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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 65:

[Wealday, 29 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

For Ralph Blackfeather and Anorak, dawn brings not just a new day but the sound of screams! Changing quickly into his guise as The Reckoner, Ralph has Plate make him invisible as he investigates. A woman on the street is obviously the source of the screams, but she’s unable to do anything but point in the direction of the house across the street from The Reckoner’s safehouse. Inside, a body has been torn to shreds, blood is everywhere, and the place has been thoroughly ransacked. Anorak follows The Reckoner inside, and they realise they’re looking at the work of xills!

Both come to the immediate conclusion that the xills must still be after the mysterious box given to Anorak by the unnerving “baker” Mortimont. The Reckoner wonders aloud how the xill could have tracked the box, as his safehouse has robust protections against divination spells. He says keeping it in the safehouse is too dangerous, even if the xill can only sense its approximate location, and that they should get rid of it by taking it somewhere with windwalk. Anorak’s mind turns in a more devious direction, as he suggests putting it somewhere they wouldn’t mind the xill attacking--like Castle Korvosa! But The Reckoner says that could make things worse if Ileosa got her hands on it. The two discuss why a passage to the Ethereal Plane could be so valuable (if that is indeed what the box contains), but neither knows enough about the Ethereal Plane to say.

Once back outside, the two see that neighbours have come out from nearby buildings--seemingly wanting to help, but scared now that there’s little in the way of law enforcement in Korvosa. The Reckoner offers his condolences and some money to help the woman who found the body, and Anorak tries to gently ask her some questions, but she’s in too much shock to be of any help.

The two return to the safehouse, where Anorak begins memorising spells for the day ahead and The Reckoner doffs his guise to become Ralph Blackfeather once again. Ralph walks to the Burnt Honey Inn, just down the street, and, over breakfast, tells Goldcape what just happened. She says they have to get rid of the box, and suggests putting it in a bag of holding and filling the bag up with rocks until it explodes. As they’re talking, the magical silver raven she sent to Harse recently returns with a message: “Our shared friend thought it safer for me not to know where he was going. But he promised to be ready when the time comes.” Goldcape is not satisfied with the answer--she wants to know where Vencarlo is. She asks Ralph if he could arrange a meeting with Kroft to find out, but Ralph explains about the Black Ship and how difficult it is to reach. Goldcape tries to send Kroft a note using the silver raven, but the raven soon returns, having been unable to deliver the message.

Anorak soon arrives. The three spend the morning trying to find a map of the Hold of Belkzen. First, they try Bookmaker. The squeakily-voiced proprietor, Costa Serimus, explains that he doesn’t have a map, but he does have a rare scholarly work on the area. Goldcape is allowed to look at the index, and sees there’s even an entry for Scarwall. The problem is that the book is quite costly--almost a thousand gold pieces! Goldcape and Anorak argue about whether the dwarf should contribute to buying the book (since the vanara didn’t contribute to purchasing the magical contract to bind their dandasuka spy), until Goldcape has had enough and buys the book herself. Still without a map of the area, the trio reluctantly walk south to Eodred’s Walk and enter Basha’s, a small map shop whose proprietor Ralph believes is selling fraudulent “treasure maps.” When he raises this suspicion with Basha, the cranky old man is (or feigns to be) outraged, and refuses to sell anything to the group until Ralph promises not to spread the “scurrilous rumor” any further. Basha claims to have a map of the Hold of Belkzen (“made by a Pathfinder!”), and, although Ralph is dubious of its provenance, the group ends up buying it.

As they’re in the shop, Goldcape receives a sudden mental message from Yraelzin. “How close are you? Lots of orcs. Made deal with Kuthites--we’re ready to go in when you arrive. They’re an interesting bunch!” Goldcape sends as long a response as the spell allows: “Leaving soon, bringing maps. Where are you? We windwalk. Where meet? What Kuthites? Anorak don’t want deal. Arrive soon.” The trio discuss their travel plans, and settle on leaving tomorrow from Trail’s End and starting with a teleport to Janderhoff. Complications ensue regarding the power of Anorak’s magic to take only a limited number of creatures. When Rocky, Anorak’s new familiar, and The Reckoner’s horse are factored in, the spell simply won’t work. The solution seems to be to ferry everyone to Janderhoff (and beyond) by Anorak casting the spell multiple times, which will leave him dangerously low on his most powerful types of magic.

The trio split up and spend the afternoon making their final preparations for departure. The Reckoner returns to Old Korvosa, finds Xoza, explains that he’ll be gone for several weeks, and tells the spy to spend some time investigating Trifaccia, some time on learning Glorio’s plans and weaknesses, and, if time allows, more about the Commander of the Gray Maidens. Goldcape makes arrangements with Sergeant Clenkins to continue training the members of her resistance cell; Clenkins promises the troops will be ready when called upon. Anorak visits The Reckoner’s safehouse, collects the mysterious box and The Reckoner’s horse, and magically travels to Trail’s End. Soon, Goldcape and The Reckoner are there as well. The largely-Varisian village is now nearly empty, with most of the residents having departed for more promising destinations.

It’s late afternoon when Anorak explains to the others that he thinks the best way to keep the box from being detected by the xill is to place it within a magical bag of holding. Acknowledging it could be dangerous (since the box itself could contain an extradimensional pocket), he says he could do it himself, out of range of the others or any civilians. The snag is that Anorak doesn’t want to use his own magical bag, deeming it too valuable. Instead, he wants to use Goldcape’s magical bag which is less-powerfully enchanted and cheaper to replace if something goes wrong. Goldcape initially refuses, but Anorak promises that if the box destroys the bag, he’ll lend her his own magical bag and pay for the full cost of replacing her original one. Goldcape eventually, and reluctantly, goes along with the plan, and removes everything from her magical bag. Anorak then removes everything he’s wearing (except his armor), chains himself to a stout tree, has the others move to a safe distance, and places the mysterious box in Goldcape’s magical bag.

The results are immediate, and cataclysmic. The bag and the box seem to implode, and in their place stands a massive tower of purest black marble! The tower somehow casts an uncanny shadow a full mile’s radius around it. But of more immediate danger are the hordes of gibbering, toothy insects that pour forth, straight for Anorak! They swarm all over the dwarf, somehow chewing holes even in his mithral armor, before Goldcape recognises what they are and how to stop them. The vanara calls upon her mastery of nature magic to send several freezing spears of ice at the creatures, freezing them in their tracks. Apart from his damaged armor, Anorak is largely unharmed. Goldcape raises a curious question after recognising the insects as daemonic swarms from the Abyss--what would creatures from such a place be doing in a tower said to be linked to the Ethereal Plane?

Answers may lie past the heavy stone door located in an odd-shaped recess in the exterior of the tower. But at what further cost will those answers come?

GM Commentary:

We had a lot of fun with Basha and his map shop. There's only a line or two in the Guide to Korvosa about him, but I took the reference to treasure maps and really hammed up the premise that he sold dubious and outright-forged work. He was a memorable NPC, and makes some return appearances during Chapter Six.

As I've often mentioned, the story continues even if the PCs dawdle. Having Yraelzin make an off-screen deal with the Brotherhood of Bone is part of this idea, and we'll soon see the group's reaction when they finally arrive in Scarwall.

That journey was fated to take longer because the PCs had a panoply of mounts, animal companions, and familiars with them. I always enforce the limits of magic carefully, as it helps players see that the larger their ranks become, the more complications can ensue. (In other words, getting a new familiar or a guard dog might seem cool, but if it means the group can't teleport or windwalk somewhere, the trade-offs become apparent)

Long before the campaign started, I had entertained my son with the tale of the players in Rise of the Runelords stuffing a bag of holding full of thousands and thousands of silver coins (from a dragon's hoard) until they exceeded its weight limitation and it exploded, swallowing up a good deal of the party's stored treasure! Thus, he was very aware of the dangers of magical bags and very reluctant to let Anorak use Goldcape's bag for his experiment. As was unfortunately too often the case, the adults in the group automatically thought their ideas were better than the kid's, and as was often the case, they were wrong. Opening the box normally would have conjured the tower (which provided a passage to the Ethereal Plane, which is why the xill were set on having it) and then closing the box would have vanished the tower. But placing the extradimensionally-linked box into the bag of holding resulted in the destruction of both the box and the bag, with the tower now permanently fixed in Trail's End! To this day, if players in any of my campaigns go to Korvosa, they'll see the mile-wide supernatural shadow cast by a strange black tower just outside the city . . .

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 64:

[Moonday, 27 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

This summer has proven to be a rainy, windy one in Korvosa. Ralph and Goldcape brave the elements to talk to Xoza, their dandasuka spy. Xoza says he asked around about Trifaccia, as requested, and heard there was a (probably staged) altercation in the Shingles the night before. The little gnome-like rakshasa says working as a double agent is a lot more fun than watching Anorak craft all day, and that he wishes “that dwarf” would do something really exciting like open the mysterious box! Ralph asks Xoza how he’s been getting across to the main part of the city from Endrin’s Isle since the only bridge is blockaded, a question that’s answered by the dandasuka transforming into a gillman (and then back) with a snap of his fingers! Xoza is sent to see if he can find out anything else about Trifaccia.

Goldcape and Ralph decide to visit Hedge Wizardry. Ralph, as The Reckoner, uses his usual trick of having Plate turn them invisible and then quickly scaling the barrier on the lone bridge out of Old Korvosa. Goldcape, however, first tries flying Rocky on a long circuitous route to come into the city from the south. She sees the massive statue of Queen Ileosa built on Jeggare Isle, and notices that, perhaps oddly, it’s facing about 285 degrees to the northwest. The sight of a few Gray Maidens guarding the southern gate and walls of Korvosa lead the vanara to believe that it’d be too risky to come into the city from that direction. She makes the long circuitous trip back to Trail’s End, leaves Rocky with one of the ever-dwindling Varisians there, and then swims across the Jeggare, using her nature magic to draw upon the mystical aspect of the frog! When Goldcape and (a disguised) Ralph finally meet up, several hours have passed. Goldcape purchases several magical scrolls from Phaeton that will allow her to turn Rocky into a handheld statue and back. At Goldcape’s suggestion, the two then hurry to the University of Korvosa in the hopes of doing some research, but find, with it operating under summer hours, the Jeggare Library has already closed for the day.

Trying to make the most of their remaining time in the city as they wait for Anorak to finish his days-long magical ritual, the pair decide to see if they can talk with Grau Soldado. Ascending to the Shingles, they find a community celebrating its freedom—no Gray Maiden patrol has dared set foot in the sprawling rooftop shantytown for days. The Reckoner discreetly asks if anyone knows the whereabouts of the “Burned Man”, and ends up talking to the aptly named “Skeevy Jay.” Skeevy Jay, knowing The Reckoner’s reputation for keeping his promises (and utter fearlessness when it comes to fighting the Gray Maidens guarding the bridges and gates around the city), asks the vigilante if he could arrange safe passage out of Korvosa. Skeevy Jay is frank that he and his pals (“Hal Five-Coins” and “Mr. Forget-Me-Not”) have been stealing from nobles and are on the run from the Cerulean Society for “unauthorised theft.” The Reckoner replies that he’ll think about it, but first he wants to meet with the Burned Man.

As the sun sets, Grau makes an appearance. A completely-changed man from the drunken sad-sack he was when they first met him, Grau’s grim, battle-scarred demeanour has earned him a place as leader of the resistance in the Shingles. He talks with Goldcape and The Reckoner about Trifaccia, acknowledging that the new vigilante is likely a fake working for the Queen—but that his deceptions have been effective in stirring up discontent against the rebels. When asked to throw his support behind Kroft, Grau is dismissive, saying the former leader of the Korvosan Guard is too cautious and careful—people are dying in the streets! He compliments his visitors on their raids on High Bridge and North Bridge, saying that striking fear in the Queen’s minions is one sure way to get them to loosen their grip on the city, just like he did in the Shingles. Grau asks again for the Harrowed Heroes to throw their support behind him instead of Kroft, saying “Who do you want at your side? Someone who gets the job done, or someone who looks pretty in a skirt?” Realising that it’s unlikely they’ll persuade Grau to join up with Kroft anytime soon, the two steer the conversation to how dangerous Glorio Arkona is. After explaining that Glorio is really a rakshasa, The Reckoner manages to convince Grau not to ally himself with the aristocrat, despite whatever semblance of order he’s managed to bring to Old Korvosa. Before Grau leaves, Goldcape asks him where he got the burn scars that cover part of his face. He explains that in the last battle for control of the Shingles, the Queen’s new “seneschal” teleported in, and the bloatmage unleashed some terrible fire magic. It was fortunate, Grau explains, that after he was blasted off a catwalk, he was found and hidden in the Temple of Sarenrae to recover.

The Reckoner finds Skeevy Jay and his friends, and they negotiate a price for safe passage out of the city. Hal Five-Coins hints that he’d happily throw in with “Goldcape’s Gang” over in Old Korvosa, but the vanara flatly refuses. The thieves are told to wait nearby, and The Reckoner returns to his safehouse to talk a plan over with Anorak. The dwarf says he could simply teleport them out of the city, but they’d have to wait until tomorrow. The prospect of a magical escape from the city sounds ideal to the thieves, and they quickly agree.

[Toilday, 28 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

In the morning, Anorak tries to teleport the thieves to Kaer Maga, but they end up in the workshop of a very-surprised cobbler in Janderhoff! Fortunately, no harm was done. A second casting works as intended, as the group appear in Kaer Maga in the dimly-lit, cluttered shop of esoterica run by a vampire! The undead proprietor doesn’t blink as the group’s sudden arrival, and remembers Anorak perfectly. As the thieves slip away into the City of Strangers, Anorak politely refuses an untoward proposition from the vampire and teleports back to Korvosa in order to get back to work on his mysterious magical ritual.

Meanwhile, Goldcape and Ralph Blackfeather spend the morning in the Jeggare Library, finding it largely empty of students and patrons. The librarian looks extremely nervous when Goldcape asks if the library has any blueprints of Castle Korvosa, and explains that they were all removed some months ago. But Ralph has a hunch she’s keeping something back, and he and Goldcape look through the stacks just in case. There, in a collection of books on local Korvosan history, Goldcape finds a dusty tome containing sketches of the castle’s layout! She tries to copy the sketches onto a sheet of papyrus, but the results are nearly incomprehensible. Ralph suggests either stealing or hiding the book. Goldcape utters a simple spell that reveals abjuration magic on the windows and doors of the library, leading her to suspect that an attempt to steal a book could set off some sort of alarm. The two agree to hide the book on an out-of-the-way shelf (“Fungi of the Mwangi Expanse”) so they can look at it again later. As they leave the library, the idea of seeing if Bookmaker’s would have maps for sale comes to them. The proprietor does indeed have some hidden away, but only for a dear cost: 900 gold pieces. Unable to come up with the money on the spot, Goldcape and Ralph offer 200 gold pieces as a deposit.

On a lunchtime break from his lengthy ritual, Anorak heads down to Eodred’s Walk and sees one of the shops is a smouldering ruin. He soon learns the location was Trapper’s Hole, bowyer and fletcher Jope Chantsmo’s shop. Jope is sitting behind the wreckage, staring despondently, his livelihood destroyed in the space of minutes. Anorak is able to glean that the shop burned sometime in the middle of the night, and was surely arson—probably from the scattered rioting that has erupted now that the Gray Maidens have lost day-to-day control over the city’s streets. Anorak tries to console Jope and offers help, but the man only mumbles about it being time to start over elsewhere as he starts trudging toward High Bridge. Anorak finds Phaeton Skoda and they commiserate over the tragedy. Not long after, Goldcape hears what happened and also tries to comfort Jope.

Over supper in the Burnt Honey Inn, Goldcape, Ralph, and Anorak are surprised when a small creature flies through the window and lands on Anorak’s shoulder! Looking like a cross between a bird and a reptile, the leathery-winged creature has needle-like teeth and a long tail ending in a diamond-shaped vane. Anorak’s magical ritual was to gain a familiar! But unlike Plate (The Reckoner’s excitable sapient armor), only Anorak can hear what his familiar is saying. The dwarf magus names his new friend Eldritch, and quickly learns that the little creature has a foul mouth and homicidal tendencies! Goldcape is outraged that this was what the group spent days waiting for when thousands of lives are suffering every day under Ileosa’s reign! Everyone commits to leaving for Scarwall the very next day.

That night, The Reckoner and Blackjack (Goldcape) carry out a plan to appear together in the Shingles. Their goals are twofold: first, to try and lure Trifaccia into attacking; second, to provide plausible evidence to House Arkona that The Reckoner is trying to persuade Blackjack into supporting it. Trifaccia never shows up, but the residents of the Shingles are enthusiastic to see two of the city’s greatest heroes teaming up.

[Wealday, 29 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

In the early morning hours, just before dawn, Ralph and Anorak awaken to screaming outside The Reckoner’s safehouse!

If Cressida Kroft is correct, Ileosa’s recent reclusiveness is a sign she is planning something big. But days have now passed since the Harrowed Heroes originally planned to depart for Scarwall. Has the delay allowed for better preparation for the mission, or simply brought the people of Korvosa closer and closer to utter ruin?

GM Commentary:

The building of the giant Ileosa statue is foreshadowing for some really fun stuff in Chapter Six.

I was happy with Grau's evolution, and how he presented a plausible alternative to Field Marshall Kroft (he could be Wolverine to her Cyclops!). The role-playing also revealed more about the Queen's new bloatmage seneschal, Togomor.

Goldcape's player was (I think justifiably) outraged that so much time had been spent (in terms of sessions and in-game days when the city is suffering) just for Anorak to get a familiar. The delay had major consequences, and I don't remember the familiar being particularly valuable. I did have some fun role-playing Eldritch and his desire to murder the other PCs.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 63:

[Sunday, 26 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

In Old Korvosa, The Reckoner and Goldcape cautiously approach Anorak’s workshop, where the majordomo of House Arkona waits outside patiently. But much to their relief, he hasn’t come with news that their spy in House Arkona has already been discovered, but instead with an offer! He wants them to deliver Blackjack--either his body, or his public proclamation that he supports House Arkona. The majordomo adds that his master is prepared to pay handsomely for the former, and even more handsomely for the latter. In response to a query from The Reckoner, the majordomo explains that Blackjack’s recent return has riled anti-aristocratic sentiment in Old Korvosa, and that the support of the city’s legendary “hero of the masses” would go a long way to cementing House Arkona’s efforts to restore order to the city. The Reckoner and Goldcape confer, and then say they’ll need time to think about it and will return with an answer in 24 hours.

After the majordomo and his carriage depart, The Reckoner signals to his dandasuka spy, Xoza, who was waiting on the rooftop of the workshop. Goldcape meets Xoza for the first time and expresses scepticism that recruiting a double-agent was a good idea. The Reckoner asks Xoza what he’s learned so far about Glorio Arkona and his plans for the city, but the spy reveals little that the Harrowed Heroes don’t already know. He says he needs more time, but The Reckoner has another task in mind for him: hunting down the mysterious new masked vigilante, Trifaccia. Xoza’s sarcasm about the wisdom of the idea obviously brings himself delight, and he promises to see what he can do and return tomorrow.

Afterwards, The Reckoner and Goldcape discuss who they should support in leading the city after Ileosa is deposed. They both agree that it can’t be Glorio Arkona, and with Grau Soldado often rash and unpredictable, the safest bet would be Cressida Kroft. The Reckoner says they need to ensure that Grau ends up supporting Kroft, rather than the two becoming rivals. The two discuss whether they should pretend to accept Glorio’s offer by faking Blackjack’s death, but that also seems risky. The Reckoner suggests they simply say they tried to persuade Blackjack to support Glorio but failed.

