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Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Session # 21 Recap:
[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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
The way I think of negative levels is that they don't take away your ability to *do* anything, but just make certain things you do less effective. The simplest way to think about this is that having negative levels doesn't affect your *ability* to cast spells (in terms of type or number), but once the spell is cast, its effectiveness is diminished if there is a level-dependent variable at play (such as range, area, damage, etc.).
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
I've always thought the Siege Mage was the most ridiculous archetype in the game. I mean yes, you're still a wizard and thus better than many classes, but the negatives (no cantrips and three opposition schools!) for very trivial bonuses to using siege weapons is just laughable. Plus, siege weapons themselves are not particular impressive compared to mid-level wizard spells, so the whole thing just doesn't make sense.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
I guess the thing to keep in mind is this:
In the real-world, sure, it makes perfect sense to be able to hold two small objects in one hand. People do it all the time.
In game, allowing a PC to hold two items in one hand can require the GM to make a lot of tricky judgment calls on just how big or heavy the two items are. There will be obvious "sure" cases and obvious "no way" cases, but a lot of stuff in between. In some groups, GM discretion on this sort of thing is cool, but in others it can lead to annoying in-game arguments.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Sorry, but it's part of the fun of gaming! I once ran a PFS game for 4 vets and one brand new player. A pack of ghouls appeared, and the vets wisely retreated, leaving the poor new guy all by himself. It did not end well . . . But the player came back for another go, and good on him.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
My understanding is that, RAW, there's no limitation or added penalty on characters of one class researching spells of another class. The normal spell research rules apply.
The existence of multi-classing, 30+ classes, dozens of prestige classes, etc., has tended to blur the line between the classic division of "clerics" vs. "wizards." (I'm not saying this is a good thing, but just the reality in Pathfinder as it now stands).
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Session # 20 Recap:
[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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
One of the things I finally realized (quite belatedly) is to be more candid with players from the get-go about what kind of campaign you're planning to run. There are true sandbox campaigns lacking any sort of meta-plot, where a player attitude of "that's what my character would do" (refuse obvious adventure hooks, focus on romance, PvP, etc.) could be perfectly acceptable, and any consequences are dealt with in-game until it all falls apart or becomes magnificent. I've run those and they can be great fun and extremely aggravating at the same time! Then there are campaigns that are relatively free-form but that have a premise that everyone has to buy into: "everyone is a heroic knight" or "you're all members of a thieves' guild." Players need to accept the premise or join a different group. And there are planned adventures, whether homemade, published adventure paths, PFS Scenarios, etc., where the PCs have some freedom but players also need to keep in mind the essentials of the plot they're being presented with.
Last, after saying "just do what your character would do" for years, I've realized that there's usually a range of plausible things a character would/could do in a given situation, and one of those may make the game far more fun for everyone than another. Yes, it's in character for the dumb, reckless barbarian to punch the smug mayor in the mouth and get everyone arrested or killed, but it's also in character for that same barbarian to stomp away in search of drink, loudly muttering curses in Hallit. Players should have firm ideas of what their characters would never do ("my paladin wouldn't set fire to an orphanage!") but be more flexible, depending on the story, on what their character could do ("my paladin is thinking of arresting the jaywalker on the spot, but this time he lets him off with a stern warning").
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
The only AP I'm familiar with is Rise of the Runelords, which (in the Anniversary Edition on page 404) sets an expectation of a 20% chance of a random encounter per day of travel or night of rest. It says this chance can be raised or lowered if the GM wishes, and provides custom random encounter tables for each area the PCs are likely to frequent (intelligently basing CRs around the levels they're likely to be present there). I've adhered closely to the expectation and it's worked out well.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Thurston Hillman wrote:
And it won't stop until you give the people what they want! :)
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Session # 19 Recap:
[2 Neth 4707 continued]
Everyone gathers around to hear Shalelu’s tale of how she saw strands of silver hair on some tree branches and followed them straight into an ambush! Nualia knew she was being hunted, and, having captured Shalelu, sent a goblin to the Sandpoint authorities to set up a trap. Nualia used an alchemical mixture to dye Shalelu’s hair and hoped to enjoy the exquisite revenge of seeing the elf killed by her own over-zealous allies. Shalelu says she’s been held in the complete darkness of that hut for days now, and that Nualia is probably long gone. Bey, who has come out of her trance, helps tend to her wounds.
Ome decides to investigate a large, artificial cavern at the eastern end of the clearing. The structure was made by covering several fallen trees with dead leaves and furs, and, as the largest area in the clearing, was probably the home of Big Chief Wortus. Ome searches the place carefully and finds a hollow log stuffed with Wortus’ personal treasure trove! Gold, jewelry, a mithral buckler, and a forked crystal rod that proves to be a magic wand are discovered. Ome decides to repeat Arnald’s search of the other huts, and in one finds a polished human skull full of gold and jewellery.
The group escort the badly-beaten Shalelu out of the clearing and back the way they came through Mosswood. A couple of hours’ journey sees them reach the Lost Coast Road, and from there they turn west. Soon they spot a caravan of about twenty wagons headed towards them, with several guards mounted on horseback. Arnald waves two of the guards over and asks them where they’re headed: they explain that they’re taking food to Galduria. Arnald asks them some unusual questions about Galduria, leaving the suspicious guards to return quickly to the caravan. About an hour later, the group see a wagon sitting in the middle of the road. It clearly has a broken axle, and a terrified-looking farmer is standing in the wagon bed scanning the area with a nocked longbow. Beside him is an adolescent girl who appears far less panicked. Ome approaches slowly and tries to calm the man down enough to offer some assistance, but the farmer is so frightened he threatens to shoot if Ome takes one more step! Artemis tries to offer help as well, but is equally rebuffed. The group circle around the wagon and continue on their way, promising to contact Billivar Wheen in Sandpoint to render aid.
The travellers reach Sandpoint in the early afternoon. Noticing that the guards at the northern gates seem agitated, Artemis asks what’s going on. They reply that there were two murders last night! Banny Harker, co-operator of the Sandpoint Lumber Mill, and Katrine Vinder, daughter of General Store owner Ven Vinder, were found dead. After Bey tells the guards about the stranded wagon on the road and Shalelu departs to rest and resupply (determined to strike out on Nualia’s trail again as soon as possible), the group head straight for the mill. When they arrive, they see several members of the Town Watch outside, some searching for clues while others make sure the small crowd of townspeople that has assembled stay back. A breathless Jodar Provolost waves the four travellers in, saying that Sheriff Hemlock mentioned wanting to talk to them.
