Walter Sheppard Private Avatar

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RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8. RPG Superstar 6 Season Star Voter, 7 Season Dedicated Voter, 8 Season Dedicated Voter. ****** Regional Venture-Coordinator, Northwest 3,209 posts (3,323 including aliases). 20 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 39 Organized Play characters.

Owner of Palouse Games

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Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Actual Advice
What others have said is solid. Play it if you like it, organize games just like before, if you drain the well just play unofficially with unlimited replay (just don't report this or expect RSP support for it). Play it at conventions when offered, play it online. If you don't like v2, don't play v2. If enough people still like v1, expect to see v1 games organized around the world and you shouldn't have difficulty getting games off the ground.

Here's my crazy thoughts

1. Paizo is a company that, ultimately, wants to offer their customers products and services their customers desire -- because they can profit from this.
2. Reporting for PFSv1 is still a thing, and the metrics of how many times those scenarios get played now that v2 will certainly be looked at within the company.
3. If it is found that PFSv1 is still popular, it may prove popular enough to provide content for at some point down the line, as Paizo will be able to profit from it.

But it's probably just my addled mind, because I also think we'll see the announcement of products for "Pathfinder Classic" at some point, which will be new modules, sourcebooks, whatever for PFv1. Because they've already spend X amount of dollars laying the foundation for the v1 system, and there's still "gold in them hills" that Paizo can mine by producing "Classic" content. I don't imagine anyone at Paizo rubbing their hands together like a goblin and cackling with glee over the prospect of raking in the cash, but realistically there are still consumers that would devour up more v1 content.

*shrugs* But who knows? Blizzard is doing it right now with World of Warcraft on it's 15 year anniversary -- WoW Classic drops literally today. Maybe we just gotta wait another 4 years to see v1 stuff start cropping up. But in the meantime, report those PFSv1 games still!

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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Is this out? As a VO this hasn't been dropped to my paizo account yet.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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robert Goode wrote:
I just volunteered to GM at GenCon for the first time. I have years of experience GMing, but have only done Organized play for he last couple years and haven't quite earned any Stars/Novas. If I volunteer for 8 slots, is that going to be a deal-breaker on GMing that many?

That's going to be a lot of GMing, which means more time spent running games than exploring GenCon. It is certainly doable--there are dozens of folks that run that many slots--but it does make your convention experience all about Organized Play.

Also keep in mind Con GMing is different from any other experience. Running one convention table =/= running a table anywhere else. Expect lots of yelling due to noise, repeating yourself due to noise/distractions, completely varied players (30 years RPG experience, this is my first time and I brought my two 10 year olds), and tons of different personality types to balance over the course of four short days. You might also find yourself pressured for time if your games tend to run long.

So again, 8 slots is a lot of time to spend GMing. It is doable, but it's work.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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ALL THE MEMORIES!! Reading through that, I can't help feeling the same way with all the people we meet online and then in person doing the convention circuit. PaizoCon 2019 here we go again!

(That's my table of Portal of the Sacred Rune in your photos, I recognize my old D&D vampire anywhere!)

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Signed up to to GM at GenCon for the first time in a long time -- looking forward to the purple again!

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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I believe HMM did this reporting with some holiday cheer and it should all be up to date -- big thank you to the HMM!

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Everything that was turned in to Louis and I has been reported as of July 25th. So if you have a session that is not showing up, it won't be unless it gets added.

Reasons why they would not show up:

1. Your reporting sheet was physically lost and was never entered. There are many people your sheet is touched by before it gets entered, things get lost.
2. Your reporting sheet was illegible (less of these this year than previous ones, but still a possibility) and was entered incorrectly.
3. The person reporting your sheet had faulty eyes, and entered your sheet incorrectly.
4. The person reporting your sheet had faulty fingers, and entered your sheet incorrectly.
5. The Paizo website monster ate your entry.

As I'm sure many of you know, if you have the physical chronicle sheet, your game is 100% valid. You don't *need* it to be reported online unless you are missing specials/games for your GM stars, or you are fearful of not having an online back up.

