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WotBS Mission to improve Mission to the Monastery of Two Winds

I edited the 5th adventure of War of the Burning Sky some 15 years ago, and over the years I've never really seen the same enthusiasm for it that I've seen for other Burning Sky adventures. I think all the adventures show their age (and reveal some of my early blindspots as an adventure writer), but the first four in the campaign form a solid arc, and people seem to really discover their characters based on what choices they make. But then number five doesn't really offer as much.

This review on DriveThruRPG points out that there's not a ton of decision points. It's a lot of 'go in a straight line, deal with a problem, and go in a straight line to the next problem.' DriveThruRPG.com - War of the Burning Sky 5E #5: Mission to the Monastery of Two Winds Reviews

This was the adventure that made me stop running this campaign. After the previous adventures, which ranged from fair to excellent, this one was a real letdown. The beginning is incredibly linear, offering little opportunities for the players to make decisions. It begins with an exposition dump and an on-rails trip to the village of Eresh, where there's nothing to do.

Once they arrive they discover the monastery is also off-limits and the players are essentially just waiting for one event (ommiting it here because it's a spoiler) to happen so the action begins. And once it begins it doesn't stop, the adventure becomes a series of fights until the PCs finally confront the villain. There's no mystery, no interesting things to do besides following the trail of breadcrumbs, the adventure is exceedingly short and it doesn't even play to its themes of peace or "balance" (the solution to the problems presented is just killing all enemies).

The most laughable part is how one of the main NPCs just shows up out of nowhere, all enigmatic, and doesn't say anything relevant. They go away immediately and the adventure says that they don't provide any more information, not for any personal reason, but because it's "better for the narrative". This was such a bad scene and was mocked by all my players and myself for how childish it is with its desire to be "mysterious" while at the same time not making any sense. It's being enigmatic for the sake of it, and worst of all, it even works against the adventure as it reveals the NPC as the cause of the strange events surrounding the town. If you're running this campaign, seriously consider skipping this adventure.

So I'd like to improve the adventure. In this thread, I'll ponder how we can do it.


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I just reread the adventure, and my takeaway matches what that reviewer said: the adventure is too linear, and Pilus is underbaked as a villain. If his big living airship is going to be the focus of the penultimate adventure in the campaign saga, we need the fight against him to mean more to the party.

What is Pilus missing?

There's no heart to Pilus's arc as a villain. His background isn't resonant with the party, and isn't unique. Let's compare him to Leska and the Trillith.

You get snippets of her history across adventures:

She was loyal to the emperor until her home was imperiled by his conquest.

He sent her on an impossible mission to find the Heart, which she succeeded, but she lost everything during her quest.

She became driven to take power so she could never lose again, which means when she thinks she may lose, she tries to curse the world in spite.

In short, she's a tyrannical dictator with a bit of pathos.

They're a bit more esoteric, but you've got the core hook of Trilla being exploited for her power, and then trapped with her own nightmares, and never really being in control of her own life. Her 'children' cause havoc in the world, and their goal is to break free and unmake everything in sort of a nihilist fugue.

Now that I'm writing this thread, ha, I want to overhaul the trillith element of the campaign too. I'd make it that Trilla remembers all the interactions the party has with the trillith on the surface, though she experiences them as dreams. If I could go back and rewrite things, I'd have each encounter with a trillith (Indomitability and Deception, Madness, Balance, Aggression, Agony, and all the ones in the Festival of Dreams) have some meaningful choice that would redound to how Trilla feels.

Then when you finally enter her dreamscape in adventure 10, there'd be a manifestation of her (which you see on the cover - an elf in a golden dress) that you could interact with -- at first with irrational dream logic, but gradually more coherent as you get closer to her body. That adventure would then go from just a vague 'rescue the princess' plot to 'save a troubled person from her own demons,' which I think would have more resonance.

But we're here to talk about Pilus.

Pilus in the campaign as written is kinda thin. His motivation is basically just revenge against Ragesia, which then turns to megalomania. It's too close to Leska, just less compelling. He's also got a brother who's just sorta there.

