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The Great Façadeby André Martins
This is the part of the description of my current campaign in Mystara. If you are playing in it, STOP reading now.
I have already posted, mostly in the MML, along the years, parts of the material I will be describing here. As I am also looking for suggestions, I will put it together with the original material in these posts, so that nobody will have to go hunting the net for the old posts (supposing they can still be found, that is). Sorry if any of you have already had access to those and is getting them again. There is new material here anyway, so, please, keep reading.
This will be divided in parts and each post will discuss a specific subject. They are meant as one only work, but I will post them separate. Now, to the posts themselves:
Vanya is an Immortal that has always puzzled me, as she is often portrayed as simply stupid, doing things that would not make her an important goddess in the long run. I must say I don't subscribe and I am not worried with the attitude she shows in the module where the PCs go to the old Alphatian world (Vengeance of Alphaks, I believe). Any Immortal who would withdraw his favours just because her followers have lost few battles wouldn't have followers for long, unless she offered some very rare and useful powers. Which she doesn't. And Vanya is not exactly an ignored Immortal. Main patroness of Thyatis, head of the Heldannic Knights, the Inquisitor in the SC, she has a good presence everywhere. This way, she must be competent, at the very least. Not just a crazy, inconsequential Immortal.
What really troubled me were her attitudes in WotI and a few details in DotE. In the WotI she seems too eager to sacrifice Thyatis. That would count as a Master Stroke against herself, as she might end not being anymore the patroness of one of the two major empires in Mystara simply because there is no more the Empire. Her desperate attempts to keep Thyatis fighting to the bitter end would only be justifiable if she is hiding something. She had to have a very good reason for that as I personally don't buy stupidity as the reason in her case.
When she fails to destroy Thyatis, she weakens its emperor. So, what we have here is that she wants Thyatis destroyed or severely weakened for some unknown reason. I don't think she wants the HK to replace Thyatis right now, as they are still a growing order and not an empire. She might have this in mind in the long run, but, until that happened, Thyatis would be a very good protection for the Knights against Alphatia. With the fall of Thyatis, the HK would be in a very bad position and the only thing that really saved them was the sinking of Alphatia.
Note that I am not looking for explanations like Vanya knew Alphatia would sink. If she knew the future for sure, she would just have to act ass he would already know she would and that would make the Immortals simply puppets of their knowledge. If they can change the future, they don't know it, so, in order to know it, they would have to just do what they already know they will be doing. No planning, no strategies. So, IMC, Vanya doesn't know what will come from her plans. She can make educated guesses much better than any mortal (which might sounds like prophecies, often), but that is all.
Another important point is that a patroness of war and conquerors must know strategy very well. Not just winning battles (that would be her war side), but also managing to subdue people and make them follow the new leaders (her conqueror side). What does she have in mind?
Now, let's probe into Hattias and Count Oesterhaus. He is portrayed as a follower of Vanya, as well as the SS. However, we all know he is, in fact, an avatar of Thanatos.
Other people have already proposed explanations for this one, saying that Thanatos is really displacing Vanya in Hattias, that this is what made her create the HK. This time, I will stay with the DotE and try to explain how could them be still followers of Vanya and be lead by Thanatos himself.
One of the occasions an Immortal can use his powers in the Prime is to punish disloyal followers. As the chief of a big group of Vanya followers, Oesterhaus would be monitored by Vanya with some caution. If he would ever start acting against her interests, she would be allowed to make him pay in whatever way she'd prefer. As nobody would know him for an avatar of another Immortal, she wouldn't even worry about that. A church may lose followers, but no self-respecting Immortal would allow one of her important followers to keep working against herself.
This way, either she agrees on letting Thanatos use her followers, or Thanatos is really doing nothing against her there. The last one seems very unlikely (why create an avatar if you're not using it?), so Vanya and Thanatos must be co-operating somehow. The big problem remaining is why. She would have much to lose and not much to gain from this, specially in the cases mentioned above.
We already know she can be subtle. The damage she will do to Ixion's faith in the SC playing the Inquisitor and pretending to be his friend will be much bigger tan she could get in any other way. Certainly much bigger than if she was to declare her true intentions against him.
