Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 13 [RPG]


[5 Lamashan 4707 continued]


Arnald Swiss
Having returned to Sandpoint from their first journey to the goblin fortress of Thistletop, Felix and Nedrin sell some of the spoils of war and resupply for another planned raid.  Felix sells a magical suit of goblin-sized armor to Vorvashali Voon at The Feathered Serpent, and, for a small fee, learns that the cloak taken from the body of the goblin druid Gogmurt is actually a cloak of resistance.  A journey to Bottled Solutions for healing potions leads to a hair-raising experience as a small explosion occurs amongst a concoction that proprietor Nisk Tander is brewing.  Meanwhile, experienced elven scout Shalelu Andosana walks to the harbourfront and hires a small rowboat from the Mercantile League.  While there, she notices a human wearing a steel breastplate with a greataxe strapped to his back.  Shalelu correctly deduces that the man is a sellsword and persuades him to join the planned attack on Thistletop in exchange for an equal share of whatever treasure is found within.

The adventurers reunite at the Rusty Dragon, and Shalelu introduces the sellsword, Arnald Swiss, to Felix and Nedrin.  Felix makes a joke about Oliver which doesn’t go over well with Shalelu, and she retires to her room once the decision is made to depart in the early morning hours for Thistletop.  Nedrin also retires early, but Arnald and Felix spend the evening in the Rusty Dragon’s common room.  Arnald sees Daviren Hosk, and Felix realizes that the two know each other: Arnald helped keep Daviren out of a goblin cookpot when the latter had a vendetta against Chief Whartus and the Bonegrinder tribe.  Daviren warns Felix to be careful in Thistletop and to watch out for Warchief Ripnugget, as he’s known to try to lure his enemies into traps.  Later that evening, Felix tells Arnald a humorous story about accidentally burning down an inn in Magnimar (and having to escape the city in a hurry!) while Arnald boasts about fighting and travelling throughout the land.  Arnald also hears a story from Ameiko about a legendary monster in the Varisian Gulf named Old Murdermaw that can bite a boat in half!

[6 Lamashan 4707]

The crisp autumn day sees little wind and smooth rowing for the adventurers, and in just a few hours they approach Thistletop from the west just as the sun appears over the horizon.  A decision is made to do a full circuit of the island instead of just scaling the western cliffs, and the group’s patience is rewarded as they notice a small cave on the eastern face of the island, about twenty feet below the clifftop.  A goblin in the southeastern guard tower spots the rowboat, but Nedrin reacts instantly and shoots an arrow to kill the sentry before it can sound the alarm!

Felix’s upbringing as a Shoanti of the Storval Plateau allows him to scale the damp rock face, but as he nears the cave, something up there starts to move!  Before he can react, a dark blue creature with long tentacles emerges from the cave and crawls down the cliffside towards him  One of the creature’s tentacles is pointed and barbed, and cuts into Felix’s shoulder, dislodging the warrior’s grip and sending him tumbling into the water below.  Fortunately, Felix executes a skilled dive and Arnald jumps in to assist him in getting back into the boat.  The squid-like creature continues its search for prey by wrapping a tentacle around Arnald’s neck and trying to drag him upwards until Shalelu unleashes a fusillade of arrows to kill the creature.  Arnald, in a bout of dark humour or eccentricity, hollows out the creature and pulls it over his head as a sort of ghastly costume!

Felix resumes his climb and makes it to the cave, which has a strangely smooth, polished floor and passages heading off of it in three directions, one of which ends in a wooden door; the adventurers have taken an unorthodox approach but have pierced the outer defences of Thistletop!  Felix throws down a rope which is tied to one of the slats in the centre of the rowboat, and, after the others climb up, he ties the other end to an arrow which Arnald jams into a crevice in the rock-face.  If everything holds, the adventurers have secured an escape route and have chosen a propitious time to investigate Thistletop, as most of its denizens will still be asleep.

The group begins by venturing into the southwest tunnel, noting that the worked stone passages here are clearly man-made, and that lit lanterns hang in the hallways.  The tunnel ends in a storage room full of junk obviously scavenged from elsewhere, but a wooden door to the west indicates an exit.  The adventurers instead head back to their entry point and explore the northern passage, which leads to what must be the lair of the tentacled monster they just slew.  Several seabird and even goblin corpses are scattered around the room, each consisting of just skin and bones as if their insides have been somehow drained.  A search of the goblin corpses shows that one died in possession of high-quality dog-hide armor and a skilfully crafted shortbow.  Felix and Nedrin take the former and latter, respectively.

The intruders gird themselves for battle behind the wooden door heading directly west, but when it opens, no enemies lay on the other side.  Instead, the corridor leads to a pair of large stone doors, their faces carved with images of horrific, deformed monsters clawing their way out of pregnant women of all races.  Wooden doors lay to the north and south, and the adventurers decide to try their luck south.  They find stairs leading up, which they avoid for the nonce, and a depressing chamber that passes for a nursery in Thistletop: cages along the walls containing dirty mounds of straw and three goblin infants.  Arnald callously asks the others what goblin infants are worth on the free market, but Shalelu says there will be no talk of slavery in her presence.

Bruthazmus
Felix opens another door, and the time for cautious exploration is over!  Inside, a harem of goblin females lounge while a massive, 7 foot tall bugbear mounts one of them.  Shalelu shouts “Bruthazmus!” as Felix lights and throws a smokestick into the room.  A furious battle takes place in the doorway, as Shalelu’s rival, unarmoured and taken by surprise, nonetheless gives a roar and rushes to crush his nemesis’s skull with his flail.  Shalelu responds with her blade, and both take wounds in the battle in which no quarter is given.  Arnald’s massive axe whistles through the air and lands a telling blow in Bruthazmus’ abdomen, and another stab from Shalelu’s sword is enough to drop the giant goblinoid.  She shows no hesitation in slitting his throat.  She refuses to have anything else to do with his body, but a search by Nedrin reveals four masterwork arrows with the goblin runes for “Elf Hate” etched into them; he adds these to his quiver.  The goblin females, still dazed and disoriented from the smokestick, are tied up and the door to the harem room is closed.

The adventurers decide to pause their explorations of the southern corridors and instead make a foray through the northern doors.  They find what looks like a crude goblin art gallery, filled with drawings of goblins engaging in violence against humans, horses, and dogs.  One picture is much larger and more complex than the others, and shows what appears to be a massive goblin with snakelike eyes in a chamber in the subterranean centre of the island.  An adjoining room is clearly a war room of some type, and the adventurers find notes indicating that once “the whispering beast is tamed”, another raid on Sandpoint will be launched in the space of mere weeks.  More stairs leading upward are nearby.

