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This thread is planted here for discussion about an awesome Akiton Runelords mashup N'Wah (AKA Ashton Sperry) idea Ashton posted to the Fan's of Paizo Facebook group; reposted here to hide details from Runelords players so as not spoil Runelords or this set piece.
The construction of the Cerise Passage was ill-timed, however, for a scant few weeks after its completion, Karzoug deposed his master, the Runelord Haphrama, and claimed his throne. Karzoug had long allied with horrors and abominations from other planes, and saw little need for a gateway to another world when his own potent magics and alien contacts could provide as much or more wealth on their own. Citing budgetary constraints, Karzoug has the Cerise Passage deactivated, and over the years, its existence faded from memory. With the coming of Earthfall and the destruction of Thassilon, even the limited references in Karzoug's vast treasuries came to be lost.
Until now, that is. A witchwyrd by the name of Xuron discovered the location of the Cerise Passage within an old tome he had recently acquired. It was good timing, for his part: he had a buyer who had expressed interest in possessing a sample of Akitoni malachite, a rare gem found only in the darkest crevices of Akiton's Edaio Rift.
Xuron booked passage to Magnimar, and from there to Sandpoint, the community closest to the location of the Cerise Passage. There he hopes to find heroes brave and capable enough to risk the dangers of the Edaio Rift and return with what he seeks. Fortunately, Sandpoint has a few heroes who just might be up to the task...
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K, so Adventure Synopsis:
Upon their arrival, the PCs are attacked by a gang of morlocks—the remnants of those Thassilonians unlucky enough to be stuck on the other side of the portal when it was deactivated. From there, the PCs navigate to the city of Maro, where a contact of Xuron's awaits them to give them further instructions on how best to acquire the Akitoni malachite.
The PCs then navigate up through the cliff-city of Maro , running afoul of a small gang of Ysoki (Akiton ratfolk), eventually reaching a sand ship hired to lead them to a cave with a rich vein of Akiton malachite. After fending off a gang of Akiton lizardfolk, the PCs are easily able to find the cave and procure a sample (as well as the gear of some fallen adventurers), but on their return trip are assaulted by the cavern's current occupant, a behir. The PCs must then fight their way to freedom before the behir destroys their sand ship and strands them in the dark trenches of the Ediao Rift.
|Chris Mortika RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16|
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I have some thoughts on treasure I'd like to throw out.
Even with these assumptions, guns are expensive enough that, say, the Ysoki might only have one or two shoddy battered pistols. That said, I think a nice masterwork rifle could be pretty sweet as swag from the behir's lair/the Akiton malachite cave.
Another thought I had was placing Elysian bronce metal cartridges into the hoard; the unlucky dead adventurer knew that the cave was guarded by a magical beast, but got jumped on the way in and never stood a chance.
Elysian bronze is in Ultimate Equipment; I can break down what it does if you don't have the book, but basically, it's extra damage against monstrous humanoids and magical beasts.
So anyway. The bullets would be useless if you're not a gun-user, UNLESS you take the time (DC 20 Craft (alchemy) or Disable Device check) to remove the bullet from the cartridge and use them as sling bullets or raw materials for arrows or bolts. Failure on the check results in accidentally setting off the powder (1d4 points of fire damage, and the bullet is ruined; roll a d20 and on a 1, the bullet also hits the character, dealing an additional 1d8 points of piercing damage).
Chris- his assumption is 3rd-6th. I'm going for the higher end on that. A 5th-level party at full resources should be able to handle the BBEG. This is also assuming they're on the sand ship, which is moving fast enough that the behir is using some of its actions to keep up with the group. I'd flavor the run-through as semi-chase rules, with the PCs aiding the driver as they navigate nasty terrain while the behir rakes shortcuts around plinths and across chasm walls. It shoots lightning breath when it can, it grabs guys off the ship; y'know, fun chase-y fight stuff.