The two return to Goldcape’s resistance cell safehouse and talk to Anorak. The dwarf wants to take the strange box the xill have been hunting to The Reckoner’s safehouse where it will be mystically shielded from divination magic. The three come up with a plan for Anorak to teleport across the river while Goldcape and The Reckoner drop Rocky off at Trail’s End and then disguise themselves before walking across the bridge, with everyone to meet at the Burnt Honey Inn. Anorak makes his journey with no difficulty. When Goldcape leaves Rocky with some friendly Varisians in Trail’s End, she notices several wagons being loaded--it seems that (given all of the city’s unrest) most of the travelling folk have decided to move on to greener pastures.

After disguising themselves as unremarkable Chelish residents of Korvosa, Goldcape and Ralph Blackfeather stroll past a large patrol of Gray Maidens guarding North Bridge. But then, the unthinkable happens: Goldcape’s tail slips free from its binding right in front of the patrol! Happy to have an excuse to bash more Gray Maidens, The Reckoner calls on Plate for magical flight and swoops back and forth over the bridge, crushing skulls left and right. Goldcape climbs up the side of a guardhouse and uses her nature magic to conjure swathes of nettles with sharp thorns to weaken the foes. At first, it seems like this battle will be another easy victory like the previous day’s battle at High Bridge. But as the rank-and-file Gray Maidens fight as hard as ever on the bridge, completely unaware of what is to come, their officers quickly retreat until they’re no longer standing on it. Then, one of them lights a long fuse that snakes through the fracas of battle until it reaches some strategically placed barrels. It’s a trap! A massive explosion of alchemist’s fire and Tien firework powder rock the bridge, blasting a huge hole in the center and sending flaming rubble high into the sky! The Reckoner, flying over the bridge, is almost blasted out of the air and loses a valuable magical cloak. Goldcape faces even more danger, as she’s blasted into the turbulent waters below. Fortunately, the vanara is a strong-enough swimmer that she’s able to reach shore safely.

Nearby residents pour out of their homes at the sound of the explosion. An angry mob quickly gathers, blaming The Reckoner and the Gray Maidens alike for the destruction. The Reckoner manages to mollify the mob somewhat by explaining that it was the Gray Maidens and not he who destroyed the bridge, but widespread discontent remains. When, after changing into Ralph Blackfeather, he and Goldcape reach the Burnt Honey Inn, they discover the battle at the bridge is all anyone is talking about. Accusations and blame flow freely, as do shouts favouring Glorio Arkona for bringing order to Old Korvosa and for Blackjack having allegedly returned. Potter Minehan has a warm drink for the battered, bruised, and soaking wet Goldcape. Anorak is there, somewhat inebriated, and uses magic to dry her off. The two are led upstairs by Ralph so they can talk in his room about what happened.

Later, as darkness falls, Goldcape waits at the inn while Ralph leads a blind-folded Anorak to his secret safehouse. Anorak hides the mysterious box in the rafters and then passes out, quite intoxicated. Ralph returns to the inn and tells Goldcape that she can watch from a distance as he meets with Kroft, but that his instructions were clear to come alone. The two head down to the docks and there, near midnight, The Reckoner steps onto the indicated pier as Goldcape watches from a hiding place atop a nearby warehouse. Soon, the sounds of gently sloshing water can be heard, and a small, weathered rowboat emerges from the darkness. The only inhabitant is a hooded figure who motions for The Reckoner to board. The Reckoner does so and asks several questions before realising the figure is not only blind, but his lips have been sewn shut! The silent boatman rows out into the middle of the river. The Reckoner feels a moment of disorientation and notices that, somehow, a dense fog has arisen all around them, blocking the sights and sounds of the city completely. Ahead, what is surely a derelict hulk floats on the river, its black, rotting wood looking as if it would crumble from the merest touch.

Beckoned aboard by another mutilated figure, The Reckoner is led to a hatch leading below decks. There, in a corridor filled with grotesque stalls offering to sell everything from zombie slaves to poisons and illicit narcotics to a living unicorn, the vigilante realises where he is: the Black Ship! A legendary underground market for the illegal, unsavoury, and just plain immoral, the Black Ship has always eluded Korvosa’s authorities. The Reckoner is led to a cabin amidships, and as he approaches the door, he can hear the voice of Cressida Kroft shouting in anger at someone. Once in the room, he sees the target of Kroft’s wroth: Boule, Grandmaster of the Cerulean Society. In her diatribe, Kroft rails at Boule for having had to spend almost two weeks in a hiding space that was supposed to be just one night, but Boule is unapologetic, explaining that his other plans to hide her had fallen through. Bishop Keppira d’Bear is present, and welcomes The Reckoner, while Boule immediately admonishes him for failing to attack Deathhead Vault on time despite being given nearly perfect intelligence on how to breach it. The Reckoner growls back that no mention was made of the “guard dog” with the poisonous breath, and the two start to argue before Bishop d’Bear plays peacemaker by gently persuading Boule that she and he should leave Kroft and The Reckoner to speak alone.

After the two depart, Kroft provides an update on the situation in the city. She says the collection of blood from residents, ostensibly to help prepare antidotes against future plagues like blood veil, has concluded. The Gray Maidens’ hold on the city is clearly slipping, and reports are that most have been redeployed to Castle Korvosa. But most ominously, Kroft says, is that Ileosa hasn’t been seen in public since the unveiling of her statue on Jeggare Isle. Kroft says that whatever Ileosa is doing or preparing surely bodes a disaster for the city that looms nearer with each passing day that she’s still in power. Kroft asks if The Reckoner and his allies discovered anything valuable in Deathhead Vault, and hears that Marcus Endrin may still be alive. Kroft says his release would certainly have helped the resistance, but more importantly, they’ll need to bring Neolandus Kalepopolis back to the city when the time comes. As the lawful seneschal of Castle Korvosa, his presence will add legitimacy to a movement that could otherwise be labelled seditious. Kroft says she’s heard word from Vencarlo Orisini that he and Neolandus have had to flee Harse because agents of the Queen have been asking questions in the town.

The two discuss the situation in the city, and fears that if the Gray Maidens are retreating back to Castle Korvosa, there will be no other forces to keep order in the city: the Korvosan Guard and Sable Company have been disbanded, the Hellknights returned to Citadel Vraid months ago, and so far House Arkona is only exercising influence over Old Korvosa. The Reckoner tells her that Glorio Arkona is a rakshasa, and wants to rule Korvosa after Ileosa is dethroned. He adds that Grau may be positioning himself to lead the city as well. Kroft says the last thing she wants is a civil war in the city. It’s clear that just being in the Black Ship and hearing what transactions take place (with even worse occurring in the ship’s hold) is having a draining effect on her. But she explains it’s still the safest place for her and d’Bear for now, as it’s impossible to find the place without being led to it by its ghastly mutilated “crew.” Before departing, The Reckoner promises that he and his allies are almost ready to depart in search of the key to stripping Ileosa of her newfound magical invulnerability.

Once back on the docks, The Reckoner shares what he learned from Kroft. Goldcape sends a magical silver raven to Jasan Adriel in Harse with a message asking for information about where Vencarlo went.

[Moonday, 27 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Everyone assembles at the Burnt Honey Inn the next day. Ralph fills Anorak in on the Black Ship and how uncomfortable Kroft must be there. The three discuss the majordomo’s offer, with Anorak (not realising Goldcape is Blackjack) wondering why they don’t just kill the vigilante considering how much gold is being offered. But Ralph replies that having Blackjack on their side could be important considering his legendary status in the city.

Ralph leads Anorak back to his safehouse so the dwarf can continue working on the ritual that has delayed their departure for Scarwall. Then, he and Goldcape visit Eodred’s Walk and see that looters have been at work. Fortunately, Hedge Wizardry remains untouched—perhaps due to its magical protections, or perhaps just plain luck. Goldcape whispers that if they don’t hurry, they could have a new Old Korvosa on their hands. After making some purchases, Ralph transforms into The Reckoner and heads across the city to keep his appointment with the majordomo of House Arkona, informing the man that he’ll try to speak with Blackjack but can’t make any promises. Later that day, Anorak casts a spell to take him and Goldcape back to Old Korvosa as well.

GM Commentary:

I forgot about the little subplot of House Arkona being interested in enlisting Blackjack's support (or at least ending his anti-aristocratic symbolism). I don't think I did a lot more with it, probably because the group soon leaves the city for Chapter Five's main journey north.

I thought having most of the Varisians leaving Trail's End made sense. They're a generally nomadic people, after all, and the city is in such dire straits that moving on would seem like a pretty attractive option. (I also try to keep a dynamic gaming setting--just like real life, things don't always stay the same, and the PCs aren't the only ones who change)

From the description, I'm guessing Goldcape got a natural 1 on that Disguise check when crossing the bridge. There are a few skills that I roll on behalf of the players behind the GM screen so they don't know how successful they are. The bridge battle was pretty exciting, especially with the explosive trap! I had figured that by this point, the Gray Maidens knew they were outclassed by the Harrowed Heroes and were willing to take some pretty elaborate efforts to kill them. The Reckoner rolled a natural 1 on his saving throw, which as per the Core Rulebook, means an item takes damage as well.

The Black Ship is something of my own creation. I imagine it's an extradimensional place that can be accessed through the harbors of many major cities, but the means of access can change. I've had it exist near Riddleport in Second Darkness, the AP I'm running now. There's lots more I could say, but I have to be careful of certain readers! It has a pretty dark, creepy vibe.

I liked the interaction with Boule. I didn't get to do a lot with him in this campaign, but not every campaign can make full use of every NPC.

I think the PCs are starting to see how their continual delay is harming the city (Anorak was making a magical item of some kind, I think). As I discussed in a recent post, outside of official Downtime, the "clock" keeps moving and consequences can rack up quickly if PCs delay too much.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I’ve gone through the PF1 books I have, and here’s a list of references I’ve found to the places and NPCs in Second Darkness. Please note that, to avoid spoilers, I haven’t gone through any future adventure paths (but I have looked at prior ones, since I’ve run them) and I haven't looked at anything from PF2. If you know of other useful things to add, please go for it!



# The campaign setting book Inner Sea World Guide has entries on the Darklands, Kyonin, and Varisia (including a picture of the Cyphergate).

# The Second Darkness Map Folio has maps of Zirnakaynin, Rygirnan, Edrissil, Riddleport, the Gold Goblin, and several more.

# The player companion Pathfinder Society Primer on page 27 says a Pathfinder published proof of the existence of drow in 4707 A.R. (which contradicts the timeline of the A.P. which starts in 4708 A.R. and drow are still secret).

# Pathfinder Adventure Path # 3 has a gazetteer on Varisia with bits on Celwynvian, Calphiak Mountains, the Mierani Forest, Riddleport, and Roderic’s Cove.

CHAPTER ONE (Riddleport)

# According to Pathfinder Adventure Path # 10 page 73, the Tamiir-Quah occasionally attacks travellers on the road from Riddleport to Roderic’s Cove, forcing much trade via sea.

# The novel Winter Witch has an interesting “in universe” map of the area around Riddleport, and there’s a couple of pages at the beginning of Chapter Nine that take place on the outskirts of the city.

# The campaign setting book Darklands Revisited on pages 56-57 has a write-up and stats for a CR 7 urdefhan cult leader who abducts travellers around Riddleport.

# The campaign setting book Inner Sea Temples on page 2 has a sample temple priest with alterations for Cayden Cailean and Calistria.

# The campaign setting book Mystery Monsters Revisited says bunyips are a known problem in Riddleport (page 8), that there’s a famous sasquatch in Churlwood (page 45), and that the Serpentine Lodge (a group devoted to slaying sea serpents) has a base in Riddleport (page 49).

# The Rise of the Runelords Map Folio has a close map of Varisia include the area around Riddleport.

# The player companion Second Darkness Player’s Guide has lots of information on Riddleport.

# The player companion Varisia, Birthplace of Legends has information on Riddleport and surrounding areas, and a couple of new campaign traits for Second Darkness.

# The player companion Pirates of the Inner Sea has two pages on Riddleport, highlighting notable pirates and ships. It also features two pages on Besmara.

# Pathfinder Adventure Path # 10 on page 69 says the Shadde-Quah of the western Calphiaks protect the northern approach to the Varisian Gulf from raiders of the Land of Linnorm Kings.

# Pathfinder Society Scenario # 4-07 (‘Severing Ties) is set in Riddleport and includes visits to the city’s three temples.

# Pathfinder Society Scenario # 4-15 (‘The Cyphermage Dilemma’) is set in Riddleport and has some useful description of the city Cyphermage NPCs.

CHAPTER TWO (Devil’s Elbow)

# In the campaign setting book Inner Sea Bestiary on page 18, it says that once noqual is discovered, a cabal of Cyphermages start work on building a noqual golem.

CHAPTER THREE (Celwynvian/Mierani Forest)

# The campaign setting book Into the Darklands references Celwynvian on page 4.

# The player companion Elves of Golarionp has some information on Celwynvian.

# Pathfinder Society Scenario # 4-17 (‘Tower of the Ironwood Watch’) takes place in the eastern regions of the Mierani Forest and involves drow from Zirnakaynin.

CHAPTER FOUR (Zirnakaynin)

# The campaign setting book Darklands Revisited on page 8 has brief bits on Zirnakaynin and House Azrinae.

# The campaign setting book Into the Darklands has a table of wandering monsters (inside front cover), a random hazard chart (page 9), and a discussion of travel times and challenges (page 10) in the Darklands in general. Drow are discussed on page 31 and Zirnakaynin is on page 43.

# Pathfinder Adventure Path # 100 has a special gallery of new NPCs for previous adventure paths. For Second Darkness, the new NPC is the drow Chessadril Odranata, a resident of Zirnakaynin who is a potential ally for the PCs.

# Pathfinder Adventure Pathp # 13 on page 81 mentions some fungi specific to the Darklands.

CHAPTER FIVE (Kyonin/Iadara)

# The novel Queen of Thorns has a lot of information on Kyonin as well as a map not reproduced elsewhere.

# The campaign setting book Book of the Damned Volume 2: Lords of Chaos has a paragraph on Tanglebriar on page 63.

# The campaign setting book Inner Sea Bestiary on page 13 references a fungus queen commanding vegepygmies in Tanglebriar.

# The campaign setting book Inner Sea Races has a lot of information on elves, elf gates, and drow.

# The campaign setting book Inner Sea Temples on page 54 references a temple of Calistria in Kyonin.

# The campaign setting book NPC Guide has a useful NPC who lives in Kyonin named Vendlara Alderane (page 15), and stat blocks for the following: Kyonin Greenscout (page 42) and Kyonin Nightfall Sniper (page 42).

# The campaign setting book Occult Realms has a ritual to activate dormant elf gates on page 54.

# The campaign setting book Undead Revisited on page 56 says banshees plague Kyonin.

# The Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer on page 37 has a page on Kyonin and a picture of an elf gate.

# The campaign setting book Fey Revisited on page 63 discusses Druellian, an enormous village of sprites in the Fierani Forest in Kyonin.

# The campaign setting book Dungeon Denizens Revisited on page 62 notes that hundreds of shambling mounds serve Treerazer in southern Kyonin.

# The player companion Inner Sea Primer on page 10 has a useful brief on Kyonin.

# The player companion Elves of Golarion has some information on Kyonin and a stat block for the queen.

# The bestiary in the back of Pathfinder Adventure Path # 5 mentions Lukarazyl, a shemhazian demon who serves Treerazer as an assassin and general in Kyonin.

# Pathfinder Society Scenario # 5-05 (‘The Elven Entanglement’) is set in Kyonin.

CHAPTER SIX (Land of Black Blood)

# The campaign setting book Into the Darklands has a table of wandering monsters (inside front cover), a random hazard chart (page 9), and a discussion of travel times and challenges (page 10) in the Darklands in general. The Land of the Black Blood is mentioned on page 51.

# The novel Called to Darkness includes Orv (but not the Land of Black Blood specifically).

# The campaign setting book Darklands Revisited on page 44 has a brief mention of the neothelid Midnight Emperor who lives in the Land of Black Blood.

# The campaign setting book Dungeon Denizens Revisited on page 14 notes that cloakers serve the Moldering Emperor in the Land of Black Blood.

# Pathfinder Adventure Path # 13 on page 81 mentions some fungi specific to the Darklands.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber
phaeton_nz wrote:

I seem to have only four for Bounty 7.

Does Driftbourne or Jhaeman still want to play or does anyone want to take their place?

We've only just started.

Sorry, yes, I want to play. I must have missed we were getting started! Can you please post the game link. I have to make a new character and can join after the weekend.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 62:

[Sunday, 26 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

In the dead hours between midnight and dawn, three monstrous xill suddenly solidify in Goldcape’s resistance safehouse. One appears on the first floor, with two more on the second floor. Fortunately, the vanara insists on maintenance of a constant watch on both floors of the building, and cries of alarm ring forth quickly. Goldcape, awake herself on the first floor, instantly sends Rocky into battle against the insectile intruder. The watchman on guard there, a former member of the Emperor of Old Korvosa’s band of thugs, hurls handaxes into the fray. Anorak wakes to the sound of combat, sees a pair of the relentless xill fighting a lone guard, and quickly realises his own vulnerability--his mithral fullplate is neatly stacked next to his cot! Hearing more combat on the floor above, the dwarf rushes for the stairs only to run into another xill trying to descend. The two scuffle in the narrow stairway as the rest of Goldcape’s band get to their feet and grab whatever weapons are closest. The former Korvosan Guard, still called “Sergeant” Clenkins by everyone, fells one of the intruders while Rocky, a floor below, dispatches a second. Anorak finds himself bleeding from multiple wounds and has had enough: “I don’t like being woken up!” he shouts as a tremendous burst of electricity springs forth from his hands and blasts the third xill into submission.

In the aftermath of the battle, it’s clear that Goldcape’s band acquitted themselves well despite the surprise attack. They kept the xill from reaching their obvious goal--“The Box of Passage” said one in the Infernal tongue--and only one of the troops was seriously wounded. Fortunately, Goldcape’s magic was strong enough to pull his spirit back from the brink of the Boneyard. Once the unconscious xill are bound securely, Goldcape tells Anorak that he owes her for bringing trouble to her doorstep. Anorak acknowledges the point. With magic, they heal one of the xill’s wounds just enough to bring it around so they can try to question it. Immediately, it begins to fade away towards the Ethereal Plane, but Clenkins reacts quickly enough and knocks out the xill before it can escape and perhaps return with reinforcements. The group try again with a second xill, and it only issues threats in guttural Common (“I will kill you and make more xill!”) before also trying to escape before Rocky’s beak tears out its throat. Clenkins suggests bringing in a “specialist” in interrogation--someone they know who is an expert at intimidating his foes for information: The Reckoner. Goldcape agrees. At first she plans to send a magical silver raven with the message, but then realises she still doesn’t know where The Reckoner’s new safehouse is. She’s forced to resort to the pre-arranged signal of leaving an old mattress on the wall outside and hoping he’ll spot it.

Over in North Point, Ralph Blackfeather wakes to what promises to be another hot day. He decides it’s time to have a frank talk with Plate about their mission, because the sentient armor has recently been acting beyond its role. Ralph explains carefully why they need to go to Scarwall and can’t just attack Queen Ileosa immediately, how the information he’s sharing needs to remain top secret, and how Plate is a trusted officer in the rebel army but needs to act on his wearer’s command, not impetuously on his own. Plate is fully persuaded, and promises to merit Ralph’s trust.

