The invite went out on November 25, 2008, three months after we released the Beta rules of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. James Jacobs, our beloved Creative Director (then Editor-in-Chief), sent the following email to a few select members of the Paizo staff:
"SO! It is time for us editors and developers and publishers to really start learning this new game we're building. One way to do that, the MOST FUN way, of course, is to play the game.
I've been mentioning this before, but I'd love to start up a campaign here at the office. I'm looking at running the game twice a month after work on every other Thursday, starting with the first Thursday after New Year's: January 8th of 2009. I was thinking of starting it in December, but after the holidays seems smartest so that we'll get a regular schedule going AND by then we should be more caught up AND by then the game itself should be closer to being finalized. This is not so much a playtest campaign as much as it is a "Learn the new rules" campaign, as a result. The first game will be on January 8th of 2009. It'll take place in the main conference room, and we'll start at 6:30 PM and play until 10:00 PM."
The first game started a wee bit later than James originally intended, as we were all too busy finalizing the Core Rulebook and getting it to the printer in time for its August 2009 release. The very first session actually took place on Thursday, March 19. You can read a recap of the first session (and several more) in the Campaign Journal on our forums.
The campaign was called "The Shadow Under Sandpoint," and was set in James's "home base" Varisian town of Sandpoint, which is heavily based on Point Arena, CA, where he grew up. That first session was mostly focused on character creation. Nine posts into the Campaign Journal, I piped up with the following comment:
"I finally settled on a name that reflects my first-level feat choices of Endurance and Die Hard: OSTOG THE UNSLAIN!
Let's see how long I can keep that title..."
The answer turned out to be six years and a couple of weeks. Last Thursday, April 9, we finally wrapped up the campaign!
The original players in Paizo's longest-running staff game were: Erik Mona, Sean K Reynolds, James Sutter, Wes Schneider, Chris Carey, and Jason Bulmahn. We were very shortly thereafter joined by honorary Paizonian and PaizoCon founder Tim Nightengale.
As the years went on, Sean, James Sutter, and Chris left the group, and Rob McCreary joined.
Our adventures in Sandpoint brought us up against key villains like the Red Bishop, the ghost of the serial killer Chopper, and of course the Sandpoint Devil.
In late 2011, James shifted the focus of the campaign from Sandpoint to the southern deserts of Osirion. He was eager for a change of scenery, but more importantly, he wanted to put us up against a huge challenge in the form of Gary Gygax's Necropolis, an enormous dungeon Gygax designed for the old Dangerous Journeys game. Our friend Clark Peterson had adapted Necropolis to the d20 rules system in a hardcover mega-adventure from Necromancer Games, and it was this version that James updated to Pathfinder, made his own, and sent us into like an ancient Egyptian meatgrinder.
Three and a half years later, we emerged into the burial chamber of the great lich lord Rahotep, eager to put him to final death. I was also eager to solidify Ostog the Unslain's title and reputation forever. Would we manage to survive?
From left to right: Thalestris (aasimar gunslinger played by Rob McCreary), Styrian Kindler (human bard played by F. Wesley Schneider),
Velmarius Elazarin (human sorcerer played by Jason Bulmahn), Howell Talbot III (human paladin played by Tim Nightengale), and Ostog the Unslain (played by yours truly).
I brought the Veuve, of course.
Even looking at these miniatures as I write this blog, it's weird for me to think that they won't ever appear on a gaming table together again. Nearly every other week for 6 years is a long time. I'm starting to get a bit wistful...
No matter. After throwing back some celebratory champagne, it was time to take the fight to the insidious Rahotep! By the time this session rolled around, we were 17th level with 2 mythic tiers. But all of us were worried that it might not be enough!
Our first battle was against a massive umbral dragon being ridden by "the Mother of All Boar Demons." You might not recognize boar demons. They're unique to Gary Gygax's Necropolis. Gary was kind enough to give them absolutely killer gaze attacks, which are always fun. Notice how the party is standing in a perfect group for a dragon's breath weapon attack...