That said, I can still add sessions people are missing.
Post the following:
1. GM PFS # and Character # (if getting credit)
2. Game you ran
3. Date you ran it on

I will add sessions for the people that post with the above information. And yes, I need your PFS # (I cannot look up your PFS # from your name).

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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In Fast and Furious (the 7th F&F franchise title), the Rock is blown out of his office with an explosive charge. As we all know, all rocks possesses hardness but no DR. This explains why the Rock breaks his arm upon falling 10 stories into a car. Hardness does not apply to falling damage, but DR does.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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It makes me chuckle that folks are now posting suggestions that are effectively PFS homebrew content as an additional solution to keeping PFSv1 play alive. As that's exactly what I said people would do.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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nosig wrote:
Tallow wrote:
Nobody has suggested that.

Ok, I really-really hate to come to BNWs defense - so let me just spit this out so I can go wash my mouth out afterword...

Actually, looking back thru this thread I see several comments like this...
" As soon as 1st ed 'dies' at gencon 2019,..." (top of page 2) which leads me to believe that some people actually believe just that...

then comments like @(Fri, Jun 8, 2018, 05:47 am) "...Offer "vintage PFS" at conventions, replays be damned, but don't make organizers report it. Don't make games count for table credit once Season 10 completes. Retire the old game with the old system. We had eleven years anyway. This is well past the shelf life of a good TV show. We're readily approaching Simpsons decline. Lets let it die with dignity and watch Futurama...." seem to indicate that at least SOME people (with lots of stars) are saying SOMETHING like "Just let pathfinder 1e die before we've even SEEN pathfinder 2e ...

Now I am quoting them a bit out of context, so feel free to scroll back and double check me on this... where the heck did I put that bar of soap...

Golly. It’s almost as if you don’t really want a discussion to take place here but are looking for an echo chamber. But it looks like I don’t share your opinions. And I’ve invested just as much into this campaign as you have, so I’m going to share those opinions. That’s the purpose of a discussion.

I’m interested in participating in OP with the same community that I’ve spent the last six years organizing for. I’m just not sure I want to do that with a system that’s been abandoned by it’s creators for something that they claim is better. I of course will assess said system before deciding which I prefer, and regardless, Pathfinder v1 and PFS v1 will always have a special place in my heart. But things change. And if PFv2 and PFSv2 are more promising, which I really hope they are, then I think PFSv1 as it is does need to stop being supported by the VO corp.

Why? Because, given all the information we have, there is going to be no new updates to the system, no new content—nothing. When nothing changes, things stagnate. That is the antithesis of a living campaign. If we want to keep PFSv1 alive when PFSv2 comes out, some dedicated folks are going to need to pick up the slack and generate new content for it. And it is not what the VOs are tasked with doing—they are tasked with organizing official tables of PFS and ensuring it’s rules are followed. Whatever these dedicated folks come up with will not be Paizo published and thus not be under the purview of VOs.

So, like I’ve been saying since the start, eventually PFSv1 will officially die. There is honestly no way around that. Sorry to be the bearer of reality here, but it is what it is. It’s not about being selfish, it’s about being realistic. Living games that are no longer supported by their creators cease to live. That doesn’t mean it still can’t be played, enjoyed, and taught to new people, but if we want that to happen it will take a dedicated PFSv1 people to make it happen.

Just reading this thread, I see dozens of such people. I am certain that they will help keep PFSv1 (in whatever form it takes) vibrant for many years after Paizo support. Just don’t expect VOs to organize for it.


Walter, you've expressed some openness to nosig's idea, the phased reset or phased rerelease plan. Are there other options we've expressed that you might find appealing? If you had to add some form of player replay, what do you think would be least disruptive to the campaign and have the lowest required investment from the various organizers and volunteers?

Are there any tweaks to the ideas you're not in favor of that would make them more appealing?

