22/06/01 - Session 4 - Astrea’s Journal: Fun Facts About Khefaks
Seventhday, 28th Desnus, 322 AG, Khefak Depot, Akiton
It is a somewhat obscure fact that if a khefak consumes a sufficient amount of radioactive material, there is a possibility of it mutating into a much larger and more dangerous form. This is commonly called a thasteron khefak, after the type of fuel that is most commonly responsible for such a transformation. I mention this for reasons that will become evident as I continue this log entry.
Following the appearance of the khefaks on the other side of the acid pool, Meved made his move to cross the bridge and fend off the bugs. While doing so, his weight was enough to knock over a tower of precariously stacked chairs. While unfortunately this did injure him slightly, it also had the benefit of increasing the traversable space over the acid, so at least that was reassuring. To be honest, I was not especially keen to make that precarious walk. I'm an academic after all, not an acrobat. Yaroslav went across soon after, though I waited until the way was clear before making the journey myself, opting to instead provide support fire from the other side. Guns are made to be used at range, so it seemed sensible to take advantage of that to avoid getting hit.
That was apparently a good choice for my own safety in the end, as the beasts were quite ferocious this time. Meved and the rest of us put up a good fight, but one of the khefaks was remarkably resilient. It actually managed to take Meved out of the fight, albeit only briefly. In case it wasn't obvious, we killed all of the insects in the end. Still, that was the closest we'd come to having a major casualty. I shudder to think what might have happened if things had been a little bit worse… Best I not dwell on the idea.
While we took a moment to rest, I investigated the khefaks and noticed a larger than normal level of mutation. I'm willing to bet that the particularly tough one was on the verge of transforming into a thasteron khefak (the thing I mentioned at the beginning of this log entry, as you’ll recall). Given that discovery, I came to the worrisome conclusion that there may be other khefaks here that have undergone the full transformation…
Past the pit of poorly disposed chemical waste, we found a collapsed pile of scrap that blocked our path. By my estimations, the avalanche had settled to a mostly stable position, so it was scalable. The real problem was the large number of sharp jutting pieces that could easily cause cuts (and infection, if one is particularly unlucky). There was a bright side to this: I was able to find enough useful materials to create a set of armour spikes. I took the liberty of conjuring up my tools and doing just that. Now Meved's armour is spiky enough that it should deter anyone from giving him a bear hug. Though frankly if someone ever tried to give Meved a bear hug in the first place, armour spikes would likely be the least of their problems.
As for the junk hill, having observed it carefully, I was able to climb over without injury (I was rather astonished at that; as previously mentioned, I am not an acrobat). Vinu and Yaro managed to get to the other side as well, though they suffered a few small cuts along the way. Considering that Yaro is technically blind, I'm honestly surprised he managed to get up without incurring more injuries than he did… I have no excuse for Vinu except for maybe bad luck. Oh, and Meved simply bolted up the thing like it was nothing, because he was and remains a large bear. Aside from that one khefak just before, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Meved is nigh-invulnerable. It's a notion I hope not to find myself disabused of for the duration of our work partnership, despite its logical improbability.
Beyond the avalanche, we found a chasm with a large transport truck. Surrounding it were a few khefaks, one of which was noticeably larger than the rest. I award no bonus marks for guessing what this was. Sure enough, it was a thasteron khefak. Because of course it was. Ah, and to further cement the narrative perfection of this encounter, within the abandoned truck was none other than an android with green hair and gold circuitry (Vari-13, in case it wasn't obvious). If I were not living the experience myself, I would think a scenario like this too perfectly contrived to be realistic, and yet there we were.
Lucky for us, my earlier recollection about these khefaks was sufficient to encourage all of us to keep up our environmental filters active, so the radiation it was emitting didn't cause us any issues. The creature itself though certainly did put up quite a fight. From it’s first strike it was obvious that getting hit by something like that could quite possibly mean death in a single blow. It took a few explosives as well as a lot of heavy hits from Meved and shots from Yaro and Vinu (I tried helping, but it would seem that my skills with firearms had been depleted for the day at that point..), but eventually we (by which I mean they) killed the oversized creature. I observed that while the shell was still radioactive, it still has value as an especially durable material if forged correctly, so we brought it back with us.
More importantly though, we retrieved Vari-13 from their hiding spot on the truck. I introduced myself and my furry companions to the android, including the fact that we were recently employed by Riddle to be their junk tourism detail. Credit where it's due, Vari recovered quite quickly from their ordeal, eagerly recommending that we return to Adventures in Junk so that we might discuss their discovery. I have to wonder what sort of eavesdropping they fear that they refuse to discuss the matter here, but I was not about to object to leaving the caryards and their overabundance of khefaks at that point. 15 of the things was a more than sufficient sample size for the time being… So, back to Riddle’s we go.
Ah, there was one other thing. For our assistance with the rescue, Vari-13 gifted us a junk drone. It's a fairly simple technological device, but one that I have every intention of studying thoroughly. Who knows, it might even come in handy!
Player's Notes: Funny enough, there was nothing particularly special about that one khefak at the acid pit. It just had unreasonably high luck when it came to its attacks. It managed to avoid the bulk of our attacks and landed multiple hits on Meved (enough to deplete his hp from almost full), without much help from its buddies. He was ultimately a bigger threat than the thasteron. Well, at least we managed to keep Meved alive. Considering the player who normally plays him took the session off (Meved was played by Yaro's player seeing as "he only has two buttons"), that would have been especially rough...
Now Astrea's going to get to nerd out with a fellow scholar! This ought to be fun!
Ixomander's Throne, conceptually, is an interesting place. It's a hotel made in the style of the Azlanti Star Empire. While that empire is indeed impressive in many facets, I've always found their beliefs regarding racial supremacy and slavery to be personally distasteful. I know that I shouldn't disparage other cultures, but it's rather hard when the culture in question is itself built upon disparaging other cultures…
I feared that this might bode poorly for our investigation, but fortunately the theme of this resort seems to be largely cosmetic. Except for maybe that one security guard that I mistook for the local police. He certainly did a good enough job embodying the merciless spirit of the Azlanti… Well, fortunately the clerk attending the help desk did not share that particular penchant. Instead, he simply had a very fashionable hat.
In the end, I don’t think my appeal to the scientific spirit resonated all that much with the clerk (though it probably doesn’t help that I am a terrible liar and despite the technical veracity of my earlier statement, it didn’t exactly feel legitimate). Fortunately though, he and the hotel security were still willing to look into the matter. They determined that the last time Vari-13 had been seen, they were making their way to a local weapons dealer, presumably to acquire some personal protection. This gave us our next stop in our search: Oh’tuul’s.
I’ve never actually set foot in a weapon store before, despite now owning two small arms and a knife. The knife and skipshot pistol I both received from the Stewards when I first started doing contract work with them. It seemed appropriate that I carry at least some sort of personal protection with me, given the nature of bounty hunting work. The arc pistol, which marks my third armament, I only acquired as we made our way to Oh’tuul’s. It was taken from the assortment of weapons we relieved the True Warriors of earlier. It’s quite a bit more reassuring to have a weapon with a stun setting now, though Yaroslav did recount a rather disconcerting story about how a companion of his once used one of these to detonate a goblin’s cranium. I am still not entirely certain why he told me about that… In any case, given the voltage these things can produce, along with their chemical composition, converting one into a makeshift explosive seems unlikely, but potentially plausible… I’ve taken a note to investigate the potential repurposing of such devices for other inventive applications. That is to say, ones that do not involve severe cranial trauma, of course. Its current configuration can do that well enough, even without exploding.
Oh, but I’m losing track of the story. Oh’tuul was fairly forthcoming with information, if a little eccentric. According to him, Vari-13 had purchased some personal defence weaponry and proceeded to make their way into a nearby junkyard referred to as the caryards. Oh'tuul was also kind enough to warn us that the aforementioned caryards are currently closed due to a khefak infestation.
From my prior reading, I already knew that that the creatures can get quite aggressively territorial, and they are known to eat quite literally anything. Walking into an area like that alone, especially with an android physiology, is perhaps not the wisest choice. That said, it is one that we’re more or less going to repeat in order to rescue them. Granted, I suspect that our numbers and combat prowess will make it a far less risky pursuit. However, it isn’t completely without risk, so given that we were already at an arms vendor, we opted to stock up on ammunition, as well as offload the assortment of secondhand firearms and armour we recently came into (you know, courtesy of all the dead guys we killed). We then used the funds to improve Meved’s spear, because quite frankly investing in Meved’s lethality seems like a reliable and quite possibly necessary choice at this point.
We also fuelled up our stomachs, thanks to Yaro generously purchasing us some street meat from a local vendor. It was admittedly not the most appetising thing I’ve ever consumed, but between the tiring journey, the unfamiliar environment, and the sight of multiple men getting slaughtered, it was actually quite soothing to have something occupying my stomach again. It’s amazing how food can restore a person not only in the physical sense, but also psychologically. It’s a phenomenon I ought to make a note to look into one of these days. When we’re not trying to save an android from themselves becoming food for a bunch of scrap-eating wasteland bugs, that is.
As one might expect, given the name, the caryards has an abundance of cars. I can’t help but feel it was a little ironic that we had to make our way there on foot. There is something to be said for the eerie grandeur of the stacks of abandoned technology. It’s almost evocative of the jungles of my homeworld, in a strange way. As though the ruined machines were emulating the nature they once sought to overcome, but in vain. I even found a piece of clockwork technology among the piles of junked machines! It felt rather symbolic, as though there’s a powerful message about entropy there…
Though, whatever that message might have been was promptly interrupted by us getting swarmed by khefaks. Clearly they took our approach as a threat upon their territory and food supply. I had not expected my first encounter with these creatures to be so… Close. They’re not particularly large, but more than big enough to be disconcerting when they suddenly emerge at your feet. Compared to Meved though, I was lucky. He had practically an entire swarm surrounding him! Nevertheless, we held our ground and fought them off. Actually, Vinu, Yaro, and I all found our arc pistols to be remarkably effective at subduing the creatures. Perhaps their diet of metals had rendered them more conductive… Nevertheless, we eventually put the creatures down. I had my gun set to stun, so a couple of them were merely rendered unconscious. The rest were… Decidedly more permanently unconscious. This was considerably less morally distressing than our previous fight, given the creatures involved not being sapient, though the scent of the rapid onset of decay khefaks are known for still didn’t complement the recently consumed street meat. I am pleased to report though that with some effort, I was able to avoid regurgitation this time. It did not leave me in the best of states to help with tracking, though. That said, I’m also a terrible tracker to begin with, so perhaps that’s for the best. Vinu and Yaro were more than capable of covering that part of the mission.
We fought a few more khefaks, and also came across a pile of tires that concealed an automatic rifle. I’m not quite sure what such a firearm was doing here, especially considering it was in working order, but I suppose by scavenger’s rights it is our gain now. Not that any of us are really trained to use the weapon. Well, Meved might be, but he didn’t seem immediately interested. I suppose he is simply more accustomed to direct physical confrontations…
We followed some tracks that we assumed to be Vari-13’s all the way to a pathway that was blocked by a pool of acid, traversable only by a narrow walkway of junk. I was able to observe the composition of the acid as being a variety of different fuels and chemicals, but the exact mixture doesn’t seem immediately relevant so I shall surmise by saying it definitely counted as extremely hazardous. Definitely not something one would want to swim in. The walkway across this hazard was only a narrow improvement (see what I did there), given its questionable structural integrity. Ultimately, Vinu opted to test it out first, being the most dextrous out of us.
She managed to get across successfully. However, as soon as she did so, it awakened yet another swarm of khefaks. Fortunately Vinu immediately cloaked herself to evade detection, though it left us in a difficult predicament: we now needed to cross the bridge to join not only her, but also a big collection of aggressively territorial canid-sized insects…
If I’m being perfectly honest, my hopes for finding Vari-13 intact grow smaller with every perilous encounter we come across. My fear for what might have befallen them is matched only by my bewilderment at why they would choose to come here alone. What discovery could possibly be worth such a risky endeavour?
Player's Notes: I had most of this one done not long after the session, but then work got a bit crazy which resulted in me being too tired to properly finish it up in time, but I've finally gotten around to it. For the record, while fighting with the khefaks, our arc pistols got nat rolls of 20, 20, 18, and 16 respectively. Four shots, four hits, and all of them with higher than average damage. Not sure what was going on, but they really made an impression!
You know, I probably should have guessed after that last incident that it wasn’t going to be my first unsolicited lesson in unmitigated violence and human internal anatomy…
After the remaining True Warriors made the very reasonable choice to flee from us as fast as possible, we helped Ms. Riddle back to her business, Adventures in Scrap. For someone who was just moments earlier nearly beaten to death, she was remarkably well-humoured about the situation. I suppose someone in her line of work would have to be good at keeping a level head in dangerous situations. I doubt that I would do so well under the same circumstances. After all, watching a man die was enough to shake me up pretty bad. I can only conclude that my lack of practical experience has left me unprepared psychologically for violence. (Edit: in hindsight, I probably should have realised how much foreshadowing I was doing with this statement…)
After paying a compliment to Ms. Riddle’s excellent metalworking skills, which for the record I did genuinely appreciate and not solely compliment because of the advice from the bus driver, she told us some interesting information. It wasn’t exactly relevant to the True Warriors, but instead involved a client of hers. An android historian from Absalom Station by the name of Vari-13 had apparently come in search of some piece of technology among the junk fields that according to them would have serious ramifications if discovered. However, Vari-13 recently went missing, and Riddle is unable to get in touch, which has put that particular treasure hunt on hiatus. Ah, that and the fact that the True Warriors have caused her to lose all of her guide employees. So, Riddle proposed that we seek out Vari-13 and take on the job for her.
Needless to say, as a fellow academic, the promise of a major technological discovery was incredibly enticing to me. I cannot say that I am familiar with Vari-13’s scholarly credentials, but if they are legitimate then it would be my duty as a scientist to assist them with this hypothesis. Yaroslav seemed curious as well, likely to find out if this technology might be of value to his own personal quest. Meved and Vinu meanwhile were happy to go along with the promise of a lucrative payout.
Ah, and as thanks for rescuing her, Ms. Riddle also provided us with an interesting device she called a “breakaway aegis”. By my estimation, it appears to function as a single-use shield to reduce the impact of oncoming blows. It’s a fairly rudimentary design, but effective, and just a little bit stylish. Given the fight we just had, it seems like something that would be worth keeping on hand. I do mean that literally, by the way; the aegis is wrist-mounted.
Given what we heard and the fact that our one captive Warrior didn’t seem like he would be waking up anytime soon, we decided to leave him for the local police and headed out to search for Vari-13. Using the rationale of starting with the most commonly frequented locations, the first place we investigated was one of the local gambling halls, called "Ka-Sino". I’m fairly certain from my study of linguistic heritage that the name is derivative of an ancient human word for a gambling hall, so I suppose the place is aptly titled.
I cannot say that I’ve ever been to a gambling hall before, but I did read that they are typically filled with sensory stimuli of all kinds to elicit excitement and by extension a lack of financial restraint. After entering the place, I could indeed confirm this account. Ka-Sino was so loud, bright, and filled with an array of smells that were at the same time intriguing and disconcerting, that I was barely able to make it to one of the servers to ask about Vari-13, and even then I could barely formulate a coherent sentence. Fortunately Yaroslav was able to handle the talking part on my behalf. We were informed by an android employee that Vari-13 may have been staying at a hotel named Ixomander's Throne. With that information, I collected Meved (and his newly purchased bottle of pure grain alcohol, which I am fairly certain is classified as a hazardous material unfit for direct consumption by most pact world creatures, but this is Meved we’re talking about) while Yaro fetched Vinu from the performance stage (where I guess she was planning a guerilla concert? I’m not entirely certain what she was going for, if I’m honest). We then made our way to the Throne.
Apparently the time we had spent with Ms. Riddle and then in Ka-Sino was enough for the True Warriors to regroup and come after us in retaliation for our earlier scrap (which I now realise is a very appropriate term to use in this city. Note to self: keep that in mind in case I need to relieve some tension with a humorous quip at some point).
The T-shaped alley could effectively be divided into two distinct fights. The first was composed of half a dozen or so True Warriors surrounding Meved in a very ill-conceived attempt to overwhelm him, while two other guys came after Yaroslav and Vinu respectively. I was somewhere in the middle of all this, which oddly enough ended up being the safest place to be.
