Monday, July 31, 2017

Distant Worlds [RPG]

Distant Worlds is a 64-page softcover campaign setting book for Pathfinder that's like no other: instead of detailing a particular region of Golarion, this book takes you into space!  Well-known as one of the few campaign setting-line books to receive a second printing due to its popularity, the goal of Distant Worlds is to provide an introduction and overview to the planets that share a solar system with Golarion.   The Inner Sea is great and planar travel has its appeal, but sometimes a story needs to travel to whole new worlds and encounter strange, alien civilizations: if you're inclined in such a direction, this is the book for you.

The front cover is certainly cool and eye-catching, and evokes the "sword and planet" genre that inspires much of what's inside the book.  The artwork is reprinted as the inside back cover, while the inside front cover provides a map of the solar system, showing the order of planets from the sun.

The Introduction (two pages) makes clear that this isn't intended as a brand new campaign setting (much less a brand new game like Starfinder), but is instead a whole new set of locales that heroes from Golarion can travel to and adventure on.  Thus, the focus is on what outsiders to these planets will experience, and how they'll survive the journey to get there.  I especially like the couple of paragraphs on how the gods of Golarion aren't necessarily known deities on other planets, and that their portfolios may be encompassed by deities completely unheard of to the PCs.

The first and by far largest section (48 pages) of this book is a gazetteer of the bodies that make up Golarion's solar system.  Each of the planets receives four pages of coverage made up of statistics (diameter, mass, gravity, atmosphere, and orbit), a general description, a few paragraphs on what adventuring there would be like, a half-page chart of key locations on the planet, a couple of pages of written description of those locations, and then a few brief adventure hooks that GMs can use to draw PCs to that planet.  Given that entire worlds are being described in just four pages, readers need to have their expectations in the right place: this is an introduction, not an exhaustive treatment.  I found the interior artwork very hit or miss: many of the aliens are very cool and evocative, but some of the other drawings are rather mediocre.  Anyway, here's a quick run-down of what's covered:

* The Sun:  This is actually just a one-page summary, but it's actually kind of cool--I never thought about setting adventures on the sun!  In Pathfinder, there's actually stuff there, including magically-protected "bubble cities" that would make an awesome setting for an adventure.

* Aballon:  A rocky world that is the closet planet to the sun, occupied by a vast society of machine intelligences created by mysterious (and now departed) First Ones.  There's a really cool cultural divide among the intelligent machines between Those Who Wait (who believe that their creators will someday return and justify their existence) and Those Who Become (who believe that they should leave and seed another world, becoming First Ones themselves).  Another location that stands out is Horsethroat, a small settlement of about 50 people from Golarion (and other worlds) who have arrived, quite accidentally, through a portal from their homeworld and are now trapped on Aballon.  It's a natural starting point for PCs to begin their adventures amongst the stars (even if the "fall through a portal" adventure hook is overused in the book).

* Castrovel:  Home to both the elven nation of Sovyrian (with major story ties to the fate of elves on Golarion) and the lashunta, a humanoid race with major and fixed divisions between the societal roles of the sexes.  There's a plethora of awesome stuff on these four pages, including some fascinating hints about a mysterious portal network on the planet, some links of which have become dangerous.  The ties between Castrovel and Golarion are so strong, it would be fantastic to see an AP that crosses between the two planets.

*  Golarion's Moon:  This section is only two pages long, but there are some interesting story elements here, as the moon was once colonized by ancient Azlanti, and there's a demon-infested area called the Moonscar (the subject of a Pathfinder module).

* Akiton:  That massive four-armed creature on the book's cover is a Shobhad from the harsh, red desert planet of Akiton.  This is a classic "sword and planet" setting, but features two races that we'll be seeing a lot more of in Starfinder: the ysoki (ratfolk) and Contemplatives of Ashok (floating giant brains!).  I appreciate that the book's author, James Sutter, took care to insert details of continuity from previous Pathfinder sourcebooks, like noting that there's a strong link between the Contemplatives and an artifact found in the Mwangi Expanse on Golarion that was first detailed in Heart of the Jungle.

*  Vercies:  A tidal locked planet, with a Darkside and a Fullbright area sandwiching a narrow habitable zone along the equator.  There's a great picture on page 22 of one of the three castes of the planetwide Vercite species.  This is one of the more "high-tech" planets in the solar system and has a nice SF feel that sets it apart from Golarion's traditional fantasy setting.

* The Diaspora: Millions of asteroids, large and small, form the Diaspora.  The asteroid belt has a cool history perhaps linked to the Starstone, and is home to a race called the Sarcesians.  There's a ton of great adventure possibilities detailed in these four pages, with the Vacant Halls and the Wailing Stone serving as natural destinations for explorers.

* Eox: What if you built the Death Star on a planet, but the one time it was fired it caused untold destruction of your own world?  That's sort of the backstory to Eox, a planet where the survivors of a doomsday weapon have turned to necromancy and undeath in order to survive on a blasted world.  Eox is one of the most memorable parts of Distant Worlds, as the resident Bone Sages are cool and creepy at the same time.  There's a location on the planet called the Halls of the Living which is mad-genius Sutter at his best.

* Triaxus: Interesting concept of a planet with a long (317 years!) orbit, so generations are either "summer-born" or "winter-born."  There's a surprising amount of dragon stuff, which isn't really my cup of tea, but it's done well.

*  Liavara:  An enormous gas giant with several moons.  The moons provide lots of variety and adventure possibilities, and I can't argue with the fantastic depiction of a giant creepy bug called The Forever Queen on p. 39 (just pay attention to the little guy at the bottom left to understand the scale!).

* Bretheda: Purple gas giant with natives that are . . . difficult for outsiders to understand.  I found the planet's moons to be the most interesting, many of which are so intriguing I wish they would have had additional pages devoted to them.

* Apostae:  This is the classic "world-ship" SF trope, and I'm stoked to see it here.  My mind instantly jumped to an AP focussed on how to get to the mysterious "vault" at the center of the planet to understand the creators and purpose of Apostae.  Interestingly, each resident of Apostae is biologically significantly different to every other one, so the PCs will likely stand out simply due to their (probably) shared humanoid-bipedal features!

* Aucturn:  A cool, mysterious planet at the very edge of the solar system.  Unlike all of the others, there are no magical portals to Aucturn, meaning it's a hard place to get to!  The write-up shows some intriguing links to the Old Ones and the Dominion of the Black, but there's only two-pages of information on this one.

* Other Worlds:  The part ends with a two-page overview of some miscellaneous topics: constellations, Cynosure (Golarion's north star), the Dark Tapestry (the haunted void between the stars), and the Ice Belt.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the material here, and would rather have seen it used for something else.

Part Two, Stellar Adventures, is just four pages long but they're an extremely important four pages.  It's here we get some insight into ways for PCs to travel to other planets, including portals, spells, and vessels.  There are brief discussions on how to handle environmental problems (including vacuum, extremely high and low gravity and temperature, etc.).  Last, there are two new spells ("Planetary Adaptation" and "Mass Planetary Adaptation") and a new magical item ("Pressure Suit"), all of which are indispensable.  GMs planning a space-based campaign should note that this section sets some very broad rules, but leaves the vast majority of questions that are bound to come up to GM discretion.  Again, this is an introductory sketch to an interplanetary campaign, not a full rules system.

Part Three, Aliens, is eight pages long.  One of the best parts of this section is a list of the couple of dozen of established Pathfinder "monsters" that are explicitly extraterrestrial in origin or that could logically be found on particular other planets.  The list is drawn from Bestiary 1, 2, and 3, so there are probably more recent monsters from volumes 4, 5, and 6 that could be used as well.  Last, six new alien creatures are given stat blocks and descriptions: the insectile machine creatures called Aballonians, the dirigible-like Brethedans, the previously-mentioned giant brains called Contemplatives of Ashok, the Dragonkin of Triaxus, giant interplanetary "space whales" (capable of being used as transports) called Oma, and the four-armed giants from Akiton called Shobhad.  Interesting, creative ideas executed well.