Sheriff Hemlock is just outside the entrance to the mill, speaking with his deputy, Bosk Hartigan. Hemlock finishes giving Hartigan instructions and then turns to address the group. Hemlock starts by saying that he’s speaking with them because, other than himself, they’re the only people in Sandpoint he’s absolutely sure aren’t responsible for the murders, since they were out of town last night. Hemlock says that early this morning, the bodies of Banny Harker and Katrine Vinder were found by the mill’s other operator, a man named Ibor Thorne. Hemlock says he and his officers are trying to keep the mill locked down to prevent a panic, because if people saw what was inside they’d be horrified and think the Chopper was somehow back. Even more disturbing, Hemlock adds, is that the two bodies inside the mill are the second set of murders in the past few days: three known con men were found murdered in an abandoned barn on the old Bradley farm near Cougar Creek, just a half-mile or so from the old fisherman’s shack that Ome claims as home. Finally, Hemlock says another personal link exists between the murders and the adventurers: a bloodstained scrap of parchment was found pinned to the sleeve of Katrine Vinder by a splinter of wood, and Bey’s name was on it! Hemlock has his lead investigator on the case, Bosk Hartigan, show the group what the parchment says: “You will learn to love me, desire me in time as she did. Give yourself to the Pack and it shall end. Your Lordship.” Hemlock says he has more to share but will have to meet with them at the garrison later as he’s pressed for time. He asks them to take a careful look around the mill to see if they can uncover any clues that his officers have missed, with Artemis to report directly to Hartigan if they do.
Inside the mill is a ghastly scene: the body of Banny Harker has been affixed to the wall with lumber hooks, while mangled lumps of flesh and a decapitated head testify to the grisly fact that Katrine Vinder’s corpse has been through the logsplitter. A handaxe is embedded in the floor nearby, and the whole area carries the lingering scent of decay, a curious fact since the bodies were found just this morning. Artemis begins his investigation with the axe, and sees there are bloody handprints on the handle and bits of rotten flesh on the blade; the experienced guardsman is overcome by the nauseating scent and has to run to the pier outside for fresh air. Bey is able to discern from the amount of blood-spray on the wall near the logsplitter that, distressingly, Katrine Vinder was alive when she passed through it. The seer speculates that the attacker must have felt great rage or great disdain to do such a terrible thing to a young woman. Next, Bey turns her attention to Harker’s body. She sees it’s been mutilated, with the face and lower jaw missing entirely. The body’s bare chest has been defaced as well, carved with the distinctive seven-pointed star that Bey instantly recognizes as a Sihedron rune, a glyph from ancient Thassilon that symbolizes power, magic, and mortal sin. She’s also able to discern that Harker was killed by deep gouges to the abdomen made by claws, and notices that the rotten smell that permeates the room seems even stronger near these wounds.
Meanwhile, while lurking in the corner to allow his more experienced allies to conduct the investigation, Arnald notices an important clue! Bloody footprints in the sawdust head towards the small pier outside the lumber mill. Ome follows Arnald, and together the two discern that the attacker must have clambered onto the pier from the muddy area directly underneath it, scaled the outer wall, and entered the building through a second-floor window. Arnald notices a spot on the opposite bank of the river that would make a perfect vantage point for anyone watching the mill. He and Ome set out to investigate it more closely and find a relatively dry spot that carries the lingering smell of rotten flesh. Curiously, the barefoot human-like footprints reveal tracks leading from and into the river, but never further inland.
The members of the make-shift investigative team assemble to discuss their findings. Bey surmises that Harker was the first victim, and that Katrine was the second, as she interrupted something and caught her attacker by surprise. The hand axe was probably used by Katrine to defend herself, which is why it shows petite handprints on the axe and rotten flesh on the blade. Ome agrees, suggesting that Harker had probably been waiting for Katrine when he was attacked by the murderer. To confirm Ome’s theory, the group scour the lumber mill for further clues and uncover a blanket and a bottle of wine hidden in a toolbox in Harker’s office: further proof of a planned romantic liaison. After reporting their findings to Bosk Hartigan and learning that Katrine had been seen coming to the mill late at night on previous evenings, their theory seems confirmed. Bosk says that Ven Vinder and Ibor Thorne are in custody at the garrison for questioning, and that he can arrange it if anyone in the group wishes to speak with them.
Additional lines of enquiry are made that prove fruitful. A sample of the rotten flesh is taken to Father Zantus and to Sabyl Sorn to see if either can identify its source. Father Zantus is nauseated by a mere whiff and isn’t helpful, but Sabyl Sorn says she’s seen the like before on the bodies of the walking dead! Bey takes a sketch of the Sihedron rune found on Harker’s body and shows it to Brodert Quink, asking whether it can be tied to a specific sin. Quink’s knowledge of ancient Thassilon is unparalleled, and he says that the rotation and placement of the rune indicates it is related to the sin of greed.
The group take their findings to Sheriff Hemlock at the garrison and offer their conclusions that the attacker must have been a “corporeal undead” and that Harker’s death had something to do with greed. Sheriff Hemlock is impressed, and adds that Harker was well-known in town as a penny-pincher. Hemlock carries out his promise to tell the group more information about the first set of murders, which were discovered just two days prior. He explains that a patrol of the Town Watch was making may their way south along the Lost Coast Road when they were assaulted by a deranged man near the old Bradley homestead. The man, whose clothes were caked with blood, was obviously sick and insane: flesh fevered, eyes wild, and moth frothing. Bey gives a gasp because she’s recognized something crucially important, but Hemlock keeps talking. The guards subdued the deranged man, who was later identified as a Varisian thug named Grayst Sevilla, but when they followed his tracks back to the Bradley barn, they discovered the mutilated bodies of three men inside! The bodies of the men bore the same seven-pointed star marking, and from a piece of parchment found in one’s pocket, Sheriff Hemlock concludes that the bodies belong to con men well-known to him: Tarch Mortwell, Lener Hask, and Gedwin Tabe. He adds that the three bodies are in the garrison’s basement if the group think they could learn anything from an examination of them.
Once Hemlock’s explanation is over, Bey adds her surprising insight: Grayst Sevilla is suffering from ghoul fever! A mere description of his symptoms was enough for the oracle to identify the cause, and the fact ties in perfectly with the strong stench of rotten flesh (a well-known attribute of ghouls) found at the crime scene in the mill. Bey says that Sevilla must be treated immediately lest he spread the disease elsewhere. Hemlock says that the man is in the care of Dr. Erin Habe at a sanatorium south of Sandpoint. Hemlock says he’ll write a letter of introduction for the group, and, when asked, says he’ll arrange for the town to pay for the magical scrolls that Bey said could be used to cure the man. Before they leave, Artemis relates the details of the failed mission to capture Nualia and of Shalelu’s rescue.
