too far behind. The snow stops falling as the temperature plummets, and the squad manages to keep just barely ahead of it on the winding path…but it is inexorably catching up.

With exhaustion setting in, the Corporal makes the decision to try and locate a cave or protected crevasse to hide from the cold…hoping he isn’t dooming the squad to a quick freeze anyways. The path has widened here, and trees dot the mountainside above, some even growing up from the sheer wall on their left – they splinter as the frost hits them. The Corporal misses it, but the fanatic and the Heavy notice what looks like an opening into a deeper hole the squad can all squeeze into.

Summoning the True Fire once again, the fanatic drags a massive chunk of scree over the entry, and gripping it with the True Fire, keeps the frost at bay. In the background, Oysingra is whispering over-and-over that “he’s in the darkness, he’s everywhere”…she can see the Cinder King, astride now a skeletally-emaciated black steed in what must be the wastelands of Dar. He tells her he is coming for them. She curses at him once again, saying the Legion and the Living God will stop him.

The squad waits in the darkness, lit only by the dim white glow of the True Fire brand on the fanatic’s head, but uncertain how long the deadly weather outside will continue. Not wanting to remain in the cramped “cave”, they chance removing their stone plug. Luckily, the weather has passed and they continue their upwards trudge.

Hours later, almost entirely above the tree-line, on a steep, but navigable side of the mountain, they discover what appears to be a path leading upwards into the clouds. It’s “marked” by a length of twine and tattered triangular flags that disappears in and out of the heavy snow. Night is on its way, and they notice distant, black specks in the sky winging towards them. There’s some discussion about whether or not to continue up the mountain during the freezing night, or find somewhere to hide and bed down until morning.

Luckily, there’s a sheltered copse of trees nearby, growing in a break in the mountainside, protected from the wind. The Heavy makes the call: they’re bedding down for the night. With the pine and some dried wood, they manage to make a small, smokeless fire under the thick branches. The Owls’ Corporal takes the first watch, and uses it to scout the surrounding mountainside for dangers. Luckily the Owls’ thick winter clothing doubles as camouflage in the snow (a trick picked up in the mountains near the Barrak mines), so when the specks resolve themselves into Devourers soaring over the mountains, he’s fairly certain they don’t notice him…

The rest of the squad is busying themselves preparing a meal from the last of their supplies, and having a Come-to-Zora moment to restore morale and – they hope – draw Oysingra out of her increasingly withdrawn, suspicious muttering and disconnection. The Medic thinks it can’t hurt, and that solidarity with her fellow oathsworn legionnaires might just be the medicine Oysingra needs…perhaps it might even mean they have no need to continue up to the temple.

The squad starts quietly discussing home and family, and breaking MREs together, bonding together again as a squad, and the Heavy manages to finish healing the developing rift between the Corporal and the fanatic. And there’s a frank and open discussion about the Cinder King and the True Fire. And about the Medic’s shadow twin – which she finally comes clean about. The stress and shame of it, and of hiding it all this time, finally catch up with her, and the shadow whispers her failures and anxieties in her ear…she almost withdraws entirely into herself. Almost, except that the squad Corporal reminds her of the good she’s done, not just for the Legion but for everyone they’ve met along the way, that the shadow is a liar, and that the Legion is her family and is there for her.

While he’s distracted with the Medic, the fanatic decides to lead the conversation with Oysingra…unfortunately, it’s bluntly and without tact. Her curiosity about what happened in Dar with Zora gets the best of her, and Oysingra reveals with a few questions put together that before the Chosen destroyed the Last Emperor, the Legion captured and helped the Last Emperor torture her.

The squad is understandably horrified, even knowing the Legion’s origins as the Emperor’s personal guard. But the Zemyati pushes on, fascinated, asking outright if Oysingra was corrupted and Broken? At which point the former Chosen’s eyes turn pitch, their visible skin suddenly floods with black lines like lightning, and she snarls “DO NOT ASK.” The fanatic, unperturbed, grabs the former Chosen’s shoulders and shouts at her, “You are one of US! You are with THE LEGION now! You are FAMILY! We are oathsworn, we are blood.”

While her eyes return to normal, Oysingra angrily snaps, “I was the first…that’s why she buried me.” Then turns to stare hard at the Corporal and says, “And he can see you now, too.” Before she rolls over and ignores everyone.

It’s the most coherent speech they’ve gotten out of Oysingra so far and due it, the Heavy decides they need to press on to the temple for help in the morning. Assuming they can help.