Meved’s fight could more or less be summarised as a massacre. The True Warriors, despite their numbers, were woefully underprepared for hand to claw combat against a highly aggressive apex predator that weighs over 600 kg. One of the Warriors did try to use a pistol, but apparently either lacked the training or wherewithal to accurately shoot a literal bear-sized target at near point blank range. A few of them tried using a knife and batons, but I managed to persuade a couple of them with a little magical influence that these would not be very effective weapons. Surprisingly, the loss of understanding how to use a baton only made the one guy more effective with it, but maybe that’s just because he shifted his attention to Vinu by that point. As for the Warriors that decided to use their fists, one of them actually did surprisingly well, whereas the other one was… Well let’s just say he broke both of his knuckles while punching Meved’s armour twice in a row, and then was eviscerated with a car door. At least, I think he was the one that got eviscerated with the car door. There was a lot of death going on around Meved, so after a point it became a little hard to tell…
While that was going on, Yaro had a bit of a hard time with one particularly relentless True Warrior. Seeing as Meved had not even taken a scratch from the Warriors at this point, I tried to assist. My first shot earlier in the fight was a complete bungle, most likely because I got nervous and forgot to look where I was firing. This time though, I managed to hit my target so well that I nicked an artery. After that, Yaro shuffled the guy’s brain a bit with magic and he was out. Somehow, against all logic, I then managed to land two more consecutive shots after that. Really though, Meved, Yaro, and Vinu did the real work of taking down whoever was left. The one ysoki and the human with the gun fled and rescinded their gang, while a third one managed to make it a few blocks before Meved chased him down and amputated his foot.
My first reaction after the ordeal was to stanch the bleeding on the one guy whose artery I hit. Setting aside the fact that I did somewhat participate in the deaths of several of the people whose corpses were now littering the alley, he was the only one I really seriously wounded. I didn’t exactly want the weight of being directly responsible for the death of a sapient being on my conscience. I succeeded at least, which helped me keep calm enough to explain the situation to the police before I went to the corner to have a mental breakdown.
I feel that I should reiterate at this moment that I am, or was, an academic. My primary job is being a teaching assistant. I usually spend my days reviewing research papers and collecting sample data in a sterile lab. While I do specialise in biology, neuroscience doesn’t typically involve witnessing death, and when it does it’s in a very controlled environment. In contrast to my normal conditions, I was at that moment sitting in a dirty alleyway adjacent to a pile of multiple humans I had just witnessed being mauled, speared, and otherwise brutally killed in a street fight that I participated in. I did not take “street fighting” classes. I’m fairly certain there were no such classes in the universities I attended, and if they were, they almost certainly were not accredited. I know that I accepted this job with the understanding that it may involve violence, but this is a level of brutality I simply was not mentally prepared for. Also, the fact that the police officer that came by proceeded to execute two of the remaining unconscious gang members we had assembled right in front of me didn’t help.
So yes, my response to the situation was not exactly one of composure. Still, I would think that given the circumstances my taking a moment to hyperventilate, cry, throw up a little, and recite a few calming mantras was very much justified. In any case, I’ve come to terms with it now. The real world can be terrifying. Lesson very much learned. I’ll keep it in my memory along with all the other trauma I’ll probably go to therapy for later after we’ve finished our mission here. For now at least, I’ll be fine.
After collecting what equipment we could from the dead Warriors, we had a conversation with the last remaining one, who happened to be the same one I stabilised earlier. Our earlier estimation of him being comparatively smarter than his comrades (by virtue of the fact that he’s the only one that didn’t try to fight Meved at any point) proved true, since he understood the situation quite quickly and was fairly collaborative. Unfortunately he didn’t have much information to share. The True Warriors mainly communicate by way of datapads and their organisational structure does not do much to inform its lowest ranking members beyond their assigned tasks. We did at least confirm that they are led by a shobhad named Do’trulu and that he is supported by the powerful solarian human Tezz Tronnin, the same woman Vinu saw in the car earlier. He also confessed to knowing nothing about Vari-13, which means that either the True Warriors aren’t responsible for their disappearance, or they are and the organisation didn’t share this information with its subordinates.
After getting the information we needed, we sent the man with the other guy that Meved… de-footed (that sure is a word I just used). They’ll make their way to the Sarenite temple and then leave the city, and hopefully their bandit ways as well. Oddly enough, I wish them well. For a guy that tried to kill us, and very nearly did in Yaro’s case, he wasn’t all that bad.
Our adventure wasn’t done though. We had made it most of the way to Ixomander's Throne, but we still hadn’t gotten to our next lead. Ultimately, the alley fight was little more than a detour that didn’t really teach us much besides the fleetingness of life.
Well, I suppose I also learned that I can be a decent shot when I need to be. I’m really hoping that’s a skill I’m not going to need to use very often, but I get the distinct impression that it’s going to come up quite a few more times before this is all over. There is no way that the True Warriors aren’t going to double down on killing us after that incident.
P.S. I should also mention that the one Ysoki with the knife retrieved it from his cheek. While I had heard that ysoki do sometimes use pockets in their mouth for storage, I feel like I must point out how terrible an idea it is to leave sharp bladed objects in such a place. The unnecessary risk of dental damage is immense, and what would happen if he went to engage in a passionate kissing session and he cut himself or his partner? Not to mention if he ever actually cut anyone with that thing, could you imagine all the mouth bacteria that knife would be covered in? Shanking someone is one thing, but I am fairly certain that such an attack could be considered viral warfare under the Interstellar War Crime Accords. I sincerely hope that when he abandoned the True Warriors, he also abandoned his proclivity for orally-sheathed bladed weapons.
Player's Notes: Yes, Meved did single almost single handedly fight off about 6 people. In fairness, they mostly rolled pretty bad. The one guy who fought Yaroslav must have sapped all their luck, because for a guy only using his fists, he was dangerously effective with them. I guess that luck ended when the second bullet I ever fired with my Skipshot Pistol ended up being a crit. Considering I have a +2 to hit with that thing, it's kind of a wonder that I managed to land three solid shots in a row.
Anyway, that was Astrea's first real taste of serious combat. So far she hasn't been attacked once, and I'm hoping for her sake it stays that way (she is not nearly as sturdy as the others). I'm already having a fun time pondering how she'll overcome these first tastes and become the seasoned leader she's meant to become...
22/05/04 - Session 1 - Astrea’s Journal: To Bear Down With Force
Seventhday, 28th Desnus, 322 AG, Khefak Depot, Akiton
[This log is continued from the previous entry]
When Soryn proposed that we work together once again, I was under the initial impression that it would be another task for the Sentinels. Interestingly, it was not, but rather a personal request at the behest of one of his associates, a fellow veteran of the Swarm Wars. This “Sully” operated a business in the Akitonian settlement of Khefak Depot, and had requested assistance in dealing with an upstart crime lord that had begun operating in the area. We were asked to be that assistance.
Admittedly, taking down crime bosses isn’t something I have any technical expertise in, but Akiton is an extremely interesting planet to study, and the Depot in question is home to one of the larger starship junk fields in the Pact Worlds, making it a very attractive site to investigate from a technological standpoint. Research merits aside, a would-be bully using their power to impose upon innocent civilians is something I cannot consciously abide either, so if I can help to curb that sort of abuse, then I am happy to participate.
The voyage to Khefak Depot gave me ample time to study up on the location. The settlement was once a ranch where the eponymous khefaks would roam, feeding on scrap to generate thasteron fuel, but when the thasteron market collapsed, the creatures were abandoned and the site eventually shifted its economy to be tourism-based. The detailed history is an interesting read, though it is not immediately relevant to our goals, so I’ll omit any further comment here, but I have taken a mental note to observe a khefak in action if I have the opportunity.
On a more pertinent note, I was able to learn from a friendly bus driver that the gang that had been moving into the area were called the True Warriors. If I’m being perfectly honest, the choice in name seems a bit odd, which would lead me to suspect that there is a deeper meaning behind it. Perhaps it alludes to a rival group of “false” warriors, or it denotes an affiliation with a strong philosophy? Surely there’s something there beyond “it sounds cool”, because, and admittedly this is entirely my own subjective opinion, it doesn’t. Not for a petty crime gang, anyway. Without something backing it up, it just lacks any sort of originality or creative imagery… I mean, “warrior” is such a generic term…
In any case, once we got to Akiton we decided to immediately head to Sully’s place of business, a restaurant called “The Admiral’s Snackbar”. I suppose it’s a reference to his past military record, though I can’t help but feel that there is a deeper meaning that I am unable to grasp here as well…
But again, not important to the story. What is important is that when we got there, the place had been vandalised, presumably by the True Warriors due to Sully refusing to pay them protection money. Oh, and let it be known for the record that when we were informed of the gang, I predicted that the ambiguous “trouble” they were causing was most likely a protection racket. So, I totally called it.
We helped Sully re-store his business (see what I did there?) and got a confirmation that the True Warriors were “shaking down” anyone that didn’t comply with their demands. For reference, “shaking down” means they use violence, vandalism, or other forms of aggressive behaviour to coerce the victim into compliance. This can include literal shaking, but that is not a prerequisite for the term to apply.
Sully informed us that the next most likely target would be Riddle, an ysoki tour guide and the proprietor of Adventures in Junk, which my brochure and the bus driver both informed me is one of the foremost junk excursion services in the city. Given the nature of the situation, we made our way there immediately.
What we found was a pair of aggressive-looking fellows blocking the entrance, apparently while their associates were brutalising poor Riddle inside. We gave them a warning, which was promptly ignored, at which point my companions jumped in to attack. As much as I might have hoped for a diplomatic solution to get the True Warriors to back down, I gathered from the others that such a solution was not likely to work here, and might jeopardise Ms. Riddle’s safety. So, regrettably, violence became the most effective outcome.
The fight didn’t take too long. After taking mental assaults and rifle fire from Yar and Vinu, Meved practically bulldozed the first guard into unconsciousness, which made the other one and their ysoki leader flee almost immediately. A couple more thugs came out and attempted to attack us, though I made sure their ability to do so was severely limited. Turns out that actually gave Meved the perfect opening and… Well, that’s where the decapitation I mentioned in the previous entry came in. As it turns out, a bear’s claw strength is absolutely sufficient to completely tear through human neck tissue. I already knew this of course, but the traumatic experience really made that fact hit home in a way that textbooks really can’t.
By the time I overcame the shock of such an abrupt dissection, the remaining Warriors escaped in a nearby vehicle. Vinu apparently recognised someone in the vehicle with them as being Tezz Tronnin, an enforcer with ties to the criminal underworld. It may well be useful to investigate that person further if we get the chance. After all, ancient military philosophy tells us that knowing one’s enemy is a key component of being able to defeat them.
For now though, we have two matters to attend to. The first is helping Ms. Riddle get back on her feet, and the second is to interrogate the one remaining gang member that still has most of his blood inside of his body.
Player's Notes: There we go. Just took one session for Meved to brutally kill someone in front of Astrea. She took it well, all things considered, but the day isn't over yet.
22/05/04 - Session 0.5 - Astrea’s Journal: Four Heroes on a Maiden Voyage
Seventhday, 28th Desnus, 322 AG, Khefak Depot, Akiton
Of the myriad of hypothetical events I contemplated encountering as part of my ongoing educational experience, watching a live human decapitation really wasn't one of them. Perhaps that was naive on my part; after all, the vast expanse of the pact worlds can oftentimes be quite brutal… Nevertheless, decapitation by ursine still seems fairly abnormal.
I suppose I should offer some context. Almost a month back, an experimental research device was stolen from the Arcanamirium. Given the sensitive nature of the research, the theft wasn't publicised, as the school wanted it retrieved quietly before any third parties got any ideas. Apparently that's why they contacted me, as a sort of liaison between the school and the Stewards. I was in charge of identifying the device and making sure it got back to the Arcanamirium in one piece.
I wasn't alone, of course. I was sent with a crew of three other "contract workers", each of whom had their own speciality.
Yaroslav was the first one I met. He's a vlaka, which is a canid-esque species from a planet with a dying star. He had taken a personal interest in the mission, since the device we were retrieving was a solar reactor of sorts. Perhaps he thought it might be a step towards the salvation of his homeworld. I certainly hope so, as I can think of no worthier cause than saving a planet from extinction.
As for the fellow himself, I get along quite well with Yar. He's a pleasant fellow with a good sense of humour, a kind heart, and a very intriguing accent. He follows the goddess Sarenrae, who as far as deities goes is definitely one of my personal favourites. In terms of practical skills, he is a healer, which I've come to understand is a very valuable asset to have in this line of work. He's also blind, but can utilise his combined senses to perceive just as well if not better than someone with sight. Given my field of study, this is an absolutely fascinating biological variation that I am trying very hard not to get too obsessive about, lest I come off as insensitive with my inquiries.
Vinu joined us as our bounty hunting expert. Her practical knowledge was invaluable in actually tracking down and catching the thief. At first I was concerned that her profession might indicate a certain aversion to someone more academic like myself, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she's actually very approachable.
Her primary profession is as a musician, and she was kind enough to supply me with some of her work over our journey. It's a little too lively for reading accompaniment, but I've found it works well as a motivational track during workouts. Apparently music is a significant element of pahtra culture, so I like to think that enjoying these melodies doubles as an exercise in cultural exchange.
Oh, and I'm sure that there's a joke to be made about my first two travelling companions being a cat and a dog, but I would like to think that I'm above such reductive humour. That, or perhaps I'm less attentive to it given the last member of our group…
I had studied uplifted bears before when writing a dissertation on artificially-induced neurological evolution. The notion of inducing sapience onto a species is not only scientifically wondrous, but it also raises a plethora of interesting ethical and sociopolitical questions. Bears in particular are a compelling case to study, as they are historically recognised as being rather ferocious wilderness apex predators. Being from a planet where ferocious apex predators are common, I naturally consider myself well-positioned to engage with the subject… Perhaps “subject” is a bit too clinical here. These are personal notes, after all. He goes by the name Meved.
Meved is… About as close to the stereotype commonly associated with bears as one might imagine. He's certainly imposing, and seems to have channelled his natural endowments towards a life of aggression as a mercenary. Having now had the chance to see him work first-hand, I can confirm that he is nothing if not effective in that regard. Despite my rational mind insisting that I not give in to base fears, my instincts make it hard not to be just a little bit intimidated in his presence.
That said, our time together on the voyage to near space did give me an opportunity to overcome my initial reservations. Meved is terrifying, yes, but he is not needlessly violent nor otherwise cruel. He simply applies his skills where they are most effective, and cares little for outward perceptions. In a way, it is almost admirable to be so straightforward. The complexities of politics and etiquette seem banal compared to simply identifying an objective and pursuing it directly. I suppose this is what is meant by the common malapropism "bear necessities of life"...
Okay, even I felt bad for writing that.
So, that was our group. A lashunta scientist and a trio of fur-adorned companions, travelling through space to hunt down a tech thief. The actual events of the mission were relatively simple. Perhaps I shall commit them to record at some other juncture, but the relevant information for now is that we succeeded pretty spectacularly, and got the device back well before it could get into the hands of anyone nefarious. I would say it was a resounding success for a first outing.
Apparently it was such a success that we found ourselves called upon once again by Soryn. He was so impressed by our work that he suggested we take on another task as a group. After our long trip together I like to think we bonded reasonably well, so I agreed, as did the others. Call me optimistic, but my conclusion was that this may well be a promising alliance…
Player's Notes: A quick breakdown of the party so far, two sessions in.
- Astrea: The moral compas of the party. She's been doing a lot of the talking, despite not being quite as good at it as Yaroslav. She also holds the distinction of being the least hairy member of the party.
- Yaroslav: A bow-wielding sarenite mystic wolf-guy with a Russian accent. He's about as good natured as Astrea, though slightly less naive. He's probably the most sane member of the party.
- Vinu: A sniper-wielding operative cat-woman. She's a mercenary who's in it for the money, who also happens to be a rock musician. She hasn't done too much yet but I suspect that's because we haven't given her too much of an opportunity to get into trouble just yet.
- Meved: An awakened bear soldier. Meved is basically as close to a barbarian as you can get in starfinder, with the added bonus of being a large bear. He's here to kill things, get money, eat food, drink strong liquor. Much of the first couple sessions so far have consisted of him being an absolute menace to anything that would dare get in our way.
Now that I finished up with Curse of the Crimson Throne, some space opened up for a new adventure. So the timing was perfect when the player for Dexsius from the Hell's Vengeance game I'm in invited me to a Wednesday Starfinder game. I only played Starfinder once back around when it was first published, so I'm really looking forward to this!
I'm not entirely sure where we'll be going with this game, but for now we're starting with Junker's Delight. After that, who knows.
Astrea is a character I've been playing for about a decade in some form or another. It's been a couple years since the story she was originally a part of ended, so I'm really happy to pick her back up again. She's a very different type of character compared to Cassius or Dominus, so it'll be interesting seeing how she comes through in journal form. Fair warning, expect it to be wordy.
Player's Notes: I'll put the notes up top for this one, since it's kind of huge. At the end of every book, I like to write a special entry, summarising Cassius' thoughts about the situation and the characters he's encountered thus far. This time, I thought I'd do something a little bit different, and write the whole campaign up to now from Trinia's perspective. Seeing as we're about to dive into the final book, it seemed like a good time for a recap!
21/11/11 - Session 52 - Trinia’s Journal: The Tale So Far
31 Desnus, 4708 AR, Kaer Maga
It’s been one week now since we lifted the curse in Scarwall, and with our current itinerary, we’ll be heading back to Korvosa in one week too. Seeing as we’re right smack in the middle of this prep time, and I’m already bored, I figured why not take a page out of Cas’ book (literally) and write a little something myself. What better time to tell the tale of how this group of brave adventurers went from being a ragtag group of disgruntled citizens looking for revenge against some crappy old fart to the heroes that will save Korvosa from a Queen gone mad and an ancient evil dragon!? It’s not every day you come across a story as crazy as that, and even more rare to be a part of it! So if you’re reading this, get yourself a warm mug of something spicy, plop your rear down on your comfiest seat, and prepare to be amazed!