When it comes to replay, I honestly think it’s a band-aid solution to the problem that PFSv1 is going to end. And that's a problem with no solution that's gonna please everyone. I think people are nervous about PFSv2 and are trying to find a way to keep PFSv1 play going. I don’t think replay is it, but at this point I don’t care anymore. There are people here that are getting really upset and taking this very seriously, and my attitude just doesn’t mesh with that. My train of thought is: it’s a game, it’s been fun, and whatever comes next will also be fun cause it’s with the same people. Whatever is implemented I'll be fine with, given enough time. Just another day in paradise.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Just played this tonight - got the first boon where I traded my physical copy for the dolls, valued at 3k credits. Why isn’t this worth 3000 credits on the chronicle like it was during the scenario? Did the BurgandyBear person screw me here?

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Wicked Brew wrote:
Any chance of Paizo doing a limited license to one or a select few 3PP to continue producing PF1 PFS scenarios? I would point to the DM's Guild as a model for how that could be implemented. I have not played the latest addition of the other system but have looked into it recently and it appears that those coastal spellcasters allow 3PPs to actually sell scenarios that are officially part of their organized play campaign. I see no reason why Paizo could not do something similar. This would allow PF1 to continue to flourish and allow the great staff at Paizo to concentrate on the new stuff. Sounds like a classic Michael Scott win-win-win scenario. Win for Paizo, win for PF1 PFS fans and win for 3PPs.

If that's something you're interested in you could certainly reach out to the current developer of PFS, John Compton, and see what his thoughts are. He does stalk these forums, but you might be better off emailing him.

That said, I imagine Paizo (and by extension John) will be focusing on releasing PF2, new SFS content, and new PF2 PFS content in the near future and likely won't have time to look into other options like this for PF1. It's also, again, not really needed until we reach a point where a majority of campaign participants have drained the well. In my mind this is a 'problem' for next year; and I don't even consider it a problem.

I'm guessing that you still have a lot of games available before this even becomes a problem. I say this because there's still an entire Season of PFSv1 yet to release.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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@ Shadius. Maybe I was wrong to link those prior threads? I'll admit I didn't re-read them this year as, you can see, I posted in all the others. And, since you read them, you can see my opinion also changed from a strong Pro-Replay stance to a more Meh-Replay stance. So my goal in linking those was to provide all the information from a historical PFS perspective that I'm going off of. I think most people are happy with the gated replaying, linked to stars, infrequent boons, and annual refreshes. The system, as it is now, works.

But what of the future? Should we change the replay rules?

If we keep replay as they are, eventually people cap out on games and can no longer play PFS. There are just not enough scenarios to sustain them, as content has ceased to be created.

And it's here where I referred to earlier similar popular games that have stopped being maintained. As an example, I'd like to use Diablo 2. In that game the original community is divided. Players have either moved on to other games entirely (D3), play on custom servers (Path of Diablo), or kind of mill about in the original game -- but that playgroup is by far the smallest. And you can see the same pattern repeat itself with dozens of other video games that have stopped being officially supported.

And that is not a bad thing.

It may be a difficult pill to swallow now, but games have shelf lives. There's reason why I don't play Diablo 2 every day anymore. Newer, more attractive game exist. And that's what is happening with Pathfinder and in turn, PFSv1. There will be a time shortly when it is no longer being "patched." And when that happens, what is the point in allowing unlimited replay?

If people can still get credit, let them get credit. Report those games for bragging rights even. If people can't get credit, they can still play -- they don't need to use replays, they should just play a home game (akin to a custom server in the above example). So unlimited replay is a silly thing to have in my mind. And if anything, it makes my life, and those of other VOs more difficult. Now we have two PFS campaigns to organize for (in addition to SFS and the ACG).

I'm sure those home games will be fun, heck, I'm sure I'll be playing in them myself, but I, and the other VOs, don't need to manage them. I'm trying to organize space, GMs, and players on behalf of the Organized Play foundation that will be maintaining PFSv2 at that time. I don't need to support content that not even the content creators are supporting anymore. I'll do it for as long as people can get credit but once that day comes that all the games have been played, I think it's time to retire the game.

All unlimited replays do is keeps this game around longer than it needs to be. If you want to play, play, but we don't need to change to rules to make those games un-necessarily official.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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So... this thread, again? Golly, has it been that long?