Note: We ended there for the night. This would end up being a two-parter because…well, tons of Free Play and then an intense mission that definitely wasn’t resolved, despite the best efforts and intent of the players. The dice rolls were not in their favor.

When morning arrives, the squad is stiff and cold and hungry, but pack up quickly. Checking first for danger and seeing no sign of the Devourers from the night before, the Corporal leads them expertly up the mountain along the half-buried trail. They pass through the clouds to the mountain-top above where the temple has been built. They struggle through the thin air to the temple doors, where a young, silent Zemyati monk meets them. He silently leads them inside, through the courtyard, and into the main hall where the elder asetic, Stanislav, meets them, and the Heavy decides to tell him everything.

The fanatic is not convinced these monks can actually help Oysingra, and tries to engage the elder in a religious debate on this point…it does not go the way she thinks it should. Finally, the elder tells her there is a cave near the peak above that she should go to and have her questions answered. And not to come back until she does.

The Heavy, embarrassed by this disrespect towards a Zemyati elder and priest, does not go with her or take the squad. Instead, he accepts the offer of a warm place for everyone to rest, and a simply meal that evening. Other monks lead Oysingra away to prepare her for some kind of rite the elder does not choose to discuss.

The Corporal, despite not being Zemyati, chooses to accompany the fanatic further up the mountain. The cave is cramped, narrow, and runs deep into the peak. It has signs of being both natural, and hand-worked by tools to widen it in places. There are candles and stubs both outside the entrance and on rocks and in shallow alcoves inside – none are lit. The Corporal tells the fanatic not to even think about trying to light the candles with True Fire – it’s only partially meant as a joke – and they go about doing so with more mundane methods.

Before they can light more than a few, something huge and white silently slithers out of the darkness further down the tunnel and lunges at them with a mouth full of razor fangs – a huge, white, furry snake. The Corporal barely notices in time, but still receives a small bite wound and tries to hold it off. The fanatic has brought a huge signal horn with, and blows it hard, hoping to summon help from the temple below (unsuccessfully) and that the noise will scare the snake off (but just ends up annoying it).

They both summon True Fire and wrestle it back, the Corporal badly wounding it, before he shoves a candle in its face, and the fanatic blows the horn once again, giving it slight pause…long enough for the fanatic to un-sling her bow and fire a blackshot arrow at the creature – she’s not trying to kill it, just scare it. The sting of the arrow does finally cause it to retreat back down the tunnel.

They decide to follow it deeper, not having gotten their answers yet.

Deep inside, the cavern opens out into a ritual space, with a large stone tree carved into the far wall and the ceiling overhead, so its “leaves” are above, and the “roots” spread across the floor underfoot. There are crevices leading to possibly deeper caverns into which the snake could have retreated, but no sign of it or anything else in the chamber.

There’s also a small altar at the “base” of the tree, polished and wooden. It turns out to have a horn of “sacred drink” inside (Zemyati turpentine moonshine). The fanatic takes big drink and almost immediately regrets it…but it does make the stone tree come to life, swaying as if in a strong wind (the Corporal does not partake and so does not see this, ahem, miracle).

When the two finally return down the mountain, the elder asks her if she took care of the snake for them. When she explains she did not kill the innocent creature, he shakes his head and mutters about “the damn snake still infesting the cave” and that between he and she, at least one of them knows how to do their job. It’s a clear, poignant jab at her earlier questioning of his ability to help Oysingra. What she takes away from the lesson is “stunned annoyance.”

Meanwhile, the Heavy and the rest of the squad have approached the Zemyati monks to request permission to help cleanse the taint from Oysingra “as members of her family.” This being one of the most important parts of Zemyati society, the monks agree.

While watching the monks begin the ritual, inside the central chambers of the temple, the squad quietly discusses how they might contribute, until the Heavy suggests they quit discussing what to do and just DO it. The squad surrounds Oysingra, and Elder Stanislav uses a ritual knife to collect blood from each member’s hand and then uses it to paint Zemyati runes on her skin and face.

The Medic places her hands on Oysingra’s shoulders and summons the power of the Lunar Crown to cleanse corruption, surrounding them both in a shaft of moonlight. The two True Fire-marked Owls summon up its power, standing in front of Oysingra, guarding her, and face the revealed image of the Cinder King. He declares she is his and he will have her…but both shout denial at him. His image rushes towards them, growing larger, and all the candles in the temple are blown out as by a great wind, leaving the shaft of moonlight as the only source of light.

Both of the Owls manage to hold firm.