Lyrie
Just off the war room is a study, but this one is occupied.  A woman in her early twenties with dark skin and long hair braided into cornrows is sitting at a table, poring over books, scrolls, and stone fragments.  She looks up as the adventurers enter, annoyed at being disturbed, but Nedrin keeps her from becoming alarmed by cleverly making a counter-intuitive decision: he lifts his mask to show her that he’s a hobgoblin!  The woman, who gives her name as Lyrie, assumes the newcomers are reinforcements hired to replace the guards killed in the previous day’s raid, and she tells them that they’ve taken a wrong turn and are interfering with her research.  Nedrin asks Lyrie where he can find “the boss”, and she says Nualia is either in the chapel behind the carved doors or a level below.  Although the group’s deception is going well, Arnald inexplicably asks, right in front of her, whether they should tie Lyrie up, which leads her to try to cast a spell.  It fails, however, and, cornered by four heavily-armed warriors, she submits to being tied up.  The adventurers’ surreptitious entry into Thistletop is further rewarded by their discovery of a secret door that Lyrie has left ajar, on the far side of which are stairs leading down.  The adventurers force Lyrie to move into the room that served as the lair of the monster she says was called a tentamort.

Orik
The adventurers return to their search, deciding to save the chapel for last in case Nualia is there and can summon reinforcements from elsewhere in the complex.  The adventurers find a torture room with several unoccupied cells, and Shalelu suggest moving their prisoners there if they can find the keys.  Another corridor leads to several doorways, and, opening the first one on the right, the adventurers barge into a mercenary finishing his breakfast of bread and smoked salmon.  The ruggedly handsome human is heavily armored and has a shield and a bastard sword laying nearby on the bed.  Nedrin plays it cool, however, and once again bluffs the man into thinking they’re sellswords hired by Nualia, recently arrived by boat since the bridge has been cut.  The mercenary, who gives his name as Orik Vancaskerkin, says that Nualia pays well but is involved in some “creepy” things.  He offers to show the “new hires” around Thistletop once he finishes his meal.  Nedrin thanks him and shuts his door.

The adventurers have acted boldly and luck has been with them, as they’ve penetrated deep into the goblin fortress of Thistletop and, through a combination of quick thinking and luck, have caught the defenders completely by surprise.  If they can continue to exploit their advantage, they may just make it off the island alive!

----------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (1/05/2017)

This session marks the first appearance of Arnald Swiss, the new character for the player who previous ran the dear departed Oliver.  Arnald shared a lot of Oliver's quirky behavior, and in this session we see Arnald trying on the corpse of a tentamort as a disguise and alerting an NPC the group was trying to bluff their way past by opening asking if they should tie her up.  

With Bey's player away, I ran Shalelu as a DMPC for the rest of Chapter 1 so there would be 4 party members.

I remember doing prep work for this section of the adventure and reading in the forums about groups who ended up entering Thistletop through the tentamort's cave, and thinking at the time how unlikely that was since it would require a) an approach by boat; b) a conscious decision to survey the far side of the island from where the boat would come from; and c) a high Perception check to notice the opening.  And, of course, the PCs in my group did all three!  I'm just happy that I had the sub-level prepared, otherwise I would have been super stressed.

I may have talked about this before, but I often get a kick out of how the adventure path sometimes puts so much effort into developing NPC antagonists (back-stories, full-colour artwork, connections with other NPCs, etc.) and then those NPCs die in a round or two of combat and all of that work is wasted.  In this session, Bruthazmus and Lyrie were disposed of, and next session will see Orik get taken down quite quickly.

As the recap notes, the PCs really did stumble upon the perfect timing and approach to entering Thistletop, purely through luck.  Alas, their luck won't hold much longer and tragedy will be the result.

Next Recap

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Classic Horrors Revisited [RPG]


The idea behind Classic Horrors Revisited is to take ten classic "horror" monsters from D&D's past and expand and update them for Pathfinder.  This is the sort of book that could be a bit "blah" in lesser hands, but Paizo put their A-list writing talent on the project: James Jacobs, Rob McCreary, and Wes Scheider.  The result is a really good book that adds depth and detail to these monsters while sticking fairly closely to the common understanding of how they operate.  In other words, this book isn't a crazy-cool re-imagining of the monsters, but a well-written, cohesive elaboration.

Classic Horrors Revisited is a 64-page, full colour book.  I would label the interior artwork as "okay".  Better than most other companies', but not as good as Paizo has done in other books.  The interior front cover lists books and films that can serve as inspiration for using each of the monsters, while the interior back cover is a reprint of the front cover art (which is a bit too-obviously Dracula to interest me).

The ten monsters covered are: Derro, Flesh Golems, Gargoyles, Ghosts, Ghouls, Hags, Mummies, Vampires, "Walking Dead" (zombies and skeletons), and Werewolves.  Each monster receives six pages of coverage, and each entry is broken down into a "flavour" page (a half-page illustration and a half-page in-universe bit of prose), a couple of pages of overview and ecology/society, a few paragraphs on their role in a campaign (which I really liked), a paragraph on two or three known monsters of that kind in Golarion, and then a named NPC example with full stat block and picture.  Most monster entries also contain at least a little rules-option "crunch," such as variants, new feats, etc.  Here's a little more info about each of the entries:

1.  Derro:  I really love the Pathfinder approach to Derro--they are creepy, malevolent, and almost alien abductors of people on the surface so that they can perform strange experiments and then return them with no or fragmented memory of what happened.  This book introduces four new Derro weapons (Aklys, Crystal Chakram, Fauchard, and Injection Spear) and a new poison (Cytillesh Extract).  The sample is Evehxa, a derro magister (enclave leader) and 6th-level sorcerer.

2. Flesh Golem:  This will sound stupid, but I never really made the connection between flesh golems and Frankenstein's monster before reading this book!  The section has a good discussion of different types of flesh golems, and the writing and world lore is superb.  Rules are provided for awakened (sentient) flesh golems, as well as for electrified and unholy variants.  The sample is the Beast of Lepidstadt, an awakened flesh golem that haunts Ustalav (written up with 6 levels of barbarian).

3.  Gargoyle:  I've never found anything particularly interesting about gargoyles in the past, but this book has changed my mind.  It's made them scary!  Their love of sadism and perverse games gives them an interesting role as capable of inflicting both physical and mental pain.  Six variant gargoyles are discussed (arctic, forest, gemstone, obsidian, sandstone, and waterspout), making them useful in far more than just urban environments.  The sample is "Ajekrith, the Nightwing Snatcher", a gargoyle with 4 levels of rogue who preys on lone wanderers in Magnimar's Underbridge District.

4. Ghost:  There's an insightful discussion here about the differences between ghosts and other undead: not only are they usually bound to a fixed location, but they exist for a particular purpose.  I've panned the artwork in this book, but the picture on page 22 of a ghost carrying its own head is fantastic.  This entry provides new abilities for ghosts depending on why they're materializing; it's a great way to better tie a ghost's powers to its story, and I highly recommend using it.  The sample ghost is Maven Mosslight, a ghost with 9 levels of sorcerer who seeks her lost love in the Boarwood in Galt.

