Conclusion and Afterword
The entire Bourtze household and a score of villagers crowded into the decrepit citadel's tiny chapel to hear Iphrosine invested as the Tribune's heir. Other villagers ended up standing in the hall outside, straining to hear. The nervous girl had trouble remembering her parts of the ceremony, but recited her oath of fealty without coaching. Unfortunately, the sage Khenankantra caught an indignant villager's elbow in his ribs when his whispered explanation of the ceremony's historic origins grew a bit too loud. His surprised "Oof!" was audible throughout the chamber.
The feast and celebration afterward had a somber air, combining a tribute to the town's recent losses with the Tribune's recognition of his new heir. His weight supported by a sturdy manservant, the Tribune was able to get up and walk a few steps to give offerings for the spirits of his fallen men-at-arms. Afterward, the townsfolk built a bonfire in front of the Devil's Fork Inn and tapped a fresh cask of ale. The Bourtzes' majordomo Caernon demonstrated some modest magical talent, impressing the villagers by making the fire belch forth clouds of colored smoke and multicolored sparks.
The journey from Evondemor seemed to take forever, with Tribune Bourtze and Khenankantra riding in a slow moving cart. The journey passed without incident, save for a brief encounter with a band of lordless men. Recognizing the adventurers, they politely greeted the party and hastily departed. Khenankantra's snake escaped from its basket nearly every night, taking a drastic toll on Sister Alma's nerves. The elusive serpent was always easy to find, drawn unerringly to the warmth of the party members' bedrolls. By the end of the journey, Iphrosine had overcome her initial fear of the snake and had grown somewhat attached to it, handling it in camp each evening. Sister Alma was quite indignant at the girl's unladylike behavior.
Reaching the outskirts of Oppara, the group met some members of an allied noble house. Sister Alma's healing ministrations had helped the Tribune recover a bit, so he was able to (briefly) walk to greet them, leaning heavily on a stout staff. The presence of a marriageable young woman in the party drew the interest of several young noblemen. Their ardor cooled slightly after Iphrosine introduced them to Khenankantra's pet snake, shoving the serpent in their faces to watch them jump.
After making their farewells, the Pathfinders departed for Absalom. At the Grand Lodge, Society scholars enthusiastically assessed the journals and documents the party had been given. ”These contain descriptions of military actions during the Grand Campaign that were otherwise entirely lost to history! They also describe the schemes and manipulations the Emperor relied on at the time to keep his fractious nobles in line for the war effort! This is amazing!” Even the usually impassive Aram Zey was forced to admit he was impressed by the party's achievements.
A letter arrived a few weeks later, addressed to the whole party. Its seal bore the wolf badge of Baran, heir of House Disaren. His handwriting was clumsy (to put in generously) but his meaning was clear. ”I understand why you were forced to fight my brother, but what you have done is not something I can forgive. You have my admiration and you freed me from the Jester's thrall, so I will not seek you out. Nonetheless, if you return to the Tandak Plain, my House's honor will compel me to settle this score. Respectfully, Baran of Disaren.
*** The End ***
Alarmed to see the mace’s influence on the adventurers, the Tribune awkwardly picks up a bell placed beside the couch, ringing it to summon back his servants and Sister Alma. The stricken noble’s hoarse voice cracks as he issues orders to his household. ”Sister, I need Caernon to go to my chamber and fetch the leaden case that originally contained the mace of madness. Its corrupting touch weighs heavily on these heroes, and must be silenced.’ He then held his hand out to Goosegrass as she approached, already bending to pick up the Tribune’s soup bowl again. ”Girl, these Pathfinders have brought proof that you are my brother’s daughter, as I had long suspected. You are to be cleaned, attired, and your hair dressed as suits a Lady of Taldor. I don’t want you to answer to the name ‘Goosegrass” anymore: You are again to be called Iphrosine, the name your mother chose for you. Tonight, you will swear fealty to the Grand Prince through me and be named as my heir.”
