Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Session # 6 [RPG]


[27 Rova 4707 continued]

The adventurers set off towards the basement of the Glassworks, planning to explore the recently-discovered tunnels branching off of it.  On the way, Xeveg shares what he knows about quasits, a type of creature mentioned in Tsuto’s journal: that they are tiny winged demons from another plane of existence and are resistant to fire.  In the basement, the adventurers see the sentries posted by Mayor Deverin.  The sentries say they are stretched thin guarding the multiple approaches to Sandpoint, as there’s only a dozen guards in the Town Watch.  One of them, Jodar Provolost, says that if things get worse and Sheriff Hemlock hasn’t returned from Magnimar yet, Mayor Deverin may have to call out the citizen militia.

A sinspawn!
The adventurers face a choice of three directions when they enter the tunnels: northeast, east, and west.  Xeveg suggests the group choose the west route, and they do.  A rough-cut passageway, it meanders for about fifty feet west before turning north for another hundred feet and continuing down through a torn-down brick wall.  From a side-chamber barely visible in the light of Oliver’s everburning torch, a monstrous form suddenly appears!  The creature, a hairless humanoid with back-bent dog-like legs, tiny arms with three-fingered hands, and a mouth full of sharp teeth immediately leaps to attack Felix.  The Shoanti warrior is scratched by one of its claws but he fends it off and then pummels it to the ground as Oliver’s greatsword and Bey’s bardiche slash it to pieces.  The terrifying incident is over almost as soon as it has begun.  A search of the rough-hewn chamber reveals nothing of interest.

The tunnels continue north but also branch off to the east.  Choosing east, the adventurers discover a solid, worked stone wall that has been torn down to reveal a finished underground complex.  Still filled partially with debris, a heavy stone door is pushed open to reveal corridors winding north and east.  The adventurers again choose east, and as their footsteps echo heavily through the ancient darkness, they come across a small shrine to an unknown entity.  Steps lead up to a platform of gray stone, and sitting atop the platform is an altar, little more than a jagged block of black marble with a shallow concavity on top of it.  The basin is filled with what appears to be filthy water, but Xeveg insists it is, in fact, holy water.  Oliver decides to drink some and immediately becomes queasy and ill.  After he recovers enough to continue, the adventurers examine a locked set of stone double-doors leading off of the shrine room.  Oliver spends several minutes loudly picking the locks, but finally a rusty tumbler turns and the doors open.

A large underground cathedral reveals itself.  With small stone doors hanging just ajar on either side of the main entrance, the walls of the cathedral are carved with strange, spiky runes.  In the center of the room is a large pool with a ring of polished human skulls balanced on stone spikes around it.  At the far end of the room, a pair of stone stairways lead up to a dais on which sits a second pool, this one filled with churning, glowing orange liquid.  But what demands the adventurers’ attention is the sudden appearance of a quasit hovering above the pool.  “How dare you intrude in the Mother’s sanctum!” she shouts before slashing the palm of her hand with a dagger.  Blood drips into the churning pool, and the quasit becomes alarmed as the orange glow diminishes noticeably.  But from out of the pool, another monstrosity like the one that guarded the approach to these catacombs emerges.  It sniffs the air and moves to attack the intruders.

Erylium is far more trouble than her size would indicate.
An epic battle begins!  The monstrosity is soon felled before the adventurers’ might, but the wily winged quasit flies out of reach and turns invisible at crucial moments.  It hurls spells and charms to vex the adventurers, such as magically compelling Felix to flee twice!  The quasit, whose name is revealed to be Erylium, shouts that the adventurers are committing blasphemy merely by setting foot in her “empire” and that she will punish them on behalf of the Demon Mother.  Xeveg is the subject of several magical attacks but manages to fight them off, and then, through either desperation or mistaken strategy, decides to cut his own hand and drip blood into the cauldron of bubbling orange liquid!  Another abomination emerges and attacks the young wizard, rending at him with claws and teeth!  The adventurer falls to the ground, unconscious.  As the battle rages on, a stalemate begins to show: Erylium has exhausted most of her magic and has only a tiny dagger to harm the adventurers, but her ability to fly out of their reach combined with demonically-strong skin and the ability to slowly heal wounds means neither side can gain an advantage.
            
Bey, realizing that Erylium is paranoid about protecting the pool, conjures a rush of water into it to force it to overflow.  Erylium screams in rage that if the adventurers do not flee, she’ll slit the throat of their downed companion.  But the remaining adventurers keep fighting and Erylium follows through on her threat!  In seconds, Xeveg’s lifeblood splatters the floor and walls of the cathedral and he dies.  Recognizing that Erylium is both visible and near the ground, Felix leaps and grabs the demon before she can escape!  He squeezes to crush her frail bones and punches her repeatedly in the face, and it looks like she’s about to succumb until somehow she squirms free of his grasp and flies away!
            
Poor Xeveg, the first to go.
The adventurers give chase as she hurtles out of sight into the darkness.  They hear her shouting at someone to “gather everyone to repel the invasion!” and, after a few moments’ equivocation, they decide that a retreat is in order.  The adventurers make their way back to the Glassworks, with Oliver dragging Xeveg’s body with a loop of fishing line around the corpse’s neck.  Jodar Provolost is sent to get reinforcements as the adventurers spend tense moments wondering whether an attack is imminent.  He returns with the skeleton crew that had been manning the garrison, and says that Mayor Deverin is calling out the militia.  Meanwhile, Oliver starts stripping Xeveg’s body of wealth and possessions.  A couple of hours later, Mayor Deverin arrives with several townspeople serving as volunteer soldiers.  Felix notes that an attack hasn’t come yet, and suggests another expedition into the catacombs.  Mayor Deverin, worried that an attack could come from anywhere, says she can spare two members of the militia for the scouting mission.  The group select Vachedi and Sabyl Sorn, and prepare to set forth again.