One possibility, then, is that she is plotting with Thanatos. Perhaps she was getting too much trouble with the other religions in mainland Thyatis. A solid plan would be to get Thyatis into trouble and weaken the kingdom while keeping her best troops hidden inside Hattias. Once the Alphatians have gone to fight in Glantri, Hattias would send a note to Alphatia stating it has no will to interfere in the problems between the magocracies, that Thincol was just a fool in trying to stop Alphatia. Then, Thyatis City would wake up with fresh new "Thyatian" troops arrive to reinforce and liberate the city. Only later, they would find out that Thincol was arrested and they were no longer the capital.
This will happen IMC, but there are things much more sinister behind these moves. Anyway, the plan will work this way:
996 AC - A whole dwarven village disappear in Rockhome, close to the frontier with Vestland and the Khanates during a very stormy night. Its inhabitants, mostly stone-workers are gone (including one of the best architects in the whole country), but the buildings were left intact. King Everast sends troops and adventurers to investigate the countryside. They return 2 months later with no evidence of the dwarves' whereabouts. Apparently they were taken by some kind of flying device as trackers were able to follow the way the village went just to a point where all tracks disappear. Either that or a dimensional portal has opened. The only witness they found is a scared boy who keep telling about dragons and darkness.
What this means: 3 Heldannic Warbirds used the cloudy night to fly unnoticed to the village. Their captains went down to negotiate with the city officials Synn and a smaller shadow dragon attacked the outskirts of the village.
The captain offered himself to talk with the dragons and returned with a plan. He had supposedly promised the dragons the villagers would go into their tunnels and bring their most fabulous treasures in return for their lives. However, the captain proposed, he might take them and their belongings to some safer area. The dragons had missed his ships hidden among the clouds and, as the village was small, he could accommodate them up there. It wouldn't be very comfortable and they had to act fast, or the dragons might suspect it.
What the dwarves found there was imprisonment. The Warbirds, escorted by the smaller dragon, made it to the sea and, form there to Hattias, where the dwarves were all marked as slaves to Count Oesterhaus.
What the PCs can do: The PCs should not be in this village when the incident happens. However, they may hear about it and decide to investigate by their own. The HK planned well, so it should be very very difficult for them to find out what happened and even more difficult to prove it.
997 - Count Oesterhaus hires a few very loyal man to start digging tunnels and preparing subterranean hideouts for an entire army. He keeps the wives and children of his newly acquired dwarves in an unknown location to guarantee co-operation from the men. He also starts negotiations with some guilds in Minrothad, by promising them preferred trade status inside Hattias.
What this means: Oesterhaus will spend the next 13 years building a subterranean system of tunnels where he will keep his finest warriors. The place will also have food enough to feed them for a few years, should he ever have to se it as a fortress and secret tunnels leading to loyal houses in a number of Hattian towns. He will also make good friends in Minrothad government and start to spread fear of a Thyatian invasion in their minds. When the war with Alphatia starts and Minrothad decides to remain neutral, he will make it sure the Guilds understand the Emperor has seen this behaviour as treason (even if he does not).
1004 - A plague hits Hattias. In a few months, some of its finest and strongest warriors die mysteriously. No cleric is able to cure a single case of the plague and Count Oesterhaus orders the island closed, to stop the plague from hitting the continent. Every ship docking in Hattias will have to stay in the island until a cure is found. The SS is by far the worse hit organisation. The gruesome deaths are attributed to the Alphatians.
What this means: With a decent part of his underground network ready, Oesterhaus decides it is time to start moving troops inside. All the soldiers loyal to him drink, at different times, a potion that will make them seem very sick and, after a week, dead. Their "dead" bodies are taken by the Count's troops to be burned out of the city, where they won't infect anyone else and the soldiers wake up in the tunnels. His SS will have a difficult time running Hattias in the beginning, but they are soon seen as the true defenders against the Alphatians by the local population and, when the plague intensity goes down, many Hattians decide to join their ranks. These will form the bulk of the Hattian troops sent to face the Alphatians. Their lack of training justified by the deaths of many experienced officials. When Thincol starts to wonder if there is something fishy in this situation, he already have a full war in his hands and no time or resources to fight Hattias. The County starts to obey his orders less and less as the war goes on.