I think a more interesting motivation is, like, patriotism. It's not fully fleshed out in the text, but Ostalin's background is that a few generations ago a warlord came across the sea and conquered the area, around the same time Coaltongue was conquering his empire. Ragesia and Ostalin clashed, and Ostalin clearly was losing, but Coaltongue felt satisfied with his conquest and decided to stop.

So I might build up Pilus as not simply wanting revenge, but thinking that his country and culture are superior. Make it so he's not seeking power for himself, but trying to help the Khagan Onamdammin (who's not the best leader, but he'll do) bring Ostalin morals and traditions to this foreign land. You could then give the party opportunities to talk to Pilus, learn his philosophy and ideology, and perhaps even see him as reasonable.

If I were to redo the adventure with the benefit of 15 years of hindsight, I'd first reassess what purpose it serves in the overall campaign. And that'll come in the next post.
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If you think of WotBS as having three acts of four adventures each, act one’s climax is thwarting the advance of Ragesia in Dassen.

Mission is the start of act two. The overall thrust of this act is retrieving the Torch and using it to strike the Koren Obelisk, your first real attack into Ragesian territory. That climax involves the big reveal of The Tempest, so we want to set that up. Also, after the appearance of Madness in adventure 4, you want to give the players a sense of what the point of the trillith is, and why they keep popping up. (Namely, they’re linked to the creation of the Torch and are needed to restore it to full power.)

Then act three is all about bringing the campaign to a close and winning the war. Pilus sorta falls into the background for adventures 9 and 10 before suddenly betraying the Resistance in 11. You beat him, and all he’s really good for is letting you show off by teleporting an army onto his flying leviathan with the Torch.

We can do better.

Working with a Bond Villain

There are five plot beats I want for Pilus in this rewrite.

  • Adventure 5. At his monastery he’s enigmatic and charming, untrusting of outsiders but a potential ally against Ragesia. Environmental storytelling gets you info about his backstory and motivation. You either get his support or steal an orb of storms. Either way, you reach Korstull in adventure six.
  • Adventure 8. The Tempest breaks the defenses of the Koren Obelisk. After the end of the adventure, he offers you a ride out of Ragesian territory, so you can get to know him better, and to set up some key locations that the party will return to in adventure 11. You also get to meet some named underling/apprentice/etc. You hopefully realize Pilus is not being 100% straight with you.
  • Adventure 9. During this adventure, the Tempest isn’t useful because you don’t want to cause civilian casualties by blasting Gate Pass, so Pilus agrees to use his ship as a distraction. He’ll hit military targets around southern Ragesia, creating the impression that the plan is to attack north through the Alydi Gap, which will distract Leska’s attention away from Gate Pass. However, some west wind monks help the Resistance in the city, acting as flying scouts. And at the adventure climax, his brother Longinus is at the square when the colossus comes alive. You get a chance to hear his side, specifically that Pilus always needs to be reined in, but that Longinus hopes this cooperation will blunt Pilus’s nationalist fervor.
  • Adventure Ten. When divinations show that it’ll be necessary to fly in Trilla’s dreamscape, Longinus accompanies the party. And you try like hell to kill him. Heck, have Deception show up and pose as some other NPC ally and gank Longinus. Have the trillith suck his soul or something so he can’t get resurrected.
  • Adventure Eleven. The party gets back from the dreamscape and discovers Pilus has loaded up the Tempest with Ostalin’s army and a bunch of his biomanced warbeasts, and he’s hovering over Seaquen. He’s also alerted the authorities that if they resist, he’ll open the fire portal under the city and destroy it.

    He intends to put Seaquen under military occupation. He’s not looking to destroy it (unless, like, his brother died, in which case he may lose his temper), just use it as leverage to demand the PCs give Onamdammin the Torch, and that Seaquen yield to Ostalin’s authority.

    But does it really make sense of Pilus to do this ‘sudden but inevitable’ betrayal?