Distant Worlds is a campaign setting book that will either sit on a shelf gathering dust (if you play purely pre-published materials like APs, PFS scenarios, and modules) or serve as *the* book for a homebrew campaign in which the PCs find themselves on alien worlds.  It's thus not a must have for most GMs, but if you have serious plans to integrate Golarion's solar system into your campaign, then it's indispensable.  There are a ton of great ideas in the book, and even if it's not quite as spectacular as some of the buzz indicates, it represents a worthy expansion of Pathfinder's core campaign setting.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fingers of Death--No, Doom! [RPG]


Fingers of Death--No, Doom! is a four-part series of Pathfinder web fiction (available for free here) that is more light-hearted in tone than most other stories in the line.  Darvin, a human, and his adopted brother Fife, a halfling, dine out on made-up stories and make a living selling fake charms from their "adventures."  The two get more than they bargained for when they encounter a real monstrous threat.  The story, which takes place in Andoran, has a really engaging, classic hook and by the point I reached the funny (and exciting) cliffhanger that ends the first chapter I already wanted to spend more time with the characters.  The plot is rather slight even for just a short 4-part web fiction, but the premise is fun.  If you like something a bit more on the silly side when it comes to gaming fiction, this story could be the one for you.


The first paragraphs of Chapter 1 are over-the-top generic fantasy, and the reader has to push through a bit before realizing that, of course, it's a story being related by one of the characters in order to score free drinks.  Darvin and Fife end up finding themselves investigating a house once frequented by a necromancer, and facing the safeguards left behind: crawling hands!  There's a *lot* of sequences involving the crawling hands, probably more than necessary, but Chapter 3 is a lot of fun regardless.  I don't know if Darvin and Fife have enough depth to sustain a longer tale, but they're just right for something like a short story.

Friday, July 21, 2017

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 65 [RPG]

[11 Flamerule 1372 continued]

At Wayward House, Urist McBronzebottom draws the inebriated and weakened Markus up to their room.  Dolcetto receives a visit from Guard-Captain Brinn, who reports having searched the warehouse where the kenku attacked quite thoroughly and having found no traces of battle or the missing "Markus' Marauders."  Brinn implies that Dolcetto may have filed a false report just for fun, citing "feathered bird-men riding giant rats," and cautions her against trying again.  Next door, Mellia tells Cain that she thinks Ralkin will come along on their mission to Nesme but that they'll have to be very careful how they explain things to Fargrim.  She says they should focus on "liberating the city from an evil god."  Cain agrees and notes Mellia's skill with words.  After everyone has turned in for the night, Dolcetto sleeps for just a couple of hours and then identifies the longsword and chain shirt the party took from the dead half-orc Ikenvar long ago.

[12 Flamerule 1372]

A few hours after midnight, as the inhabitants of the beautiful city of Silverymoon slumber, a sharp rapping is made on the door to the chamber where Markus and McBronzebottom sleep.  A voice calls out claiming to be Slace, one of the  Marauders, with a message from the kenku.  When the bleary-eyed Markus opens the door, however, he realizes he's been tricked by the legendary kenku facility with ventriloquism!  Two assassins stand in the doorway and stab at the unprepared adventurer.  One of the strikes goes awry, but the second blade plunges deep into Markus side.  Instants later, bolts of pure energy fly forth from somewhere in the darkened corridor and smash into Markus' chest!

As Markus retreats back into the room, McBronzebottom leaps up quickly and skewers one of the assassins with a mighty thrust from a bastard sword!  Although the dwarf has blocked the doorway, Markus isn't safe yet.  Suddenly, the head of a massive rat smashes through the window and bites Markus in the shoulder!  The sounds of the battle rouse the other adventurers sleeping in nearby rooms.  Dolcetto turns herself invisible and then casts a spell on Fargrim allowing him to fly.  The surprised dwarf hurtles through the air and nearly decapitates an assassin who had retreated from McBronzebottom's fury.  It's clear that the attackers are focussing on Markus, and that some of them have spellcasting ability.  The swordsman is hard-pressed, but manages to defend himself with claws and bites.  Dolcetto follows Fargrim through the corridor and casts a nefarious illusion into an assassin's mind, making him see his worst fears and then suffer a fatal heart attack.  Meanwhile, Mellia and Ralkin enter the corridor and take stock.  Cain, for his part, decides to remain in his room.  After McBronzebottom knocks one of the attackers to the ground and then levies a mighty overhead slash, only one assassin remains visible.  The kenku tries to flee, but Fargrim cuts him off and then Markus unleashes a mighty roar; the kenku drops to the ground, terrified!

Fargrim hauls the kenku into the privies and douses his head until he confesses that he was hired by Villiam Teeal to kill Markus.  Teeal was enraged that Markus didn't aid him during the final battle at the Academy.  The captured kenku, who offers his name as Silverbeak, also claims that Markus' Marauders are being held in the basement of Teeal's house.  After a startled chamberlain is sent to fetch the guards, Dolcetto tells Silverbeak she'll let him live if he makes a full confession.  Silverbeak is happy to do so and is hauled away by a somewhat-apologetic Guard-Captain Brinn.  Markus follows the pair, as Brinn has offered the injured swordsman healing by the cleric on duty at the local watchhouse.  From the priest, Markus hears rumors of orcs gathering somewhere to the north and that the city of Nesme is said to have fallen under the sway of an evil cult after heroically fighting off a massive army of the undead.

Back at the inn, Dolcetto proceeds to start stripping the corpses of their weapons and equipment.  She soon realizes that one of the bodies has already been stripped, and confronts the likeliest suspect: Ralkin!  Ralkin, however, claims not to know where the stripped gear is.  The tiefling resorts to trying to cast an enchantment on him to get him to confess, but the powerful wards of Silverymoon block the spell from having effect.  Dolcetto leaves, after again asking about Myst's body and being told that the problem is being handled.

In the morning, the tired adventurers are relieved to see that Markus' Marauders have been freed.  Markus buys them breakfast and learns that Villiam fled his home after leaving a threatening note.  Partway through the meal, Markus is startled to see a figure he thought was dead: Myst!  Markus follows Myst outside, and the tiefling says he's returned to the land of the living for only one reason: to distribute some of his prized possessions to his friends.  He gives Markus a particular book for each of his adventuring companions, along with an explanation of why each was chosen.  A confused Markus returns to the common room, throws the books on a table, and tells his companions "one book each, pick one out."  

The adventurers proceed to spend the day on various errands.  Dolcetto has drawn up an adventuring charter that she hopes will receive the city's endorsement.  She journeys to the Star Court and hopes to have the charter entered into the Rolls, but is told by the clerk that, because the charter purports to be more than a simple contract between adventurers and actually binds Silverymoon itself as a party, it cannot receive mere routine assent.  Instead, Dolcetto will have to speak to Lord Calleus Jimayne, Master of the Rolls.  Dolcetto returns to the inn, hoping the promised invitation to speak to Lord Jimayne arrives before her planned departure.  Meanwhile, Fargrim decides to sell some of the weaponry taken from the dead kenku assassins and visits Mortimont's Fine Pastries, only to discover that Mortimont will soon be closing the shop.  Mortimont explains that he has "made a new connection with a special friend" and no longer has need of the store-front.  He promises Fargrim, however, that they'll meet again soon, "in this world or the next."  Elsewhere, Ralkin commissions the creation of a very special item.  Late that afternoon, Mellia finishes learning a spell to defend against elemental attacks, Cain picks up a new suit of full plate armor, and Fargrim receives visible proof from Ralkin that Myst is still dead.  The mystery of Myst's brief re-appearance to distribute the books puzzles the group, as the books are fairly ordinary tomes on particular topics like religion, nature, and so forth.  None are magickal, trapped or cursed.  Fargrim uses the gift of a book as an opportunity to try something he's never done before: learn how to read!  McBronzebottom is happy to help, and the two dwarves quickly become friendly.

In the evening, Mellia and Cain pull Fargrim aside for an important talk about Nesme.  Mellia begins by explaining that she and Cain plan to travel to Nesme to complete the task that Cain was given long ago and neglected for the sake of the party.  She says their mission is to free the city from an insidious cult, and allow the inhabitants to seek refuge elsewhere, thus leaving the city's decrepit buildings and taint of evil and death behind.  "We must remove their reason to say," she says, "so they can move to some place safe."  Fargrim replies that he doesn't quite understand, but Mellia says everything will be explained fully once they're outside of Silverymoon and ready to teleport directly to Nesme.  Fargrim agrees, but notes that liberating an entire city sounds like a difficult task.  Moreso, he expresses concern over the terrible nightmares that are likely to return once he's left the sanctity of the city's wards.  Cain says the best way to remove this problem, which plagues them both, is to cut it off at the source.  As soon as Nesme is dealt with, the group can focus on uncovering the source of the nightmares below Startop Mountain.