The investigators walk to the basement of the garrison, where Vachedi shows them the three slabs holding the bodies of the con men. Bey confirms that each has the same Sihedron-marking and claw wounds as Banny Harker. Bey is careful to note that, because the bodies’ faces have been mutilated, there is no absolute confirmation of each victim’s identity. Next, the group manage to get the attention of Vorvashali Voon in his shop (even though it’s now after dusk and closed), and are fortunate to find that he has two magical scrolls containing spells to cure diseases.
Sandpoint is again the target of a serial killer, but this time the clues are being assembled quickly. What will the investigators discover when they question someone who could be the only surviving witness to the murders?
I put a couple of non-combat encounters on the road back from Mosswood. I do this every so often as a role-playing opportunity for the players, to add some verisimilitude to the world, and to keep the players from thinking that every time they see something it must be monsters or an ambush. It can be fun as a GM to see some PCs attach great significance to completely innocuous things, like Arnald being incredibly suspicious about the caravan heading to Galduria.
The return to Sandpoint sees the start of the murder mystery that officially kicks off Chapter 2 in the AP. I thought this was a great part of the adventure path, as it gives the players a chance to do something different than pure combat (CSI!). It definitely ups the stakes when it comes to death and horror (that lumber mill scene is nightmarishly grisly), and I really liked the direct tie to one of the PCs built into it. Mysteries are really hard to do in role-playing games because the GM (or scenario writer, in this case) has to try to plan for all sorts of spells and special abilities the PCs may have, as well as provide contingencies in case important clues are misunderstood or simply overlooked. If anything, there were probably too many clues at the crime scene as it wasn't hard at all for the players to deduce that the murderer was a ghoul, but I didn't mind because they were diligent in collecting information and intelligently talked over its implications. It's always fun to see the players think up stuff that I (and the scenario writers) never would have expected, like taking the bits of rotten flesh to other learned people in town to see if they could identify it.
I loved how naturally the tie-in to the sanatorium worked. I know from past experience running mystery plots that it's very easy for the players to think an important connection to the next stage of the adventure (like the crazed survivor has been put into care) is simply a throwaway line for flavour. I originally thought there was a fair chance they wouldn't make it to the sanatorium at all. They did skip interrogating Ibor Thorne or Ven Vinder, but didn't miss much.
My only disappointment was that the players (and their characters), having just reached the conclusion that the murderer was a ghoul and that ghoul fever was a thing, were expecting a battle in the morgue when they went to look at the bodies of the con men. It was a bit of a let-down when the corpses really were just corpses! I perhaps such have exercised some GM discretion and had one of the bodies suddenly lurch into motion . . .
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
I have to admit I'm concerned about the impact of removing low ability scores on role-playing. After a few levels, every PC is going to be clustering around 16-17 with every ability score, and (I presume) most of this scores will be far above sentient average. So everyone is super smart, wise, strong, fast, etc., with the difference between PCs relatively small.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
My guess would be you could reduce Stamina and HP through any combination of lethal and nonlethal; but the last blow to get a character to 0 hp can kill them if it was a lethal blow, but can't kill them if it was a nonlethal blow. In other words, the type of the final blow is what matters. (and then there's the Resolve stuff)
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
I'm happy to see that rolling to confirm crits is gone. Always thought it was a bad rule that always deflated the awesomeness of rolling a crit.
Just remember that it goes both ways--it's great as a player not to have to confirm when you're attacking, but it's not so much fun when defending and the GM doesn't have to confirm a crit :)
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Session # 18 Recap:
In the month following the second failed raid on Thistletop, the adventurers go their separate ways.
Arnald spends many of his days drinking and looking for work. Occasionally, he assists Shalelu Andosana in trying to verify sightings of a “silver-haired witch” in the Sandpoint hinterlands. On one such venture, he and Shalelu are ambushed by a group of goblins in Mosswood. The last surviving goblin flees and tries to climb a nearby tree, but Arnald has no difficulty catching up to it. “Wait!” the goblin screeches. “Axeman and the Hunter Elf! I can help you!” The goblin has just enough time to say something about “Longshanks Silverhead” and the Bloodfangs before Arnald mercilessly chops its head off. When Shalelu catches up and asks what the goblin was shouting about, Arnald replies simply “nothing important.”
Ome devotes her time to singing melancholy songs at the Pixie’s Kitten and collecting dossiers on certain members of the Sandpoint community. One afternoon late in Lamashan, Ome arrives at the Pixie’s Kitten to see that a staff meeting is underway: discussion is being held about how to respond to a new push by Titus Scarnetti, conservative head of one of Sandpoint’s four founding families, to have prostitution made illegal in the town. Scarnetti has posted fliers about a public meeting on 4 Neth at the town hall, and rumors are spreading that he and his backers are going to start a “name and shame” campaign against the clients of the Pixie’s Kitten. Although some of the bouncers and working girls think Scarnetti is all hot air or that Sheriff Hemlock’s “being sweet on” Kaye Tessarani will be enough to protect the brothel, the establishment’s proprietor is clearly concerned. Ome listens and offers her support, but the meeting ends inconclusively.
Bey has spent the last several weeks helping her old friend Brodert Quink continue his study of Old Light. Quink remains convinced there must be chambers underneath the rubble, but after laboriously moving heavy stone blocks and examining every surface for runes, the pair’s efforts to find anything has so far come to naught. Near the end of the month of Lamashan, Bey is working at the site one day when she sees Madame Mvashti slowly trudging across the street towards her with the help of a cane. The aged Varisian seer seems unconcerned by the fact that a wagon pulled by two strong horses is bearing down on her quickly, and that the wagon’s driver is busy shouting at someone behind him! Bey moves quickly and dashes in to save Madame Mvashti, but she need not have bothered: instants before a fatal collision would have occurred, the wagon throws a wheel and the horses drag it to a stop with inches to spare. Madame Mvashti mumbles something about having told the wagon’s handler to get that wheel fixed and then shares with Bey her purpose for coming. “What started five years ago ain’t done yet, cheri,” she says. “Sandpoint’s gonna be in flames, no stoppin’ dat, but you an yer friends can keep it from getting’ too bad.” Madame Mvashti goes on to say that although she was already old when Sandpoint was founded over forty years ago, this is her last winter and the town will need someone with their inner-eye open to help guide it when she’s gone. Bey is completely nonplussed by the seer’s words.