    That’s when you have Crystin or someone reveal that Leska’s using the magic of the Aquiline Heart to lay a curse on the land, compelling Pilus to go to war. Hopefully you’ve learned enough from his brother to talk him down; otherwise, you have a grand showdown on the bridge of his flying leviathan. One way or another, this shows the threat Leska poses as the ultimate big bad; you must stop her in adventure 12, or eventually everyone will turn on everyone, and war will be unending.
But that’s the big picture of Pilus’s role in the campaign. How do we improve Mission to lay the groundwork for that?

Well, I’ll have to write that post tomorrow.
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Let’s look at the plot of Mission. The plot kinda doesn’t make sense.

There’s this monastery where Pilus – a high level mage – is working on his big doomsday weapon, and apparently he’s got a trillith chilling out in town calming folks down, when the Ragesian army rolls up hoping to strongarm the air monks into using weather magic to clear the path to Korstull Castle so Leska’s folks can retrieve the Torch. Pilus’s response is . . . ignore it, let the trillith calm people down, and focus on his biomancy. If anyone comes knocking he has Caela tell them to piss off. Every once in a while Caela sends an invisible stalker to abduct someone to experiment on. This has apparently been going on for over a week!

Kinda weird, right? Like, if the invisible stalkers can abduct people in town, why does Pilus let the Ragesians just hang around? What’s his long-term plan?

And if he’s going to be willing to team up with the Resistance against Ragesia, when the PCs come to his doorstep, why does he insist on keeping them away until they deal with Balance? Sure, he wants to keep anyone from discovering his laboratory in the Valley of Storms, but people will snoop if you don’t give them something to focus on. Stonewalling the PCs isn’t very on-brand for air monks.

What the adventure needs is an antagonist that isn’t working at Pilus’s orders, and it needs the situation in Ostalin overall and Eresh specifically to be more dynamic.

Rewrite Overview
In my rewrite, I’m making Caela a turncoat working for the Ragesians, making her responsible for Lee giving the Orb of Storms to the inquisitor in adventure 3.

I’m giving the party more opportunities to have social interactions with Onamdammin, Balance, the locals and Ragesians in Eresh, the leaders of the monastery, and even Caela.

At the risk of creating work for the GM since I’m not actually writing encounters, I’d use Eresh as a hub for the party to explore the environment in about a 3-mile radius, and give them a couple days to investigate before General Signus returns.

I’m providing an alternative solution to the Ragesian hostility other than combat.

I’m making it an option to just steal an orb of storms from Caela at the laboratory and then leaving, instead of having to get Longinus and Pilus to help.

Small Background Change
The intro overview of the war’s status stays the same, but when Katrina talks about Eresh, things are different because their sendings to the group have gone unanswered ever since the day after the group reached Eresh.

The way things went down in this version is that the Resistance group (Eril, human ranger; Metran, dwarf paladin; Klezmer, dwarf bard; Shelton, human wizard; and Misreth, dwarf cleric) came to town and were refused an audience with the masters of the monastery by Caela. They asked about the storm that hit Seaquen, but were told their questions were insulting and warned not to come back.

They stayed in the town, wondering if they had other options, and eventually learned from another monk of the monastery that normally Caela wouldn't be responsible for denying entry. They tried to send the monk to deliver a message to Longinus and Pilus, but they never heard from him, and suspect he was killed. They tried sending to Seaquen, but got no response. (This is due to Caela's interdiction magic. Now that I think about it, there should be actual physical focuses for this magic for the party to stumble across; they take a long time to attune to an area, so despite their strategic value, they won't be common during the war.)

They tried to investigate the Valley of Storms and were attacked. Invisible stalkers picked off most of them. One survivor hid. Shortly thereafter Signus rolled into town and then Balance's magic pacified everyone.

NPC Motivations
Longinus understands what’s going on in Eresh, and knows generally what Balance is. He has encouraged the trillith to use their power (I’m using they/them, because it’s 2022) to forestall violence, because he doesn’t want his monks to fight, and he’s trying to avoid giving his brother Pilus an excuse to finally attack the Ragesians.

