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Goblin Squad Member. RPG Superstar 6 Season Star Voter, 7 Season Star Voter. FullStarFullStarFullStar Pathfinder Society GM. 915 posts. 3 reviews. 2 lists. 1 wishlist. 12 Organized Play characters.



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Smooth and innovative, a great example of season 5

****( )

I ran You Have What You Hold subtier 3-4 for a group of six players (Inquisitor 3, Ninja 3, Oracle 3, Fighter/Cavalier 2/1, Druid 3, Witch 7). Both the ninja and the witch were Sczarni faction members. Right off the top, You Have What You Hold promises a new spin on an old trope, sets and delivers on expectations, and allows player agency in almost every act. Multiple times, the degree of success of the PCs in one act directly impacts the following act, and at no point does complete failure (outside of a TPK in combat) halt the adventure or lead to a forced work-around. The faction mission is well-integrated, clear, and intriguing.

Getting Started

Spoiler:
Set in the River Kingdoms, specifically Tymon (which I pronounced Tie-mon to avoid the group breaking into Hakuna Matata), a city build on gladiatorial politics. The PCs have to masquerade as sailors, but instead of the usual ship-managing skill check scene we’ve gotten in past ship-borne scenarios, the PCs are specifically told to prove they are incompetent seamen and women.

I believe this is the first time we meet Venture-Captain Holgarin Smine, a dwarf undercover as a smith in a city that is unwelcoming to Pathfinders. He is described as speaking in “broken sentences reminiscent of the staccato clanging of the adjacent forge,” an excellent bit of characterization that makes this VC stand out all the more. The both text is a bit verbose and could have been shorter, and I felt like my players had to wait longer than usual to say their piece.

A. Dockside Deception

Spoiler:
Brilliant in its simplicity, the PCs are allowed complete freedom to plan and execute a ruse to get out the word that the new sailors in town are cut rate. If you’re a GM that enjoys to improv and roleplay, you will have a field day here, as will players who love a good hair-brained scheme. For players that don’t like roleplaying so much, or feel pressured when off the tracks, they can simply declare a desire to Bluff or Diplomacy and be done with it one roll later. Five players in my group really indulged in the freedom this scene allowed, and it was probably the most fun we had the entire session.
I particularly like the If/Then mechanic. Even if every PC fails their check, the adventure moves on and runs as written. However, every single success is rewarded by making the next encounter slightly easier, and three successes or four or more successes further modify the encounter in the PCs’ favoured. I am in love with this mechanic and think it should be the default resolution for skill-based encounters.
Part A ends with an introduction of Demeliah Sorhenson, another interesting NPC whose motivation makes sense. She is neither a burden on the players or GM. There is room for further roleplaying as well as some light skill rolling to add texture to the river scene.

B. Bait on the Sellen

Spoiler:
First combat of the scenario. My group had three successes in Part A, so they weren’t attacked at range. This encounter uses the environment well, although my group had a lot of problems managing the tight space because of animal companions. I liked the dynamic of many mooks and one primary threat, although it would have been better if this wasn’t the norm for all three of the scenarios’ encounters. The PCs interrogated the survivors, and it was nice having that tactic considered by the scenario.

C. Bessie's Bayou

Spoiler:
The occupants of this pirate hideout are spread out amongst four different locations, and respond differently based on how the PCs approach, and when the PCs get noticed. It’s a lot for a GM to handle and I recommend extra prep with a cheat sheet with each villain’s starting location, Perception modifier, and tactics.
My group dressed as their pirate prisoners and used the torch signal, which got them past the initial inspection, but their sizes, numbers, and all their pets meant the dock guards saw through the ruse on closer inspection. I liked watching this encounter unfold, although I get snappy with any player who tries to communicate with other players when their PCs are far away and trying to be stealthy.
This was the second encounter which featured a bunch of mooks and one big threat, but the situation made this encounter play out differently than the last one. That, and an unfortunate Will save meant the big threat dropped to a colour spray upon arrival.

Return to Tymon

Spoiler:
A few of my players seemed to think the scenario was done, having completed their objective and found the faction mission materials. They were pleasantly surprised to find out they would immediately follow up on the clues they discovered by way of gladiatorial combat.
The Sczarni players did not bring up the mysterious notes to Helkit when they issued the challenge, missing the chance to finish their mission the easy way.

D. The Arena of Aroden

Spoiler:
As prepared as I was, this was the part of the scenario I was afraid of. There was so much going on: another encounter with mooks and a big threat, a character built around two archetypes (one of which I fortunately have a lot of experience with) with abilities that aren’t supposed to stack but the scenario says this NPC is an exception to that rule, performance combat, and hazards that I know the location of, but the NPCs I’m controlling don’t. Fortunately, the players took full advantage of the in-game days their PCs had to prepare, allowing me to review my notes while they shopped for buffing options. We skipped the optional encounter because the session was running long.
The other reason I was worried about this encounter was the CR. CR 7 at sub-tier 3-4 means this could be anywhere from Epic to off-the-charts. Fortunately we had the level 7 witch to bump up the APL. Double fortunately, the witch’s player understood that she was the scenario’s difference-maker but could also dominate. She played in a way to let everyone have fun, acting as healer, targeting only the big threat with a lightning bolt that could have hit and killed all the mooks as well to make sure the PCs who couldn’t handle the big threat could had someone to target, etc. I should mention, this was the third encounter that featured a bunch of mooks and one big threat. Since we skipped the optional encounter, that means that this scenario was three-for-three this formula. It isn’t the worst formula, just strange.
Between all the time to buff up and the high level witch, this was a difficult but ultimately manageable encounter. A few PCs were knocked out but resuscitated by the witch. A few PCs fell in the hazards, and the party spent a good amount of energy searching for their locations. The PCs enjoyed watching both sides accumulate +1s and -1s, but unfortunately neither side accumulated enough to gain a performance combat bonus. In the end, this encounter was fun, but it didn’t seem like the extras amounted to much.