1011 - Thincol is weak and his army even weaker than him. A campaign of recruitment starts and the Emperor is very pleased to see fresh troops, very well trained, camping outside Thyatis. Together with them, companies of Heldannic Knights and 5 Warbirds. When they start moving over the city, he gets really worried and when he sees who is leading the Thyatian troops, that those are the elite troops Oesterhaus has claimed the whole war he didn't have, he knows what is happening. He manages to escape the palace in time, but does so alone.
Throughout the realm, Vanya's priests start praying about the weakness of the Emperor, whose incompetence made it possible for the Alphatians to siege Thyatis City. When the news of the coup arrive, they go to the streets to convince the people that these are new times: Alphatia is destroyed, it is time for Thyatis to take over the world!
Why is Vanya acting like that?
The scenario above is very possible and I could stop there. But my devious and paranoid mind wouldn't allow it and I had to add more dangerous ideas.
The most obvious question remaining to be answered is exactly what is Vanya doing? She is not so young and she certainly knows how dangerous it is to play with Thanatos. To be so associated with him is certainly not good for her career as an Immortal, if anyone ever finds it. This way, his whole involvement is kept a very well guarded secret. All he will gain is the freedom to spread his cult inside the Empire without the interference of the government. In the long run, he should even be able to replace Vanya's faith by his own and she certainly knows it. Not a bad trade for both sides, it would seem, but would any of you want to be in Vanya's place? I would not.
So why does she agree? How can they work together? My answer is simple: Vanya and Thanatos are the same. Vanya is a special avatar of Thanatos.
Impossible? How can it be? That is my take on this (I have already posted it to the MML, so if you already read it, you may want to skip this post; there are new details here, however):
When Vanya was captured by the Milenians, the cleric who befriended her was at the service of Thanatos. Thanatos was looking for someone who had already attracted the attention of the Immortals and who had potential to reach Immortality in other spheres. He had just finished his researches on avatars and had found a way to create special avatars, that would replace people completely, to the point of allowing the avatars to undertake one of the Paths to Immortality and be transformed in a new Immortal.
The cleric took Vanya to Cestia (I don't recall the exact number of the Dragon Magazine with the island of the shadow dragons, was it Cestia?), a place Thanatos had been preparing for years. There, a special artifact was kept and the Ceremony of creating the avatar was done. The artifact stole the soul of the true Vanya and replaced it by part of Thanatos life-force inside her body. The Ceremony of Transfer went on with no problems, but there was a problem with it. The artifact had to be kept in the Prime Plane or the soul of Vanya would be released.
If not for that, Thanatos would have done this much earlier. He spent a millennia trying to find a way to circumvent this detail, but all his efforts met failure. That's why he had prepared an island filled with dragons who were working for him. He had attracted a group of wyrms with promises of great power and turned them into Shadow Dragons. The dragons did got power and a safe haven, their ask, to protect their islands from any intruders. They have kept the place safe ever since.
After that, Vanya undertook the Dynast Path under Khoronus. To fool Khoronus this way was a great source of pleasure to the Grim Reaper.
Thanatos has a number of things in mind. He knows about the Immortals who ascended twice to Hierarch status and were taken by the blackballs. One of them was one of his main enemies, Rohindartha (we are working on him, a Budda-like Immortal for the MOrient project). He doesn't know if he succeeded, but he knows he must do something. So, he started wondering what if he would reach Hierarch status in two Spheres simultaneously. He hopes he will be turned into an Old One as soon as he makes Vanya an Hierarch of Time.
In any case, to have the power of two Immortals would do him no harm. He intends to use the same trick now, in another Sphere. He is not sure this would be a sure way to Old One-ness, so he will be trying to be Hierarch in all the Spheres. If he succeeds, he will have made himself so powerful, it will be worthy the effort.
One important note is that Vanya is no normal avatar. Thanatos can no longer reunite with her, unless he undoes the Ceremony. However, whenever both of them see each other (usually in Pandius, whenever there is a big Immortal meeting, they can share their knowledge completely). At these occasions, they are once more one only being, united by some mystical link that even Immortal level magic can not detect (maybe it could if they knew what to look for). The rest of the time, they are two different people. I am still undecided about what effects this might have on Thanatos. Maybe his Vanya side will start having thoughts of independence in the future, but I am not sure, yet.