The girl’s face brightened at first, but then seemed crestfallen. ”But, sir… when I was little, my mother told me that you…”
Tribune Bourtze quietly shushed her. ”I know, child. There are reasons we do these things. I have always been proud of you, and hope that you understand one day.” He turned his attention to other servants arriving in the chamber. ” As some of you know, rumors have long persisted that my late brother had secretly married a commoner. These fine adventurers have brought proof that the maiden Iphrosine is descendant from the Bourtze bloodline. She must therefore be my brother’s daughter, and so shall be named our heir. I will brook no disputation in this matter.”
The servants looked at each other in amazement, with some showing joy that an heir was found, while others looked nervously at the maidservant. Overwhelmed by the sudden changes, Goosegrass, now Iphrosine, looked as if she needed a place to throw up.
The Tribune continued, “Tomorrow, I will journey to Oppara to speak with the Grand Prince.” From where she was conferring with House Bourtze's majordomo, Sister Alma started to protest. The Tribune glared at her, stifling her outburst before she could do more than clear her throat. ”These Pathfinders and their friend the pedant shall travel with me, along with two of my men, Sister Alma, and the maiden Iphrosine here. Find some of my late wife’s gowns and fit them to Iphrosine so that I may present her to the Court. Tonight, we go to the chapel that she may swear fealty.’
His energy noticeably ebbing even after this short address, the Tribune tried to rise, then sank back on the couch in defeat. “Pathfinders, our house owes you a great debt. You may take the Mace of Madness and the broken necklace back to your society, if you wish. I do not know if the necklace’s magic can be restored, but I pray the day never comes when the mace’s fury must again be unleashed. My servants have gathered the histories of the Grand Campaign for your scholars to peruse. Now… Set up the tables for a feast, and move my couch near the Great Hall’s fireplace. My… brother’s daughter and I will swear our oaths, we will celebrate, and I will have some… soup. Hurry, now! There is much to be done tonight.”
The brief syllables of Draa's spell reveal every nuance of the cursed mace's dweomer. Its enchantments are complex, yet primitive and raw, coursing with primordial energy. Some elements of the mace's enchantments draw upon the overwhelming power of Rovagug, the Destroying Beast. These potent magics give the weapon the power to harm or even kill the destructive god's spawn (along with nearly anything else it is used against), but Rovagug's passion for destruction will corrupt the heart of anyone who wields it, forever filling his mind with an overwhelming lust to kill and destroy. Even briefly touching it (as Draa Faer must do to draw upon the identify spell's power) lets the mace's darkness whisper in his mind, urging him to heft its comforting weight and crush anything that dares oppose him.
”I'm not sure how long we can keep the cursed Urn secure, but the jackals of the plains will take some time before they try our strength. Even then, this House has a few arrows remaining in its quiver. That Sabas bastard's mind tricks cozened some of our House's secrets out of me, but not all of them. Anyone who dares enters the vaults now will surely die. The Urn will certainly be safe here long enough for me to discuss the matter with the Grand Prince and learn his will on the matter. I dare not take it with me: That would expressly violate my line's oath to the Emperors, and we would place the whole city in danger.”
Sense Motive result:
The Tribune seems sincere, but was noticeably uncomfortable when he mentioned Sabas' use of enchantment to get the vaults' secrets from him. He apparently feels deep guilt about being taken in by the Jester.
The Tribune weakly reached out to touch Dame Lexara's image. ”The girl's mother was killed many years ago, caught in the wrong place when some hotbloods of House Disaren came raiding our cattle. She was very dear to me, so I fostered her daughter into my house, despite the risk that my wife would recognize her true parentage. Since then, I've tried to show the child no more favor than I would any other member of the household.
”Your idea has merit. My late brother died unmarried and childless. If I told the household that Goosegrass was his daughter, with the statue of Dame Lexara to bolster our claim, I could declare her my heir. Let us make it happen this day.