For anyone catching up (or keeping score), here's my (and everyone elses) thoughts on replay for the last 6 years.

Where do I sit on replay now, with PFSv2 coming out with PF2?

One word: Meh.

More words: If the diehard PFS players out there (myself included) want to keep playing PFS v1 stuff for themselves in their own organized play system, why not. The only way you'd be really doing this anyway would be if you had a core group of dedicated locals. Sounds like a "home game PFS reboot" to me. Print of chronicles, change the scenarios, do whatever you want. Make PFS Core+ campaign, where player can use the Core RPG book AND other hardbacks. Make "Occult PFS" where people can only use complicated nonsense classes like the occultist. Do whatever you want for the old campaign that is no longer getting patched or having new content come out for it.

Think of it like any of those old video games people play competitively. Like Super Smash Bros. People play that game hardcore even today, a decade later, with all sorts of match restrictions, modified game modes, and all other nonsense. AND THAT'S GREAT. They're enjoying it, they're doing their own thing. And Nintendo is producing new Smash stuff on the regular. Just like PFSv2 is coming out. Let the diehards have fun with their own infinite replay custom campaigns. Whatever.

But if you do that, don't make us manage it. Offer "vintage PFS" at conventions, replays be damned, but don't make organizers report it. Don't make games count for table credit once Season 10 completes. Retire the old game with the old system. We had eleven years anyway. This is well past the shelf life of a good TV show. We're readily approaching Simpsons decline. Lets let it die with dignity and watch Futurama.

And for the people that haven't played all of PFSv1 stuff yet--keep running it and playing it as long as there is interest. No need for official replay here. Also, most of these people game with less frequency than the diehards, so transitioning to PFSv2 shouldn't be that difficult. However, if it's the people that are being difficult ("I only wanna play PFSv1!") then give them the information so they know why the game is changing. "Sorry, interest for that game is dying out, a new system came out that is being supported by the OPF and it's what we'll be running more and more of," etc. Communicate it up, and they'll decide what they want.

Anyway, see you all next year when this topic comes up again.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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It's all good baby! Glad y'all had fun ^-^

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Of the sheets not reported when Paizocon finished, I took 1/2 the unfinished sheets and Louis took the rest. My unfinished sheets are finished (and have been for a week now).

If you have an error with your Sunday night special, I probably have your sheet. Aside from that, I'll direct Louis to this thread.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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A couple months ago one of my local GMs qualified for his 5th star and ran Bonekeep level 3 for me (an RVC), a VL, and some other folks. I told him the following (more or less) when he was awarded his 5th star.

"So what does a 5th star mean? Back in the day, when there was so much less play options going around, it was a pretty large milestone. It meant you had run just about everything out there and were a huge campaign participant. What does it mean now? With infinite Thornkeep level 1 replays and people farming First Steps to make Aasimars? Honestly, not so much.

Of my two worst experiences playing PFS, out of hundreds of games, one was under a 5 star GM. He was obstinate, the game was riddled with rules errors, and refused to have a dialogue with his players about anything remotely table variation. He was determined to have the game be us against him. The scenario he ran was the exact same one you ran tonight, and it was a wretched, wretched experience. Your table of the same scenario was so much better than his, yet in the context of PFS you are both 5 star GMs. That this is the only metric I have in PFS to signify your level of GMing expertise is profoundly tragic. And for that, I am sorry.

I think of GMing as an art form, akin to music or painting. Great musicians borrow chords and bridges from other musicians, just like artists are influenced by other artists. As a GM over these last years, I have seen you grow and develop your own unique style. The best possible style you could muster, really, as you have been exposed to so many great (and terrible) GMs. You have cherry picked exactly what works best for you in order to give every table you run an outstanding experience. That, to me, is what a 5 star GM should be. Someone that is constantly innovating, learning, and performing above just reading what's on the page. But it isn't. It just means you ran 150 games, 10 of which were harder to organize.