Treasure-wise, the battered guns will get that low resale value as listed in the gunslinger entry. The dead adventurer's gun could be so unusual as to only get a small percentage of its resale value, or if he's got gunslingers in the party, could keep them happy through most of the campaign.
The dead adventurer could also be a Shobhad, which means the gun's doubly useless to the PCs (Large rifle + only works on Akiton) so it's more like a treasure item than equipment. Also, that fits better with converting large-bore monster bullets into sling bullets.
Any and all treasure values can be adjusted (I'm gonna assume down). I just wanted to set the initial offering high enough to say, "hey, I know you're going through a portal to another world on a trip for a guy you've never met to get some stupid rocks for someone you've only heard of; here's an enticing gift."
If the group's savvy enough to realize that possibly expensive weapons may be acquired, they might be willing to accept a lower fee.
EDIT: So I got weeds to pull; discuss amongst yourselves and I'll be back soon, K?
I'm kinda eager to watch Mortika shoot holes big enough to march an army through on this concept I came up with while drinking rum last night.
But I'm a masochist. :D
|Chris Mortika RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16|
I certainly don't mean to be discouraging, but let me ask a few questions.
1) How much about Thassilon, and the Runelords, do the PCs know by level 3-6? I ask, because Xuron's text is going to give away a lot of those back elements. (Or else it wouldn't seem connected to the rest of the campaign to anybody except the GM.)
2) To what extent will the PCs be able to access the gate later on?
Chris- this was a concern of mine, as well. Brian came to me looking for a Thassilon tie-in for a 3-6 group, and I pulled some stuff out my backside trying to make it work. Here's what I'm thinking:
The age of the diary, and the concept that the author was writing his own notes, means that the info will be time-specific and prolly vague. All the PCs need to know is that there's a gate; it leads to Akiton; there's cash to be made with a one-shot there; and they'll get to talk all big about how cool it was to set foot on alien soil.
The RotR re-write I've only had the briefest chance to flip through, but it seems that some basic concepts (like the area of Varisia being ruled by something calling itself Thassilon) are slightly more common knowledge in the "new" Varisia of 4708. For all they know, a local ruler used that seven-pointed star as his sigil, and it's no big deal.
Later, if they go to the Therassic Monastery and look up Sihedrons and stuff, they can get more info. But I think we can limit total knowledge as per the campaign's design.
Also, a baseline shobhad is CR 4, IIRC. A behir is CR 8. It doesn't end well for a solo shobhad, even with fancy bullets and a nice gun, and even if we add a class level or two, to explain the better equipment.
I leave a lot of later developments to Brian, since I'm barfing this up for his campaign. If he wants more tie-ins, he can make it so. Who knows, maybe:
The book, BTW, is just a way to get the guy to offer a hook. He didn't bring it with him. He's got some notes, sure, and they tell where the gate is. Hopefully, a PC has kept their own medallion, and we can just equal out that key to treasure already gained. But the references aside from the existence of this gate are boring, localized, and generally useless. If the PCs somehow decide to travel all the way to Katapesh to fight their way through guards and stuff just to get the book, they'll be sorely disappointed.
37 Chicken, Day of Sammitch 292- Boinked wife a couple times. Mad hawt. Thinking pulled pork is less enjoyable than anticipated. Might try egg salad next time. Books balanced quite well; hope for advancement to Junior Associate Mage in Charge of Family Values next Bacon Day.
Wore hat to boss's Yearly Ascendance Day. Got made fun of. Will not attempt again. Boy, hats are SO not in this year.
Area 1: The Cerise Passage/1st Encounter
When the PCs present the Sihedron medallion, the gate thrums with magical energy, slowly rumbling to life before glowing internally with potent magic. The other side of the Cerise Passage is seen as indecipherable images of dull reds and browns, and offers no hint of what lays beyond.
Critters: The PCs' passage is noticed by the inhabitants of the cavern beyond; a group of 3 morlocks await passengers through the gate and attack with surprise as the group passes through.