So, like I said, this group of would-be heroes came from pretty unexpected backgrounds. Kellogg Endrin was once a bright eyed noble with a promising future as part of the legendary Sable Company, but an unfortunate shiver addiction sent him spiralling into debt and disgrace (he also has a really cute hippogriff mount called Waydon, by the way). Jules Thurist was a travelling scholar from the far off land of Nex that came along with a dear friend of his (and his adorable pet monkey Lenny, who I’m pretty sure is smarter than he lets on) to check out Korvosa’s famed Acadamae, but an incident left his friend dead and the wizard hungry for justice. The lovely and mystical Miss Lenore Lascariu was once a veritable Chelaxian lady, but a mysterious bad romance left her deaf and alone in the merciless streets of our city. Finally, Cassius Redima was once as common a thief as you could find, but a near death encounter and a divine intervention saw him change his ways and become a vigilante for the lowborn folk.
Through some strange circumstances, all four of these lost souls found themselves summoned to an old shack. Greetings were exchanged and some old faces reunited. Remember that near death experience Cassius had? Well believe it or not, Lenore was the one that rescued and healed him! Small world, hunh? Or maybe it was a sign of fate! Anyway, the lot of them were all spoken to by a lady named Zellara Esmeranda. As it turns out, everyone present had been screwed over at some point or another by this bottom feeding crime lord called Gaedren Lamm. Zellara gave the crew some ideas about where he was and how they could get after him, and asked if they’d get her justice for her dead son. Our heroes may not have been a team just yet, but one thing they all had in common was a thirst for justice! So they went to the old fishery he used as a base and fought Lamm’s cruel gangsters, rescued the orphans working there, and eventually turned the old Gaedren into croc chow! It was a tough first mission for the gang, but they got justice for themselves and for Zellara’s spirit (plot twist! She was a ghost all along! And she’s been following us around as an enchanted deck of Harrow Cards giving us cryptic but helpful advice ever since.)
Now, these four might have thought that this would be the end of their little collaboration, but they found something of note among Gaedren’s things, a bauble bearing royal inscriptions! Being the good samaritans that they were, our heroes went to the guard to return the item. But as it happens, their timing coincided with a rather dramatic event: King Eodred II had died! One thing led to another, and the four of them ended up getting an audience with the widowed Queen Ileosa Arabasti. Turns out the Queen wanted some adventurers to take care of some trouble in the city, and so our intrepid heroes were sent to the leader of the Korvosan Guard, Cressida Kroft (yes, THAT Cressida Kroft). For the next couple weeks, they worked with the guard as troubleshooters, fighting cannibalistic meat makers, crime bosses, and a very nasty necromancer that had done some gross stuff to a poor Shoanti fellow down in the Dead Warrens. Pretty soon, they made themselves invaluable allies to the city. But something more nefarious was afoot...
All the while that they were trying to keep the city under control, others were trying to find the cause of the King’s death. This is where yours truly comes into the story. You see, I had been given a job to paint the King’s portrait, and had been doing so until just before his death. Just for that, I got pinned for regicide! Just my luck, hunh? One day you’re painting a rich old guy’s picture and next thing you know he’s kicked the bucket and the best gig you’ve ever got turns into an execution order. But it turns out I was lucky after all, because the people they sent to get me were none other than our heroes! Of course, I didn’t know them back then, so I took to the rooftops and gave em a good chase. Cassius, being the sneaky bandit he was, managed to keep pace and caught me, but somehow he could tell that I was innocent, and instead of bringing me in, he and the others brought me to a friend of theirs, a nobleman named Vencarlo Orisini.
You wouldn’t guess from his gruff scar-covered exterior and pissy attitude, but Cassius is actually a huge softie, and came to visit me every day while I was in hiding. He even got me some paint supplies from my house! Honestly, I’m pretty sure he had already fallen for me by then (and who could blame him; I’m adorable), but obviously we had bigger things to worry about. Even though I was safe, the Queen had picked some patsy and pretended she was me to perform a public execution! Obviously, our heroes couldn’t have some innocent person take the blade, so they went to rescue her, but imagine their surprise when none other than the legendary hero Blackjack suddenly showed up and rescued that fake me (Cas is a huge Blackjack fanboy, so he was going crazy)! I gotta admit, it’s kind of flattering knowing that a famous hero no one had seen for years by that point would come out of retirement just for me, but again, who could blame him? (Oh and that double, we met later, and still keep in touch. She’s a sweet girl!)
Obviously, the Queen was none too happy about getting called out by Blackjack, and the city was still kinda tense, but a couple weeks later when things seemed a bit safer, Vencarlo asked our heroes to escort me out of the city to someplace safe. That place ended up being Harse. A fun little town, that Harse. I ended up staying there for a whole month, got bored, went on an adventure, messed with some local bandits, teamed up with a Shoanti ghost to take them on… They were some fun times! But that’s nothing compared to what our heroes were up to back in Korvosa…
Right around the time I was being escorted out of the city, a boat called the Direption had sailed in. A boat… Full of something really nasty and insidious. Not long after, the city started getting affected by a plague called Blood Veil. Blood Veil is as unpleasant as you can probably guess from the name. It’ll make you spew your guts and cough your lungs out until everything that ought to be inside of you is outside. Obviously, this thing was a problem, but it was harder to deal with than crime bosses. You can’t stab a disease, after all (well, most of them anyway; if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Cas, it’s that you can stab anything if you try hard enough).
Still, our heroes helped out where they could, allying with a friendly Abadaran priest called Ishani Dhatri to take down fake cure sellers, overly aggressive wererats (though most of them were pretty friendly actually), and one particularly crazy clown assassin lady who murdered and zombified an entire manor full of people. At some point in all the kerfuffle, Old Korvosa even got cut off from the rest of the city. Cas lived up in Bridgefront, so as you can imagine, he was none too happy about that particular turn of events (though he’d be even less happy with how it turned out later; keep reading to find out).
Now dear reader, you might be wondering “but where did Blood Veil come from? Was it the boat?” Well yes, but not quite. You see, the Direption was a misdirect. A misDireption, if you will. During their investigations, the heroes found out a few pretty interesting things. The first was that the boat had ties to a pretty famous Urgathoan priestess called Andaisin (Urgathoa is the goddess of undeath, sickness and other nasty stuff like that, so you can probably see where that’s going). Another was that the disease was apparently being spread through smaller denominations of coins (which of course we common folk touch pretty much daily, explaining how it spread so fast). And the last was that the masked doctors that the Queen brought in to help with the plague were not entirely honest about what they were up to.
Have you pieced it together yet? If not, don’t worry. Not even the heroes were entirely sure of what was going on until they decided to investigate the Hospice of the Blessed Maiden, where the Queen’s royal physician Reiner Davaulus was working. That’s where everything became clear. You see, Reiner and the Queen’s Physicians weren’t tasked with curing the plague, they were the ones causing it! Reiner and his goons, including some members of the newly formed Gray Maidens tried to kill the heroes, but our champions weren’t so easily beat, and instead used the opportunity to pull off a little trick of their own. They disguised themselves as Reiner and his goons and went down into the basement to see what was really going on.
Turns out the place was a front for some pretty gruesome experiments. The physicians were in league with the Urgathoans, not only crafting the current plague, but developing even more potent versions. The heroes tore down the operation from the inside while the city guard and the Gray Maidens had a tense standoff over the investigation upstairs. It’s around this time that the heroes were also joined by an old friend of Lenore’s, an enthusiastic half-elven alchemist named Licia L’Étranger. (And I gotta tell you, she’s a real blast to be around! I mean, she’s got great chemistry with just about anybody, you know?)
Our heroes masterfully snuck in and fought their way through the cultists, working as a team to cunningly take down their evil army. They even ended up fighting Rolth Lamm! Who’s that, you ask? Well, he was the son of Gaedren Lamm, that old gang lord from the start of the story, but he was also involved in so much more. Remember that necromancer situation in the Dead Warrens and that manor massacre with the crazy clown lady? Both of those were because of this guy! What’s more, he wasn’t just an ally to the Urgathoans, but also the infamous Key Lock Killer, a murderer who had been known to go around stabbing people with daggers that looked like keys (There was some pun there on unlocking their deaths, but as a pun connoisseur, I find it to be in pretty bad taste). Truly, this guy was the worst of the worst in all of Korvosa, maybe all of Varisia! But thanks to the heroes, that nasty mess of a guy won’t be cutting anyone else up ever again. Anyway, there was some more fighting, and eventually the heroes fought and defeated the cult leader Andaisin… And then fought and defeated her AGAIN when Urgathoa decided to bring her back as some flying scythe monster. Some bad guys just really don’t want to stay dead, you know? (You can’t read it in my words, but I’m winking right now. That’s because I just did what’s called “foreshadowing” with that last comment. You’ll see what I mean later. Keep reading!)
The news that the Queen’s Physicians were Urgathoans working to poison the city really didn’t paint the Queen in a good light (nor should it, because she’s the one that hired them; in case you haven’t guessed yet, the Queen is the villain of this story), but it wasn’t enough to take her off the throne. Actually, something very different happened instead. During a big ceremony, the Queen blamed all the other organisations in the city for their incompetence and declared that she’d be giving a whole bunch of authority to her new guards, the Gray Maidens. Marcus Endrin, the leader of the Sable Company and a relative of Kellogg’s, decided this was the right time to call the Queen out and tried to kill her, but even though he shot her right through the head with an arrow, she just yanked the thing out and stabbed Marcus with it! Now, dear reader, I’m not sure how it is wherever you come from, but I can promise you that in Korvosa normally if you get shot in the head point blank with an arrow, it kills you, so something was obviously very wrong here.
Sadly, the heroes wouldn’t really get a chance to figure out just what that was yet. Cressida Kroft needed them to take care of something else. Not too long ago, she had gotten a message from Vencarlo (that nice noble who hid me for a while). He had apparently found out something big in Old Korvosa, and was going to investigate. However, Cressida had lost contact with him. She needed the heroes to go into Old Korvosa and figure out just what was going on.
The heroes didn’t waste any time and snuck into Cas’ old stomping grounds. The first place they checked out was Vencarlo’s home, but instead of Vencarlo, they encountered a pair of assassins from the Red Mantis, crazy strong agents that specialise in contract killings and that worship a big scary red mantis god (hence the name). Our heroes barely made it out of the burning house alive, but in the end, they eeked out a victory at the last minute.
Next, they went to find a fellow called Salvator Scream, a pretty famous painter known for his creepy aesthetic (I’m still jealous that I didn’t get a chance to meet him; I’m a big fan of his work! It’s so spooky!) This time, instead of finding the person they were looking for, they ran into a surprisingly cheerful elven woman named Laori Vaus who also happened to be a priestess of Zon-Kuthon (god of torture and pain; you know, the one with all the spiky chains and very kinky looking piercings). Obviously, the heroes were pretty wary, since ZonZon’s an evil god, but she apparently wanted to help them find Salvator. So they made a tentative alliance and followed the trail to the realm of Pilts Swastel, the self proclaimed Emperor of Old Korvosa.
So for a bit of context, after getting separated from the rest of the city, the island of Old Korvosa kind of became a lawless wasteland of murder and anarchy. There were only really two groups that had some authority, and that was Pilts and House Arkona, the one noble family based up in that area. Pilts was a madman and turned a chunk of the district into his personal playground for his crazy imperial fantasies. The heroes tried to play along, even participating in a game he invented where you would try to get piglets across a field and into a pit with a hungry wolverine (the poor piglets!) Well, it din’t take long for things to get out of hand, and the whole thing turned into a big fight. Fortunately, our heroes weren’t about to get beaten by some crazy guy with a fake crown, so they managed to get rid of the emperor and rescue the imprisoned Salvator (and a few innocent pigs) from his grimy clutches.
Before Salvator joined Laori and parted ways with our heroes, he revealed some pretty amazing secrets to them. When the King died, the castle seneschal Neolandus Kalepopolis went missing. People assumed he went into hiding because he had a part to play in the King’s death, but in reality, he had gone into hiding to escape the Queen! As the seneschal, Neolandus had the power and knowledge to officially get the Queen off the throne, so it was only natural that Ileosa would want him dead. Salvator explained that he helped Neolandus hide, and then later Vencarlo came looking for him, and followed the same trail. Where did that trail lead, you might wonder? Well dear reader, it led right into the home of the Arkonas.
The Arkonas have always been a bit of an oddball family in Korvosa. On the one hand, they’re a noble house with quite a lot of influence that is known to do a lot of charity. On the other hand, they’re also known to have their finger in just about every major criminal enterprise in the city too. They’ve got ties to the far East, and are all around pretty secretive. So, not exactly the most trustworthy bunch. Still, the heroes decided to go with the direct approach and sought an audience with the head of the house, Glorio Arkona. The man used a bunch of doublespeak, but basically confirmed that Neolandus and Vencarlo were his prisoners, and that the heroes could find them in the basement. This was already kind of weird, but apparently Glorio suspected that other members of his family were plotting against him, so he decided to use the heroes to eliminate the competition. Either that, or he fully intended to trick the heroes into getting themselves killed or captured down there. Apparently, the basement was a real headache of a trapped maze to get through, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Glorio expected it to kill them. Still, our heroes made it through with skill and tenacity, managing to defeat Glorio’s sister Meliya Arkona and rescue the two men they were looking for. In the process, they even discovered yet another pretty crazy secret: the Arkonas aren’t people at all, but rather a family of Rakshasa! You can think of them like devils, but more hedonistic and with animal heads and also really good at shapeshifting. The heads of the family were actually the same two people shifting shapes every few years to deceive the entire city!
After rescuing Neolandus and Vencarlo, the heroes made haste out of the city and to the one place they knew would be outside of the Queen’s eye… Harse! Yes indeed, dear reader, this is where I finally reunite with our intrepid heroes! In fact, right around this time, I joined them! I mean, laying low in Harse might be a good plan to keep Neolandus safe, but it had been exactly a month since I got there and I was feeling pretty antsy for more adventure. So I used my irresistible charms and convinced Cas to let me tag along as his protégé. I guess hardcore adventuring really builds you up quick, because he and the rest of our heroes sure seemed a heck of a lot tougher than when I last saw them. It really motivated me to catch up!
As for our next destination, well that is where the seneschal’s knowledge really came into play. Neolandus knew that the Queen had been spending a lot of time wandering into Castle Korvosa’s treasury “borrowing” treasures. Given that and the Queen’s sudden superhuman powers, Neolandus suspected that it might have something to do with a legend about a blue dragon servant of Zon-Kuthon named Kazavon. In fact, he believed that the Queen’s new crown was made with the dragon’s teeth, and were imbued with the evil dragon’s essence! Sadly, the Korvosan accounts of this old relic were pretty sparse, but there was a group that might still know about this ancient legend: the Shoanti!
Given the Shoanti’s history of being driven out of their homeland and into the barren Cinderlands by Chelaxian colonists, they aren’t exactly friendly with Korvosans. However, the heroes had an ace up their sleeve in the form of their favour to them back when they recovered one of their fallen warriors from the Dead Warrens. So, with that and what could possibly be the fate of Korvosa in their hands, the heroes (plus yours truly) went into the Cinderlands to seek an audience with some Shoanti shamans.
The journey was a little more complicated than you might expect. The Sklar-Quah (Clan of the Sun) were the ones that had the knowledge we sought, and they weren’t about to share it with just anyone, let alone Korvosans. Instead, we went to the Skoan-Quah (Clan of the Skull) to speak with Thousand Bones, the Shoanti leader our heroes had previously befriended. Thousand Bones (or T-Bones, as I call him) suggested that we go about the Cinderlands doing a bunch of feats to prove ourselves worthy of speaking with the Sun Shaman. That little quest took us all over the wastelands. Kellogg honour-wrestled a guy so hard they eventually became blood brothers. We explored an ancient Thassilonian temple to retrieve a sacred mark (and fought a giant tentacle monster in the process). Then we joined up with the Lyrune-Quah (Clan of the Moon) to fight a giant red gorilla that was occupying their sacred Desnan temple (we also joined forces with a lovely Truthspeaker fellow named Akram for a while). Then we lured a giant sand worm (seeing a pattern here? It’s giant creatures all the way down) that Cas dived right into and then cut his way out of (that didn’t even kill the worm; that’s how big it was).
After all of that, we went to speak with the Sklar-Quah. They accepted our accomplishments as proof of our worthiness and let us in, but before we could go too deep into details, the camp was attacked by a whole bunch of Red Mantis assassins and one very angry ranger. Sadly for them, they weren’t prepared for Lenore’s crazy magical powers, or the rest of our tricks for that matter. The assassins were slain and the ranger, a poor old man fueled by revenge over a long-running blood-feud, was permitted to be exiled from the Cinderlands after we made a plea to stop the cycle of violence between the Shoanti and Korvosans. That night, we had a great party with the tribe as honorary Shoanti. Kel even shaved his head and spent a lot of time with a lot of Sklar-Quah ladies, which is a pretty big deal considering the Endrin’s involvement with the clan being driven from their lands. Maybe some day, there’ll be a bunch of half-Shoanti Endrins running around, proving that old wounds between people really can be healed with enough time and good faith.
