Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Gem [RPG]


Gary Kloster's The Gem, a 4-part series of free Pathfinder web fiction (available here), is something very different than the norm.  Rather than featuring adventurers and Golarion's well-established locations, The Gem spotlights the apprentice shaman of a small village in the Mwangi Expanse.  A prequel to the Pathfinder Tales novel Firesoul, The Gem is about coming of age and coming into power, plus the threats posed by outsiders who have more greed than wisdom.  There's plenty of action and some great cliffhangars.  Although the main character, Jiri, still needs some additional definition in order to be fully fleshed-out, on the whole this was a solid story with a protagonist much different than the norm.


In the village of Thirty Trees, Jiri is a young woman with fire powers she has difficulty controlling.  After a terrible accident, she's not fully trusted by her fellow villagers but has a kindly older mentor named Oza.  When Oza has to leave the village on a brief trip, he leaves Jiri in the role of village shaman.  That's of course when danger comes in the form of outsiders who are attempting to bring back the intact egg of a monster I hadn't heard of until this story: a grootslang!  Grootslangs are a monstrous mix of elephant and serpent with six fangs (!), but in this story they almost seem like something out of the movie Alien as one bursts from its egg and starts a grisly killing rampage.  It's exciting stuff, but the story has a nice arc and is more than just fight scenes.  I'm not necessarily over the moon about The Gem, but I'm curious to see Jiri in a longer story like Firesoul.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SFS # 1-00 "Claim to Salvation" [RPG]


It all starts here!  The first official Starfinder Society scenario, “Claim to Salvation” is different than most in that it takes the form of a so-called “Special.”  It’s not one of the big multi-table “interactive specials” that some players might be familiar with from Pathfinder Society, but it is unusual for two reasons: first, everyone runs a 4th-level pre-generated Iconic character; and second, those characters aren’t members of the Starfinder Society but are actually mercenaries hired by the Society to undertake a mission that can’t be officially linked back to it.  It’s perhaps a tad strange to launch an organized play program with a scenario that requires players to run 4th-level characters, but in practice it seemed to work out fine as the Iconic character sheets explain the abilities really well.  I ran this for a table of four experienced Pathfinder players (using the four player alterations) and everyone had a good time.  The only complaints I heard about the scenario specifically (as opposed to the system itself) was that it didn’t give a chance for some classes to shine and that there wasn’t anything in particular to do during starship travel.  From my GM’s perspective, I thought it had a nice mix of role-playing and combat encounters and a solid plot that lends itself to some very intriguing possibilities in the season to come.  It also contained a really well-done sort of “sub-story” adjacent to the main plot. There are some places where I would have appreciated some more originality in opponents or more detail (as described below), but on the whole I think Starfinder Society is off to a good start.


The premise of “Claim to Salvation” is that, in the wake of the Scoured Stars incident (which trapped 80% of the Society behind an impenetrable barrier), the new First Seeker has to find a major discovery to attract investors and keep the Society focussed.  One such possibility is a strange moon called Salvation’s End that displays some signs of being artificially constructed.  The Society has obtained exclusive rights to investigate Salvation’s End, but they’re not sure whether it’s worth a full-scale expedition.  While they were trying to decide, a rogue group of claim-jumping treasure-seekers approached Salvation’s End only to find their ship destroyed—the lone known survivor was picked up in an escape pod and imprisoned.  Now, the Society is ready to make a first approach to Salvation’s End, but they don’t want to make the same mistake the claim-jumpers did.  But the prison where the lone survivor is held has refused access to the Society (it’s not perfectly clear why), so outsiders must be used: and this is where the PCs come in.  As mercenaries hired by the Society and provided with a cover story, they’re charged with travelling to the prison, questioning the surviving claim-jumper, and then continuing on to Salvation’s End to report back whether it’s worthy of devoted exploration.  All in all, it’s a good SF set-up to a story.

The scenario begins, like most scenarios do, with a mission briefing.  The briefer is the head of the Society itself, First Seeker Luwazi Elsebo.  The scenario includes a nice picture and some solid dialogue for Luwazi, as well as additional pieces of information to answer likely PC questions.  It’s fairly unremarkable but does lead to the cool moment where Luwazi leads the PCs to a hangar and reveals the brand-new ship that is their’s for the mission.  Since the scenario includes the possibility of a tour of the ship, it’s a natural moment for a GM to explain to players how starship combat roles work, give them the (much appreciated!) handout summaries of the roles, and get them to decide for themselves who will be filling what role.

The next section of the scenario is a role-playing encounter.  The PCs land on Varos, a volcanic moon of the gas giant Bretheda, to visit the Sauna, a prison colony.  In order to gain access to the imprisoned claim-jumper inside, they first have to negotiate access with the prison’s warden.  The warden and the guards here are floating, telepathic, jellyfish-like aliens called barathu.  There’s just enough background on the barathu and the strange, organic prison, for the GM, and it’s good for the players to see almost right from the bat that they need to bring in entirely different expectations from Pathfinder!  My favourite part of running this encounter, and perhaps of the scenario altogether, was role-playing the warden.  He’s described as “fawning” so I played this to the hilt, having him shamelessly flatter the PCs.  The warden essentially needs to be bribed with some or all of the credits given to the characters by Luwazi for expenses, and once that’s done, they’re allowed to enter the prison yard to speak with Livewire, the survivor of the last approach to Salvation’s End.

Livewire is a good-hearted ysoki who regrets falling into a life skirting the law with the crew of the Archer (the ship that crashed).  Before the last mission, she fell in love with a fellow crew member named Bago, and the two of them planned to leave the ship (and its domineering captain, Bago’s brother Borgor) behind to start an honest living once the Salvation’s End mission was done.  The writing here is done quite well, because the GM knows, but the players almost certainly won’t yet gather, that Bago and Borgor are two different heads of the same ettin!  This story thread comes back soon.  In the meantime, in order to persuade Livewire to talk about what happened, they have to bribe her with 1,000 credits of “hygiene products.”  This plot-thread is a bit odd and undeveloped, and I had to improvise a lot (from prison TV-shows) about how she needed something valuable to trade other prisoners in order to stay safe.

From this point, the PCs presumably get back on their borrowed ship and jump into the Drift towards Salvation’s End.  The scenario tells us that 5d6 days pass, but the number of days doesn’t really matter at all since there’s not really much that can happen on the ship.  Anyway, the instant the ship returns to normal space, it is set upon goblin junkers (primitive one-man space fighters made out of scrap).  This is the first taste most players will have of starship combat, and it was probably wise to make sure the enemies were very little threat.  The four-person party I was GMing for had to decide which role to leave empty, and that was the Science Officer.  Because they couldn’t really scan to find out weapon arcs or shield weaknesses, the combat was a pretty straightforward affair, but I did appreciate the inclusion of a goblin-operated tractor beam that could immobilize the PCs’ vessel.

Assuming the PCs survive the battle (and they better!), they detect a strong, strange signal coming from a huge spire of scrapped ships.  Landing nearby, they make their way into the hangar of a large transport ship to see several space goblins attempting to cut their way into the interior of the Archer, the crashed vessel operated by the claim-jumpers.  The PCs are slightly outnumbered by the space goblins, but even with the presence of two “space goblin bullies” that are tougher than normal, I can’t see them posing any sort of threat: their laser pistols only do 1d4 or 1d6 damage and, remember, we’re talking about 4th level PCs here.  The encounter map is well-done though, with fun terrain features like catwalks above and starship scrap all over.