So congratulations on your 5th star, and however important a milestone you wish that to be. More importantly, in my opinion, are the countless players and other GMs that you have educated, influenced, and shaped through all the games that you have run. Those people are the ones that benefit the most from the table experiences you deliver, and long before you earned this arbitrary metric, you earned their respect. I hope that you don't see this 5th star as the final thing you can achieve GMing, and know that, really, you've only just started honing your chops. Make every game better than this one.

So on behalf of all those people, thank you for being my GM today. It was another great game I'll remember for years to come."

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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PaizoCon is seated the same way every year. Players with tickets for an event in the ballroom are seated from 15 minutes before the start of the event until the events start time. So if you have an 8 AM ticket, ticketed seating will take place from 7:45 to 8:00 AM to get seated. At that point, the musterers will open the seating to anyone who is interested on a first come, first serve basis. So, as said by others, arriving a while after the start time is a good way to be unable to seat 3-4 people in a group.

Regarding scenario variety. This year, there was 1 table of PSA scheduled, 1 table of a low level repeatable scheduled (confirmation, wounded wisp, etc), and 2 tables of PFS quests each slot. These were the games that the OP was trying to get seated at. Given that that PSA was full each time, as was the 1 table of a random repeatable, he was only able to find seating at one of the two quest tables, which was House of Harmonious Wisdom.

Something else to know is that there were MANY seats available at each slot, but for Starfinder. There was between 1 and up to 7 GMs released each major slot that was running Starfinder. So if the OP was keen on playing a game with his kids, there were definitely available, just not of those limited Pathfinder ones. And, for anyone wondering, HQ volunteers do check with free SFS GMs and ask if they can run a game of Pathfinder. Some of those GMs aren't capable or comfortable doing that, which is fine--they are expecting to run what they signed up for, not having to accommodate late entries.

Why so much SFS you might wonder? It was the first year and the waters were being tested to see how popular SFS was. It did sell out every slot at GenCon. So this years PaizoCon schedule was 50-50 PFS to SFS ratio. Obviously those numbers were a bit off the mark. I'd say that next year you could expect to see more PFS tables each slot, but with PFv2 coming out who knows.

Lastly, I'd like to remind everyone here that every single volunteer and GM that helps put on and make PaizoCon function is a player just like you. The volunteer signups are open to the public and are filled by people passionate about making PFS and SFS games happen. They work exceptionally hard to accommodate everyone that comes to play, and feel terrible when instances like this occur. I know of the OPs specific incident because I was present, and the volunteers that attempted to get the OPs group seated did everything in their power to find a solution. These people aren't employees, they are citizens of our community and deserve the benefit of the doubt when situations like this occur.

Their commitment to the community is honestly staggering. On Thursday before the con began, they unpacked three pallets of material and sorted through it all. They made up the table tents, the prize table, the HQ station, and all of the muster sheets. They bundled your chronicles, got your reporting sheets, passed out prize tokens, and handed out pregens. Most spent over 10 hours a day at this convention setting up the hall at 7 AM and being there until midnight. They organized over 300 people each major slot into roughly 50 tables, and had 95% of tables filled 10 minutes after the start time. They all sacrificed the ability to play at this convention to allow everyone else to enjoy it. And when the con was over, they were in the ballroom till 2 PM repacking those pallets and breaking things down. They do this because they are driven to make PaizoCon the best convention they can.

I am very sorry that you arrived late to a game with a table of four people and were unable to get seated together. I sincerely hope that in the future you arrive on time, so that you can experience the amazing community of volunteers that we have, and enjoy this game that has brought us all together.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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GenCon? Hah! My appendix was removed last year--I'm immune to my previous weakness! Expect nothing to keep me from attending all 4 days in style.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Well hey OP! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about PFS. Now we've entered the derailment portion of your post. Bear with the community, we'll sputter out eventually and move elsewhere.

Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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Paul Jackson wrote:
Tallow wrote:

There are tons of examples why a failure to detect a bluff is a lie would not automatically reduce suspicion or whatever. But having your character directly act against the information gained in a physical and violent way (in some cases against alignment) breaks the point of even giving PCs the sense motive skill.

PC: is she really a little kid? Her being alone and safe in this demon infested place is suspicious.