“Also, Goosegrass isn't the girl's true name, just a nickname the servants gave her. Her name is Iphrosine... Now, Iphrosine, the hope of House Bourtze.”
Unable to deny the evidence of his eyes, Tribune Bourtze did not know what to say. ”Goosegrass? It could be that… No… It cannot be. My late wife and I were not always close, but I cannot so insult her memory, after she sacrificed her life trying to protect our people from the vile objects that are our House’s grim burden. What would people think, if I were to now embrace a servant’s child as the heir of my body? Is my House’s escutcheon to carry that stain as well?” A tear rolled down the ailing nobleman’s cheek.
After staring analytically at Gunari for a few moments, Tribune Bourtze hoarsely asked his attendants to let them confer alone. ”Don't worry, sister: I have nothing more to fear from a Caydenite than the temptation to quaff some foreign vintages with him. I promise that I'll refrain from such carousing, at least today.”
After the others had departed, the Tribune resumed his quiet discussion. ”While you were gone, my men captured a notorious outlaw on the border of our lands. To buy his freedom, the rogue told us where he was bound when we found him: Every brigand and would-be warlord in 100 miles had been invited to a gathering on the shore of Deiphovan Slough, promised the chance to gain power beyond their wildest dreams. Such a parley reeks of the thrice-cursed Jester's scheming.' A fit of hacking coughs interrupted the Tribune's angry whispers. ”From your expressions, I know I hit the mark. I'd also wager that your band not only found the Alabaster Urn, but by now you have learned of its hideous true purpose. For centuries, my house kept the hellish thing hidden away in our vaults, along with a score of lesser items that various Emperors had deemed potentially useful, but too dangerous to keep. The accursed necklace would kill its wearer, but would grant him the power to shatter other enchantments before the blackness took him. The mace of madness can slay horrors that no lesser weapon could harm. The urn... well, you have seen its power. There are other items here that the Jester failed to steal: A cache of misery and doom that would keep you awake nights if you knew every item's dark history. Each cursed treasure could change the course of a kingdom's history, but each is also a trap bringing death and suffering.”
Bourtze stopped to awkwardly pick up a cup of hippocras in his left hand, spilling half of it on his shirt as he tried to drink the spiced wine. A shadow crossed his face, his expression bereft of hope. “Damn... Nothing works right. Nothing... I had plans... I would trade my ancestors' histories of Qadira's invasion for the gold I need to restore my House, to free this town from the slow decay that grips this land. I also thought that your historians might know how to safely destroy that damned urn that drove my wife to her death. Instead, my most trusted men are all dead and every brigand on the Tandak Plains has now learned what grim treasures my vaults held. My honor is in tatters, my wife is gone, and I have no heir.’
The Tribune collected himself, drawing upon some inner reserve of grim determination. “I give you the histories in exchange for the service you have done for House Bourtze, along with my thanks. I also ask that you remain here as my guests until I am fit to travel. Once I am well, I must go to Oppara and seek audience with the Grand Prince.”
After the party spent several awkward minutes trying to tactfully deal with the mourning villagers, they stepped back as the remaining Bourtze household guard arrived to escort them. An older, unarmored man stepped forward, bowing to the party with grave courtesy. ”Hail and well met, friends of Evondemor. I am Caernon, the Tribune's steward. If you will accompany me to the castle, his Worship of Evondemor has been eagerly awaiting your return.'
As you approached the castle, signs of decay and decrepitude were everywhere, with peeling paint and cracked tiles evident on every structure. The Bourtze family's stronghold was no better: The elaborate stonework of centuries past was cracked and battered, with crumbling mortar and missing stones in spots. The castle's interior was in somewhat better condition, its ancient dignity the last remaining remnant of what was an elegant citadel. Passing through the great hall, the majordomo led you into Tribune Bourtze's solar, where the tribune awaited, resting on an elegant antique couch. Pale and haggard, the Tribune seemed half the man he was a few days before. Two people waited upon him: a woman clad in the grey robes of Pharasma's clergy and a maidservant stubbornly trying to get the Tribune to eat.