Later that morning, Ralph has a quick conversation with Majenko to confirm that there’s been no sign of the mysterious new vigilante, Trifaccia. As The Reckoner, he turns himself invisible and assesses the situation on the bridge to Old Korvosa. During his surveillance, he suddenly hears a voice in his mind--that of Bishop Keppira d’Bear: “Message received loud and clear. Come to Slip 17 at midnight, alone. Kroft is waiting. Don’t judge our allies.” The Reckoner decides to check in with his own allies, and makes his move, leaping invisibly over the fortification the Gray Maidens built to secure the bridge. Once in the slowly-improving slums of Old Korvosa, well-patrolled by the forces of House Arkona, The Reckoner spots the old mattress outside of Goldcape’s base and knows he’s needed. Inside, Goldcape explains what happened overnight. Anorak says the box they’re after has powerful conjuration and summoning magic inside of it, but that they still don’t really know what it does, why Mortimont was so insistent that it not be opened, and why the xill are hunting it so persistently.

It’s fortunate that two xill remain alive, because the first one utterly resists The Reckoner’s questions. The second, however, is more persuadable, though making sense of its alien viewpoint isn’t easy. It seems that the “Box of Passage” provides access to where the xill come from (the Ethereal Plane) and that they were sent on a clear mission: “Take Box, Destroy Box, Kill Mortimont!” When asked who Mortimont is, the prisoner can explain only that “Mortimont is the Maker”. Believing that the xill must operate on some sort of hive mind like the insects they resemble, The Reckoner decides that killing them would be the same as stamping on a bug. After the interrogation, the group discuss what they should do with the information, but they don’t reach any firm conclusions.

With Plate’s insistence that Anorak hurry up with his ritual so that they can get on with the job of saving Korvosa, the dwarf promises to spend the day on it. But first, per Goldcape’s request, he carves a stylized “B” on the front door to show allegiance to Blackjack. Plate notes that having Blackjack’s support for the rebellion would go a long way toward rallying the people of the city, since he’s Korvosa’s greatest hero. The Reckoner shares with the others that he’ll be meeting with Kroft that night but that she must have some “dodgy” allies given d’Bear’s warning. Plate comes to The Reckoner’s defense when Goldcape teases that perhaps it’s The Reckoner who’s dodgy.

Later that morning, Goldcape leads The Reckoner down a secret trapdoor and into the sewers underneath Old Korvosa. There, she reveals a monumental secret: Goldcape is the new Blackjack! Having been chosen by the previous Blackjack to continue his legacy, Goldcape now bears the full costume of the legendary vigilante--including, perhaps most importantly, a magical amulet that keeps diviners from learning her location. The Reckoner is impressed, even if he suspected it given recent events. Goldcape explains she’s revealing it to him because she could learn from him on how to successfully maintain a costumed identity, and if anyone suspects she’s really Blackjack, The Reckoner could aid in a deception to throw people off the trail. The Reckoner agrees it’s a good strategy, and thanks Goldcape for trusting him. Goldcape asks if she should reveal her secret to Anorak, and The Reckoner says it’s an important decision she should make after careful thought. The vanara says she’ll ponder it overnight. As the two ascend the ladder back up to the trapdoor, Goldcape hears a welcome voice in her head--from Yraelzin! “I made it!” says the voice. “Are you coming? Since you guys are late, I’ve opened negotiations. It’s complicated.”

Upstairs, Anorak expresses concern that yet more xill may come seeking the box. The Reckoner says if they moved it to his safehouse, the xill wouldn’t be able to find it. Anorak agrees that it’s a good idea. The dwarf gets back to his ritual, and The Reckoner asks Goldcape if she would like to meet their spy in House Arkona, the dandasuka named Xoza. Yet when the two walk over to Anorak’s workshop, the first creature they spot isn’t Xoza--it’s the majordomo of House Arkona, waiting patiently outside. Has their spy been detected already?

GM Commentary:

I thought the xill attack on Goldcape's safehouse was a fun encounter. It was a good opportunity to put Goldcape's efforts at recruiting a rebel cell to use, and a late night attack keeps everyone on their toes! (and reminds folks why the Endurance feat's ability to sleep in armor is worthwhile) I hadn't expected the interrogation of the xill, but it was a smart way for the PCs to learn more about why they wanted the box.

Plate got a lot of attention in this session. I think The Reckoner's player was worried I was going to use the intelligent armor to undermine him, when really I was just trying to give it a bit of personality because one of my pet peeves is familiars/companions/sentient items that exist purely for mechanical purposes and are otherwise forgotten about.

Just a touch of Yraelzin in this one, but he's always fun to roleplay and I like how the word cap on sending leads to intriguingly ambiguous messages.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

@GM Zoomba: I'd certainly be up for that!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I enforced the purchasing limits while running CotCT and was happy with the results. Most PCs spread their wealth around rather than buying one huge item, but those who are desperate and determined can hire a spellcaster to greater teleport them to a metropolis. This takes time and money, but it accurately reflects the idea that different cities have different markets, and avoids the “I bought a +5 longsword at the village general store!” problem.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

At first glance, it doesn't sound too problematic to me: once a day, a specialist character can stop a fight against intelligent foes for one minute. It could actually create some interesting role-playing and story opportunities.

If the party started to abuse it (in the sense of calling for truces but actually just buying time for buffs, better positioning, surprise attacks, or escapes) I might gradually introduce circumstance penalties to the check as word gets around that the party's call for truces can't be trusted.

Initiative (Round 1)


Hulking Skeletons

Bold should go!

GM Dice:

Initiative (hulks): 1d20 + 1 ⇒ (9) + 1 = 10

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Spruiking GM Chrios' recruitment for # 2-24: Shadow's Last Stand, Part 2: Web of Corruption here (they're looking to play high subtier, so characters in the 5-7 range).

You can join my gnome whose motto is: "See a button, push it! See a lever, pull it!" Surely nothing can go wrong . . .

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 61:

[Starday, 25 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

It’s barely an hour after midnight when, having narrowly escaped a nightime attack by strange extradimensional predators known as xill, Anorak races into the slums of Old Korvosa. Panting with exertion, he finds an alley to hide in and waits to see if there are any sounds of pursuit. Hearing none, he cautiously returns to his workshop to find his assailants have gone but that the place is in shambles. After ensuring that the dandasuka is still bound tightly in a chest, the dwarf takes the box that Mortimont gave him and heads for the safety of Goldcape’s new resistance base. Goldcape opens the door with a rapier levelled at Anorak’s throat, but Anorak’s fresh wounds lend proof to his words that he was just attacked by “monstrosities from another plane”. Goldcape lets him enter, and wakes up Mishimia, the self-proclaimed “Acolyte of Razmir” to help tend to Anorak’s wounds. Goldcape’s magic seems to do all of the real healing work, however. She reluctantly agrees to let the dwarf stay the night, little realising that in the morning, he’ll ask to stay for the next four days!

Across town, Ralph Blackfeather slips out of his own safehouse in North Point. He signals for Majenko, the house drake who swore service for a year, and asks him to look out for the city’s mysterious new vigilante, Trifaccia. Afterwards, Ralph visits The Bookmaker and learns that Costa has completed his task as promised: the magical contract is ready for signing. Soon after, Ralph changes into The Reckoner in a secluded alleyway, uses a wand to turn himself invisible, and heads towards the single bridge still spanning the channel that separates Old Korvosa from the rest of the city. The Reckoner spots the moving blurs that indicate imp devils are about, and as he’s unsure whether they can also see invisible creatures, he asks Plate to teleport him across. Plate reiterates his views that instead of all this dithering, they should just go attack the Queen, but he does as The Reckoner asks.

The Reckoner heads over to Anorak’s workshop, picks the lock to get inside when no one answers, and seems unconcerned by the destruction and heavy sprays of blood throughout. He shows the dandasuka, who gives its name as “Xoza”, the contract and the two negotiate a price of ten gold pieces a month for the shameless creature to spy on its former master. Xoza rushes to the palace to report to Glorio Arkona’s majordomo that nothing of interest happened the previous night, and then returns to tell The Reckoner that there was a big battle in the workshop but that the dwarf ran away surprisingly fast on his little stumpy legs. Xoza agrees to keep learning what he can about Glorio’s plans for The Reckoner and his allies.

Later, on the way to Goldcape’s resistance base, the masked vigilante notices at least a couple of the houses in the area have stylised “B”s written in tar on their doors. Although one old woman slams a door in his face, another resident explains that it means “Blackjack is back, and I’m on his side!” When The Reckoner arrives at Goldcape’s new residence, she explains what apparently happened at Anorak’s workshop overnight. He asks for her help in gathering clues about Trifaccia. While they’re talking, Anorak is in an adjacent room performing some sort of intense magical ritual and is reluctant to be interrupted, but acknowledges the news about Xoza signing the contract—something they now share with Goldcape.

Leaving Anorak to his ritual, Goldcape and The Reckoner talk about the best way to get across to the main section of the city. They decide to fly on Rocky’s back to Trail’s End, where the predominantly Varisian population has been friendly towards them since they provided assistance in the blood veil crisis. There, the two leave Rocky in good hands and disguise themselves as ordinary Korvosans before crossing the bridge into the city without incident. Goldcape stops at the Bank of Abadar to obtain one of the newly minted coins and shows it to Ralph, explaining that they now know exactly what the Queen’s crown looks like. Plate is excited to see it, and proposes a dazzling array of ideas involving smashing, swiping, sundering, or otherwise getting it off of Ileosa’s head so they can win a fair fight against her and depose her and then make The Reckoner King of Korvosa! Ralph appreciates the enthusiasm, but has to tamp down Plate’s confidence in their abilities for now. The two warriors split up briefly, as Goldcape makes some purchases at Hedge Wizardry and Ralph tries but fails to find anything new on Trifaccia. It seems like the new vigilante has appeared for a few days, and gossip on the street hasn’t added anything credible since then.

When the two reunite, Ralph proposes a bold plan. He tells Goldcape that they need to do something visible to assure Kroft they weren’t captured and turned during the raid on Deathhead Vault. Ralph suggests a frontal attack to wipe out the entire Gray Maiden contingent guarding one of the bridges into the city would surely suffice. Goldcape agrees and sneaks out of the city with Ralph to fetch Rocky. Ralph pulls on the fearsome raiment of The Reckoner while Goldcape checks Rocky’s barding for the upcoming battle. Turning them all invisible with a wand, the three get into position on the Trail’s End side of North Bridge and then attack! The Reckoner’s sudden appearance from nowhere terrifies hardened Gray Maidens and innocent bystanders alike, while Goldcape uses ice magic on her foes. The Reckoner has a brief argument with Plate over whether the sapient armor should cast strength-enhancing magic, but the fight goes so well and so quickly that in the end, it doesn’t matter. Eight Gray Maidens are slain within thirty seconds, and none of the victors are even scratched! One of the Gray Maidens did manage to ring an alarm bell for reinforcements, so Goldcape and The Reckoner decide to split up and get back into hiding.

Back in disguise, Ralph makes his way to the Grand Cathedral of Pharasma--the largest building in the Gray District. Intent on speaking with Bishop d’Bear, he turns himself invisible and tries to sneak in the fortress-like structure, only to be covered in sparkling glitter at the entryway! Retreating quickly, Ralph hires a messenger to deliver a scroll that’s to be personally delivered to the Bishop: “I believe I’ve demonstrated my loyalty, it would be good if you and our associates get back in contact.”

When Goldcape returns on Rocky to the safehouse, she tells Anorak what just happened on the bridge. The dwarf is irked that he missed out on the excitement.

[Sunday, 26 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Shortly after three bells in the morning, the warm night air in Goldcape’s base is disturbed by a faint shimmering. Appearing out of thin air over the course of a few seconds, what can only be described as monsters with insect-like mandibles and four arms ending in claws take shape. The xill have returned for the box, and the gods have mercy on anyone who stands in their way!

GM Commentary:

I was glad Goldcape went to the bank to get one of the new coins, as it was a great chance to show off the actual Korvosan coin that Paizo had minted. They make great souvenirs from the campaign.

With everything going on, I often forgot to role-play The Reckoner's intelligent armor, Plate, but in this session at least, I remembered and had a lot of fun with it.

At this stage in the campaign, the PCs are tough enough that even a couple of them can devastate several ordinary Gray Maidens without suffering a scratch.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Just blurbing that GM Rutseg is recruiting for a tier 3-7 adventure here.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Thanks for offering! I haven't played this one before. I have two Standard characters that could fit:

If we went low subtier, I'd suggest Nistivo Cirek, my Level 3 Prophet of Kalistrade. He's a clean-freak who's always looking for an angle to make money. And, although he doesn't know it, when he takes damage he turns into a fearsome beast! (bloodrager with the shapeshifter bloodline)

If we went high subtier, I'd suggest Makras Vekker, my Level 7 Oracle of Groetus. He's always prophesying death and doom (and because it's Pathfinder, he's never wrong!). He's a habitual drunk, rarely bathes, and has a tongue as filthy as his armpit. He'd probably fit right in to the Worldwound . . .

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

50% off? It's almost like they're *giving* these games away! Thanks AbadarCorp!

(and seriously, thanks--it's really handy to see what's available; I'm going to sign up to # 5-03 once I get home tonight and confirm what level my medicinal-addicted solarian is)

Gotcha, thanks!

A friend of mine is running a live tabletop PFS1 session for the first time in a long time. It likely won't matter, but I can't remember if the minimum # of players changed, or if I'm confusing that with SFS. Is it 3 live players + 1 GM pre-gen, or 2 live players + 2 GM pre-gens?

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

There’s some vague talk here about essentially just wanting to go a different way: raveyard#1

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Joana, I know you've been waiting with bated breath for the past 12 years for someone to answer your questions, but the time has finally come: check out my new review for the answers!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 60:

[Fireday, 24 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

It’s a hot summer’s day in Korvosa when the Harrowed Heroes, having spent several days apart to tend to their own affairs, reunite to continue planning their voyage to Castle Scarwall. The meeting takes place at an abandoned building in Old Korvosa repurposed by Goldcape to house her own resistance cell. After some confusion and banter over code words and security, the three get down to business. Goldcape shares some information about The Harrower’s final words and that Yraelzin is leaving the Cinderlands after helping to repulse the giant army. The Reckoner shares his discovery that Marcus Endrin is still alive and kept in a secret cell in Deathhead Vault, and adds his suspicions that the new “hero” Trifaccia is really an agent of the Queen. He also informs them that Kroft and her band of rebels are safe and are awaiting reassurances before revealing the location of their new headquarters. Anorak says he hasn’t learned much, as he’s been busy upgrading Plate to make The Reckoner more mobile on the battlefield; the only side-effect of the process is that the intelligent suit of armor seems to be growing confident and outspoken. Although Plate is ready, Anorak says he wants to spend at least four more days in Korvosa to prepare himself for the journey, and the others agree. The three agree on a signal for future meetings, with Anorak to hang an old towel outside his workshop and Goldcape to put an old mattress against the wall outside if either wish to talk.

As The Reckoner and Anorak are leaving Goldcape’s new quarters, the two discuss how Glorio let slip that a spy was watching the dwarf’s workshop. The Reckoner explains it’s probably one of the strange gnomelike creatures that he and Goldcape once scuffled with, as they seem to lurk all over as hidden agents for House Arkona. Talk slides into how such a spy could be detected or captured, and suddenly a plan is hatched. Deciding there’s no time like the present, the two make their way to Anorak’s workshop. The dwarf returns to work normally, while The Reckoner (invisible) hides in an alleyway watching. Soon, he spots the spy crouching on the workshop’s roof, barely visible in the shadows of the chimney—the creature must be watching Anorak through a chink in the roof tiles! Anorak later leaves and finds The Reckoner in the alleyway. With the help of a memory-enhancing spell, he recognises the “gnome” as a type of rakshasa called a dandasuka. The spell alerts the dandasuka to the presence of hidden watchers, but before it can flee, Anorak uses a short-range teleportation spell to take him and The Reckoner to the roof. There, with one mighty swipe of his hammer, The Reckoner knocks the creature unconscious. Fortunately, the fight was so fast that no one appeared to notice, even in broad daylight.

After the pair haul the unconscious dandasuka into the workshop and bind him securely, The Reckoner uses a wand to heal it back to consciousness. The creature seems surprisingly unconcerned by its dire predicament—perhaps even happy to have some excitement, and readily admits it was spying on Anorak and reports to Glorio Arkona’s majordomo every morning. It gleefully insults its captors for what it sees as a ham-fisted attempt at interrogation, and cheerfully volunteers to become a double agent for them, while noting that it could just as easily become a triple agent. Perhaps flummoxed by the creature’s attitude, The Reckoner and Anorak decide to gag it and lock it in a chest until they can decide what to do with it.

Since he’s already in the workshop, The Reckoner decides to put on Plate. The sapient armor is so enthused about his new abilities he shows off by lifting his wearer into the air without being asked—much to the vigilante’s consternation. The Reckoner and Anorak discuss what to do with their captive, and eventually hit upon the idea of ensuring its loyalty through a contract—but no ordinary contract, a magical contract that coerces signatories to observe its terms! Disguising himself as an ordinary day labourer, Ralph Blackfeather leaves the workshop with a plan to buy the contract at Hedge Wizardry, but then remembers there’s only one land crossing left between Old Korvosa and the rest of the city—and it’s guarded by the Gray Maidens! Fortunately, Anorak is able to teleport him just across the river so he can make the rest of the journey on foot.

At Hedge Wizardry, Phaeton is dismayed when Ralph discloses who he really is underneath the disguise—which means the storekeeper will have to list him as the purchaser for anything he buys. Ralph decides to go ahead, and scrapes together almost seven thousand gold pieces—nearly the last of his funds—to buy the magical contract. A tip from Phaeton directs Ralph to a bookstore in Midland where the proprietor, Costa Serimus, has the legal skills to write out the terms that Ralph wants it to say. It’s going to be quite an elaborate document, as Ralph and Anorak spent a long time thinking of loopholes the dandasuka might try to exploit. One issues that Costa points out is that the contract will only be binding if entered into voluntarily (not through force or duress), and so Ralph should think of what he will offer in the way of consideration (value). The nominal sum of 1 gold piece per month is decided, and Costa says he’ll have it ready the next day. As Ralph is leaving, he notices a handbill posted by Costa offering a reward to anyone who can cleanse his store of a ghostly presence. When asked, Costa explains that whenever he’s alone in the building, spooky things start to happen—he hears noises, feels chills, and find things have moved from where he left them. Ralph says he might look into it.

His journey back to Old Korvosa is initially stymied by the Gray Maiden’s barricade of the bridge. His first plan to rely on Plate’s ability to fly fails (after its resounding battle cry of “For the good of Korvosa!”) because the armor has already exhausted its magic for the day. Fortunately, the resourceful vigilante combines invisibility and amazing physical prowess to scale the barricade without being noticed by the guards. After a brief stop at Anorak’s workshop to share the news about the contract being drafted, The Reckoner goes to inform Goldcape of what they’ve been doing. Once there, the two hear from Clenkins that House Arkona guards arrested several people nearby just minutes ago. Goldcape and The Reckoner are alarmed to hear the news (fearing Glorio may be emulating Ileosa’s authoritarianism) and decide to investigate under the cover of invisibility. But a pleasant surprise is awaiting them: the guards have only arrested a band of street robbers unlicensed by the Cerulean Society. And more to the point, the criminals were bound and waiting for the guards after Blackjack foiled their brazen daylight attack on residents of Old Korvosa! The return of Korvosa’s foremost hero is sure to improve morale in the neighbourhood.