GM: It is a child and she's telling the truth.

PC: I grab her, tie her up, shove her in the closet, shut and lick the door, and set my leopard to guard against her coming lout of the door.

GM: dude, she's a child.

PC: I don't believe that.

GM: but your character does.

PC: so.

GM: <headdesk>

So, there was one scenario (I strongly suspect we're thinking of the same PFS scenario) where we did essentially the above (forced her to stay in the closet, albeit without a leopard and unguarded). We BELIEVED that she was a child, a child in a VERY dangerous place (demon infested and all). She'd survived in the closet for 2 days so we KNEW it was fairly safe. We honestly thought that she'd be far safer in a known hiding spot than travelling with us.

No meta knowledge either. Every single player at the table had neither played nor ran the scenario. We were just reacting to the information our characters had in the way that we thought our characters would. I was playing a Paladin, I did what my character honestly thought was the safest thing for the child. The GM had rolled our sense motives secretly so we did NOT suspect, at the player level, that we'd been lied to.

So, yeah. She made her bluff roll. We then reacted in an appropriate way (just one that happened to screw over the scenario. Well, it would have but the GM cheated (in a good way) :-)).

I'll repeat myself : The GM does NOT get to tell me how my character reacts to information. They don't tell me what my character thinks.

PCs do unexpected things all the time, for all sorts of reasons....

I just want to say that I find it pretty messed up that after coming upon a scared child that's just been through the worst kind of hell imaginable, that your paladin's course of action is to force her into in a dark closet alone while you guys rummage through the rest of the house. I certainly hope the GM roleplayed that girl kicking and screaming, and made you all feel terrible for further traumatizing this innocent victim. And as a paladin you say? Good gods, man.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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The holidays are over and everyone’s back and ready to venture into the wilds of Castrovel! Joining the party is a sixth member (a refugee from a different Dead Suns group that never left the station). This Kasatha Operative carries a set of four pistols and is gearing up for the Fusillade feat chain.

Part 2 – The Ukulam Expedition
Transmission Begins… Session 9, 1/1/17

Before heading into the jungle, the players decide it prudent to hire a guide that speaks elven. The kasathan tells them the journey to the lost temple they seek should take about 12 days, barring any unscheduled stops. After making any final purchases, they head into the jungle.

I always like having clean tie ins when adding additional players, and this one was pretty smooth. He’ll fills the role of translator/guide needed for their expedition and throughout the journey, become another member of the team.

Day 2 – Trampling Titans & Rune Obelisk
The players navigate a wide, dry gulch and do their best to placate and avoid a herd of massive yaruks. Things go sideways as a sniper fires a shot into a yaruk, hoping to start a stampede. The PCs run to avoid the stampede, clambering up walls, diving between the beasts legs, and doing anything they can think of to avoid certain death. Battered, bruised, and wary of some unknown threat, they survive and press on.

This was a great skill-based encounter. Typically these boil down into “what check is the best, I’ll roll that five times,” but I was able to keep my players by describing the chaos around them, forcing them to be creative and find ways to avoid being trampled. At one point, the technomancer tried to do a Life Sciences check and easily broke a 30. I flavored it as him reading an issue of Readers Digest and seeing an article about a woman that survived a yaruk stampede by standing on one leg and mooing like a cow. This lead to some hilarity as his character remained motionless during the stampede, as the gargantuan yaruks miraculously ignored him. The flavor for the location was stripped from King Kong and the new Jumanji – that narrow gulch you have to run along to avoid being trampled.

The destruction left by the yaruks opens a path to a large stone obelisk. As the PCs approach, the local primate wildlife begins hooting warnings and throwing sticks. Ignoring the space monkeys and threatening them back with roars of their own, the players approach. Of course, the hidden plant monster at the base of the obelisk emerges, takes a huge bite out of the mechanic and entrancing the solarion and technomancer. While this happens, the monkeys drop from the trees and engage the other intrepid explorers. Combat erupts, and when the dust settles the monkeys have retreated and the vracinea is no more. The jungle is no place for the faint of heart.