Morlock stats are available in the Bestiary, or here.
Treasure: Each morlock carries the remnants of his or her ancestor's surviving jewelry, worth an appropriate amount of gp.
Awesome job so for! I am loving everything. This gives me a really great set piece and the excuse to use Akiton! I probably won't use Xin Shalast on Mars but you never know, by the time my players get there I might find out they have been dying to go back. It all depends, I think it is a really cool concept.
I just threw that out there in case you felt like having more tie-ins. I'm personally fine with this being a simple one-shot deal.
I'm gonna make some coffee and throw out more ideas for you. I was busier than expected yesterday, and today will prolly be just as busy, but it won't become AFK-busy 'til the afternoon out here (in about 4 hours). So I've got 'til then to barf up more ideas.
|Chris Mortika RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16|
Even 5th or 6th level seems early in a Golarion adventurer's career to go world-hopping.
It would seem more palatable to me if the PCs didn't know where they were headed, until they walked through the gate. Xuron provides the party with a rod of metal and mineral detection keyed to Akitoni malachite, but he's guessed that the portal leads to a treasure vault, or maybe some meteorite high on a mountainside. (To be honest, he's not even sure the gate is bi-directional. The party might hve to fight their way out of the hypothetical vault, or make passage overland from the hypothetical meteorite.)
When they cross into a dim-sunned scrub desert and the wand indicates an impossibly large concentration of the desired malachite, that might be their first clue that they're much farther from home. (And hey, let's hope that gate really does work both ways, at least for now.)
I'm cool with this idea. It's gonna be especially interesting since none of the locals would speak Common. And the alien nature of the plase ought to be obvious when they walk out of the cave and into a trench three miles deep. At first it'll look like night-time, until they see the much-smaller-looking sun up above the cliff walls.
If we do this, we'll have to cut the sand-ship-chase portion, since there's no one to hook them up with transport. But it'll make even friendly contact with locals kinda scary.
I'm thinking on converting the encounter with the lizardfolk to a friendly one. They still speak Draconic, so a PC might actually know the lingo, though I'd play up a significant differences in the dialect, so the gist of the message is there, but it comes out all screwy and full of odd idioms.
"I see you dry. Seek the earth-blood, for feasting? Most precious. The wound bubbles not 100 lengths of the wyrm from our now-place. Take as you need, for the earth bleeds generous in the ever-dusk."
Another good use for the PCs finding some allies is that water is worth its weight in gold on Akiton. If the PCs only brought their standard-issue waterskins on the trip, they'll be outta water really quick. The lizardfolk might be willing to trade for more water, or be able to point them to a water source nearby so the PCs don't die of thirst if the adventure expands over more than a couple days.
In this case, I'd skip travelling to Maro entirely, and set the whole thing in a distant part of the Edaio Rift (the thing runs for about 75% of the diameter of Akiton, so there's a lot of Rift to go around). The ratfolk encounter then becomes not a gang of drugged-out thugs, but desperate scavengers seeing alien invaders as an easy mark/meal.
I'll stat out some ratfolk with dingy, banged-up guns in a bit.
YSOKI SCAVENGERS CR 1/2
Male and female ratfolk ranger 1 (Bestiary 3)
N Small humanoid (ratfolk)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +7
AC 16, touch 14, flat-footed 13 (+2 armor, +3 Dex, +1 size)
hp 12 (1d10+2)
Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +1
Speed 20 ft.
Melee short sword +2 (1d4/19-20)
Ranged battered pistol +5 (1d6/x4)
Special Attacks favored enemy (animal)
Before Combat the ratfolk scavengers position themselves to ambush the PCs from cover, mounted on their big rats if you give 'em those.
During Combat the scavengers target weak-looking foes firsty, hoping to bring down a few PCs before a proper counterattack is mounted. They switch to targeting oncoming melee opponents before they can engage.