After the battle, there’s a lot for the PCs to do.  They can figure out how to gain entry themselves to the Archer, and discover inside audio logs that provide some further backstory on how it crashed and what was going on with the crew.  They can repair a mainframe computer and hack into nearby terminals to gain access to things like lights, doors, and (potentially the most fun) gravity.  It’s a good chance for any PC skilled in Computers or Engineering to shine (though there’s a very nasty trap here that will likely zap the PCs for far more damage than the goblins could inflict!).  Last, there is a sealed door leading to what turns out to be an elevator that the PCs will need to take in order to get closer to the source of the mysterious signal they detected from orbit.  If they paid really close attention to an earlier clue, they’ll figure out how to operate the elevator—otherwise, they’ll suffer a minor trap and may have to resort to trial-and-error in the form of Wisdom checks.

The elevator whisks the PCs to the final encounter of the scenario: a battle against BorgorBago.  Borgor, the mean, malevolent head, has used charm monster on Bago, the gentle, kind head, but there’s some clever ways provided in the scenario to allow Bago to make another Will save to try to break free, in which case he’ll fight with Borgor for control of their shared body.  BorgorBago is a much more dangerous threat than the goblins, as he can both cast a spell and make an attack every round (being an ettin), and some of his spells are “save-or-suck” like hold person.  (The PCs in my group managed to take him down without any casualties, but the solarion almost dropped.)  This was a clever encounter, as the PCs could have made use of their control over the computers to harass and disorient BorgorBago, and the role-playing opportunities between the two heads was great.  He wasn’t just a standard, forgettable monster. 

Finally, in an adjacent room, the PCs discover a mysterious hatch leading to a deep, artificial substructure of Salvation’s End.  The scenario ends once they get the hatch open, which I understand from a season-long perspective but it plays out a bit abruptly within the scenario as most PCs are natural adventurers and want to see what the hatch leads to.  But, in any event, it sets up things nicely for the future.  In addition, if the PCs capture BorgorBago alive, they can commit to returning him to Absalom Station to face justice, in which case Bago will achieve his dream of having his consciousness downloaded into an android body (!), Borgor (now in full control of the ettin body) will be incarcerated, and Livewire will be released so she and Bago can be reunited.  If you have a hardcore “just give us the XP and loot!” group of players, they might not care, but I thought it was well-done and very sweet.  Perhaps we’ll encounter those crazy kids in love again in a future scenario?

I can report a few quibbles.  Literally seconds after Luwazi tells the PCs how they can’t let *anyone* know they’re working with the Starfinder Society, she presents them with a new ship that contains “a stylized symbol of the Starfinder Society along its hull.”  Much is made of how the Warden warns the PCs they can’t bring any weapons or contraband into the prison (and, indeed, the plot partially depends on them not having anything to give to Livewire), but there isn’t any information, not even Perception modifiers, for what sorts of searches or scans the guards do if the PCs (being cautious types and worried about getting shanked) decide to smuggle something in (Ysoki check pouches are natural temptations here).  The “space goblin bullies” have “souped-up junklasers” that, on a natural 1, create a warp in the fabric of reality that summons another space goblin to their side—a whimsical, if not downright silly, effect that undermines the tone I hope these scenarios develop.  Last, the DCs for a couple of checks don’t match up with what’s provided to do the same thing in the Core Rulebook.  Really though, these are fairly minor points (more in the nature of nitpicks), that don’t substantially take away from the quality of the scenario.

In closing, I thought this was a strong, solid scenario.  I don’t think it hits the height of storytelling that Starfinder can reach, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to provide an enjoyable first session for new players as it gives them a little taste of everything: role-playing with strange aliens, battles against goblins armed with laser guns, starship battles, mysterious planets, computer hacking, etc.  With some of these conventions established, I’m looking forward to seeing how they can be sculpted into even more exciting directions in the future.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Halflings of Golarion [RPG]

I've never had particularly strong feelings about halflings one way or another, and I don't think I've ever had one for a PC, so I wasn't sure what to expect with Halflings of Golarion, a 32-page entry in Pathfinder's Player Companion line written by Hal MacLean and Amber Scott.  I ended up having new appreciation for the race and good ideas for characters, which makes the book a success as far as I'm concerned.

The cover is great, with Lem, the halfling bard Iconic, using Countersong to distress a flight of harpies (it's only now that I'm prepping some harpies for use in an adventure that I understand why having a bard along would be so useful!).  The same art forms the inside back cover, while the inside front cover is a list of halfling racial abilities (as per the Core Rulebook) and a list of favored halfling deities, along with their portfolios, domains, favored weapons, etc.  All of this information is available elsewhere, but it's convenient to have it in one place.

The second page features a "halfling proverb" which sums up the theme of the book (and Golarion's approach to halflings) perfectly: they're a race that's usually overlooked and often forgotten, but their contributions to society as laborers, artisans, musicians, farmers, and more is inarguable.  Often enslaved and mistreated, halflings have made a virtue of blending in with the crowd: they survive and thrive by rarely being noticed by the far larger, stronger, and more dramatic races around them.  Whether the famed "halfling luck" is an actual phenomena or just halflings' knack for being in the right place at the right time is left for the reader to decide.  The rest of the book does a fantastic job incorporating these themes, making it a far more coherent Player Companion than some (more recent) ones that sometimes seem to be little more than a random collection of feats and spells.  The first five pages, covering the history of halflings in Golarion and exploring their physical and mental traits, are well-written and interesting.

A section titled "Halfling Culture" starts on page 8 and runs to page 21.  A *lot* of material is covered: birth, coming of age, and death rituals; how halflings are treated in various different parts of Golarion; communities that have a major halfling presence; religion; how well the different adventuring classes fit halflings; and much more.  You might expect some of the topics to be pretty dry, but it's actually very engaging.  In particular, there's interesting bits about halfling buildings (large first floors to accommodate human-size visitors, with small-size upper stories that are cleverly disguised to appear "normal" from the outside), gods (especially the halfling-specific ones), etc.  It's all "flavour" and no "crunch", but I didn't mind a bit.

The next section (2 pages) is "Combat", focusing on halfling slingcraft.  I really like the treatment given here, as several new types of slings and ammunition plus new sling-related feats make a halfling slingthrower sound like a fun and moderately viable build (even though it'd still be inferior to an archer).

"Faith", the next two-page long section, introduces the idea of "Sacred Keepsakes" which are items that a halfling receives as part of their coming of age task and that they continue to hold dear ever after.  The nature of the keepsake depends on the type of coming of age task they've been sent on, with several examples given.  In game terms, the different keepsakes allow for the halfling to make minor changes to first level divine spells.  It's fun and flavourful, but I'm not sure how the idea would be incorporated into character generation.

The concept of "halfling jinxes" is the topic of the "Magic" section (two pages).  The idea here is that, a handful of times in each generation, a halfling is born not with innate good luck but with the ability to spread bad luck to others.  In game terms, a halfling PC loses the "halfling luck" racial ability and substitutes the "halfling jinx" ability which allows them to curse other creatures to impose penalties to saving throws.  The section then includes almost a dozen feats to expand on the concept.  I've never seen a halfling jinx character in play, but it sounds like a really fun, debuffing-oriented character.  I might have to give it a try (combining some of the sling-fighting stuff from the Combat section), but I think it'd be even more fun to have an enemy NPC jinx, as the curses last for 24 hours.

The oddly-named "Social" section introduces a new five-level prestige class, the Halfling Opportunist.  It's not difficult to get into the class, and it has an interesting conceit that there are some halflings who are extremely skilled at taking advantage of other's mistakes to help themselves.  In game terms, the core ability of the prestige class ("Exploitive Maneuver") allows the Halfling Opportunist to use a combat maneuver check to force an enemy to use Aid Another on them, (+2) while the enemy takes the same penalty on an opposed roll (in essence, a 4-point swing).  The opportunities to use it are dependent on GM-discretion, but I think the core idea is well-suited to a very cinematic-oriented game.  The prestige class also receives some other solid abilities at higher levels.