Meanwhile, over fifty miles away in the city of Magnimar, a member of the City Watch named Artemis Lahs has just finished giving testimony against an offender in a courtroom in the Pediment Building. Artemis is a tall, muscular man with an odd line of scales along the sides of his face and a pronounced ridgeline on his brow. Once Artemis leaves the courtroom, he’s surprised to see his watch captain, Gibble Fank, waiting for him. Fank explains that something unusual has come up, and that Artemis has received new orders. Moreso, a member of the Justice Court (the city’s highest court) has instructed Artemis to come to his chambers. When Fank and Artemis reach the elegant oak door bearing the nameplate “Justice Ironbriar”, Fank stops and actually looks a bit nervous. “In ya go, lad,” he says. “Mind yer manners in there! Ironbriar’s been alive longer than both of us put together, an ya don’t wanna cross him!” Eventually, a law clerk leads Artemis into a massive office dominated by looming bookcases and a wide desk. The person sitting behind the desk is a stern-faced elf wearing an elegant red and purple cloak. He doesn’t stand up when Artemis enters, but instead says in a crisp Chellish accent “Staff Sergeant Artemis Lahs. You have a clean record. Three commendations for valor. A wife, no children. I think you’ll do. You’re being transferred. Sandpoint. You’ve heard of it, yes?” When Artemis replies in the affirmative, Justice Ironbriar explains that the Shoanti sheriff of the town has made several dubious reports lately about goblin armies, demon cults, and more. Artemis is to keep an eye on the situation and personally report, by letter, to Ironbriar every week.
[1 Neth 4707]
In Sheriff Hemlock’s “war room” in the town garrison, an unlikely combination of people have gathered at his request. Present are Arnald, Ome, Bey, and Artemis. As, apart from Sheriff Hemlock, only Arnald and Ome have met each other previously, introductions are made. Sheriff Hemlock explains that, just hours ago, a goblin bearing a white flag arrived in Sandpoint hoping to claim part of the bounty on Nualia, the demon-touched former resident of Sandpoint responsible for masterminding attacks on the town. The goblin said that Nualia has been living with the Bloodfang tribe in southern Mosswood at the foot of the mountains. Sheriff Hemlock says that he’s received strict orders from Magnimar to “avoid arousing the anger of the surrounding goblinoid inhabitants.” Thus, Hemlock can’t take any official action to investigate the sighting. He mentions, seemingly off-hand, however, that the bounty on Nualia is 2,000 gold pieces, dead or alive. Further, he says that Artemis isn’t officially on duty until Hemlock signs his commission papers, and that southern Mosswood would be the perfect place for a hunting and fishing trip this time of year. Hemlock then dismisses the group. Artemis and Ome instantly get the hint and explain it to Arnald, while Bey is consumed by one of her mystical visions.
Artemis has prepared for his secondment to Sandpoint by studying maps of the local geography and is able to lead the group towards Mosswood with little difficulty. The journey east along the Lost Coast Road is uneventful, and in just a few hours, the group is at the northern borders of the forest. It’s a beautiful autumn day, and the leaves on the trees have turned into gorgeous shades of red and yellow. With little to go on besides word that the Bloodfang family of goblins lives near the mountains in the southern portion of the forest, the group pushes into Mosswood itself. Their progress slows as they move off the road. Several times they see signs that goblins and other creatures are in the area, but luck or the imposing sight of four heavily-armed warriors keeps anything from attacking. Eventually, the bounty-hunters decide to set up camp near a stream so they’ll be fresh to push on for the Bloodfangs the following morning.
As dusk begins to fall over the camp, everyone present can hear the distinctive shrill voice of a goblin approaching. The goblin is loudly lamenting his chore of fetching water and is oblivious to the fact that he’s almost walked right up to the campsite! Artemis and Ome instantly take cover, but Arnald rushes the goblin, axe at the ready, and terrifies the creature into utter submission! The goblin, who gives his name as Gurthak, is hard to get useful information out of given his low intelligence and bewilderment at his situation, but Ome is able to extract additional clues about the location of the Bloodfangs. The group decide to pull up stakes in case other goblins use the stream. They head further south, dragging Gurthak with them. A couple of hours’ journey into darkness, they set up another campsite. A debate ensues about what to do with Gurthak: Arnald wants to kill him for the bounty on goblin ears, Artemis says it’s too dangerous to let him go, and Bey says the pathetic creature shouldn’t be murdered in cold blood. Eventually, Ome kills the terrified creature with a point-blank arrow shot and Arnald cuts the ears off Gurthak’s corpse.
[2 Neth 4707]
The group’s journey south continues. While crossing a portion of the forest composed of rocky, forested hills, the group pass by a small cave and unwittingly frighten a giant, furry bat nearly the size of an ox! The creature, a dire bat, screeches and attacks, but Ome’s and Artemis’ archery skills combined with Bey’s bardiche are enough to fell it.
The travellers come upon a stroke of luck a little later in their journey. They crest a small hillock and see that below them is a small clearing to the south that contains a handful of huts and a large bonfire. With small mountains in the distance, the group rightly suspect this could be the location of the Bloodfangs. Artemis climbs a nearby tree to get a better vantage point, and is able to discern a single goblin walking around the near side of the clearing. In the hopes of killing the sentinel silently to pave the way for his allies to approach, the Magnimarian watchman takes careful aim with his bow and releases an arrow, but the goblin is still hundreds of feet away and the shot narrowly misses. The goblin, realizing it is being attacked, rouses the camp!
Arnald charges into battle, while Artemis and Ome stay behind and rely on archery. Bey, alas, has slipped into another mystical trance and provides no assistance. At first, the Bloodfangs are confused about where the attack is coming from and scatter. But they’re clearly more disciplined than the rabble the invaders have encountered before, and soon Arnald is surrounded! The Bloodfangs have teeth stained a frightening shade of red, and, unbeknownst to the attackers, are part of a cult devoted to the demon-goddess Lamashtu. One of the Bloodfangs runs to summon their chief while the others attack. Arnald fights valiantly and is able to kill several of the goblins with his greataxe while Ome and Artemis stay hidden and fire arrows. Even the Bloodfang’s pet wolverine is slain! But suddenly Arnald is paralyzed as Big Chief Wortus, leader of the Bloodfangs, casts a spell and reveals he has approached while invisible!
Ome is close enough for Big Chief Wortus to see and thus draws his attention. The goblin chief used the early seconds of the battle to prepare, and illusory duplicates of himself consistently foil the outsiders’ attacks. Fortunately, Artemis and Ome keep Big Chief Wortus distracted by the hail of arrows long enough for the badly-hurt Arnald to shake off the malevolent enchantment and withdraw. The axeman decides to change his tactics and draws his own composite longbow. With a single pull of the bowstring, he succeeds in doing what his allies couldn’t! Big Chief Wortus dies with Arnald’s arrow protruding from his throat.