After easily foiling an attempted theft by a strange spider-like humanoid creature called an ettercap, the Harrowed Heroes teleport across the river to investigate whether the city’s largest bookstore is haunted. They perform a careful search using means mundane and magical, but fail to turn up signs of any spectral infestation. Remembering that Costa said the haunting only occurs when he’s alone in the building, Ralph offers to spend the night alone in the bookstore, but Costa reluctantly declines—there are just too many valuable tomes in the store, and he just met Ralph hours ago. Ralph is understanding and returns to his safehouse in Northpoint, while Anorak teleports Goldcape home and then returns to his workshop.

[Starday, 25 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

It’s just one bell past midnight when Anorak wakes from a sound sleep with tremendous pain—something is trying to tear out his throat! As his life flashes before his eyes, a sudden burst of strength allows him to push the attacker away. But the situation somehow becomes even worse, as the dwarf realizes there’s not just one attacker, but three, and they’re not remotely human! Flame-red mixtures of insect and reptiles, the attackers have four arms and mandibles dripping with what must surely be poison. As Anorak throws off the bedclothes, turns himself invisible with a mystic intonation and scrambles to his feet, one of the intruders breaks open the chest where the dandasuka is held, but snaps it shut and kicks it away. The sound of breaking furniture in an adjacent room reveals another has found what it has been seeking: the box left by Mortimont! Despite being invisible, the dwarf’s attacker has a rough idea of where his prey must be and continues clawing and biting. Nearly succumbing from his wounds, Anorak makes the desperate decision to grab the box, throw open the door, and race out into the night towards the one source of aid nearby—Goldcape’s resistance cell. As he runs—not knowing whether the creatures are following—he feels a peculiar sense of ownership over the box and the knowledge that it would let him open it . . .

GM Commentary:

This was the first session of Chapter Five, and some of the players used their 3d6 days of Downtime to gather some very handy bits of information that they shared to each other in the first scene. During Downtime, I guarantee to players that there will be no combat interruptions and all ticking clocks in the background will be paused, but I also tell them if they want to continue Downtime activities after the 3d6 days is up, everything is fair game. Anorak's player wanted to keep crafting, but it's hard to craft when xill are after the box you were supposed to ditch!

The idea of capturing one of Glorio's spies and turning him into a double-agent took me completely by surprise but became a pretty important subplot! The Reckoner invested not only a substantial amount of money in that contract, but a lot of time trying to avoid any legalistic loopholes. I tried to make the effort worthwhile in terms of the information received. I had to improv the dandasuka's personality on the spot and came up with this crazy/creepy/enthusiastic vibe that really hit a chord with the players; he was voted the best NPC in the game when the campaign finished!

The stuff about the bookstore being haunted was my attempt to implement a reference from the Guide to Korvosa, but it didn't really pan out well. I didn't have anything prepped. Sometimes improv goes great, and sometimes it falls flat!

I have it set for my 50th birthday.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 59:

[15 Erastus 4708 to 23 Erastus 4708]

After weeks of exhaustive trudging through the Cinderlands and a narrow escape from Deathhead Vault, the Harrowed Heroes decide to spend several days in Korvosa to rest and plan the next steps of their quest. The raid on Deathhead Vault has clearly broken the back of the Red Mantis assassins, as rumor holds they were effectively wiped out and are unlikely to return. In addition, several mid-ranking officers in the Gray Maidens were slain, and the effects are clear: patrols are less frequent and more cautious. Without adequate troops to enforce it, Ileosa has “graciously” lifted martial law from Korvosa. Unrest and violence remain--along with the knowledge that the cruel queen could tighten her fist at any time--but for now the city is better off than it has been since just before the arrival of blood veil.

Across the city, various factions are also planning their next moves. With the Church of Asmodeus and the Church of Abadar officially endorsing Ileosa, the “neutral” faiths of Sarenrae and Pharasma are coming under increasing pressure. In Old Korvosa, House Arkona continues to take advantage of the power-vacuum on Endrin’s Isle by exerting more influence over local affairs. The city’s only thieves’ guild, the Cerulean Society, seems to be laying low for the moment—always an ominous sign. Merchant shipping has resumed, though at a slower pace, as chaos is bad for business. Cressida Kroft arranges for word to be sent to The Reckoner that the surface raid on the Longacre Building was easily repulsed, but that she and the others successfully escaped and have set up in a different location than before. Rumors run rampant that a new vigilante named Trifaccia has appeared in the city--an expert swordsman wearing a gold mask and red robe, he allegedly saves ordinary law-abiding Korvosans from the depredations of violent rebels trying to extort money from them. And of course, events continue to churn outside the city, with Yraelzin sending a magical message to Goldcape that the giant siege on Urglin has been broken, and that he’ll be heading east after a dream vision from The Harrower.

In the days after their return, The Reckoner commissions Anorak to further enchant Plate (his sapient suit of armor) and gathers information on Trifaccia. Goldcape collects an assortment of rumors and researches at the University of Korvosa to learn about Belkzen. Anorak puts in hour after hour in his workshop. But even during these days of preparation, portentous events still occur.

Goldcape rides Nipper out of Korvosa and to the nearby village of Harse. There, she easily finds Blackbird Ranch, the place Vencarlo Orisini asked her to come after finishing her time in the Cinderlands. Goldcape is greeted by a friendly rancher (and former adventuring companion of Vencarlo) named Jasan Adriel. Jasan invites Goldcape to dinner with his wife and children, and they have a fun meal as Goldcape tells stories and answers a lot of questions from the kids. They’re especially interested in Nipper, and amazed that Goldcape can speak to a horse! After dinner, Jasan leads Goldcape to an outbuilding on the ranch, asks for help pushing a bay of hale to the side, and opens a trapdoor underneath it. After climbing down the exposed ladder, Goldcape finds herself in a fully-furnished underground apartment! Vencarlo and Neolandus Kalepopolis (Castle Korvosa’s presumed-dead seneschal) are there, and happy to receive a visitor. Goldcape confirms that in the Cinderlands, she and her allies found information that will lead them to a way to render Ileosa vulnerable to attack. Vencarlo sends Neolandus to talk with Jasan on the surface, and leads Goldcape over to a small black trunk. He smiles at Goldcape, and says she probably knows what he’s about to reveal. Flipping the latches on the trunk, he reveals the distinctive costume and equipment of Blackjack! Vencarlo says he’s past his prime and needs to keep Neolandus safe, but that Korvosa still needs a hero who will live up to the ideals of Blackjack: justice, mercy, and the rights of the common folk. “Korvosa needs you, Goldcape, and Korvosa needs Blackjack. Will you be take on the mantle of the city’s greatest hero?” Goldcape happily accepts. She gets confirmation of something else she suspected--that Vencarlo had hoped that one of his former fencing students, Grau Soldado or Sabina Merrin, would be suited to the role, but after the three had a falling out, it was clear neither could be Blackjack. Before leaving, Goldcape shares some tragic news with Vencarlo. His former partner (romantically and in crimefighting), The Harrower, is dead. Vencarlo looks stricken and tries not to weep, as Goldcape puts a consoling hand on his shoulder.

Having spent hours enchanting The Reckoner’s sapient armor with new capabilities, Anorak is just finishing up a long, sweaty day when he hears a gentle tap on the door. He opens it to reveal Mortimont, the unsettling baker from across the street. Mortimont explains that he’s brought cupcakes, and urges Anorak to try one, but the dwarf remains cautious and declines. He does let Mortimont in to talk though, and the baker says that unfortunately, he’ll be leaving Korvosa soon. He asks Anorak to dispose of the mysterious box he had paid him to watch over, suggesting “the heart of a volcano” or “the depths of the ocean” as suitable places for it. Several times, Mortimont reminds Anorak not to open the box. Anorak receives the news that the box has been abandoned by Mortimont in good spirits, muttering as the baker departs that he’s certainly going to open the box.

Having returned to his original safe-house in North Point, Ralph Blackfeather is working hard to prepare for the impending journey to Scarwall. Given that his lair is meant to be well-hidden, he’s surprised to hear a sharp rap at a back exit. Instead of answering directly, Ralph quickly changes into The Reckoner and sneaks out another exit to see what’s waiting for him. There, wearing a deep-hooded cloak and signs of burn scarring, is Grau Soldado! Having been brought to the safe-house months ago by Goldcape during the initial riots, Grau must have remembered its location. The Reckoner calls out to him cautiously, and Grau says it would be safer to speak inside, out of prying eyes and ears. When both men are in, The Reckoner says he heard Grau was severely injured. Grau nods, stating that a battle against Ileosa’s new “seneschal”--a powerful wizard--left him with severe burns. Fortunately, the Temple of Sarenrae took him in and hid him away, healing him with their magic. Grau gets to the point quickly: he wants The Reckoner’s band to join his resistance. He says Cressida Kroft has her heart in the right place, but is too cautious and lacks the edge to get the job done. When The Reckoner raises the recent raid on the Longacre Building, Grau concedes it was an example of smart planning. But, he says, that’s the only operation her resistance group has conducted since martial law was imposed. In contrast, Grau says his fighters’ constant hit-and-run attacks have forced the Gray Maidens completely out of the Shingles, effectively freeing a sizable portion of the city’s population from Ileosa’s grip. The Reckoner is impressed, but explains that for now, it’s a moot point about which resistance group has the better prospects, so long as Ileosa is invulnerable—but that may soon change. Grau is intrigued, and says when it does, there’s another reason why the Harrowed Heroes should throw their support behind him; he has a person on the inside of Castle Korvosa. The two warriors agree to go their separate ways for now, but establish a system of communication involving squares of red cloth should they need to meet again.

In the slums of Old Korvosa, one of the projects Goldcape has expended days of effort (and a lot of gold) to accomplish is to set up her own resistance cell in an abandoned building. Outfitted with defensive traps, cots and bedrolls, and a small armory, the hidden base seems safe from the Queen’s forces as long as it remains in the still-quarantined part of the city. Drawing upon thugs formerly loyal to the “Emperor of Old Korvosa”, regular citizens out of work since they can’t cross the blockaded bridge to the rest of the city, soldiers left to their own devices after the abolition of the Sable Company and the Korvosan Guard, and even a former acolyte of Yraelzin’s “Temple of Razmir,” Goldcape has assembled a potentially formidable force. Her greatest bit of luck was finding Sergeant Clenkins, the aged Korvosan Guardsman formerly responsible for watching the gate of Citadel Volshyenek. Clenkins promises to train the disparate members of the cell so they can work well together once Goldcape gives them their first mission. Goldcape says she’ll be leaving for a couple of weeks and that it would be too dangerous to do any raids for now, but when she returns, she’ll have a target for them.

One day, enjoying lunch in his workshop, Anorak hears the sounds of horse hooves, carriage wheels, and marching soldiers out front. He opens the door cautiously to see that Glorio Arkona, patriarch of House Arkona, has come by with “an exciting proposition”! The dwarf lets Glorio in but refuses him a seat, putting himself in the power position. Glorio beats around the bush for a bit, explaining that “a little bird--or an invisible spy” told him Anorak was working on some truly “crafty crafting”. The aristocrat looks meaningfully at Plate, strapped down to the worktable. Glorio says that “quality is what House Arkona stands for”, and that he wants Anorak to come to work for him as Chief Armorer. Anorak is frank that he doesn’t trust Glorio, but Glorio tries to reassure him that all of the danger and manipulation the dwarf experienced was due to his sister, who has surely fled the city. Glorio goes on to say that instead of the unpredictability and constant danger of adventuring, Anorak would receive a steady, stable, and very lucrative experience working in an exquisite workspace in Arkona Palace itself. Anorak seems mildly tempted, but still turns down the offer, saying it wouldn’t be exciting enough. Glorio makes a final pitch, subtly hinting that with someone as unpredictable as Ileosa as Queen, having friends like House Arkona could be very fruitful indeed. Anorak says that will only matter if Ileosa can be defeated, and right now she has world-breaking magic, is quite evil, and could live for centuries. Glorio sighs in resignation, remarking that if Anorak thinks he would survive such a direct confrontation, his father told him never to do business with those who have a loose grasp on reality.

Another startling event during this period begins when Ralph Blackfeather makes one of his many visits to Hedge Wizardry to purchase enchanted items for the group. Phaeton Skoda, the cluttered store’s proprietor, pulls Ralph in, locks the door, and puts a “closed” sign on display in the window. Looking nervous, Phaeton begins by staying something dreadful has happened. Before he can continue, Ralph hurries to reassure him that he was responsible for the recent attempted break-in at the back door and was sorry for any damages caused. Phaeton’s eyes widen, as he had no idea about that. He mutters something about how it was lucky “the guardian” hadn’t been awakened, but continues to explain that something far more serious has taken place: an inquisitor of the Church of Abadar visited just a couple of days ago and seized Phaeton’s accounts books. But the inquisitor wasn’t after records of last year’s transactions (taxes on which Phaeton assures Ralph were fully paid), but of the last few months! In other words, Phaeton thinks there’s a high-level investigation into who has been buying expensive or powerful magical items in the city. Ralph remains calm, and says he’ll likely be leaving the city for some time. He promises to work out a way to make future purchases anonymously so that Phaeton can record the buyer or seller as “unknown” in good faith and without violating any laws.

The days of downtime pass by quickly, but soon the time will come again when the Harrowed Heroes need to assemble for the next step of their epic quest. The stakes are clear: either Queen Ileosa survives, or Korvosa does.

GM Commentary:

In this campaign, I offered the players 3d6 days of "downtime" between each chapter: a time where they could retrain, craft, research new spells, earn coin, etc. with a guarantee that the downtime wouldn't count against any ticking clocks in the background or be interrupted by sudden attack. I used a slightly modified version of the Downtime rules from Ultimate Campaign (I think) for this, and it worked out pretty well as the rules state how much different activities cost and how long they take.

Most of the downtime stuff was handled between sessions, but I promised my players they'd each get one or two role-playing scenes set during downtime. That's what this session consisted of. I knew the PCs would be off for Scarwall soon (and there for the entirety of Chapter Five), so I foreshadowed as much as I reasonably could about Chapter Six: the vigilante Trifaccia, the new seneschal (the bloodmage Togomor), Grau's "man on the inside" of Castle Korvosa (Sabina!), and more. I also tried to advance the three factions (Kroft's, Grau's, and Glorio's) plotline by showing what each has to offer and, hopefully, making the choice of which to support not be an obvious one for the group.

Two key moments during this session were Goldcape being selected as the new Blackjack (a rooftop-running, rapier-wielding chaotic good character fit the bill perfectly!) and Anorak being left with the mysterious box and advised to dispose of it (in a volcano or the ocean depths, no less!). I loved the Blackjack element of Curse of the Crimson Throne, and it makes for a really memorable part of the campaign--and I know Goldcape's player loved it too. As for the mysterious box, we'll soon see that Anorak was unable to resist temptation, and the startling consequences that has on the rest of the campaign.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Yep, on page 388 of the hardcover.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

@Phaeton_NZ: Thanks, I've signed up for bounties # 7 and 8. I need to make a new PC for them, so let me know when you're ready to run them and I'll get to work.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I hope my 600+ reviews aren’t lost in the transition—my self-esteem is at stake :)

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 58:

[Toilday, 14 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

A tremendous victory has been won, but the Battle of Deathhead Vault isn’t over yet! As The Reckoner and Anorak search the bodies of the fallen Gray Maidens, the sound of reinforcements trying to break down the locked doors to the chamber echoes throughout the Vault. The Reckoner says he wants to free the other prisoners in the facility, but The Harrower says cryptically that her power is waning and she has much to tell them. She says she can’t stay much longer, and when she leaves, she’ll never see them again. But The Reckoner is adamant that there’s more to do in the Vault and, using keys found on Kordaitra Destaid, the Gray Maidens’ second-in-command, he unlocks the door to a series of back rooms. In one of them, he spots a secret door that opens to reveal a hidden closet full of potions, wands, scrolls, and more--a veritable treasure trove of supplies kept by the Gray Maidens in case of emergency! But suddenly the outer doors to the main chamber burst in, and Gray Maidens begin to spill in. The Harrower shouts her farewell, saying she’ll try to find Goldcape to listen to her final Harrowing. She disappears in a swirling chain of cards.

The Reckoner and Anorak conceal themselves in the closet, shutting the secret door behind them. They can hear the heavy footsteps of Gray Maidens searching the back rooms thoroughly for the intruders and decide to begin sweeping everything in the closet into The Reckoner’s handy haversack. But one of the items must have also been enchanted as an extra-dimensional repository, as The Reckoner’s bag--and everything in it--implodes! Trapped in the closet as dozens of Gray Maidens, led by a superior with an elvish accent, search for them, The Reckoner and Anorak decide it’s time to escape. Taking the remaining valuables in the emergency stash, they use teleportation magic to vanish, reappearing safely elsewhere.

Meanwhile, The Harrower--frantic and dishevelled and somehow . . . less real--appears suddenly in Old Lady Cloggins’ kitchen! The house’s owner is understandably quite startled, but quickly regains her composure, promising to make Goldcape and her guest some tea while they talk. The Harrower pulls Goldcape into a back room, pulls the blinds, pushes a table to the center of the room, and spreads cards on it. She performs a final Harrowing, pouring out her insight into what the future holds. When she finishes, her body glows and becomes mist-like as she’s slowly drawn to a realm that perhaps mankind was never meant to witness. “I’ve held on for as long as I could,” she says. “But I can’t resist the pull any longer. I have to say goodbye. Remember what you’ve learned. It may just be enough to see you and the others through.” With a sad smile, The Harrower’s spirit moves on toward its final resting place.

Goldcape emerges into the kitchen to find Old Lady Cloggins feeding Rocky some scones in the backyard. Goldcape explains she has to leave for a while, but promises to return soon. She flies on Rocky’s back to Old Korvosa, fortunate that the Gray Maiden aerial scouts still haven’t returned from patrolling the skies above the statue unveiling to the west. Once near The Reckoner’s hidden safehouse, Goldcape calls out and tries to get his attention, enraging the security-conscious vigilante. The two argue, and Goldcape ends up flying away in a huff.

As another chapter in the epic tale of Queen Ileosa’s reign closes, the Harrowed Heroes have won a resounding victory against her forces. But will constant internal fighting tear the group apart just short of their goal?

GM Commentary:

A correction to my commentary from last session. One of the players reminded me that the reason I had the Harrower appear was as a fill-in for Goldcape's player being absent. As I said in that post, the memory gets fuzzy the further away we get from the campaign!

When The Reckoner got going after blood and treasure, it was hard to get him to stop! Thus, The Harrower's final message (meant to be a solemn and sad turning point for the campaign) was delivered only to Goldcape with the other players in another room.

We see here another exploded magic container, and believe it or not, despite warnings, this isn't the only time it happens in the campaign!

In the real world, personality conflicts between Goldcape's player and The Reckoner's player made Chapter Four a bit rocky, but things really come to a head here in a way that affects Chapter Five. Soon, Goldcape's player decides to take a break from running a PC and instead becomes a temporary Assistant GM, helping me run combats and keep track of things.

I'm just curious if anyone has had a PC die in Starfinder? I remember a few deaths in the first year as everyone was figuring out the system, but since then I don't think I've seen any PC, mine or another, die in about five years of play. (apart from one low-level character I had who died from the Massive Damage rule, but I think I saw SFS has now made even that pretty unlikely).