Balance came here years ago, and in their time here, they have attained a bit of enlightenment to their origins, and knows that they are born from a dream of Trilla, and in turn that Trilla sometimes experiences what the trillith are up to as her own dreams. Balance has sensed Trilla’s suffering and torment, and they stayed in the serene village of Eresh out of a desire to grant Trilla as much reprieve from her suffering as possible.

Balance trusts Longinus, and is focused on maintaining peace for Trilla’s sake, so they are trying to stop all violence. But this is not Balance’s true nature. True balance requires active work to create harmony, rather than mere detachment from the woes of the world. There will be NPCs around Eresh that the party can interact with while Balance’s power is in effect, each a little vignette.

Pilus is often up on the Tempest, putting the finishing touches on the flying leviathan, though he comes down to the monastery regularly. He’s loyal to his khagan’s command to not attack the Ragesians. He knows his brother is using Balance to try to hold back hostilities, and he's okay with it, for now, since he wants the Tempest to be perfect. But he's also really itching for a fight, and would not be angry if hostilities broke out sooner.

Caela is our villain of the adventure. She's your typical ambitious apprentice who wants to surpass her master. When she realized Pilus’s plan to bring Ostalin into the war, she decided to ally with the Ragesians. It was she who made the orb of storms and sent it to Lee Sidoneth in Seaquen for testing, intending to showcase its power to the inquisitors. She’d trade it to them (and help them retrieve the Torch from the firestorm at Korstull) in exchange for being installed as new master of the east wind and given protection from the scourge.

(She also lied to Lee and told him the mission came from Pilus. The real clever trick she has managed is setting up an interdiction spell to intercept sending messages so she can modify them to maintain her cover. Pilus has been too busy with the Tempest to notice.)

But when the orb of storms in Seaquen was destroyed and Lee died, Caela needed to make a new one. Signus came to Eresh to try to motivate her, but neither he nor Caela knew about Balance, and so the strange calm scared Signus off. Caela is trying to a) finish her second orb of storms, b) figure out how to end the calm over Eresh, and c) be ready to steal a bunch of Pilus’s biomancy research and nope out if she’s caught.

Onamdammin, ruler of Ostalin, is something of a bit player for now. He wants to avoid being seen as a threat to Ragesia for now, but he’s enamored of Pilus’s plan to let him launch a surprise strike. He has forbidden Pilus and Longinus from working with the Resistance, but he could be persuaded.

Second General Signus doesn't have good inquisitorial backup, so he's wary of magical stuff afoot in Eresh, but he also thinks he can be the big hero of the empire if he secures Caela's orb and is able to get the Torch from Korstull. He's a loyal soldier, and basically impossible to turn into an ally, but he could be convinced to abandon his mission with a sufficient show of force. This is sort of exactly why Balance is wrong to focus so much on non-violence: without fear of a counter-attack, Signus just needs time to gin up his courage to sack the village.

Oh, and Three Weeping Ravens is mostly just a guide to answer PC questions and contrast some of his order's beliefs from the Two Winds monks' beliefs. He can be a voice questioning Balance, to sort of indicate that the adventure isn't expecting the party to be pacifists.


Clarified Mission
The leaders of Seaquen suspect that Onamdammin may have ordered the monks not to help, and realize that it was a miscalculation to send the first group straight to the monastery, instead of seeking the blessing of Onamdammin. So the party’s mission is:

First, travel to Ostalin’s capital Yen-Ching and get on Onamdammin’s good side.

Second, go to the monastery and find a way to use the air monks’ knowledge to open a path to Castle Korstull through the firestorm (which will unlock adventure 6), even if that means using subterfuge or theft.

Third, if possible, discover what happened to the initial group of Resistance operatives sent there.