Morale the scavengers were hoping for an easy mark, and retreat if brought below half hit points.
Str 11, Dex 17, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 10
Base Atk +0; CMB -1; CMD 12
Feats Point Blank Shot
Skills Climb +4, Handle Animal +4 (+8 rodents), Perception +7, Ride +7, Stealth +11, Survival +5
SQ track, wild empathy
Gear leather armor, short sword, battered musket with 10 bullets, powder horn
Let's change the Akiton malachite's name to blood earth malachite. It's like standard malachite but with strange blood-red veins through it. The veins are from absorbing the natural rust-red iron-rich earth of Akiton. So it doesn't form naturally on Golarion, but sometimes a planetary traveler brings back some, so it's known to exist. Because they're not always forthcoming with where it came from, it got the name "blood earth" because of its rich iron veins.
The witchwyrd may know it's not natural to Golarion, but he prolly doesn't know where it comes from, and is hoping the portal leads to, say, the meteorite idea Chris mentioned, or that maybe it opens into an old Thassilonian vault where some of the stuff may be found.
So the journal will reference the Cerise Passage, hint at its location, mention that the Sihedron medallion should awaken the portal, and that it's where they got their supply of blood earth malachite (useful in crafting certain ioun stones), but no mention of where the drop-off point is, or what's out there.
The Cerise Passage is still hewn from imported Akiton stone (stolen from the Azlanti and used to help secure the connection between both worlds; the Akiton side should prolly be made of stone from Thassilon). But all that can be determined is that the stone is not natural to the area and was obviously imported from... somewhere.
|Chris Mortika RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16|
65 Baconfeast, Year of the Regulation Dress Uniform 79-
The new Lord has demanded the Cerise Passage be decommissioned. He claims the cost of maintenance will exceed the expected revenues. We have asked that the icons of service still be used to reactivate the Passage should he ever change his mind. After transmuting Heb, Glanvous, and Belagor into gold, he agreed to our request. I'll miss their seven-layer dip at the next office party.
Plenty of blood earth malachite remains to be claimed on the other side. How it glitters like Christmas, a holiday I have no knowledge of. I would love to get my hands on some and craft an anniversary present for my wife. That would most certainly be worth 1d6+3 boinkings.
There's no mention of it, so I don't think it's like Athas or something. Not every group knows that spell, though. My Skull & Shackles gang is notoriously lacking in water-creation.
If he wanted, I'm sure Brian could make the spell function oddly (water forms as an equivalent volume of ice, which would need to be melted), ineffectually (1/10th volume, say), or not at all.
I kinda like the frozen water idea. The vast majority of Akiton's water is frozen on the poles from some ancient something-or-other that seems to be the fault of the Elder Things. So maybe the water summoned magically gets affected by ambient magic from that bit of shenanigans.
I was already planning for my Akiton mini-campaign to have ice-harvesting caravans be a major source of income (and a great way for adventurers to make a buck as caravan guards). Multi-ton slabs of ice regularly harvested from both poles, each with its own set of dangers (the northern tribes don't take kindly to folks basically stealing their home, and the southern ice cap is filled with eldritch horrors).
Then there's the nomads intent on stealing the ice for their own drinky-drinky.
So, campaign recap:
PCs are recruited by a witchwyrd (feel free to have him practically bend over backward to put them at ease; even covered in robes, hiding their spare arms, and wearing a big-ass mask, a witchwyrd still looks and acts funny; just ask the Katapeshi how they feel around the Pactmasters) at their favorite bar/tavern/inn/mud pit (I default to the Rusty Dragon). Offers them level-equivalent dosh for what he hopes is a quick in-and-out pop-over to wherever to snag some blood earth malachite. Loans 'em a rod of mineral findy and a Sihedron medallion (if they don't still have theirs). PCs travel to the foothills between Windsong Abbey and Galduria.