5.  Ghouls:  I've been running an adventure path that happens to features ghouls quite prominently in one chapter, so I've had a lot of time to think about them.  This entry offers some surprisingly deep insights into them.  And, I managed to incorporate the symptoms of ghoul fever into the game when a PC got infected.  So . . . bonus!  This entry includes rules for making ghouls of larger and smaller races, as well as specific mention of what happens if other creatures (like lycanthropes  or fire giants) get transformed.  Three new feats are added for ghouls, but they have *really* high prerequisites and only exceptional ghouls would be able to qualify.  Still, I like them in the abstract: one gives a ghoul bonuses for eating brains, one allows ghouls to pass as humans (and ghasts to suppress their stench), and one gives a ghoul a burrow speed.  The sample ghoul is Ehrimun, a 14th level necromancer exiled from the ghoul city of Nemret Noktoria.

6.  Hags: I've never really used these in a game, but the entry does provide a useful discussion of the relationship between the three most common types of hags (Annis, green, and sea hags) as well as night hags.  There's some discussion of the powers that hag covens (as opposed to individual hags) could possess.  The sample is Ulla Jarnrygg, a formidable hag with 9 levels of sorcerer and ice giant ancestry.

7.  Mummies: There's an excellent discussion here of the role of mummies in a campaign: as (un)living transmitters and reminders of the game world's history.  Mummies are often focussed on recreating the society and time period from when they died, and this allows GMs to incorporate otherwise dry historical information as an important part of a story arc.  The entry gives four different ways to re-flavour mummy rot, and the sample mummy is very cool: Shielseis, Queen of Asps in Osirion.  The artwork for her is great.

8.  Vampires:  I'm one of those annoying people who think vampires have been overused in pop culture, and frankly there wasn't anything in this entry that I found new or exciting.  The entry offers five new variant vampire abilities, including everything from changing into a swarm to being able to survive longer in daylight.  The sample vampire is Audbrey Aldamori, a pretend "aristocratic fop" who travels the Inner Sea feasting on those of noble blood.

9.  Walking Dead: We're talking zombies and skeletons here, and Pathfinder sticks with the traditional concept of them being mindless, low-level threats.  The artwork in this entry is pretty bad.  There's 13 variants, however, which really spice things up.  Throw some "Exploding Skeletons" or "Gasburst Zombies" at your players and watch them recoil in surprise!  The sample is a "Gillamoor Plague Zombie", which (unlike all the other samples in the book) is not a named NPC.

10.  Werewolves: This entry has a good, clear summary of what it means to be a werewolf in Pathfinder (different forms, means of transmission, etc.).  I was intrigued by a passing mention of good werewolves inspired by the dead god Curchanus.  The sample NPC is Ruxandra Katranjiev, a werewolf with levels in ranger who is also a cleric of the goddess Jezelda and wants to purge the Varisian town of Wolf's Ear of all non-werewolf lycanthropes.

Classic Horrors Revisited is an older book (2009), and some of the monsters here have also been revisited in more recent Pathfinder products (such as ghouls and vampires in the Monster Codex and derro in the Inner Sea Monster Codex).  That being said, there's great value for the money here if a GM is hoping to gain better understanding of these monsters and to add more depth to running them in a storyline.  Bestiaries can give a basic stat block, but usually don't have room for much description, making books like this one quite useful.  As I said at the beginning, the writing is top-notch even if the artwork is of varying quality.  I'd definitely recommend this one for a GM who is interested in any of the monsters covered.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Exodus Code [TORCHWOOD]

Set after the events of Miracle Day, this novel by John Barrowman and his sister Carole understandably leaves most of the focus on Jack, with Gwen and Rhys getting second billing.  The novel concerns an impending apocalypse caused by a complicated backstory involving earth's spirit fed up with environmental degradation, but suffice it to say, the plot just isn't very good and most of the story elements don't hang together.  There's also an odd back-and-forth structure in terms of chronology that doesn't add anything but confusion.  The characterization is fine and I didn't notice any glaring problems with how Jack is depicted, but there's just not enough here to warrant a purchase.  I'm additionally annoyed by the publisher thinking they are clever and adding a blank page after each chapter; with 73 extremely-short chapters, that means about a 1/5 of this 366 page book is blank pages!

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Worldwound Gambit [BOOKS]


NO SPOILERS

Well, you know from the title that this book involves the Worldwound, which in the official Pathfinder campaign setting of Golarion is a massive tear in the fabric of reality through which demonic armies of the Abyss have invaded and established a foothold.  With such a setting, you could expect, and wouldn't be disappointed, to find gore, horror, and demons aplenty.  The novel is extremely effective in its depiction of demon-scarred lands, but it's not relentlessly dark.  The protagonists, although in a terrible situation, hold enough personality and interest to keep the story flowing.  This is one of those books where the reader isn't guaranteed a happy ending--and that makes it all the more exciting to get to the end and see what happens!  I think my only real criticism is that the author tries too hard to subvert expectations by having traditional heroes turn out to be foolish, weak, or evil and traditional rogues end up showing all of the virtues of courage, friendship, etc.  All in all, this is a good, well-written fantasy story of especial interest to readers who a) like demons or b) like non-traditional heroes.

SPOILERS

The elevator pitch for this book would be "The gang from Ocean's 11 have a heist planned in Sauron's tower from Lord of the Rings."  After a demon attack on Mendev kills a long-time accomplice, a skilled con man named Gad vows revenge.  He assembles a diverse group of criminal types for a potentially deadly mission: he wants to infiltrate the Tower of Yath, a major new presence in the Worldwound, and steal the mystical orb that allows it to exist, thus dealing a heavy blow to the demons' plans.  One of the strong points of the book is characterization, as each of the team members have distinct personalities and skills.  In addition, Robin Laws does a fantastic job with the setting: the Worldwound definitely feels like no place else on Golarion, and is definitely not the place an adventuring party wants to visit!  A surprisingly long chunk of the book takes place within the tower itself, and those scenes are fraught with tension and surprises.  The weaknesses of the book, in my mind, are twofold and relate to what I wrote about above.  First, the author really goes out of his way to make the paladins and crusaders fighting against the tide of demons seem like arrogant, simple-minded idiots destined to fail.  Second, there's not enough motivation provided for why Gad (and especially the others) decide to undertake this mission when there is almost no chance of profit.  I get that revenge can be a powerful motivator, but we don't even get any backstory to explain why/if Gad and his dead friend were so close, or why all of the team members that Gad recruits would undertake what is portrayed as a near suicidal mission to help him get revenge against a fairly abstract enemy.  In general, I think the idea of subverting fantasy tropes by having a group of rogues sneak and bluff their way into the tower instead of knights fighting their way in is great; it just seemed like some depth to the story was missing to make the character's actions plausible.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 12 [RPG]

[5 Lamashan 4707 continued]

Having had great success defeating goblin reinforcements sent to guard the entrance, the adventurers decide to push further into the thistle maze.  They advance in single file to the north and come to an intersection of sorts, only to find vines and brambles animating and trying to entangle them!  Oliver finds himself fully wrapped up, but the others fight their way free and soon realize the source of the verdant attack: Gogmurt.  The goblin druid tries to stab Bey in the back with his flaming blade, but she manages to twist away just in time.  And in response, she conjures magical fire around herself like a sheathe, leaving herself unharmed but Gogmurt singed.  Before their head to head battle can continue any further, Felix picks his way through the writhing undergrowth and launches a single punch at Gogmurt’s face; the blow connects with an audible crack and Gogmurt is instantly knocked unconscious!  The Shoanti brawler then finishes the fight permanently by stomping his foe’s skull and crushing it.  A subsequent search of Gogmurt’s corpse reveals several enchanted items, including a cloak, a suit of leather armor, and two wands (one of which Bey is able to identify as a wand of tree shape).