After confirming Fargrim's participation in the mission to Nesme, Mellia speaks with Dolcetto.  Dolcetto states her firm intention to travel directly to Startop Mountain with whomever will accompany her.  She says that until the two groups are reunited, any treasure found by the faction in Startop will be split amongst the faction, including the Crown of Horns itself.  Mellia shows no concern over mundane treasure, but her eyes blaze at the mention of the Crown.  She says if the Crown is found, that will be a different matter entirely.  Dolcetto wishes Mellia the best of luck in the spirit of sportsmanship.  A rift has occurred, with Mellia leading one faction and Dolcetto the other.  Will they continue as rivals or reconcile?

The adventurers rest for the night, continuing to pay the high room fees at Wayward House.

[13 Flamerule 1372]

Stormclouds loom on the horizon as morning dawns.  In Silverwood, Syd finishes a druidic ritual to safeguard an important grove.  Back in the city, Dolcetto talks with Fargrim privately about whether the dwarf will join her in going to Startop Mountain.  Fargrim replies that the quest to liberate Nesme is an important one and that he'll be joining Mellia's group.  Dolcetto asks Fargrim to remember Mellia's overheard statement about "razing the city to the ground," but Fargrim says he'll keep a close eye and will not violate his honour.

Dolcetto proceeds to post advertisements for adventurers to join her in a quest to Startop, promising "glory and wealth beyond measure."  Markus notices Dolcetto distributing the handbills and expresses surprise that Mellia is going to Nesme.  Dolcetto confirms it, and suggests Cain has led Mellia down a dangerous path.  Markus says he'll go with Dolcetto, and bring McBronzebottom with him, as it's too dangerous to remain in the city with Villiam Teeal on the loose.

Mellia works to add another party member to her faction, telling Ralkin about an evil cult in Nesme and being quite honest about her intention to raze the city to the ground.  Ralkin seems quite happy to go, but says he needs to wait until late the following afternoon.  Mellia, worried that Dolcetto may cause her group trouble, tells Ralkin that he should meet her approximately three hours west of the city, on the road leading out of the Moorgate, because she and the others will plan to camp there overnight.  The kenku agrees.

Markus arrives as Mellia, Cain, and Fargrim pack their things and prepare to leave Silverymoon.  The swordsman gives Cain a book on history with passages about diplomacy heavily underlined.  Mellia tells Markus that she wishes him luck and safety, but he can't look her in the eye.  "Don't get killed," he says.  Fargrim hurries away for a hasty private word with Dolcetto, telling her that he'll return if Cain or Mellia plan "something extreme."  The two part as friends.  After a fond farewell to McBronzebottom, Fargrim rejoins Cain and Mellia.  The three leave Silverymoon, confirming that the once-unified adventuring company has now split in two.

Next Recap

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Advanced Player's Guide [RPG]

If you own a Core Rulebook and a Bestiary, what Pathfinder book should you buy next?  A campaign setting book or an adventure module would be good answers, but if you're looking for more character options, the best answer would be the Advanced Player's Guide.  This was Paizo's first big player-oriented hardcover to be released after the Core Rulebook, and it's safe to say they knocked it out of the park.  This book has stood the test of time and still contains fantastic options for the game even though it was released several years ago.  If you're playing PFS on a budget, for example, and you have to be choosy with what books or PDFs you buy, start with the Advanced Player's Guide.  You'll find enough options in there to keep you busy for years. 

What follows is a chapter-by-chapter review.  Do keep in mind that this book pre-dates the publication of classes like the magus, vigilante, kineticist, etc., so you won't find options directly designed for them.  In addition, because it's part of the RPG line, it does not contain Golarion-specific flavour (though everything in here is compatible with the setting).  As a whole, I would classify the art as in the lower-middle spectrum of what Paizo can do, with a lot of reused mediocre stuff from earlier books.  The layout as a whole, however, is quite nice.

Chapter 1 (Races):  After an Introduction that's really just an expanded table of contents, Chapter 1 expands the options available for Core races (those found in the Core Rulebook).   For each race, a sentence or two describes how each of the Core classes and the so-called Base classes (those found later in this book) are represented within the culture.  I found this section was fairly generic and tried too hard to make it sound like each class was common in each race, so there wasn't anything that seemed special.  Next up are alternative racial traits for the Core races.  These are important in that they allow a player to swap out one of the special features of a race (like an elf's automatic familiarity with elven weapons, or a gnome's resistance to illusion) for a different special feature.  In other words, it's a good way to customize your PC just a little more and ensure that not all dwarfs are skilled at stonework, for example.  Last, this chapter presents new favoured class options for each of the Core races: instead of the normal rule that a new level in a favoured class provides 1 hit point or 1 skill point, these new options allow a particular race to get something different.  For example, a gnome with the favoured class of bard could get an extra round of bardic performance each day, or a half-orc with the favoured class of fighter could get an additional +2 to stabilization rolls when dying.  Note that each race only has new favoured class options for handful of classes (not all of them).  Unlike the alternate racial traits, I wasn't particularly impressed with the flavour or thought given to the new favoured class options: many of them didn't seem to have any particular tie to the race.  Half-orcs, for example, can increase their bomb damage if their favoured class is alchemist, while human paladins can start to get energy resistance--there's nothing in the write-up of these races that make these bonuses seem natural or logical.  From an optimization perspective, these new favoured class options are quite useful--I just wish they were better from a storytelling perspective.

Chapter 2 (Classes):  One of the most important things that the Advanced Player's Guide brings to Pathfinder is the introduction of six new "Base" classes:  the Alchemist, Cavalier, Inquisitor, Oracle, Summoner, and Witch.  I don't have a lot of space to review each one, so I'll try to be concise. 

The Alchemist fills a real niche in the game, is quite versatile, and would be really fun to play. They get special abilities to rapidly make alchemical items (of course), but also can manufacture bombs, cast magic spells (in the form of drinkable "elixirs"), and temporarily "hulk out" by drinking a "mutagen."  As a GM, my only concern is the fact that the bombs resolve against Touch AC, so in games I've run the alchemist PC hardly ever misses and does substantial amounts of damage as an area effect.  I also think that perhaps the mutagen feature should have been reserved for a specific "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" archetype, as I don't thik it fits well as part of the basic assumption of alchemists.

The Cavalier could probably have been better represented as a Fighter archetype.  Cavaliers are mounted knights who swear an oath to follow the precepts of a particular order.  Different orders provide different bonuses, Cavalier's mounts are hardier than normal, and the class provides PCs and their allies with some limited use of teamwork feats (discussed below).  As written, the class is fairly bland, and I don't think it fills a hole in what could be covered well by other classes.  You also see Cavaliers relatively rarely in gameplay because, frankly, they're just inferior to other builds (and I should know, because I've played one for a couple of years now!).

The Inquisitor is one of those classes I'm a bit torn about.  The idea is that they're specialists in rooting out corruption and heresy within their faith, which is thematically really cool: but I don't see how that fits naturally with the activities of the vast majority of adventuring parties in the game.  The class is conceptually unique and has a lot of cool and useful abilities, some of which seem to fit from a flavour perspective (like Bane) but others that just seem kind of random (like Monster Lore and Cunning Initiative).

The Oracle is another interesting class that I'm unsure about conceptually.  Mechanically, they're spontaneous divine spellcasters who don't worship deities per se but instead strive to unravel a particular "mystery."  As they advance in level, they get "revelations" which are special powers.  Some of the revelations are really cool, and the mysteries are very flavourful.  I like the class better after reading it carefully, though I'm still not sure about the name of the class (since divination isn't the focus) nor about the vague relationship they have to deities.  They are a divine spellcasting class that is much simpler to play than clerics (though less effective), and thus potentially a good choice for new players.

The Summoner as presented in this book is infamous as the most overpowered class in all of Pathfinder, to the point where most GMs and PFS disallow it.  "Unchained" Summoners (as they're usually called in contradistinction to a different type from another book) are, of course, really good at summoning lots of monsters, which is annoying for everyone at the table because it dramatically slows down gameplay.  But more problematically, each Summoner gets an "eidolon" which is a bit like a completely customizable and incredibly powerful monstrous animal companion.  If you have an Unchained Summoner, you may as well be playing a solo campaign because you probably don't need anyone else in the party to win most encounters.  I'm not sure how the Unchained Summoner ever made it through playtesting, but it stands as an example that even great companies like Paizo can make major mistakes.