Conclusion

Spoiler:
The party accomplished all of their goals, including the faction mission. Only one of the two Scarnzi players understood the significance of who is orchestrating the plot to assassinate Guaril Karela. Neither cared much for the Sczarni faction boon or the scenario’s boon, unfortunately, but hopefully a future scenario will allow them to make use of both.

Overall a fist-pumping good time. I recommend to any GM who likes roleplaying and can handle complicated crunch, or vice versa, and highly recommend to any Sczarni player invested in the season 5 faction mission.


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Excellent balance of roleplaying and investigation


I ran this scenario at subtier 5-6 for a group of 4 players (wizard 8, witch 6, cleric 6, rogue 6). Three of my PCs had played in Blakros Matrimony with the same characters, so they were familiar with the influencing subsystem from that scenario. I played in Blakros Matrimony but haven’t run it or read it, so I can’t speak to the particulars of how the influencing subsystems compare, but at a glance they were similar, but I found the setting clearer and the transitions between scenes smoother. In particular, I appreciated having the three word summaries of each NPC’s personality. Also, this has been clarified by other reviews but it bears repeating: you CAN use Bluff and Diplomacy to interact with any and all NPCs. The listed skills are in addition to Bluff and Diplomacy and specific to each NPC.

Three of my players chose to fully engage in the roleplaying, going back and forth two or three times with the NPCs they were trying to influence at each opportunity. The fourth was content to interact minimally and roll the dice. Both styles are fully supported and allow RP inclined players to indulge without forcing RP uninclined players into uncomfortable position. The influencing NPCs does dominate the first portion of the scenario, but there are a few investigation interludes and a combat to break things up.

At one point, I became nervous that my players would be disappointed by the scenario’s end game:

Spoiler:
After the wraith fight in the cellar, the players began speculating which guest was involved in the conspiracy. I was worried that the reveal that none of the prominent guests were behind it and that it was servants that the PCs have minimal opportunities to interact with, and the GM has no guideline for how to handle such interactions, would disappoint my players. As it turned out, they followed the logic of how the end boss was manipulating them based on the scenario’s plot.

The scenario runs long, as often happens with scenarios that involve sandbox exploration, and lots of open-ended roleplaying. Thanks to the wizard succeeding by more than 5 multiple times, my group didn’t have to influence as often and the scenario still went long. Luckily we still had time for the optional encounter, as it felt important to the flow of the scenario.

The final encounter was extremely difficult, with a wide variety of tricks in the villains’ bag. It made things that much more interesting, particularly because of the number of uncommon monsters used. I would have assumed the scenario requires a very specific party balance to accommodate the mix of skill demands and unusual opponents, but my group was hardly an optimal party and yet they both succeeded handily and had fun doing it.


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Great For Novices, But Noticeably Light

***( )( )

Ran Tier 1 for five players, four of whom were playing their first or second PFS game, two of whom had played Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment.
This scenario had a lot of what I appreciate in a game for novice players. The action was player-directed, but only after establishing boundaries. The scenario called out that action (specifically noise) in certain rooms influenced the creatures in adjacent rooms. As a GM, I am expected to run the scenario as written, so I appreciated when the scenario makes contentions for that kind of logic.
The encounters were a bit on the easy side, which I appreciated because so many of my players were new and they did not have a dedicated healer in the party, nor an opportunity for the druid to rest and memorize CLW. One of the PCs was unconscious by the end of three of the encounters, and two more were unconscious by the end of the final encounter, so any greater difficulty and these new players might have had a much more disappointing experience. I appreciated that the NPCs were virtually all equipped with potions of CLW, which were basically the only reason the players were able to complete the scenario.
The scenario reads like a series of encounters, but there are enough hooks within those encounters that lead to a lot of roleplaying and deduction. Most of the questions the players had for the captured villains and rescued slaves were accounted for in the scenario.
The faction missions were clear and easily accomplished. Too often I’ve had new players latch onto faction missions as the aspect of PFS that excites them most only to have that excitement squashed when they fail their faction mission not through poor tactics or not paying attention but because the skill checks required were unusual or trained only skills with nearly impossible DCs. I accept that faction mission success should not be a foregone conclusion, but I wish it was easier for new players. This scenario’s faction missions were largely binary and plot adjacent, so the players each got to ask questions that befuddled their party mates and had moments in the spotlight.
My major complaint is that the scenario felt like only the first part of the story. It was a metaplot-heavy scenario that engaged the players, but also left them disappointed that they could not follow-up on the Round Mountain bread crumbs until at least 7th level, which will take them years at the pace my area levels at.
Earlier I brought up the Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment. Both players that had played in that scenario brought up how similar the two scenarios are in setup and somewhat in delivery. They are both low-level single map, exploration-based Season 3 scenarios within the Hao-Jin Tapestry. They play out very differently, but not without a fair bit of “been there, done that” feeling.
Overall, the players had fun, I had fun. Everyone wanted more, but in a good and bad way. This is a great model for how to balance and outline scenarios for novice players, but it could have some variety to conclude the adventure.