With all visible opposition slain, the group enter the Bloodfangs’ campsite. Arnald tries to persuade Ome to magically heal his wounds, but instead the tengu offers to sell Arnald healing potions at the guileful price of 49 gold pieces each or two for 99! The dim-witted mercenary takes the deal. Ome casts a minor divination to discern that Big Chief Wortus carried an enchanted falchion and two magic wands in addition to other valuable, non-magical treasure. Ome and Artemis persuade Arnald, who is still badly hurt, to take the lead in searching the huts one by one. One hut contains a stack of polished human skulls, while another seems to be a crude workshop for the manufacture of dogslicers. A third hut is barred with a wooden door and its outside is covered with layer after layer of tar, blood, and leaves to prevent even the smallest light from penetrating. Arnald cleaves the door in twain with one swing of his greataxe and sees a flash of silver hair in the darkness inside! But good sense overwhelms instinct, and Arnald refrains from attacking immediately. Instead, he hurls his ever-burning torch into the hut and realizes it is not Nualia he has found: but instead, Shalelu, bound and gagged, her hair alchemically dyed silver!
The protectors of Sandpoint have defeated the Bloodfangs and avoided a cunning trap to rescue an ally they hadn’t even realized was in danger. But are they any closer to finding Nualia?
This was the first session of Chapter 2, and the first session back after some weeks off for the winter holidays. The timing of the real-world break coincided nicely with the in-game break advised by the AP after Chapter 1, and I used the optional Downtime system from Ultimate Campaign to reflect this. I also had one solo RP encounter for each PC set during this period to foreshadow some coming events.
Since Bey's player was back after a while away and Xeveg/Nedrin/Eugeni's player was debuting a new PC named Artemis, I again thought it might be a good idea to start the chapter off with a more straightforward one-session adventure to help the group bond before launching into the main storyline in the next session. I also wanted to remind the players about Shalelu (since she otherwise wouldn't appear in this chapter) and tie in Nualia's escape at the end of the previous chapter. I used the "Bloodfang Goblins" encounter from the first hardcover volume of the Pathfinder comic as a basis. The encounter was fun and reasonably challenging without being overly difficult. I was pleasantly surprised the group avoided (what I thought was) Nualia's clever trap of trying to get the PCs to kill Shalelu.
Having a member of the Magnimar City Watch as a PC was fantastic for story purposes and really added some extra dimension to later events in the chapter. I had Justice Ironbriar appear now so that the revelation he was the head of the Skinsaw Cult would have some extra impact, because as the AP is written, he might be a perfect stranger to the PCs. As an unrelated PC note, whenever the recaps describe Bey as "going into her mystery" or "entering a trance or vision", that's code for the player needing to do either babyminding or taking a nap--it's hard to game as the parent of an infant!
I'm still surprised by the bloodthirsty end of poor Gurthak, a goblin I made up on the spot when the random encounter table told me that 1d6 goblins would approach and the die result was a 1. I liked the poor little guy, and I thought his end was rather cold and cruel.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Session # 17 Recap:
[7 Lamashan 4707 continued]
After the difficult battle over the Shadows in an ancient crypt below the surface of Thistletop, Ome finds a secret door hidden in an alcove. Arnald, weakened from the strength-draining touch of the creatures, takes off his armor and gear and decides to rest while the others continue exploring. The secret door leads to a passage sloping steeply downward, and eventually ending in what was once a treasury but is now partially submerged under seawater. Two of the remaining walls of the chamber depict carvings of incredible treasures, while the third shows a towering mountain, its peak carved in the shape of a stern face above a great palace on the side of the mountain, overlooking an immense city of spires. Eugeni draws closer to the pool of water and notices thousands of coins glinting from the light of Ome’s everburning torch. The pool contains a stranger treasure, however: a massive helmet, almost five-feet wide, made of gold. But as Eugeni looks at it more closely, he sees eyes move within it and then the helmet rotates!
The giant hermit crab which has adopted the helmet as its shell watches the adventurers closely. Shalelu tells her allies that, obviously, Nualia is not here and that they should depart, but Ome and Eugeni are transfixed by the amount of treasure in the pool and decide to attack! Eugeni transmutes his hair until the strands are dozens of feet long and wrap around the hermit grab. Ome and Shalelu begin shooting arrows into the trapped invertebrate, but then it breaks free and charges towards the adventurers, opening and closing massive pincers! Shalelu shouts in agony as one of the pincers crushes her ribcage and throws her unconscious form against a wall. Some distance away, Arnald hears the cry and decides to come to his companions’ aid.
As Ome darts in and out of the chamber to avoid the giant crab, Eugeni tries to entrap it again with his magically-enhanced hair, but he gets caught by a pincer as well! Arnald arrives on the scene and revives Shalelu with a healing potion, but no one is fast enough to aid Eugeni as the half-orc is grievously wounded and tossed aside like a rag doll. Ome appears cornered, but manages to tumble her way free and runs out of the room to rejoin Shalelu and Arnald who have already withdrawn. With all of the intruders out of sight except for the unconscious Eugeni, the giant crab begins to devour its fresh kill. Ome returns to the chamber just in time to see her friend die and cries out in sorrow. She begins firing arrow after arrow into the crab until it finally succumbs. The overwrought tengu tears the crab apart with her bare claws before realizing something significant: with all of the treasure in the chamber, perhaps she could pay a cleric to bring her friend back to life! The three survivors work hard to collect the thousands of coins, precious stones, and other treasures in the chamber and then return to the surface stockade. There, Arnald takes the lead and uses his axe to chop down enough planks to build a makeshift catamaran capable of hauling the adventurers, Eugeni’s corpse, the coins, and the massive helmet back to Sandpoint. Exhausted and demoralized, the invaders rest in a secure chamber for the evening.
[8 Lamashan 4707]
The adventurers row, with some difficulty, the makeshift catamaran all the way back to Sandpoint. At the dock, Shalelu says her farewell for the time being, saying she plans to rest and then head for the wilderness to see if she can find any trace of Nualia. Ome and Arnald haul the thousands of coins and the massive golden helm to the town hall and barter with Sister Arva, the town banker, to exchange the treasure for platinum pieces. Subsequent visits are made to the town jeweller and the Feathered Serpent, the proprietors of each of which watch Ome quite closely as the reputation of tengu as thieves and scoundrels is well known. At the cathedral, Father Zantus is saddened to hear that yet another has died to protect Sandpoint. When pressed, he acknowledges having a single scroll with the power to raise someone from the dead, but claims it is intended for the truest of emergencies only (such as the death of Mayor Deverin or Sheriff Hemlock in a time of crisis) and that he can’t guarantee it will work. He is reluctantly persuaded to use it on Eugeni on the condition that the funds necessary to replace the scroll are provided to him as soon as possible. Ome and Father Zantus agree that, in the morning, Eugeni’s spirit will be contacted through magic to determine if the half-orc would wish to return to the mortal plane.