The Tribune awkwardly tried to sit up as you arrived. Unlike his commanding tones a few days earlier, his voice was barely audible in the gloom. ”Goosegrass, girl, stop pestering me! I'll have some soup later. The Pathfinders have returned!” He turned to address the arriving party. ”Please forgive me for not rising, I fell after you left, and have not been well since that night. Sister Alma here keeps muttering about 'what is written' and 'being prepared for the end', but you know how that type always is. Please tell me that you were able to recover the urn!”
Draa Faer Perception: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (6) + 7 = 13
Draa Faer Healing: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (15) + 6 = 21
Perception DC 20:
The maidservant the Tribune called 'Goosegrass' bears a distinct family resemblance to him. In fact, she is the spitting image of Dame Lexara, one of the Bourtze ancestors depicted on the scrolls that Aram Zey had passed to you.
Healing DC 15:
Part of the Tribune's face is drooping and he seems unable to move part of his body. His symptoms are consistent with Apoplexy (a stroke). The healer is not exaggerating the seriousness of his condition.
Wait a second: That was a roll of 30 when I first posted it. It changed when I edited it, so Draa Faer gets that information. Knowing what he does, the snake is easily corralled back into its basket.
The next day dawned clear and cool, with no sign of the mists that had shrouded the land on other days. A small herd of wild horses grazed nearby, seemingly unperturbed by the Pathfinders’ presence. Atop a low rise next to the camp, the sage Khenankantra greeted the sun. His raspy voice made much of his prayer inaudible, but the party could make out the name of the forbidden goddess Sarenrae as part of his dawn ritual.
The rest of the journey back to Evondemor passed without significant difficulty, although the roaring of a distant lion kept the band on edge the next night. Without a compelling need for haste, the trip back took longer than the original pursuit. Inconveniently, the mule-drawn cart forced the party to detour around marshy ground several times where the old canal had overflowed its banks. Still, the party’s measured pace made the trip much more pleasant.
It was mid-afternoon on the third day when the Pathfinder arrived back at Evondemor. As the party approached the town’s gates, the gatekeepers sounded a horn and threw open the gates. The elder of the two greeted the party cheerily, ”Hail, travelers! Welcome back tew Evondemor! The Tribune asked that you wait heah ‘til some of his men can bring you on up to the castle.”
Hardly had the guard finished welcoming the party when villagers started arriving, many clad in somber mourning clothes. They approached silently, each carrying odd garlands and corsages made of twisted fabric and blood-crusted hair. They urgently pressed these upon you, wordlessly beseeching you to take them. Seeing the party’s discomfort at this odd behavior, the gate guard stepped closer to quietly explain. ”We have a custom heah to be silent while we ah mournin’. These folk are the kin of Tribune Bourtze’s house guard. You avenged their beloved dead, so these folks jes’ want ta give you honor with these heah tokens. You carried out the’h vengeance, so you’ll get a blessing, too.
Getting a good look at the serpent for the first time, Draa notices something...
Knowledge (nature): 1d20 + 15 ⇒ (1) + 15 = 16
DC 20 Knowledge (nature):
Although the snake appeared to be a dangerous ashenscale asp at first glance, it is actually a much rarer species, one that mimics venomous snakes as a defense mechanism. This species' poison is harmless to anything larger than a mouse.
Somewhat revived by the Pathfinders' healing power, Khenankantra proved a personable companion. As the cart rattled along beside the old canal, his spirits were raised by the clearing skies and Gunari's libations. Once his hoarse voice was properly lubricated, the scholar passed the miles with illuminating anecdotes about Taldan, Keleshite, and Osiriani history. He seemed to take Gunari's adventures as a challenge, sharing several hilariously off-color yarns of his misadventures as a reckless young scribe among the temples, markets, and brothels of Sothis.