Before the Sun Shamans could reveal their knowledge about Kazavon, we got called back to Korvosa to deal with yet another problem. By now, the Queen had gone completely mad with power, and those allies of the city, even Cressida, were driven into hiding in the Dead Warrens as rebels. However, thanks to the dubious help of Boule, the guildmaster of the Cerulean Society (Korvosa’s thieves’ guild), we learned about a secret entrance into a place called the Deathhead Vault, a notorious prison that was now being used as a base of operations for creating the fanatical soldiers known as the Gray Maidens. This was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, so our group made our way to the Vault to wipe out this scourge of villains!
Dear reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a maximum security prison (I sure hope not!), but I can promise you they don’t typically look like this. For starters, they probably don’t have a whole army of Red Mantis assassins hanging out in a cave turned temple by the backdoor. Even with all of our precautions, they were a fierce bunch, and we had some pretty close calls. Still, by working together, we took those vicious assassins down and even captured their leader, a woman named Cinnabar that had apparently been controlled through enchantments to do their bidding. After that, we went into the actual prison. There, we not only defeated the Gray Maidens there and dismantled their indoctrination site, but we also rescued a whole bunch of prisoners that were on their way to being turned into Gray Maidens as well! We even found Marcus Endrin among the prisoners (I know, I thought he was dead too)!
With that little day trip dealt with, we returned to the Shoanti and learned the legend of Kazavon, the brutal warlord dragon that terrorised Belkzen and Ustalav. He committed all sorts of terrible atrocities from his castle, Scarwall, before he was defeated by a paladin of Iomedae, but those soldiers were then ambushed by orcs, triggering a curse that plunged Castle Scarwall into darkness. Our key to stopping Queen Ileosa, and by extension Kazavon, was to retrieve the paladin’s sword that slew him in life, the holy blade Serithial. It lay dormant somewhere deep in the castle, so we would have to brave its curse and retrieve it.
Lucky for us, we had some help. On our way to the remote castle, we happened upon Laori and one of her Kuthite allies, Shadowcount Sial, all the way from Nidal. They apparently belonged to a group called the Brotherhood of Bones, and they wanted Kazavon sealed away just as much as we did! So, spooky as they were, we let these weird allies join us in our quest to claim Serithial.
Reader, I won’t lie, the two days we spent in Castle Scarwall were easily some of the most terrifying and horrible days in my entire life. It was full to the brim with haunted rooms, grisly undead, and all manner of gruesome and ghastly things. Skeletons, ghouls, zombies, a mummy, a demilich, a vampire, a shadow dragon, a taxidermied wyvern, a carnivorous flower, a hag, a devil, a cursed ballroom, a giant worm man… You name it! I personally very nearly died no less than four times, and certainly would have were it not for a mix of good fortune and the skill of our heroes! We actually did lose the Shadowcount when he was taken to become some sort of special servant for Zon-Kuthon. THe whole thing was so traumatising that Laori gave up her religion! Point is, it was not a mission for the faint of heart or the frail of body. But still, never before have I been so excited! The suspense, the peril, the history… Oh, dear reader, if only I could explain in words the experience of such a place! It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, I can promise you that! Of course, it also helps that somewhere within all of that, My dear Cas finally mustered up the courage to confess his feelings for me, and we shared a lovely night together, but that’s beside the point.
It was a long and grueling mission, but ultimately, we lifted the curse of Castle Scarwall, and reclaimed the sword Serithial. In fact, it’s sitting right here next to me as I write this from the hotel bed. It’s a very pretty sword. Versatile too! Normally it’s this big chunky thing, but whenever Cassius picks it up, it turns into a slender rapier. When I take it, it becomes a tiny shimmering dagger. Magical artifacts really are incredible, aren’t they?
Anyway, that’s the story so far. Korvosa is still under the Queen’s tyranny right now, but by this time next week, we’ll be returning to take back the city. Everyone’s been gearing up, and Jules even got himself a big metal golem he repurposed from the castle! I’m pretty sure today would be Angel Day in Magnimar, which seems like a fitting holiday, considering it’s about celebrating angels defeating devils and the city’s founders’ escape from Korvosa. Except this time, we’re going into Korvosa to liberate it! I’ll be sure to say a prayer to whatever empyreal lords I can think of for good fortune in this fight we’re about to undertake, and for the safety of all those people in Korvosa that are waiting for us.
To you fine folks of Korvosa, future readers of this epic tale, I bid you to hold fast. The heroic conclusion is sure to be at hand very soon, and when it is, you’d better believe I’ll be sharing this story far and wide for all to hear! And then, I’m gonna paint a hundred really awesome murals of the whole thing all over the place! But probably after taking a very long nap. Being a hero takes a lot out of you, you know?
Player Note: It occurred to me a bit late that Cassius' way of speaking does include a fair amount of profanity. That's entirely my bad for neglecting that detail when posting here, so if it's grounds for removal then it is what it is I suppose. For now, I'll keep the journal link as it was originally written, but I'll try to make sure that my posts here are appropriately censored. If the mods want me to do anything further, then I'm happy to cooperate.
21/02/28 - Session 29 - Cassius’ Journal 29: The Den Where Maidens Are Made
17 Desnus, 4708 AR, Mainshore, North Point, Korvosa
Sparin' this Cinnabar woman turned out to be rather helpful. She was cooperative enough to give us a few more details about the facility we were about to walk into. Her map drawin' skills are s---- an' she didn’t know nearly as much as I’d have liked, but it’s a hell of a lot better than goin' in blind. After everythin' she’s done to help us there’s no way the Red Mantis will be takin' her back, so I guess it really is on us to keep our end of the deal. Personally I don’t like the idea of sendin' her to the rebel base one bit; seems an easy way to lead our enemies right to them, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to keep her safe at this point. Best I can hope our friends are smart enough to cover their bases with her. As for her f---ed up mind, it’ll have to wait until the problem of the Queen is good an' solved, but I can’t imagine Milani would take kindly to me turnin' away a victim of abuse like that. Sounded like she’s not one to have ever known compassion… We may have completely different circumstances, but in some ways I can relate to her situation.
Settin' that aside, we still have the rest of this base to clear out. After that mess with the Mantis, I took extra measure to scout ahead properly. First thing I came across was a crypt an' some sort of horrifyin' dog-headed zombie monster. Jules an' Lenore called it a meladaemon. I call it a problem we can save for later, since it didn’t see me. After all, the rest of the complex is what holds our real mission.
The prison itself is grim, but nothin' too far out from what I would have imagined, but instead of actual criminals, the place is full of Sable company marines an’ women that must have been pulled off the bloody street. The old hag covered in thorns waitin' around in the execution chamber was not somethin' I would have expected, mind you. I can only assume she’s some new addition. Once I did a sweep of the perimeter, we opted to start our attack with the room called the “nursery”, on account of the screams of peril comin' from it. The reason for that name made itself obviously pretty bloody quickly. This is where they make more of those f---in' maidens. That said, I don’t know what I was expectin' the process to look like, but I sure as hell wasn’t imaginin' a disembodied head tossin' around its entrails like bloody whips as bein' part of it! Good news is our little shock an' awe tactic took down the atrocity that is supposedly Zenobia Zenderholm, but the bad news is at least one soldier managed to sound the alarm…
Sure enough, now we’re stuck in a tiny room with several caged women an' we’re surrounded on all three sides. Normally I’d have a bigger problem with that, but it’s actually laid everyone out just perfectly for me to throw every bit of Milani’s wrath at these f---ers. They can rest assured that that’s exactly what I’ll be doin'...
What do you know, I've been peeking at the forum for almost five years and only now discovered that there's a campaign journal section!
I'm currently playing in two APs and have been keeping an in-character journal of them. This seems like a perfect place to share it!
This one's been running for quite some time now (we're currently at the tail end of book 4), so I'm going to take pity on myself and not individually post every single entry we have so far. Instead, I'll share the file I've been keeping the journal in (fancy formatting included):
But in the interest of putting this matter to rest once and for all:
The original Edge of Anarchy book, Pathfinder Chronicles: Guide to Korvosa, and Pathfinder Lost Omens World Guide all set the canonical start to Curse of the Crimson Throne as 4708 AR. This is also supported in most other official and unofficial records of the timeline of Golarion.
From the Adventure background in Edge of Anarchy (page 7):
"Barely 17 years old when she took Eodred II’s side in 4704 ar, Queen Ileosa has managed a minor miracle in the past 4 years."
From the Timeline on the back cover of Guide to Korvosa:
"4708: Current year."
From the Timeline in Pathfinder Lost Omens World Guide (page 110)
"4708 AR: King Eodred perishes, leaving Korvosa in the hands of Queen Ileosa, whose harsh rule brings about a time of plague and cruelty."
With regards to the Key-Lock Killer's most productive year, Guide to Korvosa sets that as 4697 AR, which would make 4797 a logical typo.
As for the notes about the Direption, I notice that the lines about the records of the ship's activity are a new addition to the Anniversary Edition (released in 2016), so I'm willing to bet whomever added it forgot to account for the timeline of the original book and used the anniversary's release as the baseline. Given that, I'd set the timeline as being 13-5 years ago (so 4695-4703), and the owner's death as 3 years ago (so 4705).
My players and I enjoyed it a fair amount, so it was mostly kept in unchanged. For the most part it doesn't need to be brought to the forefront all that much, and can pretty much be treated like one would downtime rules: a simple background action done to gain a simple bonus. I did do a few things to it though:
1. I made it an action as part of my revised downtime system (basically I tracked days like rounds). Players needed to spend a day to use their persona phase. It made those phase actions feel like a more active thing on their part, especially since we would roleplay out the action they took. I'd even occasionally give them small story benefits based on what they did to make them feel impactful to the plot. The other perk of this was that they could hold them for just before they did a mission, so they could prepare certain operations in anticipation of what they were about to do.
2. I buffed some of the benefits to make them a more appealing (as I did with several downtime actions). Mainly, this was aimed at the actions that earn gold, as I was running WftC as a high wealth campaign, and I've always considered the wealth scaling of downtime vs adventuring to be rather absurd. I know specifically that I changed Canny Investment to give 2d6 x 100 gp instead of just 2d6 gp, for instance. Other actions were also made to be a bit more effective than their downtime counterparts (such as gather information) to justify their existence.
3. I completely revised the Develop Persona action list in order to broaden its application. Mostly this was to make sure that every skill had something it could be used for.
My revised list:
- Build Information Network (Charm, Genius, or Subterfuge): You establish or grow a discreet network of informants. (Bluff, Disguise)
- Community Service (Sacrifice or Sagacity): You provide aid or charity to your allies or the general public. (Heal, Profession [Any], Survival)
- Create Supplies (Genius or Sacrifice): You produce various small but useful supplies for your allies. (Craft [Any])
- Daring Traversal (Heroism or Subterfuge): You embark on an impressive voyage to spread your message. (Acrobatics, Climb, Fly, Ride, Swim)
- Draft Declaration (Charm or Genius): You write a legal or political document in support of your cause. (Linguistics)
- Liberate Political Prisoners (Sacrifice or Subterfuge): You help some potential allies escape capture or imprisonment. (Escape Artist)
- Locate Sympathisers (Charm or Sagacity): You seek out people who might be sympathetic to your cause. (Sense Motive)
- Give Lecture (Genius or Sagacity): You offer your expertise on a subject to an audience. (Appraise, Knowledge [Any], Profession [Any], Spellcraft)
- Organize Rally (Charm, Heroism, or Sacrifice): You gather a group to publicly voice their support for your cause. (Diplomacy, Intimidate)
- Patrol for Trouble (Sacrifice, Sagacity, or Subterfuge): You keep a vigilant eye for possible threats. (Perception)
- Secure Secrets (Subterfuge): You conceal your secrets or seek out those of your opponents. (Sleight of Hand, Stealth)
- Public Presentation (Charm, Heroism, or Sagacity): You make a performance to draw in support for your cause. (Perform [Any])
- Tame Beasts (Heroism, Sacrifice, or Sagacity): You use your affinity for animals to secure their friendship and loyalty. (Handle Animal)
- Tinker With Equipment (Genius or Subterfuge): You maintain or tune up your tools. (Disable Device, Use Magic Device)
Aside from that, it worked fairly well. The key I found was to really merge its use into the story. Their agents were living NPCs and the actions taken were played out, so it didn't feel like a pure management thing.
I did a bit of tweaking to the gala rules to make it fit in my game that also helped clarify a few of the bits mentioned in the last two comments. Here's what I did in case it helps.
I treat social combat much like regular combat in terms of action economy. That is to say everyone gets a turn with 1 standard action, 1 move action, and 1 swift action. Actions at the gala are as follows:
Discovery Check (Move action): Make a skill check (usually perception, sense motive, or a knowledge) to learn an influence skill or strength/weakness of a character. Can also be used to find out other info about the character (such as their loyalty).
Influence Check (Standard action): Make a skill check to influence a character or location. Success means +1 influence +1 success for every 5 the DC is passed by (for rooms, the result is applied directly to the room's influence hp, whatever it's called).
Change Rooms (Move action): Move from one of the gala rooms to another. Can perform Escape Artist or CMB to turn this into a Swift action.
Quick Action (Swift action): Perform an action that is very fast and easy to do and that wouldn't require a check (such as communicating with another PC or Martella).
Simple Action (Move action): Perform an action that is involved but doesn't require a check (such as delivering a letter).
Complex Action (Standard action): Perform an action that would require a skill check (such as stealing an item).
This seemed to work out pretty well, though I'll note that the additional actions granted will make things go a lot faster, so if you're worried about PCs getting everything done too fast, it's best to cut down the number of rounds or add things they can do (such as tossing in the bonus senators.
Examples of missions in this scope:
-Spying on the High Strategos would be 1 Complex Action to conceal yourself (stealth/disguise) and a Discovery check to observe him.
-Delivering messages would either take up your Move action going from one room to another or you can use the skill check to conserve your Move action (to deliver the letter and still have a standard free, for instance).
-Sabotaging the wine would require a Complex Action to steal the wine, another Complex Action to sabotage it, and a third Complex Action to put it back without drawing suspicion.
-Stealing an item on display is a Complex Action.
-To learn political leanings, the PC must influence the NPCs to friendly and then use a Discovery Action to learn it. Alternatively in the Countess' case you could spend rounds observing her like with Pythareus.
Hm... I may not really be an expert on it, especially since it was so long ago (back when Hell's Rebels was releasing), but I'll try.
Off the top of my head I think the main one that came up was the Magus spellstrike+spell combat technique. I think I never had to solve the problem for myself so I don't know what the best solution would be. They may have clarified the rules since I played them actually... But for sure anything where the dominant strategy is to use all actions then take a 5 foot step is seriously hampered. This applies to just about any former full round action that is best done adjacent to a foe, since it's easy to predict that it's coming and just move a step away before their next round. This can be a problem for creatures that use a lot of natural attack, since the use all natural attacks action is 3 acts.
Paladins that use lay on hands and anyone with swift action abilities might grumble a bit at losing out compared to others (especially if it's a class that upgrades their actions from standard to move or move to swift; Cavalier and Slayer come to mind), but that's the way the cookie crumbles.
Anyone using two-weapon fighting (including the Monk's flurry) might need a quick rundown on how it works in the new economy (my players had a hard time figuring it out, though I thought it was pretty simple).
I do remember that there was one action that was frustratingly ambiguous and we had a long bout of research at the table to figure out the correct answer but I can't for the life of me remember what it was now... If I remember I'll post a follow-up.
All in all, mostly just look out for full round actions and surprise bonus actions that your players or the game doesn't normally account for.
Hopefully this is still useful. Apologies that I couldn't be of more help.
I've used it a few times myself and really enjoyed it, though I should note that while the system overall is pretty good and does still work fairly well even at higher levels, you do definitely feel the growing pains of the system in 1e when it comes to classes like the Magus or Paladin that make heavy use of the normal action economy, or other economy-exploiting techniques like dual wielding. Monsters are also a bit tricky when they have special rules (most of the times I used it were in games that were heavily humanoid-focused) though as I recall the unchained system does have provisions for this. With regards to natural attacks specifically for instance, there is a "Make All Natural Attacks" action, so that dragon can still get 5 or 6 hits in.
The biggest effect of the system I found in mid and late game is that it gives a huge leg up on characters that exploit the movement potential it offers. It changes the dynamic of how fights play out to be a lot more rewarding for tactical thinkers, and significantly tones down the impact of classes and action economy tricks like swift actions and haste. It also makes certain types of actions very ambiguous, so you'd want to find those cases in advance and have rulings ready, as it may require you to alter some mechanics and tactics. I don't recall there being a whole lot of these situations in RoW, but there definitely are at least some.
If you like the economy from 2e, you'll probably like Unchained as well. So long as you're willing to do the legwork to spot the ambiguous actions in advance and balance it before it becomes a problem at the table (which in this case because it's a play by post isn't as urgent a situation).