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Hm, no idea. There's a mention of a coin in one of the faction missions. Maybe there was a change of plans in editing but something got left in by mistake? I guess for PFS it doesn't matter, but if you're using the adventure as part of a regular campaign, it's a pretty big deal.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 57:

[Toilday, 14 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

The Harrowed Heroes are in trouble! Their raid on Deathhead Vault to strike a blow for the resistance has come up against the self-described Mother of Thorns, a terrifying creature with magicks so potent she’s mentally dominated The Reckoner and forced Goldcape and Rocky to flee the complex entirely. With only Anorak left to carry on the fight, the situation seems dire indeed. But help comes from the most unexpected direction: above! A thin, hand-sized card wafts down from the ceiling—and then another, and another, until suddenly there are hundreds of cards swirling around the room. And from the vortex, a woman wearing the brightly-coloured skirts, scarves, and gauzy veil of a Varisian fortune-teller steps out: it’s the Harrower! “I had a premonition you needed a hand,” she says to Anorak. The Mother of Thorns shouts for The Reckoner to attack the newcomer, but with an immense act of will, he breaks free of her control! As The Harrower hurls cards that turn into unerring bolts of magic to weaken the fiend, The Reckoner draws an earthbreaker crackling with freezing magic and starts swinging. In seconds, yet another fearsome foe is laid low by his awesome onslaught.

Although the immediate battle is won, The Harrower says there’s no time to rest—the fighting here has surely been heard and reinforcements will be on the way. Intriguingly, she adds that in her last Harrowing, she intuited that someone is hiding or hidden in Deathhead Vault, and if they can be found, it will do much to aid the city. Despite her advice, the other two spend several precious seconds searching for treasure and identifying magic items worn by the Mother of Thorns. An adjacent room is revealed to be a filing office.

The Reckoner leads the way back to the corridor and smashes down a door to reveal a long hallway with cells on one side, each containing a badly beaten and nearly unconscious “recruit” for the Gray Maidens. Unable to pick the locks, The Reckoner resorts to smashing down more doors with his hammer—a process that frees the recruits but surely carries yet more proof that intruders are present. Magical wands heal the tortured women’s physical wounds but can’t do anything for their emotional trauma. The Harrower volunteers to lead the small group to safety, promising to return as soon as she can. Meanwhile, The Reckoner scouts to where the corridor turns north and sees an even longer hallway, with several more cells on one side and two pairs of double-doors on the other.

Using a wand to turn himself invisible, he tries to pick the lock on the first set of double-doors, but can’t manage it and has to break it down. On the other side, he sees a sort of “reception” room for Deathhead Vault—doors lead off it, but more importantly, a staircase leads up to the Longacre Building where dozens of Gray Maidens must be stationed, especially since Kroft’s surface raid must have already ended some time ago. The guards here are ready for a fight, but The Reckoner’s sudden appearance after being invisible is enough to terrify a pair of them. Anorak follows, but even working together, they can’t silence the guards fast enough to keep the shouts from alerting nearby reinforcements:. More Gray Maidens begin pouring down the stairs, while one knocks on the northern door and shouts “Commander Destaid, they’re here!” The fighting continues, with Gray Maiden after Gray Maiden falling. “Don’t get overconfident,” shouts The Harrower, arriving like last time in a swirling vortex of cards. “There’s a legion up there!” The Reckoner shouts that they need to get to the commander, so Anorak uses his dwindling magical reserves to blindly teleport himself and The Reckoner to the north, while The Harrower stays behind and conjures illusions to distract the reinforcements.

Anorak and The Reckoner find themselves in a large torture chamber that has been outfitted with all manner of pain-inducing implements. Three hapless and obviously-tormented prisoners are in cages, while a full contingent of five Gray Maidens stand in the center of the room. Behind a barred portion of the room secured with a strong iron gate, an imposing woman wearing a bright-red dress and a Gray Maiden commander stand ready. Anorak recognises the imposing woman as Zenobia Zenderholm, a well-respected senior arbiter who went missing months ago. The Gray Maiden next to her speaks: “I am Kordaitra Destaid, Second-in-Command of the Gray Maidens. In the name of the Queen, stand down. Your execution will be swift and merciful.” No one really expects a surrender, and no one is surprised as the battle starts. The Reckoner skilfully evades the rank-and-file Gray Maidens to reach the iron bars. As he starts to wail away at the gate, Kordaitra directs her soldiers to surround Anorak. The dwarf is alarmed as, one by one, his illusory duplicates are destroyed, and he decides to use an even more powerful illusion to disappear from sight completely! For her part, Zenobia Zenderholm reveals herself as a cleric of the Pallid Princess. A deathly glow surrounds her hand, a glow whose merest touch would kill The Reckoner—but even this is impossible! With an array of magical protections drawn from his mastery of wands, The Reckoner manages to avoid Zenobia’s touch, batter down the gate, and slay the two leaders. The Harrower appears just as the last defenders in the room are dispatched.

Despite a delayed start, the Harrowed Heroes have pushed deep into the subterranean bastion of the Gray Maidens and won a tremendous victory. Will they play it safe and retreat, or tempt fate and press on?

GM Commentary:

The appearance of The Harrower at the beginning of this session looks like a total deus ex machina, but it's really a stylish way I chose to portray one of the players cashing in their one-time sort of "get out of jail free card" boon I gave them (it might have been as a Christmas gift; I don't quite remember, the perils of writing these commentaries a couple of years later!). Because I had established that The Harrower and Blackjack were occasional crimefighting companions in the past, I wanted to show The Harrower here in her full street-level super hero glory as she swirled around, flung Harrow cards (that had the effect of magic missiles), and disoriented foes with her spinning scarves and such. It played well in my head at least, and I was happy at how I portrayed her. At this point, the players still don't know that she's dead and that her spirit is using its dwindling time on the Material Plane to aid them.

The Harrower's reference to someone hiding or hidden whose rescue would do much to aid the city was a hint about Sable Company Commander Marcus Endrin being held captive in a secret cell. Unfortunately, the PCs didn't find him and (if I recall correctly) it was later established that he died.

As the timing of the underground raid and the surface raid ended up not being coordinated, I had the surface levels swarming with Grey Maidens; I used the Troop rules to represent this. I think we see more of this next session, but the fact that Troops do automatic damage to creatures around them was very vexing to The Reckoner's player, who was used to relying on super-high AC and multiple buffs to fight most creatures with impunity.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 56:

[Toilday, 14 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

Deep under the Longacre Building, the Harrowed Heroes continue their assault on Deathhead Vault. While The Reckoner renews various enchantments to improve his fighting prowess, Goldcape flies over the deep pit in the chamber on Rocky’s back. She then cleverly uses her magical cloak to help Anorak cross by turning a small patch into a full ladder that spans the pit once laid down. Once everyone is back together again, they move cautiously down the tunnel and hear voices coming from somewhere far around the corner. A woman is speaking to a goblin she calls Mogmora, as it seems the latter has sounded the alarm that there are intruders in the vault. Anorak tries to lure them into an ambush by singing loudly in Dwarven, but the cautious defenders don’t fall for it, and maintain their positions.

The Reckoner decides to strike! Racing around the corner, he finds himself in what surely must be a newly-built temple to Achaekek, the monstrous mantis deity of the Red Mantis assassin cult. The vast, crescent-shaped cavern features stone benches facing a pulpit. Behind it, stairs lead up to a worked stone façade that bears a looming carving of an immense mantis, its arms arrayed downward like an archway over a set of double doors. The goblin that escaped from the intruders just minutes ago is standing in the room along with a beautiful woman with strawberry-coloured hair and a severe expression. She pulls on a mantis mask as the Reckoner comes into view, and orders forward the cultists’ version of a guard dog: a massive ten-foot-long centipede-like monster! But The Reckoner is undeterred, and slays the beast in seconds.

As Anorak and Goldcape arrive for back-up, they see the assassins have reinforcements as well. The doors at the far end of the cavern open to reveal an aasimar wielding sawtooth sabres, walking on the air. The goblin Mogmora, a seemingly innocuous foe compared to the others, suddenly laughs and begins to transform, flesh rippling as it grows into a snarling, wolf-like canine beast—a barghest! The barghest lopes around the side of the cavern to try to reach the attackers’ back ranks, but Goldcape sends Rocky to intercept it. The resulting fight is a savage death match of talon against claw and beak against fang, but (with a little help from Goldcape’s ice magic) Rocky prevails!

The angel-like newcomer must be a powerful spellcaster, for she conjures magical spinning blades in a bid to cut The Reckoner off from his allies. But Anorak is no mere adept, for he uses a spell of his own and becomes fast enough to race around to stay close to his ally. Giant praying mantises conjured by the strawberry-haired Red Mantis can’t pierce The Reckoner’s magical duplicates, and fall quickly to his battle-maul and Anorak’s fireballs. Yet when the angelic Red Mantis prays to Achaekek and evokes wave after wave of nauseating energy, the dwarf falters. The Reckoner’s mental fortitude is too strong for the spell to affect him, and he dashes forward, shrugging off more hidden assassins to dispatch the strawberry-haired Red Mantis with astonishing ease.

The angel-like Red Mantis evaluates the situation and realises she’s no match for The Reckoner. With an arcane utterance, she disappears with a flash of light. The remaining defenders in the room fall quickly, though Anorak is forced to temporarily restrain Goldcape from harming herself while under the effect of a hostile spell cast during the fight. Fortunately, the effect soon wears off and the group is able to advance.

After ensuring it’s not trapped, the Harrowed Heroes push through the ornate doors at the top of the stairs. They find themselves in some kind of inner sanctum with the walls magically-enhanced to show an eternal scene of slaughter as immense, mantis-like monsters destroy towns with various forms of architecture. Although a set of double doors lead to the north, The Reckoner remembers from the mission briefing that a secret door can be found on the southern wall. Once again, Boule’s information proves to be correct, as a hidden door does indeed exists. It leads to a steep stairwell that terminates at what must be another hidden door, though its outline is obvious from this side. At last, the Harrowed Heroes emerge into the basement level of the Longacre Building in a wide hallway set with glowing, polished ivory tiles.

The Reckoner chooses a door around the corner of the hallway and opens it to reveal what is obviously an execution chamber. No victims are present, but the executioner surely is! A tall, emaciated woman with thorny vines growing from her eyes and fingers is in the room, and merely gazing at her fills The Reckoner’s and Anorak’s knees with water. Both drop their weapons and flee in supernatural terror! Goldcape sends Rocky in to fight as the terrifying creature begins blinking rapidly in and out view. Vines with tiny red flowers and incredibly sharp thorns cut Rocky with jagged wounds that refuse to close. Just as The Reckoner gathers his courage and returns, Goldcape shouts for Rocky to retreat. But before The Reckoner even has time to pick up his battle-maul and attack, he finds himself falling under the hypnotic sway of the emaciated woman, compelled to stand next to her with a single message resounding in his mind: “Defend me.”

GM Commentary:

I liked Goldcape's robe of useful items--it's a fun magic item compared to the standard ones that just give fixed bonuses.

The various Red Mantis leaders all have beautiful artwork and elaborate backstories. Although I always appreciate fully-fleshed out NPCs, I do wonder if it's wise to spend the word count on enemies that will likely be defeated in a single encounter. I'd rather have more colourful shopkeepers, neighborhood descriptions, or interesting optional encounters to slot in--things that are likely to see more value in actual play.

The Reckoner is really overpowered by this point, especially with the myriad buffs. He wrecked several of these encounters one after the other. On the other hand, the cliffhanger's pretty good! (and I don't remember what happens next)

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 55:

[Toilday, 14 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

Deciding that breaking into Hedge Wizardry is a bad idea, The Reckoner instead changes into his alter ego as Ralph Blackfeather. He heads west, across the mostly deserted streets of the city, towards a white marble building on a hill: the city’s Temple of Sarenrae. He’s about to duck out of an alley and head for it when an instinct keeps him in hiding—-something small and invisible is flying around the temple! Realising that the government may have set an imp spy to watch who goes in and out of one of the few buildings not under its control, Ralph waits for the imp to fly to the far side of the building and then dashes in. There, he sees that the recent crackdowns and Gray Maiden-led arsons have led to many casualties, as the temple’s wards and corridors are filled with victims. When Ralph tracks down the fast-talking ratfolk priestess Wiquita, one glance tells her he’s been the victim of a poisoning. Although the temple has exhausted its supply of lesser restoratives, she’s able to sell him some more powerful magical scrolls that will have an instantaneous effect.

Another well-timed sprint sees Ralph make it safely out of the temple and back into the sewers to once again don the guise of The Reckoner. Still, almost two hours have passed by the time he finds his way back to where he left Anorak and Goldcape. He finds Goldcape unconscious from the strange monster’s poisonous gas, with Rocky looming protectively over her. A scroll from the Temple of Sarenrae draws the poison out of her body. Anorak says he’s come up with a plan: he wants to use some minor illusion magic to lure the monster closer to the steel grate and then attack from a distance. At first, the plan works--conjured lights and sounds draw out the beast, allowing the dwarf to launch a powerful fireball--but the explosion washes over the creature with no effect! The creature retreats back into the darkness.

The Reckoner lures it out again by throwing his voice like a master ventriloquist, something that has the side effect of waking Goldcape up. The vanara conjures magical hailstones that pummel the monster, but Anorak makes the mistake of getting too close to the bars and takes a hoof to the face! The Reckoner closes in a bid to finish it off, but it exhales another cloud of noxious gas that weakens him. Still, with an incredibly powerful swing of his battle-maul, The Reckoner smashes down the bars and crushes the beast’s skull! He uses the last scroll purchased from the temple to neutralise the poison coursing through his veins.

Further down the tunnel, they find the secret door exactly where Boule said it would be. But what they find on the far side is certainly a surprise: a makeshift tavern, complete with a wooden bar, rickety chairs, and dusty tankards. Sitting on the bar with its little bandy legs hanging over the edge, a goblin smiles and welcomes everyone to “The Sewer Brewer!” and offers them drinks on the house. But Goldcape’s nature magic reveals that they’re poisoned, and they rush the goblin. Before they can reach it, it steps into a magically-conjured doorway and disappears!

A door behind the bar leads to a winding tunnel that terminates at a thick cloud of yellowish mist. Anorak recognises it as a type of magical dispelling field, and manages to dampen its effect for a few seconds so everyone can dash through safely. Past the mist, the tunnel opens up into a wide cavern with high ledges looking down on a rocky floor covered with softly glowing blue fungus. On the ledges are a pair of women that Goldcape recognises as members of the now-disbanded Sable Company, and they call out for rescue, saying they’ve just escaped from the derro. But The Reckoner spots a Red Mantis hiding on the far side of a pit at the southern end of the cavern. Working together quickly, Goldcape sends Rocky to carry The Reckoner toward the assassin, and the foe is easily dispatched. But when Goldcape and Anorak go to help the stranded women climb down from the ledges, a trap is sprung! In life they may have been Sable Company Marines, but now the two are foul undead creatures! One leaps down to claw the would-be rescuers, while the other emits a supernaturally terrifying screech that sends Goldcape running for her life. Fortunately, once Rocky and The Reckoner fly back into the fray, the two monsters are destroyed, and the effect on Goldcape wears off.

The Harrowed Heroes have managed to overcome some early obstacles and push forward, but has the passage of time--and the escape of a potential sentry--given their foes time to rally?

GM Commentary:

The Reckoner always kept his Perception score maxed out, which sometimes allowed him to even notice invisible creatures like the imp! From a game perspective, the downside is that maxing out that one skill means you never have to worry about ambushes, disguises, someone sneaking up, etc., which can make the game less exciting. That's the trade-off that I can never seem to get players to understand: the better your characters get at something, the less excitement the game has to offer in that area.

One thing the AP doesn't cover is the role of the Church of Sarenrae after the Queen's rise to power. We're told that the Churches of Asmodeus and Abadar quickly throw her their support (as she is, ostensibly, the lawful ruler of the city) and we know that the leader of the Church of Pharasma supports the rebels. Sarenrae is a goddess with multiple dimensions (healing, redemption, destroying undead, etc.), and I could easily imagine a more active role for the Church in the story. But I went with them serving primarily as a hospital for all those sick from Blood Veil, injured in the rioting, beat up by the Gray Maidens, etc.

The weird creature behind the gate was a catoblepas. I had never used one before, but it ended up being very dangerous for the party with its poison gas breath! It's funny how much something like a metal grate can increase the threat of a creature if it means the PCs can't get it to as easily.

The plan was for the underground entry to be a surprise attack timed exactly with a main attack on the surface to draw away defenders. As the last line of the recap foreshadows, because the PCs had to retreat and come back, that timing is off and they'll face a much harder time of it.

Thanks for your kind comments! I didn't know if anyone ever read these, and it's very encouraging to hear that someone has and enjoys them. I have all of the PCs character sheets as PDFs, and I'm happy to share them here. You'll see that the Reckoner/Ralph Blackfeather was a vigilante (of course), Goldcape was a Hunter with the Roofrunner archetype (and later in the campaign multiclasses), Yraelzin was a sorcerer (shh!) with the Razmiri Priest archetype, and Anorak was a magus.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 54:

[Moonday, 13 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

After weeks traversing the rocky red wilderness of the Cinderlands, the Harrowed Heroes have returned to Korvosa! But plumes of smoke indicate portions of the city are aflame, and patrols of Gray Maidens on hippogriffs, lances gleaming in the sun, are also visible. The group decide to visit Hedge Wizardry first, so The Reckoner expends several charges from a magical wand to allow them to glide over the city undetected. But when they arrive at Eodred’s Walk (the collection of permanent stores next to the temporary stalls of the Gold Market), they find the place almost completely deserted! An unfurled scroll tacked to the front door of the shops proclaim a week of feasting through Founders Day in honour of Queen Ileosa and her founding of “New Korvosa”.

Fortunately, Phaeton Skoda is visible through the window of his shop, apparently trying to bring a semblance of order to the cluttered and chaotic shelves inside. The Reckoner taps on the glass to get his attention, and Phaeton ushers his visitor in quickly. Still grateful for the rescue of his cousin months ago, Phaeton’s willing to do business despite the official ban. He explains that an enormous statue of Ileosa has been built on Jeggare Isle and is to be officially unveiled tomorrow, on Founders Day, and that pretty much everything in the city has been closed to “encourage” residents to attend. When asked, Phaeton explains that the fires were set deliberately by the Gray Maidens to destroy any houses or buildings they suspect are linked to the rebellion that started in the Shingles. And apparently, it’s now public knowledge that Grau Soldado is the leader of the rebellion as he was attacked by Red Mantis assassins and is now believed either dead or in hiding.

Once outside, The Reckoner shares what he’s learned and turns everyone invisible again as they use the Sun Shaman’s spell to drift silently to the former’s safehouse in Old Korvosa. Perhaps surprisingly, this area of the city—recently a place of rioting, anarchy, and would-be warlords like the “Emperor of Old Korvosa”—seems safer and more sedate. Visible patrols of guards wearing the livery of House Arkona indicate that perhaps Glorio has decided to expand his influence and fill the vacuum of authority in the area. Anorak checks over his nearby workshop and finds everything exactly as he left it—including the mysterious box given him to by the strange baker, Mortimont.

[Toilday, 14 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Founders Day is traditionally a day of feasting and frivolity in Korvosa, a holiday for the primarily Chelish population to celebrate the establishment of the colony 300 years ago. But today, as the Harrowed Heroes discover walking the streets invisibly, the mood is not one of joy. Instead, a gloomy air of resignation fills the few citizens visible on the streets. Patrols of Gray Maidens are everywhere, and martial law and the hunt for suspected rebels continues.