Later that day, Ome visits a location she is quite familiar with: the Pixie’s Kitten. Many of the employees of Sandpoint’s elegant and tasteful brothel are fellow devotees of the goddess Calistria, and Ome is personal friends with the owner, Kaye Tesarani. Ome receives consolation on her friend’s death and a safe place to sleep for the night.
[9 Lamashan 4707]
In the morning, Ome and Arnald meet at the cathedral where Father Zantus has prepared a spell to speak with Eugeni’s spirit. Although the answers received are brief and cryptic, those assembled understand them to mean that Eugeni’s spirit is willing to return and that, if necessary, his possessions can be sold to raise the necessary funds to do so. Father Zantus suggests the ceremony should take place at dusk, and says he’s willing to go forward with it even if the adventurers haven’t quite raised the total funds necessary to replace the scroll. However, he notes again that there is a risk of failure, and that clerics in Magnimar will prove more capable than he; but also, less willing to be as understanding about payment.
Ome decides to sell a dagger, possessed by Eugeni, that is made out of the rare and valuable metal adamantine. She first visits the Red Dog Smithy and sees Das Korvut hard at work on a bardiche; the blacksmith sends the tengu over to Savah’s Armory. There, after repeated assurances and even a signed document attesting that the dagger came into her hands lawfully, Ome is able to sell the dagger for over 2,000 gold pieces. Later, she persuades Arnald to do the talking when the pair walk to the headquarters of the Sandpoint Mercantile League to collect the posted bounty on the bandit Shank. However, not having obtained any proof of their deed, the adventurers are turned back. Ome spends the rest of the afternoon at the Pixie’s Kitten, drinking and telling stories to his friends about some of the previous adventures she and Eugeni had. Arnald, having been turned away at the door by Shoanti bouncers due to a refusal to have his weapons checked, waits across the street.
At dusk, the final preparations are in place at the cathedral. Eugeni’s body lies on a stone altar in the centre of the cathedral, under the open sky of the central courtyard. Father Zantus has assembled all of his available acolytes to assist him with the complex spell, and thus represented are the faiths of Desna, Gozreh, Abadar, Shelyn, and Erastil. Receiving a final nod from Ome, Father Zantus unfurls the scroll and begins intoning its pleas for the spirit to return to the flesh. But whether from Father Zantus’ inexperience or the will of the gods, the spell summons not life but a bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky that incinerates Eugeni’s corpse to ashes! “This was a being never meant to return to life!” shouts Father Zantus, interpreting the result as divine disapproval. Ome is furious at what she perceives as Father Zantus’ bungling, and she demands a return of the several thousand gold pieces she gave him to conduct the ceremony. But Father Zantus is uncharacteristically unyielding and says that the gods have spoken and that the scroll must be replaced. Ome calls him a thief, eliciting a gasp from the assembled acolytes, before scraping the ashes into a porcelain jar to be given to Eugeni’s parents.
Thus ends the beginning chapter in an epic story of ancient threats risen anew and the heroes who will face the greatest of perils to stop evil from sweeping across the land.
A dramatic and somewhat bitter end to the first chapter of the adventure path. It was definitely a more lethal chapter than the writers and most groups have experienced, and made me very, very nervous about what would happen when the real threats started mounting in later chapters! Although Bey's player would be back for the start of Chapter 2 so the group would have four PCs, the death toll made me start looking very seriously for a fifth player.
The death of Eugeni was a disappointing but avoidable one, and perhaps encapsulates the theme of adventurers and their greed. The timing of the battle was unfortunate, as Arnald had decided to rest in an adjoining chamber, Shalelu was badly hurt, and Eugeni's and Ome's players were still learning the best ways to use their characters. The battle started off well, but then went downhill fast. Giant hermit crabs are tougher than they look! On the other hand, no risk, no reward. That's the life (and death) of adventurers.
The disaster of the attempt to cast raise dead on Eugeni was because Father Zantus was much too low of a level to automatically succeed in using the scroll, and thus had to roll a caster level check: he rolled a natural 1. Natural 1s on rolls are treated as automatic failures and critical fumbles under our house rules, so I had the body struck by lightning and the scroll destroyed. The scroll being destroyed was a mistake, as I assumed it automatically happened with the failure to use a scroll, but I didn't discover I had messed up until talking with a fellow GM a couple of days later. I gave Eugeni's player the option to assume another scroll became available, but he was happy to move on and work on another PC--and this one would go on to survive the entirety of Chapter Two!
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
The spoilers thing is what worries me the most about this book. I like to believe that as long as I'm not reading an issue from the monthly adventure path line, all other official Paizo material will be safe from spoilers. I don't want to have to compile a list of "forbidden" RPG-line books (and options that will eventually go up on the Archives of Nethys) for my players, nor do I want to be inadvertently spoiled myself on an adventure path I would like to play in someday.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Checked my credit card, and the refund came through! Hopefully whatever the issue was they fix it before next year...
Agreed! I just called on mine and was annoyed to meet: 1) disbelief; 2) blame ("Did you change something about your reservation"?) and then 3) reluctant promise to refund the money. Not even an apology or acknowledgement that I'm not the first person to have this problem. Their accounting department needs customer service training :)
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Ha, I'm an idiot. Saw "James Jacobs" in the Seattle airport lounge, but too shy to approach him. When he was also at my gate in San Francisco (reading a book about homunculuses), I thought it must be fate and gathered up the courage to introduce myself. It wasn't him! Some poor guy must have thought I was very weird.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Two events really stood out for me this con.
First, playing in Amber Scott's The Sewers of Death. The story was simple but there was a great energy in the room ("gnolls killed my family!!") and my only regret is that we ran out of time for the big boss battle.
Second, playing in the PFS special. The dim caveman shaman I've been running all weekend really got a chance to shine. Mark ("the 'ei' is like in eidolon") Seifter and Linda from PFS were both super nice and fun. But I have to give special thanks to our GM (Stephen, I think) for handling a difficult and stressful event with aplomb.
My lessons from the con are twofold.
First, I really appreciate now just how good my players and GMs in my home games are. The ordinary PFS scenarios I played this weekend were okay, but I definitely missed the quality RP and GMing from back home.
Second, I really shouldn't schedule morning events. I'm a night person, and 8 am games make me cranky (sorry to those I played with!). Instead, I want to see more of this awesome city if I come back some other year.