The Witch is a full (up to 9th level spells) spellcasting class that receives special powers called hexes.  Some of the hexes are really flavourful and cool, and the concept of the class as a whole is one I really like.  There are two things about the class I'm not a fan of:  first, familiars are a major part of the class and as both a player and a GM I find familiars really annoying to deal with (because they rarely contribute positively to a play experience); second, each witch receives bonus spells depending on what "patron" they choose, but the patrons are just abstract concepts (like "Agility" or "Water") and have no substance or flavour to them, and no real potential for story development.  I think it was a bland and almost forgettable way of implementing a really cool idea (mysterious forces granting a character power in exchange for . . .?).  I should also note that one of the witch's hexes, Slumber, has proven overpowered and problematic at a lot of tables.

So as a whole, I think the Alchemist is a real success, while Witches, Oracles, and Inquisitors are solid additions to the game.  The Cavalier is mostly forgotten, while the Summoner is a good example of what not to do in terms of game design. 

The Classes chapter then continues by offering each of the Core classes something special, often in the form of "archetypes."  If you don't already know, archetypes are packages of abilities that swap out some of the features of a class in exchange for other features, and they've become an important part of most builds for experienced players.  Here's a summary of what each Core class gets.

1) Barbarians receive a lot of cool new options for rage powers (though, oddly, a lot of them relate to consuming alcohol) and several archetypes that don't change a lot of class features but that are quite good;

2)  Bards get some fantastic and (sometimes quite dramatic) archetypes, at least as written--but admittedly, I don't hear about them being played very often;

3) Clerics receive the introduction of "subdomains", which are, as the name indicates, "branch" domains.  A cleric with the Sun domain, for example, could now choose the replacement special power and domain spells of the Light subdomain.   It's a way to allow the further customization of clerics since they don't have a lot of class features to trade out for archetypes;

4)  Druids get archetypes that are all terrain-based and quite formulaic, along with a handful of "animal shaman" archetypes that have the same essential ability to gain an aspect of a particular animal's powers.

5) Fighters get a lot of archetypes, most of which are poor in terms of flavour ("Archer" or "Two-Handed Fighter") but some that are quite nutritious, as it were, to aiding particular combat styles;

6) Monks get a lot of archetypes, most of which are pretty bland but some, like the Zen Archer, the Monk of the Four Winds' Slow Time ability, and the Monk of the Healing Hand's capstone power are pretty cool;

7) Paladins get archetypes that are okay, but there's some clunky features for the Divine Defender and Sacred Servant.  There's also the introduction of the Antipaladin (formally an "Alternate" Class) which I know a lot of people demanded but I'm just not a fan of the concept because I think it devalues the essential goodness of the Paladin idea;

8) Rangers get new archetypes and some new combat styles.  I really like the Guide archetype, as the Terrain Bond feature seems much truer to the niche that rangers should fill as wilderness experts.  The Infiltrator and Skirmisher archetypes also get some cool stuff;

9)  Rogues receive 30 new rogue talents and 12 new advanced rogue talents to choose from, though most are of the "1/day, roll two d20s and take the better" on a specific skill check type.  I like the Fast Getaway talent (allowing a rogue to sneak attack and then withdraw), and imagine it would keep a lot of rogues alive.  The class also receives several archetypes, but most are pretty thin and forgettable (though the Cutpurse could be used to devastating effect depending on GM discretion);

10)  Sorcerers receive 10 new bloodlines, and although I'm not an expert on the class, they look useful and meaningful; 

11)  Wizards get new elemental schools to specialize in, and some of the special powers look like a lot of fun (like the Air school's Cyclone power or the Water school's Wave power).  There's also the introduction of "Focused Arcane Schools" which you can think of as "super specialization" in a particular aspect of a School in order to gain replacement powers.

Whew!  A lot of stuff in that chapter.  Moving on.

Chapter 3 (Feats) contains a *lot* of new feats.  The summary table which gives a one-line description of each one fills four pages.  Many of the new feats are standalone things, but others can be grouped by type: several give an additional use of class features ("Extra Rage Power", "Extra Rogue Talent", etc.), make it easier to use the new combat maneuvers introduced at the end of the book, create new metamagic options for spellcasting (with "Dazing Spell" responsible for a lot frustration to GMs), etc.  A new type of feat, Teamwork Feats, are introduced for the first time in this chapter.  The idea with Teamwork Feats is that if two PCs (or allied NPCs) have the same feat, they both get bonuses in particular situations: for example, if two PCs have the "Allied Spellcaster" teamwork feat, they each get a +2 bonus on caster level checks to overcome spell resistance.  I do like the concept, but the proven problem is that it's often hard to get other players at the table to have their PCs take the same one that you're taking, and the bonuses provided by the feats aren't so amazing that groups are inclined to carefully coordinate.

Chapter 4 (Equipment) contains about 25 new weapons (including some of those fun, weird polearms D&D veterans will recognize), a handful of new types of armor, a lot of new pieces of adventuring gear, and several new alchemical items.  There's not a lot here that's earth-shattering, though some items, such as Weapon Blanch, have become de rigeur for every smart adventurer.  It would have been nice if more of the equipment was illustrated, and that better choices were made on what was essential to illustrate: I know what an hourglass looks like, for example, and don't need a picture, but seeing what a "light detector" looks like would have been interesting.

Chapter 5 (Spells) has 57 pages of options for spellcasters of every stripe.  Reading through, I noticed a surprising number of cool Paladin spells, a lot of Bard "finale" spells (that are cast and instantly end bardic performance), and a lot of ninth level spells.  Some of the spells I really liked include Blaze of Glory, Fire Snake, and Hero's Defiance, and the picture of Cacophonous Call on p. 209 is hilarious.  Every spellcaster is bound to find something useful, but there are some problematic ones introduced in this chapter, like the Create Pit line, that GMs need to be aware of.

Chapter 6 (Prestige Classes) introduces eight new options that PCs could, but probably won't, strive for.  Pathfinder long had a reputation for not making much of the prestige class concept, and that's only recently begun to change.  Really fast verdicts:  1) Battle Herald: Love the concept, but everything is tied off an "Inspiring Command" bonus which just progresses too slowly, making the entire prestige class weak; 2) Holy Vindicator: no design room for the concept, and the abilities don't help; 3) Horizon Walker: the bonuses in some terrains are fantastic and in others completely "meh"; 4) Master Chymist: Classic Jekyll & Hyde alchemist; 5) Master Spy: I liked this more than I thought I would, and could see it used for a lot of NPCs or maybe a PC (in just the right campaign).  Gets clever and useful foils to most means of detection, but abilities come on line much later than they should for most adventures;  6)  Rage prophet: Not impressive.  7)  Stalwart Defender: Good, cool abilities that fit the theme, and a good capstone power.

Chapter 7 (Magic Items) has something of everything: magic weapons, armor, wondrous items, minor and major artifacts, etc.  The new metamagic rods are really powerful considering the price, the new staves are pretty boring, and there's a lot of stuff geared specifically for the new classes, which makes sense.  If you've dumped Strength and are relying on Muleback Cords, you've got this book to thank.  My only regret is that the chapter introduces so many fun cursed magic items, and I hardly ever get an opportunity to use any in a game.

Chapter 8 (New Rules) is an important chapter containing three new concepts:  additional combat maneuvers, hero points, and traits.  The additional combat maneuevers are Drag, Reposition, Steal, and Dirty Trick.  Your experience may differ, but in a few years of regular play I've honestly only ever seen the last type of maneuver used, and only in a single session.  The circumstances in which doing one of these maneuvers in place of a regular attack are just too rare, and using the maneuvers effectively requires an investment that's rarely worth it.  The second new concept are hero points, which some groups swear by.  They are basically an optional mechanic that give each player a limited pool of points to gain a big bonus on a roll, do something really cool, or save their character from certain death.  I imagine they do dramatically lower the lethality of the game, which some gamers would really appreciate.  Last is traits, which, although officially optional, have become a normal part of character creation for PFS and most home groups.  Traits are little bonuses a PC can get (each ostensibly half as powerful as a feat) that tie into and help form that character's backstory.  I really like the concept of traits; I just wish more players took the "backstory" part of the trait more seriously instead of just parsing lists for the most advantageous mechanical bonus.