The last two pages of the book introduce
new traits: 5 new race traits (including the fantastic "Helpful" which raises Aid Another bonuses to +4, which is crucial to certain builds), 8 new regional traits, and 9 new religion traits.  Most are definitely situational in nature, but they're interesting and tie in well to the theme of the book.

I have no reservations about recommending Halflings of Golarion.  I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I got from this book, and I'll see it as a sign that an oft-neglected race in Pathfinder should perhaps get a little more attention.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 24 [RPG]

[5 Neth 4707 continued]

Farm Trail at Night
Having successfully fought off an ambush by several ghouls just as dusk falls, the adventurers pause to allow Bey’s healing magicks to take effect.  From the light cast by Arnald’s and Briza’s everburning torches, the group continues on in the darkness towards Habe’s Sanatorium.  The farm trail they follow branches off at points, leading them to get lost for about an hour, but soon they find their way again.  Walking at night in a circle of light makes the group visible from some distance, however, and thus they become a beacon for anything lurking in the darkness.  The first hint that the group is being followed comes when Ome, Artemis, and Briza hear something rustling in the cornfields around them.  Artemis’ keen eyesight makes out a trio of figures spread out to surround the group.  Ghouls, obviously hunters in their mortal lives, have been stalking the group and have crossbows at the ready!

Artemis whispers for Ome to follow him, and the two duck into the cornfield to sneak up on one of the accursed foes.  The darkness, rain, and cornstalks blowing in the wind help conceal their presence.  The ghouls realize they’ve been detected, however, and open fire on those still on the trail, bathed in light.  Briza is grazed by a crossbow bolt in the first volley, and seconds later Arnald is struck.  Fortunately, neither are seriously hurt.  As the projectiles continue to rain down on Bey, Briza, and Arnald, they catch sight of one of their attackers and decide to charge in unison.  Arnald lands a powerful blow with his greataxe, and he and his allies destroy the ghoul crossbowman easily.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the trail, Artemis’ and Ome’s stratagem appears to work at first.  They emerge silently from the darkness on either side of the unwitting ghoul. Artemis buries his pick deep into the ghoul’s back, while Ome shreds the unliving creature’s belly with her claws!  But the ghoul somehow withstands the surprise attacks and unleashes its own savagery.  In seconds, both Artemis and Ome find themselves fixed in place, unable to move as their muscles are paralyzed by the supernatural touch of the ghoul!  Ome’s giant wasp familiar emerges to protect its master, but is torn asunder by the ghoul who now has two victims at its complete mercy.

Ghoul Stalkers
Arnald, Bey, and Briza begin to move south in search of the ghoul they know is still unaccounted for.  It leaps out at Briza from the darkness, but she gets her sword up in time and its claws break against her blade.  Bey employs her bardiche skilfully, and the creature is destroyed.  Alas, their victory is a pyrrhic one in light of what happens next.

Artemis regains control of his body and manages throw off the ghoul that had been feasting on his flesh.  Ome, however, is not so lucky.  With one squeeze of its powerful claws, it crushes the tengu’s throat!  Arnald arrives seconds later and cuts the cruel abomination in twain, but the damage has already been done: Ome is dead.

Briza bursts into tears to see her friend from the Pixie’s Kitten slain in such a heartless manner, while Bey utters several prayers to Desna.  The decision is quickly made that, if at all possible, Ome will be brought back to life through powerful divine magicks.  But first, the survivors have to make it through the night.  Arnald picks up Ome’s lifeless corpse and Briza carries that of the valiant giant wasp, and the party turns back in the direction of Sandpoint.  After about twenty minutes’ walk, Bey spots a farmhouse and the group decide to take shelter there.

Bey scouts ahead and sneaks up to a window.  She can see the farmhouse is locked up tight, but she hears voices within and can tell it’s a family cleaning up after supper.  She knocks, and Desna’s grace shines: when a curtain is pulled back ever so slightly, Bey is recognized by the family as one of Sandpoint’s famous local heroes!  Bey and her new allies are allowed to enter the farmhouse and stay for the night, though they’re forced to leave Ome’s corpse outside for fear it will turn into a ghoul.  And, despite their best efforts, Bey and Briza are unable to convince the family that they should seek refuge in Sandpoint as it’s no longer safe to dwell in their home.  After being fed a hearty meal, the mournful adventurers plan watches and then bed down for the night.

[6 Neth 4707]

Having said their farewells to the good samaritans who took them in, the adventurers head for Sandpoint.  The way back is much less foreboding in the morning sunlight, and they reach the town without incident.

The evils that have plagued Sandpoint in recent months have claimed another life, convincing those bound for Foxglove Manor to turn back, leaving many questions unanswered.  Can Ome be brought back to life?  Is her spirit willing?  And, perhaps most importantly, have the horrific spate of serial murders and marauding ghouls been brought to an end or will the delay only make things worse?
Director's Commentary

The PCs had fought a lot of ordinary ghouls lately, so I thought it might be fun to switch things up just a little.  I took advantage of the fantastic Monster Codex, which has several stat-blocks for different types of ghouls, and used the "Ghoul Huntsman" to create a scary encounter of the PCs being stalked through cornfields at night.  I really hate running ghouls though, as it's so easy for for a battle that the PCs are winning to suddenly turn tragic with some paralysis and a coup de grace, and that's what happened to Ome.  Losing the character hit the player hard, but fortunately he rallied and created a very cool new PC we'll meet next session.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Song of the Serpent [RPG]


I've now read the first several books in the Pathfinder Tales line, and I'm sorry to say that Song of the Serpent is the worst of the lot.  The novel has a few interesting ideas, but it's the most "generic fantasy" book in the line, with many somewhat cheesy setting elements seemingly closer to the very high-magic Forgotten Realms than to Golarion.  The plotting is unsatisfactory, with vague mysteries standing in the place of cohesive story-telling.  For almost all of the book, the primary protagonist lacks agency, which makes him a hard character to cheer for. The overall tone is a bit off, with some surprisingly gory scenes mixed into an often lighthearted story, and bits of world lore that just strike the reader as wrong, such as half-orcs being depicted as "not uncommonly cannibals."  The conclusion is overlong and surprisingly boring for what should be a climactic, tension-filled moment.   I don't want to be too uncharitable, as there are some fun scenes here and there and the direction the book takes is definitely unpredictable, which is a plus.  The action scenes are fine, and the dialogue is passable.   Still, on the whole, only completists like me should pick up this one.


The book is set in Druma, land of the merchant lords known as Kalistocrats.  A thief named Krunzle the Quick is captured by a prominent Kalistocrat and forced to set off on a quest to recover the merchant's daughter, who absconded with a dashing but slimy knight.  In order to ensure Krunzle's loyalty, the Kalistocrat has his personal wizard place a magical torc in the shape of a snake around the thief's neck: the snakelike torc is semi-sentient and able to choke Krunzle into submission should he stray from the path.  This leads to the problem of Krunzle's lack of agency, as he spends almost the entire book as the puppet of this magical device which seems to come from out of nowhere (and is never satisfactorily explained in the novel).  Anyway, Krunzle makes some friends along the way, such as a former slave named Raimeau (who receives an oddly-placed and unnecessary flashback chapter), a troll named Skanderbrog, and a dwarf named Brond.  The "damsel in distress" (Gylanna) is portrayed well as a strong character who is very much her father's daughter.    As Gylanna is rescued midway through the book, the overall plot is actually to retrieve something that was taken along with Gylanna: a mysterious magical item.  The story really starts to break down here, as there's something about an incredibly ancient, incredibly powerful entity buried in a mountain that has led the heroes to this point to free it, etc.  But it's all very vague in the end, with a long, weird ritual that simply ends unsatisfactorily with far more questions than answers.  The book does integrate some Golarion world-lore (and is one of the few novels to this point to have an interest in dwarfs), but much of the book could take place in any generic fantasy land with little change.  Even the main villain, an evil wizard from Tian Xia, is about as cliche as it gets.  So as I said above, this is one to avoid.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 23 [RPG]