This time related to the "Succession Loyalties" maps in the front of books 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5.
Is this something that the players should be provided?
If so, when is a good time to share this with them?
There's no reason not to, and it helps to provide some context for what the current political situation is at the start of each book.
Personally I've been showing them to the players at the start/end of each book as part of a "state of the union" intro. I also tossed on the various nobles and notable characters they've encountered on it in order to give them a sense of where all their potential contacts have influence (should they ever try to call upon them for a favour or some such).
If you wanted to make it even more meta, have it be a sort of planning map that Martella keeps on hand, much like generals of old. It also makes it that much easier for her to indicate to the players where they're going next, since you can have Martella literally put their token in the corresponding spot.
My players keep bringing up a good point (they're using it to sow discontent against Bartleby Lotheed so I'm not discouraging them):
Why has no one done anything about County Meratt being such a wretched hive of scum and villainy? Gul Guisarne is supposed to be an inquisitor of Abadar who strikes fear into the hearts of men and can magically sense lies... yet...
1. Wanted criminals with LARGE prices on their heads manage to exist for years under his nose in the Beggarwood
2. A local Baron is transformed into an arachnid monstrosity who feeds on human beings for A DECADE and nothing is done
3. The servants of said Baron ply their trade as outlaws to sate his lust for tribute and flesh for A DECADE and nothing is done
4. A local pilgrimage site to GUL GUISARNE'S OWN DEITY is a lethal death-pit with a shattered bridge and a massive beast and... you get where I'm going.
The point is, it's hard to sell the Seneschal (and chief of secret police) or the Count Lotheed as threats to the players (or anyone) when neither of those men seem to have the power to deal with even a handful of low-level bandits whom the PCs cowed in six seconds of combat. I get that for Story Reasons, the PCs need to be the ones to solve Meratt's problems, but some of those problems have been going on for so long it strains plausibility that no one in the County (let alone the party's supposedly fearsome and powerful adversaries) has done anything about it.
Anyone else run into this problem? Suggestions? Thoughts?
Good points. I don't explicitly have answers for all of them, though in my case I tried to frame it as Gul being primarily concerned with holding down his local area and being unconcerned with how the other Baronies take care of their infrastructure. It's his job to keep people in line, not safe from their own poor choices.
1. I set this up to be Okerra's problem. Up until now he's been trying to deal with it himself, but his more traditional military soldiers are poorly equipped to deal with guerrilla bandits. He's also more hesitant about using lethal force, which hinders his soldier's efforts. My Count Lotheed during the Jubilee actively proposed sending Gul in to solve the problem for him as a way of working towards their military alliance (Bartelby's secret goal). Okerra was hesitant but getting desperate so he's close to agreeing. The players had an opportunity to interject and prevent him from accepting the aid by offering to deal with it themselves or suggesting another solution.
2. 3. 4. In my campaign the Betonys (the Dalsines in my game) actually used to be the stewards of Songbird Hall but when their family died it shifted to the Lotheeds. Telus took over the Dalsine lands and then the unpleasantness happened. Out of spite and cost cutting measures, the Lotheeds have actively avoided doing anything for that area as a way of spitting on the graves of the late Betonys and shirking that responsibility by "leaving it to Telus". Gul is more than happy to completely ignore that territory since they're too far from their own lands to be relevant and they've received no requests from anyone of high enough stature to care. The other nobles have their own problems and so long as the problems don't bleed too much into their own territories, they assume Telus is incompetent and ignore the entire area.
4. On top of it being in the Telus region, Gul is noted as having something of a weird philosophy when it comes to being an Abadaran. By my logic, he leaves the canyon be because it's not an official pilgrimage site, and the fact that it's noted to be somewhat dangerous should be enough to indicate to anyone with sense that if they can't handle themselves, they shouldn't bother. He takes care of him and his, and if others do stupid things and suffer the consequences, well that's on them.
Having played and GM'd on roll20 with paid and non-paid, I'd say it's a pretty good system. The UI is a bit clunky at times and the journal editor is kind of a mess (especially if you want to play with formatting text), but it does all the important things well and since their partnership with Paizo their character sheets for PCs and NPCs are quite good. The paid features are nifty but by no means necessary unless you're a big fan of dynamic lighting or have an absurd amount of images you want to upload (the free version has more than enough space for at least one or two full adventure paths).
In the context of Rise of the Runelords specifically, they do have a fully built out Anniversary edition package you can buy that basically sets up all the maps, tokens, and journals for you. If you're the kind of GM that doesn't want to do all that prep it can save an immense amount of time (though I still recommend combing through it yourself). I got the War for the Crown packages and edited them with my homebrew additions after, but having the brunt of the legwork done was very helpful. It's also a GM only expense, as are most things in r20. The players don't usually need to buy anything, only the GM.
Mummy's Mask: Not very hard to run as is. More difficult to play due to the sheer number of save or die/suck situations, which can in turn make it hard on the DM if the players are unlucky.
Hell's Rebels: Moderately difficult, but very difficult to run well unless you have a motivated party. The challenge rests mainly in trying to bring all the components across all the books together to make a properly living Kintargo, as opposed to reading each book separately. It's also a pain to manage the rebellion mechanic if the players don't get into it themselves.
Reign of Winter: Ok to run, with certain parts being particularly difficult (looking at you Mother, Maiden, Crone). Has a lot of non-linear moments which can get messy. This one really relies on the party having self motivation though, as Lintecarka mentioned. Our group managed it mostly because our characters turned it into a comedy campaign.
Wrath of the Righteous: Probably the most difficult in terms of numbers and balancing. Mythic will do that, of course. It also has something of a structural problem during the mass combat portion of book 2 to my knowledge (the first time I played it, our army was killed and we had no viable means of dealing with that situation, so we got a game over despite not having lost our characters).
War for the Crown: Moderately difficult to run, but extremely difficult to run well, especially with a motivated party. It's heavy in terms of things to account for intrigue side (so many notes to track), and it more or less demands the use of additional rules or improvisation to handle all the non-standard things it encourages. This is probably the most non-standard AP and thus requires much more prop, proportionally so to the motivation of the players.
Given that, of the ones I've played in or run, I'd say it's a bit of a tossup between Wrath of the Righteous and War for the Crown, for different reasons. I'd say Wrath is the most vertically challenging (difficulty balancing), while WftC is the most horizontally challenging (managing information).
Thanks! Those three scenarios that were released with WftC are definitely what sparked my inspiration for this in the first place. From there it was a logical step to include the books The Lion's Justice references, and then the Dalsine Affair came in because I needed to justify the switch in leadership. Everything kind of came together after that.
Using the Society PCs for book 5 makes a lot of sense. I'm going to have a bit of a hard time justifying it in my case since none of my player's Sovereign Court PCs are very academic (they are literally all martials or hybrid martials). They do make for good occasional stand-ins however. Personally I'm a fan of populating the world with a whole bunch of named characters to give a sense of a living reality with many movers and shakers, even if the players don't latch onto all of them.
While I'm thinking of it, I did forget to include one other book that I haven't run, but am considering. I may toss in Tomb of the Iron Medusa between books 4 and 5 of the AP, having it be a flashback to a group of adventurers and/or Pythareus' agents (possibly even letting players take the bosses from Book 4) delving in and learning the Stavian family secret. That way the reveal can be suitably hyped up to lead into the next book and the fallout that it causes.
I'll most likely see with my players when that time comes.
First and foremost,in case you didn’t look at the title properly, this is not a thread for players. There are MAJOR SPOILERS for THE ENTIRE WAR FOR THE CROWN AP, and also SEVERAL PFS MODULES. Specifically The Infernal Vault, The Dalsine Affair, Library of the Lion, Birthright Betrayed, The Jarlsblood Witch Saga, and The Lion’s Justice.
You have been warned.
I took inspiration from this thread along with the PFS books made to tie into the events of this AP to develop a prologue of sorts to the AP proper. Having now run it in its completion (the prologue; the AP is in full swing and my players have just finished Crownfall), I thought I would lay out what I built and how it went.
The primary objective of this was to provide a certain amount of context for the AP (at least one of my players is fairly new to Golarion, while the others are pretty big lore nerds), as well as foreshadow a lot of the events in the AP, including the primary villains. It also had the added bonus of giving me a chance to playtest and refine a few house rules and social systems. These are issues I had a fair amount of trouble with when I ran Hell’s Rebels for the first time, so I wanted to make sure to get it right this time around.
The prologue is composed of six Pathfinder Society modules, starting 12 years before the events of the AP (4706 AR) and spanning up until the events of the first part of Crownfall. It follows the exploits of the Sovereign Court, from their early beginnings as a group of aspiring Pathfinders working for the Taldan faction up to modern day, where they are Lady Morilla’s elite covert agents in service to Princess Eutropia.
So, without further ado, the books and how I altered them slightly to tie into the AP:
Book 1: The Infernal Vault
The year is 4706 AR and a group of pathfinder agents are assembled by the scheming Taldan noble Jacquo Dalsine to execute an operation in Absalom. There, they meet with Lady Gloriana Morilla, who informs them that their mission is to infiltrate a vault belonging to the Chelish Deckland family, stop Lady Celeena Deckland from revealing sensitive records, and convince her to join the Taldan cause as a double agent.
The purpose of this book was to introduce the characters to the most basic social combat mechanics and set the tone of the adventure. It also introduced Lady Morilla, Baron Dalsine, and Lady Deckland as major characters that would play a part in the overall plot.
- The players are all assumed to be relatively new members of the Taldan faction. Emphasis is put on this rather than them being Pathfinders. In hindsight, I could have even opted to have them be called the Sovereign Court from the very beginning, since the faction change from PFS doesn’t really play into this story.
- The mission statement of “stop Lady Deckland” was altered to more aggressively emphasise capturing her alive (the Taldan faction objective) so that the players would have to utilise diplomacy to talk down a hostile target. This allowed me to test my streamlined social combat rules in a hostile negotiation scenario (my version of social combat is adjusted so that Discovery checks are move actions and Influence checks are standard, meaning they can be used in combat situations).
- Following her capture, Celeena Deckland goes on to becoming a spy for Taldor within the Chelaxian courts. She is however found out in 4010 AR and hunted by Asmodaean Inquisitors, and “rescued” by Nenareen Adella (who informed them in the first place). The Duchess of Blood tricks Celeena into believing that it was the Society that betrayed her. She is given an opportunity to join the Immaculate Circle and gain vengeance against the Sovereign Court. Lady Morilla loses all contact with her at this point, and believes that she was caught and killed.
- The “Taldan dagger” that the Taldor faction is supposed to retrieve for bonus prestige was altered to be the Scion's Dagger relic. It would later be stolen from the Pathfinders (either by Lady Deckland or by Chalfon Dalsine, who takes it from Baron Jacquo) and given to the Immaculate Circle, which is how it comes to appear in The Twilight Child.
- Players started this at level 2. No reason for this besides my and the party's general distaste for level 1 fragility.
Book 2: The Dalsine Affair
The Taldan agents (now level 3) are sent to rescue a group of Sarenites from the lodge in Oppara before they're caught by the Lion Blades, only to discover that this was a diversion by Lord Chalfon Dalsine to orchestrate the encounter between Baron Jacquo and Pasha Muhlia Al-Jakri of the Qadiran faction. The agents arrive just too late as Baron Jacquo is killed, but defeat Chalfon. The agents attend Jacquo’s funeral and briefly meet the Dalsine patriarch, and Lady Morilla subsequently takes over the Taldan Faction.
- The canonical date of events is moved to 4708 AR to be 10 years before the events of Songbird, Scion, Saboteur. The reasons for this will be clearer with the rest of the changes.
- Both the encounters with the militia and the guards at the Dalsine manor were organised to play along with the social combat structure I used with Lady Deckland. All in all it played fairly similarly to skill challenges, which worked fairly well at keeping the pace.
- The leader of the surviving Cult of the Dawnflower members is Zenaida Tandleos, leader of Oppara’s Sarenite church from Temples of the Inner Sea. I did this to have her be an eventual asset in Book 6 of the prologue (the life debt she owes them ended up getting used to have her cast resurrection on Kalbio).
- I added a slightly more detailed Opparan sewer sequence that included encounters with a slithering pit and an onyvolan. I did this mostly to replace the spider encounter (one of my players is an arachnophobe) and to use these interesting creatures since I don’t use random encounters (one of the PCs is also known for their large hat, which happened to be a very fortunate coincidence for me). One of my players inspected the hat the onyvolan was wearing, so I quickly fluffed that is had the name “Adella” embroidered inside as a little bit of extra foreshadowing.
- Charito (the Sarenite who reveals that she may have leaked into to Chalfon) was reflavoured to be a servant of a lesser branch of the Vernisant family. I did this specifically because one of my players is a noble scion of Vernisant and also a Sarenite. Charito was his nurse as a child, which is where he learned about Sarenrae. She also alludes to her lady and Chalfon having an affair, which will come into play in how the Vernisant PC ends up “inheriting” a certain Dalsine estate.
- The influence that convinced Chalfon to orchestrate his cousin’s death is changed to be “The Immortal Duke” (ie Duke Lotheed). Chalfon’s diary and ring reveal that he was an aspiring member of the Immaculate Circle and was acting on their behalf (though the reason is left unclear to the PCs, who can find nothing about the Circle or the Immortal Duke beyond them being some secret organisation, which are a dime a dozen in Taldor).
- The Dalsines at the time of this adventure are the keepers of Songbird Hall in Meratt, and Baron Jacquo is the owner of the Betony Estate (naturally renamed the Dalsine estate). Baron Jacquo is detailed to be the only son of Count Theollo Dalsine. The reason Duke Panivar arranged for Chalfon’s actions was to ensure that Count Dalsine would have no heirs, so that upon his death stewardship of Songbird Hall would shift to the Lotheeds. Martella’s father would discover Panivar’s immortality by investigating the circumstances of his family’s sudden good fortune.
- After Chalfon is defeated, the PCs are invited by Lady Morilla to go to Meratt with her for the funeral and to pay their respects to Count Dalsine, where they encounter the nobles from book 2 of the AP. This was a mostly open-ended sequence where the players could get various bits of foreshadowing and more knowledge about the various families (including the Lotheeds).
- In addition to the Meratt nobility, Count Orlundo Zespire (who is a friend to Count Dalsine) is present, and the PCs appearance at this funeral is what impresses him to consider their aid some years later.
- Baron Araig Telus is present at the funeral. He was a close friend (and possibly lover) of Jacquo’s, and takes his loss poorly. Soon after the funeral, he secludes himself in his estate. Around this time, he has an encounter with the Sisters of Indulgent Dreams, and is cursed. His lack of social appearances is blamed on his mourning over Jacquo’s death, though in reality the curse is more to blame.
- The Sisters of Indulgent Dreams arrived at the Lotheed estate soon after the funeral on Duke Panivar’s orders to arrange for Count Theollo’s discrete assassination in 4709 AR.
- Duke Panivar and Duchess Veleto Lotheed (at least, her facsimile) are present at the funeral. This is the most direct interaction with a member of the Circle the players will have before the final book of the AP. I did use it as an opportunity to impress upon them his power (he used time shift at one point during the scene to prevent a minor inconvenience; the level of magic was beyond what the players could readily identify).
- Baron Nicolaus Okerra and his wife Baroness Nirvenna Okerra are present at the funeral. Nirvenna recently gave birth to their daughter Selli, and Baron Nicolaus is considering retirement in order to spend time with their newborn daughter. Nirvenna would die in 4716 AR.
- Dame Parthenna Crabbe is present at the funeral, and is giving advice to Nirvenna about being a mother, having had her own daughter a few years back.
- I did also have the scene of a young Bartelby taunting Martella here (I specifically used the mud slinging image from the front matter of book 2 as a reference), though I realise now that they would have been too old for that scene to occur at this stage. Perhaps I could have introduced them as relatively young adults here instead.
- I intend to have Lord Chalfon Dalsine appear as a petitioner or outsider of some sort in Duskfathom.
Book 3: Library of the Lion
It’s 4713 AR, and the Taldan agents (now level 4) are commissioned by an anonymous benefactor (Princess Eutropia) to infiltrate a Lion Blades training base to locate information about Taldan inheritance law.
- More of an emphasis is placed on getting the information for Princess Eutropia than on the Shining Crusade details.
- Marquess Charlotte Deschamps makes an appearance as a member of the Pathfinder Society’s more covert branch (and as another liaison to Princess Eutropia), and offers the PCs suggestions about how they can better sneak into the library undetected. At this stage, she is the wife of a Taldan Senator.
- The attendant to the library that checks up on them is Kathann Zalar, still a young inexperienced clerk and not yet a full-fledged Lion Blade. She comes to realise that the visitors were up to something after their departure, and her investigation leads her to discovering the Princess Eutropia was the one responsible for the infiltration of the vault. This is what sparked her forming her eventual alliance with the Princess.
- There is a book outlining a great deal of information about the infamous lich Tar-Baphon (this is normally part of the Cheliax faction’s mission). The book appears to have recently been copied. This was done by Celeena Deckland, who recently infiltrated the Library in order to retrieve her own means of immortality to join the Immaculate Circle.