Further search of Thistletop’s outer defences reveal an abandoned watch post to the west, a chamber to the east containing little but a matted nest of red and black hair, and a chamber just to the south of that containing the remnants of several meals and gruesome d├ęcor.  Another abandoned watch post to the northeast offers Felix a first view of Thistletop itself.  Connected to the mainland by a swaying rope bridge stands a wooden stockade built atop a rounded, flat-topped island about sixty feet away.  Two tall guard towers are visible, and Felix can discern movement within as well as four goblin commandos mounted on goblin dogs performing a regular patrol.  He descends from the watch post to formulate a plan with his allies.  Bey first suggests trying to swim across, but the daunting height of the cliffs leads to that idea being quickly discarded.  Nedrin suggests picking the defenders off from a distance using bows and crossbows, while another idea is floated to set the stockade on fire to draw the goblins out.  As the group discuss the pros and cons of various ideas, some members of the party with keen hearing hear shouts coming from the stockade.  Although meaningless babble to most, Nedrin is able to translate the shouting:  “Gogmurt sent the thrush!  They’re on their way!”  The hobgoblin ascends the watch post and sees that the mounted goblins have taken up defensive positions on the far side of the rope bridge with shortbows at the ready, and that one has positioned himself to block invaders from setting foot on the island.

The Rope Bridge
A plan is quickly settled upon: with Nedrin providing ranged cover with his bow, the other three adventurers will charge quickly across the bridge so that the goblins won’t have time to cut it.  Nedrin misses his first shot as Felix bravely charges across the rickety bridge.  The skilled pugilist is grazed by a few arrows from the four mounted goblins and the four sentries in the guard towers, and soon finds himself in hand-to-hand combat with the commando blocking his way off the bridge.  Bey runs across next, without incident, but the second Oliver sets foot on the bridge disaster occurs!  Suddenly, the western ropes tear free from their supports, tipping the bridge on its side!  Felix and Bey manage to grab the eastern ropes and hold on, but Oliver doesn’t react quickly enough and falls 80 feet into the surf below!  The impact knocks Oliver out cold, and he begins to take in water.  In seconds, the unconscious hero succumbs to his sad fate and drowns.

Nedrin, and his coerced ally Grizzlenik continue shooting at targets across the channel.  Felix and Bey manage to make it off of the precariously dangling bridge and on to the far side of the island, where they face a brutal fight against the mounted commandos in front of them and the archers above them.  Felix fights bravely, elbowing goblin dogs in the face and pummelling other defenders with his fists, while Bey joins with her bardiche.  She manages to trick one of the goblins into thinking that Oliver carried secret defense plans for Sandpoint, and the deluded goblin jumps to his death trying to recover them.  Felix and Bey establish a beachhead by finishing off the commandos and their mounts, but a fusillade of arrows continue to rain down.  Dozens of small wounds take their toll, leading Felix to dive for cover in order to survive; but Bey pulls her crossbow out and fires back at the archers!  Meanwhile, across the channel, even more dramatic events occur:  Grizzlenik turns on Nedrin again!  The goblin fires an arrow at his “master” at point blank range but misses.  The two tussle until Nedrin drags Grizzlenik (who is connected by a rope leash around Nedrin’s waste) with him to cling onto the surviving rope strands halfway between the mainland and the island.  The two try to stab each other to death but are tangled up so tightly neither can get the right angle.  Finally, Grizzlenik tries the most desperate maneuver of all: he tries to cut both strands of the rope bridge!  But luck abandons him, as his dogslicer is only able to cut through one of the two strands.  Nedrin’s brute strength allows him to get the upper hand, and he stabs Grizzlenik and then cuts the goblin free to send him plummeting to his death below.

Side view of Thistletop
Nedrin makes it to the island to join Bey’s exchange of projectiles with the goblins in the guard towers.  She shoots one through the elbow and it falls to its death, while Nedrin’s sharpshooting sends arrows through the eyes of two others.  Soon, the defenders are silenced.  At the base of the stockade, the three adventurers hastily discuss whether to press forward or back.  Bey is eager to continue on, but Felix is severely wounded and persuades her that a retreat is in order.  With only a single strand of rope now connecting the island to the mainland, even withdrawing has major risks.  Felix and Bey manage to make the exhausting hand over hand journey back, but Nedrin slips and falls!  Careful planning saves his life, however, as the adventurers tied another strand of rope around Nedrin’s waist with the far end being held by Felix.  Nedrin’s fall turns into an arcing swing and he slams into the cliffside with great force.  Still, he survives and is pulled up by Felix.

Deciding that a renewed assault is not tenable, at least for the time being, the adventurers decide to try to contain the threat of the Thistletop goblins by cutting the last strand of rope between the island and the mainland.  They then make their way out of Nettlewood and back to Sandpoint.  They head directly for the Cathedral, where Felix, barely conscious and slumped over his mount, collapses on the ground.  Father Zantus rushes to revive the fallen warrior, and the surviving trio of adventurers relate what happened to the town’s Deputy Sheriff.  Father Zantus hears about Oliver’s fate, and promises to hold a memorial service in the ranger’s honour.

Bey, Felix, and Nedrin then walk to the Garrison, where they find Sheriff Hemlock and Bosk Hartigan drilling the new recruits on how to march in formation.  Despite everything, Sheriff Hemlock is not pleased to hear about Oliver’s death; he berates the group for failing to notice such an obvious trap given the animal cunning possessed by goblins and the warnings that the Thistletop tribe had the most heavily fortified goblin lair in western Varisia.  Nor is Sheriff Hemlock mollified by the destruction of the rope bridge, stating that the Thistletop goblins could very well escape by boat to continue whatever plans they have for Sandpoint.  He says that he’s trying to get the recruits up to basic proficiency as quickly as possible, but if the adventurers plan to raid Thistletop again, they might find Shalelu’s leg has healed and that she’s up to the task of accompanying them.