[5 Neth 4707 continued]

A vision of Foxglove Manor
The rainclouds over Sandpoint have not abated when Bey finally emerges from her mystery, finding herself in her room at the Rusty Dragon, Sandpoint’s most popular inn and tavern.  She remembers undergoing an intense apocalyptic vision of dozens, even hundreds of ghouls swarming over the town, all of them linked to, or even directed by, some malevolent intelligence housed in a decaying mansion of unspeakable evil somewhere high up on cliffs overlooking the ocean below.  Bey hurries to the common room of the inn to find her allies and share with them her vision.  The common room is packed with townsfolk bored by the inclement weather, and swelled beyond normal by dozens of farmers from the southern hinterlands who have fled to Sandpoint.  Bey sees Arnald there, eating lunch and massaging his joints and muscles which are still sore from the paralysis which has finally worn off.  The two don’t know where Ome and Artemis are, and Bey decides to trust in her patron deity Desna by embracing pure luck: she and Arnald start randomly knocking on doors all over Sandpoint!

Meanwhile, emerging from a far more disreputable tavern named the Fatman’s Feedbag, Ome talks to Artemis and summarizes his encounter with Jubrayl Vhiski.  The tengu says Jubrayl is almost certainly implicated in the arson somehow, but that she wasn’t able to glean any hard evidence.  The two decide to walk over to the Sandpoint Garrison, home of the Town Watch.  When they arrive, they see a distressing sight: the small force that Sheriff Hemlock sent to the southern farmlands to sweep up any ghoul stragglers after the adventurers cleared the Hambley farm has returned, and its members are in poor shape.  Many of the soldiers are wounded, and two are incapacitated, though alive.  Ome and Artemis ask the group’s leader, Jodar Provolost, what happened.  Jodar, who is far from his usual jolly self, explains that at first things went well: the expedition force found a ghoul here or there, often disguised as a scarecrow, and dealt with it, destroying a total of five.  The fact that Sheriff Hemlock persuaded experienced former adventurers like Ilsoari Gandethus and Deverin Hosk to accompany the group was a real asset, Jodar explains.  But then, he continues, the ghouls started appearing in bunches of twos and threes and the Sandpoint contingent risked being overwhelmed!  They managed to withdraw with no fatalities, Jodar concludes, but it was a near thing.  He says he plans to report to Sheriff Hemlock and suggest declaring that portion of the Lost Coast Road off-limit to travellers until the problem can be dealt with.

Artemis and Ome decide there’s one person who might just be able to help them understand why this ghoul infestation is growing:  Caizarlu Zerren, the necromancer they subdued at Habe’s Sanatorium!  The town jailer, a bald Shoanti named Vachedi, shrugs when the pair ask to interrogate his prisoner.  Caizarlu is hostile and uncooperative at first, until Artemis promises to slip the old wizard’s spell component pouch through the bars if he talks.  Caizarlu says he started noting the ghoul outbreaks in recent weeks and that he believes they originally started from a single location near the coast.  Caizarlu says he’s willing to tell more once Artemis fulfils his end of the bargain, but the guardsman on detachment from Magnimar has tricked him!  Artemis slips the *empty* spell component pouch through the bars, leading Caizarlu to fly into a rage.  Vachedi happily unlocks the cell and subdues the prisoner with his cudgel.

Over near the Rusty Dragon, Bey’s decision to knock on random doors bears fruit, but not in the way she expected.  She finds herself drenched from the rain and turned away from house after house, often with angry muttering, as she asks about her friends and shares the “news” about an impending apocalypse.  When she comes across a tall woman wearing a mithral breastplate, carrying a greatsword, and bearing the distinctive facial tattoos of a Shoanti, Bey gets a glimmer of inspiration.  She asks the stranger if she knows Ome and Artemis, and, indeed, the stranger does!  The stout warrior, whose name is Briza, has spent recent months working as a bouncer at the Pixie’s Kitten and made Ome’s acquaintance through the tengu’s frequent visits there to sing or speak to the brothel’s owner, Kaye Tesarani.  Briza admits she’s at her wit’s end as to what to do now, since the Pixie’s Kitten will be closed for a couple of weeks due to last night’s fire. When Bey invites her to come along to “stem the tide of apocalypse,” the Shoanti woman shrugs and agrees.  They meet up with Arnald and after some more time spent talking to townspeople, they finally hear word that Ome and Artemis were spotted near the Garrison.

The adventurers are reunited in the rain-swept courtyard of the Garrison and Bey introduces Briza to Artemis.  The sanguine seer shares with Ome and Artemis her vision of the foreboding mansion which she believes could be the source of the ghoul attacks, and the decision is made to see if anyone in Sandpoint recognizes the place from Bey’s description.  As Sheriff Hemlock is quite busy with planning how to contain the ghouls, which now threaten to spill over to the northern farmlands, the group turn to Bosk Hartigan, the oldest member of the Town Watch who has served since Sandpoint’s founding over forty years ago.  From Bey’s nightmarish account, Bosk says the place sounds a little like The Misgivings—the nickname given to the long-abandoned Foxglove Manor several miles southwest of Sandpoint.  Bosk just shakes his head when asked for more information, saying the place is well-known to be haunted, and that even vandals and squatters know enough to stay away.

Artemis, who did a lot of research on the area around Sandpoint prior to his secondment there, says he remembers a little about Foxglove Manor.  He says the building is over eighty years old, and confirms it certainly has a bad reputation: sightings of strange lights in the attic windows, muffled sounds of screaming from above and below, and even rumours of a huge, bat-winged devil living in the caves are just some of the stories passed around campfires by superstitious travellers who see “The Misgivings” from a distance.  Artemis says that the house has been lived in only sporadically by members of the Foxglove family, with the most recent time about two decades ago when Traver Foxglove, his wife Cyralie, and their children Aldern, Sendeli, and Zeeva moved in for a few years.  But after Cyralie was found dead, burnt and dashed on the rocks below the cliffs behind the house, Traver committed suicide and the children were sent away to be raised in Korvosa by distant relations.

Discussion turns to whether anyone else in Sandpoint might have more information, and the answer comes quickly:  Ilsoari Gandethus, local historian, former adventurer, and Headmaster of Turandarok Academy.  The group’s entry to this orphanage and school for local children is, at first, blocked by Head Mother Dorienne Vilch, a prim woman with grey hair wrapped into a tight bun.  However, Ome has a way with words and manages to persuade her of the importance of the group’s visit by mentioning ghouls.  Eventually, the group is led inside, past children playing, and into Ilsoari Gandethus’ study.  Ilsoari, a stern-looking man in his mid-60s, welcomes the group in but quickly loses interest when he learns they’re not here about his planned expedition to track down the Sandpoint Devil.  Still, he’s reluctantly persuaded to talk about The Misgivings and it turns out he knows an awful lot.  He confirms most of what Artemis said, but explains that Foxglove Manor was actually lived in much more recently: about a year ago, Aldern Foxglove, newly returned to the Lost Coast from his time abroad, set about refurbishing the manor.  Aldern had an extremely difficult time finding locals to work on the old building given its reputation.  As work was slow and intermittent, Aldern had the place looked after by Rogors Craesby, a retired innkeeper.  Once enough of the major rooms were inhabitable, Aldern moved in with his new Varisian bride.