Preparing for sleep that night, Draa Faer was alarmed to discover Khenankantra's pet snake Alephis had escaped its basket and nestled in the shelter of his bedroll. The grey-speckled serpent reared up angrily when discovered, flaring its hood and opening its mouth wide to reveal menacing fangs. Khenankantra was already sound asleep next to the campfire as his aggressive serpent struck at the startled cleric!
Alephis’ Stealth: 1d20 + 15 ⇒ (18) + 15 = 33
Bite Attack: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (6) + 5 = 11
The rig Gunari had found was well past its prime, but had been competently repaired by its vagabond owner. Fanciful carvings of flying wasps and courting couples decorated its sides, their paint mostly peeled off and scraped by the load of firewood it had carried to the bandits’ meeting.
With a boyish expression of delight, the elderly scholar energetically shuffled over to the melancholy mule that pulled the cart. ”Thank you, Gunari! A Brevoy painted mule! By Azghaad’s lengthy beard, I haven’t seen such a beast since I was a boy!” After pausing to smile at Gunari, Khenankantra fell to earnest study of the creature. Scars covered one of the mule’s flanks, where he had apparently survived an encounter with the Tandak Plains’ formidable lions. ”They haven’t been treating you properly, have they, boy? That creaky old harness has chafed you, and you have something wrong with your leg. Don’t worry, boy, we’ll soon have you clean and healthy!”
Turning back to Gunari, Khenankantra glossed over the hellish tortures that the late, unlamented Gaunt Kinslayer had inflicted on him. Unhealed burns and contusions were visible through tears in his damaged robes. ”It’s not so bad as it might have been: When I was a scribe in the court of the Ruby Prince, I suffered worse than that miscreant’s amusements. I’m one of few men who has survived the sting of an emperor scorpion! Alas, I don’t heal so well as I once did. It will be some time before I’m fit to travel without aid.”
Khenankantra has substantial ability score damage due to the tortures he has suffered.
Her expression crestfallen, the centaur reluctantly turned to return to her camp, where the outlaws were packing up or making last-minute exchanges of food and tobacco with bandits from other groups. As she left, she paused to offer her farewell. ”Good fortune to you, adventurers. May the winds ever blow fair at your back. Remember us in your prayers, and ask your gods or spirits to grant that the forest elders will accept Gaunt the Kinslayer’s head in token of our repentance and will lift our band’s banishment.”
Baran lifted a sword, a longbow and arrows, and a few pieces of gear from one of the fallen bandits, insisting that the party keep his fighting gear. “You freed me from the Jester’s foul yoke and healed my wounds. I would not have it be said that a son of House Disaren failed to render just recompense for those who aid them, even if you only managed to do so after thrashing me.” A rueful smile broke through his serious demeanor. ”Besides, the damned Jester took the best stuff already, or convinced me to give it away to pay debts he owed his confederates. By now, that gear will be scattered halfway across the Tandak Plains.”
Striding purposefully over to a surviving bandit, Baran reached out to place his hand on the man’s shoulder. ”You treated me decently, despite your alliance with that trickster. If you would be my liegeman, and pledge fealty to House Disaren, we would have a place for you there.” As they walked away, the two of them began discussing details of pay and required duties.
While the rural nobleman dickered with the archer, the Osirioni sage Khenankantra hobbled toward the party, leaning heavily on a sturdy piece of wood he had scrounged from the ruins. As the withered scholar began speaking, his raspy voice was hard to make out even a few paces away. “My close personal friend Amenopheus has often shared tales of the Pathfinders’ prowess, but his tales fall short of the reality. I don’t know how he knew I needed rescue, but he surely could have sent no finer band. I could ask no better escort for my journey back to Cassomir. If you could please find me some sort of mount, I would greatly appreciate that: My old bones are not up for further walking, and those brigands fed my sweet-natured jennet to their damned lions. Also, I noticed the basket with my pet snake over there. If you would please be kind enough to bring it, that would be greatly appreciated.” Done presenting his requests, Khenankantra smiled benevolently as if it would be a great privilege to help him.