The newly-returned travellers make their way to the Gray District, the massive cemetery overseen by the Church of Pharasma. Goldcape and The Reckoner lead Anorak into the utter stillness of Potter’s Ward, the final resting ground for Korvosa’s poor and homeless. There, in one of the many crumbling mausoleums, Cressida Kroft’s own band of rebels have been planning a dramatic strike for several weeks. But when The Reckoner notices a gravedigger lurking around the mausoleum, he suspects either a spy or a trap. Still invisible, the vigilante silently approaches and then leaps on the man, grabbing him around the shoulders and demanding to know what he’s doing there. The man is shocked, even moreso when he sees the crudely-disguised Red Mantis mask that The Reckoner wears. The man puts up a struggle, and the fact that the edges of his shovel have been sharpened to a razor-edge demonstrate he’s no mere gravedigger. Goldcape intervenes, as everyone’s heard of “The Golden Monkey”, but still the shaken man is suspicious it could be illusion magic. When Goldcape allows him to (painfully) pull a yellow hair from her arm, the man is finally satisfied. He doesn’t apologise, but tells the group he’ll deliver the message that they’ve arrived and then unlocks the door to the mausoleum and disappears inside.

A few minutes later, Cressida Kroft emerges, looking bemused. “You have got to stop wearing those Red Mantis masks,” she says wryly. It looks as though the past few weeks have done wonders for both her mood and her health—she no longer looks as exhausted, mentally and physically, as she did when she was leading the Korvosan Guard under Ileosa’s reign. She leads the visitors through a trap door in the floor of the mausoleum and into an ossuary below that is lit with torches on the walls and the strange blue light from patches of glowing mold. There, it is clear that final preparations are in way for today’s operation, as several individuals bustle about preparing weapons and looking at maps. Kroft points out Bishop d’Bear, the head of the Church of Pharasma, who has been the rebellion’s liaison with The Reckoner during his time in the Cinderlands. With a sigh, Kroft points out another individual—a florid and heavyset man with short brown hair and dark eyes. Goldcape recognises him as Boule, Guildmaster of the Cerulean Society!

Kroft introduces Boule, her words bitter but resigned. “Tell them, Boule,” she says. “Tell them why I’m tolerating your presence.” After a smirk and an exaggerated bow, Boule replies. “Yes, let me get right to the point. We may operate on different sides of the law, but we can agree that Ileosa is not good for Korvosa. I want her gone as much as you. And while I feel that neither I nor my . . . associates . . . are the right ones for the task, you, brave adventurers, have proven time and time again that you are precisely what Korvosa needs. Without the Gray Maidens to police the streets or the Red Mantis to stalk the alleys, Ileosa’s grip on Korvosa will slip. Yet in their fortress at the Longacre Building, the Red Mantis and the Gray Maidens are bolstered against attack, and many who work within the building may yet be innocent, forced to comply with the queen against their will. But as it happens, I know of a back door into the chambers below. I know the secret . . . to Deathhead Vault!”

The Reckoner is immediately put off both by Boule’s mannerisms and his association with Glorio Arkona, suspecting this may be part of a stratagem to gain influence within the resistance as a natural alternative to Ileosa as leader of Korvosa. Wary of a trap, The Reckoner grabs Boule by his shirtfront and almost growls for assurance that whatever plan Boule is proffering is legitimate. Boule is definitely shaken, but as he gives those assurances, he is also clearly seething at the indignity of being threatened—especially so publicly. Kroft interjects, and says Boule has explained the situation poorly. She says the reason they’ve been waiting for Founders Day is that much of Ileosa’s security forces will be at the statue unveiling. This makes it feasible to launch hit-and-run raids on the Longacre Building from the surface (by she, d’Bear, and their allies) to draw out defenders, while another group (The Reckoner, Goldcape, and Anorak) enter the Deathhead Vaults from below to free prisoners, steal plans, and generally throw the Gray Maidens into disarray. Regaining his composure, Boule explains that he knows about the secret entrance because the Cerulean Society once used it to smuggle out valuable Guild members and others who happened to find themselves incarcerated. He shows the group a map with a route through the sewers, points out where the secret door is, and even proffers a key. And with a flourish, he reveals something even Kroft didn’t know: he’s “leaked” a set of fake “coded documents from the rebellion” into the hands of Kordaitra, the Gray Maiden’s second-in-command, who fancies herself a codebreaker—and thus, she will likely be in the building during the raid and vulnerable to capture or assassination! With the attacks planned for noon (the same time Ileosa’s statute is to be unveiled), the Harrowed Heroes agree to the plan despite strong reluctance on The Reckoner’s part over Boule’s involvement.

Boule’s map leads the group through the sewers of Korvosa all the way from Midland to North Point. Long stretches of the route are through ancient, abandoned sewers that are completely dry, and fortune seems to favour the group as they encounter no obstacles for most of their journey. But then the map leads them into a brick-lined tunnel that has a wide trough of murky water on one side and a narrow, slimy walkway on the other. After some minutes, a wall of rusty iron bars with an equally rusty gate atop the walkway blocks passage further into the tunnel, but the map indicates the secret door should be along the wall at a point somewhere past the gate. Before they can decide how to proceed, a strange half-roar, half-bleating sound echoes down the tunnel and then a massive beast with a boar-like head, antlers, a thick bullish body, and cloven hooves charges the gate from the far side! With just seconds to act, the Harrowed Heroes prepare their defences. The beast snorts and bleats again, and then exhales a cloud of horrid gas that fills the tunnel. The Reckoner and Goldcape each catch a whiff and rapidly become deathly ill. The creature charges the gate again and again to break through, but—-despite its appearance—-it’s actually of new, solid construction and holds. The Reckoner and Goldcape retreat while Anorak launches a few fireballs to drive the beast back into the darkness.

Although Anorak and Rocky managed to hold their breath and are completely fine, The Reckoner and Goldcape barely survive whatever toxins were in the monster’s breath. Knowing they can’t go forward in their present state, The Reckoner volunteers to make the trek back to Eodred’s Walk alone. It takes him a good 45 minutes to get there through the sewers, and when he emerges, he finds Phaeton isn’t there! He decides to try to pick the lock to the back door, but receives a nasty electrical shock for his effort. A look at the windows reveals magical alarms that he’s not equipped to deal with. Stymied, The Reckoner knows time is of the essence if the planned simultaneous assault from above and below is to work—yet time is slipping away . . .

GM's Commentary:

A giant statue of Ileosa being unveiled? That sounds like. . . foreshadowing!

I always like working in natural holidays on the calendar, so when I saw Founders Day coming up, I made sure it served multiple purposes.

I don't remember the name of the beast at the end, but its poison breath attack sure was nasty--I think it did something like Constitution damage.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Dear Mr. Mona,

I'm really sorry I TP'd the trees in front of your house on Halloween seven years ago. Can I please stop writing reviews now?

Yours Sincerely,


2/5 5/5

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I'm totally on board with the "you don't need to know the rules and setting lore perfectly to GM" vibe in this thread. I will push back a tad and say we do need to be frank with people that a good GM actually takes time to read a scenario carefully and prepare for a session, otherwise there's a good chance of a problem arising. The more you've prepared, the easier improv will be when it's necessary. If you're trying to do things like apply templates, make four-player adjustments, and use complicated NPC builds on the fly in the middle of a session with no prep, it will only add to the stress and the likelihood of making a mistake. No GM wants the guilt of having TPK'd a party because they used the wrong subtier, and on the flip side, I've seen lazy GMs essentially hand-wave every obstacle and challenge in a scenario because they just couldn't be bothered to run it as intended. In other words, a rules-lite system like Savage Worlds is perfectly doable for GMs who don't like a lot of reading and rules, but that's not the experience Paizo Organized Play offers, so we shouldn't sugarcoat things too much.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 53:

[Sunday, 12 Erastus 4708 A.R., continued]

The Battle of Flameford isn’t over yet! The Reckoner persuades his allies to give chase to the Cinderlander, the feared Shoanti-killer, who had just disappeared over the side of the plateau. After pausing briefly to heal and renew magical protections, the Harrowed Heroes rush to the cliff-side and search for their foe. The Cinderlander is adept at hiding, as even The Reckoner’s perceptive eyes can’t spot him—but when Goldcape casts a spell to detect magical auras in the area, the Cinderlander strikes! He emerges on a ledge just below the top of the plateau and shoots at Rocky, no doubt hoping to deprive his pursuers of their aerial advantage. But this time, fate is against him, as his crossbow jams. The Reckoner leaps down to the edge and begins doing what he does best and, realising there is no escape and preferring death over capture, the Cinderlander manoeuvres himself to the very edge of the cliff so that, with a final blow from The Reckoner, his body is swept off the plateau to fall to certain death.

The victorious trio make their way carefully down the cliff and see the devastation wrought upon Flameford from the giants’ hurled boulders. They help with the wounded, pulling many victims out from under crushed yurts and shattered rock. Soon, Thundercallers carry Krojun’s body down from the top of the plateau, and the camp takes on an even more mournful aspect than before. Goldcape asks if she could assist with bringing Krojun back to life, but is told such an act is for the Sun Shaman to decide. The Reckoner notes that battle was the closest he’s come to his own death in many battles.

Some hours later, the wind carries the Sun Shaman, Chief Ready-Klar, and their escorts back to Flameford. Ready-Klar assesses the situation immediately, and begins gathering his people. Meanwhile, the Sun Shaman tells the clan’s new allies that he is prepared to share the secrets they seek. He takes them to his own yurt where the sacred flame of the Sklar-Quah burns without fuel. This is the tale he relates:

“Many hundreds of years ago, a man named Mandraivus gathered a small group of heroes to fight a despotic blue dragon named Kazavon, and my ancestor was one who joined this crusade. This ancestor, a shaman named Amarund, was gone for months. When she finally returned she was not the same woman--her hands shook, her eyes carried a haunted stare, and she cried out in fear at night. She spoke little of what she had experienced while fighting at Mandraivus’s side, but she did say that they were successful in defeating Kazavon and that the dragon’s fortress of Scarwall in Belkzen was now under Mandraivus’s control.”

“While Kazavon had been defeated, his will to live was so immense that even the remains of his body twitched. The heroes attempted to destroy the remains, but key fragments of the dragon’s skeleton resisted even their most destructive spells. Mandraivus tasked the seven surviving heroes, among them Amarund, with each claiming one of the bony relics of Kazavon’s body and taking them far from Scarwall. None of the seven would communicate where they were going to the others or to Mandraivus in hopes of ensuring that their chosen relics would remain hidden and guarded for all time in order to prevent the dragon from returning to life.”

“Amarund told this story to her fellow shamans and revealed that her selected relics were the dragon’s fangs, which she called Midnight’s Teeth. She and the other shamans chose the ancient pyramid on the shores of Conqueror’s Bay as the fangs’ reliquary. After hiding them in a secret room deep inside the pyramid, Amarund and her descendants swore to ensure the fangs would remain safe.”

“For generations, they maintained their task--until Cheliax invaded and drove us off. The few survivors who knew the secret of the fangs were forced to flee with their kin into the Cinderlands. For the next three centuries the knowledge was passed from Sun Shaman to Sun Shaman, and we have watched with fearful eyes as the city of Korvosa has grown up around our ancient reliquary.”

“The fragments of Kazavon’s soul are like seeds--once they find soil in which to grow, they can bloom into a mighty tree. Doubtless, this is the case with the Queen of Korvosa--her innate cruelty has been enhanced greatly by the Midnight’s Teeth. Worse, she now possesses two souls--her own, and one grown from the fragment of Kazavon’s. Having two souls in one body must grant her incredible power over her own mortality.”

“Yet, there is a way these souls can be weakened. Kazavon’s soul is fuelled by the power of the spirits trapped within Castle Scarwall, a haunted place of dread since Mandraivus and his band invaded, slew the dragon, and dispersed. If the curse can be lifted, Kazavon’s soul and Ileosa’s will no longer lend her body immortality. But my people know little of Scarwall since Amarund fled with the Midnight’s Teeth. I have spoken with Thousand Bones, and his people relate to me a song carried by mournful spirits on the wind.”

Fate of steel—Serithtial

Her cage for years sustained.

Four enthralled in lost Scarwall;

Undead to keep her chained.

A spirit first, red war his thirst

Still stands at post of old;

A second foe, infernal soul

Waits high in tower cold.

In kennel’s grime, third bides his time

Then vents his killing breath.

And on a stone ‘mid ash and bone,

The final dreams of death.

The spirits worn and battle torn

And locked in their damnation,

The chained one’s hold at last grows old

And ushers in salvation.

Yet hope remains amid the chains

When blade’s stone cage has crumbled,

Friends to dread and death of the dead,

Keys to Kazavon humbled.

“Those are the secrets of my people, and that is what I have to offer to the friends of the Sklar-Quah this day.”

The listeners thank him and express their hopes that if the information is used well, the Shoanti will benefit as well. The Sun Shaman says he knows little of Scarwall as it stands now, only that legend says it is a haunted place, and neither the living nor the dead may depart once they enter within. When asked about Krojun, the Sun Shaman says he was the mightiest and bravest warrior of the Sklar-Quah and died an honourable death. His body will be taken to the Kallow Mounds, and if the shamans of the Skoan-Quah believe his spirit should be returned, then it will be so. Anorak asks if a message containing his respect and promise to remember Krojun forever can be delivered as well. Hearing Chief Ready-Klar’s voice fade away outside and knowing the time for talking has come to an end, the Sun Shaman anticipates his listeners’ request for aid in travelling to Korvosa quickly and says he can summon the wind spirits to hasten their journey.

Outside, it’s clear that Ready-Klar has made a fateful decision. Flameford will be abandoned at dawn, and the Sklar-Quah will return to their nomadic ways. The warriors will head to the north and drive the giants out of the Cinderlands, while those who cannot fight will shelter in caves out of harm’s way. Goldcape suggests to him that the Sklar-Quah form an alliance with the other clans of the Cinderlands, and Ready-Klar nods that it may be time to put past differences aside for the sake of all Shoanti. He nods his farewell to the Korvosans, and says they’ll be welcome to stay with the Sklar-Quah again should they return to the area. Anorak seeks out the brave Thundercaller who joined in the battle on the plateau, and gifts the man his horse—a gift that carries with it much honour in the ways of the Sklar-Quah.

[Moonday, 13 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

At dawn, as the Sklar-Quah pack their mounts, the Harrowed Heroes make their final farewells and then experience the Sun Shaman’s mastery over the wind spirits first-hand. Their bodies grow almost weightless as they rise into the air and, with but a thought, they can turn themselves nearly as transparent as the air itself! The winds propel them in their desired direction at incredible speeds, allowing them to cover in an hour the same distance it would take three days to walk!

Their first destination is the strange, octagonal-walled city of Kaer Maga. This time, the travellers are intent on getting in and out of the city quickly, before the Sun Shaman’s magic wears off. They unload thousands and thousands of gold pieces of treasure found during their adventures in the Cinderlands. In addition, knowing they’ll have an even longer trip in the future to Scarwall (in the orc-infested Hold of Belkzen), they seek out a place to purchase teleportation magic. In a dimly-lit and cluttered shop, an obsequious figure--surely a vampire!--has what they’re looking for, even if the scrolls he sells them are covered in greenish slime and a book of spells for Anorak has “paper” made from human skin! The shopkeeper offers to pay Goldcape for a small patch of her skin or a taste of her blood, but the vanara adamantly refuses.

As the group is leaving the shop, two orcs rudely push their way in and Goldcape recognises their tribal markings as belonging to orcs of the One Eye tribe of the Blood Plains--from Belkzen! Hearing this, The Reckoner tries to strike up a conversation but is mocked by the surly orcs until, in a misunderstanding, they take him to be a slave trader and offer to buy Goldcape and Anorak from him. He declines, but in the course of the conversation is able to gather two potentially useful pieces of information: the giant army of the north has not pushed into Belkzen, and the area around Scarwall is the territory of a tiny orc tribe (the Deadwatchers) because no one else wants it.

Fortunately, unlike last time they visited the city, the travellers are able to leave Kaer Maga without bloodshed. Anorak persuades the group to head to Janderhoff so he can warn the people of his birthplace about the giant army’s use of “portal spikes” to make surprise raids. At the gates of the largely-subterranean city, they see security has in fact been tightened already, and every visitor is questioned and searched. The gate guards disbelieve Anorak’s tale (deeming it too fantastical), but The Reckoner manages to persuade them to deliver the information to their superiors. Anorak also has a message delivered to Kaptra Dorethain, the dwarf who aided them on their last visit to the city, explaining that they’re not able to accept the job of searching for her missing husband.

The group set off again. Travelling a mile every minute (and with Goldcape’s keen sense of direction), the travellers finally see Korvosa on the horizon. But in the bright light of the mid-afternoon sun, plumes of smoke are clearly visible: the city is in flames!

After leaving Kovosa for weeks under the thrall of the cruel Queen Ileosa, will the Harrowed Heroes find there’s nothing of the city left to save?

GM Commentary:

I always have some players who hate the critical fumble rules when they roll one, but when it's a bad guy like the Cinderlander suffering them, those complaints don't arise :)

The AP's scripted speech of the Sun Shaman was fantastic. It's hard to convey so much exposition in a way that's interesting, and I thought the writing here was great. I think I tinkered a little with the last bit, because I wanted to emphasise that lifting the curse on Scarwall was what was necessary to remove Ileosa's immortality, with Serithtial just a nice, optional bonus (the whole "need super enchanted magic weapon to defeat the bad guy" was both cliche and already done in Rise of the Runelords).

Anorak does some good role-playing bits here in relation to Janderhoff, something I should have given him more credit for at the time.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I think in the GM thread for that chapter of the AP there's a lot of posts discussing the problem and suggestions on how to handle it.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 52:

[Fireday, 10 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

One purple worm has been slain, but a second is rapidly approaching! Goldcape struggles as poison courses through her body, turning her muscles into jelly—-even her nature magic doesn’t seem able to overcome it. Seconds later, crashing into the adventurers like a tidal wave, the other subterranean monster makes its appearance—-and it’s even larger than the first one! Anorak weakens it with a powerful fire spell, but when The Reckoner tries to close the distance, he takes a vicious smash from its tail and is sent flying backwards! Anorak unleashes a second fireball and Rocky joins the fight, but the roc is impaled by the worm’s stinger and poisoned. After a short but intense battle, the worm collapses, dead, after The Reckoner leaps into the air and finishes it with a powerful downward slam of his war-maul.

With both Goldcape and Rocky suffering from purple worm venom, the decision to escape the tunnels as soon as possible is an easy one. Hours pass as the travellers, with Krojun still trailing behind, navigate the labyrinthine tunnels. During their walking, two members of the group receive magical messages, but from quite different sources. From Korvosa, Bishop Keppira d’Bear tells The Reckoner that the resistance operation is still going forward: “Kroft says can’t delay. Operation only works during Founding Festival. Will proceed without you, but if can make it, meet at same place for briefing.” The Reckoner replies he and the others will try their best. Sometime later, Goldcape receives a series of sendings from Yraelzin, last seen heading north to try to slow the giant armies encircling Urglin before they can continue south: “Goldcape, you won’t believe who I ran into! You remember those other tshamek the Moon Maidens spoke about? It’s the Kodar Kneecappers & Trinia! I--” “Stupid spell. Important: We’re going to raid giant leader’s camp to stop siege on Urglin, but they’ve been practicing with magic portal spike that can—“ “Last one—have to save my energy! The portal can take a dozen giants anywhere—Korvosa, Janderhoff, who knows! Be careful and talk soon.” Goldcape replies that Yraelzin should hurry as the group need him, and she also reminds him of the resistance’s plan for an operation during the Founding Festival.