Ilsoari Gandethus
Ilsoari shuffles through some old papers in a cabinet and says that Foxglove Manor was originally built in the year 4624 by Vorel Foxglove, a merchant prince from Magnimar.  Vorel and his family lived in the place for about twenty years until the entire family perished from disease.  The place was then deserted and shunned for almost forty years until Traver and Cyralie moved in.  Ilsoari concludes by saying he’s heard rumors the Foxgloves were associated with a “semi-secret” society (really a gentlemen’s club) in Magnimar called the Brothers of the Seven.  When asked about caverns under the manor, he says ancient Varisian legend (whose details are lost to history) say that the land may have been consecrated to a dark god or demon lord.  Having finished his task, Ilsoari is anxious to get back to his plans for the Sandpoint Devil.  He shares with Arnald his intention to set forth on an expedition to the Devil’s Platter and confirm the existence of the legendary creature once and for all.

The adventurers decide that the key to preventing Bey’s vision of ghouls overrunning Sandpoint is to set out towards Foxglove Manor that very night with plans to stop and rest at Habe’s Sanatorium.  They spend the afternoon buying supplies for the trip and selling items both magical and mundane acquired from earlier adventures.   The sun is starting to set behind grey rain clouds as the defenders of Sandpoint set out on foot south.  The first few miles of their journey along the Lost Coast Road is uneventful, though they notice several travellers racing to get within the safety of the town by nightfall, while local farmers have almost barricaded themselves in their homes.

 As the group leave the wide road and start to follow a narrow, winding trail between farms, over hills, and through patches of wild forest, they come to a place where a narrow stream is bridged by a wide log.  Just as they’re about to cross, their vigilance against attack fails: ghouls emerge from the cover of twilight all around them!  Caught flat-footed, the adventurers are sorely pressed by the first wave of attacks.  Artemis is paralyzed by sharp claws and starts getting dragged into nearby bushes!  Ome tries to fight back but is knocked unconscious in the fighting; fortunately, her giant wasp emerges from her backpack and hovers protectively over her.  Just as the battle seems like it might be lost, however, the tide suddenly turns!  Artemis receives the luckiest stroke of luck in his life, as a tentacled creature from the stream grabs the ghoul that was about to feast on him.  Bey calls upon her divine gifts and bursts into flame to burn the ghouls surrounding her, while Briza and Arnald set to work with their greatsword and greataxe, respectively.  Buoyed by the two professional warriors, the adventurers survive the harrowing encounter and the ghouls are destroyed.

Jodar Provolost’s report that there’s far more than occasional ghoul stragglers to deal with has been confirmed.  Will the adventurers be able to survive the journey to Foxglove Manor?  And if they do, what fresh horror will they find there?
Director's Commentary (August 6, 2017)

Bey, an oracle with the apocalypse mystery, had a trait that gave her a prophetic dream each night.  I went all out this session with a description of a foreboding mansion.  I intended my description to be quite figurative and more about setting up a mood of impending danger, but the PCs took the description quite literally and cleverly used it to figure out where to go next!

Speaking of apocalypse, I did increase the urgency of the PCs' mission by accelerating how quickly the ghouls spread through the farms.  The AP left a lot of it to GM discretion, so I chose what sounded like the most exciting way of portraying the story.

Briza!  The group expanded to five players this session, with the new PC taking the role of a Shoanti barbarian.  Briza was a really fun, good-natured character who, in many ways, was the compassionate heart of an otherwise cynical group.  She and Arnald made a great team as tough martial characters who could stand toe-to-toe with a lot of threats and buy time for their squishier allies in the back ranks to cast spells, etc.

Artemis came *very* close to meeting an untimely end in this session.  Fortunately, Bey's player used her once per chapter plot twist card, which was "Tentacles".  It was a fun and clever way to save a PC, and I don't begrudge it at all.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

First Contact (Starfinder) [RPG]

First Contact was Paizo's giveaway for "Free RPG Day" in June of 2017.  The book is a fifteen-page "bestiary" of sorts, with several new creatures a Starfinder GM can throw at players.  But players should be interested too, as the book contains four new playable races that expand the options given in the Core Rulebook.  The book is available for a free PDF download here, or a print copy can be purchased for just $ 5.  I wouldn't normally go through every entry in a rulebook, but since it's only fifteen pages, it shouldn't take long.

First, a fantastic cover by Caio Maciel Monteiro of Navasi (the Envoy Iconic) and Quig (the Mechanic Iconic) blasting away at some space goblins.  I especially like Quig's flamethrower.  The artwork is reproduced sans logo as the inside back-cover.  The inside front cover is a chart showing the planets in the solar system where Golarion used to exist, along with indications as to where the various creatures in the book hail from.  It's a nice shorthand representation.  Oddly, it's titled "Starfinder Monsters in Pathfinder" which I think would be confusing to many readers since Starfinder is a new game (even though some of it could be easily converted to Pathfinder).

The first page is a table of contents, indicating that the book will cover 11 new alien species.  There are new "Monster Reference Symbols", which are icons that are prominently featured in each monster entry, indicating whether it is a "Combatant" (strong physical fighter), "Expert" (skill-based creature), or "Spellcaster" (self-explanatory).  I like this system of symbols better than the more comprehensive but harder to decipher system used in the Pathfinder bestiaries.

The book starts with a three-page Introduction.  The first section is "What's Different", which briefly summarizes how Starfinder works differently than Pathfinder.  For monster creation, one of the big changes is that they're not built with the same rules that PCs are built like in Pathfinder: instead, there are separate, much faster monster creation rules similar to the optional system introduced in Pathfinder Unchained.  I have to withhold judgment on whether this is a good move or not, but I know there's a lot of controversy about it in the forums.  The section goes on to talk about how ability scores are no longer listed (just modifiers), there are two types of armor class (Energy Armor Class for energy attacks and Kinetic Armor Class for physical attacks), feats are listed only if they can be actively used instead of just providing static modifiers (a great idea), weapons and attacks are now listed with the type of damage they do and there are no confirmation rolls required for crits (which will make sessions faster-paced and potentially more lethal), various types of senses are streamlined, CMB and CMD is no longer a thing, and disease and radiation use the alternative rules introduced in Pathfinder Unchained.  You can see that the designers of Starfinder have worked hard to simplify, streamline, and modernize the rules.

Interestingly, the Introduction goes on to provide a preview of some class abilities from the Operative and Soldier classes: much of this information will become redundant (and could be tinkered with) once the Starfinder Core Rulebook is widely available, but for now it's a fun away to see what sort of style of abilities the classes have.  Operatives (at certain levels) can get a cool "Cloaking Field" ability that essentially allow them to hide in plain sight, a "Debilitating Trick" ability to make an opponent flat-footed or off-target, a "Trick Attack" ability to catch an opponent flat-footed and do extra damage, and an "Uncanny Mobility" ability to avoid attacks of opportunity from a particular enemy.  The Soldier can get a "Grenade Expert" ability to increase the range increment of grenades and manufacture them without paying for them.  On the whole, I really like what I see: they're new and different, but still clear and easy to follow for people familiar with how Pathfinder works.

Finally, the Introduction talks about two new Universal Monster Rules ("Limited Telepathy" and "Unliving") and three new weapon abilities.  This latter category will be great fun for players and GMs alike, as every weapon has a special ability that activates on a critical hit.  The ones discussed here are Arc (the energy blast hits a second enemy), Burn (the target is set on fire), and Explode (boom!).

Now, on to the new creatures.

1. Bloodbrother.  Look at the artwork closely and you see why this creature is so cool (and creepy).  Basically, it can grab people and place them within its ribcage to start draining their blood (Con damage).  It's a really cool concept, though there's not a lot of information about ways a character escapes once within the rib cage prison.

2. Contemplative.  First introduced in Distant Worlds, the Contemplatives of Ashok are essentially enormous telepathically/telekinetically empowered brains with vestigial bodies attached.  They're definitely very "alien," but the best part is that they're a playable PC race.  My only critique is that there's very little background on them (three short sentences).