Shalelu is sharpening arrows at a table in the common room in the Rusty Dragon when the adventurers seek her out.  She is deeply saddened to hear about her old friend’s death, and keen to avenge him.  She promises to hire a small boat from the Mercantile League so that the adventurers can approach Thistletop by sea, scale the cliffs, and perhaps catch the tribe by surprise.  While she sets off to make the necessary arrangements, Nedrin and Felix discuss a plan to try to smoke out the Thistletop goblins so that they leave their fortified stockade and can be dispatched in the open.  To this end, they visit Nisk Tander’s shop and, after some haggling and a deal to promote Bottled Solutions when they act in Cyrdak Drokkus’s next play, the two adventurers leave with a bundle of smoke sticks each.

Bey is waiting outside for the pair, and relates distressing news.  Her revelations have revealed to her a simple truth: if Bey accompanies the adventurers to Thistletop, everyone will die!  Bey says that she has foreseen every possible permutation, and that the only scenario with a chance of success is one in which the adventurers go without her but are accompanied by Shalelu and another figure she doesn’t recognize.  Having relayed the ominous news, Bey bids the adventurers farewell for the near future and sets off to talk about Thassilon with Brodert Quink.

The morning’s raid on Thistletop proved a pyrrhic victory; the adventurers established a beachhead but could not hold it, and lost one of their teammates in the process.  Now, they plan to approach by sea rather than land, guided by the expertise of Shalelu Andosana.  But who is this mysterious stranger Bey foresaw in her mystical glimpse into the future?
--------------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (23/04/2017)

This was an exciting and memorable session!  It was action-packed and cinematic throughout.  Oliver's death was a real tragedy, as although the character was often goofy and always unpredictable, he had a nice niche as Sandpoint's Deputy Sheriff.  I felt bad for the player as well since Oliver was his first ever PC.  The battle between Nedrin and Grizzlenik could have gone either way, as Nedrin was much higher level but was rolling poorly, while Grizzlenik's luck abandoned him only at the very end when he didn't roll high enough to cut through all of the ropes.  The battle outside the stockade on the island was like something out of D-Day, as the defenders poured on fire from above and the attackers had to fight with everything they had not to get pushed off the island.  The decision to retreat was probably a sound one, however, as they were hurting pretty bad after the victory.  Bey's vision at the end of the session was my in-game explanation for the player's plans to leave on holiday for a couple of months after the session--I thought it was pretty clever, if I dare say so myself!

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Mynock Squadron Recap # 28 [RPG]


Having performed successfully at the PentaStar Alignment's military review, the members of Beta Flight return to their barracks at a nearby Imperial base.  The pilots discuss what to do now that the full measure of Grand Moff Kain's genocidal plan has been revealed.  Warik says the three nanocarriers have to be stopped before they leave the system.  Kero observes the choice comes down to attacking the nanocarriers now, before they've departed, or delivering a warning to the Gatecrasher for guidance.  The pilots discuss the feasibility of destroying one on the ground and then warning the Gatecrasher, but Kero points out that the ships will be at their most vulnerable when passing through Dorval's Wall, as their deflector shields will be inoperable.  She suggests trying to get assigned as the nanocarrier's escort and then attacking at an opportune moment.

The pilots decide they need to determine who has been assigned escort duty for the nanocarriers and, if not the TIE-Defenders, then to see what can be done to get placed on that duty.  Warik decides it may be necessary to break into Jax's office to slice into her computer system to gather the information, while Kero and Mikaela are to use their "feminine wiles" on the base commander to get permission for more practice flights (in order to deliver a message to the Gatecrasher), and Keth plans to gather the escort information the old fashioned way: asking around.  

Mynock's quietest member is quite successful, as (while fulfilling janitorial duties) he lurks in just the right place to hear TIE-Interceptor pilots discuss how 8 of the snubfighters will be assigned to escort each nanocarrier, but that the vessels will taking different routes to Dorval's Wall before entering hyperspace on the far side.  The nanocarriers and their escorts are scheduled to depart in just two days' time.

Kero and Mikaela, meanwhile, have a practice session on flirting (led by Kero) and then track down the base commander.  He castigates them for hair and clothing that do not meet Imperial regulation, but Mikaela's expertly-timed hair flip and mention of her father (an Imperial Admiral) are enough to persuade him to allow more training flights for the Defenders.

When the pilots reunite to share the information they've gathered, Warik says the plan to break into Jax's quarters will still need to go forward, as now they need to learn the flight paths of each of the nanocarriers so that the Gatecrasher can plan a coordinated attack.  A plan is also discussed to make it seem like the Defenders were accidentally destroyed by asteroids during the "training mission" so that the Imperials won't realize their secrets have been leaked, but the plan is dropped as obstacles to its implementation are realized.   Although Kero questions the wisdom of taking the risk of breaking into the Alignment's Executive Flight Commander's office, Warik cuts off debate.  He says that he and Keth will do the infiltration at midnight, leaving Kero and Mikaela behind--if the infiltration fails, he says, the two female pilots can still try to escape and warn the Gatecrasher.

Midnight arrives and Keth and Warik put their plan into operation.  Knowing that his rank is sufficient to gain entry to the lobby and general area of Imperial HQ, but not high enough to access the turbolift to the upper floors of the building where Jax's office is, Warik expertly uses a computer terminal in a low-security area to slice into the building's maintenance mainframe.  There, he masterfully forges a work order for janitorial assistance to stop a leak on the same floor as Jax's office.  He then leaves, and both he and Keth return shortly thereafter disguised as maintenance men.  With the work order lodged, the turbolift guard gives them permission to access the upper floors: but with a two-member escort of Stormtroopers!

When they reach the floor with Jax's office, the two pilots enter a refresher in the corridor and break pipes until water starts pouring out.  As Keth tries to "plug the leak" in the refresher, Warik starts pounding on walls along the corridor, telling the Stormtroopers on duty that he's going to have to access the nearest "water junction" in order to shut off water to the whole floor.  Unbeknownst to either pilots, however, Jax herself was notified of a "water leak" in a high-security area, and has come to ensure no sensitive electronic systems will be damaged.  She instantly spots Warik and demands to know what he's doing there, but he somehow bluffs her into believing he's helping out a friend (Keth) who really isn't so good at plumbing.  Although suspicious, she leaves him to it and strides away.

When Warik gains access to Jax's office to look for the supposed "water junction", he starts smashing into the wall much to the dismay of his Stormtrooper escort.  He persuades the guard that he has no other choice unless the Imperial HQ is to be flooded.  In truth, however, Warik has accessed the datafeed cable hidden behind the wall so that he can try to slice into the highest-security data vaults in the building.  His first try at slicing through fails miserably and triggers a security alert, but fortunately Keth has arrived and is looking over Warik's shoulder.  Thinking quickly, Keth helps Warik reroute the security alert to make it seem like the breach is on the opposite side of the building.  One of the two Stormtroopers is called away to investigate.  Keth tries to lure the other Stormtrooper out of Jax's office so that Warik can continue slicing into the datafeed, but the guard remains at his post.  Warik then starts smashing into the duracrete floor with a heavy durasteel wrench, claiming to look for leaking pipes.  In truth, however, he's used the random destruction as a distraction so that he can break open Jax's desk and swipe all of the datapads and flimsies inside.  Keth hides the stolen material in his toolbox, and the two maintenance men walk out of the building, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake!