That's our main cast, and the PCs' mission. Okay, but what's the actual plot of the adventure? I'll get to that tomorrow.
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If you think of WotBS as having three acts of four adventures each, act one’s climax is thwarting the advance of Ragesia in Dassen.
I was wondering if there was an intentional bracketing of the story or not. I wasn't sure if it was 3 acts, each with 4 chapters, or 4 acts, each with three, or something else entirely. I almost see it as four varable-length arcs:
  • Chapters 1-4 are, as you discussed, all about establishing the Resistance over a roughly 3-month period.
  • Chapters 5-7 focus on tracking down and restoring The Torch, another few months of action.
  • Chapters 8-9 finally puts the Resistance on the offensive, making strikes into Ragesia, then liberating Gate Pass, over another couple of months.
  • Chapters 10-12 all take place over one or two weeks of whirlwind adventure, as the team needs to deal with three separate, nearly-simultaneous issues: the accumulating danger of the Trillith, Pilus' genocidal descent into madness, and Leska's push towards The Heart of History.

I'll be more thorough with my next post. Sorry for losing track of this over the past weekend.

Mission to the Monastery of Two Winds plot revision

Plot Summary

  • Intro. The party gets briefed on the mission.
  • Act One. Wayfarer Sheena Larkins teleports the group to Yen-Ching, where Onamdammin is enjoying the city’s opulence. Seek his blessing to meet with Pilus, and learn about the foreign philosophy and customs of Ostalin. Get hint that sending magic is being intercepted when Onamdammin finds the response he gets from ‘Pilus’ to be out of character. Travel into the mountains, fight past a waypoint, and reach Eresh.
  • Act Two Explore Eresh. Meet Balance. Interact with townsfolk and soldiers. Go to Monastery, meet Longinus and Pilus who aren’t willing to commit. Caela discreetly meets with the party and lies, saying her master Pilus wants Balance dead so the Ragesians will return. Seek clues about the missing Resistance group. Leads point to 8 locations around town, but the party gets warned off of going to the Valley of Storms on pain of death.

    The Act ends when the party either confronts Balance or after 2 days. Either way, Signus attacks. You can fight him, or drive him off, or even assist a mutiny from some of his soldiers if you’ve used the peace in Eresh productively to remove the reason some people want to fight. Afterward, surviving soldiers can report that Signus’s orders were to raze the city and link up with Caela, or to secure her lab in the Valley of Storms if she wasn’t around.
  • Act Three The party explores the Valley of Storms. If the party goes here before Signus attacks, there are still defenses, but Caela isn’t at the lab, and instead she joins Signus when he attacks Eresh. Longinus and Pilus keep their distance unless you’ve worked hard to gain their support before the showdown.
  • Resolution. You get an orb of storms, either from a grateful Pilus who is interested in an alliance, or you just steal the thing if you (quite reasonably) don’t trust Pilus. There’d be wrap-up moments with NPCs in town, including Balance.

Beat by Beat Outline
You'll need to work out the mechanics and such, but I think this should be enough for you to build on.

(Intro complete. I'll update when I fill in the other acts.)

The party is called to meet with Simeon, Kiernan, Katrina, Three Weeping Ravens, and Sheena Larkins of the Wayfarers.

Simeon asks for recap of what they did in Dassen.

Kiernan gives an update on the status of the war, with information coming from sendings around the continent.

Katrina explains that around the same time the party was sent to Dassen, the Resistance sent a different group to the Monastery of Two Winds. They were supposed to investigate links to the hurricane that hit Seaquen. The monks - who are famous for studying air and weather magic - might have supplied the orb of storms to Lee Sidoneth, or Lee might have stolen it. Depending on the loyalties of the monastery, they might be willing to help the Resistance. There is a firestorm over Castle Korstull where Emperor Coaltongue died, but Katrina thinks the monks' magic might let them open a path in that storm, so the Resistance can retrieve the Torch of the Burning Sky.

Simeon says that unfortunately, right after the Resistance agents reached the town of Eresh (which is a short hike from the monastery), the group seemingly vanished. They aren't responding to sendings. Simeon wants the party to try again at the monastery, because it's still the Resistance's best lead to get the Torch, even if it is dangerous.