--------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (26/02/2017)

The big event in this session, unfortunately, was the first PC death of the campaign.  Although Erylium is extremely hard to kill (fast healing, flying, invisibility, DR), she does an incredibly small amount of damage with a Tiny-sized dagger.  The reason Xeveg died was that the players at the table, other than the one running Xeveg, either didn't know about or forgot about the coup de grace action, and thus didn't take Erylium's threat to slit Xeveg's throat seriously.  The dagger did 1 point of damage, doubled to 2 with the automatic critical hit, resulting in a DC 12 Fortitude save for the wizard to live or die.  Alas, the check failed.  It was sad at the time, and still a bummer, as I thought Xeveg was a really interesting character with a lot of potential, and having a full arcane spellcaster is something that would have made subsequent encounters later in the campaign *much* easier.

I had to improv, of course, Mayor Deverin's response when the PCs retreated, but I thought it worked out pretty well.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Gnomes of Golarion [RPG]


Gnomes of Golarion is a 32-page entry in the Pathfinder Player Companion line of books.  The subject matter, obviously, is gnomes; what this book does quite well is explain how gnomes in the official campaign setting of Golarion are different than standard "D&D" gnomes.  Gnomes in Golarion are exiles from another plane of existence, the First World, and their presence on Golarion comes with a price:  The Bleaching.  The Bleaching is a sort of wasting-disease that affects gnomes if they fall prey to the status quo and stop seeking out new experiences and wonders.  Thus, the Bleaching ties in perfectly to a game that's about adventurers, and gives gnome characters a natural reason to travel, encounter dangers, and be curious: they have to do something to stave off the Bleaching!  I really like the concept, and although I haven't played a gnome character in Golarion, I certainly have an interest in doing so.

I really like the front cover's artwork, as it's brighter and just a tad more "cartoony" than normal Paizo art which fits gnomes quite well.  The inside front cover is a helpful summary of gnome racial traits, favored deities and regions, and naming conventions.  All of this can be found scattered in other books, but it's helpful to have it collected in one place.  The inside back-cover is a map of major gnome settlements in the Inner Sea Region, descriptions of which we'll find inside the book.  Gnomes of Golarion is divided into nine separate sections.

Section 1 is ten pages long and titled simply "Gnomes of Golarion."  The first couple of pages give a "fluff" or "flavour" explanation for the mechanical racial traits of gnomes, which perhaps isn't strictly necessary but better for players than "just because."  The first real meat in this section is the description of the gnomes as exiles from the First World, the curse of the Bleaching, and how the race eventually discovered a way to stave it off.  As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it's really good.  The rest of the section delves into other aspects of gnome culture and society:  birth and death, clothing, their fondness for pranks and jokes (where some of the unfortunate hatred of gnomes by gamers comes from), and their skill at invention (I quite liked the description of gnomes as being quite skilled inventors whose devices work quite well; it's just that the devices do things that other races find absurd, and gnomes are easily distracted and unlikely to repeat their inventions for broader distribution).  The section ends with a couple of paragraph each on two varieties of gnomes shunned by their mainstream kin:  spriggans (feral gnomes) and svirfneblin (subterranean gnomes).  Readers interested in this last bit will get only a tease, and will need to seek out other Pathfinder books for more information.

Section 2, "The Wonderseekers" (two pages long), introduces a new organisation whose goal is to seek out gnomes who appear to be falling prey to the the Bleaching and get them active by awakening their sense of wonder.  The group thus sponsors new adventuring parties, makes travel and exploration magic available at quite reasonable prices, etc.  The Wonderseekers are presented as an option to use as a Faction under the Faction Guide, and contains some information tied to that subsystem.  I haven't ever played with Factions, and can't really comment on the idea.  The section introduces a new feat, Master of Wonders, which has membership in the Wonderseekers as a prerequisite:  it allows gnomes to reroll a result on a rod of wonders and take the second roll.  Overall, I like the concept of The Wonderseekers and could see them as a good way to get a gnome PC or (perish the thought!) an all-gnome party started in a campaign.  Imagine gnomes whose lives have become dull and routine being pushed (or dragged) out of their humdrum existence by The Wonderseekers into a life of adventure!

Section 3, "Gnome Traits" (two pages long), describes several new background traits in the following categories:  Combat (x3), Magic (x3), Social (x4).  All are restricted to gnomes.  The traits definitely fall on the average- to low- spectrum in terms of mechanical advantage to gnome PCs and they don't really do a lot that's exciting (usually a minor skill boost here or there, with the best perhaps being one that raises a PC's caster level for illusion spells).  But, they're all flavoured well and clearly show ways for players to use the traits as role-playing opportunities.  No complaints here.