The two pilots make haste to where Mikaela and Kero are waiting, and inform them that their cover will soon be compromised.  The four members of Beta Flight take their Defenders into orbit (on the "training mission") previously authorised.  During the flight, Warik tries to slice into the material recovered from Jax's office, but without some heavy duty encryption-cracking equipment, he fails and is locked out.  When they approach the last location of the Gatecrasher, they realize it's no longer there.  Speculating that it probably hid in the asteroid field after receiving the warning of the Imperial survey ship approaching, the pilots enter the outer layer of the field and soon see the ship and realize it's been damaged.  The pilots land and brief Major Dei on what they've found.  Warik adds that the Gatecrasher is going to have to find a new hiding spot, as the Defender's ion trail could lead the Imperials to their doorstep.  Mikaela brings up the fact that she felt strangely uneasy when near Kain and his entourage during the military review, much like she felt when near Vader.  Kero privately talks to Lt. Tuvolo and brings to his attention that Warik keeps calling her "doctor", something she thinks is rather strange--but he tells her brusquely that as long as Warik keeps coming through "with the goods", he doesn't care what Warik calls his troopers.

After several hours pass and the Gatecrasher's technical team finally succeeds in slicing into the material stolen from Jax's office, Lt. Tuvolo gives Beta Flight the news.  Because each of the nanocarriers is taking a route to Dorval's Wall that diverges significantly from the others, only a simultaneous three-pronged attack has a chance of success.  Each of Mynock's three flights (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma) will be assigned to stop one of the nanocarriers, and this will require them to destroy the vessel's escorts and then wait until the nanocarrier enters Dorval's Wall before attacking when its deflector shields are down.  Tuvolo becomes solemn when he notes that there is no way the New Republic snubfighters can be outfitted with the radiation shielding necessary to protect against the effects of Dorval's Wall: the pilots of Mynock Squadron will be at risk of potentially fatal radiation poisoning.  Warik says that he will do his duty nonetheless, and the others agree.
-----------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (21/04/2017)

It was really fun to see the clever ideas the players had to gather information since most of the PCs (Keth excepted) were not designed for stealth or deception.  Good rolls really helped them out.

The break-in for "plumbing repairs" was hilarious and great fun.  Again, there were some surprisingly high rolls, but at least one red chip had to be played to get them through a tight spot.

An exciting cliffhangar for the next session, as the rubber hits the road and the nanoships have to be stopped lest planetary destruction occur!

The session was a true improv one, as I had no idea what the PCs would do, but I was really happy with how it turned out.  Excellent role-playing and a group that punched above its weight considering the obstacles I kept throwing their way.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Monster Codex [RPG]


Monster Codex is a fantastic 256-page hardcover collection of new rules, variants, and background on twenty classic monstrous races for Pathfinder.  The full-colour artwork inside is excellent and the book is laid out quite well.  I'm not a particularly big "monster guy", but I found this book quite interesting and readable, and enjoyed finishing an entry every night before bed, often drifting off to sleep with fun (and nefarious) new ideas.

Each entry is twelve pages long and includes a half-page picture and a half-page of in-universe flavour text, followed by a really well-written page of description and background that goes far beyond what's available in a Bestiary.  Each monster then receives about two pages of new rules, the exact content of which varies--it could be new archetypes, magic items, spells, feats, favored class options, and more.  Some of these options could be taken by anyone, but most are limited to members of the particular race.  Next, each entry has six pages of full stat-blocks for variant or specialized members of the race, many of which span a range of Challenge Ratings (CRs) (often through the addition of class levels) so that particular monstrous races don't become obsolete once the PCs reach a certain level.  GMs might be surprised how useful this is in expanding the options they have when designing storylines, and the entries include a good mix of martial and caster variants.  After that, a new creature associated with the race is presented in a one-page stat block--these are often some sort of animal (or animal-like) companion or pet often present.  Last, there's a one-page summary of a few different types of encounters (of varying CRs) in which the PCs might come into conflict with the race--note that these are not true encounters detailed in the sense of maps, terrain, etc., but more like common ways the monsters might be encountered and the number and types that they'll bring to the occasion.

Since there's twenty entries, I can't go into full detail on each, so what follows is more like a list with some very brief comments of things that caught my particular attention added in.

1.  Boggards.  It was interesting to learn that they have a much more complex society than they might seem to at first glance. [3 new alternate racial traits, 4 new favored class options, 5 new feats, one new spell, 2 new magic items.]

2.  Bugbears.  The flavour text for this is fantastic (and chilling!).  I've always thought of Bugbears and just larger orcs before, but this really helps to distinguish them (and make them scary).  There's a really clever spell introduced (Isolate) that renders a creature invisible and silent, but only to their own allies!  The artwork for the Bugbear Tyrant (a CR 13 antipaladin) is simply fantastic!  [1 new Antipaladin archetype, 7 new feats, 1 new spell, 2 new magic items]

3.  Drow.  [2 new alchemist discoveries, 3 new feats, 2 new pieces of equipment, 2 new magic items]

4.  Duergar.  The picture of the Duergar Monk makes me laugh because of that huge pot belly! [2 new alternate racial traits, 3 new feats, 2 new weapons, 3 new spells, 1 new magic item]

5.  Fire Giants.  There's a new Oracle Mystery introduced here (Apocalypse) that one of the PCs in my Rise of the Runelords game has taken.  So you never know what will prove useful in a game. I also like the new creature, a Steam Hog--a huge, tusked boar; a mounted Fire Giant cavalier would be terrifying!  [1 new Oracle mystery, 1 new feat, 2 new spells]

6.  Frost Giants.  [7 new feats, 2 new spells, 4 new magic items]

7.  Ghouls.  I've been reading Classic Horrors Revisited at the same time as this book, so I was mildly surprised to see the race again here.  But I like ghouls, so that's okay.  The artwork here is great, and I really like the variant ghoul--the Masked Marauder (a CR 8 ghoul bard), who would be a great mastermind villain for an urban campaign. [1 new sorcerer bloodline, 5 new feats, 2 new spells]

8.  Gnolls.  [1 new Witch archetype, 1 new Barbarian archetype, 5 new feats (4 of them Teamwork, which makes perfect sense for hyena-like Gnolls), 1 new weapon, and 3 new magic items]

9.  Goblins.  I *really* want to play a Goblin Winged Marauder!  I also liked (and was mildly disgusted by) the explanation of what a Goblin Alchemist formula book looks like.  [1 new Alchemist archetype, 1 new Oracle curse, 1 new Witch hex, 1 new piece of equipment, and 2 new spells]

10.  Hobgoblins.  Perfect for anyone planning to run the Ironfang Invasion adventure path.  The Hobgoblin Commander (a CR 12 Samurai) is really cool.  [1 new Alchemist archetype, 6 new feats, 4 new pieces of equipment]

