New Scenarios: Repairing Old Damage

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

This week marks the anniversary of my sixth year working at Paizo and overseeing the organized play content development. Perhaps it's fitting then that not only do this month's Pathfinder Society scenarios deal with ancient places, but they also pertain to subjects that intrigued me even before I moved to Seattle to share adventures with so many groups worldwide: archaeology and the sorcerer Hao Jin.

Illustration by Michele Giorgi

We had a blast coming up with the premise for Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-14: Debt to the Quah, a Tier 3-7 scenario that Adrian Ng executed beautifully as the author. Although many Pathfinders are capable scholars, there are the bad eggs—unscrupulous academics willing to do anything to become famous, self-absorbed explorers ready to misinterpret an ancient site to promote their pet theories, rage-fueled warriors using the Society as an excuse to swing greatswords at others, and reckless mages who hurl fireballs while fighting in libraries. The nature of a tabletop RPG like Pathfinder lends itself to explosive combats and the PCs who can survive those encounters, yet even though I comfortably acknowledge this, there's a part of me that dies a little whenever RPGs and video games show an archaeologist character blowing up ruins or hacking apart a priceless fresco to see if there's a secret passage on the other side. Due to my archaeology background, I really enjoy including an adventure every year or so that delves into archaeology's nuances and the ramifications of casting ice storm in a carefully preserved tomb.

The Pathfinder Society has made some positive inroads with the generally standoffish Shoanti people, such as in Pathfinder Society Scenario #4-06: Green Market and Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-22: Wrath of the Fleshwarped Queen. As Debt to the Quah begins, though, the PCs learn that a former Pathfinder not only looted one of the Shoantis' most revered sites, but he also mistakenly presented it as a Thassilonian ruin in the latest Pathfinder Chronicle. Imagine how upset the combined Shoanti clans must be to learn of this desecration through a scholarly journal that adds insult by misattributing their accomplishments to another culture? It's the PCs' job to play damage control. Not only do they meet with the many Shoanti quahs' representatives to repair damaged relationships, but they'll also need to repair the damaged tomb their colleague left in ruins. Fortunately, the PCs have a few allies among the Shoanti, including the half-elf Cousin to All, illustrated by Michele Giorgi. This is a really fun adventure that delves into Shaonti lore that I'm sure you'll enjoy.

So even though archaeology's considered a "destructive science," just remember not to take that too literally the next time you want to chop your way through a wall with that adamantine greataxe. Looting is a natural part of RPGs, but let this be my reminder to respect archaeological sites overall in real life. It might seem cool to climb that pyramid or swipe some pottery sherds, but only by holding ourselves to a higher standard can we preserve and understand the past for future generations.

Illustration by Leonardo Santanna

In Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-15: Tapestry's Trial, a Tier 7-11 scenario by Alex Greenshields, we are approaching the end of the Hao Jin Tapestry storyline, and we're doing it in a big way. Within the past year, the Society learned that the museum demiplane created by the legendary sorcerer Hao Jin was collapsing during Pathfinder Society Special #10-00: The Hao Jin Cataclysm. The Society's extended the demiplane's life long enough to perform salvage archaeology jobs in Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-11: The Hao Jin Hierophant and Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-13: Fragments of Antiquity, but new cracks are appearing. The Pathfinders have one last option to save the tapestry: finding and enlisting the creator herself, none other than the storied Ruby Phoenix, Hao Jin.

This scenario's been percolating for more than half the campaign's life, ever since Mark Moreland mentioned where Hao Jin's been for so long. Not only are the PCs traveling to Axis to meet Hao Jin in person, but they're also going to learn so much more about the Ruby Phoenix's past in the process. Add to that the strange possibilities for adventure in the Eternal City—including this eclectic inevitable illustrated by Leonardo Santanna—and you have one heck of a scenario. I'm reticent to share too much more than that just to avoid spoilers.

Well, I'll explore one element just a little more. Especially in Season 10, the team's been really interested in providing the players an opportunity to understand and respond to some major NPCs' ongoing stories, particularly NPCs who have been around for 5 or more years and so have inspired some strong feelings. I'll leave it at the Tapestry's Trial title being a play on words with multiple meanings, which we explore considerably in the scenario. I hope you enjoy the final encounter as much as I do.

John Compton
Organized Play Lead Developer

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Tags: Organized Play Pathfinder Society Pathfinder Society Scenarios
Grand Lodge ***** Venture-Captain, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

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Huzzah!