Section 4, "Gnome Settlements" (six pages) covers, with two to three paragraphs each, several notable gnome towns in the Inner Sea.  I think this amount of attention is probably just right for a Player Companion, as it gives PCs enough information to pick one of these places as a "hometown" for their character.  The entries focus on what's distinct or interesting about each location, which keeps the section from becoming a dry gazetteer.  The following settlements are included: Brastlewark, Finderplain, Gogpodda, Irrere, Sovvox, Kalsgard, Omesta, Quantium, Thom, Tiven's Reed, Whistledown, Umok, Wispil, and Yavipho.  I imagine it's hard for a writer to come up with interesting descriptions of so many different cities that all fit into the overall picture of gnome culture, so this is a job well done.

Section 5, "Gnome Weapons" (two pages) introduces about a half-dozen new weapons and a couple of shields.  The idea here is solid, and one of the weapons is hilarious and fits the "gnome invention" concept perfectly: the Ripsaw Glaive which is basically a chainsaw!  There is a problem here in that one of the weapons, the Flickmace, receives an entry on the weapons table but doesn't receive any description; normally, that wouldn't be such a big deal, but it is for the Flickmace because it's a small-size weapon that has reach, which makes it an intriguing option for Medium-sized PCs who want a one-handed reach option.  Paizo's policy of not publishing errata or clarifications for the Player's Companion line is unfortunate here.  In addition, another weapon, the Switchscythe, has a confusing and probably erroneous description in relation to how it can be disguised as a quarterstaff.

Section 6, "Faith" (two pages) contains short descriptions of commonly-worshipped deities and the reasons why gnomes venerate them.  Instead of a new clerical spell, like one might expect, this section contains a mechanical description of the Bleaching as a curse whose onset is middle-age and has a frequency of 1/year.  I think it might have been better to keep the Bleaching as a purely discretionary "fluff" concept instead of attempting to quantify it and remove its mystery.  But this is Pathfinder, and if it doesn't have numbers a lot of readers won't pay attention to it, so I understand the decision.

Section 7, "Magic" (two pages) starts with an attempt to give a coherent reason why gnomes have the seemingly-unrelated grab bag of innate spell-like abilities they start with.  I'm not sure it's successful, but I appreciate the attempt.  Next, there are three new feats (all limited to gnomes)  Effortless Trickery allows for spellcasters to concentrate on illusions as a swift action, and would be a no-brainer for dedicated specialists.  Extra Gnome Magic adds to the number of times per day a gnome can use their innate spell-like abilities; I would consider this a waste of something as powerful as a feat.  Threatening Illusion is a cool metamagic feat that allows illusions to threaten squares for the purposes of flanking if an enemy fails a will save; I could imagine a lot of uses for this one.  Finally, there's an odd new spell: Illusory Poison, which creates just what the name implies.  I'm not sure if it would be worth it, since the target receives a Will save and then Fort saves.

Section 8, "'Persona" (two pages) introduces two new gnome NPCs.  I've talked a lot in the past about how weird it is to see NPCs in a Player Companion, and Paizo long-ago stopped doing it.  Still, I have to admit that the two NPCs here are great:  one of them intentionally loses a magical coin to interesting-looking people so she can challenge herself to steal it back, while the other is a Don Quixote-like gnome who, if it had been possible at the time, should have been statted out as a cavalier rather than a fighter.

Section 9, "Social" (two pages) concludes the book with nine (!) new feats that offer gnomes various tricks when using the Bluff skill.  Most of them probably aren't worth it, as they require a standard or full-round action to Bluff an enemy so that the PC gains, on the next round, a relatively small mechanical advantage to something else.  They have great flavour, but are probably more for the "RP above stats" devotees.  One feat, Babble-Peddler, has been known to create some problems in game play by allowing gnomes to get away with some stunning thefts quite easily since they'll have maxed-out their Bluff skill and most NPCs haven't done the same with Sense Motive.

Overall, Gnomes of Golarion is a strong addition to the "races" line of Player Companion books.  It's far more interesting and original than Dwarves of Golarion, for example, because it gives a clear reason why the race in Golarion is at least somewhat different than it's portrayed in generic fantasy settings.  I quite liked the Bleaching concept.  Too often, gaming sourcebooks provide a ton of dry historical or cultural exposition that is difficult or impossible to see manifest in actual gameplay.  But, the "lived reality" of the Bleaching is an excellent motivator for gnome PCs.  GMs also don't need to worry about the Player Companion creating any sort of power-creep; the mechanical advantages it provides are actually quite modest.  So for players and GMs interested in gnomes, this book would be a great start.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Iron Gods Player's Guide [RPG]


NO SPOILERS

While playing in one weekly game and running another, I don't have time to get involved in another campaign.  But, I might just have time for a play-by-post game, which has led me to offer my services as a player for a PbP Iron Gods game.  The game may or may not get off the ground, but I've had the pleasure of reading the Iron Gods Player's Guide and thought I would review it briefly here.

The Iron Gods Player's Guide is a free, twelve-page PDF that can be downloaded from the Paizo website.  It's in full colour, and the cover is a very cool, evocative picture of three characters that instantly convey that this will not be your standard "sword-and-sorcery" adventure.  The reason is that Iron Gods is set in the land of Numeria, a country in Golarion that was the site, ages ago, of a mysterious spaceship crash!  The wreckage of the vessel has led Numeria to becoming the most technologically advanced country in Golarion, and characters in this adventure path are told to expect more than just orcs and swords.  The document makes it quite clear what the opening premise of the adventure path is: the PCs will start out as members of an adventuring party in the Numerian town of Torch, and have been asked to find out why a seemingly eternal source of energy, used to forge skymetal, has suddenly stopped.