The Advanced Player's Guide is a 335-page book, loaded with tons of options for PCs.  The crunch it provides is well-written and sound in terms of design, with a few exceptions pointed out above.  It has become an integral part of Pathfinder, and a book that's almost impossible to ignore.  Even though it was published seven years ago and thousands of pages of Pathfinder material has come out since, you really can't go wrong adding this book to your collection.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pathfinder Society Faction Pin: Grand Lodge [RPG]

These Pathfinder Society Faction Pins are only $ 5, so I picked one up at PaizoCon so I could use it with my "caveman" Shaman, Gurkagh (players can use the pin to add +1 or sometimes +1d4 to a skill roll once per session).  I then completely forgot I had it.  But anyway, this little pin is about the size of quarter, is made of a strong metal so it won't bend, has a partially-raised face, and a good clasp on the back so you're less likely to stab yourself if you actually wear it.  It comes in a little baggie attached to a card, and the back of the card contains a nicely written summary of the Grand Lodge, which is as good as anything when it comes to telling others what the lodge is all about.  I think the only thing I'm not sure about (and admittedly, I haven't played much PFS) is what the heck the symbol is supposed to represent--it's so stylized that I'm not sure if it's supposed to symbolically represent something or not!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Hamlet [RPG]

If you look close at this double-sided flip-mat, you can see the designer paid enormous attention to detail.  It's quite beautiful as such things go, and one of the best looking ones I've seen.

One side of Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Hamlet is a birds' eye view of seven buildings of various sizes clustered around a central common.  I really like the added elements of the nearby field and the ruined watchtower, but it's really the little details that make it stand out: the well in the center of town (you can even make out the cranks), the stoops outside the front door of each building, the stacks of firewood, etc.  

The other side is a sort of mountain keep overlooking a river.  Buildings are clustered around the keep, and on this side we can see the interiors of each one.  The layout is done quite well, as you can trace the path up the different elevations and I can imagine some really interesting encounters.  This would serve well as a "headquarters" for an adventuring party, as it'd be easy to label the different rooms and buildings.  The building interiors are again quite detailed, with papers on the desks, trapdoors on top of the towers, and a statute in the keep's grand hall.  This side of the mat doesn't really fit what I think of when I think of a "hamlet", however, and might have been better suited to a "fortress" or "castle" flip-mat.

I've only had occasion to pull this flip-mat out once, but I certainly won't hesitate to do it again.  Not everyone notices or cares about the little details, but if you're someone who does, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 21 [RPG]

[3 Neth 4707 continued]

Having emerged as the victors in the battle at Habe’s Sanatorium, the visitors from Sandpoint quickly take action to secure the scene.  Bey stabilizes Caizarlu, and Ome uses manacles to bind the unconscious necromancer’s hands.  Ome and Artemis do a quick search of the rooms adjacent to the workroom but find little of interest: the orderlies’ bedrooms, a storage room, a worker’s entrance, and staircases going up and down.  While they’re searching, Bey chastises Arnald for his seeming inability to follow direction during battle:  “It is as though your ears are stopped with wax!” she tells him. 

After Habe’s decapitated body and Caizarlu’s bound form are searched, turning up several potions, wands, and key rings, the intruders decide to look for the object of their visit, Grayst Sevilla, on the upper floors.  The second floor contains five cells, two of them occupied by elderly patients—one quite senile, the other blind.  The group pauses at the stairs to the third floor, apprehensive about what they’ll find and unsure in what order they should proceed.  Eventually, with Arnald in front, they climb up.

Arnald peers through the small barred window in the iron-banded door of the first cell, and is startled to see a hunched creature that looks like a furry human with a rat-like face and a long, naked tail: a wererat!  The occupant slyly promises to lead Arnald to great treasure if the mercenary lets him out, but Arnald refuses.  The middle cell of the room is empty, so the investigators decide it would be the perfect place to detain Caizarlu.  The third and last cell can be seen to hold a strait-jacketed figure with pale, greenish skin, wild hair, and milky white eyes.  From the window, Bey can tell the man is sick and quite close to death, but she’s not sure if he’s Grayst Sevilla or not.

 The group decide to search the rest of the building before returning to deal with the patient.  A look through a nearby examination room shows two operating tables covered in blood and other bodily matter, while a nearby cabinet is full of surgical tools.  It’s clear that whatever treatment was provided in this sanatorium involved surgical operations.  A search of the cellar proves even more interesting.  Three corpses, preserved with the magic of gentle repose, are laying on tables on what Bey is sure is a necromancer’s laboratory.  She determines that all three died from failed surgical procedures, and the connection between Caizarlu and Dr. Habe becomes clear.  Artemis discovers a wand of gentle repose hidden in a table leg, while Ome examines a map of the Sandpoint Hinterlands on the wall and sees it’s labelled as “Ghoul Activity” with multiple sites circled near the Foxglove River and the southern farms.  “But where is the source?” is another inscription.  Bey concludes that Caizarlu, although interested in ghouls, could not have been the party responsible for creating them.  A search of the old necromancer’s room turns up a thick tome; Bey cautiously determines from a distance that it is magical, and concludes it is a magical book, the prolonged study of which could increase an individual’s mental aptitudes!

Grayst Sevilla, lone survivor of a ghoul attack.
Returning to the third floor, the group decide the strait-jacketed prisoner in the third cell must be Grayst Sevilla.  Careful plans are made on the best way to get close enough to him for Bey to safely use the remove disease scrolls the group wisely obtained before coming.  After unlocking the iron-banded door, Bey cautiously pokes Sevilla with the blunt end of her bardiche, but the man, although conscious, is completely unresponsive.  Arnald carefully steps into the room and restrains him.  Sevilla doesn’t struggle at all until Bey enters the room and stands next to him.  His eyes bulge when he notices her for the first time, and he begins speaking, more and more frantically:  “He said.  He said you would visit me.  His Lordship.  The one that unmade me said so.  He has a place for you.  A precious place.  I’m so jealous.  He has a message for you.  He made me remember it.  I hope I haven’t forgotten.  The master wouldn’t approve if I forgot.  Let me see. . . let . . . me . . . see . . .  He said that if you came to his Misgivings, that if you joined his Pack, he would end his harvest in your honour!”  Sevilla then starts shaking violently, froths at the mouth, and bursts the seams of his strait-jacket!  However, Arnald somehow manages to hold on despite the man’s insanity-fuelled strength, giving Bey enough time to read her scroll.  She succeeds in casting the spell, but it has no effect!  She tries again with the second scroll, but, again, failure!  Deciding that there’s no other option given the risk of Sevilla spreading ghoul-fever, Artemis and Ome kill the man with arrows fired from point-blank range.

Their grim task accomplished, Ome asks Bey about this “Lordship” that keeps trying to send her messages.  Artemis says he sounds like a psychotic lover, but Bey replies she has no idea who it could be.  Conversation turns to what to do about what the group has identified as a wererat in the first cell.  Bey suggests killing it to prevent its curse of lycanthropy from spreading, but Artemis says the fellow could have been an innocent, and his behaviour indicates he may have been institutionalized for years.  They decide to let the creature live, for now.  After Artemis makes sure the remaining inmates have enough food for the next couple of days, the group leave the sanatorium, taking the still-unconscious Caizarlu with them.

Farmer Maester Grump warns of terrifying events.
The first couple of miles of journey towards Sandpoint is uneventful.  As the group reach the bridge over Cougar Creek, they see a patrol of five members of the Sandpoint Town Watch.  Artemis explains what happened at Habe’s Sanatorium and that they have a prisoner.  Suddenly, the galloping of hooves can be heard coming towards the two groups from out of the brush to the southeast.  A horse, running full tilt and lathered with near-exhaustion, is carrying a rider and is about to collide with those on the bridge!  Arnald moves quickly to intervene, literally charging the horse and slamming into it to halt its momentum!  The impressive display of strength is followed by the horse’s rider awkwardly dismounting.  The man, dressed in overalls and a straw hat, is clearly a farmer, and he’s also clearly quite drunk.  One of the watchmen identifies him as Maester Grump.  Grump tells a rambling, confusing story about walking scarecrows at the Hambley place, and concludes with a sob: “they even ate the dogs!”  After learning from one of the watchmen that the Hambley farm is on the northwestern edge of Whisperwood and connecting the location to those circled on Caizarlu’s map, the adventurers realize that the “walking scarecrows” may in fact be ghouls!