3.  Ellicoth.  These are enormous (Gargantuan) creatures that live on the planet Eox and devour undead while giving off a radioactive aura.    They have a fun ecological niche.

4.  Space Goblins.  Perhaps my favourite entry in the book, as the artwork is just a perfect encapsulation of goblins (I especially like the band-aids holding together the cracked space helmet!).  I actually really like the special abilities space goblins receive, as their well-known fondness for scrounging, tinkering, and using homemade weapons comes to the forefront.

5.  Haan.  These are weird, giant bug creatures that fly by means of crafting personal balloons out of webbing and inflating them with jets of gas they can emit.  Hey, it's science-fantasy so you may as well think outside the box!.  They're also a playable race, and are large-size creatures which is definitely a shift from the Pathfinder norm.  They don't do a lot for me, and it's hard to picture what their culture and personalities would be like, but hopefully that'll be expanded on later.

6. Ksarik.  Mobile quadrupeds that are supposed to be plant monsters, but neither the artwork nor the write-up really makes the creature feel that way.  These are definitely "monsters for monsters-sake" creatures that PCs won't feel the need to try to negotiate with or befriend.  They have an interesting but somewhat complicated ability to adapt their bodies to that of creatures they're fighting--I'm not sure how this would play out in a game, but it definitely allows them to be unpredictable opponents.

7.  Necrovites.  "Space liches" comes to mind, as these residents of the undead planet Eox have mastered both magic and technology.  We see hints to a lot of cool tech (like an "Eoxian wrackstaff" and a "d-suit IV with gray force field") and a variety of special abilities, but there's only 26 words of background/description.

8. Orocoran.  An excellent write-up of a creepy aberration from Aucturn.  Orocorans can spew vomit that causes targets to hallucinate and then, while targets are disabled, the monster stabs them with a blood-sucking proboscis.

9.  Security robots.  Although security robots may not seem particular exciting, including them here was an excellent choice as I imagine they'll get a *lot* of use by GMs in a variety of adventure scenarios.  The write-up is quite detailed and provides some instant insight into Absalom Station, and even includes a little adventure hook at the end.  The shoulder-monster turret is a fun touch.

10. Sarcesian.  Last of the playable races, and another large-size creature.  Interesting to see how that shakes out in gameplay, as having 10' reach is a big advantage.  Sarcesians are spindly humanoids specially adapted to survive short periods in vacuum, and can even grow energy wings to move through space.  The idea is interesting, but it's hard to picture what they're like in terms of personality.  There's a notorious (and humorous) typo here, as the creature's rifle is listed as doing "1d810+5" points of damage!

11.  Space pirates.  Another smart addition, as space pirates are a natural anytime a random encounter to shake things up is needed.  The artwork is a bit bland here, but we are treated to two stat blocks (a CR 1 "Space Pirate Crew Member" and a CR 4 "Space Pirate Captain").

Overall, the artwork is quite strong and definitely up to what we expect from Paizo: in addition to the aforementioned cover, there's several other stand-out pieces. I know layout and space constraints make detailing new creatures quite challenging, but I'm not sure if the right balance was struck in some of the entries: a two-page spread would have been better for some of the creatures, even if it meant fewer overall.   As a "Free RPG Day" product I think Paizo could have made a better choice than a mini-bestiary, as there wasn't anything readers could do with the book other than wait several weeks for Starfinder to come out.  Still, once the Core Rulebook is out, this free little book will be almost essential in giving GMs some adversaries for the PCs.  And hey, it is a free download, so one can't really complain!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Recap # 22 [RPG]

[3 Neth 4707 continued]

Jodar Provolost turns even paler upon seeing Ome literally bite pieces out of the powerful ghast in the Hambley farmhouse in order to destroy it. He mutters something about how repulsive this whole matter is, and stumbles outside to see that that two of his fellow watchmen have died in the battle. Artemis secures the scene, as Bey has again lapsed into her mystery and Arnald has succumbed to a delayed onset of the ghoul’s paralytic touch.

Artemis joins Ome inside the farmhouse to examine the horrifically mutilated body of Crade Hambley. They confirm that the Sihedron star carved into his chest is orientated to place the rune of Greed at its highest point. The scrap of parchment pinned to the man’s tunic is examined; like the others, it is covered in blood and addressed to Bey: “Take the fever into you, my love—it shall be but the first of my gifts to you.” The two discuss the meaning of the note, with Ome suggesting that, by fever, the writer is referencing the supernatural disease “ghoul fever.” Artemis continues examining the corpse and finds a rusted iron key in one pocket.

The search of the farmhouse continues, as the tengu from Sandpoint and the watchman from Magnimar examine the body of the ghast that Ome defeated in single combat. The corpse is wearing dirty and torn servant’s livery and has an iron key on a chain around its neck; the key features a curious heraldic symbol of a flower surrounded by thorns, but neither Ome nor Artemis are able to attribute any meaning to it. A search of the master bedroom uncovers a loose floorboard with a small coffer hidden underneath. The key found in Crade Hambley’s pocket unlocks the coffer to reveal 34 pouches of exactly 100 silver pieces each. Artemis says that the money should be left where it is until the farmer’s next of kin can be notified.

The two conclude their investigation of the farmhouse and turn their attention to the barn. The macabre tangle of bones and partially eaten carcasses of livestock and humans testify it has obviously served as the ghouls’ lair for some days. Artemis sees the bones of children included in the pile, and suggests that the Hambley children have met the worst imaginable end. Apart from an ancient statue that the locals call “the Stone Warrior,” the barn contains nothing else notable.

Artemis and Ome, along with the two surviving members of the Watch escort, decide to return to Sandpoint with their incapacitated friends and the bodies of their two fallen allies. Sticking closely to the winding farm trails that led them here, the group make it back to the Lost Coast Road quickly and have an eventless journey back to Sandpoint. Bey and Arnald are seen safely to their rooms at the Rusty Dragon. Artemis and Ome notice several notes nailed to the inn’s Help Wanted board, including a request for escorts for a trip with Sister Guilia to Mosswood in return for which “spiritual compensation” will be offered, the offer of a reward to help wagonwright Bilivar Wheen recover some lost goods, and a request for escorts to Thistletop posted by Veznutt Parooh.

The functioning members of the team head to the garrison to make their report to Sheriff Hemlock. Hemlock is told that it’s possible the powerful undead in the Hambley farmhouse was the culprit behind the murders, but it’s by no means certain. Upon hearing that more ghouls could lurk in the fields and byways of the southern farms, Sheriff Hemlock says he’ll declare a state of emergency and send more men to sweep the area in the morning. After Artemis leaves, Ome stays for a private word with Sheriff Hemlock about the public meeting scheduled for the next night on whether brothels should be made illegal in Sandpoint. Sheriff Hemlock says he’s found no link between criminal activity and the Pixie’s Kitten and will state this at the meeting. Ome says that the instigator of this meeting, Titus Scarnetti, is the real problem. She delicately hints that if there were any skeletons in Scarnetti’s closet, it could be used to change his mind. Sheriff Hemlock shuts down the idea, but says that anything Ome can do lawfully to change public opinion at tomorrow’s meeting would be appreciated. Afterwards, Artemis tells Ome he’ll attend the meeting but that he’s not much for speech-making.