The worst of his wounds healed by Gunari's magic, Baran painfully climbed to his feet. ”Strangers, I thank you for freeing me from that betrayer's magical thrall. I am Baran, eldest scion of House Disaren, and I find myself in your debt. Unless... am I to consider myself your prisoner?
It takes little persuasion to draw Baran's story from him. ”As strangers to our lands, I doubt that you have heard the true history of my house or the origin of the cursed treasures you hunt. The battered warrior paused to sip some of Gunari's beer. Centuries ago, those grim relics were prizes of Taldor's war against the Qaridan invaders. In those days, our house and the cursed Bourtze family were brothers in arms. Together, our forces struck far into the lands of Qadira, seizing a cache of potent magic from the invaders' hidden strongholds.
“When the victorious Taldan chivalry returned, Bourtze's men betrayed the unsullied warriors of House Disaren, spreading slanderous lies about our house and claiming credit for our heroism. They claimed honors that by right should have been ours! My ancestors swore that our house would have its vengeance, no matter how long it took!” Baran's fists balled up as he spoke of his house's ancient grudge, but seeing the Pathfinders' hands drifting toward weapon hilts, he quickly recovered his composure.
”When we heard that Tribune Bourtze's shrewd wife had died a few months ago, we thought it the greatest of good fortune that this 'Sabas the Simple' should come to us, planning to fool those oafs. He proposed to steal away with items the Emperor had ordered their ancestors to keep secure, hidden far from Taldor's cities. With their secret cache in Disaren's hands, their failure and dishonor would be obvious for all to see.”
“Alas... we share this dishonor. This Jester fooled us as well as the Bourtzes, drawing on our knowledge of Bourtze's secrets to steal their treasures for his own ends. Even worse, the fiend twisted my mind to make me his unwitting hostage. He visited humiliation after humiliation on me, making me betray my own House. I can only give thanks to Abadar that my brother didn't also fall into his hands.”
At this point, I need some information from you:
Are you taking Baran's gear from him? He will likely remain unconscious for some hours: Did you want to wake him, leave him, wait for him, or take him with you?
How about the Jester and his archers?
Did you take Gaunt Blackfist's gear?
I assume you will take the Alabaster Urn...
Who is carrying these items?
What precautions is the party taking with the urn and other loot?
The party rescued Khenankantra the Sage from the Blackfists. Since you survived your battle with the Jester, the elderly scholar would appreciate some help making his way home.
Where do you want to go next?
(Some of the remaining bandits will gladly sell aged, swaybacked horses to the party at a fraction of the cost of a stronger, healthier mount.)
While you inspected the ruins, Gwyndryda the centaur came trotting up, her expression solemn. ”I see that as we expected, the auction is cancelled. Perhaps you are right in your theory that this magical urn’s power could only bring woe, but the druids of the Verduran hold secrets lost to the decadent men of the cities and would know what to do with such abilities. If you are willing to part with it, my band can offer a trove of gold, two good horses, and a silver-inlaid spear that belonged to my uncle. Would you consider this price? We only seek to be redeemed from this outlaw life.”
A couple of other bandits poke around, staying a respectful distance while they ask whether the party was planning to take the dead archers’ shoes, clothing, or camp gear. While the equipment is in poor condition, it is slightly better than the Lionbanes’ tattered leathers.