Thanatos is preparing himself to repeat the Ceremony and will need a new mortal to replace. The new Artifact to hold the new souls (the details of the Ceremony don't allow him to use the same Artifact). Of course, he will make the mistake of choosing one of the PCs. But that is still some years in the future. Till then, I would like to hear some opinions about how to tie every thing together.
My PCs have so far gone to the Corran Keep (relocated to Karameikos, close to the Lost Valley). I meant it there, as I figure the Mirror-Shield was once used in Nithia. The Hutaakans acquired (or stole) it and took it with them to their valley, where Alexander Corran found it centuries later. The Corran Keep was also built on the location of an old Nithian structure, that can be accessed through the well in the secret area.
They have freed the place, but soon after, the place was surrounded by an army of orcs, working for the Black Eagle. They surrendered (!) and were embarked to be sold in Thyatis as slaves. They managed to free themselves and found a way to return to the Keep via the hutaakan lands. There, they helped the Hutaakans to recover their sacred book (B10), that would put the Kartoeba back to sleep. Their next step will be to free the Keep form the orcs.
IMC, the Kartoeba is a much more dangerous creature than in the module. It is a small Burrower, who made it to the outer surface summoned by a Nithian mage, a long time ago. It will start to corrupt the Hutaakans and the Traldars (the PCs managed to make peace between them) and soon the corruption will start spreading in north Karameikos (another Thanatos plot).
Meanwhile, the duchy will start breaking apart, as Jowett dies. The two factions will fight, and Black Eagle will see this as his opportunity to take the duchy. He will be defeated by Baron Kevin and Oderbry, who will become the true powers behind the throne. IMC, the duke was enchanted to be unable to perceive evil, so he will become just a decorative figure soon. I tend to see this as a Thanatos plot, but that would be too much, even for him. I would welcome any suggestions. Maybe someone co-operating with him.
Also, I would like to know if any of you have used the rest of the adventure in the WotI. The PCs will eventually have a chance to head to Alphatia. They are in friendly terms with a man who is actually an Alphatian wizard working as a spy in Karameikos. The priestess of Valerias will be asked by her goddess to help a romance between him and Adriana Karameikos that will eventually lead her to introduce Alphatian ambassadors to the court and to the break-up between Karameikos and Thyatis. The PCs will then be asked to join the diplomatic party to Alphatia, but I am not sure I want to send them to Aegos. It would help to hear anyone who had experience with that adventure.
In the long run (the war will take longer than in the WotI, but follow the same basic guidelines), the PCs will have to face a much altered world. Thyatis will be dominated by the SS, Alphatia will be devastated (but not sunk, I'll probably use many things from Geoff's timeline, although there will be an Alphatian FC in HW, smaller and weaker than the original, put there to preserve their culture), Karameikos will be dominated by the Thyatian faction, who will run to Thyatis to help the Hattians. The elves from Alfheim will have a much harder time as north of Karameikos and the road to Selenica will start to be under the influence of the Kartoeba. The SE will see Canolbarth turn into something much more sinister than in the official timeline (a forest with many undead trees and other horrors). Hule, who never lost the west side of Lake Amsorak, ready to strike again,
If I play it right, only then the PCs will start to notice they have been causing part of the mess, with the best intentions. The Kartoeba they didn't try to destroy earlier, their help to depose Black Eagle just to have people more subtle (and dangerous) dominating Karameikos and a few others I will throw on the way. One of the players is a cleric of Vanya, so they might even help the Hattians.
What is worse, the Shadow Dragons will start moving. First, Synn in Glantri will try to destroy Jaggar, the main danger to her dragons (that's what she is really doing there). With Alphatia destroyed, the SD will start settling what is left of the Alphatian continent. The PCs will have as their task to save Jaggar, to unite what is left of Alphatian forces with Glantri, go to Cestia to free Vanya's soul, to heal Thincol so that he may try to retake his kingdom, to kill a much strengthened Burrower, try to revert the enchantments in Canolbarth, etc. If they fail on a number of it, they may find there is no way to defeat Thanatos. It is very likely one of them will have to become Immortal to completely foil Thanatos' plans, but those are plans for a much bigger time scale.