PCs find big-arsed portal shaped like a Sihedron, made of rust-red stone. Presenting the Sihedron medallion, the gate crackles to life after a while, starting up like an old Buick. The gate is classic Stargate-opaque. Walking through, they get jumped by morlocks, the last surviving descendants of the guys left on the other side of the portal when it shut down, who between inbreeding and generally being disliked by the natives, are a scant 3-4 guys. The cave obviously leads outdoors, where it appears to be dusk, in a large valley, but looking up reveals they're at the bottom of the Edaio Rift, some 3 miles from the surface of Akiton.
Lost and without knowing where the crap they are, the PCs are stuck wandering for a bit in hopes of finding out where to go. Enter the lizardfolk who have just taken down some big local beast and are feeling in a friendly mood. PCs see a gang of 'em huddled around a fire, roasting some beast and prepping the rest for, y'know, leather and jerky and bone hats and whatever. The lizard folk see the PCs who aren't trying to hide (or who hide badly) and beckon them over. Pantomime, magic, or language skills eventually establish communication, and the lizardfolk trade information and supplies, especially if the PCs have "land-bone-fangs" (steel weapons). The lizardfolk know where there's a cave with a vein of earth blood malachite, but warn them it is guarded by a "many-legs bluescale" (they might mistake this for a dragon, so that's kinda fun, especially since it fires "sky-bolts" from its mouth). pointed the right direction, the PCs can head out at their leisure.
Along the way, a gang of ratfolk ambush them, riding on their giant rat steeds (dire rat with the giant template). The PCs defeat them and move on, finding the cave up in the side of the Rift. Some climb checks get them in there, where indeed, blood earth malachite is in abundance. Some crystals of the stuff jut out of the cave wall, making taking some a simple matter of smashing through the thing's root (hardness 8, hp to be determined). Dead bits of a shobhad litter the cave, along with a big rifle and a bandolier with some quantity of Elysian bronze bullets and whatever other treasure the GM decides survived, but no sign of a big scaled monster aside from lotsa poop.
PCs bail outta the cave, but the behir returns from a hunting trip and finds the PCs leaving. This can be a straight-up fight, or a running chase-thing, where PCs duck around stone plinths and hide in crevices as the behir stalks them along the Rift floor and walls. Eventually, they slay or escape the behir, navigate their way back, and return home to reward and fame.
And that's how I spent my summer vacation. The end.
The portal, after they step back out, may begin to break down- either complete physical collapse, or it just sparks and fumes and clearly is in need of repair before working again. Depends on how often the GM wants the group to pop back over to Akiton. This group may never go back, but a later campaign might hear about their story and start a planet-hopping campaign. Heck, Maro could be right around the corner from where the PCs came in, obscured by a couple of miles and a sharp turn around a corner.
A fw thoughts on the environment of Akiton, particularly in the Edaio Rift:
First off, it's cold on Akiton, and I assume being at the bottom of a 3-mile-deep trench where direct sunlight is a rarity will make it even colder. The PCs will prolly not be packing cold-weather gear, so maybe the lizardfolk will trade them some thick furs from their stash, having access to more from their dead beastie.
It's also pretty dim down there, akin to perpetual twilight. Perhaps an hour or two have enough sunlight to raise the light level to normal; otherwise it's dim light for most of the day and darkness at night. This can be mitigated in the usual way.
Akiton's atmosphere is thin. Like, high-elevation thin. So PCs will be getting fatigued, exhausted, and depending on how long they're there, might get elevation sickness. A possible stash of potions with efficient breath (a spell I'm discussing with Ben Bruck; it's slotted at a probable 3rd-level deal, 24-hour duration, and negates the need for Fort saves in low-oxygen environments) left over from the Thassilon days and completely forgotten and/or ignored by the long-acclimated morlocks can keep them going for most or all of the adventure. Since they're plot items and not really "treasure" per se, their resale value should hopefully be unimportant, but if the group suffers through and keeps 'em to sell, you can use standard potion resale value if you wish. Or they can keep 'em and it'll help out way later up in Xin-Shalast.