We were still pretty confident, thanks in no small part to the huge number of precast spells Styrian the bard had pumped us up with. It got so out of hand we had to use the conference room whiteboard. Here's a peek:
To head off a few rules lawyers posting about how not all of these spells stack with each other... you're right. Some of the spells were only cast on a couple of us, and some of them were ladled on top of other bonuses to squeak out a little bonus even if most of the spell was not tremendously useful. We did it right, I assure you.
A quick note on the list to the right. Over the course of the campaign, each of us had gained a small statue of an Ancient Osiriani god, who acted as a sort of protective spirit at various points in the dungeon. Each of these acted as a "get out of one death free" card for the final session, where we ended up getting hit with multiple death effects per round. We'll check back later to see how that turned out for us.
With all of that buffing, we were able to dispatch the Mother of All Boar Demons and the umbral dragon without too much trouble. That led us to Rahotep's actual tomb, which looked like this:
Each of the Large miniatures represented a statue of one of the Spawn of Rovagug (did I mention Rahotep worshiped Rovagug?). And we all know nothing bad ever happens with statues in a dungeon, right?
The gentleman seated opposite us is James Jacobs himself, looking self-satisfied at the awesome spread he set out for us, and the fate he had in store for us. He also is about 100 pounds lighter than he was when the campaign started, so holy hell, let's raise some champagne to that!
The statues turned out to be horrific traps that _didn't_ spring to terrible life (much to our surprise), and in relatively short order we'd managed to destroy them and funnel their inherent energy into the room's central sarcophagus, opening the very tomb of Rahotep himself.
Very shortly, the room looked like this:
When the GM drops a Todd McFarlane action figure on the table to represent the campaign's Big Bad, you know you're in deep. The two tentacles, by the way, were the god Rovagug's ACTUAL TENTACLES, reaching through a planar prison to defend one of his most powerful earthly servants. If the tentacle touched you, you died. Period. It's at this point that the names of some of those Ancient Osiriani gods started coming off the whiteboard. If a name was erased, that god was forever banned from the world of Golarion.
With a great deal of effort, we managed to kill Rahotep. And that's when his mask came off and his skull immediately turned into a demilich.
The most shocking event of the night occurred when the demilich disintegrated our borderline-evil sorcerer Velmarius. That patch of dust in the below picture is Jason Bulmahn, lead designer of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. ZZzzzt!
Remarkably (for a character who had acted like a self-interested bastard for literally the entire campaign) Jason decided NOT to cash in his "get out of death free" Osiriani god token, reasoning that his life was not worth striking Osiris himself forever from the ranks of Golarion's deities. What a guy! Knowing Velmarius (and Jason), the sorcerer must have had something up his sleeve, but Jason played it cool and quiet. It was almost good enough to think that he was a little mad about his character dying...
We swiftly avenged our fallen ally and defeated Rahotep once and for all. Here's a look at the whiteboard at the end. Pay particular attention to the fact that Ostog never cashed in his get out of death free card!
OSTOG REMAINS UNSLAIN!
And here he is, being placed on the shelf for what I assume is the very last time.
James did a great job winding up the session with a brief story about each of the characters after the campaign. Ostog, apparently, has a linnorm with his name on it in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. Will Ostog one day be a Linnorm King? It would take a pretty powerful member of the Paizo staff to make THAT happen, I reckon!
And what of the deceased Velmarius, the only character to truly die that night? Well, Jason had a plan for that all along...
I cannot summarize in a simple blog post what a treat and honor it was for all of us to play in James Jacobs's campaign. James is a masterful storyteller, and he always put in a ton of work to make sure that everyone was engaged and having fun. I'll miss the campaign terribly (though we're all getting together to start a Call of Cthulhu campaign on Thursday, so we'll still be playing together regularly). To James I say: Thank you, my friend. It was an absolutely fantastic campaign, and you are truly a legendary GM.
And since we're moving to Call of Cthulhu, I have no intention of naming my character "Unslain" or expecting to survive even the first session.
What a refreshing change death will be!