A brief glance at The Blood Feast of Al-Yazr reveals that the Jester must have been preparing his sales pitch for the auction. The text’s ancient, crabbed script is impossible to make out in spots, but describes an unnamed priesthood that offered its service to the Padishah Emperor some 700 years ago. They offered him a princely gift: A narrow urn carved of purest alabaster, a supernatural prison with the power to bring forth “the end of kings and the death of all humanity”. According to the text’s sinister description, this self-aware vessel bore unsleeping malice toward all civilization and yearned for the day when it would find a bearer too weak-willed to suppress its malevolence. Once carried into a major city, the deceptively-delicate vessel could disgorge horrors beyond imagination. The Emperor wisely chose not to use it, instead having it brought to a distant province, as far from his capital as possible.
The Jester’s sarcastic marginalia gleefully anticipated the coming day when he could ensure some dimwitted bandit would carry this “gift” into the cities of Taldor and reduce their hated noble houses to beggary.
What are your favorite PFS adventures for Halloween games and how do you amp up the fear factor?
My favorite horror-themed adventure is Black Waters by Time and Eileen Connors. The scenario's horror elements are easy to build on: Check out all those soggy Japanese horror films like Ringu or Dark Water and you'll see what I mean...
Please share any "tweaks" you have for bringing out the horror in your PFS scenarios...
(I know similar threads exist. I just didn't see them when I was planning games for Halloween.)
MARCIA SCHOONOVER wrote:
I am prepping this to run next week, but don't understand how to place the encounters. The text says to place them ahead of time, but the dungeon has so many passageways, the players could skip them entirely. My thought was to just place them in each possible path, so that the players hit them as intended until all encounters were found. So, can I position the encounters so they can be found in any path or just let the players skip some or do them "out of order"?
Place the encounters in ways that make sense to you. Throw in a few extraneous details that may help players puzzle out how the pieces fit together. Don't worry whether the players trigger every encounter.
To provide an example, when I ran the scenario, the main villains were a rival party. In addition to the monsters and traps the scenario called for, I placed a few bodies and signs of battle around the site. This evidence made the other party's rationale for seeking alliance understandable: They had already lost part of their group. A trap had killed one of the rival adventurers (the players found the sprung trap and mangled, stripped corpse), another was cut down when he turned on his party's leader, and a third was grabbed and dragged off by one of the complex's monsters (a pouch on his partially-eaten remains held some treasure and notes about the history of the area).
Playing this last Friday, we noticed that its pacing seemed uneven. We spent a couple of hours on the roleplaying, only heading off to the ruins after checking out all the leads in town.
To pick up the pace, I'd suggest that as soon as the players have spoken to enough NPCs to potentially delay the conflict (or have failed in their initial efforts), they get the word that a sketchy group of mercenaries was heading over to the ruins "to see if there's any loot left after all these years". That should increase the Pathfinders' sense of urgency, motivating them to hurry to the ruins. (Yes, that undermines the "we're collecting taxes" bit, but would any PCs you've ever seen actually fall for that?)
Afterward, when the party returns to town, the nobles may be closer to open conflict. I'd describe the signs of imminent violence, with faction supporters heavily armed and staying in groups, innocent townsfolk staying off the streets or frantically packing their valuables to leave town, and merchants' shelves empty as people hoard food and supplies. The boatman that transported the Pathfinders may want to renegotiate up the cost of passage home as townsfolk demand his help escaping the potential war zone. This will emphasize the importance of the party's peacemaking efforts, since they will see how their failure could devastate the area.
From the tenor of your comments, you know what you want to do. I would advise you to excuse yourself politely, explaining that you just haven't been into the game as much lately and would prefer to do some other activities for a while.
There's no need to be negative or accusatory, but you might want to (privately) clarify your concerns with the gamemaster. Phrase things politely with him: "I'm not sure that my style meshes well with some of the other guys in the group. Since you seem to be having fun, I thought that I'd just bow out."
I don't think that view of paladinhood was as widespread as you think. While I remember dealing with some adversarial DMs back in the day, the groups I knew never had major problems with paladins. Our dungeonmasters' views about paladin were shaped by books like Three Hearts and Three Lions and movies like Excalibur. We had more problems with douchey PCs who couldn't play well with others than with narrow-minded paladins.