Grand Lodge *****

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

That sounds amazing!

*****

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Oh god, please dont let there be an actual trial using the verbal duel mechanics....

Shadow Lodge *****

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*cracks neck* Bring it on. To Seal The Shadow didn't break me.

Silver Crusade ***** ⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Germany—Bavaria

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That line:

" particularly NPCs who have been around for 5 or more years and so have inspired some strong feelings. "

I still have hope to be able to finally resolve some feeling with a particular individual... ^^

TOZ wrote:
*cracks neck* Bring it on. To Seal The Shadow didn't break me.

I didn't break me either, but it involved a lot of handouts, players having to interact with them before the game actually started and in general, they had someone who was terrible at it, so obviously it went quick.

If that implementation happens again, yeah actually running away is more effective for the players ^^

Scarab Sages ***** Venture-Captain, Netherlands aka Woran

Looking real good!

Paizo Employee ***** Organized Play Lead Developer

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Minor subsystem spoiler for #10-14:

This scenario uses the [abridged] influence subsystem from Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Intrigue. The abridged rules are included as an appendix in the scenario.

A short discussion about subsystems in scenarios:

We enjoy experimenting with the types of stories that new subsystems help us tell, so we've regularly featured a newer subsystem in a scenario here or there. Some of them are definitely more conducive to organized play than others. Verbal duels and pursuits, for example, are pretty cool, yet they're tough to incorporate into a 4-hour adventure. On the other hand, we've found that a slightly simplified version of influence is pretty easy to convey in a scenario, and our using it somewhat regularly means that it's becoming more familiar among our players (and therefore takes even less time to explain). Likewise, we've found that the "group chase" mechanic we created for organized play works pretty nicely.

When a subsystem's well received and does something especially useful for scenarios, we tend to use it more. And when a subsystem ends up being a little too complex or is paced for a much longer adventure, we tend not to revisit it.

Paizo Employee ***** Organized Play Lead Developer

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Also, it looks like we got an illustration of Kemchet Flame Stoker—also an excellent piece of art by Michele Giorgi.

*****

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Thanks for the plug about treating RL archaeological sites with respect! I've always tried to do so in character myself.

Grand Lodge ***** ⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Online—PbP aka Hmm

I love what I am hearing here!

Hmm

Grand Lodge ****

Whenever Artemis visits an archeological site, he likes to tell his party members, "Only take memories and leave only footprints."

**** Venture-Agent, Tennessee—Chattanooga aka ZenithTN

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I haven't seen a subsystem in PFS yet that I felt added to my enjoyment of the scenario. They definitely add to the labor on the GM side. I really wish you guys would just stop with them.

Sovereign Court **** Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

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Harold Ervin wrote:
I haven't seen a subsystem in PFS yet that I felt added to my enjoyment of the scenario. They definitely add to the labor on the GM side. I really wish you guys would just stop with them.

I disagree, I think some of them have been pretty successful. The ones I enjoyed in particular were:

Group Chase Originally chase scenes were rather awful, with paladin PCs in full plate getting stuck behind a wall that due to ACP they were unlikely to ever get over. Group chases keep the party together. Recent ones have been really good at using the scenario's themes to spread around which skills are needed, giving everyone a chance to shine (as opposed to classic ones which suggest that chase scenes should be mostly athletic skills).

Influence This really helps in turning a socially challenging part of the scenario into less of a "let the bard spam diplomacy". There's usually time pressure (we have X rounds of conversation before the inevitable surprise) so everyone needs to pitch in. And other skills than classic diplomacy can be used so it's also about matching each PC to the NPC that they have something in common with.

Round-Robin Trial This one is not used very often, but it basically comes down to this: the PCs need to present a number of pieces of evidence, or answer a number of accusations, but before a PC can speak again, all others need to have had a turn. However, each successfully presented piece of evidence makes subsequent checks easier. So the most socially adept PCs can prepare the way for others, but everyone gets a turn. I think this mechanic is also good at making sure not only the person with the highest diplomacy skill gets to say something.

Some other mechanics that were "okay" but not as great were library research and impossible actions in the dream world. They were fun if you were the sort of character that was good at it, but not everyone would really shine at them. Contrast that to the mechanics above, which all aim to make sure everyone participates. Occult rituals also tend towards cerebral skills so they're not for everyone either, but I think the base mechanic has enough flexibility so they can be opened up a bit more to other types of character by a creative writer.