I really appreciate how forthright the guide is about the character options that are and are not suitable for the adventure path.  A four-page "Character Tips" section gives suggestions on suitable alignments, archetypes and class options, animal companions, sorcerer bloodlines, oracle mysteries, ranger's favoured terrains, races, religions, and important skills and feats.  A player can certainly play against the suggestions, but at least they know what they're getting into.  Sidebars suggest further reading for both players and GMs, explain why the Technic League should not be an option for a PC, and reprints the racial stats for Android characters.

Next, six campaign traits are provided; each is fairly detailed and definitely explains why the PC has come to the town of Torch.  Mechanically, they fall within the expected power range of traits, though of course some of them do some quite unique technology-oriented things.

Speaking of technology, it's obvious that technology will play a very important role in the campaign.  Again the guide is frank that players shouldn't have their characters start off with technology, and should instead let their encounter with it happen organically.  Indeed, the guide suggests that players shouldn't even read the Technology Guide unless the GM says it's okay.  A "Technology Primer" section of the guide reprints the all-important Technologist feat and explains how several important skills (Craft, Disable Device, and Linguistics) operate differently when dealing with technology.

Last, there's a brief overview of Numeria and the town of Torch.  A full map of the town, including a key with 24 named locations, is provided.  The starting location sound really interesting, but the guide again is helpful in making it clear that the adventure path does not stay in Torch and that characters have to be willing to leave it and perhaps not come back.

I've only ever read two player's guides: this one, and the one for the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition.  The Iron Gods Player's Guide is far superior.  It concisely explains what the campaign is about, provides the information needed to get a PC off to the right start, and, most importantly, it makes the adventure path sound like fun!  I don't know if I'll get a chance to play in that PbP, but if I don't, it certainly won't have anything to do with a lack of interest.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Condition Tokens [RPG]


The Pathfinder Condition Tokens are well-hidden on the Paizo web store, but I'm glad I stumbled upon them.  The idea behind them is so simple it's brilliant: you slide one of these 1-inch square plastic tokens under the miniature of a PC or monster affected by a condition, and anytime you move the miniature, you move the token with it.  They make it *so* much easier to keep track, for example, of which of the 8 zombies on the board has been blinded, or that the barbarian has finished raging and is now fatigued.  The actually work together quite well with the Condition Cards, because the cards show the effect of the condition while the token shows which condition goes with which miniature.

All of the conditions in the core rulebook except the following are included:  Dead, Energy Drained, Entangled, Fascinated, Flat-Footed, Incorporeal, Invisible.  Oddly, this list of what's included and excluded is not identical to the Condition Cards, and two statuses that are not official conditions (Hasted and Slowed) are added.  You'd think they would make things correspond and include all of the official conditions.

Apart from that, the only drawback of these is the price: $ 19.99.  As useful as they are, that's pretty steep for what's essentially coloured little pieces of plastic with words etched onto them  Someone with poker chips and a fine black marker could achieve the same basic effect.  I think I'd say throw these into an order if you're trying to qualify for reduced shipping, but otherwise wait for a sale.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Box [RPG]


NO SPOILERS

The Box, by Bill Ward, is a four-part series of Pathfinder web fiction available for free online (here). There's nothing particularly bad about the story, per se, but I frankly found it eminently forgettable.  The story, which is set in Magnimar, concerns a Varisian thief named Kostin's attempt to figure out what's inside a mysterious box he stole.  Although the plot is serviceable, I think it was a mistake to introduce an entire group of characters in short web fiction like this, as each gets so little attention that they come across as one-dimensional.  I'm also quite interested in the fiction city of Magnimar, and I didn't think the story did anything to bring it to life.  With so much Pathfinder web fiction available, this one should be near the bottom of the reading order.  For what it's worth, the artwork isn't bad.

SPOILERS

It's not a major spoiler to say that others want the box as well, so Kostin and his allies find themselves in repeated chase scenes fending off various forces.  I found the transition between chapters somewhat jarring, and I didn't 100% understand what was in the box even after the big revelation at the end of the last chapter.  I think by introducing fewer characters, more description could have been given to the plot and more originality could have been given to those characters.  The Ulfen warrior, for example, was a stereotype right out of "Pathfinder central casting", and the gnome illusionist wasn't much better.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Session # 5 [RPG]


26 Rova 4707 (continued)


In the basement of the Sandpoint Glassworks, a team of adventurers has discovered the whereabouts of Ameiko and her kidnapper (and brother), Tsuto.  As the team is distracted by seeing Ameiko’s unconscious, bound, and prone form, Tsuto launches a surprise attack.  His punch, aimed for Bey’s throat, slides harmlessly off her armor and the battle begins!  Tsuto’s quick reflexes and mobility are of limited use in the narrow basement corridor, and soon he’s wounded from multiple strikes while barely landing a glancing blow on Bey’s jaw.  The kidnapper turns and runs for it, but the adventurers give chase!  Xeveg and Felix manage keep up with the spritely half-elf, and corner him in a small cul-de-sac in one of the long tunnels.  Xeveg conjures a freezing ray and Felix punches Tsuto square in the nose, and in moments their target is unconscious.  They drag him back to the scene of the initial attack and Xeveg uses the ropes binding Ameiko to bind Tsuto instead.  The group exit the Glassworks carrying the unconscious siblings and receive general applause from the small crowd of townspeople assembled outside.  Ameiko is taken to the Rusty Dragon to rest while Tsuto is deposited in a jail cell underneath the Sandpoint Garrison.  Bey estimates the villain will awaken naturally in a couple of hours and can then be interrogated.