- The Band of the Crusader’s Alliance was once held in the Library of the Lion, but has been stolen by the time the PCs have come here.
- Glorymane has a recollection of many historical figures, including some of the members of the Immaculate Circle. In my game, the players didn’t dig into this.
- I did keep the Worldwound aspect of the goal in here, but mostly because my group has also been playing Wrath of the Righteous, so it was relevant to the grander lore of our Golarion. I like to make easter egg mentions of other APs we’ve done throughout my games, since we’ve established that they’re all part of the same canon and I’m a sucker for continuity nods.
Book 4: Birthright Betrayed
In 4017 AR, the Taldan agents (lvl 5), now rebranded as the Sovereign Court, are tasked with investigating Earl Calhadion Vernisant’s ongoing indiscretions relating to unlawful appropriation of artifacts and funding of piracy in Ridonport, and confronting him if he is found to be guilty.
- Count Orlundo Zespire is present during the briefing, having remembered the PCs and Lady Morilla from the Dalsine funeral. He is the one that calls upon the Sovereign Court to help him in the first place.
- Calbio of Breezy Creek is present in the museum, having been contracted to create a tapestry for the museum. (I actually forgot to implement this one at the time, which is kind of a shame.)
- If Rasvelg Coalbraid is befriended by the PCs, he offers up the line “Rasvelg Coalbraid attests this one’s sail is sturdy”. This line, if spoken to another Coalbraid in the next book, provides a bonus towards influencing them.
- Several of the items Calhadion has taken from the museum were for the purpose of bribing his way into the Immaculate Circle.
- The pirates mention that while they didn’t know who their benefactor was, on at least one occasion they noticed a man with antlers watching them from the treeline. They suspect fey nonsense or some sort of weird helmet, but this is in fact Count Ghoom keeping an eye on things.
- While I didn’t do it in my game, I think there was a definite opportunity to slide in another Taldan relic link in here. The museum is a perfect spot to place one that either is lost later or is appropriated by Calhadion prior to the PCs arrival.
Book 5: The Jarlsblood Witch Saga
In spring of 2018 AR, the Sovereign Court (lvl 7) is sent to the Land of the Linnorm Kings to clear the name of Kolvi, ancestor to a member of the Ulfen Guard who may be of use as a contact.
- I didn’t really change much of anything here, aside from include the link to Rasvelg from the previous book.
- I included an original character during the visit to Torsig’s lodge. This was an ally NPC during my run of Hell’s Rebels who eventually became the Venture Captain for Kintargo. Just another continuity nod.
Book 6: The Lion’s Justice
Learning from their recently acquired ally in the Ulfen Guard that the Grand Prince is planning an attack on the Senate, the Sovereign Court (lvl 8) collects evidence from Earl Vernisant’s estate, then make their way to the Senate floor to stop the massacre with the help of the Lion Blades.
- I ran this in tandem with the part 1 of Crownfall. Once The Jarlsblood Witch Saga was complete, I started Crownfall, then continued until they were about to watch the Grand Prince’s speech. The next session was with the Sovereign Court, and continued until they departed for the Senate, at which point I suddently switched back to the AP PCs witnessing the massacre, and giving them a few rounds to try and fight/escape, only to be taken out one by one (making each character disappear one by one like that turned out great by the way; my players had no idea what was going on and it played into the panicked mood of the scene perfectly). That session ended with the AP PCs having vanished, leaving things uncertain. Then the next session was the Sovereign Court arriving at the Senate, and defeating the foes. Once Calhadion was beaten, it was back to the AP PCs and shall remain as such for the rest of the game.
- Kathann Zalar is present at the Library of the Lion when they visit, and explains that since their intrusion, her investigations allowed her to build a connection with Princess Eutropia. She commends them on their skills all those years ago, and then departs to the Senate to take her role in ushering the AP PCs into the building.
- Glorymane recognises the PCs and happily speaks to them if they chose to interact.
- Laurisa Tromaine, Glorymane, and the Library of the Lion will get re-used along with Kathann for City in the Lion’s Eye, and may make mention of the events of this and the Library of the Lion scenario.
- I called out the fact that Calhadion’s home in Oppara is the same map as the one for the Arnisant historical residence as being a deliberate choice: Calhadion made his residence to be a replica to further emphasise his association with the hero.
- Because the party had some trouble with the fight against the Brotherhood of Silence agents, I had the poisoned Ionnia drag herself to Calhadion’s office and procure a neutralise poison potion for herself as well as a “control rod” with which to override the golem’s order of not attacking the Brotherhood agents. It took her several rounds to get there though, so it was mostly in the event that the PCs weren’t able to turn things around.
- The documents in Vernisant’s safe included a letter from Duchess Adella (which I did write out) giving him instructions for the Exaltation Massacre. It mentions that Al-Jakri’s insurgents will be present (and later killed so as to use them as a patsy for the massacre, helping further push the war with Qadira position Pythareus is going for). She also specifically calls out Lady Deckland and her grudge against Lady Morilla and the Sovereign Court. She concludes her message with a warning that he not fail like he did in Ridonport, should he wish to join the Circle’s ranks.
- During the gala itself, the AP PCs didn’t have much of a chance to speak with Calhadion (he dismisses them out of hand as having something more important to attend to). Instead, they had an opportunity to see him having changed from parade armour to full plate not long before the Grand Prince’s speech.
- Karina Deckland was replaced with Celeena. By this point Celeena is fully under the Duchess of Blood’s influence and has apparently taken on some qualities that suggest she attempted to attain lichdom. I left the lichdom part vague, particularly since these PCs in my game were not particularly knowledgeable. I also used this to justify how she would know the player’s tactics and respond in kind.
- I replaced Celeena’s devil minions with troops (specifically the dottari troops from Song of Silver). There were two assassin troops (one of which could be dispersed through social combat if the players chose to do so) and one Lion Blades troop to assist the players in the event that things got too rough (the Lion Blades used the inquisitor troop statblock so that they could provide healing).
- Calhadion kills Lord Kastner as the PCs arrived in the Arcade of Triumphs after defeating Celeena. I did this because I killed off all the NPCs that the AP PCs failed to influence during the gala (plus it made for good dramatic effect).
- Following the end of part 2 of Crownfall, I had the AP PCs stay with the Sovereign Court, and participate in the discussion of what to do with Kalbio (more accurately, the one player with a strong investment in Kalbio was able to overhear the Sovereign Court talk about it). This was so that the players could have their characters from the AP push their choice of whether to revive him or not to the Sovereign Court characters, who had the means to do it but hadn’t met him and so would have no significant reason to get involved. It helped that the player in question had made her AP character be the former servant of her prologue character, so the rapport was already there.
- Zenaida Tandleos remembers her debt to the PCs from The Dalsine Affair, and will gladly revive any of the PCs or another character (namely Kalbio) if asked.
- The help Lady Morilla provides with the Dignified Repository takes the form of her sending one of the Sovereign Court characters to scout. The effects are otherwise the same. Conveniently in my game the only Sovereign Court PC who was mostly unharmed after the fight was a Ninja, so their role in being a scout and discretely thinning the herd made perfect sense.
- I added an extra sequence where after the AP PCs got through the entire Dignified Repository fighting only Mr. Smiles and Wyssilka (they were extremely effective in their disguise/stealth approach), the now healed up Sovereign Court group came back and swept through the remaining grunts throughout the building. It was a way to take care of all the remaining enemies quickly while also giving the players a bit of catharsis in the form of being way over-levelled. I may have also played “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” as the combat music.
As you can probably imagine, doing all of this was a lot of work, but I would say that this little project of mine turned out to be a pretty resounding success overall. While it’s still a bit early to tell if the players will catch all my links, I think it will definitely help them further down the road. They’ve already caught on to certain recurring details, such as circles and their association with some background manipulating force, and they latched onto certain details such as the “antlered man” fairly hard. I intend to pepper more references, callbacks, and foreshadowing in the AP as well, but this has helped me figure out a good groundwork of what does and doesn’t work for this group.
I think it was most valuable however for helping me refine my use of the influence and social combat rules. I originally was trying to use the full statblock version of the rules, but quite frankly the pace at which I had to update information for the players made it untenable, so by the time I reached The Jarlsblood Witch Saga is was significantly stripped down, giving the players only what they needed to know at the time. I think that made things run much more smoothly with the social aspect of the game overall.
Hopefully this exceedingly long dissertation will prove useful in terms of giving some of you ideas for your own games.
My interpretation is similar to Latrecis', though with a minor modification (note that this is entirely interpretation with no basis in historical fact on my part).
I like to think of the different members of the court as being similar to departments or agencies that handle different (mostly financial) aspects of Kintargo. The Lord-Mayor gives them incontrovertible instructions about what they want and can reduce their "funding" via contracts, but the noble houses actually handle how the businesses and industries operate. As a result, when a Lord-Mayor isn't micromanaging them they have control over most of the city's businesses, though there's usually too much squabbling between their roles for any one noble to get much of a leg over another. In essence, I interpret therm as being government-licenced guilds with overlapping interests.
In this interpretation, the Court has a lot of power so long as the Lord-Mayor doesn't give them any specific direction, but Barzillai is a micro-manager, so their power has been limited considerably as a result of his meddling (though for his allies this is to their benefit, as they get more authority and wealth by doing what he wants).
As for each family, I did think of a bit more detail regarding how they influence the city, which I used to develop some extra subplots the players could explore:
-Aulamaxa: Generally handles hunting and game licences in the northern Ravounel area, but has aspirations for further influence in the operatic arts and public press domains (they are essentially vying for the Victocora's old spot and would be in direct conflict with Sarini). Their further interest in the Kintargo area holdings puts them in conflict with the Jarvis family, while the interest in information puts them at odds with the Jhalteros. The fact that they've been battling on so many fronts for influence is basically what is holding them back.
-Aulorian: Handles many things related to arcane subjects (including dealing with certain types of monsters, hence salt and silver). They handle the import and export of magical things in and out of Ravounel (which is why Thrune has been using them to make magic items so much harder to come by in the city).
-Delronge: Handles the horse trade, hunting in southern Ravounel (which isn't nearly as profitable due to the Strix) and imports/exports from/to mainland Cheliax. They're directly responsible for tampering with the Vashnarstills as a way of taking over all imports and exports in Ravounel. The most opportunist Thrune ally.
-Jarvis: Handles most of the construction contracts in Kintargo and Ravounel in general. Handles just about everything in the "public works" domain, though they rely on the Jhalteros for supplies and conflict with the Tanessens when it comes to the military applications of certain structures.
-Jhaltero: Handles information brokering for most of the noble families while holding Kintargo's major and stable mining contracts. Because of this they act as a potent check for other families, while being unable to rise above themselves (since that would jeopardise their role in balancing the others). That balance and their role is now endangered by the instability brought on by Barzillai.
-Sarini: Handles matters of diabolism, which puts them in close allegiance with the Asmodaean church, and also all entertainment. They were partially checked by the Victocoras in the domain of theatre and the arts but with them gone the Sarinis have eagerly taken over and carried out the will of Thrune and the Asmodaeans regarding redactions. They have rapidly grown in authority without an adversary (something the Aulamaxas and Jhalteros might have an interest in). The most dogmatic Thrune ally.
-Tanessen: Handles things related to military and defence. Have opinions regarding Kintargo's comparatively lax defence funding and as such are in frequent conflict with the Jarvis family over how the city is being built (though they are perhaps less dogmatic than the Sarinis and actually have the city's safety at heart). Most of the guards and matters of security in the region are bankrolled by them. The most pragmatic Thrune ally.
-Vashnarstill: Handles international imports and exports, mainly due to their extremely valuable Arcadian contract. This contract was recently dissolved through questionable means by Barzillai as a way of getting the Delronges on his side. They also run the docks, so they have heavy influence in the shipyards and among the Kintargo working class, even if their noble status is waning.
-Victocora: Handled most matters of art and education in the city and owned and operated the Opera House. Their authority in these domains kept Kintargo fairly liberal and held at bay the diabolical influences championed by the Sarinis.
As for their other holdings, I figure they have relatives administering them or they visit occasionally. The only ones that I know are defined are Aulomaxa (Cypress Point), Jarvis (Argo Isle), Jhaltero (Whiterock), and Vashnarstill (Anchor's End). In my version of the game I mostly used what's defined for the leaders in the back page of Dance of the Damned. Baron Canton Jhaltero stays because he views his role as necessary (he'd much rather live a quiet peaceful life in Whiterock, but there's no one ready you take his place), Baroness Belcara Jarvis stays because Kintargo is her family's home, Archbaroness Eldonna Aulamaxa stays because she wants Kintargo to be her family's home (and leaving would look bad), and Baron Sendi Vashnarstill actually leaves Kintargo frequently while his family barely holds things together, though if someone can talk some sense into him he might stick around for more than a few days. All the others stay because they stand to gain in their current relationship with Barzillai.
I think a huge part of it depends on the thematics they most enjoy. At this point there's an AP for just about every possible theme and playstyle out there so if they're particularly into one type or another that's probably your best indicator. While just about all of the APs deal with some mature subject matter, it's rarely something so crucial to the story that you can't hide it away somehow anyway.
Personally my go-tos for a younger group would likely be Dragon's Demand (as the good Mr. Compton mentioned, it's a solid introduction to long-form adventure format without committing to a full AP) or Hell's Rebels.
I mention Hell's Rebels for a few different reasons.
1. It's an AP that's really easy to conclude at book 4 (6 is the only one that gets into very dark territory; or at least the only one that's hard to rewrite those parts out of), meaning there's less risk of dropping it without a decent payoff.
2. It's very easy to turn the AP into a sort of hammed up Saturday morning cartoon style adventure. Actually when I read the main villain's motivation in the first book it was kind of hard for me not to ham him up a while bunch.
3. Chaotic Good is a pretty easy alignment to get into as a kid. If your players aren't into that though disregard this point and HR pretty much entirely.
4. There are a lot of ally NPCs to interact with that can help the players along, as well as offer plenty of roleplay opportunities if they're into that without making it an obligation for them (which is the reason I wouldn't recommend War for the Crown as much). Also if they like romantic stuff (and if my younger cousins have taught me anything about teenage girls, romantic drama is very much "on fleek"), there are just oogles of good candidates.
5. It being a semi-sandbox sort of adventure gives you a lot of wiggle room as the GM to add or remove stuff as you please. You know your players best after all.
All in all, if they like the traditional adventurer type stuff, Dragon's Demand is a good intro to a longer adventure. If they're down to do something bigger though, Hell's Rebels offers a lot of room to make it something they could get into.
I had a few of these that I tossed into my game (all of my own invention, so nothing canon or even necessarily implied in the vanilla game):
- Hortense Lierre, who following the events of Turn of the Torrent is effectively Lictor Octavio's de-facto lieutenant, has certain feelings towards the Lictor. Octavio is largely oblivious to this, as he's too caught up in his sense of responsibility towards her to recognise her feelings as being romantic. In my game the foul-mouthed Setrona is acutely aware of her cousin and Hortense's complete romantic incompetence and may try to ask the PCs for help setting these two awkward Hellknights up together.
- Jilia Bainilus actually has a secret relationship with Strea Vestori, which is part of how the tiefling has managed to secure so many resources for the Cloven Hoof Society. This one was inspired mostly by a quote that exists somewhere (I think in one of the books where tieflings where introduced or detailed) of Jilia trash talking tieflings then very poorly refuting a claim that she has engaged in sexual relations with one. It was put in partially for laughs, but also to show a way in which Jilia had been covertly working against the Thrunes, while also giving them a reason to spend so much time together in the base.
- Belcara Jarvis and Canton Jhaltero have a possibly implied close and long-standing relationship which may or may not be romantic (it might simply be that they're good friends; I like to think they as characters are happy to leave it as ambiguous to the PCs as I do and let them come to their own conclusions).
- Sendi Vashnarstill has on more than one occasion attempted to woo Melodia Delronge, to disastrous results. This is part of why Melodia was eager to help the Thrunes ruin the Vashnarstills by taking over some of their contracts (this is a thing I pinned on the Delronges in my game, since she quickly became a character that had a strong animosity towards the party, and I wanted to fuel that in order to make their eventual need to have her join the council that much more of a challenge).
- Auxis Aulorian recently has been the subject of "advances" by Tiarise Izoni. This is actually more of a ploy on her part to get him to more readily ally himself with Barzillai, as well as a way for her to get more resources for her own plans. It's not something I did much of anything with in my game, but I kept it as a potential hook the PCs might use to influence Auxis Aulorian, mess with Tiarise, or even influence Geoff Tanessen, who would be unsettled at the implication that Barzillai and his lackeys would use such a tactic to influence a noble.
- Mialari Docur at one stage in her life spent a lot of time in Vyre with Manticce Kaleekii and the two have a history. This is why Mialari was the one to suggest Vyre as a place they visit to the party in my game. This is another case of leaving it ambiguous for the players, but leaving enough there for them to come to their own conclusions. In my game I also had a lieutenant NPC who previously worked for the Queen of Delights and now works as Lady Docur's lieutenant, but still travels between the two places frequently.