The two retire for the night, with the town watchman heading for his bunk in the garrison’s barracks and the tengu adventurer heading for the Pixie’s Kitten. Inside the latter, Ome sees that the brothel is busier than she’s ever seen it before, as many in Sandpoint anticipate it could be the final night of its existence. Ome finds Kaye in her private chamber, practicing a speech in front of a mirror. Ome uses her natural instincts for persuasion to help Kaye refine her words. Afterwards, the brothel owner explains why tomorrow’s meeting could go either way. The four representatives of the founding families each have a vote, with the mayor possessing the tie-breaker. Kaye says that, obviously, Titus Scarnetti will vote to close the brothel, but that she knows her friend Ameiko, who’s recently succeeded her slain father on the council, will vote to keep it open. Mayor Deverin has been supportive in the past, but could be swayed if public opinion leans strongly one way or the other. The wildcard is the vote from the Valdemar family. Ethram Valdemar is an old man who is quite sick, and misses as many meetings as he attends; if he doesn’t attend, his eldest son Belvan will take his place.
Kaye Tesarani

[4 Neth 4707]

In the morning, Ome finds Artemis and says that she’s determined to help her friends at the Pixie’s Kitten. The two decide that perhaps they could secure Mayor Deverin’s vote, so they head south towards Deverin Manor. As they cross the southern footbridge across the Turandarok, the two are stunned to see an enormous fish, over fifteen feet long, with bony scales and toothy jaws congregating in the river below! Fortunately, Ome and Artemis are both able to react quickly and run back several yards onto the northern shore before the fish, known as giant gars, are able to turn them into a one-bite snack. The two climb to the rooftops of nearby buildings and start firing arrows at the giant gars, but the angle and water makes their attacks largely ineffective. The drama of the situation escalates seconds later when a rider on horseback (town tanner Larz Rovanky) approaches the bridge from the south. Ome shouts and waves to get Larz’ attention, and succeeds in persuading the skeptical man that danger really does exist in the river. Larz turns back, and after some minutes the giant predator fish swim downstream in search of prey elsewhere.

Ome and Artemis continue their original plan and soon reach Deverin Manor. The butler is not predisposed toward admitting the tengu, but the presence of a uniformed member of the town watch is enough to gain them both entry. The two are led to a dining room where Kendra Deverin is having a late breakfast prior to her planned departure to her office at the town hall. She welcomes the two to sit down, stating that she doesn’t usually receive visitors on public business at her home, but that the combination of a tengu and a member of the Watch was too intriguing to turn down. Ome explains the purpose of their visit, and says that there’s no absolutely no evidence that the existence of a brothel in Sandpoint has any connection whatsoever to any of the terrible things that have befallen the town of late. Deverin agrees, but tells Ome that reason and logic are unlikely to persuade someone like Titus Scarnetti: questions of “sin” and “the punishment of the gods” are not capable of being proven or disproven through evidence. When asked which way she’ll vote at the meeting, Deverin says that it’s a matter of public record that she’s supported legalized prostitution in Sandpoint in the past. However, she says that it would be improper for her to announce which way she’ll be voting tonight until she’s had a chance to hear everyone out. She thanks the two for their interest in civic affairs and sincerely welcomes them to continue participating in Sandpoint public life.

After asking some questions around town to gauge public opinion, Artemis and Ome conclude that they need to find someone really popular to speak out on the Pixie’s Kitten’s behalf. They decide that Cyrdak Drokkus could be just the man, and walk to the Sandpoint Theatre. Inside, they see him frenetically directing rehearsals for a new production in which Sandpoint’s “Local Heroes” (actors in the roles of Bey Lin, Xeveg Kishalq, Oliver Turn, and Felix Bloodrider) battle a papier-mache Sandpoint Devil. The fact that three of the four real-life inspirations for the “Local Heroes” are now dead seems not to have deterred their characters’ popularity (or Cyrdak’s enthusiasm for a sure crowd-pleaser) in the slightest. Ome has difficulty getting Cyrdak’s attention until she jumps on stage and delivers a line of dialogue in a far better manner than the actor hired to play “Felix Bloodrider” did. Cyrdak immediately tells everyone to “take five” while he takes Ome backstage to try to convince her to join his production. She adroitly moves the topic of conversation to tonight’s public meeting, and asks Cyrdak if he plans to speak. The virtuoso performer says there’s no one in Sandpoint he hates more the moralistic Titus Scarnetti, but that he’s not sure if he might do more harm than good. Ome persuades Cyrdak that he could really make a difference for Sandpoint and get revenge on Scarnetti at the same time, and sweetens the deal by saying she’ll owe him a favour. Cyrdak is convinced, and announces that he’s going to bring his partner, Sir Jasper Korvaski, and anyone who doesn’t like it can be damned!

With the time left before the meeting waning, Artemis and Ome split up to make their final preparations. Artemis dresses in civilian clothing so it’s clear he’s attending the meeting in his personal capacity. He talks with Bosk Hartigan about the investigation into the murders at the mill and the old Bradley farm, and tells the man that the cases shouldn’t be considered closed until more decisive evidence is found. Ome goes to the Pixie’s Kitten. She sees that the brothel will be closed tonight so that the entire staff (barring one cleaner) can attend the public meeting en masse.

The town hall is packed! With the representatives of the four founding families sitting behind a semi-circular table at the rear of the hall and a podium in front for a speaker, Mayor Deverin begins the meeting and asks for comments from the public. Several people instantly raise their hand, and Mayor Deverin starts calling on them one by one.

Gorvi, the town’s half-orc rubbish collector, states in crude terms how much he likes visiting the Pixie’s Kitten. His words turn several people against the brothel, contrary to his intention.

Cyrdak gives an impassioned and effective speech about the need for individuality and self-expression, and how “moral know-it-alls” shouldn’t use their authority to suppress anything they don’t like. He ends his presentation by calling on his semi-secret partner, Sir Jasper Korvaski, to stand up so that their relationship can be publicly acknowledged. Cyrdak’s words are effective in swaying the crowd.

Jubrayl Vhiski, a lanky Varisian known to frequent the Fatman’s Feedbag, speaks up in opposition to the Pixie’s Kitten. Jubrayl says that everyone knows that brothels and crime go hand in hand, and that Sandpoint would be a safer place to live if it were closed down. Some heads in the crowd nod in agreement.

Sister Giulia gives a rambling, almost incoherent talk that leaves most listeners confused.

Hannah Velerin, the town healer, gives an effective, matter-of-fact statement that the management of the Pixie’s Kitten is responsible, and makes sure all of its men and women in the sex trade are healthy and treated respectfully by their clients. She says that brothels like the Pixie’s Kitten should be encouraged to exist rather than risk a much more dangerous black market sex trade flourishing in the shadows.

Sheriff Hemlock states that no link between the Pixie’s Kitten and any criminal activity has been found to exist, but his speech is undermined by the perfect timing of Jubrayl Vhiski’s mocking shout that he’s just saying that because he’s in love with Kaye Tesarani.

During a short break in the proceedings, Ome sidles up next to Jubrayl and tries to subtly intimidate him into keeping quiet. He just winks at her and slips away. Artemis uses the time to try to influence small groups of people, but as a perfect stranger to most of them, his efforts come to nought. When the meeting resumes, Ome stands up to talk. She says that she’s met men like Titus Scarnetti before, and that they live to dominate others. “It won’t stop with the Pixie’s Kitten,” Ome says. “Next will be the theatre, and the taverns, and it will go on and on until everything good in Sandpoint is banned.” Ome’s speech is extremely well-received and receives applause from large swathes of the audience.