Well, some long flights back to Oz and back to reality, but I'm fortunate to like my fantasy and reality in equal measure. Thanks everyone!
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
I really enjoyed my first PFS session, with a nice mix of brand new players and 4-5 star GM players. My level 1 shaman killed a white dragon! (media reports that it was an innocent helpless hippogriff are "fake news".). Inexplicably, family members from Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming have decided to come see me at the con. I must be a better son or brother than I thought!
Alas, hotel Wi-Fi very uncooperative.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
My homemade haunt cheat sheet. FYI, there's this and a ton of good stuff over in the RotRL forum.
1. Before a haunt begins to manifest, the only way to detect it is with Detect undead or Detect alignment at a -4 penalty vs. the Notice DC.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Anyone who's a specialist in anything in real life will probably have to swallow their disbelief frequently when that particular thing arises in pop culture. I'm a law nerd, so I often cringe whenever I see the depiction of lawyers and trials on TV dramas. Doctor nerds surely do the same with the trope that a single punch instantly knocks out any unaware mook with no long term consequences. As a gun/military nerd, you'll just have to get use to things like "a lack of trigger discipline" in pop culture (including RPG) portrayal of soldiers or drive yourself insane trying to fight the good fight :)
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
I've always interpreted these statements to mean: what will get the PC as far away from the source of the fear as far as possible in one round? Depending on circumstance, it might be a double move, the run action, dimension door, or even freaking plane shift :) Whatever it is, that's what the PC has to do (with the limitation that they won't jump to certain death off a bridge, for example).
Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Session # 16 Recap:
[7 Lamashan 4707]
As the first rays of another autumn morning begin filtering through the shutters into Arnald Swiss’s room at the Rusty Dragon, a sharp knocking can be heard at his door. The cause of the noise proves to be Shalelu Andosana, fully outfitted for travel. She brusquely tells Arnald that she didn’t sleep well and doesn’t want to wait for Sheriff Hemlock to turn his attention away from training the new recruits to finding experienced warriors to help continue the search for Nualia. Instead, Shalelu explains, she plans to take a risky course of action in order to capture or kill the silver-haired worshipper of Lamashtu before the cultist can obtain reinforcements or find the mysterious weapon boasted about in Tsuto’s journal. Shalelu says she’s long heard tale of a pair of dangerous outcasts living just a couple of miles south of Sandpoint. According to local gossip, they’re dangerous and untrustworthy, but after the death of Felix and Nedrin, she’s decided that it may just be time to throw caution to the wind and fight fire with fire. She gives Arnald time to get dressed before setting off at a quick pace.
She and Arnald pass sleepy guards as they leave Sandpoint via the southern bridge and walk briskly along the Lost Coast Road before reaching the area where a wide stream disappears into the rocky hills south of town. There, at the abandoned Bradley farmstead, an old fisherman’s shack serves as the home of two of the area’s most disreputable occupants. Shalelu nocks an arrow and motions for Arnald to ready himself for battle as the two approach the shack cautiously. Inside, however, the visitors’ approach has not gone undetected. “Not so fast, one more step and it’ll be your last!” a voice rings out. Shalelu shouts back that she’s come on business, and succinctly summarizes the threat posed by Nualia and the events of the previous raids on Thistletop. Tense negotiations lead Shalelu to grudgingly offer those inside the shack one of her personal magical items, an enchanted amulet, in order to purchase their loyalty for the mission to come.
The ill-fitting door to the shack creaks open, and a figure emerges: a powerful-looking half-orc, wearing a kilt and a long-sleeved tunic, with a long braid of hair. Accompanied by a goat, the half-orc, whose name will eventually be known as Eugeni, approaches as, by arrangement, Arnald delivers the magical amulet. With terms agreed upon and payment rendered, the door to the shack opens again and the remaining resident emerges: a member of the feathered, bird-like species commonly known as tengu. The tengu, whose name is Ome, is accompanied by a startling sight: a massive giant wasp, the size of a full-grown cat! The two pairs of adventurers watch each other tensely.
Shalelu proposes that, before attempting their ultimate goal of dealing with Nualia, the four adventurers should learn to evaluate each other’s strengths and weaknesses by undertaking an easier task. The four settle on attempting to collect the bounty offered by the Sandpoint Mercantile League for the capture or death of the notorious bandit Shank, known to have operated for years from the small forest that now bears his name. For almost four years now, Shank has been plaguing the Lost Coast Road, holding up lone travellers and entire carriages, leaving his victims poorer but alive. Yet in the past six months, the highwayman has turned to kidnapping—-with no ransom demands having been made!
The newly-formed hunting band follow the Lost Coast Road back through Sandpoint and out the northern gate. As the road continues east parallel to the coast, a brightly-coloured wagonful of the area’s indigenous Varisians wave and smile. Later in the morning, the adventurers reach a patch of the road just south of Shank’s Wood where Shalelu says the highwayman was last known to have attacked. Ome kneels down to look for signs, and although it’s been weeks since the attack, the tengu is confident she’s found tracks heading into the forest! Shalelu is dubious of Ome’s findings, but reluctantly agrees to accompany them into the woods. Ome reports that several sets of goblin prints criss-cross the area and make tracking difficult, but after about a mile she suddenly stands up and points. A gurgling brook runs from east to west in front of them, spanned by a mossy fallen log. On the far side of the water, an old trapper’s cabin made from scavenged timber and driftwood can be discerned through the treeline.
Arnald, as the most heavily armoured of the group, is chosen to take the lead in approaching the shack. He calls out, and soon the poorly-hung front door opens. An older man with unkempt grey hair peers out cautiously. When asked about the bandit Shank, the man says he hasn’t had any run-ins with bandits but that there are several goblins about. He says that he’s a trapper and fisherman, and invites Arnald in for a cup of tea.
The interior of the cabin is dark and smoky for some reason. Arnald loses sight of the man and the next thing he knows, a thick leathery arm is wrapping around his head! Arnald calls out in distress as something sharp sinks into his neck and a sloppy sucking sound can be heard. Shalelu rushes into the shack, but although she hears Arnald yelling she can’t tell exactly where he is because of the smoke. She notices a small firepit on the ground and, thinking quickly, smothers it with a blanket. Seconds later, Eugeni makes a dramatic entrance: having become magically twice as large, he smashes through the wall of the shack, sending shards of wood everywhere! Ome follows through, bow at the ready. The air begins to clear as the three adventurers see that Arnald is struggling futilely against his attackers grip. And, for the first time, they realize his attacker is no elderly trapper: it’s a grotesque, faceless creature with leathery skin!