Despite the thin atmosphere, I'd assume wind and dust storms will be pretty common as air whips around the steep walls of the Rift. The PCs may be forced to hunker down during a dust storm during the adventure, or might suffer penalties for strong winds part of the time.
Gravity is 1/3 normal on Akiton, so PCs will get all the boons from that (Acrobatics checks to jump are way easier, weapon ranges are 3x normal, everything weighs so very little). It's not mentioned in the usual rules for low-grav in the Distant Worlds book, but this might also mitigate armor check penalties (it's easier to climb in full plate when it suddenly weighs 16 2/3rds lbs.) if you so desire. That may also reduce the thin air checks a bit, since exerting yourself is a lot easier now, too.
I think it'll become obvious they're not in Kansas anymore pretty quick, and the lizardfolk can prolly tell them that they're on Akiton. The planet's name isn't a secret to the natives, and the PCs are obviously not from around there, being that native Akiton humans are red-skinned, and all the standard races aren't native at all. Elves are known about, thanks to contact with Castrovel, but everyone else is just odd to them.
I've sot some thoughts on Survival checks too, but I gotta condense the ideas with 'em into something more coherent than stream-of-consciousness.
"Strangers from the blue sphere. Come, sit by our warming bright. What brings the odd-skins to Akiton?"
Akiton natives are at least vaguely familiar with Golarion being the home of humans that aren't red. Much like a Golarion native may have heard that Akiton has four-armed giants on it, so a shobhad popping into town might be recognized as one of those guys.
Survival checks: finding food will prolly be as normal; there's tiny lizards and bugs and whatnot, scuttling through the rocks and crevices. But water will be, as mentioned above, hard to find. There's no convenient cacti to tap like in some deserts, but there may be alien fauna that can be sources of water with high Survival checks or trial and error (possibly leading to a few instances of accidental poisoning when they eat the wrong plant). Clever PCs might ask the lizardfolk natives about edible plants, upping their chances of finding some water.
Firewood may also be unheard of, at least in recognizable form. Perhaps dry brush that burns blue can be scrounged up, oddly popping as it burns with great green sparks. The PCs yellow torch and lamp light may intrigue natives who see it, being as weird as you or I seeing odd-colored flames here.
Masterwork shobhad longrifle, at Akiton prices, goes for 650 gp resale value. On Golarion, that same rifle, if anyone could use it, would be 5,150 resale. But I think 650 as a curio could be acceptable.
An Alkenstar gunsmith might be willing to part with 1,000 gp to study the design, but unless the group travels to Magnimar, they're not gonna find one. Even in Magnimar, there might be, say, a 25% chance of finding a merchant who's got contacts interested in the weapon. If they're willing to set up a buy with a DC 20 Knowledge (local) check and 1d3 weeks worth of work, they can get the full 1,000 gp; kinda an extra reward for the hassle.
Elysian bronze metal cartridges are basically 20 gp just for the materials alone; they're useless as ammo to current firearms on Golarion, save for the few advanced firearms stashed deep in Alkenstar. Disassembled, they count as Elysian bronze sling bullets, so 10 would be 200 gp, 1 sp.
If the PCs have a gunslinger or other gun-user in the group, maybe a promise to get first bid on a gun reverse-engineered from the shobhad rifle might entice them. Masterwork rifle sized for the PCs would be 5,300 gp, and would get all the advantages that advanced firearms have (longer range on shots working as touch attacks, reduced load time, etc.). Set it a year into the campaign and the PCs could pick it up later in the campaign, when that kinda money isn't such a big deal and they can get it enchanted by the party spellcaster cheap, and it makes a fun reward for them.
