|Jim Groves Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4|
1. Velriana has little reason to believe that the group got into the temple before her, even if she does realize that someone else got there first.
The Sanctum is Velriana and Khelru's top priority. It is possible they're spying on the Sanctum, sizing it up and preparing to enter it in advance of any other groups. There are plenty of unmarked buildings nearby they could use to establish a make-shift secret headquarters in.
Yes, theoretically the Scorched Hand has a first and second assignment they should be exploring first. Nothing says they have to be dutifully wasting their time with those sites, when the choice prize they want is just sitting there. They definitely know about the Sanctum. They even politely requested the site and got ignored by the Grand Mausoleum.
2. Velriana doesn't know about the mask, and thus cannot know that it is missing. She has no reason to attack the party at this point.
True, but its not really about the mask for Velriana and Khelru. It is about what's right and fair. They worship Nethys. It is a Nethysian Temple. And a third party religion is telling them that mercenaries get to loot and pillage their god's temple before they can even step inside. Think about that.
You know what the Scorched Hand's real problem is? Velriana is Lawful Evil and the rest are Neutral.
I have to give this disclaimer because I don't speak for Rob McCreary, but here is what I think is the great secret of The Half-Dead City. I never actually said the Pharasmins are right in how they're dealing with this. This is an ecclesiastical difference between religions with a money-oriented government thrown in the mix. This is politics. There is no right and wrong here. Both positions have some validity, and I dare say the Nethysian perspective has more merit than one might assume.
1.) The Pharasmins don't want to open the Necropolis.
2.) The Ruby Prince says, "Too bad. I am in control. You do it my way or get out."
3.) The Pharasmins pick a random system, attribute it to fate (which they might sincerely believe, don't get me wrong).
4.) The Nethysian Worshippers say, "But wait. We're not an evil cult. It's our god and its his temple. Shouldn't we have some consideration?"
5.) The Pharasmins reply, "Too bad. We're in control. You do it our way or get out."
What if you have a group of players that we're entirely composed of Nethys worshippers? You tell player characters that and they would go out of their flippin' minds. Because the bureaucracy is so damn unfair.
Now you might understand the Scorched Hand.
And my apologies if I sound like I am yelling at you. :) I am not. I'm just passionate. This was meant to be a subtle moral and ethical quandary. Not so much for the players, but just in the background. The villains are not black and white "evil" and their position is not without merit.
3. Without the Scorched Hand, the exploration of the Erudite Eye temple doesn't really have a climax.
You're right. So you need justify why they would be there, so they can serve their purpose.
Hopefully I helped. If nothing else, you allowed me to pontificate this morning. Thank you!