11.  Kobolds.  I liked the Dragon Yapper archetype for bards--instead of inspiring your allies, you annoy and distract your enemies!  [1 new Alchemist archetype, 1 new Bard archetype, 2 new animal companions, 7 new traps, 2 new feats]

12.  Lizardfolk.  I have a new appreciation for lizardfolk after reading this entry, which means the writers did their job well.  [1 new Druid archetype, 1 new Oracle curse, 3 new feats, 3 new spells]

13.  Ogres.  The focus here is on the degenerations and mutations that plague the race.  The artwork is a bit tame considering how much fun the artist could have had.  [4 new templates; 8 new feats]

14.  Orcs.  This entry would be particularly useful to players since Half-Orc is a Core race.  [4 new feats, 2 new pieces of equipment, 6 new magic items]

15.  Ratfolk.  They seem like a lot of fun, and I'll have to make time to play one.  The Cheek Pouch alternate racial trait is a classic.  [4 new alternate racial traits, 4 new feats, 1 new piece of equipment, 1 new animal companion, 2 new magic items]

16.  Sahuagin.  [6 new mutant variants, 3 new feats, 3 new spells]

17.  Serpentfolk.  Such a fascinating race and mysterious race! [5 new feats, 2 new spells, 3 new magic items]

18.  Troglodytes.  I still find the race rather bland and forgettable after reading this entry--one of the book's only failures in that department.  [3 new variants, 3 new spells, 2 new magic items]

19.  Trolls.  The Troll Fury archetype (for druids) presents an interesting take on trolls.  I love (and fear) the Cooperative Rend teamwork feat--if a troll and its ally have the feat and are threatening the same creature, only one claw attack has to land for rend to kick in!  I'm not a big fan, however, of Paizo's artistic take on trolls.  The new monster, a CR 2 Sewer Troll, is a great way to help low-level PCs get acquainted with the regeneration monster ability before they fight the real thing.  [1 new Druid archetype, 6 new feats, 1 new piece of equipment, 2 new spells, 2 new magic items]

20.  Vampires.  A GM will appreciate the new templates for creatures that have been repeatedly drained or dominated by vampires.  Alchemical Blood is a logical thing to introduce in the game as well.  [3 new templates, 2 new simple templates for minions, 2 new feats, 1 new piece of equipment, 2 new magic items]

An appendix introduces the concept of "Simple Class Templates".  The idea here is to allow a GM to quickly modify a monster by adding class levels without having to laboriously rebuild a stat block from the ground up.  Thus, each of the Core Rulebook classes are given quick template rules and simplified spellcasting.  I haven't tried this method out, so I don't know how well it works.

As I said, I'm not a monster guy, so the fact that I enjoyed this book so much is telling.  It really does freshen up monsters with the options presented.  Long-time players, even those that do their very best not to metagame, may not be able to avoid sighing when yet another orc or troll appears in a game--but with the material presented here, the GM can add a surprising twist to every encounter.  In addition, the stat blocks for higher CR versions of every monster makes many of these monsters viable opponents throughout a campaign instead of the old "goblins at Level 1, trolls at Level 5, and neither ever seen again afterwards" problem. I also liked how the addition of class levels can help turn common PC strengths against themselves--an alchemist monster hurling touch-attack area of effect bombs definitely changes up the battlefield!  Although this book isn't literally indispensable for GMs, it would be among the first recommendations I would make.  And, perhaps surprisingly, there's enough race-neutral options here that players will surely find something useful for their PCs as well (if they're cheeky enough to buy a copy).  And you gotta love that cover!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Diamond in the Rough [RPG]


NO SPOILERS

Evey Brett's Diamond in the Rough (free web fiction available here) is a fantastic addition to the Pathfinder Tales short story line.  Anandi, a courtesan in the fantastical land of Jalmeray, is sent to the island of Veedesha to recover a magical artifact.  This is a story about character, love, and redemption rather than monsters and violence, and the result is something special.  Sexuality and sexual orientation are handled extremely adroitly, and Paizo's commitment to real diversity should be lauded.  Unless you're looking for an action-packed hack n' slash story, this one is must reading.

Ravi
SPOILERS

Anandi was the lover of one of the nobles of Jalmeray (the exact hierarchy I didn't quite understand), but had to be sent away from the palace due to courtly intrigues.  Now the instructor of an instructor for courtesans, Anandi is sent away again to Veedesha on a dangerous mission that is quite clearly (to him and the reader) a trap.  He learns that the artifact he's sent to recover is in the possession of a pirate captain, but he doesn't know exactly where it's hidden.  In a bid to discover that information, Anandi befriends a streetwise prostitute named Ravi.  When all goes to hell, Anandi escapes with Ravi, having failed in his mission but having accomplished something far more important.  The story is written with real maturity and avoids the stereotypes and cliches that often bog-down stories involving gay characters.  It's a perfect example of the real range of stories that RPGs, including Pathfinder, can tell--they don't have to be all about monsters and treasure.

The Buffy Comic Project: "Slayer, Interrupted Act 4" [COMICS]


Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 59 (Dark Horse Comics, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad (inks); Dave McCaig & Lisa Gonzales (colors); Clem Robins (letters)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Buffy, Joyce, Giles, Quentin Travers, Wesley,

Major Original Characters:  Dr. Stone/Rakagore (demon); Dr. Primrose (physician);  April Levine (patient); Giles' Father

Summary:  In the basement of the asylum, Buffy interrupts the demon Rakagore's ceremony and launches an attack.  But Buffy is knocked out during the battle, and wakes up in a straitjacket in a padded cell.  She speaks with Dr. Primrose and is surprised to find out that the doctor believes she really is the Slayer--because Dr. Primrose used to be a Watcher!  Dr. Primrose says that Buffy needs to embrace her destiny as a Slayer if she hopes to survive, and Buffy takes up the challenge.  She confronts Rakagore again, and this time she's victorious.  She leaves the asylum a confident, content Slayer.  Meanwhile, in England, Rupert Giles is formally called into service as Buffy's Watcher.  Unfortunately, his father continues to express disappointment in his son.

Review


Although the stuff with Rakagore was eminently forgettable, there were two things that made this issue interesting.  First, the twist with Dr. Primrose being a former Watcher and playing a role in setting Buffy on the right path was unexpected and very cool, even if I don't know if we ever see the good doc again.  Second, this is the first appearance (I think) of Giles' father, and it becomes very apparent that Rupert has a difficult relationship with his old man.  The synchronicity of Giles and Buffy each starting off on their paths to meet each other, but with very different send-offs, was well-handled.

Notes

* Yes, Wesley appears in one panel of this book.  Poor Wesley, always second fiddle as a Watcher . . .

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 11 [RPG]


[3 Lamashan 4707 continued]

Having made the final preparations necessary for their impending raid on the goblin fortress of Thistletop, the adventurers collect their mounts from the Goblin Squash Stables and leave Sandpoint.  Their departure is punctuated by excitement when their goblin prisoner, Grizzlenik, runs away rather than being seated on a horse; after a lengthy chase, Grizzlenik is subdued with a modicum of violence and the journey begins. 