Three Weeping Ravens shares what he knows about the monastery. Years ago, Three Weeping Ravens' people were forced from their home - in what is today Shahalesti - and they wandered far seeking sanctuary. They stayed a time in the village Eresh, and were treated well enough by the monks of the monastery. Three Weeping Ravens had the honor of briefly meeting the two brothers who founded the monastery. They are Ostalinian by how they act, though they have names that sound more Ragesian: Longinus teaches the defensive western wind technique, Pilus the aggressive eastern wind technique.

Many of the students were people who had lost their families to violence, and the monastery offered meditation on the nature of conflict - both how to avoid it, and training in self defense. Monks study the motions of wind and storm, and learn to weave magic into their strikes. But even though Three Weeping Ravens' people were themselves driven from their homes by violence, they were told they were too big a group, and had attracted too much attention in their travels from the Shahalesti, the Ragesians, and others. Longinus and Pilus did not want to bring enemies to their monastery.

Three Weeping Ravens thinks that was just been an excuse. He suspects the real reason they were asked to leave was that his people weren't willing to abandon their traditions. Eresh and the monastery follow Ostalinian customs, philosophy, and laws.

Sheena Larkins says she grew up in Ostalin, and the first thing the party needs to know is that the ruler, Khagan Onamdammin, is a vain man who longs to be seen as a great warlord like his father, or like Coaltongue or Shaaladel. It's known that Onamdammin often receives visits from Pilus, master of the East Wind.

Simeon says he suspects that Onamdammin may resented the Resistance bypassing him and going straight to the monastery. He might have ordered the monks not to help. It's also possible that the monastery could be working with the Ragesians. Either way, getting the khagan's blessing would help. So he has three objectives for the party:

  • First, travel to Yen-Ching (a city where Onamdammin goes for leisure) and get on the khagan’s good side. The Resistance has arranged a diplomatic visit via sending, and Sheena can teleport them there.
  • Second, go to the monastery and find a way to use the air monks’ knowledge to open a path to Castle Korstull through the firestorm. Use diplomacy if possible, but subterfuge or even theft is acceptable if it gets what they need. If the monks did give the Ragesians the orb of storms that conjured the hurricane, the party might need to find out how they made it and get their hands on the necessary components.
  • Third, discover what happened to the initial group of Resistance operatives sent there.

He says that Sheena can answer more questions about the country if they want, and Three Weeping Ravens can talk more about the monastery, but Simeon wants the group to be ready within a day to teleport to Yen-Ching.

Act One: The Ostalinian Way
The focus of this act is to give the party a clear sense of what distinguishes Ostalin from the rest of the continent, which will help them understand why Pilus is driven by a patriotic desire to spread his country's culture and laws. The endcap is when the party fights past a blockade on the road to Eresh, where they learn that Second General Sigmus is planning to return in two days.

Ostalin Culture
Generally the nations on the continent of WotBS have tropes drawn from European medieval (and Roman-era) culture. You've got knights and kings and nations vying against each other on the same turf, with different regimes rising and falling. Ostalin, though, was conquered about fifty years ago by people from another continent, invading on the southwest coast and taking advantage of the fact that Ragesia was busy annexing Sindaire, so the region that would become Ostalin couldn't call for aid from its allies. And Ostalinian culture has more Asian influences.

I haven't worked out a full history, but I envision some other continent across a sea to the southwest with a mix of cultures that are vaguely Mongolian, vaguely Chinese, with a huge variety of other influences. And the khaganate that unified that continent was mighty and renowned for centuries, and it kept order across the great distances of its realm with traditions similar to the great Chinese dynasties -- effective bureaucracies, and hierarchies that people could ascend through a somewhat baroque but nominally meritocratic system of tests. And in particular, there was a heavy emphasis on documentation: teaching everyone to read, maintaining records of lineage, and ensuring that when people rose up from poor and rural areas, a portion of the wealth they earned in the cities was guaranteed to be returned to their home villages.

This wasn't just a legal system, but was partially magically compelled. In the distant capital there were many inscribed obelisks called Dicta that proclaimed 'laws' of transaction: like, pay your taxes and your fields will be free from blight, send conscripts to the army and healers will attend to your elderly. And these were paired with similar Dicta obelisks in communities around the khaganate, which let agents of the state draw upon that decree to empower their spellcasting. This let low-level functionaries cast spells to help harvests and to cure wounds and diseases.