Plus, that kinda thing has that "only one in the world" feel. Might even come with their name or something personally relevant engraved on the barrel. A holy gun or black powder inquisitor might have a saying of their faith; a big game hunter might nickname it "Betsy" (or if they're a Firefly fan, "Vera") and hang bone and tooth trophies off the barrel. Or any of them might get the stock inlaid with mother-of-pearl and a personal insignia.
Feedback for N'wah
- In the encounter with the witchwyrd I get a twist on the stranger meeting the party in the inn trope. I love the "party doesn't know they are talking to an alien" angle and it gives me an excuse to do a little research and set a cool personality for this guy/girl. I like what you said in the facebook group about what to do if the party is hostile to the stranger or doesn't take the offer.
What Ashton said in the Facebook group:If the PCs are still unwilling to discuss the deal, or if they attack him, Xuron flees from the encounter and finds PCs with a G*++&*ned sense of decency; feel free to have the PCs constantly hear rumors of the awesome dudes who totes went to the Red Planet and survived, and are mad awesome compared to those other guys who only killed some goblins.
If they don't take the offer, later in the campaign I'll have the party here rumors about or meet and adventuring party that took the mission and got a big score on the other side in addition to the witchwyrd's payment.
- I love Morlocks! and I love an ambush the second they get out of the portal. This gives me a great opportunity for Thassilon foreshadowing and I can use these guys to tie this sidetreck to the campaign very well. I am thinking a 4 morlock ambush. It will be CR6 but by design I want to scare the crap out of them the second they get through the portal. This encounter will be even more interesting with the discovery that gravity works differently here (I'll run this in a way that helps the party more then hurts. "look! we have superpowers now!) To prevent retreat through the portal I'll require the portal time to recharge before it can be activated again, maybe even require them to find some kind of fuel for it on this end.
If they retreat, I'll have the morlocks hang back as they are afraid to leave their home due to the dangers out there and give them whatever aid they need by the Lizardfolk camp.
- Lizardfolk encounter - I love that communication won't be easy! I very much look forward to this encounter and it will provide a waystation for the party especially if they retreat from the morlocks.
- Rats riding on rats with guns!
- Behir - What language would the Behir speak on akiton?
I am tempted to have a second sidetrek upon returning to the portal back to Golarion where they find they have to do something else to return. It will allow me to include some Thassilon foreshadowing for the Runelords plot line in the Morlock lair, cave paintings, for example and have an encounter
I am a little sad about having to cut the skyship chase but I might be able to use that again at higher level.
For the morlocks, feel free to have them wearing the last tattered jewelry of their people, incredibly ancient gold and platinum stuff whose gems have long since fallen out of the settings, and are decrepit to the point of near-worthlessness (how near-worthless is up to you). Brodert Quink can easily identify them as Thassilonian in origin. As to why they were on Akiton on a gang of morlocks might be something the PCs mull over for quite some time. Perhaps the library inn the Therassic monastery mentions those left behind with the closing of the Cerise Passage.
Did I mention any of that morlock stuff before? It was the reason I picked morlocks for the intial encounter, but my brain often jumps tracks and I just assume I said something when I forgot to mention it or thought it obvious. :P
Morlock cave paintings would be sweet. Perhaps their deformed, inbred hands have five fingers and two thumbs, radiating in an almost-star pattern, so they do that hand-print pattern but it makes odd seven-pointed star patterns. Crude versions of Thassilonian runes, used haphazardly and without any linguistic context scatter all over. Shobhads are strangely drawn with curved tusks like rune giants.
The minute the PCs step onto Akiton, they'll notice right away the sudden odd feeling like when you're on an elevator going down, except that it never goes away. Everything they have feels almost comically light, and each step is like bouncing on a trampoline while wearing Moon Shoes. Describe the odd tingly gut sensation, the odd lightness of their equipment, and the first time they move in great detail, and they'll be pretty WTF, until they jump onto a ledge ten feet over their heads without much effort, and it becomes a big bowl of awesomesauce.
