Pathfinder Adventure Path #47: Ashes at Dawn (Carrion Crown 5 of 6) (PFRPG) (based on
Paizo Publishing, LLC
Chapter 5: "Ashes at Dawn"
by Neil Spicer
A killer stalks the streets of Caliphas, a murderer whose victims are already dead. Something is preying upon the ancient vampire clans of Ustalav’s capital, a mysterious foe who threatens the centuries-old truce tenuously held by generations of both the living and the undead. Into this madness enter the heroes, closing in on the death cultists of the Whispering Way. What role do the deadly necromancers have in the undead murders plaguing Caliphas? What secret grudge exists between the cult and the rulers of the night? And will the heroes be able to save the capital without sacrificing their very souls?
This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path includes:
“Ashes at Dawn,” a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 11th-level characters, by Neil Spicer
A gazetteer of fog-haunted Caliphas, the mysterious and deadly capital of Ustalav, by F. Wesley Schneider
A terrifying look into the blasphemous church of Urgathoa, goddess of gluttony, disease, and the undead, by Sean K Reynolds
Laurel Cylphra’s attempt to steal a soul stealer in the Pathfinder’s Journal, by F. Wesley Schneider
Six new monsters by Crystal Frasier, Patrick Renie, and Sean K Reynolds
Each monthly full-color softcover 96-page Pathfinder Adventure Path volume contains an in-depth adventure scenario, stats for several new monsters, and support articles meant to give Game Masters additional material to expand their campaign. Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes use the Open Game License and work with both the Pathfinder RPG and the standard 3.5 fantasy RPG rules set.
I've been a GM for the entire Carrion Crown now, and this stands out as the thorn in an otherwise good Adventure path.
Book 1 + 2 was very good, book 3 a bit week, book 4 a bit off to a side, but good. Book 5 horrible, and book 6, ok, but a bit too much dungeon crawl. Since it's basically one big dungeon.
So book 5 starts out with the characters having to go to Caliphas, so far so good.
They are confronted with an enemy they have to kill, with a magic item they now have to find a reason behind.
The scenario now presumes that the PC's will investigate this, not too big a leap, with the Order of the Palatine Eye (OotPE), a big assumption but reasonably.
To find out anything, they have to succeed on some very high DC knowledge checks, and not just 1 but 3. DC 27 spellcraft, DC 30 knowledge arcane, dc 40 knowledge history. If any are failed, the story stalls without a bit of fiddling.
My players were actually very brilliant here, they remembered from book 3, that the guy giving credentials to the whispering way was Advion Adrissant, and he was from Caliphas. But there is no mention of him in this book 5, especially not if players actually look him up.
They find the Whispering way HQ to be gone, and gain an ally, claiming they can get info from vampires. This bit is fine. Now they have to go talk to vampires.
But to get there, they have to kill a vampire?! Ok, my players got around that. They talk with the head honcho vampire, who claims to have information, if they help solve the murders. The thing is, he doesn't know anything, or the scenario has no knowledge he has... ok so he is manipulating the PC's? Fine.
They talk to the vampires, which apparently are incredible dense, especially the inquisitor. 30 min. used on talking with all vampires, and they have enough clues to solve the problem.
After a fight with some drug dealers, who hangs out approximately 50 meter from the head honcho....
They find that the documents are false and/or that the stakes are table legs bought by the vampire tailor. And here the chain jumps off again. Instead of going in and killing the vampire, like good little sociopaths, my group just went back to the head honcho and gave him the evidence.
I could have forced them to kill the tailor, but no, their method seemed more logical. So let the vampires duke it out, and gave them his diary.
They get the Nosferatu freed, which only happened because he promised them information, for hey, vampires killing vampires, who cares.
He didn't have any info (Well until the end of the scenario)
After this they have to go to the Abbey, because of some slim chance it has anything to do with the Whispering way.
Kill a bunch of people, and a demon.
But it has nothing to do with the Whispering Way, it just a crazy countess wanting to be younger. Evil perhaps, but in the grand scheme of things, a lot hoo-ha over nothing really.
What really bugs me here? The abbey has a great story, but the PC's have no way to discover the story. Or gain any real insight into why there are spider swarms everywhere.