The creature, which Eugeni identifies as an Ugothol (or “faceless stalker”) continues to squeeze and drain the life out of Arnald as the others attack it and inflict several deep wounds. The aberration offers to let Arnald go if they’ll let it go, but they refuse; when bartering fails, the creature threatens a lifetime of stalking the adventurers, as they’ll never know when they’re safe. But when the Ugothol pushes Arnald away and tries to flee, Eugeni knocks the creature to the ground and then Arnald finally gets vengeance and cuts the creature in twain with one might swing of his greataxe! Eugeni and Ome quickly scour the interior of the shack and discover a small cache of money and magical items hidden underneath a filthy bed made of fur and branches. The two adventurers use their bodies to shield their find from the others, and keep most of the treasure to themselves. Outside, Shalelu finds a ten-foot deep pit containing mud, decomposing bodies (“Shank’s” victims), and a disgusting maggot-like grub the size of a small dog! Arnald is very interested in searching the pit, but the others persuade him to leave it alone.
Shalelu announces herself more-or-less satisfied with the newcomers’ skill in battle. Although it’s out of their way, the group must return to Sandpoint before tackling Thistletop because the elf’s bow splintered in the battle against the faceless stalker. They reach the town again in the early afternoon and Shalelu leaves the other three to wait at the northern gate while she goes to buy a new bow. While she’s gone, Ome asks Arnald for more information on what happened on his previous foray to Thistletop. His answers are vague and full of jokes, much to the tengu’s annoyance. Eugenie quietly tells his long-time friend that the human sellsword is clearly not the brains of the operation. The three talk about passing the time gambling, but realize they don’t have dice or a deck of cards to play with. Arnald heads into town and to the general store. Seeing the “No Adventurers!” sign in the window, he tries to disguise himself by pulling up the hood on his winter cloak. But Ven Vinder isn’t fooled, and when Arnald is slow in leaving, Ven swings his cudgel so hard it makes an audible “crack” when it connects with Arnald’s skull! The mercenary gets the message and leaves before further violence erupts.
Once the four adventurers are back together, they head back east. Shalelu is able to find a route through Nettlewood that avoids most of the dense forest’s obstacles and dangers. Soon, in the later afternoon, they stand on the edge of the promontory, across from which is the isle fortress of Thistletop. Shalelu, Arnald, and Ome are able to scramble down the 80’ cliff and into the water below with little difficulty, but Eugenie slips and tumbles awkwardly, hurting himself in the process. Fortunately, the half-orc’s friend is able to draw up divine magic to heal him. The group then swims across the narrow channel and are able to scale Thistletop using the rope to the former lair of the tentamort. The adventurers make haste towards the research room containing a secret door to the stairs below. Shalelu notices that many of the books and scrolls that had been there are now gone.
Once the adventurers are on the second subterranean level of the complex, Shalelu and Arnald point out to Ome and Eugenie the exact spot where the corridor ahead is trapped. The four spend a long time discussing various ways to get past the trap until Shalelu, frustrated, backs up and leaps over the pressure plate on the floor! The other three follow her lead without incident. Surprisingly, however, Nualia is nowhere to be found. A cursory look at the room she had been in before shows it to be a study of some sort, as it contains various small tables and chairs and is well-lit by enchanted blazing skulls. Wide stone ledges of red marble line the curving walls of the room and contain strange scrimshaw artwork, taxidermied animals and limbs, and several spots where the dust has been recently disturbed as if things that were once there are now gone.
The adventurers move on to another chamber across the corridor. Here they find an “L” shaped hallway, the southern part of which ends at a pair of stone doors carved with the depictions of two skeletons reaching out to clutch a skull between them. The walls of the eastern part of the chamber narrows down to frame a circular carving of what seems to be immense stacks of tens of thousands of gold coins rising from floor to ceiling. Eugenie casts a minor divination spell to discern that the stacks carry with them the aura of illusion magic.
Pressing on, the adventurers open the skull-marked stone doors. Four pillars support the vaulted ceiling of the room beyond, while alcoves containing standing stone sarcophagi line the walls. The centre of the room is dominated by the statue of a stern man wielding a glaive and holding a book. The adventurers decide to split up and take their time looking for secret doors, but their search is interrupted as insubstantial, inky black, vaguely humanoid-shaped shadows emerge from three of the sarcophagi and fly towards the intruders! Their touch is witheringly cold and drains the vitality of living creatures, a fact Shalelu discovers all too well before retreating out of the room. In her haste, she fails to account for the trap the group bypassed earlier and suffers multiple cuts.
Ome, Eugeni, and Arnald fall back as well and soon realize the manifestations of spiritual energy are bound to the crypt and cannot leave. Ome, having come prepared for many eventualities, coats the tip of several arrows with an alchemical compound that will allow the projectiles to harm the ghostly figures. Eugeni manifests blast after blast of eldritch fire to burn the creatures, and the renewed battle goes well until Arnald strays too close to the entrance to the crypt and gets swarmed! His body grows incredibly weak and he is barely able to fight off the siren song of death before Eugeni destroys the last of the undead lurkers.
A third and perhaps final raid on Thistletop has begun, yet Nualia is nowhere to be found. Has she slipped through the adventurers’ grasp?
Eugeni and Ome were, of course, the new characters for, respectively, Nedrin's and Felix's players. Eugeni was a half-orc wizard, while Ome was a tengu inquisitor of Calistria. The two players worked together to create some shared background for their characters, which was a nice touch that made it much easier to integrate them into the campaign. The PCs were around 5th level at this time but because of all the character deaths I wanted to have the first encounter for the session be something more manageable than they might find at Thistletop. I used an encounter from the first hardcover volume of the Pathfinder comic involving a Faceless Stalker masquerading as a common highwayman. I liked how the encounter turned out, because the dim lighting and smoke inside the shack made for a naturally more challenging (and exciting) battle than I expected.
Speaking of Thistletop, I had to put some thought into deciding what Nualia would do. The adventure path has instructions for what happens if she escapes, but she actually won the battle and it was the PCs who retreated. But, she was also almost the only living creature alive in the fortress and I didn't want to have a video game style campaign where the boss just sits around waiting for the heroes to come back. So the PCs lost out on a clear victory, some XP, some treasure, and a lot of information when she abandoned Thistletop. She makes a return appearance in Chapter Two, however, and the PCs luck will prove much better.
GMs will note something major in Thistletop that the PCs missed, but that's okay. Not every party has to have the same experiences, and it's good that the adventure path isn't on rails.
I was nervous about the fight against the shadows since they can easily overwhelm and kill PCs, so I was impressed with how well the group did against them.
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