Everyone hurries on to Sandpoint.  The adventurers head straight for the garrison and quickly report to Sheriff Hemlock what happened at the sanatorium, concluding that someone will need to be sent to look after the remaining patients.  Sheriff Hemlock promises to see to it.  When he hears the report of problems at the southern farms, he details four of his men, led by Jodar Provolost, to travel with the adventurers and also says they can make use of the Watch’s horses for greater speed.  Sister Arva is fetched from the cathedral for some emergency healing, and then the adventurers and their Watch escorts set off again with little delay.

The eight warriors make good speed south on the Lost Coast Road, but as they get further south they can see several local farmers hurrying north.  Rumours are flying about walking scarecrows coming out at night to feed, glimpses in the dark of  . . . things, and neighbours visiting nearby farms and finding them completely deserted!  Bey ensures that none of the refugees are injured or suffering from ghoul fever, and lets them go on their way.  She vocalizes what many in the group suspect: this could be a trap set by “His Lordship”!  Passing by Ashen Rise and Brinestump Marsh, the travellers continue south until they cross over Soggy River and find themselves in the heart of the southern farms nestled between the river to their north and Whisperwood to their south.  Jodar leads the group on some dusty farm trails through shoulder-high cornfields and other crops until they reach the outer edges of Hambley Farm.

There are several branching trails leading to different parts of the farm, and Jodar’s not exactly sure which to take.  Ome puts her tracking skills to good use by deducing that the most heavily travelled paths probably lead to the farmhouse.  Heading in that direction, a scarecrow can be seen bound to a wooden post.  Ome uses her divinely-granted ability to detect evil, and Bey casts a spell to determine if the thing is alive, dead, or undead!  Fortunately, it’s just an ordinary scarecrow stuffed with straw.  Just a few minutes later, however, the adventurers turn a bend and see another “scarecrow” moving and trying to pull itself free of its post!  Together, Bey and Ome discern that the creature is both undead and evil.  Before it can free itself, Ome and Artemis destroy it with arrows.  The decision is made to dismount, since the horses are not trained for combat.

Flesh-hungry ghouls!
Several more minutes’ travel brings the adventurers and town guards to a farmhouse and a barn.  Ome is able to sense the presence of six evil creatures within the barn, and one within the farmhouse.  Everyone starts talking about what their plan should be, but they make no effort to be quiet and the creatures inside the barn decide to investigate.  The barn’s sliding door opens to reveal several walking human corpses with pallid flesh and long, sharp teeth and claws: ghouls!  Arnald happens to be near the doorway, and reacts quickly, destroying two of the foul creatures with his greataxe.  But after a mere scratch from one of the ghouls, his muscles tense up and stop moving—he’s paralyzed!  Bey comes to his aide and drags him a few feet closer to safety, while two members of the Watch rush to take his place.  Artemis opens fire from the concealment of a nearly field, while Ome shouts for two guards to come with her so she can clear the farmhouse.

The two guards fighting the ghouls in the doorway to the barn inflict some minor wounds, but they’re no match for the creatures’ uncanny speed with claws and bites.  One of the watchmen is paralyzed and then gets his throat ripped out, while the other succumbs to his wounds and collapses, only to be fed upon!  Fortunately, Arnald regains control of his body and rushes back into the fray to cleave two more of the ghouls in twain, his efforts bolstered by Bey’s defensive magic and Artemis’ steady volley of arrows.  Meanwhile, in the farmhouse, Ome sees the place has been reduced to a shattered wreck of blood and violence.  On the kitchen table is the splayed body of a farmer, swarming with flies, with the Sihedron star carved into his chest and a scrap of parchment pinned to his tunic.  Ome heads for the area of the house she detected evil in from the outside, and opens a door to the master bedroom.  A nauseating stench roils over her as she sees a one-eyed corpse on the bed, wearing a large iron key on a cord around its neck.  Ome calls out to the two guards with her that there’s nothing here and they can rejoin the others.  But she’s spoken too soon: the eyes of the corpse open, its mouth widens into a malevolent grin, and it sits up in the bed and swivels its face towards her!  “His Lordship promised someone would come for me to feast on!” the undead abomination says.

The ghast, a creature akin to but more powerful than an ordinary ghoul, attacks before Ome can escape.  Her quick reflexes save her life, however, as the ghast’s claws and bites fail to land.  The tengu responds in kind, dropping her bow to bite and claw at the ghast!  But her attacks are charged with divine energy baneful to undead, and in moments the creature is destroyed.  Outside, another expertly fired arrow from Artemis destroys the last ghoul in the barn.

The adventurers have destroyed several undead at Hambley Farm, but two members of the Town Watch are dead.  Could there be more ghouls lurking in the fields or winding dirt tracks of the farm, waiting to spread their contagious evil?  And what message has “His Lordship” left this time?

Director's Commentary (July 17, 2017)

You've got to feel bad for poor Grayst, being put down like a rabid dog.  But Bey tried twice with the scrolls and couldn't get the caster level check high enough.

It was very smart to add the detail to Caizarlu's map, "Where is the source?", lest the PCs (quite understandably) assume that the necromancer was responsible for the ghoul outbreak.

It was clever of the PCs to use tracking to find the direct way to the farmhouse when they reached the Hambley holding.  Unfortunately for me, the direct way by-passed some really interesting encounters that could have caught unwary PCs.

I liked the little bit of the ghouls in the barn overhearing the PCs talking about what to do and deciding to attack first.  Players sometimes forget that monsters have ears too!

Ome going into the farmhouse all by herself could have gone very, very badly, so it was quite a victory that she destroyed the ghast in single combat.

By this point, there's been a lot of little clues pointing to "The Misgivings" as the source of the ghoul outbreaks, but my players hadn't really connected the dots yet.

Friday, July 14, 2017

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 64 [RPG]

[11 Flamerule 1372 continued]

The adventurers experience strange sensations while passing through the portal, and believe they can see their spiritual essences flying rapidly over hundreds of miles of landscape in just seconds.  They believe they "see" themselves approaching the city of Silverymoon, and then Multivar's ramshackle house, and then the room where his magickal mirror stands.  Their bodies, and that of Mortimont, his golems, and a stranger, are splayed on the ground.  Mellia, Syd, and Cain enter their bodies without difficulty.  Dolcetto and Fargrim feel an attraction to both their own bodies and that of each other, but each opts to re-enter their original form.    Myst approaches the body of Ralkin that he had been residing in, but suddenly a new spiritual entity blocks his path: the soul of Ralkin himself, which had been cast adrift into the ether after Myst's body was killed!  For a reason known only to himself, rather than contest possession of the body, Myst chooses to allow Ralkin's soul to survive.  The choice means that Myst's spirit will gradually discorporate, and he will know true death.

The adventurers awaken on the floor next to the mirror.  Mortimont, dressed in a sleeping gown, introduces the Mulan stranger that had accompanied him as Zenith.  Syd, suspicious of Mortimont and his affiliation with the Thayans, tries to surreptitiously pass his golembane scarab to Fargrim.  Although Mortimont notices, he doesn't seem concerned.  Upon gathering herself together, and pleased to be back in her original form, Dolcetto apologizes if she acted rudely or erratically during the group's time in Thay.  During the distraction of one of Mortimont's golems extricating itself from the hole it had caused in a nearby wall upon arrival through the portal, Ralkin hastily stuffs Myst's corpse into his bag of holding and slips away!

The kenku heads straight for the inn the group often stayed at while in Silverymoon, Wayward House, and books himself a room.  There, with privacy, he goes through the dead tiefling's possessions and reads a will wisely prepared by Myst.  The other adventurers find their way to Wayward House as well, except for Syd who trails Mortimont and Zenith to the former's storefront.  The halfling then flies to the Silverwood to check on Daisy and his animal companion, Garry.  Both are well, and Syd reports on the group's success in finding Cain.  Unbeknownst to the others, Syd is determined to remain near Silverymoon to keep an eye on Mortimont's activities and has a particular plan in mind to safeguard the area. 