Jodar Provolost
The adventurers discuss whether they should go to Chopper’s Isle and investigate Das Korvut’s belief that he saw the ghost of his missing son Simon there.  The thick fog, 120’ high cliff face, and realisation that the isle can only be reached on foot at low-tide lead the group to determine they should wait for a better opportunity and gather additional information.  After Bey delivers a note asking for an audience with Madame Mvashti to discuss spirits, Felix suggests that a conversation with the locals about what happened five years ago during the “Late Unpleasantness” could be useful.  They talk to Jodar Provolost, a part-time member of the Town Watch.  Provolost tells them that five years ago, in a span of just a couple of months, three tragedies struck Sandpoint:  Lonjiku Kaitjitsu’s wife, Atsuii, slipped and fell to her death from a cliff near the family home; a fire consumed the town chapel and resulted in the death of Father Ezakien Tobyn and his foster-daughter, an aasimar named Nualia; and a serial-murderer nick-named “The Chopper” terrorized Sandpoint and claimed over two dozen victims.  The Chopper was revealed to be an eccentric but seemingly gentle man named Jervas Stoot, beloved in Sandpoint for the delicate and graceful wood carvings he did of birds.  Stoot built his home on the small tidal island just north of Old Light, nimbly climbing up and down the cliff face in good weather until the townspeople chipped in and had a set of wooden stairs built.  After Stoot’s crimes were discovered and he perished in mortal combat with the town’s previous sheriff, the house and stairs on the isle were burned.

As they wait for Tsuto to awaken, the adventurers go through the half-elf’s possessions which have been piled neatly outside of his cell by the town jailer, Vachedi.  Bey and Xeveg work together to determine that Tsuto carried a magical potion of healing and minor ring of protection, and each are assigned to Felix.  Tsuto’s journal is also found, and when read reveals that the real goal for the raid on Sandpoint on the night of the Swallowtail Festival was the theft of Father Tobyn’s body.  Tsuto writes that his “love” burned the remains at a shrine in Thistletop to “start the transformation” and remove her “celestial taint”.  The journal also mentions the names Ripnugget, Bruthazmus, Malfeshnikor, Lamashtu, and a potential plan to have a mysterious quasit attack Sandpoint from below using the old smuggler’s tunnels under the Glassworks.  Xeveg recognises the name Lamashtu as the demonic goddess of deformity, miscarriage, and madness, while Bey makes a connection between Father Tobyn’s body being stolen and his foster-daughter being a member of the celestial aasimar race.  To test the latter theory, the team ask one of the longest-serving members of the Town Watch, a grey-haired veteran named Bosk Hartigan, about Nualia.  He says that Nualia was presumed to have died in the chapel fire, but that her body was never found.  He describes Nualia as having been a great beauty, so much so that she could be off-putting to regular people.  After Bosk departs, the group speculates whether the fact that next month is Lamashan (named after the demon goddess) could have special significance.  Bey says that if the group can’t figure out when the true invasion will occur, they may need to evacuate the town!

Vachedi
Tsuto awakens with a groan, and realising his situation, he sits with his back to the adventurers and starts meditating.  At first he ignores them entirely, but Bey and Xeveg manage to get a reaction out of him by mentioning his “love” and his deceased father, respectively.  Xeveg suggests that Bey poke him with the blunt end of her bardiche through the bars of his cell, but when she does so, Tsuto suddenly jumps around and pulls the weapon from her hands!  He stabs Xeveg with it and then starts attacking the cell’s lock.  He tells the group he’ll see that they’re treated mercifully if they let him go, but Oliver draws his greatsword and impales Tsuto!  The prisoner slumps to the ground, hovering on death’s door before Bey manages to stabilize him.  The commotion draws Vachedi and other guards from the garrison.  Vachedi takes Felix aside and says that he’s happy to give his fellow Shoanti plenty of lee-way when it comes to interrogation, but he’ll have to be more subtle next time, especially once Sheriff Hemlock returns.

The adventurers decide to discuss Tsuto’s journal and the discussion of further attacks with Mayor Deverin at the town hall across the street from the garrison.  Mayor Deverin grants them an instant audience, and is horrified when shown Tsuto’s journal.  She exclaims that the tunnels below the Glassworks need to be secured and asks the adventurers to scout where they lead.  The potential menace of Thistletop is also discussed, though Mayor Deverin is loathe for the town’s new heroes to be publicly seen leaving during this time of crisis.  She says she’ll trust in the adventurers’ expertise, however, as they’ve always come through for the town.  She agrees to post guards in the Glassworks’ basement and at each entrance to the town.
Tsuto's Journal

Xeveg decides that research in the library at the House of Blue Stones could be useful in gathering more information about some of the names mentioned in Tsuto’s journal.  He is admitted entry by Sabyl Sorn in order to discharge the debt of honour she says she owes the group for doubting their word outside the Glassworks that morning.  Inside, Xeveg sees that the interior of the building consists of a single large chamber, the floor of which is decorated with polished blue stones set within winding pathways of reed mats.  Sabyl lifts a particular reed mat to reveal a trapdoor leading into a library of scrolls below.  She lectures Xeveg about the rules for using the collection, most of which she says was gathered by her now-deceased father.  She also stays and watches Xeveg at all times.  Although he turns up nothing in regards to the name “Malfeshnikor”, he is able to set aside at least one theory:  the cultists of Lamashtu are not known to pay any particular reverence to holy months, days, or the lunar calendar.