Mechanics that I felt were really a bad fit for PFS were Mythic and Mass Combat because they required an inordinate amount of new rule-learning. Debates I felt are also a poor fit because they kind of require a character built already knowing about these mechanics.

Liberty's Edge *

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I like the sound of all of this! My only sadness is the character in which I made the most investment is just shy of 33 XP so I can't do all the things :P

Silver Crusade ***** ⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Germany—Bavaria

John Compton wrote:

** spoiler omitted **

** spoiler omitted **

It's always good to experiment, but some of those systems just took longer to explain and use than I think was reasonable in retrospective. If I have to take 10 minutes to explain a new mechanic to the players, for a 3-minute scene, it's not necessarily worth it.

Abridged versions of rules can work remarkably well, in those cases the only complication is that the GM has to be sufficiently familiar with the abridged system, to run it properly.

As Lau mentioned, some returning mechanics are quite welcome:

- Influence: Using something other than boring old diplomacy is quite the welcome change, and allows some very interesting RP moments when the barbarian manages to bond with the high priest over their shared love for chess. I feel that the Profession skills in Starfinder work really well in the scenarios I have seen thus far, not entirely sure if/how Lore could be used to similar effect in PF2, but I had a lot of fun leveraging my fun/RP profession to actually help the group.

And (sorry to be so frank) it kinda forces the characters that have invested ridiculous amounts into their diplomacy to share the spotlight.

- Group efforts: Lau mentioned how the approach improves chases scenes, but I am a really big fan of the mechanic to let everyone roll (which I would consider contributing and also giving players the option for some RP/describing their actions) use the highest result as the main check and use others to give a +2 if they beat a lower DC.

Not a huge fan of aid another as a mechanic (since it stacks, it tends to trivialize some DCs if the whole group, their familiars and well-trained donkeys give those +2s; and don't get me started on bodyguard options), but the mechanic mentioned above sidesteps the problem and helps players to feel like they contributed.

- Round-Robin Trial: I personally like the option to force people to share the spotlight, but it has been explained to me, that some introvert players might not appreciate the spotlight. That is certainly a worthwhile consideration, but I tend to try to keep those unpleasant moments as short as possible, the important thing is that they had the chance.

---

Some other subsystems get more of a mixed reception, Starship combat is a good example - some players really like being able to toy with a new subsystem, that might be based the theme or the tactical depth of their options. Others try to avoid situations where their complex characters get reduced to just their skill bonus, with only a few options to differentiate your playstyle.

Dark Archive ****

I concur with the influence mechanics, a bit of a hurdle at first but in terms of my own GMing it gets me to focus on the RP with still a safety net that there is a skill check underneath to adjudicate if it was successful or not. My only disappointment now is when GMs let those scenes go flat with everybody just roll these skill checks.

Silver Crusade ***** Venture-Agent, Canada—Ontario—Toronto aka pauljathome

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Harold Ervin wrote:
I haven't seen a subsystem in PFS yet that I felt added to my enjoyment of the scenario. They definitely add to the labor on the GM side. I really wish you guys would just stop with them.

I almost totally agree but with one exception.

The chase scene in 6-14 was absolutely hilarious every time I've played or run it. Not through the mechanics, admittedly, but because the chase itself is just so awesome :-)

* RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

Paul Jackson wrote:
The chase scene in 6-14 was absolutely hilarious every time I've played or run it. Not through the mechanics, admittedly, but because the chase itself is just so awesome :-)

Rawr!! This post brings back fond memories. Glad you enjoyed the chase.

Dark Archive **** Venture-Lieutenant, Online—VTT

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Mike Kimmel wrote:


Rawr!! This post brings back fond memories. Glad you enjoyed the chase.

Honestly that has been my favourite chase scene in PFS to date. I love how it flips the script and the options that are presented, both when I first played it and every time I've run it people have have gone from "not another chase..." to spouting ideas, waiting expectantly for each new roll and frankly having an amazing time. So thank you, it's brilliant!

Silver Crusade ***** ⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Germany—Bavaria

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You could argue, that this was the chase when chase scenes really got good, I have seen too many older ones that were ended by a potion of fly.

It was one of my first scenarios, so I am also nostalgic for 6-14, though I think this one manages to stand on its own without nostalgia goggles.

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