As the exhausted adventurers settle in for the night, a long-standing member of the group finishes a long night of drinking with his new friend: Markus and Urist McBronzebottom are politely ushered out of a tavern.  Markus and McBronzebottom stumble drunkenly through the beautiful streets of Silverymoon and return to Wayward House, but the stern chamberlain, Havor Merendil, offers them only the storeroom in a bid to keep them from waking the other guests.  The two are soon snoring loudly.

While the others slumber, Cain and Mellia talk further about the quest they've undertaken to rout the priestesses of Auril in Nesme and to raze the city.  Mellia says she is worried about frost giants, and needs spells to protect against cold.  Cain states that he has none, but that problem can be easily rectified in the city before they leave.  On the subject of which companions they should take with them, a problem is posed by the limitations of Mellia's teleport spell: she can only take three others with her (including Cain).  The suggestion is made that Dolcetto is a poor choice, as she will not understand the goal and is prone to being argumentative; if Dolcetto heads straight for the Crown of Horns, Mellia concludes, she is unlikely to reach it by the time their attack on Nesme is completed.  Ralkin is said to be of use, and Fargrim as having the most potential to becoming a true acolyte of the Flamelord.  Cain says that Fargrim's power will indeed be needed.  Markus is said to be less useful than Fargrim, but also easily led and susceptible to suggestion.

The two begin to disagree, however, when it comes to how much effort, if any, needs to be taken to spare the inhabitants of the city.  Mellia says that the rabble should be forced to flee before the city is burned, but Cain suggests they are heretics for harbouring those sworn to Auril, and should be purified by Kossuth's holy flame.  The conversation takes an even darker turn when it comes to children: Cain says that any residents carrying the tokens of Auril must discard them or be slain, even children, but Mellia says she will not see children harmed for any reason.  She suggests they might even need to be escorted to safety, if their parents or others cannot join them in the Evermoors.  The dispute is not resolved before each realize that sleep is necessary if either is to be useful come daylight.

Late in the morning, the adventurers begin to rouse.  Over breakfast, Dolcetto gifts Fargrim a magickal ring to increase his strength.  She tells Ralkin that Myst's body should be returned to the group so they can see about raising him from the dead, but Ralkin says he will take care of it and just needs a day and a half.  Markus, sitting at a nearby table and rather hungover, realizes only with great difficulty that his allies have returned.  Fargrim and Dolcetto fill him in on their success in rescuing Cain, and Fargrim notices his old friends fingernails have grown to be rather long and sharp. Moments later, Mellia arrives in the common room.  Markus introduces McBronzebottom as "my second favorite dwarf", and the adventurers hear about Markus' exciting but ultimately failed attempt to win Ninefangs.  As he goes through his pockets to find something to blow his nose with, Markus sees a particular playbill that he remembered wanting to tell the others about: a theatrical production titled "The Crown of Horns" scheduled to run in the evening, "one-nite only."  He passes the playbill around.  When Cain arrives, Markus is shocked to see the alteration in the cleric's visage.

The adventurers discuss whether they should attend the play.  Mellia is very suspicious, but Dolcetto says it could be useful and there's not likely to be a trap set for them in the middle of Silverymoon.  The group's consensus is to spend the day preparing for further travels, but to reunite in the evening to attend the play.  The adventurers split up on various errands.  Mellia tracks down an arcane scroll containing a spell that will allow her to resist elemental attacks.  Fargrim and McBronzebottom, who have bonded quickly, decide to go "undercover" to investigate the warehouse where the play will be held.  The two find the burnt out hulk of a warehouse, a hastily-painted banner proclaiming "The Crown of Horns," and a steel coin-box chained to a post.  After hacking the door open, the two dwarfs see a makeshift stage inside but little sign of a theatrical production in progress: no actors, no costumes, no scenery, etc.  Elsewhere, Dolcetto heads to the Vault of Sages and sells some of the books she purchased in Thay, making a nice profit.  She then visits the Map House and commissions a custom piece on the Evermoors.  Markus, trailed by his "Marauders", also visits the Vault of Sages with a very particular purpose in  mind and leaves mostly satisfied.  Ralkin, for his part, spends the day locked inside his room at the inn.

That evening, when the adventurers have all returned to Wayward House, Fargrim reports that the warehouse where the play will be held looks suspicious.  The adventurers decide that although risk is involved, if it is a trap it should be sprung and if it's not, a vital clue might be found about the Crown of Horns.  They decide to proceed.  When they reach the warehouse and enter, they see a lone kenku sitting on the stage.  The kenku welcomes the group, says the play will start soon, and motions them to take seats in the otherwise empty warehouse.  He persuades Markus' Marauders to come "backstage" with him to be extras.  Soon, the man reappears on stage and asks Markus to stand up.  When the swordsman does so, arrows suddenly stream down from the rafters above!  "Called it!" shouts Fargrim, and a battle begins.

The attackers from above are revealed to be kenku archers riding pony-sized rats on the ceiling.  Markus is grievously wounded by the first barrage of arrows, so Dolcetto grabs him and McBronzebottom by the hands and chants an incantation to create a magickal doorway from thin air.  The three step through and find themselves hundreds of feet away from the warehouse.  They hurry back to the inn to treat Markus' wounds and alert the authorities.  Meanwhile, Mellia and Cain retreat outside.  Cain tries to summon a pillar of eldritch fire, but the city's ancient mythal stymies the spell.  Fargrim is left alone in the warehouse and bears the brunt of the kenku attacks, as his exit through the doorway is blocked by another assassin.  Mellia comes to his rescue by literally disintegrating a section of the wall, allowing the dwarf to leap through.  Mellia then summons black tentacles to slow the kenku down, and the three hastily retreat.  Their attackers choose not to follow.

Back at Wayward House, Mellia knocks on the door to Ralkin's room.  He opens the door just a crack, and the scent of incense wafts through.  Mellia tells him about the attack, and he asks why they would target Markus.  He warns them that the arrows could have been poisoned, but Cain determines that Markus' wounds are clean.  The swordsman is angry about the trap and determined to find out what happened to his "Marauders," but Dolcetto convinces him to wait for a report from the city guard.  Markus snaps at Cain and Mellia for acting so strangely since their return from Thay, and asks why the cleric hasn't even volunteered to heal his wounds.  Cain replies that the impure need to learn to accept suffering.  After further words are exchanged, Cain channels a spell to inflict a mild disease on the swordsman, sapping his strength!  Markus relents, slides into a chair, and calls for ale.  When Cain's anger passes, he finishes healing Markus's wounds.  Mellia whispers to the cleric that it is clear they should take Fargrim with them to Nesme rather than Markus.

Elsewhere in the inn, a conversation about Nesme is also taking place.  Dolcetto tells Fargrim that Mellia and Cain's actions since returning from Thay, especially their ill treatment of Markus, lead her to believe that the overheard conversation about "razing Nesme" was not a misunderstanding.  Dolcetto says she remains intent on returning to Startop Mountain to find the Crown of Horns, and hopes to recruit the other adventurers to come with her.  Fargrim seems sympathetic, but states that he must speak to Mellia to see whether his old friend has truly has taken an evil turn.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Fencing Master [RPG]


The Fencing Master is a free, four-part series of web fiction (available here) written by the Pathfinder Tales line's most successful author, Dave Gross.  The main character here is the protagonist of several Pathfinder novels: a Chelaxian nobleman and gentleman adventurer named Count Jeggare.   The story is set entirely in Korvosa as Jeggare visits a dueling academy in search of a bodyguard.  There's a lot of action in the serial, including an exciting scene set at a museum and a lot of sword-fighting.  A solid portrayal of what the Vigilante class looks like within the fictional world of Golarion is definitely a plus.  All in all though, I thought the story was fairly average, with only an intriguing dangling thread at the end to hint of better things next time.


I've read the first couple of Jeggare and Radovan novels, and this story must be set later in their continuity because Radovan is not present and Jeggare is auditioning for a replacement bodyguard.  It was a bit confusing at first.  A former Sczarni bravo named Vencarlo seems to be the best candidate as bodyguard and is hired on, only to chafe upon learning that Jeggare has lent his services to catching a notorious thief named Blackjack.  Vencarlo sees Blackjack as a sort of Robin Hood-type (stealing from the rich and helping the poor), so he tries to foil the ambush attempt.  There's some exciting scenes and a respectable revelation of who Blackjack is.  I also quite liked the revelation of the identity of a mysterious assassin as well (a beautiful noblewoman), and I hope that's a thread that gets picked up somewhere in the future.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 20 [RPG]

[2 Neth 4707 continued]

Having obtained scrolls of cure disease from The Feathered Serpent, the group decide to set out for Habe’s Sanatorium immediately.  There is but one problem: they don’t know how to get there!  Artemis asks around and gets directions, but as night falls the consensus is that it would be better to go in the morning.  The hardened warriors go their own way, planning to meet up again in the morning.