- Urora Sarini had been trying to woo Barzillai, much to his disgust. This is part of why in my game Barzy used her as a scapegoat and had her murdered on stage at the Ruby Masquerade by one of his agents disguised as a member of the Silver Ravens (just prior to the massacre, which I tweaked a bit accordingly).
I think those were all the major ones I tossed in. Everyone else I kept more or less as a potential love interest for the party, should they be inclined to go that route (Rexus ended up marrying a player PC who was the scion of the Jhalteros in my game, one player had some relations with Luculla which ended after she tried to kill him, and another player attempted to flirt with just about every lieutenant I threw their way).
In my game I tossed in a few more instances of minor characters that died coming back as outsiders with memories they shouldn't have. I used this for a sorts of little effects.
By the end of the campaign a lot of "dead" characters were showing up under increasingly dubious conditions. My intention was to have this be a point of interest for Rexus (who had the secondary goal of wanting to know if it might be a way to speak to his parents again), who would task the players with bringing him any information regarding this phenomenon they could, and that leading to him getting more knowledge about the soul anchor.
For instance, I tossed in a Procyal Agathion who was a former cleric of some Good faith (he didn't remember much about his past but enough to know that he was deeply involved in activism within the city). In past this was because I wanted an excuse to put one of those guys in my game, but I ended up tying it to how Mangvhune retrieved his dagger from the Temple of Shelyn after the PCs have it to them (killing several dogs the players had rescued and a priest in the process).
Given that my party also had a deeper relationship with Luculla and she escaped by duping them into thinking she was an innocent victim, I planned to have her make an appearance in the Temple of Asmodeus as a victim of one of the villains there, giving the PCs a chance to get a hint about Barzillai having located the soul anchor and slaughtering its guardians, and maybe learning a bit more about the anchor and the cult through her corpse.
One other more drastic example I used was that when one of my players died and requested a class swap to oracle, they took the possessed curse and I had them possessed with the soul of Ba, the Wizard from the original Silver Ravens (at least I think that's his name. I don't have my notes handy). He offered the occasional cryptic insight through empathic signals about certain details only the original Silver Ravens would know, and also served as a moral compass for the PC.
I had planned to do a similar thing with a different player in a second run of the AP, except they were a witch and I was going to have their familiar be Brakisi (the Silver Raven that murdered Ba), albeit with seriously fragmented memories. Gradually as the game would progress, he'd remember more and have a more vested interest in redeeming himself through his PC.
Another fun one that can be useful in the murder mystery segments of the AP (or any time the PCs encounter a dead body in Kintargo) is to have the Speak With Dead or similar spells work unusually well at key opportunities, not necessarily to give the player more answers about the murder itself, but to hint to them that dead souls here have something odd going on with them. For example, maybe they make a request for the PCs to deliver reassurances you a loved one when they shouldn't be able to.
At least, those are some of the examples of ones I tried. For the most part they worked out pretty well I think. My party tended to need more guidance generally so I leaned a lot on NPCs giving overt plot hooks to them, but as time went on I found it was quite effective as a way of foreshadowing things as well, particularly for the players/PCs with solid knowledge about the implications of the anomalies I was showing them (i.e. "Hey that's not how that spell works!").
A lot of those were my interpretations as well - which I realise I should have added
Points 3 and 5 were my areas of legitimate confusion
On the Tombus point - is that to have his name dropped early? It is not clear to me why he leads the group and why he has aristocrat levels (not one of the noble families). I guess that is due to space constraints in book 4
Regarding Tombus' aristocratic heritage, it's mentioned briefly in the gazetteer in book 1, on page 61:
"They are led by Tombus Regegious (LE male human aristocrat 4/rogue 9), a distant descendant of Kintargo’s first lord-mayor."
Don't forget that there are in fact several other lesser noble families in Kintargo besides the members of the Court of Coin. Several of them are name-dropped in book 5 and a few other throughout the adventure (the Hyrmagus and Sabinus families for instance).
As for name dropping, personally I'd encourage it. One of the big flaws I had when I first ran this game is that I didn't know about the foes that showed up later in the AP (ran it before all the books were out; a mistake I'll not be making again) and therefore didn't foreshadow them, which killed a lot of the dramatic tension I could have been building up to A Song of Silver. Because Hell's Rebels takes place in such an enclosed space and the main motivations for the adventure are more personal in nature, making the enemy leaders more omnipresent and proactive figures in the city goes a long way towards making the PCs care about defeating them.
Kinda surprised the Circle didn't try to get the PCs to help with the Six Legends problem.
As I understood it, the Six Legends weren't really all that much of a threat in Count Lotheed's mind. Given his little blurb about the Ring of the Recalled Soul on page 29, I think he believes it's all more or less under control (or will be soon enough). He just didn't account for the fact that the PCs would go so far in interrupting his plans with an outright invasion of his base, thus preventing him from pulling it off.
Because if there's one thing no villain ever seems to account for, it's the PCs suddenly kicking down your door and wrecking all your plans by killing/capturing you.
The books do include information about how interested Barzillai is in the Silver Ravens by the time each book rolls around, so I'd link the amount of resources he uses to find them to that.
We know for instance that he's using the award ceremony in book 2 as a direct excuse to give the party scryable items and to get a good look at them, which would tell me that by that stage he's either going to be using divination magic right after or he already has and was unsatisfied with the results. Prior to that, he's been more preoccupied by his goals of finding the Soul Anchor than anything the Ravens do.
Personally, I'd say he might have tried at least a cursory investigation to learn who was responsible for Nox's defeat and/or the Torrent's escape when those events occur, as they're the first times the party actively inconveniences Barzillai in a way he'd care about. Otherwise, it's likely that he might use Zella to spy on the Aulorians as well if the party does something to the cerberi he was using to spy on them.
Those are the main moments in book 2 where he might be willing to put an important resource like Zella to task on the Ravens. By the time book 3 rolls around he might use her more actively on them, but more so in order to learn more about them in preparation for that book's finale. By book 4 I can see him using her full time against the party.
As for what to learn, by the mid-point of book 2 Barzillai is likely only interested in the party's identities. By 3 he's probably interested enough to learn about their goals and methods so that he knows how best to threaten/hurt them (in my game for instance, he used the fact that the party had a violent reputation to his advantage to run false flag operations and turn public opinion against them while making very specific character-driven taunts to make them incriminate themselves). By book 4 he'd be actively looking for the party's hideout (to trigger the invasion event) and trying to learn the party and organizational weaknesses of the Ravens to hit therm where it hurts most (which can be tied pretty easily to the event system in that book).
I think there's room to argue that Eutropia and her other loyalist agents weren't idle while the party was off in Axis. During the time they spent there, Eutropia and the rest of her affiliates were likely extremely busy taking back control of things, either by placing doubt in the claims of illegitimacy or assuaging fears and doubts of the new claimants to convince them to rally with Eutropia regardless of the circumstances.
On top of that, the sheer shock of the Princess' assassination might be enough to make people forget about the scandal. People have been known to conveniently forget pretty scandalous things when presented with an even more scandalous thing, after all. Alternatively, that very assassination might give rise to speculation that the evidence against her legitimacy was fabricated and her assassination is a cover up to hide that fact.
Not to mention, Duke Lotheed and the Immaculate Circle had a vested interest in re-legitimizing the Stavians as well, so they could have been an unlikely ally in the background during book 5, engineering a situation in which Eutropia was the subject of slanderous character assassination, then actual assassination, and that poor innocent Carrius is indeed faultless in all of this and still very much legitimate.
Fortunately in my case, I've set the campaign up to have a second party of Society Agents running around in parallel to the party proper, so I'm likely going to use them via some Society Scenarios or perhaps a Module to represent what the other side of Eutropia's team is doing to address the situation during Book 5 to control the damage of that revelation.
Is there an official list somewhere of which of the Faces of the Senate survive or don't survive the Exhalation Massacre?
I mean there are some obvious survivors, Eutropia, Trant; and obvious victims, Kalbio; but the others? Is it written anywhere what happens to Centimus? Okerra is a player in Songbird', but has he been resurrected?
I'm happy making things up, but don't want to contradict anything.
To date (i.e. not including book 6) I think the only notable characters that are confirmed to survive by virtue of appearing in later books (or later in the same book) are:
-Grand Prince Stavian (surprise if you haven't read book 4; despite receiving what was believed to be a fatal blow during the massacre, he was kept alive taken captive by the High Strategos)
-High Strategos Maxillar Pythareus -Princess Eutropia -Lady Martella Lotheed -Baron Nicolaus Okerra -Lady Gloriana Morilla -Wyssilka the Fantabulous -Kathann Zalar -Dame Malphene Trant (if not killed by the PCs)
-Lord Titus Lotheed-Casava (mentioned as having attended in book 2, and is thus the likely candidate for the target of Martella's Sabotage mission)
-Marquess Tanasha Starborne (not explicitly confirmed, but Starborne remains on the Loyalty chart for quite some time throughout the AP, and unlike the other nobles it's unlikely that it's another Starborne vying for the position)
Confirmed casualties are:
-Kalbio of Breezy Creek (though The Lion's Justice Society Scenario provides a clear route for his resurrection)
-Earl Calhadion Vernisant (either captured or killed by Society agents in The Lion's Justice, assuming they did their job correctly)
Anyone who isn't listed is most likely free game, and can be killed off or left alive at your leisure. In my case what I plan on doing is keeping alive any characters the PCs made an effort to interact with, and killing off any that they either didn't interact with or didn't engage with memorably. Since I made sure that my party won't have enough rounds to influence everyone, it will guarantee that there are some victims (I made the mistake of not doing so when I ran Hell's Rebels, resulting in a massacre with no actual casualties, which was sort of awkward), and I can be sure that the remaining ones are characters the PCs have at least some investment in.
If I am running this for three players/characters they will effectively have 25% fewer social round actions to influence this in the senate (and anywhere else social rounds are used in the AP). Is this likely to cause a problem? Would I be better off adding enough extra rounds to account for the missing actions of the fourth character, or is there a "better" way?
I remember roughly crunching the math on this a while back. I don't have my full notes on hand but here's the core bits. Note that I'm not going much into the minutia with this and making a lot of assumptions so these are some very rough numbers for the Exaltation Gala (I had started on the book 2 Jubilee but didn't finish yet):
Social Rounds: As written, the players have 18 social rounds, which for three players would come out to a total of 54 (for a party of 4 it's 72)
NPC Influence: The number of rounds needed to influence every NPC listed in the AP proper is 35 (assuming 2 rounds per influence; 1 to make a Discovery check and 1 to do an Influence check; Also assuming 1 for Kalbio)
Room Influence: The number of rounds needed to influence every room (assuming an average of 1 influence tier per round) is 12 Faces of the Senate: The number of rounds needed to influence every bonus NPC from the Faces of the Senate book is 24 (assuming 2 rounds per influence and 1 influence for each; these numbers are pretty much entirely fabricated)
Action counts as written for each mission:
Aide: 7 actions (assuming getting to an NPC and delivering the message is an action)
Discovery: 12 actions (using assumptions for influencing both characters; these overlap with the count for influencing every NPC)
Fraud: 2 actions (assuming 1 action to identify and 1 to spread rumours)
Politicking: 2 or 4 actions (same assumptions for influence; overlaps with NPC influencing; 2 is for intimidate, 4 is for discovery + influence)
Sabotage: 2 actions (1 to find bottle, another to putrefy it; I could see this being just 1 action)
Spy: 3 actions
Theft: 3 actions (assumes 1 action per item stolen)
TOTAL: 7+12+2+4+2+3+3 = 33
So based on these numbers (and a mountain of assumptions), the total number of rounds needed to complete the Gala 100% is 35+12+33-12-4= 64, or 88 if you include the Faces of the Senate characters (the subtractions were for the missions that overlapped with influence, fyi). Given that your players would only have 54 rounds, I'd recommend skipping the extra characters.
That said, do bear in mind that this isn't taking into account any bonus successes or failures, nor any actions gained/lost from certain events. Plus doing all of the missions isn't even expected by the AP. With all of that taken into account, the numbers ease up a fair bit, so there's a good likelihood that your party will do fine. If ever you're still worried about it though, you can always toss in a few extra rounds here and there (adding 6 rounds would give them the equivalent number of rounds as a 4 person party).
Anyone please feel free to correct my math on that, but I think this should be more or less correct to get a general sense of things. Hope that helps!
TL;DR You're probably fine as is, though if you think you're players are going to struggle, just add up to 6 rounds (spread out, as grandpoobah mentioned).
Personally I see no problem with it so long as it's at least reasonably explained in some way (inherited the name through marriage, adopted, etc.). While mechanically speaking there's no issue, it's just the kind of thing that's good to have an explanation for during RP moments.
In this case it's also the kind of thing a DM can handwave aside (ex. just declare that the Clements are a rare elven noble house, and swap the one mentioned Clement to be an Elf if they show up). At least in the case of the Clements this isn't too difficult (unlike say Vernissant or Stavian, for example). This is the sort of thing that depends heavily on the DM's willingness to go along with the player's intentions over the established structure. I for example would have no problem bending plot elements to better fit my players' intentions, though I know other DMs would be much more strict about that sort of thing.
To go back to the original topic, I think another thing that hurt CoT for a long time is the fact that for many players it often took the place of other more niche APs that didn't exist yet, namely Hell's Rebels and Hell's Vengeance.
I know some people tried playing CoT as though it were either of these games (either as a CG rebellion story to liberate an oppressed city, or as an evil campaign where you could crush troublemakers with an iron fist), and while it does have aspects of both, it's kind of a middle road that doesn't commit fully to either of those thematics. As such people expecting the AP to be one or the other both found themselves disappointed.
I'd mostly chalk that up to Pathfinder still being young and trying to get its footing, so doing niche adventures like what we've been getting in later years wasn't really something they were thinking of pursuing just yet, but that's purely speculation on my part.
Clearly Abadar is a shrewd businessgod who hedges his bets with a highly diversified portfolio. After all, many different philosophies have yielded prosperous and stable civilizations, both Good and Evil. Why would he put all his eggs in one basket? That's just bad business sense.
Now as for settling disputes? I imagine Abadar is the type to be fairly Darwinian and allow all sides have a battle of merit, rather than give a definitive answer himself. In the short term, the one most capable of fitting the needs of their society will win out. In the long term, the ruling party will either adapt with the times or be replaced by a better solution. Given that, there is little reason for him to directly interfere unless a schism outright threatens the very concept of civilization.
It wouldn't surprise me if most of his clerics had a certain understanding of this process, which is why while they may disagree, they can still reconcile the fact that at the end of the day, all of them have the best interests of civilization and society at heart. It's just a question of how to go about it, which is something not even a god would necessarily be able to answer definitively.
Joana is quite right that for the most part, APs exist in a vacuum wherein they can start pretty much at any time. However, the actual default for most APs seems to be the same date system used by the Pathfinder Society. That is to say, the in-game year of the first book is usually the release year of the first book + 2700. This is the standard Paizo generally goes by, including for their material that mentions APs in relation to historical events or vice versa.
For example, Wrath of the Righteous marks the beginning of the Fifth Mendevian Crusade, which is canonically established to have begun in 4713 (since the first book of that AP came out in 2013). Hell's Rebels as well makes a few mentions of the current year being 4715 (it was released in 2015). Curse of the Crimson Throne has content dating it as being around 4708.
That said, these dates usually aren't that rigid and a DM can moves the dates around a bit without it being too much of a problem, with a few exceptions. There are some specific continuity details established by some of the APs that are much harder to get around. Here's the full list to my knowledge (I may have missed some though):
- Jade Regent assumes that Rise of the Runelords already happened
- Shattered Star assumes that Rise of the Runelords, Curse of the Crimson Throne, and Second Darkness all already happened
- Hell's Rebels and Hell's Vengeance are assumed to be happening roughly in parallel
- Hell's Vengeance has a weird relationship with Council of Thieves as of book 5
- Though not strictly canonical for these reasons, some people I know like to think Hell's Vengeance must happen after Wrath of the Righteous is complete, because that's a lot of high-powered Paladins starting a civil war when there's still a Worldwound to close (this one is more speculation than fact, though the canonical presence of certain Helknights in Mendev and the dates mentioned by both APs supports this)
- War for the Crown is assumed to happen after 4714 (when Lady Morilla replaced the Taldor Pathfinder faction with the Sovereign Court faction) and probably happens after Reign of Winter, Strange Aeons, and any other AP that spends time in Taldor (this one is also conjecture and can easily be ignored; really it's just going by the logic that the fact that Taldor is undergoing a major succession issue seems like the kind of thing that might come up when passing through the nation)
- Return of the Runelords assumes Rise of the Runelords and Shattered Star already happened
There are of course a few other small details here and there that hint at a certain canonical timeline, though these are often just easter eggs or continuity details so minor that they can be easily explained or ignored.
My thinking RE: family reunion is that if Stavian is brought back to his daughter, she wouldn't show him to Carrius, not wanting the boy to see his father in such an awful state.
And if they did meet, Stavian is so far gone that he might just accuse Carrius of being an impostor or a vision, or he conveniently forgets that Carrius was ever dead, or that he ever had a son... I'd likely have him switch between all of these within a few minutes. Given his dementia, I wouldn't expect the reunion to serve much of a purpose other than further emphasize to the players how unfit Stavian is to be put in charge of anything.