The adventurers set off east along the Lost Coast Road, expecting the six mile journey to Thistletop to take only a couple of hours.  Short after leaving Sandpoint, however, they notice a listless cow swaying oddly on the road in front of them.  Noticing that blood seems to be dripping from it, Oliver approaches to see if the animal is hurt when, much to his disgust and dismay, two dire rats leap from a wound in the cow’s side and attack!  The ranger is bitten by one of the rats, but his companions react quickly, with Felix stomping one and Nedrin killing the other with his longsword.  The group continue east, passing by the broken hills of Ravenroost, the boar-hunting ground called Tickwood, the goblin-infested Shank’s Wood, and the stony hills known collectively as The Tors.  There, just before reaching the western edge of Nettlewood, the adventurers decide to go off road and head north to the cliffs overlooking the Varisian Gulf.  They set up camp and post sentries before experiencing an uneventful night.


[4 Lamashan 4707]

Goblin Dog
The adventurers are startled during their morning routines by an uncanny squeaky howl coming from nearby.  Felix and Nedrin react quickly, realizing that a pack of the mangy, beady-eyed canines known as goblin dogs are slinking towards the campsite!  Believing they’ve found easy prey, the craven creatures encircle the adventurers and attack.  Oliver suffers a serious bite to the abdomen, while Felix, who has quickly mounted his Shoanti-bred steed, takes a minor wound to his leg when flanked by two goblin dogs.  But the skilled pugilist responds in kind, lashing out with both legs simultaneously to either side of his horse and kicking the beasts in the head.  Nedrin circles the campsite on his mount and comes to Bey’s aid by having his horse stomp on a goblin dog’s back.  Oliver and Felix make short work of the last attacker, and the battle is over almost as soon as it began.  Bey exhausts her reserve of healing magicks to address Felix’s and Oliver’s wounds.

It’s a cold, crisp autumn morning when the adventurers talk over how they should approach Thistletop.  They settle on a plan to scout the goblin fortress during the daytime, rest nearby overnight, and then launch a raid at dawn.  Oliver’s wilderness skills come to the fore as he leads the group through the dense, tangled undergrowth of Nettlewood.  At about midday, the adventurers reach a hedge wall made of thistle and sharp brambles.  Grizzlenik is persuaded to reveal where a secret door can be found, so the adventurers tie their horses in a safe place nearby and prepare for their first incursion into Thistletop.

The secret door made of a rigid mat of thistles and nettles is pushed open easily to reveal an unexpected sight: a veritable maze made from 4’ high hedges that grow together at the top to form a thin canopy overhead.  The adventurers are forced to crouch to navigate the goblin tunnels and, with no reason to pick one direction over another, decide to follow the eastern path.  After passing next to a chamber containing a hole from which the distant sound of sloshing waves could be heard, the adventurers stumble unsubtly into a goblin-dog kennel!  Four of the mangy mutts are tied to wooden stakes by fraying rope, and they begin to howl when they scent intruders.  One of the goblin dogs breaks free and jumps at Bey, while Oliver gets too close to another and is bitten viciously under the armpit.  Bey cuts deep into one with her bardiche and drops it as Oliver begins hurling flasks of fire and acid into the kennel.  Nedrin lines up a seemingly-impossible shot with his longbow, but somehow the arrow flies true and catches a goblin dog in the eye!

Gogmurt and Tangletooth
The immediate battle is won, but the results have been disastrous: Thistletop has been placed on alert!  The first defenders to arrive on scene, seconds later, are the goblin druid Gogmurt and his beautiful firepelt cougar, Tangletooth.  Gogmurt literally steps out of a hedgerow towards a startled Felix and slashes him across the chest with a blade made of fire!  Simultaneously, Tangletooth  pounces on Bey’s back and knocks her to the ground unconscious!  To make matters even worse, Grizzlenik’s predictable betrayal occurs, as he stabs Nedrin in the back with the very dogslicer the hobgoblin gave him!  The adventurers seem moments away from being completely routed by the surprise attacks, but, somehow, they rally.  Felix gets Gogmurt in a headlock and begins punching the druid in the face, while Oliver and Nedrin combine their efforts to cut down Tangletooth.  Grizzlenik changes sides again and helps the adventurers.  Seeing his dearest companion dead, Gogmurt draws upon his magicks to change into a dire badger!  Although Felix tries to hold on, Gogmurt wriggles free and burrows into the ground to make good his escape. 

The heroes of Sandpoint make an immediate decision to withdraw before more reinforcements arrive.  Felix uses a healing potion to awaken Bey, and the group quickly makes their way out of the hedge maze and back to the horses.  Disoriented from their hasty flight, the adventurers find themselves temporarily lost in Nettlewood and have difficulty finding a safe campsite.  Eventually, after unfortunate run-ins with stinging nettles and goblinberries, they are able to make camp.  Nedrin uses corporal punishment on Grizzlenik for his earlier betrayal.  Desna favours the adventurers, and they face no further dangers in the night.

[5 Lamashan 4707]

Bey’s divine abilities to heal the adventurers allow them to return to Thistletop immediately.  This time, Felix bursts through the thistle door to see ten goblins ostensibly on sentry duty.  Alas, some are napping, others are distracted with arguing or playing games, and only a couple are ready for a fight.  Rather than repeat the mistake of fighting the goblins in the cramped tunnels, the adventurers cleverly lure the goblins to the entrance and fight on their own terms.  The disorganized, easily distracted goblins are mowed down in seconds.

The first battle of the group’s second incursion into Thistletop has been a rousing success!  But will their good fortune continue?

------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (17/04/2017)

The dire rats bursting out of the cow's stomach and the goblin dogs attacking the early morning campsite were, of course, random encounters.  The adventure path assumes that PCs will face random encounters and gives tables of monsters for different areas.  The challenging, but fun part of random encounters is trying to very quickly think of a semi-original reason why the PCs are running into the monsters.  This has to be done while the GM is frantically trying to organize the grid, finding minis, pulling up stats, and so forth, and all of the players are either staring expectantly (bad players!) or taking the opportunity to role-play (good players!).

The first intrusion into Thistletop really was as suspenseful as the recap described.  As the GM, I was shocked that Gogmurt (a goblin druid) and his animal companion were doing so well but then, somehow, the PCs turned things around and narrowly won the day and escaped with their lives.  They were wise not to press on any further, and were lucky the rolls were with them to avoid further random encounters while they rested.

For the second intrusion, I had to make notes to remind myself that the goblins should be really bad--verging on ridiculous--when it comes to combat.  It's part of their schtick that they're easily distracted, take ridiculous risks, and are the furthest things from sensible tacticians.  But since the PCs will face plenty of much harder challenges down the line, I don't mind throwing them some softballs early on.

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