LG -- "We built our civilization on rules and laws: This social contract brings peace and prosperity, so it is more important than any one person."
NG -- "Order and peace are important, but laws shouldn't be so ironbound that they let people suffer needlessly. Individual circumstances need to be taken into account."
CG -- "Some laws and restrictions are just ways for the rich and powerful to stay on top. They are the tools of tyrants and oppressors, used to stop people from succeeding in life."
I'm glad that the player regards it as an opportunity for interesting roleplaying.
I would definitely say that ritually cutting out and consuming the heart of a sentient being is an unequivocally evil act, but that doesn't mean the character who does it is consumed by evil.
Hopefully other moral dilemmas will present themselves in the future: Just keep in mind that in a world where the gods sometimes manifest their will, those who face difficult moral decisions may be rewarded for their choices.
To drag this thread from its grave...
One of my players has an oracle with this ability. He would love to make his skeleton larger or use other creatures with appropriate HD as the skeleton base (For a 3rd level caster, how about a velociraptor skeleton, small, fast, and nimble?)
To argue for advancing its size, he would reference the PRD: "As a general rule, creatures whose Hit Dice increase by 50% or more should also increase in size, but GMs should feel free to ignore this rule if warranted by the individual creature or situation.")
I haven't seen any traction for this interpretation, but do think that adding some options would make the ability scale better. ("Ooh, look! A 9 HD skeleton attacking me with two claws for 1d4+3 each! I'm scared now!")
I've always interpreted concentration as requiring intense mental effort, perhaps comparable to solving complex math equations in your head. It's something that you could do for a significant period of time, but not while doing anything much more complex than walking around.
Prolonged mental effort of that sort would be tiring and would interfere with other activities. A character could potentially maintain the required focus for a prolonged period, but should suffer penalties similar to characters who participate in prolonged vigorous activity.
I'd set up traps such as:
James MacKenzie wrote:
A skilled opponent could be allowed a Perception or Sense Motive check to discern his foe's intent. As examples, he might notice the foe's alert expression or wary stance (Combat Reflexes), his superior balance (Nimble Moves), or his ability to stay tight on a retreating foe (Step Up).
Lau Bannenberg wrote:
And would that be active (move action) or passive perception? Is this something players can do too?
I've always 'winged' such calls, but something consistent with other, similar rules might work as follows:
A passive Sense Motive or Perception check allows any character to estimate which foe in a group of enemies is the most skilled with their weapon (best plus to attack) and/or strongest defensively (Best AC). The check's DC equals 10 + the number of foes reviewed.
Characters can more closely assess one opponent per round as a passive check: If they overcome DC 10+Opponent's BAB+Wis Bonus, they gain one piece of information about their foe. One more detail is gained for each 5 points by which they beat the check. (An opponent who was trying to conceal his true abilities could substitute a Bluff skill check.)
(pirate / aspis town) 'kill the helpless aspis agent or the innocent family dies' what should a paldin do?
When I'm playing, I find that rolling up characters inspires me toward more interesting characters. I still remember some of the odd characters the dice handed me: The 18 Int genius paladin, the wizard whose stats all sucked, the high-charisma con man rogue...
I agree that it is certainly possible to create an original character with point-buy systems. Unfortunately, we've all met guys who just... don't. They min-max like crazy, then try to ignore their substandard stats. Those characters need to be periodically reminded that dump stats come at a cost.
On one hand, your interpretation is based in the rules: Diplomacy does specify that failure by 5 or more can increase the subject's hostility. Aid Another in that context is a type of Diplomacy skill check.
On the other hand, I think that your interpretation may be counterproductive toward the behavior we want to see from the players. We want players involved and engaged, not tuning out while the "diplomancer" does his thing. As such, I recommend that players be required to specify how they are attempting to aid, but not be penalized for failure. That maximizes their involvement while clarifying their activity in the game world.