Pathfinder Society Scenario #4: The Frozen Fingers of Midnight (OGL) PDF

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for 1st to 5th level characters (Tiers: 1–2, 4–5).

Skelg the Ripper, envoy from the Land of the Linnorm Kings, lies wasting in his villa on the outskirts of Absalom. A frigid curse followed Skelg from his northern homeland and grips his bearish heart in its frosty embrace. As the bizarre freezing ailment pushes Skelg to the brink of death, the Society dispatches you and your fellow Pathfinders to uncover the secrets of the freezing curse before Absalom falls to its icy grip.

Written by Craig Shackleton

This scenario is designed for play in Pathfinder Society Organized Play, but can easily be adapted for use with any world. This scenario is compliant with the Open Game License (OGL) and is suitable for use with the 3.5 edition of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game.

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Good Idea, Lacklustre Execution

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I ran this at low tier for a mixed group of Level 1 and 2 PCs. It's not an overly-long scenario, which is advantageous for tight time-slots. The action scenes are fairly run-of-the-mill, and, although the initial premise of the scenario is interesting, there are some rough patches in backstory and plotting that make for a less than satisfying experience. I'd rate this one as average or even a notch below. It's playable, but certainly not a high priority.


The scenario starts a briefing by Adril Hestram, in the Grand Lodge in Absalom. It seems that an old friend of Adril's, an Ulfen adventurer (and sometime Pathfinder) nicknamed Skelg the Ripper recently settled down in Absalom after an escapade in the north. The problem is that Adril has received a cryptic letter from his old friend, hinting that he's in some kind of terrible trouble, and that a magical artifact may be to blame. Adril promptly dispatches the Pathfinders to help Skelg and, if possible, recover the artifact for the Society.

It's a blazing hot summer's day in Absalom, which provides a nice counterpoint for what comes later in the scenario. Once the PCs arrive at Skelg's nouveau-riche mansion, they realize that two Ulfen "guards" are actually jailers! The warriors are wielding the good stuff (greataxes) that could drop an unfortunate Level 1 PC. In the game I ran, however, they never actually hit and were dispatched without too much difficulty. Still, it's a nice initial encounter that quickly clues the PCs in that something is very wrong.

Once inside the mansion, the PCs find Skelg on his bed in front of a roaring fire, literally freezing to death! There's a lot of backstory to convey, and I found it hard to do well. The short version is that Skelg raided the funerary ship of an Ulfen lord (set ablaze in "viking" fashion) to steal all the treasures it was laden with, and that, in the course of so doing, he set free the deceased's wife who was, according to northlander custom, to be burned (alive!) with the body of her husband. One of the objects Skelg recovered was a lantern called the Beacon of the North, a powerful magical artifact capable of opening portals (some fist-sized, others large enough to sail ships through) to the frozen north. The timeline gets a bit wonky here, but Skelg apparently decided to retire with his new riches to Absalom. However, he was pursued by the deceased Ulfen's son (Bengeirr), who raided Skelg's vaults and used the Beacon of the North on him before escaping with it and the treasure. The effect of the Beacon was that a small but permanent portal to the north opened up on Skelg's body. No spell or remedy has been able to reverse the condition, and Skelg is surely but slowly freezing to death. To this point, it's a fun and original problem. The problem, as we'll discuss more later, is that a lot of the little details don't make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

The PCs can track Bengeirr either by interrogating the thugs he left to keep Skelg prisoner, or by the usual Gather Information checks (some quick NPCs are provided to help flesh out the latter route). Bengeirr is hiding out in a dockside warehouse on a busy street, with a sentry posted out front. The little touch here that I really liked is that, because the street is so busy, the PCs can't just start hacking and slashing the sentry without the city guard being called out to arrest everyone. Instead, they need to resort to guile if they want to storm the warehouse without alerting either the sentry or the city guard. It gives the opportunity for things like distractions, bluffs, disguises, skulking about rooftops, etc., and a potential chance for Rogue PCs to shine.

Inside the warehouse are Bengeirr and two more of his Ulfen warriors. The map here is interesting and original, with a loft and a longship to provide some tactical choices. One of the ways the whole "Beacon of the North" concept was useful is putting some fear into PCs once they got hit by it and were told they were permanently under the effects of a condition that couldn't be reversed through normal means! The battle inside isn't really that hard, though it took a long time for my group because they hemmed and hawed for several rounds.

Assuming the PCs defeat Bengeirr and recover the lantern, they need to go back to Skelg's house and enter a portal in the basement. After reading the scenario a few times, I'm still a bit fuzzy on how this all worked, but, in any event, the portal leads to the funeary longship that is now almost completely encased in ice. The maps here are confusing and unclear, so I'd encourage GMs to go carefully through prepping this to make sure it all connects together. Anyway, after battling through some "frozen zombies" and a (potentially deadly) ghoul, the crux of the final encounter is negotiating with or fighting Natalya, the widow of the deceased Ulfen. The deal here, which I think is handled pretty well for one of the earlier and less sophisticated scenarios, is that Natalya wants three things: 1) Companionship (preferably with her liberator, Skelg); 2) The Beacon of the North; and 3) A return to Irrisen. PCs who take the diplomatic route can get her to cave on some of these demands, but there's also the real potential of a battle starting. The easy route is just to give her everything she wants (assuming the PCs can persuade Skelg), in which case she'll show the PCs how to use the lantern to open a new portal which closes all of the little portals (?) and thus saves Skelg (satisfying the primary success condition). However, the secondary success condition requires the PCs to return the lantern to the Pathfinder Society, so the easy way is the less rewarding way. I thought it was a nice challenge.