There certainly was abuse, corruption, inequality, and all the other ails of any society, but by the standards of the time, it was a great nation. Its people spread via trade and immigration, though often foreign lands would vilify them, wanting to ensure the local population would not become sympathetic to the foreign ways. Sometimes the khaganate warred with its neighbors to try to spread its Dicta system -- claiming it would help the common folk by deposing abusive feudal lords, though some portion of any wealth claimed would go to the rulers of the khaganate.

A few centuries ago, though, the khaganate stretched itself too far, and internal bickering and politicking led to a slow decline, which gradually weakened the power of the Dicta obelisks as more and more parts o the system fell apart. Eventually the whole khaganate fractured through a series of civil wars. Over the years many would-be rulers claimed they were the one to rebuild the great khaganate.

Ostalin is just another nation of that trend. Onamdammin's grandfather managed to rebuild a small region of the old khaganate and hold it together, and about 50 years ago Onandammin's father was second in line to the new nation's throne. Instead, he saw an opportunity to conquer a nation of his own across the sea, in a region that already had a fair number of people whose ancestors came from the great khaganate. Having the advantage of many skilled biomancers who could make flying war steeds, Onamdammin's father named the nation Ostalin. His capital is on the west coast (Qin Dao, if you use the 4e maps of WotBS), but he took a city in the east that had once been a place to bury kings, renamed it Yen-Ching, and built academies and libraries to begin implementing the Dicta.

Coaltongue and the Ragesian legions were doing quite well conquering the continent, but the emperor decided it best not to pick a fight with a satellite of an empire on another continent, and so after some skirmishing on the border to let each side demonstrate they could defend themselves, the borders were drawn some 40 years ago.

The Brothers and the Monastery
Longinus and Pilus (originally named Lsi Nu Gon and Lsi Pu) saw their home town destroyed in early border clashes with Ragesia. They were descended from immigrants who still felt a strong connection to the great khaganate, and they were happy to see Ostalin begin to adopt the Dicta, so they joined the fight against Ragesia. In time they realized it was fruitless, and they went to the mountains to meditate on a different path. They each saw a different path, and decided to teach both ways, to see which would succeed.

They trained monks in martial arts and magic, but also taught the value of the Dicta: the importance of fulfilling what is owed to your country, and of being patient and loyal enough to trust in that order, even if you did not like your station now, because you could always seek to prove you deserved another station.

There are four Dicta obelisks in the town of Eresh, which in the published adventure are called shrines to the four elements.

Pilus and Onamdammin
The brothers actually sought formal endorsement from Onamdammin's father to include the monastery as part of the nation's official laws, and that's how a young Onamdammin first met Pilus some 35 years ago. Though Pilus is foremost an air mage, he admired the new nation's warbeasts and learned the art of biomancy so he could improve them. Pilus and Onamdammin over the years challenged each other to learn new sorts of magic.

Onamdammin's father died maybe 10 years ago, and Onamdammin turned to the man he thought of as a dear uncle to plan how he could distinguish himself and forge his legacy. Pilus was a bit disappointed that the new khagan was more interested in personal glory than the affairs of statecraft, but Pilus wanted to be earnest in his commitment to the Dicta, and follow the order even if he had his doubts. So he devised a grand plan to build the greatest biomantic creation in the world, and when the time was perfect, to let Ostalin strike and show that its culture was strong and superior.

Scenes in Act One
So that's background information. What do the PCs actually do?

Midnight Arrival
xx it's not a very warm welcome

A City of Schools and Libraries
xx you are encouraged to wander the city before meeting the khagan

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere
xx you know that part in The Interview where Kim Jong-Un seems like a really cool fun guy?