After waiting outside for some time and realizing they have no idea how long Xeveg could take, the other adventurers decide to return to the Rusty Dragon for the afternoon.  They learn that Ameiko has been visited by Father Zantus and has been healed of her physical wounds, but has kept to her room.  As Madame Mvashti has not left word for them, the group ask around and learn that the aged seer is often taken on walks throughout Sandpoint or its environs by her niece Gianya.  The trio wander around Sandpoint hoping to run into them, but the fates are not with them and they end up back at the House of Blue Stone to wait for Xeveg.  After the young wizard emerges and shares what he’s found, Bey expresses excitement about attending the play “Local Heroes” at the Sandpoint Theatre that evening.  Xeveg adamantly refuses to attend, but the others decide to go and even show up early.

Cyrdak Drokkus
Bey, Felix, and Oliver find that the theatre’s box office is attended by surly teenager Bimmy Beems, who explains that he quit working for Daviren Hosk “because horses are stupid.”  Beems says that the actor’s entrance is around the side and, intrigued, the trio use the door to enter backstage.  Cyrdak Drokkus, proprietor of the theatre is there, and he enthusiastically welcomes the group.  Although they refuse Drokkus’ attempt to get them “in costume,” Felix is ambushed by a make-up artist before the play “Local Heroes” begins before a packed house.  Local children dressed up like goblins riding broomstick goblin dogs rush on stage to “attack” the heroes (with Bimmy Beems taking on the role of Xeveg).  Bey recites impromptu dialogue that goes over spectacularly well with the audience before whirling her bardiche impressively.  Felix is grabbed by two “goblins” and he spins the youths about, but overdoes it and one of them vomits!  Oliver does equally as well as the group saves “Aldern Foxglove” in the final scene.  The crowd loves the production and claps frenetically.  Cyrdak follows through on a promise to split the take with the performers and then the cast and crew head to the Rusty Dragon for an after-party. 

During the party, Ameiko comes out to the common room and everyone hushes.  She offers her sincere thanks to the adventurers for saving her life and gives the room a strained smile as she says she’ll be back to normal in no time.  Later, Bey speaks with Ameiko about Tsuto; Ameiko says her brother can be extremely stubborn, and will never talk unless forced to do so by magic.

27 Rova 4707

At breakfast that morning, Shayliss Vinder enters the common room and draws Felix aside for a private conversation.  She implies that she is pregnant and asks Felix for 25 gp so she can “take care of it.”  Felix clearly disbelieves her, leading Shayliss to start sobbing uncontrollably, drawing everyone’s attention to her.  When Felix turns to leave, Shayliss’ tears suddenly dry up and she coldly says he better pay because she wants a new necklace; if she doesn’t get the money, she’ll ruin him!  She says he has 24 hours to make up his mind.  Felix returns to his allies and explains the extortion attempt, but says he’s not worried about “women’s gossip.”
            
The adventurers decide to investigate the tunnels underneath the Glassworks, but their first stop is to dispose of some of the spoils of war they’ve accumulated to date at Savah’s Armoury and a store filled with an eccentric array of items named The Feathered Serpent.  There, Xeveg makes an arrangement with the proprietor to be informed if any rings of sustenance become available for sale.

One of Sandpoint's most popular citizens has been rescued by its newest heroes, but what secrets lurk in the catacombs beneath the town?
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Director's Commentary (20/02/2017)

Tsuto, who I guess is the "boss" villain of the Glassworks, was a real pushover for the PCs, even though he had the element of surprise.  My favourite scene with him this session was when he *almost* escaped from the cells under the Garrison by readying an action to disarm Bey's bardiche.  That certainly ramped up the drama of the interrogation.  

I'm glad that the writers of the adventure path put a lot of letters, journals, and other forms of exposition into the game; they help explain the story to PCs in a way that might otherwise be quite fuzzy, and it's always fun to have handouts.

I was glad to see my players do some research into the Late Unpleasantness.  All of that backstory, much of it quite important, shouldn't go to waste!

The bit with the play was my own addition.  I just thought it would be fantastic fun to see how the PCs would "act" if forced on to the stage, and although none of them had any ranks in a Perform skill, the results weren't *too* bad.  I really wanted to play up the PCs being treated like heroes, and having a play produced about their exploits was a good way to show the town's enthusiasm for them.

Really careful readers familiar with Sandpoint might notice a minor mistake on my part: I shouldn't have had the "after party" at the Rusty Dragon, as, for a mysterious reason, Cyrdak Drokkus and Ameiko Kaijitsu don't get along at all.  I just have to assume that, for this session, Cyrdak was swept up in the high spirits of the success and forgot about his grudge for a night.

The session ended on a downward note, as appraising and selling the loot took a long time and wasn't especially exciting.  I try to handle that sort of thing via e-mail between sessions when possible, but sometimes it isn't and it can be quite important for PCs to be properly equipped.  I do a better job in some later sessions of role-playing the shopkeepers to add some better flavour to scenes set in The Feathered Serpent and elsewhere.