The thin air will also be suddenly noticeable. Like, freakishly noticeable. They might even initially think there's poison gas or something when they breathe in and their lungs are still begging for more air.
Giving the portal a cool-down time or a different activation on the other side is a fantastic idea. The blood earth malachite itself might be the activation item (it's pretty much why the Cerise Passage exists, after all, and I can see a Runelord saying, "what, they didn't bring any more back? Leave them there 'til they find some, dammit!").
Lizard folk communique can be handled a few ways. A character with Draconic might need to make a relatively easy Linguistics check (say, DC 10) to get over screwy prepositions or whatever. Folks without it might need a DC 20 check just to catch basic phrases and their meaning ("I think they said, 'eat food now good,' but it might have been 'thank God for the Forest Service.' ") Also, you could speak in strange idioms. Water is "land-blood". PCs are "odd-skins". They hail from the "Blue Star" and speak the "old words" with a "twisted tongue." You can combo these two methods to make it even odder: they hear what the words mean, but they gotta piece the idioms together themselves.
The "rats on rats" I stole from the ratfolk entry in the ARG. I imagine the giant rats to be like big-arsed kangaroo rats. If you want them even more alien, give 'em anteater faces but with rat ears and eyes. The ratfolk look like standard ratfolk, but prolly with a lot of reddish-brown and occasional sable coloring to their coats, and their guns, like Indiana Jones, belong in a museum. They're old, frequently jury-rigged, and covered in generations of carvings and insignia. Might even have a special marking from each previous owner; the leader might be descended from Nr'chok Fourpaws and have a grouping of four paws in a diamond pattern on it.
If you want, you can give 'em the ratfolk gunslinger archetype (gulch gunner? I think?) from the ARG. it'll cost 'em two skill points (I'd drop Handle Animal since their racial bonus helps make up for it, and Climb since they prolly won't actually do any climbing in the encounter), but the sudden tactical change to shoving muskets in PC's bellies and heedlessly firing despite AoO will make them seem even stranger and more desperate.
I'm referring to the Akiton equivalent of Common as Akitoni. It's the local lingo of the red-skinned humans who live there. Uses some Azlanti words and phrases, since the Azlanti basically made the city of Arl what it is. The Azlanti language connection becomes more obvious the closer one gets to Arl, to the point that in Arl, the natives speak an odd dialect of Azlanti with very little native Akitoni in it. But further out (like in the trench) the natives speak a more unusual dialect. It's still decipherable with spells like comprehend languages, though, and an Azlanti speaker can prolly get the gist with a DC 15 or 20 Linguistics check. A Thassilonian speaker (which is descended from Azlanti) might have the DC upped by 5, and someone without one of those languages is upped by 10.
A return trip, where the PCs know where they're going O(whether this group, or a later campaign) can easily tie-in to a fun sand ship adventure. A sand ship caravan is approaching, and they stop to greet the strange PCs, perhaps even taking them on as additional muscle to protect their ice cargo on the way to Maro. I ran a fun encounter for my stepdaughter where a band of lizardfolk assaulted a sand ship as it passed under a natural stone arch, but you can run whatever. At higher levels, a group of girallons dropping onto the deck could prove fun, or being chased by an enormous sand worm (advanced death worm, maybe with the giant template). The guns on front could function similar to cannons with a reduced reload time or a small internal magazine (say, 5 shots) to help fend off way-big critters.
Alright, I'm gonna try to focus some other fun world details that can be expanded upon if you end up returning to Akiton later. But I gotta gather my reflections and start to free my mind.
Wait, that sounds like I'm gonna go get high.
I'm gonna listen to NPR, but tune it out while I mull over the fossilized skeletons of the great sea-beasts from the before times.
I'm looking up chemicals used in fireworks and the colors they burn. Could be a nifty reference for oddly-colored fires and what they might contain. I may also look up things that burn cooler than standard bonfires and whatnot. I'll report back when I can; may be AFK for most of the day.