Letter of the Law
xx in the middle of the night, a member of Onamdammin's harem 'cures' his biomanced face, which enrages him, but by the letter of the law he cannot spill blood if the offender spilled none of his; the punishment is to be imprisoned until the offender apologizes and commits to make amends, but Onamdammin decides that flesh to stone counts as being imprisoned. And then he takes a pick and shatters her to pieces. This does not, he points out, spill any blood.

He tells you to go to bed and have a nice trip.

Ostalin Countryside
They travel, resting every so often.

Into the Mountains
Fight with Menchi and company.

I'll fill this in later.

Act Two: The Calm of Eresh
This act lets the party explore Eresh and its surroundings, socialize with locals, monks, Ragesian soldiers, and even Longinus and Pilus and try to make sense of what's going on. There air eight main locations to find clues, though the path to the Valley of Storms is marked clearly with 'No Entry on Pain of Death.'

After two days, the Ragesian military returns in large enough numbers to overwhelm the Balance if you haven't helped the trillith regain their control. The party's actions modulate how the encounter goes down, and afterward they get clear evidence that Pilus's apprentice Caela was scheming with the Ragesians and is operating out of the Valley of Storms.

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Act Three: The Valley of Storms
When the party goes to the Valley, they have to defeat or capture Caela, or (if they really botched relations with Pilus) steal an under-construction Orb of Storms.

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Aftermath: Parting Words

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I want to comment what ended up happening to my party in Adventure 5. It definitely won't work well for most parties, but through a series of chance events that worked out perfectly this adventure ended up being one of the more exciting for my group. While I agree that Pilus is the weakest villain (my party is very invested in the Trillith as their main motivator right now), the encounters with him ended up being very compelling for my group.

Our fighter that was part of the original Gate Pass resistance had (in character) been advocating for more ruthless tactics from the party. He believed that the party should stop at nothing in their quest to stop Ragesia. This came to a head when talking with Balance while they were on death's door. The fighter thought they should go and slaughter the entire troop of Ragesians outside of the gate while they were listless from Balance's influence. Ultimately, the party decided to grab wagons and walk through the Ragesian encampment gathering all their weapons and armor and throwing them in the river.

When Balance died, the Ragesian encampment went crazy, and General (Signus?) returned at the same time, slaughtering the majority of his own troop who had allowed themselves to be completely disarmed and were now fighting amongst themselves. In the meantime, however, some of the Ragesians had come into Eresh and killed some of the townsfolk and burned their homes. For the fighter, this was the cost of not being ruthless enough.

During the encounter with General Signus, the fighter fell in battle. The party successfully killed the rest of the Ragesians and then rushed to the monastery to request the components to cast Reincarnate. The player whose fighter had died told me he wanted to betray the party, so I had Pilus give the components to the party, but he mixed in components that would allow him to commune with the dead character's soul during the process. Pilus approached the fighter and told him some of his plan: he would be as ruthless as possible, allowing nothing no "weakness" to prevent him from ending the war. He asked the fighter to abandon the party and join him to which the fighter agreed.

In the heat of the battle with Caela, the fighter turned on the party and used action surge to send a pair of fireballs at the party, killing one of the characters. Pilus brought lightning down from the skies destroying the laboratory and nearly trapping the party inside. As they regrouped and recovered they were invited by Longinus to the monastery (and very suspicious of Pilus).

During the meeting, Pilus blamed most of everything on Caela, but told the party that they would fail if they were too "soft". Longinus took the other viewpoint, reminding the party that a simple action can have rippling consequences and that in trying to save the world, they should be sure not to lose it in the process.

Pilus is now an untrustworth ally, but his goals ultimately are similar to the party's. His methods, however, are likely too costly for the party to be happy to go along with. Pilus and Longinus become representations of one of the big questions of the campaign: what are you willing to sacrifice for the "greater good". Balance also served as a perfect middle ground of these two during the encounters with them. The party will also have some interesting quandaries when they come face to face with their former member. Do they try to show him the error of his ways? Or do they kill him and, in some ways, act as he wanted them to allowing nothing to stand in the way of their mission.

This is how Pilus became a more intriguing villain in my campaign. Hopefully this sparks some ideas for other people.

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