Next Recap

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pathfinder Adventure Path # 1: Burnt Offerings (Rise of the Runelords # 1 of 6) [RPG]


NO SPOILERS

"Burnt Offerings" was the first issue in Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Path monthly series and the first part of the oft-praised and (deservedly so) Rise of the Runelords campaign.  Each issue of the series is 96 full-colour pages and comes with 1 part of a 6-part adventure and several useful pieces of supplemental material.  The back-matter fleshes out locations, monsters, NPCs, prestige classes, historical events, magic items, or almost anything else that could be in some way relevant to either the present adventure path or other adventures in the campaign world of Golarion.  Some of the supplementary articles are perfectly suitable for players to read, but others may contain spoilers of varying degrees, and thus players should always consult the GM before reading any of the issue.

Before trying to track down each of the individual issues of the adventure path, which can be difficult to do since some issues are out of print apart from PDFs, keep in mind that the entire thing has been collected and updated in the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path hardcover.  These early adventure paths were published before Paizo had actually released the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and thus they're based on D&D 3.5 rules--which are very similar, but different in a few spots.  Realistically, you only need to buy the individual issues if you're a true completist or can't afford the hardcover; even most of the back-matter has been reprinted somewhere or another.

I'm going to start this review, counter-intuitively, by starting with the back-matter first.  The method to my madness is that the first 2/3 of the book are the adventure, and that needs to be put underneath a spoiler warning.  Before going into great detail, a word for readers who are in a hurry: the quality of the writing in this book (both the adventure and the supplementary material) is simply fantastic, and I can't imagine anyone regretting taking the time to read it or use it in their games.

The first part of the back-matter is a thirteen page gazetteer of the town of Sandpoint, the small town on the southwest coast of Varisia where the adventure path begins.  Sandpoint is inspired by author James Jacobs' hometown, and the loving and detailed attention it receives makes it a great place for the PCs to spend their time.  Sandpoint isn't a crazy, exotic starting location; in many ways, it resembles a traditional fantasy small town.  The NPCs and locations within it, however, are fleshed-out so well that players will quickly start to care about what happens to it, and that's why it works.  There's enough history and secrets to Sandpoint that, even apart from the adventure path, it could serve as the perfect homebase for PCs undertaking a wide variety of campaigns.  This section contains a nice map of the town with all major locations noted.  There are cartoony pictures of some NPCs, and frankly they're not very good; that art style has long since been abandoned by Paizo in favour of a more "realistic" style.

The second part of the back-matter is an eight-page history of the ancient, fallen empire of Thassilon.  Due to the title of the adventure path and references in the Rise of the Runelords Players Guide, it's no secret that the campaign relates, in some way, shape, or form, to the legacy of Thassilon.  This section talks about the domains and rulers of Thassilon, their strange relationship with magic, the gods they worshipped (some still recognized, others lost to time), and, finally, speculation on what caused the fall of the empire.  Much of the information here is not directly relevant to the adventure path, but it's extremely well-written and could serve as the seed for many campaigns in the future; as indeed it has, given my understanding of later adventure paths.  This section contains sidebar summaries of what happens in later chapters of the adventure path, so it shouldn't be read by players.

Next, there's a six-page section "Opening Moves" that is an overview of the Pathfinder Society, an in-universe organization of lore-seekers and treasure-hunters.  In later issues, this will be replaced by fiction, but I found it helpful to see some background on what the Society's leadership, lodges, and chronicles are like.

The last major section is a ten-page bestiary, introducing five new potential threats:  the Sandpoint Devil, the Goblin Snake, the Sinspawn, the Attic Whisperer, and the Goblin Dog.  Only two of the five appear in the adventure path (and only one in a significant way).  Of the five, I think the most interesting and original are the Sandpoint Devil (a one-of-a-kind "cryptid" inspired by the Jersey Devil), the Attic Whisperer (a really creepy idea of an undead that forms around orphanages and schools), and the Sinspawn (aberrations from ancient Thassilon).  These entries are all written in to 3.5 specification (as discussed above) and have been updated elsewhere to their "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game" format, but I still enjoyed seeing them here because I think, oddly enough, they're often given more description than they receive in more constricted format of a bestiary.

The back-matter concludes with a page of four pre-gens for players who just can't wait to have fun, and then a couple of pages of ads for the next issue.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy the back-matter so much I regret that I'm avoiding spoilers on other adventure paths, because otherwise I'd consume all of it!

SPOILERS

I finished running players through Burnt Offerings several weeks ago, so my review is premised on that.  I should note that I used the Anniversary Edition, but my understanding, based on the Paizo forums, is that this part is not significantly changed from the original except for the addition of one (admittedly quite useful) non-combat encounter.  My plan for reviewing adventures like this is to cover them just as the book does, by dividing them into separate parts.

Burnt Offerings starts with about 2 1/2 pages of background to both the adventure path as a whole and to this particular chapter.  At first blush, the meta-plot might not sound all that original:  an ancient, incredibly powerful wizard, is planning his return and will dominate the land until heroes rise up to stop him.  What sets this story apart, however, is the incredibly rich detail given this wizard (a Runelord of ancient Thassilon named Karzoug), his minions, and his plans.  There's a lot to be written about Karzoug, but I'm going to wait until reviews of later chapters of the adventure path because he's not directly relevant to this chapter.  Indeed, the events of this chapter are almost accidentally caused by his awakening.  Instead, the primary villain for this chapter is an aasimar (a celestial/angel-like race) woman named Nualia, who grew up in Sandpoint but now seeks vengeance upon it for wrongs she perceives have been done to her.  To this end, Nualia has started assembling an army of goblins to wreak havoc on the city, and this is the ultimate threat the PCs must stop in Burnt Offerings.  This section offers background on Nualia and her evolution from the beautiful child of the town priest into a demon-worshipping evil cleric with a monster claw for a hand!