Probably the biggest issue with the scenario is what I adverted to earlier: there are several little plot holes and confusing bits about how things works and why people are doing what they're doing in the scenario. Sometimes these discrepancies go unnoticed by players, but this was one where the problems were noticeable and problematic. How many months, for example, has Natalya just been hanging out on that frozen ship without food or fuel for the braziers? If a portal opened by the lantern is effectively permanent, wouldn't that revolutionize trade between the north and (for example) Absalom? Why wouldn't the PCs just call the city watch to raid the warehouse when they have proof that robbers with stolen goods are present inside? Etc.

All in all, I would say the premise of the adventure is pretty cool, and there are some good bits (like getting past the sentry without violence and the negotiations with Natalya). However, the combat encounters tend to be rather forgettable and the confusing aspects of the plot make it an inessential scenario overall.

Imaginative, but dated

****( )

This is one of those old adventures that have a pretty cool story. It's got a certain fantasy flair to it that's quite different from the vibe of more recent scenarios. It's quite nice, and you also actually get to find out the story from the PC side.

It's also a pretty straightforward adventure, no problems finishing on time.

However, it's also pretty easy. Clearly built on a 4-player assumption, but even then most of the enemies are pretty squishy. We played the low tier with a party of kensai 1 (falcata, didn't really cast spells), sorcerer 1 (blasting/charm), medium 1 (melee), alchemist 2 (bombs) and cleric 3 (support). Nothing proved to be particularly difficult, although in one fight some enemies managed to remain standing for more than two rounds.

My advice: enjoy the scenario, but bring a 4-player level 1 party to keep it interesting. Or, use the scenario as an introductory one for new players. It's easy enough that they'll get through it without casualties, but a good enough story to whet their appetite.

An RPG Resource Review

****( )

A fellow Pathfinder is in trouble, stricken by a freezing curse that threatens to cause him to waste away in his bed rather than die in battle, as his northern heritage would view as more honourable. Unravelling the curse (and saving his life) presents some interesting moral questions - at least, it does to me although they are not addressed in the adventure, where the only ethical issue raised is whether the party should seek a reward or undertake the task as a courtesy to a fellow Pathfinder.

The first challenge is getting to talk to the dying man. Alert characters may notice something wrong about the guards at his villa, suffice to say they'll have to fight their way in. Once they've spoken to him and got his end of the story, there's quite a bit of investigative work to be done before those responsible can be tracked down - and all this is taking place in the urban environment of Absalom itself, so care needs to be taken about how the party conducts itself, at least in public. The Watch do not take kindly to armed assualts and brawling in the street!

The artefact that's causing all the problems is well-described but it's not made particularly clear just how the party is supposed to discover all the information they need to use it to their advantage to resolve the situation. Similarly, although the backstory - which provides for the ethical dilemma I alluded to - is described clearly for the DM, it's likely only vague snippets will come out during play. These limited opportunities to actually find out what is going on rather detract from what otherwise is a good adventure with plenty going on - and sifting through a moral minefield always adds to role-play. The ethical issue in this case is who was doing right and who wrong, but this is not explored.

Excitement, cold, a spot of exotic magic, a complex tale that probably will not be unravelled, combat and investigation make this a tale worth the telling, an adventure worth the playing, nevertheless.

Simple, fun and full of flavor

****( )

The best scenarios are those that are simple, easy to understand and still present the players with a unique experience. With unique experience, I don't mean monsters you've never faced before, or overly complicated mechanics. I just mean something that's small, yet rather impactful and also has a ton of flavor. This scenario has that in the form of a specific artefact.

For the rest it's a fairly straight forward, yet somewhat outdated scenario. Don't get me wrong, it can still be a challenging scenario for some parties and murderhobo's will, without a doubt, make things much harder than they have to be.

It's flavorful, fun and doesn't try to impress the players with being fancy, unlike some of the more recent scenarios. As result, this scenario works flawlessly and is memorable enough to recommend it to others.

****( )

So this is the first adventure I ran a few weeks ago as a Pathfinder GM. I did it as a part of the Pathfinder Society with a group of newer players to Pathfinder. I will be trying to review each adventure as I run them to give my feelings on things.

My group was a rogue, sorcerer, an APG summoner, and a warpriest. The group is not the best at roleplaying, but managed to figure out what to do and the rogue took care of most skill roles when necessary.

For combats the rogue almost died during 2 different fights, and the summoner's eidolen got dispelled once, but the warpriest and the summoner made short work of the fights in general.

The sorcerer was useful in sneaking into the warehouse, and convincing the end encounter to leave them alone after they gave her a promise they could not easily keep, though they did end up failing the secondary objective in the process, though they did avoid the fight completely.

All in all it was a fun adventure, though not as much role playing on my player's parts as I would have liked. They seemed to enjoy it, and made quite an enemy in the process of how they handled themselves. Most encounters were pretty easy for this group, though the rogue was a bit squishy getting hit once and being negative in the first encounter. All in all good fun by both me and my players. Excited for the next one.

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