That said, I see no reason not to use that opportunity to reveal the fact that Stavian did kill his son (perhaps Carrius seeing his father would remind him of the incident). At least I don't think there's a reason to hide that detail at this point in the story.
As best I can tell so far in the books, there's very little mention of ratfolk or catfolk in the AP books. That is to say, there's nothing calling them out as an explicitly bad choice (save for the potential prejudice you already mentioned), nor a particularly good one (no existing story hooks to play with, special call-outs, etc.) There's plenty of room to work with your idea so there's potential there, but by RAW you'd fall in the same category as every other "nonstandard" race for the grand majority of the campaign. At least to my knowledge so far, anyway.
Well, that's not entirely true. There might kinda be one hook early on, but it mostly depends on how closely you associate ratfolk with normal rats... There could be some funny moments to be had there.
The above suggestions from BornofHate and roguerouge would definitely be on my list to look at. On top of that, there are maybe a few other potential hooks I can think of:
Tiarize Izoni: This woman has a track record of fiddling with the boundaries between dimensions already, so there are numerous ways you could tie in the character with her prior schemes and the Dark Tapestry in general.
Aluceda Zhol: Given Zon Kuthon's relationship with the outer realms, there's a clear relation that could be drawn here, though you might need to make up some content to make that relationship relevant. Both fortunately and unfortunately the AP has a lot of unused content you could use for that purpose, most notably the Nidalese Embassy.
Terapasillion: This location ties in directly with both Desna and the Shadow Plane (Shadow Plane =/= Dark Tapestry of course, but there's a lot of potential for overlap given Zon Kuthon's influence). Ithanothaur's an erudite regarding religion, but you can tweak his interest from religions in general to instead better reflect this particular character's situation.
Soul Anchor: This one is perhaps the least related to the Dark Tapestry, but given the amnesiac angle there's potential for a good hook there, and considering the significance of the Soul Anchor to the overall plot of the later portions of the AP I'd at least consider it as a way to hint at the idea (because sometimes the AP is a little coy about that particular detail). Because people affected by the Soul Anchor have weird stuff happen to their souls upon death, it could be very plausible that one such victim is directly responsible for the character's condition. Perhaps it's the lingering spirit of a significant character or historical figure (such as a former Silver Raven, Mangvhune, Natsiel, Menotheguro, Nasperiah, or a victim of any of the later four) Why the Dark Tapestry would be involved in such an instance is a bit trickier, but you can always say that the spirit involved had some connection to the tapestry (this can be a positive or a negative relationship; a Desnan that spent their time fighting the Great Beyond could fit there) and their soul is still drawn to it. If you and the player are willing to be a bit more lax about it being the Dark Tapestry specifically (you could use the Dark Tapestry mechanically, but reflavour it), you have a bit more flexibility to tie it more into the Soul Anchor itself (an acceptable compromise to fit with a major campaign reveal in my opinion, but your mileage may vary).
As an aside, that character of theirs sounds like they would have been a shoe-in for Strange Aeons.
Personally I'd be pretty iffy about pulling in corruption simply because a fairly modest chunk of the campaign is about getting rid of Asmodeus' influence in the area (or at least that of his worshipers). I'm not sure how well the party/npcs/rebellion/potential allies/general citizenry would respond to the party getting corrupted by the very Hell they're rebelling against. Of course, you could certainly play this notion up to your advantage. I would say it's a very difficult angle to pull off well given the tone of the campaign, but it's not outright impossible. That said I agree with roguerouge that Abadar and the Milanites might offer better comparatively mundane alternatives for revival within the city if that's all you're looking for.
That said a lot of this really depends on just what it is you're trying to achieve with this idea. Is it to add a consequence/boon for dying and being revived (and making a difficult choice in the process)? To include more links to the role of Hell and their plots in the AP? Some combination or something else entirely? Some or all of what I'm about to suggest might be completely irrelevant depending on what it is you're actually looking to do.
That said, I can think of a few options for post-death hooks you can play around with. Some of these work best at later stages of the campaign, but might serve to foreshadow events if you choose to set them up that way:
Option 1: The Anchor
The Soul Anchor in Kintargo canonically has an effect of causing some souls to not properly make their way to the afterlife. Outsiders with memories, strange reincarnations, etc. Given this fact, you could pull something here with the character's soul leaving their body, but not fully moving on. There's a lot of stuff you could do with that: a simple revival might be easier than it should be, or have them end up in the body of some other random person (maybe another recently deceased in the city), have them pick up a "companion" on their way back (I did this to one of my player's who rebuilt themselves as an oracle and had them possessed with the spirit of one of the original Silver Ravens, who occasionally offered helpful guidance)...Depending on what it is exactly you want to achieve with, you could probably fudge the soul anchor's meddling into it, which could be a good way to give the players another hint as to the city's biggest mystery.
Option 2: A Helpful Devil
There is exactly one devil I can think of in the campaign who would be a better choice than Mephistopheles himself to make a deal with the PCs, and that's Odexidie. He has a vested interest in having the Kintargo Contract being revealed, and depending on how far into the AP you are he could be hedging his bets, demonstrating a lack of confidence on his part of Barzillai's increasingly desperate antics, or he's acting under Mephistopheles' order. Any which way would allow you to introduce this character a bit earlier to give the PCs another hint at what's to come. This could also let you play around with the whole Hell's corruption angle a bit. You could say that Odexidie is clever enough to know that while binding you to the service of Hell is the long-term objective, manifesting that allegiance in a clear way isn't something that will serve the PCs' (and by extension Mephistopheles') goals in the short term, so he might offer a "watered down" proposal, or something with a few custom caveats of his own choosing to make the drawbacks a little more discrete and/or insidious.
Option 3: Divine Interference
Another major angle I can think of you could play with is having a party-affiliated deity like Milani, Cayden Caylean, Desna, or Sarenrae meddle in things a bit to give you another chance. This is more of a GM fiat thing, but I played around with the idea that the gods were observing the story of the AP and have occasionally been subtly and indirectly meddling in things, skirting the laws of non-interference (credit goes to one of my players for the concept of "Pray Per View"). Milani is easily the best candidate for this considering she's both the poster god for this AP and the one probably most willing to bend the rules when it comes to divine interference, but you could probably swing it with the others depending on what you chose to do with it. Since the gods have an absurd amount of power, they can make up whatever you deem necessary for your purposes there. In my case, I did something as simple as have Cayden, posing as a bartender, giving the party a particularly strong wand, but there's room for plenty of shenanigans. At that point it's up to you.
Option 3: Mortal Interference
There are a couple other people in the campaign who might be capable of reviving a player without making it a complete freebie. Mialari Docur has the means to revive someone given that she was willing to give the PCs such a scroll in book 2, and perhaps she'd be willing to revive a fallen PC if they did her some favours in return. Hetamon might be low level, but he might have some old emergency reserves for a revival that he might use only on someone he truly thinks is a worthy hero for the city. The nobles all certainly have the coin for it, but might demand something in return that ties into their private interests. Captain Sargaeta might have a scroll he's kept for his travels that he'd be willing to offer up for a teacup piece. The churches of Zon Kuthon and Asmodeus certainly have the means, but convincing them to revive someone might involve a disguise mission to convince them that the person in question is totally some valuable worshiper and not a rebel bent on putting an end to their tyranny (though a clever priest might use it as a way to spy on the PCs). And my personal favourite, if the party finds themselves in the good graces of the Queen of Delights, she might deign to have someone brought back, provided they could be of use to her in the future of course. Manticce offers a dubious, but still not outright evil way for the player to get a revival or a boon in exchange for their services or loyalty.
Just to note a few of these focused more on the revival aspect of what you mentioned, but you could certainly re-frame it as gaining some sort of grander boon instead, if that's more what you're looking at. Though frankly at that point you might as well be looking at magical items (which would be very valuable commodities in locked-down Kintargo, to be fair).
I must confess that my first motivation for playing this campaign was a particularly silly idea that popped into my head when I learned about book 5, and our group kind of ran with it. What has ensued has been the wild adventures of the Borishof brothers, Vladimir and Ivan, and their jadwiga "friend" Zelen. An adventure we affectionately refer to as "Drunk Russian Night".
In the interest of not giving away anything about later books, since now we're on the latter half of Book 6, I'll spoiler tag.
My own character is a scruffy bearded man with an ushanka, a pipe, and an unreasonable amount of explosives and munitions strapped to his chest and belt named Vladimir Yevgeny Borishof (CN Alchemist Grenadier/Gunslinger). Long ago his babushka went to Irrisen from the Old Country (Russia) through as of yet unexplained means. He's lived with her and his brother (a bear of a man with big muscles and a bigger temper, though much less smart) in the forest for as long as they can remember. However, they have had a noticeable lack of potatoes this past harvest (and without potatoes, we cannot make borscht or vodka!), and therefore the brothers leave Irrisen to find some. This quest for some potatoes eventually turns into a hapless adventure across the multiverse, wherein the party is unapologetically irreverent and takes down anyone who gets in their way with entirely excessive amounts of raw brute force. They also make a pit stop in Old Country for a while. Vlad is a big fan of their "Not Sh*@$y guns".
This is perhaps the most unabashedly murderhobo party I've ever participated in, loaded with awful fake accents, extremely dubious moral choices, slav memes, and frequent important lessons about how not to get yourself killed because "Is be remembering what happened to cousin Dimitri that one time" (the fact that a Dimitri showed up in the AP was the happiest of coincidences). If you want a good representation of the party, imagine if Junkrat, Roadhog, and the unholy spawn of Moira and Mei from Overwatch formed an adventuring party. Then give them bad Russian accents.
Oh the stories I could tell... It's a completely absurd game not at all taken seriously, but sometimes that's what you need when running through a particularly difficult campaign with a 3-person group.
In the interest of being a little more fair in my earlier assessment, by no means is The Twilight Child a bad book. It's still quite excellent and has plenty of interesting hooks and ideas in it. It's just decidedly more like a regular campaign book compared to the major social endeavours found in the previous two.
I think that my disappointment is more a reflection of my own hopes and (admittedly unrealistic) expectations for the AP. A big part of me really wants it to play with that social option angle, à la games like Deus Ex or Dishonored, where every encounter (or at least every major encounter) can be handled with some sort of non-violent (or not directly violent) alternative. Personally I think it would be really cool if you could go through the entire AP without ever having to draw your sword if you played it smart enough. But I will say it's a testament to this and the other books that they do leave enough wiggle room in how they're made to potentially allow that sort of thing, even if it's not normally possible by RAW. As much as I realise how Pathfinder isn't really a system built to support that sort of approach, especially in later levels, the tools they've added in recent books and this AP do enough groundwork to make it at least plausible, which I greatly appreciate. I think it's that fact alone that has put WftC (as it is so far) at the top of my AP list, and I'll be honest I wasn't expecting Hell's Rebels to be dethroned anytime soon.
Psychic imprints of souls that died isolated in the wilderness. They roam the countryside, causing light winds and seeking out mortals to afflict with their madness to temporarily relieve their own. Lots of whispers of madness in the wind thematics.
As for Ushers, there are only a few small mentions. The largest chunk is a paragraph describing how they are perceived by their fellow psychopomps as demigods in comparison to how psychopomps view other deities. Short answer: psychopomps aren't especially impressed by gods, and while ushers get a bit of extra respect due to their seniority, they're viewed pretty much the same way.
I may not be Wight, but I'll answer! The Psychopomp article is quite interesting!
It starts off with some basics: Ecology and Society. What you'd expect from an "Ecology of" article. Then it goes into detail about how Psychopomps view and interact with the dead, the living, the undead, and the immortal. After that it gets into the different types of general roles psychopomps might take and how different psychopomps might perform them.
It doesn't have any new statblocks, rules, or a detailed list of all psychopomp variants though, if anyone was looking for that. This is more of an overview of the general mentality and social structure of the 'pomps.
I'll gladly answer any other questions people might have. Of course while endeavouring to remain within the bounds of spoiler-free territory.
Glad to see I wasn't the only one that tilted their head at the half measure speech/disguise approach. When discussing it with my players they had a hard time buying the raw version when I told them about it.
In the interest of tossing in how I dealt with it for my party:
Near the end of the night, I added a more scripted event format for the "winners of the masquerade" announcement. "Barzillai" called up three people: one was Lady Sarini, another was some nameless citizen, and the third was one of the PCs (or rather, someone made to look like the PC). As the winners were unmasked, the impostor PC cried out "For the Ravens!" and killed Lady Sarini, then attempted to attack Ciz (but was promptly cut down). Ciz called for a quarantine of the building while his guards sorted out the situation (giving him an excuse to lock the place up), and subsequently confirmed to the crowd that the assassin was a Silver Raven. I then gave a modified version of the speech to make it sound more like he was using the event to denounce the Ravens and their violent ways, at which point the "azata" attack.
I liked this approach in particular because it gave me some flexibility for future times I might run this scene. In this case I specifically picked the PC with the biggest murderhobo reputation (it helped that they were a former Sarini slave). For a moment the players genuinely thought that the other player had in fact done the deed, and it was only the fact that they set up a Message link in advance that they weren't completely fooled. However, this might have also been a good place to put another character, like perhaps Rexus or a minor ally. It could be either an illusion or the real deal (perhaps caught earlier and put under a domination). It also gave the Sarinis something to do in the campaign ("An unfortunate sacrifice to be sure, but an essential one. No doubt the dearly departed Lady would approve of such a grandiose spectacle to end her life.")
I think there's also something to be said for fluffing the type of creatures that the devils are disguised as to fit your players. I didn't do it this time around, but since my players pretty much never used outsiders, I should have had some of the outsiders simply be disguised as particularly strong humanoid Silver Raven agents. It might have helped to lend the illusion further credence, since in my case the party already had developed a reputation for a few particularly violent anti-Thrune actions (and having an absurd success record). I'd like to think Cizmerkis is the kind of devil to do his research and adjust the illusion to fit the people they're trying to defame. Better still if they can make the Silver Ravens' own allies doubt them.
Steve summed it up pretty well I think. This AP so far is looking to truly be a full on intrigue campaign. It's a very unique thing for Pathfinder and it's great for players who like roleplay and lore, but it won't necessarily be as appealing for players that prefer the numbers and combat sides of PF or GMs that don't want to do a lot of prep work.
I will add that if you're running Ironfang and aren't fully certain whether you want to run an intrigue campaign or not, I'd recommend checking out Hell's Rebels as a sort of in-between. HR and Ironfang are very similar in a lot of ways (the rebellion system will immediately be familiar if you used the militia system, for one), and book 3 of Hell's Rebels (Dance of the Damned) is an intrigue book that definitely gives you a good taste of how Pathfinder intrigue plays. In fact, parts of WftC feel so similar to Dance of the Damned in some places that I can't help but feel that the latter was Paizo testing the waters for the former. I'd definitely recommend it as a good way of knowing if intrigue is right for you (and your players, of course).
If you find yourself confident that you're up for the task and think your players are down for it though, I'd say WftC definitely is looking to be a fantastic campaign, so by all means give it a look!
Assuming that PCs are forced to leave weapons, armor and the like outside of the Gala, is there an explanation as to how they would get them back for Part 2?
The Senate actually has fairly lenient rules when it comes to what's allowed inside. See the section called Senate Rules (pages 9-10).
Here's the short list of what players are allowed:
Armor: Breastplates, ceremonial armor, and light armor
Magic: Potions, scrolls, spell component pouches, and wands
Weapons: Light and one-handed
Animals: Familiars and service animals
Aside from the odd two-handed weapon, ranged weapon, or large animal companion, players at this level shouldn't have much of a problem with these restrictions. All of the above is more than enough to effectively arm your average level 1-2 PC. And frankly someone who needs a battleaxe to function might not be in the right AP.
If someone in the party really would be handicapped without something from their usual arsenal in Part 2 however, you have multiple potential ways to solve that for them.
Option 1 is to take advantage of "Event 1: Standing in Line" (page 19) to have Kathann find a way to either help them conceal their item or otherwise sneak it in for them. This works better for smaller things that could be concealed (i.e. not a battleaxe). Poisons and Alchemist bombs are specifically called out as candidates for this solution. I'd say use this for any class-linked gear that the player cannot easily replenish through material goods.
Option 2 is to use "C4. Museum of Conquests" (page 33), Factor 12 (page 37), and/or Mimips (page 38-39) to supply your players with whatever they need. The Museum of Conquests in fact explicitly mentions this as being a place where players can re-equip themselves. Though if you're worried that players won't be properly equipped to deal with the things they encounter before reaching this room, you can use Option 3...
Option 3 is to simply have equivalent items be conveniently stored in Senator Voritas' saferooms. It's a bit of a pull yes, but you can easily handwave it as "the senator kept a large stock of various arms here just in case; among them you can find pretty much whatever item you might need".
For options 2 and 3 if your players are the sort to try and loot everything, you can always restrict what's available (the rest is all rusted and useless, or not there at all) or casually remind them that they're not going to be able to walk around with literal crates full of weapons and armour.