Before going further, a brief word on the artwork.  It's a mixed bag.  Some of it is quite well-done and of the type you would still see Paizo publishing today; other bits of it are quite ugly, and has been replaced in the Anniversary Edition collection.

Part One, "Festival and Fire", sees the PCs assembled (for their own individual reasons) at Sandpoint's Swallowtail Festival where the dedication of a new cathedral is about to take place.  The event is marred by a surprise attack from goblins coming from multiple points in the town and, of course, the PCs have to help repel the attack.  The one thing you and your players will take away from this chapter (if not the adventure path as a whole!) is that Pathfinder goblins are not generic "D&D" goblins.  Instead, Pathfinder goblins are crazy, ridiculous, vicious, murderous sociopaths!  Hilarious oafs one second and gruesome spree-killers the next, the way author James Jacobs has reoriented goblins really makes this chapter "pop."  This first part of the chapter definitely gets the PCs into the stream of things quickly and forges that "bond of battle" that is important to keep groups going forward.  GMs should pay careful attention that an NPC who is (presumably) saved from a goblin attack is extremely important in Chapter 2, and some advance thought should be given into how to role-play him.  My only critique is that I wish the Swallowtail Festival had been fleshed out better (before the attack) to give some better role-playing opportunities; there are some extremely useful fan-made ideas on the forums that do this, which I really liked: content to the speeches given, rules for the festival games that are played, etc.  This part is playable in a single evening and gets the adventure path off to a good start.

Part Two, "Local Heroes", sees the PCs lauded in Sandpoint for their role in foiling the goblin attack.  This is actually my favourite part of the first chapter of the adventure path because it includes several standalone encounters in Sandpoint (combat and non-combat) that can be run organically, and for the most part in different orders, so that the GM can drop them into the campaign as necessary while still allowing plenty of time for the PCs to get to know and love their new hometown.   The mix of encounters is strong: a boar hunt (that may or may not involve combat but builds crucial narrative later), dealing with a goblin commando trapped behind "enemy" lines (quite gruesome, and just to my taste!),  hearing about rising danger from the goblin tribes around Sandpoint (a bit of an "infodump", but done well and featuring the introduction of an important NPC ally), and, perhaps the most fondly remembered early encounter for most groups: "The Shopkeep's Daughter", wherein a male PC might find himself in deep trouble for "seducing" the lascivious daughter of a grim shopkeeper.  It's laugh-out loud hilarious in concept and meaningful in execution: my group hasn't been able to shop at the Sandpoint General Store for something like twenty sessions running now!  The session ends with the kidnapping of another well-realized NPC, Ameiko Kaijitsu (owner of The Rusty Dragon, a tavern many PCs will end up staying at during their time in Sandpoint).  This event sets up the next part.

Part Three, "Glass and Wrath", sees the PCs on what's really their first organized mission as a team: rescuing Ameiko from goblins (led by her brother!) who have taken over the town's glassworks and slaughtered its employees.  There's a lot more detail given to the Glassworks than is probably necessary since this was a cakewalk for my players and (from what I understand on the forums) most groups.  However, a trail leads the PCs to catacombs far under Sandpoint dating to ancient Thassilon, and there they get a first hint that the dangers they face aren't just goblins.  The Catacombs of Wrath are a good "mini-dungeon" to give the PCs a taste of dungeon-delving and a good chance for them to start to develop some of the tactics they'll need to survive later parts of the adventure path.  I have to note that the "boss" of the Catacombs of Wrath, a quasit (tiny winged demon) named Erylium, is a really unusual monster:  she's very tough to kill (high DR, invisibility at will, flying) but also does hardly any damage.  The unusual combination means that fighting her can last a *long* time; my group had to give it three tries, each lasting the better part of a session, to finally kill her!  Of course, your mileage may vary.  

Part Four, "Thistletop", sees the PCs venture out of Sandpoint and to an island-based goblin fortress.  Their goal is to hunt down Nualia and put a stop to her wicked ways before she can launch a mass invasion of Sandpoint and/or free a mysterious, incredibly powerful ally from the catacombs beneath the fortress.  Taking on Thistletop will probably require some good forethought by the PCs or multiple "brute force" expeditions.  There's a lot to deal with: a well-guarded approach on the mainland, a trapped bridge (that killed one of the PCs in my game) to the island, a main level infested by goblins, and two subterranean levels filled with other threats, including Nualia.  Perhaps the coolest thing about Thistletop, which most players probably don't realize, is that the whole island is actually the head of an enormous statute from ancient Thassilon sitting on its side!  Anyway, there's a good mix of encounters here, with the goblins fairly easy to mop up but some of the other NPCs much tougher.  Assuming the PCs do capture or kill Nualia (mine didn't; she escaped after managing to kill half the party), the players will finish Burnt Offerings with a sense of achievement and satisfaction, and be well-primed to start the next chapter of the adventure path.

When I think of Rise of the Runelords, what sticks out to me the most is how pitch-perfect it is in tone.  It is intelligent, edgy, clever, and dark, all while still allowing plenty of room for the PCs to make their mark on the world.  I know I've had a blast running Burnt Offerings, and I'm confident you will too.