Das Korvut, Sandpoint's Blacksmith
Ome makes her way to the Pixie’s Kitten.  She notices a frantic giddiness in the brothel, as if everyone was trying to make the most out of a time that would soon end.  It’s clear both the staff and the clientele are worried about Titus Scarnetti’s public meeting about closing down the establishment.  Ome promises her friend Kaye Tessarani that she’ll help if anything happens, and might even be able to dig up dirt on Scarnetti.  Meanwhile, Artemis requisitions an official Sandpoint Town Watch tabard and discusses the investigation with Bosk Hartigan.  Bosk says that they’ve let Vin Vinder and Ibor Thorn ago, having learned little of value during questioning.  Across town, Arnald books one of the Rusty Dragon’s four “Luxury Suites” so he can sleep in style.  Out in the middle of the street, Bey suddenly emerges from her trance-state and realizes her allies just left her there.  She too makes her way to the Rusty Dragon, and her decision is a fortuitous one: Das Korvut is there, and tells her he’s been meaning to talk to her for a few days’ now.  He thanks her, in his own gruff way, for helping with the Chopper’s Isle matter, and says he’s been working on something over the last few weeks to say thanks.  He leads Bey back to his smithy and shows her a bardiche made with exquisite attention to detail and forged from cold steel.  He says maybe it’ll help her if there are any more demons like the one the adventurers fought in the catacombs under the city.  Bey is grateful for the gift.

[3 Neth 4707]

Overnight, Bey has a dream about turning into a werewolf!  When she comes down to the common room for breakfast, she sees Arnald and the two examine several notices nailed to the Help Wanted signpost by the inn’s entrance.  They decide to go to the Pixie’s Kitten and are stopped on the way by someone handing out leaflets for the upcoming town meeting on making prostitution illegal in Sandpoint.  Meanwhile, at the Pixie’s Kitten, Ome dresses early and notices Sheriff Hemlock slipping out a backdoor to an alleyway behind the building.  Ome grins and makes her way out front and sees that Artemis has made the planned rendezvous on time.  Once everyone is together again, Bey shows the flier and says she plans to speak up at the meeting, stating that too much order ousts any role in society for serendipity and luck.  The others notice Bey’s new bardiche, and ask why she now carries two.  Since it’s too far to backtrack to the Rusty Dragon, she persuades Vorvashali Voon, who is just opening up for the day, to hold on to the old one for her until she returns.

The three adventurers and Artemis set off south along the Lost Coast Road.  They cross a bridge across a stream flowing south, turn west to follow the road around some low foothills, cross Cougar Creek, and then find themselves upon Ashen Moor and the northernmost farms in the Sandpoint hinterlands.  As they’re walking, a projectile is suddenly launched from the direction of a nearby tree!  It strikes Ome right in the chest, but, fortunately, it’s just a rotten apple.  Ome nocks an arrow and runs towards the tree, shouting for her attacker to come down.  A farm kid climbs down, looking abashed and scared, and whistles for her sibling, hidden in another tree, to do the same.  Artemis sternly warns the children against a repeat incident, and the kids run back home.

The group’s journey continues as the Lost Coast Road curves southeast to skirt the edges of Brinestump Marsh to the west.  Seeing the limestone escarpment known as Ashen Rise pass behind them on the left, Artemis realizes they’ve gone too far.  They backtrack and take some farm roads to the northern face of the escarpment.  A couple of hours after having left Sandpoint, they reach their destination.  There, nestled up against the rock, is The Saintly Haven of Respite, more commonly known as Habe’s Sanatorium.

Doctor Erin Habe of the The Saintly Haven of Respite
After climbing up on a creaky wooden veranda and entering a door marked “Reception”, the travellers find themselves in a waiting room.  They tug a bellpull and some moments later, Dr. Erin Habe enters the room.  Habe, a nervous man who seems to be in a hurry, listens as the travellers explain their reason for coming and present Sheriff Hemlock’s letter of introduction.  Habe explains that he’s in the middle of a very delicate procedure at the moment but that he can make time if they come back the next day.  Impatiently, Bey lowers her bardiche to emphasize the importance of their visit, sending Habe shrieking out of the room in a fit of panic!

Bey and Arnald, weapons drawn, chase after Habe as he runs through a disused workroom shouting for orderlies.  Two tieflings armed with stout cudgels emerge from nearby rooms and stand protectively around Habe while the alienist frantically tries to unlock a door.  Meanwhile, Artemis and Ome have stayed behind, annoyed at their allies’ hasty actions.  Without hesitation, Arnald swings his greataxe and lodges the blade deep in the abdomen of one of the orderlies!  Artemis shoots Arnald in the back in an attempt to prevent what seems like clear-cut murder, and Bey casts a spell to save the life of the downed orderly.  While she’s distracted, however, the other orderly advances and lands a hard crack across the back of her head.

Arnald corners Habe and is about to deliver a killing blow, but pleas from his allies convince him to hold up at the last second and strike the man with the flat of the blade instead.  Habe drops to his knees and begs for mercy.  Ome and Artemis remain aghast at this entire turn of events, but Arnald appears uncannily prescient when another door opens into the workshop and four zombies shamble out!  They’re followed closely by an older Varisian man holding a dagger, chanting arcane words of power.  “Caizarlu, they’re going to ruin everything!” Habe shouts.  Habe draws a hidden dagger and tries to stab Bey.

Caizarlu Zerren, Basement Necromancer
Two of the zombies shamble towards Ome and Artemis, still in the reception area, while two more join the tieflings in the fight against Bey and Arnald.  This leaves Caizarlu unmolested, and he takes advantage by casting spell after spell at the intruders.  Arnald shakes off two magical attempts to blind him, but a zombie takes advantage of his distraction and scores a deep wound in the axeman’s back!  Bey weaves and dodges to get to a better position and manages to heal Arnald and then manifests an occult ability to burst into flames that somehow do not harm her but that set the zombies ablaze.  Arnald, enraged by the zombie attacks, takes his anger out on Dr. Habe: despite the man’s renewed begging and shouts that he only furnished Caizarlu with patients who died naturally, Arnald decapitates him with one mighty swing! On the other side of the room, finding her arrows largely ineffective, Ome shifts tactics.  She claws and bites at her attackers, and soon both are defeated.  

With the zombies destroyed and the orderlies and Dr. Habe all dead, Caizarlu stands alone.  But the old necromancer doesn’t give up.  He conjures illusory duplicates of himself to foil attacks and even drains some of the life from Arnald to heal himself!  But Arnald and Bey advance in unison, and soon their attacks are enough to wear Caizarlu down.  Moments before he can put his escape plan into action, he drops to the floor, bleeding and unconscious.

The visit to Habe’s Sanatorium certainly hasn’t gone as expected!  With several corpses and one unconscious necromancer on their hands, what will the group do next?  And without Dr. Habe, will they be able to get any information out of Grayst Seviilla?

Director's Commentary

I hadn’t plan to do anything in particular with the town’s brothel, The Pixie’s Kitten, but since we had an Inquisitor of Calistria as a PC, it seemed natural to tie it in.  I was really happy how the subplot turned out, as it also allowed me to incorporate Sandpoint’s conservative elements (in the persona of Titus Scarnetti) into the plot.  The storyline develops quite nicely in the next few sessions and had a fairly exciting conclusion.

The whole big battle at Habe’s Sanatorium could have gone very, very differently if the PCs had just waited a day and come back.  But Habe’s write-up specifically says that if the PCs make any threatening gestures, he panicks and runs.  My players know that if they try to have their PCs throw their weight around on NPCs, there can be consequences, so half of the group was convinced that it was a mistake to chase after Habe.  The irony, of course, was that Habe really was into some shady stuff.  That still probably didn’t justify him getting beheaded though!

We’ll see a common, though inexplicable pattern with the group: they somehow manage to turn what the AP writers intended as a series of discrete encounters into one massive encounter.  It definitely keeps things exciting and dynamic though, and probably speeds up gameplay in the end.

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