When the group reach the surface a couple of hours before dawn, they’re tired but decide to try to press on for Flameford as only a few days remain until the Founding Festival on 14 Erastus. With Rocky incredibly fatigued from the purple worm poison, Goldcape decides to try something new. After asking his permission, she draws a magical scroll from her bag and turns him into a small, hand-sized figurine!

But navigating the largely barren landscape of the Cinderlands is harder than it seems, a fact Krojun knows well as he watches silently. After realising they’ve been heading in the wrong direction, and with the day’s heat rising, the group decide to find a shaded overhang to camp under.

[Starday, 11 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

After sleeping all day, the group finish their journey to Flameford as the sun sets. Before leading the others through the maze of spike stones, Krojun hands his earthbreaker to Anorak, telling him to hold it for him to help him avoid temptation. He then leads The Reckoner off to the side for a private conversation. Krojun says it is abundantly clear that The Reckoner and his companions are adept warriors, and that as they have endured the Trial of the Totems, he will not stand in the way of them obtaining information from the Sun Shaman. But, Krojun adds, he’s not fooled about the group’s motivations for coming to the Cinderlands. Despite them being named tribal allies, Krojun says the group have simply come to take from the Sklar-Quah and will depart, never to return once they have what they want. The Reckoner concedes his reason for coming is to help his own people in Korvosa, but that doesn’t mean he and the others will never return. And, he adds, perhaps it is Krojun who will come to Korvosa for aid in the future.

Once in Flameford, Krojun confers privately with the Sun Shaman. Afterwards, the Sun Shaman confirms that the visitors have earned the full respect of the Sklar-Quah and can be trusted with the secrets of the tribe. He says he must consult with his ancestors by communing with them in the Kallow Mounds, but will return the next day. With a whisper to the spirits of the land, a powerful wind lifts him, Chief Ready-Klar, and four of the tribe’s thundercallers into the air and towards the east.

Later that evening, as Krojun is carving a spear, The Reckoner talks to him about how he met the others and about how Queen Ileosa has brought so much suffering and cruelty to Korvosa. He says Ileosa is a danger to the Shoanti as well, as she’ll never be satisfied with peace. Krojun, however, reminds The Reckoner that the Sklar-Quah never endorsed the Skoan-Quah’s treaty embassy to Korvosa. Indeed, Krojun muses, perhaps the time has finally come for a war that will reclaim the ancestral Shoanti lands taken from them when the invaders first laid claim to the land that became Korvosa.

Before turning in for the night, Goldcape gives The Reckoner a sredna loop as thanks for saving Rocky (now returned to normal form) from the purple worm that had swallowed him weeks earlier.

[Sunday, 12 Erastus, 4708 A.R.]

Early in the morning, as the camp is preparing for another day in the harsh environment around them, The Reckoner is out checking the camp’s defences when he notices a strange, purplish-green glow coming from the top of the eighty-feet-high cliffs that loom over the camp. He’s not sure what to make of it, but brings it to the attention of Goldcape and Anorak—and each recognise it as some kind of teleportation magic. Goldcape hops on Rocky’s back to check it out, and is stunned to see a strange glowing device that looks like a giant metal spike has been stuck into the top of the cliff, and behind it is a glowing circular doorway to another place! Giants, each marked on the brow with a seven-pointed star, can be seen through the portal, lined up near an identical glowing spike. Near the magical spike on the clifftop side of the portal, undoubtedly the one who activated it, is a rugged-looking human wielding a crossbow, seemingly guarded by a firepelt cougar—surely this must be the Cinderlander! Goldcape yells “Giants!” and rouses the camp to battle.

While Anorak and The Reckoner spend precious seconds preparing themselves for the battle to come, Goldcape engages the enemy with magical hailstorms and a flurry of arrows. But in return, she has to dodge a volley of crossbow bolts from the Cinderlander and rocks hurled by the giants. Realising the camp has been alerted, the giants on the clifftop begin their assault by hurling boulders, crushing yurts and any Shoanti unlikely enough to be inside. Krojun tries to rally his warriors to counterattack, but hurled spears barely reach the clifftop and scaling the steep side of the plateau will take time—and with every passing moment, more and more giants pass through the portal! But then Anorak and The Reckoner are ready to get into the fight, and Anorak conjures a magical doorway to take himself, The Reckoner, Krojun, and a nearby Thundercaller to the clifftop.

The Reckoner decides he needs to stem the flow of enemy reinforcements, and heads straight for the magical portal spike. As he starts smashing it with his enchanted war-maul, the enemy—-hill giants, stone giants, and even their apparent leader, a cloud giant—-converge to try to stop him. Anorak is drawn into the fight, while Goldcape continues circling on Rocky’s back, wisely using spells and arrows to stay out of the giants’ reach. Meanwhile, Krojun sees the Shoanti’s most hated enemy—the legendary Cinderlander—and charges in, rage fuelling his attacks!

The battle around the portal spike is one of the most intense the Harrowed Heroes have ever had. The cloud giant—almost twenty feet tall—repeatedly slams his tree-trunk sized morningstar into The Reckoner. Anorak manages to dispatch two of the weaker giants with carefully-placed fireball after fireball, finishing them off with his waraxe. But concentrating on magic makes the dwarf lose concentration on defense, and he’s battered to the ground, unconscious. The Reckoner, badly wounded, manages to shatter the portal spike with another mighty swing, and the portal fades away into nothingness. Finally able to concentrate on the foes around them, he smashes the kneecap of the cloud giant and finishes him off once he crumbles to the ground. But the others have lost sight of Krojun in the midst of the melee, and discover why the Cinderlander is so feared by the Shoanti—-enchanted bolts tear gaping holes in the brave’s flesh before he can even reach the crossbowman, and a nearby hill giant delivers a final, killing blow, smashing Krojun’s spine! Still, seeing the tide of battle turning and the portal closed, the Cinderlander picks up the body of his animal companion (slain by Krojun’s dying blows) and starts making for the side of the plateau to escape.

Goldcape uses some of her most powerful magic to heal Anorak’s wounds. With a hide-clad hill giant looming over him, the dwarf cleverly rolls into another conjured magical doorway to reappear some distance away. The Reckoner shouts for the others to stop the Cinderlander before he can escape, but confronting the Cinderlander is like playing with fire, and The Reckoner gets burned! A crossbow bolt, enchanted to wreak havoc with human physiology, crunches into the costumed vigilante’s sternum, leaving him dying in the dirt. Goldcape uses the last of her magic to get The Reckoner back into the fight, and he and Anorak manage to dispatch the last remaining giants on the plateau. The Reckoner jumps on Rocky’s back to pursue the Cinderlander, but Goldcape offers the Shoanti-killer a truce. The Cinderlander nods, drinks a potion, and disappears over the side of the cliff.

The giants’ raid on Flameford has been repelled, but not without cost: Krojun slain, much of Flameford in ruins, and two of the Harrowed Heroes near death. But is the battle of Flameford truly over?

GM Commentary:

The sending spells proved a great way to keep the PCs aware of off-screen things going on back in Korvosa, or with Yraelzin's mission to Urglin. I think it's great for verisimilitude for the players to know that they're doing something important, but they're not the only ones trying to do important things. And, it's always fun to see what the 25-word-limit allows depending on the caster's personality.

The PCs had some trouble getting out of the worm caves. Survival is an underestimated skill!

As we near the end of Chapter Four in the recaps, one of the things I'm proudest of with my run of Curse of the Crimson Throne is how I ran this section. I'm really happy with how my (and Paizo's!) portrayal of the Shoanti in the Cinderlands turned out. It was respectful, avoided stereotypes, and provided insight into a really cool fictional culture.

The written adventure has an attack on Flameford, but it's with Red Mantis assassins carried there by gargoyles. I really wanted to do something more interesting and continue to bring home the fact that there's a war going on (because of the failure to win Rise of the Runelords in my last campaign). Having the Cinderlander bring a small army of giants to the top of the plateau overlooking the camp turned out to be pretty cool (in my humble opinion) and was certainly one of the most intense encounters in the campaign. Anorak and The Reckoner spent several rounds buffing, leaving Goldcape and Rocky to hold the line alone! Goldcape deserves more credit than she got for keeping party members alive, as The Reckoner would be well and truly dead if it wasn't for her. I knew introducing the portal spikes into the campaign could have some pretty big consequences if the PCs got their hands on the pair, but the destruction of one took care of that.

It was sad to see Krojun die. The Cinderlander's human bane bolts were pretty nasty.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 51:

[Wealday, 8 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

The final stretch in the Trial of the Totems has begun! Having endured 36 consecutive hours of keeping their totems upright, plus a sudden assault against a pack of hungry bulettes, the Harrowed Heroes know only a single night separates them from success. With cloud cover keeping even moonlight from reaching them, the lonely mesa is plunged into almost total darkness but for Goldcape’s light spells. The hours pass slowly, with both Goldcape and Anorak losing leverage over their totems at different points. Giddy with exhaustion, The Reckoner improvises a song with lyrics about how boring the test is compared to slaying a purple worm. It’s not much, but may be just enough to keep his allies’ flagging spirits going.

[Oathday, 9 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

As dawn breaks, the Sun Shaman leads the entire tribe to Bolt Rock. He inspects each of the totems carefully, looking for signs of damage or trickery. With a quick nod, he accepts The Reckoner’s totem. He lingers longer at Anorak’s, and traces his fingers along the multiple cracks, but nods as well. At Goldcape’s, he pauses for what seems like minutes. The totem has deep cracks throughout, and is only barely in one piece. At last, with a sigh, the Sun Shaman nods. The Sklar-Quah erupt in cheers, as all three have passed the Trial of the Totems! Before the jubilation gets out of hand, the Sun Shaman holds his hands up for silence. He states formally that the three petitioners are tshamek no more, and welcomes them as allies to the Sklar-Quah with full permission to traverse and reside in the lands of the people. Yet with a subtle acknowledgement of Krojun, the Sun Shaman continues. He says the tribe’s new allies have not yet proven themselves worthy of the knowledge passed down from shaman to shaman from time out of mind. One final test remains: they must prove they can survive travelling through the harshness of the Cinderlands on their own, without the aid of the Boneslayers or other Shoanti help. And their judge will be Krojun!

Having passed one test only to learn of another, Goldcape, The Reckoner, and Anorak trudge back to Flameford and spend the day recovering from their ordeal in a guest yurt. When they wake in the late afternoon, Goldcape dispatches a boy from the camp to deliver a message to the Boneslayers: with gratitude for their aid, they can return to the Kallow Mounds. The trio discuss what to do for their final test—return to the House of the Moon to enlist the support of a Truthspeaker, follow the Harrower’s seeming direction to have Goldcape be swallowed by Cindermaw, or slay more enemies of the Sklar-Quah. With Cressida Kroft’s mysterious resistance operation planned in just five days’ time, the trio decide to gamble on a short trip to the south, where they fought purple worms on their way into the Cinderlands, in the hopes they can quickly prove to Krojun their ability to survive in the wilderness and then return to Flameford for the Sun Shaman’s information about the source of Ileosa’s invincibility.

Still unable to endure the full rigors of the heat of the Cinderlands, the trio decide to leave immediately and travel at night. The Reckoner removes the bulging saddlebags from their horses and leaves them safely in the yurt. Krojun is waiting for them near one of the near-invisible paths through the spike stones that surround Flameford. Arms crossed over his chest, he looks at the three with scepticism, and says he will provide no advice or assistance, even should their lives be in danger. With Goldcape flying on Rocky’s back, Anorak and the Reckoner riding unencumbered mounts, and Krojun trying to keep pace on his own horse, the group set off in a generally southerly direction.

It’s a dark night, and soon it becomes obvious how futile it is to try to find purple worms tracks at night. After hours of searching, Goldcape at least finds a rocky overhang that will provide them some shade against the day’s heat. The Reckoner continues to tease Krojun, but he replies dismissively that they travel like Moon Maidens.

[Fireday, 10 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

After sleeping most of the day, the group continue moving slowly southward so Goldcape can try to find the signs of purple worms. Just before dusk, she notices a wide, smooth line in the reddish sand and follows it to a pit. Remembering how their Boneslayer escorts previously fell into just such a pit, the trio surmise it must lead to underground tunnels formed by the massive burrowing creatures. Using a grappling hook, The Reckoner makes it easy for everyone to climb down—though they have to leave their horses at the top. Knowing that purple worms can sense vibrations in the ground, the trio then start making lots of noise (and light) as they explore the labyrinthine tunnels. Krojun rolls his eyes, but follows at a distance.

But in their attempt to lure a purple worm, the trio unwittingly stumble into an ambush by cave giants! With bestial tusks jutting from their jaws and armor patched together from the bones and hides of previous victims, six of the hunched-over monsters appear from multiple side tunnels. Anorak reacts quickly and conjures a magical doorway before grabbing The Reckoner’s arm and pulling him through—both reappear behind two of the startled giants! But that leaves four for Goldcape and Rocky, as Krojun keeps his promise and stays out of the fighting. Goldcape shouts in concern, but she’s far from helpless, conjuring ice spear after ice spear to devastate the giants! She and Rocky then retreat, leaving no one in between the giants and Krojun. Forced to fight (only somewhat reluctantly) he drops one of the giants with thundering smashes from his earthbreaker. Once the giants closest to him are dispatched, The Reckoner rushes to fight the others, tumbling through a clumsy giant’s legs to attack it from behind. In a matter of seconds, the battle is over, with Anorak stating giants aren’t nearly as tough as he expected. The three tease Krojun about how the “observer” was forced to fight after all.

Exploration of the subterranean passages continues, with Anorak cleverly leaving magical marks behind so the group can find their way back. Goldcape finds fresh markings and loose scales, and leads the group to a well-travelled section of the tunnel where multiple branches converge in a sort of crossroads. The group decide to stay put and again make noise to try to draw out a purple worm, and this time they’re successful—but in drawing out two! The Reckoner makes the smart tactical move of having the group retreat down one of the tunnels so only one of the worms can attack at a time. As the first one surges down the tunnel, The Reckoner hammers away, killing it with startling ease. However, Goldcape is scratched by the worm’s tail stinger, and feels her muscles weakening just as the sound of the second purple worm draws closer and closer!

GM Commentary:

This session was pretty much all improv by me. I think maybe the PCs hadn't gained enough Respect Points to get the Sun Shaman's information yet, and thus the additional test to see if they could survive the Cinderlands on their own. It also gave them some more opportunity to interact with Krojun. Able to take on multiple cave giants and purple worms, the group is certainly not underpowered when it comes to combat!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I personally tend to think people really overthink party composition. I've played and run loads of PFS games with (quite literally) random party composition, and never found it to be an issue. Are four bards going to handle a challenge differently than four barbarians? Sure! The bards will be better at some things (skill challenges) and worse at other things (close-quarters combat), and that's part of the fun of the game.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 50:
[Starday, 4 Erastus 4708 A.R., continued]

The Reckoner, Goldcape, and the Boneslayers can’t help but be impressed by Anorak’s display of pure magical might in the aftermath of his long-range incineration of the bulettes. If the spectacle has drawn any unwanted attention to them, there’s no sign of it as they continue marching through the night toward Flameford.

[Sunday, 5 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

By sleeping all day and walking all night, the Harrowed Heroes continue to get closer to their destination. With the Boneslayers helping them find sources of shade and avoid the myriad natural dangers of the Cinderlands, the group moves slowly but steadily. Over a meal, Nalmid asks the Korvosans what their greatest battle was prior to coming to the Shoanti lands. Anorak says it was against the Arkonas, shortly after he met the others. The Reckoner says it was against Lady Andaisin’s Cult of Urgathoa in their hidden sanctuary under the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden. Goldcape names a recurring foe, the necromancer Rolth Lamm. Talk turns to Flameford, and a plan is made for the Boneslayers to camp some distance away from the Sklar-Quah’s settlement to avoid prejudicing them further against the tshamek. Shadfrar, the Boneslayer who knows the Sklar-Quah the best, expresses concern that the visitors might meet outright violence. He says it’s a shame that the group was unable to find a Truthspeaker to accompany them, as such a revered guest would put even the Sklar-Quah on their best behaviour.

[Moonday, 6 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Following Hargev’s advice to detour around a rock formation that holds a roc’s nest, the group enter a region where long grasses poke above the red soil of the Cinderlands. Here, in Sklar-Quah territory, herds of aurochs—a type of cattle—can roam and graze. But the thundering sound of approaching hooves marks not an aurochs stampede, but a patrol of Sklar-Quah burn riders! The riders spur their mounts to gallop in a tighter and tighter ring around the outsiders in a frightening display. “Sharatok, tshamek,” says one of the riders as the ring slows. “Storval dharanok ekbit roark Shoanti.” Fortunately, both Goldcape and The Reckoner know enough Shoanti to realise they’ve received a formal (but cold) greeting, alongside a warning that the Sklar-Quah defend these lands against trespassers. Goldcape, flying on Rocky above the tense encounter, begins a long explanation of the group’s quest. But The Reckoner interrupts and says they’ve come to meet Krojun. The burn riders roar with laughter and their leader responds: “If you wish to see Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills, then so be it!” The Shoanti whoop as they race toward Flameford to bring word of visitors. Ahalak says he and the other Boneslayers will camp nearby, and that the Korvosans should continue on their own.

It’s clear the Sklar-Quah had defence in mind when they pitched their yurts to establish Flameford. Nestled against the edge of an almost-sheer 80’ high cliff on one side and surrounded by a maze of magically-grown spike stones, no enemy could approach Flameford on foot without great difficulty. A boy is sent to guide the tshamek along the unmarked, zigzagging paths through the spike stones and into the camp itself: a collection of about two dozen yurts, a massive central fire pit, and a horse corral. The clan’s imposing leader, Chief Ready-Klar, is waiting, as is the stoic Sun Shaman, an amused-looking Krojun, and several other members of the tribe. When told imperiously by Chief Ready-Klar to state why they have intruded upon Sklar-Quah lands, The Reckoner replies with words that are perfectly pitched for his audience. Still, it obviously comes as quite a surprise to many of the Shoanti assembled when Chief Ready-Klar doesn’t have them peremptorily ejected. Instead, he tells the newcomers to wait while he confers with the Sun Shaman.

When the two return, the Sun Shaman speaks for the first time. He says the visitors are still tshamek and not worthy of the sacred knowledge passed down amongst Sklar-Quah shamans since time out of mind. But, he adds, there is a way for even tshamek to prove themselves as allies of the Sklar-Quah—they could petition to take a Trial. Outraged at the mere suggestion, Krojun interjects and says these outsiders aren’t even worthy of that! He says they’ve only survived the Cinderlands because Boneslayer guides have acted as nursemaids along every step they’ve taken. The Sun Shaman looks on silently while Anorak, Goldcape, and The Reckoner make their case in a battle of words every bit as brutal as a game of sredna. Finally, the Sun Shaman has made up his mind. “It is decided,” he says. “The petition is granted. At dawn, they shall take the Trial.” Krojun bellows into the sky, smashes a nearby stone with his bare hands, and summons his thundercallers to ride.