Behind them, a pool of shadow is forming beneath Oysingra…stretching out, standing, forming into an almost-human shape. It utters that she cannot escape the shadows of Dar and reaches for her. The rest of the squad shout encouragement at her, that she can defeat this enemy, that her brothers and sisters in the Legion stand with her. Steeled against her own fear, Oysingra raises her arms and a brilliant bolt of lightning arcs from them, shredding the shadow with light and noise, blinding and deafening everyone in the room.

When they recover, they find Oysingra unconscious on the floor, but with no sign of corruption staining her flesh.

The monks declare the rite has been successful and Oysingra is free of her curse.

Back at Camp

Meanwhile, back along the pilgrim’s path that winds around the Maw, the Legion is busy among the shrines and hidden tombs in the catacombs under the mountain, chasing down the story of a lost resting place of an ancient Chosen said to wield lightning.

The Legion’s spies and the Lorekeeper’s records have managed to pinpoint its entry chamber, but with the rest of the Legion sealing up the other shrines and tombs to keep them from being desecrated by the undead, it falls to the Grinning Ravens (led by the Officer and the Scout) to decipher the ancient writing on the tomb’s walls, so they can bypass the traps and guardians of the inner crypt.

While they are successful in penetrating to the inner cyrypt, they lose a couple members of the squad to those things left to protect the tomb. Among the burial goods, the Legion discovers a chain used by the ancient Chosen, which can summon lightning, and they gather up burial items that the Legion’s priests can fashion into reliquaries. As per the Legion’s strictures against defiling the dead, they leave the Chosen’s corpse in repose, decide to lay their fallen members in-state within the crypt, and seal the chamber before they leave.

Notes

It was late at this point, so we closed on that. I double-checked with everyone that the plan was still to advance immediately to Skydagger Keep, and it was. We broke for the evening and planned on completing this phase’s campaign actions the following session.

So…this was not the mission I thought they would choose as the primary! I was surprised at the pick, but I really enjoyed how the players made this one their own: especially how the squad reasoned Zora’s actual directive was to “fix” Oysingra, and decided they might not have to trek all the way up the mountain if they could do so themselves. It almost worked, even! The players remarked after the game that this was one of the most memorable missions we had done.

Though I kind of dropped the ball on the cave scene, it came up suddenly and I thought I had somewhere to go with it, but it honestly just petered out and was a bit jokey instead. Unfortunate on my part.

I deliberately kept Oysingra’s statements generally vague, and used pronouns instead of names or proper nouns. Everyone has definitely made assumptions, like who she means when she says “he” and “him”, and about what really happened centuries ago – which may be correct. Or not. The only real and solid information they have is that the Legion and the Last Emperor were real bastards to her, and that something real bad definitely happened to her in Dar which led to Zora burying her in a tomb for the last few centuries.

What does this whole ritual mean for Oysingra? Mechanically, she’s a Heavy with a point of Weave. She’s no longer Chosen – in fact, she’s burned out almost completely now.

NEXT UP: SKYDAGGER!

These are the thumbnail write-ups for the above missions. I, once again, rolled such that there were only two missions for the phase, so they didn’t have to chose one to fail. They spent their last point of Intel to replace Operation Dusty Citadel with the Special Mission involving retrieving the Lightning Chain – fictionally, it made more sense for Dusty Citadel to “just happen” (rather than suddenly not having it be a thing at all) in the background, without any mechanical rewards or penalties.

Also, we finally applied the changes from the Augment action here, which we ruled improved the rewards for Shattered Hawk from just “Scout” to “Scout; Favor (Mercy)”, but there’s not much better you can do than “No Penalty” so that didn’t change.

Phase 14 Missions (The Maw)

Religious, Defense
Operation Dusty Citadel
Rewards: Laborers, Favor (Holy)
Penalties: -1 Morale

At the entry to the Maw are sacred caverns and holy shrines once regularly attended by pilgrims. All the major gods of the Eastern kingdoms are represented, and Zora claims it would be a moral victory if the Legion scouts the caverns for signs of refugees and the Cinder King’s forces, then seals them before the bodies of the holy men and women buried here can be profaned.

Religious, Escort
Operation Shattered Hawk
Rewards: Scout
Penalties: None

Oysingra’s memories have returned, along with madness. Zora declares she is uncertain whether or not the former Chosen will now be boon or bane to the Legion. She suggests leading Oysingra northwards to the High Road, and let her rejoin the Legion at Skydagger, hoping her madness will be cleansed by the mountain air and secret arts of the Zemyati asetics who tend mountain temples above the clouds.