But, following, directly on its heels, Titus Scarnetti takes the podium. Pounding his fist for emphasis and pointing his fingers at “the culprits”, he condemns the Pixie’s Kitten for allowing sin to enter and infect Sandpoint. Scarnetti links the opening of the brothel with the events of the Late Unpleasantness, and says that although the gods offered Sandpoint a brief reprieve to oust the malignancy within their midst, the townsfolk refused to do so and now the gods continue to punish their sin through goblin raids, murders, and other evils. The only way to set Sandpoint on the path of righteousness and recover the blessing of the gods, Scarnetti says, is to start by banning immoral activities like prostitution. Scarnetti’s speech is moderately effective, especially considering that Father Zantus isn’t in attendance to confirm or deny his points.
Titus Scarnetti

After Ameiko gives a brief talk about her personal friendship with Kaye Tesarani and her confidence that Sandpoint could have no kinder or more caring person in charge of the Pixie’s Kitten, Mayor Deverin says there’s time for only a few last comments. Ome manages to persuade a reluctant Artemis to come up to the podium with her. Ome continues the theme that Sheriff Hemlock was developing about how there is no proof of any link between the existence of a brothel in Sandpoint and any misfortunes that have been visited upon the town. She introduces Artemis, and the inexperienced public speaker gives an impressive showing! His arguments that, having lived in a large city like Magnimar, he knows that public, regulated brothels actually decrease crime and that many of the gods condone sex work is quite persuasive to those in attendance.

The members of the Town Council recess briefly, and then return. Mayor Deverin announces their decision: the brothel will be allowed to stay open. The staff of the Pixie’s Kitten are jubilant. Titus Scarnetti shoots looks of disgust at Artemis and Ome as the meeting is called to an end and people start to stand up and get ready to go home. Before they can, however, the doors of the meeting hall are thrown open by a sweat-soaked Bimmy Beems: “the town is like, on fire or something!”

Everyone rushes out of the town hall and towards the smoke and orange glow coming from the southeast. Soon the source of the flame becomes all too clear: the Pixie’s Kitten is burning! The townspeople start a bucket-line, and the fire hasn’t progressed too far; there still might be a chance to save the building! Ome starts conjuring water to help, but then she and Artemis hear a dreadful sound: screaming from inside the building. The two prove their heroism by dashing into the burning building as waves of heat and smoke-filled corridors dog them at every turn. Their excellent hearing helps them locate the source of the screaming, and when they get to a storage room on the second floor, they see the Pixie’s Kitten’s cleaner shouting for help. Ome picks the woman up, but as they turn back to go the way they’ve come, they realize the stairwell is in flames! Artemis opens a window so that Ome can jump out with the cleaner in her arms—and, thanks to a magical ring of feather falling, both touch down unharmed. Artemis ducks through the window and tries to climb down to the street, but slips and hits the ground hard. He lives, but will have serious bruises in the morning! Once the cleaner is safely out of harm’s way, the two heroes help the other residents of the town fight the fire and, fortunately, they’re able to get it under control. The Pixie’s Kitten won’t be habitable for a couple of weeks, but it’s not a total loss either.

Sheriff Hemlock tells Artemis that there’s no way the timing of the fire, when most of the town’s residents were in city hall, could have been an accident. He designates Artemis and Bosk Hartigan to find the arsonist. Meanwhile, Ome talks to the brothel’s staff—about twenty of them are now homeless. The tengu says she can house six of them at her shack south of town. With Artemis’ help, she finds temporary housing for the others at a combination of the cathedral, the theatre, and the Rusty Dragon.

It’s well past midnight as the exhausted heroes finally make it to their own beds.

[5 Neth 4707]

The autumn morning sees a constant drizzle descend over Sandpoint. Artemis and Ome decide to work together to figure out who was behind the attempt to burn down the Pixie’s Kitten. Their first visit is to the records room at town hall to see if attendance sheets were kept on when people arrived and left last night’s meeting; the line of inquiry fails, however, as a clerk says that people are allowed to come and go freely as long as they don’t create a distraction. A visit to the scene of the crime is far more rewarding: somehow, with a combination of incredible tengu eyesight and the investigative skills of a law enforcement professional, the two discern wet footprints made with lamp oil heading west. Despite the rain, Ome is able to follow them across the street to where they end at the backdoor of the Fatman’s Feedbag, Sandpoint’s most notorious tavern! Having prepared for his secondment to Sandpoint, Artemis knows that the Fatman’s Feedbag is a real dive and the site of several fistfights that have to be broken up by the town watch on a regular basis. Even worse, it’s reputed to be the informal meeting place of the town’s criminal element, including the loosely organized gang of Varisian highwaymen and thieves known as the Sczarni.

The tavern is closed in the morning, and, resisting Ome’s veiled suggestion of doing some breaking and entering, Artemis suggest they gather more clues and return when it’s open. Artemis examines the burn pattern at the Pixie’s Kitten and concludes that the job was done hastily and by an amateur: someone splashed a few flasks of lamp oil around the outer walls and lit them with a brand or torch. Had the job been done by a professional, the brothel would have been a lost cause before the volunteers could arrive to put out the blaze. The two investigators, one official and one unofficial, set out to discover if anyone purchased a large quantity of lamp oil recently. A visit to the Sandpoint Mercantile League shows major imports by the league itself, Deverin Manor, and the town’s general store. Following the lead, the two investigators walk to Ven Vinder’s establishment. Two signs are posted on the door: “No adventurers!” and “Closed tomorrow for funeral.” Ome wisely decides to wait outside while Artemis enters. Ven is obviously in a state of deep mourning and despair, but complies with the watchman’s request to learn who has been in to purchase lamp oil in recent days. The answer consists of only three individuals, and one of them is Gressel Tenniwar, owner of the Fatman's Feedbag!

At lunchtime, when the tavern is opened, Ome enters while Artemis waits outside, knowing his membership in the Town Watch would simply cause everyone inside to clam up. The Fatman’s Feedbag features sticky tables, sawdust-covered floors, and a bar gouged by years of knife- and broken bottle- fights. Gressel Tenniwar, an enormous man with muttonchops, stands behind the bar filling drinks. But Ome is savvy enough to know that the real power in the Feedbag is sitting at a table in the corner surrounded by his flunkies: Jubrayl Vhisky! Ome’s reputation as someone known to lurk occasionally in the seamier side of Sandpoint life is enough to gain her a private audience with the man. The two have a conversation filled with insinuation and innuendo, as Ome subtly hints that Jubrayl was involved in the recent arson. Jubrayl is too experienced to speak about such things with a virtual stranger, but he does make it clear that as the Pixie’s Kitten has an effectively monopoly on the sex trade in Sandpoint, “competition” could be “extremely lucrative” for a “businessman” like himself. He says that if Ome can persuade Kaye to take her operation elsewhere, he’d compensate the Tengu with a “finder’s fee.” Ome leaves, having learned much even if unable to prove any of it.
Jubrayl Vhiski

Titus Scarnetti’s efforts to impose his singular moralism on Sandpoint has been dealt a severe setback. Yet, the Pixie’s Kitten is closed. Who’s responsible for the arson? And has the true culprit behind the serial Sihedron-related murderers really been dealt with?

Director's Commentary (August 2, 2017)

This is probably the longest recap in the campaign, because there was a ton of role-playing and plot development and very little combat.  Two of the players (who ran Bey and Arnald) weren't available for the session, so I only had two players to work with--one forgets how much more quickly stories can advance when there are fewer people at the table!  Still, this session did get me thinking seriously about adding a fifth player so that a couple of people could be absent and wouldn't necessarily imperil the whole AP. 

The entire storyline with the Pixie's Kitten was something I made up myself, drawing upon Ome's relationship with Kaye Tessarani and the presence of a moralistic prat like Titus Scarnetti.  It was also a great way to incorporate Jubrayl Vhiski into the campaign.  The public hearing was run as a skills challenge, and I was really happy with how it turned out--the fact that most of the NPCs had already been established in the campaign meant that I had a good idea how to run them and give them different voices.  The players did fantastic RP, so a scene that could have fallen flat (a town meeting!) was actually pretty exciting.

The encounter with the giant gars was my use of plot twist card; everyone gets one card per chapter, including the GM!  In retrospect, that encounter was far too deadly for just two PCs, even if it was one the random encounters table for the AP.  I was lucky not to have some PC deaths on my hands.