[Toilday, 7 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

An hour before dawn, the Sun Shaman enters the guest yurt where the petitioners are staying. He leads them out through the maze of spike stones and east toward a small plateau that rises about 30 to 40 feet above the ground below. Several clay columns, each almost ten feet tall, lay on their sides at the bottom of the mesa—the sides of each column are decorated with Shoanti sigils; curiously the top and bottom are rounded, making them obviously unable to stand upright for long on their own. The Sun Shaman explains that he has chosen the Trial of the Totems. To be deemed an ally of the Sklar-Quah, a petitioner must carry a totem on their own and, in less than an hour, place it upright on the lower mesa. Then, that individual must keep their totem upright for a day. At the next sunrise, the petitioner must move their totem to a higher ledge and keep it upright in another depression for an additional day. When the sun rises on the third day, any totem still standing grants the seeker who kept it upright an enduring bond of friendship with the Sklar-Quah. With the horizon beginning to show the first rays of light, the Sun Shaman says many eyes in Flameford will be turned eastward for the next two days, and then he departs.

The Reckoner gets to work immediately. The clay columns are quite heavy, but he’s able to pick his up and, balancing carefully, take it on the path that leads up to the mesa before depositing it upright in a shallow depression there. Goldcape and Anorak, however, cannot replicate such an impressive feat, and are reduced to slowly dragging their totems. With great effort, they each manage to get their totems upright. Keeping the totems upright seems easy at first, but as hour after hour in the hot sun passes, the merest lapse in concentration can be enough to send one plummeting to the ground. It’s not long before everyone is completely exhausted, but at least the items discovered in the secret vault in the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers ensures that food and water are in good supply. Still, twice in this first day of the gruelling test, Goldcape’s column falls, each time gaining a visible crack in it.

[Wealday, 8 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Somehow, minute after minute, hour after hour, the totems have been kept (mostly) upright for a full 24 hours. As dawn starts on the second day, the petitioners decide to remove their armor and prepare to move the totems up to the mesa’s highest ledge. In a rare stroke of luck for the Cinderlands, an overcast day takes some of the sting of the sun’s heat away. Still, the hours of daylight pass slowly, interrupted only by a visit from Krojun! He walks around the ledge, looking pleased that the Sun Shaman has chosen such a difficult challenge, before departing.

Somehow, dusk comes again, marking the final stretch of the laborious task. But just as victory seems attainable, disaster looms: a full pack of six bulettes can be seen drawing nearer and nearer to the mesa! While The Reckoner tries frantically to get a wand to work, Goldcape and Anorak casts spells of fire, lightning, and ice to weaken the predators. But with a crouch, the bulettes are able to leap onto the mesa and pounce! The Reckoner’s totem gets knocked to the ground, giving the wounded warrior the opportunity to strike back with his war-maul. Goldcape takes her hand off her totem to help The Reckoner dispatch the attacker, and her totem somehow stays upright for the duration of the battle! But Anorak finds himself sorely-pressed, with his totem knocked to the ground and a bulette looming over him. He responds with intense bursts of electrical energy from his waraxe, sending the foe hurtling off the edge of the mesa. And all the while, an ally silent during the trial proves his worth: Rocky! The brave roc suffers a deep gash, but kills the remaining bulettes.

The Trial of the Totems has begun, and already cracks are appearing. Can the Harrowed Heroes endure?

GM's Commentary:

I used the Pathfinder Social Combat deck of cards to represent the PCs and Krojun arguing before the Sun Shaman whether or not they should be allowed to take a test to become friends of the tribe. I thought it worked really well, as the cards turn an important role-playing encounter into something that takes more than a single Diplomacy check to resolve. Mechanically, it's a little like a Chase but with social skills instead of physical ones.

The Trial of the Totems was very memorable and evocative, and I think it really pushed the characters to their limits (fitting for a chapter devoted to Strength). My only quibble as the GM is that the hardness of the stones was such that it'd be incredibly hard to actually break one no matter how many times you let it slip. I kept that from the players though, as I always track hp secretly.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Yep, I always enforce encumbrance rules and the like. Can you get around them? Sure, but you're spending time or resources to get around them. Money spent on a bag of holding is money that could be spent on a magic sword, and the shoulders slot for muleback cords is a slot that could be used for a cloak of resistance, etc. If you don't apply the rules, then the character with the high Strength score doesn't get the intended benefit over those who dumped Strength. The same analysis applies for other little things in the game--they require some trade-offs that help balance things out in different ways.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I intend to stick with Starfinder 1e (just like I have with Pathfinder 1e). I'm a Charter Superscriber after all :) I plan to keep playing and running play-by-post games online (Starfinder Society, and currently in Chapter Four of Dawn of Flame) until someday in the distant future when I've done it all!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

There's always folks paying attention. What's on your mind?

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 49:

[Wealday, 1 Erastus 4708 A.R. continued]

Having freed the House of the Moon from the red reaver which had taken it as a lair, the Harrowed Heroes discuss their next steps. With the Truthspeaker not guaranteed to arrive until the night of the full moon—a full three days away—The Reckoner and Anorak overrule Goldcape’s suggestion of just waiting and instead decide the group should set out for Flameford at sundown the next night.

Goldcape, however, notices Yraelzin speaking with one of the Moon Maidens and hears something about a journey to the north—away from Flameford. When the vanara approaches, Yraelzin makes a stunning announcement: he’s leaving! He explains that it’s become apparent to him that he’s no longer needed, now that Anorak has become so skilled at identifying magic items, The Reckoner prepares himself for every battle with magic boots and wands and armor, and Goldcape can handle the healing when the group’s rare injuries occur. He’s not leaving permanently, he adds, seeing her look of dismay, but wants to go somewhere he’s really needed. Yraelzin says that if it’s true the best chance of stopping the giant army’s advance is while they’re besieging Urglin, he may be able to help the orcs turn the tide—and there have been rumors that other tshamek adventurers might be in the area that he could link up with. Yraelzin promises to check in, via magic, each week, and return to the group as soon as he can—plus, one of the Moon Maidens has agreed to escort him there.

But it’s clear to keen observers that a deeper problem has been brewing within Yraelzin for quite some time: an identity crisis. Having gradually ceased mentioning Razmir in recent weeks, Yraelzin now makes a symbolic break with his faith: he removes his mask, hands it to Goldcape, and asks her to destroy it for him! He admits his foray into Harrow reading may have been a desperate attempt to find something else to give him meaning, and that it didn’t really work. But hopefully, he adds, some time away will give him clarity—and besides, he adds, if someone has to stop the giants, why not “Yraelzin, Master of Magic!” After the others say their farewells, the former Priest of the Third Step of the Living God departs.

Earlier, while Yraelzin was conversing with Goldcape, The Reckoner hatched a plan to lure the Cinderlander into a trap by disguising himself as a Lyrune-Quah Moon Maiden! Although grateful for the group’s assistance, the real Moon Maidens think the plan too risky and can’t be persuaded to participate. Nonetheless, The Reckoner walks for two hours into the desert, with Goldcape and Anorak flying some distance away on Rocky’s back. But the Cinderlander doesn’t appear, and the Korvosans return to the House of the Moon before dawn for some much-needed rest on a day that has mixed joy and sadness.

[Oathday, 2 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

During a day spent camping in the shade of some rock outcroppings to escape the omnipresent heat, Goldcape calls forth a magical thunderstorm and brings down a bolt of lightning to shatter Yraelzin’s mask. Once the sun finally starts to slip over the horizon, the travellers continue moving, aided as always by their escorts from the Kallow Mounds. The Boneslayers don’t move quickly, but they do move cautiously, and help the city-dwellers avoid the many risks an unwary visitor to the Cinderlands might encounter. A solid sixteen miles in the direction of Flameford are covered before the group set up camp just before dawn.

Dawn is also when the wyverns strike! Fortunately, the warriors are still wearing their armor and have weapons nearby as the blue, sixteen-foot-long draconic beasts streak down from the sky. Goldcape, her eyes accommodated to moonlight, sees them first and conjures more nature magic: a heavy hailstorm that batters one of the beasts. Anorak and The Reckoner still can’t see them as they get ever closer, but then the dwarf’s eyes pick up the lead attacker and he launches a fireball that briefly lights up the night’s sky. Goldcape conjures more hailstorms and the Boneslayers launch a volley of arrows, wounding the lead wyvern so severely that, when it lands, The Reckoner is able to finish it off. But the other wyvern, apparently seeking dominance of the skies and irked by an intruder, dives for Rocky! The roc’s lamellar barding blunts the wyvern’s talons, and the combined ferocity of Rocky’s slashing claws and Goldcape’s magic rapier fell the foul-mouthed attacker just as it decides to flee.

With spirits high from the fight, it takes some time before everyone is able to settle down to sleep. Anorak and The Reckoner notice that the star markings they received on their palms in the Thrallkeeper’s Acropolis are beginning to fade. They decide to test out the strange magical gift that accompany the mark, and each calls forth a being from another plane of existence! The Reckoner summons a fierce-looking bralani from Elysium; the warrior, named Mercil, looks confused to learn there is no evil nearby to smite and fades away. Anorak makes a very different choice: from the Ethereal Plane, he summons a creature that is completely invisible! Speaking only in a harsh whisper, the creature (dubbed “Hunter” by the dwarf) promises to do whatever its “master” wishes if it were to be summoned again.

[Fireday, 3 Erastus 4708 A.R]

Waking again at dusk, the group make good time apart from a quick detour: Anorak is intent on renewing or adding to the magical power of the Thrallkeeper’s Mark by touching the globe in the Acropolis again! However, nothing happens. He and The Reckoner try to persuade Goldcape to touch her palm to the globe, but she refuses, saying the risk of being trapped in the globe forever isn’t worth it.

After travelling a few more hours, the group again set up camp just before dawn. The Reckoner is fortunately a light sleeper, because he wakes when he hears a voice—a voice coming from inside his head! Bishop Keppira d’Bear of Korvosa is sending him a magical communication: “Situation deteriorating. Church of Abadar swore allegiance to Queen. Korvosan Guard disbanded, Kroft in hiding. Grau’s band growing—secret funding? Our plan still on track.” The Reckoner uses his opportunity to ask whether the mission can be delayed a week, but no response is forthcoming.

[Starday, 4 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Travelling by the light of the full moon, Anorak spots the distinctive fins of land-sharks heading to intercept the group. The dwarf revels in the awesome power of his master of evocation, releasing wave after wave of fire on the predators until they’re utterly incinerated.

Criss-crossing the Cinderlands, the Harrowed Heroes have never failed to overcome any foe. But are they losing the one challenge that perhaps matters most: the race against time?

GM Commentary:

One of the things I'm proudest of in my running of the campaign is Yraelzin. Since we only had three players to start, I added him as a GM-PC to round the group out to four. He really came alive during the course of the campaign, and I think his personal story arc evolved in an organic and compelling fashion. I had him depart here for the rest of Chapter Four to illustrate the "reality" of the danger from the giant armies, and also because, just as he said, he wasn't really needed anymore. Yraelzin's specialties were identifying magical items and buffing the group, and other PCs took those roles themselves. Since combats were being won very easily, it seemed like a good time for a story development.

We have a house rule that low-light vision allows you to see normally in dim light. That really came in handy for Goldcape in the battle against the wyverns, allowing him to see and fight them when the other party members couldn't.

I used the magical messages from Bishop d'Bear to keep up the time pressure in the Cinderlands and to remind the players that the situation in Korvosa wasn't static.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I don't know anything about remasters or appropriate edition nomenclature, but after months of prep, we're getting started on Second Darkness tonight! Very excited!

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In the Gameday XII thread, there's some discussion about getting a PFS1 Special going if we can find enough table GMs--another couple would be enough. Take a look and please volunteer if you're able.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

My guess is that it could work as a left arm or a right arm for a humanoid.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Excited to play—Will post info tonight.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Definitely still interested! Thanks. Will get info posted in the thread tonight.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Recap # 48:

[Toilday, 30 Sarenith 4708 A.R. continued]

After finding the bodies of several slain Moon Maidens and hearing Ahalak’s prediction that the Cinderlander will strike at dawn, the Harrowed Heroes decide to continue travelling through the evening, determined to keep the Boneslayers safe. With just days until the full moon, the seemingly-barren landscape of the Cinderlands is illuminated to reveal a hidden world of nocturnal activity: redback rattlesnakes, scrub rats, mottled lizards, and more. Amidst the dry, straggly weeds that grow in patches here and there, short bushes with crimson leaves and more of the bottle-shaped “flask trees” dot the landscape. And in every direction, strange rock formations, ridges, and deep canyons make travel a difficult, time-consuming affair even with the aid of experienced guides. After covering almost ten miles, the visitors from the south decide to camp just after midnight, anxious about what the morning will bring.

[Wealday, 1 Erastus 4708 A.R.]

Before even the first rays of the sun are visible over the horizon, every member of the group is on their feet, fully-dressed, and ready for battle. The Reckoner uses multiple wands and his allies use their innate magical powers to cast a dizzying array of abjurations. But when dawn finally does come, minute after minute passes with no sign of the Cinderlander. Goldcape uses her nature magic to speak with a snake, and the reptile confirms it hasn’t seen another “two-legged” in the immediate area. Ahalak looks simultaneously abashed and relieved that his ominous prediction proved wrong.

Deciding to wait out the day’s heat and catch up on some much-needed rest, the Korvosans ask Hargiv to lead them to a place where they can find some shade. The experienced survivalist finds a nearby rock formation that offers just what the group is looking for. But just after mid-day, when the sun is at its hottest, rest is interrupted by the appearance of six-legged, bug-like monsters the size of oxen burrowing out of the ground! One of the monsters bites Goldcape, and its greenish ichor sizzles in the wound like acid! Anorak tries to leap to her defense, but slips and falls face-first in the dirt. Two of the Boneslayers get involved in the fight and crush the monster with their earthbreakers before Anorak gathers himself and stuns another with a magical spray of color. On the far side of the rock formation, The Reckoner easily holds his own against two more of the creatures. The battle is over almost as quickly as it started, with only minor injuries from what the Boneslayers call “ankhegs.”

Once the sun begins to set and the harsh landscape of the Cinderlands begins to cool somewhat, the group set off again. The Reckoner asks Hargev about trying to track the Cinderlander, but the Shoanti offers a rueful laugh—none can track the Cinderlander, for is he not a vengeful spirit that glides over the land? Goldcape flies off with Rocky to look around and returns a little after midnight at about the same time the travellers reach their destination: the House of the Moon! The silver stone shrine stands atop a low promontory in the foothills. Although the surrounding rock has been smoothed by ages of wind, the shrine itself somehow remains unweathered, and its entire surface shimmers in the moonlight. Two side towers attach to the central spire which rises to a height of at least a hundred feet before being capped by a glowing silvery sphere. Even from a distance, the House of the Moon is a spectacle to behold amidst the stark desolation of the Cinderlands.

But before the visitors can approach, their path is blocked by a group of six Moon Maidens emerging from the shadows of nearby rock formations. The leader, a woman named Tekrakai, demands to know why tshamek would dare approach a site sacred to the Lyrune-Quah. When told that the visitors are seeking a Truthspeaker, Tekrakai confirms that Truthspeaker Akram is expected at the House of the Moon along with many of her tribe in just a few short days, when the moon is full—but that dangers from within and without may make that impossible. She explains that a deadly, territorial beast has claimed the shrine as its lair, and that several Moon Maidens have died trying to drive it off. And perhaps even worse, the Cinderlander has been in the area, hunting those making the yearly pilgrimage to the shrine.

Anorak earns Tekrakai’s trust by recounting the discovery of the bodies of her slain kin and turning over the trophies they wore. The Reckoner offers his help in slaying the beast in the shrine, explaining that he and his allies are powerful warriors—something the Boneslayers confirm before formally turning their wards over to the Lyrune-Quah. Tekrakai offers puzzlement as to why all the foreigners but one (Yraelzin) wears the mask of an insect, and The Reckoner explains they are also battle trophies earned by slaying cunning assassins. Tekrakai is clearly in no position to turn down such sorely-needed assistance, and agrees to a combined assault—one that will begin immediately!

Through magical means, The Reckoner turns completely invisible and approaches ahead of the others, planning to launch a surprise attack. The entrance to the House of the Moon, a thirty-foot-tall archway, is framed by carvings of the long peacock-like tail feathers of an immense star monarch butterfly. Through it, The Reckoner sees a large gathering hall decorated with religious symbols and imagery, including a massive starknife made of white stone measuring twenty feet from tip to tip! Resting in the back of the hall is a massive red beast with a stooped-over back, six beady eyes, and tiny wings. But The Reckoner’s plan of a sneak attack go awry when the head of his war-maul accidentally bangs on the doorframe, alerting the beast to the presence of danger! The beast rears up and unleashes a terrifying roar that seems to shake the very foundations of the shrine. Anorak responds instantly, conjuring a huge fireball in the chamber that burns the beast and blackens the white-stone starknife. The Reckoner rushes in and the Moon Maidens soon follow, surrounding the beast. Goldcape conjures ice spears that somehow thrust out from the solid stone floor, impaling the beast and flipping it over onto its back! The stunned beast gets to its feet and tries to bite The Reckoner to stave off more devastating hammer blows, but the clever warrior has prepared by using a wand to conjure illusory duplicates. When Goldcape calls forth yet more magical ice spears, the beast is slain. “We are invincible!” shouts Yraelzin, exulting in a victory that was almost bloodless on the attackers’ side.

Tekrakai and her band are overjoyed that the House of the Moon can be readied for the coming assembly, and quickly forgive an apologetic Anorak for the scorching of the chamber. Talk turns to how to stop the Cinderlander. Tekrakai says her people are nomadic and could come from any direction, so it’s not feasible to provide escorts to all of them. Yraelzin continues his newfound penchant for relying on the Harrow, and has Goldcape draw a card; when the vanara draws The Fiend, pictured as a giant devouring worm, Yraelzin interprets it to mean that if the group seek out Cindermaw, they’ll encounter the Cinderlander as well. But The Reckoner is dismissive of Yraelzin’s skill at Harrowing, and asks Tekrakai if she has any ideas. She speculates that if a Moon Maiden travelled alone, posing as a messenger, that could lure the Cinderlander out of hiding and perhaps into an ambush—but such an idea would be extremely dangerous. Goldcape says it sounds too dangerous, and the group should just wait for Akram or go find Cindermaw.

Although flush with a victory that will surely improve their standing in the eyes of the Shoanti, the Harrowed Heroes continue to have difficult choices to make.

GM Commentary:

I did a much better job in these recaps describing the unique flora and fauna of the Cinderlands than I did in sessions. I always find it difficult in-session to remember to describe vegetation and wildlife, or to do so in a way that makes it interesting instead of something that's just met with a shrug. It's a good reminder that all GMs, no matter how long they've been running games, have strengths and weaknesses.

I don't remember exactly why the Cinderlander didn't strike, but my guess is he observed the *extensive* magical preparations the group went through and decided to bide his time for a better opportunity. He's not stupid, after all, and fighting a fully-buffed group of alert adventurers would have been a losing proposition.

The Reckoner rolled a natural 1 on his Stealth check trying to sneak into the House of the Moon, which led to some great drama. Occasions like this are why I keep natural 1s as automatic failures for skill checks as a house rule--they make things interesting! (The Reckoner's player responded by investing in special abilities so he could Take 10 with particular skills even during combat, which I think is a fair trade-off)

The Red Reaver was defeated handily. At this point, the group was clearly more than a match even for the toughest opponents in the Cinderlands, and really only struggled when it came to surviving the climate!

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