At the end of the dungeon, they have to fight a bloodknight, and then the boss. The fight is basically in the same room, but is described as two seperate fights. Really bad.
Then they get a letter from the nosferatu telling them where to go... which is basically where they thought they have to go to stop the Whispering Way, e.g. Gallowspire.
So let’s sum up what the PC's did this story? The talked/killed (to) some vampires, perhaps killed a tailor, killed a bunch of people, thing and witches at an abbey.
Hindered exactly 1 whispering way agent, who did not work on the Carrion Crown.
Questions of morality versus ethics, good and evil, right and wrong, about when to sacrifice one for the others, about the end justifying the means to achieve a goal, about striving for personal power for oneself above even one’s own family, perhaps even about the true meaning of family and loyalty pervade this 5th installment of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path. Just how evil is evil enough to cause a person devoted to the cause of good to sacrifice the goals of the group he or she is bound to protect? These are difficult questions for any good-oriented party, whether they include a paladin or no, to deal with as they try to uncover the cause behind the murders of those who are seen to be deeply heinously evil by the standards of most good oriented gods. Some may think that this adventure would test the vow of a paladin too severely. Once the paladin chooses to help the unabashedly evil vampires is he or she on the slippery slope to damnation?
I love adventures which force players to play their characters making real choices and have real (within the game) consequences. Paladins have great rewards of power for the cause of good but also carry a heavy burden. Should the Game Master make light of this burden or should he force the player to really think about the meaning of running such a character? I would say this really depends on the GM and his or her players. My own players are all old grognards for the most part and have dealt with such questions on more than one occasion. I know they would love the role play opportunities this adventure provides.
But some groups are not able to handle such ethical and moral decisions. This is where a good GM has to know his players. Some groups are all for the mechanical aspects of the game and care little for role playing. Rather than tell them they are not playing the game right, which is at best subjective and at worst elitist and condescending, I would say to them, ignore the questions and let your players hack and slash or work with the vampires as they decide. Of course I am of the opinion that it is never the GM’s job to tell the players how to play their characters or play through an adventure. You defiantly have to gage the maturity level of your players. In the hands of a good GM, this adventure can become a pivotal and memorable one for the players whether or not you are running the Carrion Crown AP as a whole or just want to dip into the vampiric underbelly of Caliphas.
It would be relatively easy to alter this adventure to stand alone. Simply remove references to the Whispering Way and alter the ending such that it ends when the PC’s find out who is murdering the vampires and dealt with them and perhaps the vampires too, if they so choose. Though I would expect some retribution of the part of the leader of this clan, who may or may not be at home depending on the individual GM. Alternatively the GM can use this adventure to start the PC’s on the path of the Whispering Way at a later level than the path assumes, particularly if other adventures in the vicinity have been run which are located fairly nearby and not directly related. What this means is that this adventure is highly portable with some minor work and of even greater value to GMs who, like me, run their own campaigns rather than the strict Adventure Paths.
To Neil in particular, I think you did a masterful job of creating an adventure that delves into these questions spoken above without forcing any particular group or GM to HAVE to play a certain way.
As for the remainder of this AP, there is an always helpful article on a location in Golarion, in this case the city of Caliphas, which is directly relevant to the adventure and includes some interesting personalities the PCs may encounter in the city. Next is a continuation of the deity articles, this time the featured deity is Urgathoa. Then there are the standard AP articles, the fiction piece and the Bestiary with some useful and some strange monsters. Now the bestiary also includes an odd page, a short piece on PCs as vampires and a town stat block with a paragraph on travel TO Caliphas as well as an encounter table for the slums and sewers of Caliphas. This might have been better placed elsewhere, at the head of the AP perhaps, so it could be noticed by the GM easier while he or she is preparing for this adventure. Given the constraints of the placement of text in the introduction and Part One of the adventure I can see why this wasn’t placed there. I am very glad it wasn’t simply left out, though I do question its placement at the head of the Bestiary.
In short then, I believe this installment of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path does everything it set out to accomplish and more, thanks to the skill of the author in particular. I have trouble giving this a perfect score due to the strange additions to the Bestiary. But the main adventure was so masterfully done that I have to award this five stars as well.