I was happy with how this fight played out. The party’s highest DPS character (solarion) was out of commission for the first two rounds, which actually made it challenging. Otherwise I’d be surprised if other parties have much trouble here, unless everyone tanks their will save. Combining the vracinea with the kaukarikis seems fine, given how low CR the space monkeys are. Flavorwise, the monkeys acted like the apes in Princess Mononoke while they threw debris at the party.

Day 5 – Dangerous Flora
The days pass uneventfully until the PCs notice they’re being followed. A ksarik, a large tentacle-faced plant beast has picked up their scent. It runs off, only to return hours later, hounding the PCs with a deadly barb from its tail. They examine it and find it to be teeming with ksarik larvae. That can’t be good to get hit with. Later on, they hear the cries of a crippled woman, and approach to find a cultist on deaths door, horribly plagued with a pair of spines sticking from her leg. Of course this is a trap set by the ksarik, who jumps them. After half the party has been tail spined, it emerges from cover and tangles with the kasathan operative. The solarion connects with a solid blow and the beast collapses, its work done.

This is a great tropic thing—some beast hunting the party, luring them into a trap. Lot of RP influences here came from The Grey and Predators / Independence Day (with the injured person acting for help). The combat was ultimately meh, with just a bit of cover and stealth shenanigans from the ksarik. Unfortunately its stealth is abysmal, so it can’t keep that up for long, which is weird, as that’s its written tactics. The good news is it got its spine-children out there, so the PCs will have check to makes in the coming days

The party decides to keep the injured cultist alive, although she does slip into a coma on the next day due to her condition. They make a sled and drag her along, hoping to heal her up in the days to come.

Day 7 – The Moldstorm & The Mold-Maddened Beast
With a combination of magic from the mystic and medicine from the mechanic, the afflicted PCs shrug off their ksarik spine-babies and press on. As the winds shift and the notorious Castrovellen moldstorm approaches, the players hunker down for cover. When it passes, they catch a glimpse of it in the melted horror of a lone kaukariki that failed to find safety. Later that day, they hear the roar of some massive predator, charging toward their position. Wisely, they find cover. Unfortunately, they neglected to stow the comatose cultist, who was left in the open, like an offering to the whiskered renkroda—who rips poor Ralkawi limb from limb.

It was one of those perfect storms with the players seeking cover and no one mentioning that they hid her as well. I had the mechanic (who was looking after her) if he remembered his patient, and as he facepalmed we collectively described the cultist being savaged by the renkroda. I didn’t really feel a need to run the combat with this creature, as we already had quite a few combat encounters in this session. The players used their guile to avoid the encounter, and lost a potential resource in the process. And if that wasn’t enough, the side-splitting laughter told me the encounter was a success.

Day 8 – The Stargazer & Ksarik Raid
Real quick, the map for this location is a pain to draw. I recommend having a map with some ruins on it, and a second map with just the statue. The PCs can start in the ruins, encounter the sky fisher, and head for cover when Salask starts firing—moving to map #2 if they so choose.

Entering the ruins of the Stargazer, the PCs are immediately engaged by a huge sky fisher – an almost invisible flying space jellyfish. It ensnares the smallest member of the group, the poor gnome operative, and makes to flee with him. The party begins firing back, and the strand holding the gnome snaps at 70 feet. With a small thud he craters to the ground, and the sky fisher swoops down to nab the halfling mystic. At this point, Salask joins the fray and begins seriously damaging the remaining players with her shots.

Half the part moves to enter the Stargazer while the rest try to get the mystic down. Entering the base of the Stargazer, they work their way through the cultist fodder protecting Salask. The sky fisher is wounded enough that it telepathically expresses a desire to flee to the mystic, releasing him and fluttering on. Fortunately, the mystic took the time to engage his jet pack, and safely rejoins the party. Salask cornered, she fires a few more times into the two kasathans cornering her before she’s quickly, and brutally, taken out.

I adjusted the tactics of the sky fisher to make it more challenging for my six players, and it settled with them just right. This was the first fight in book two to really make them sweat, and it did that in spades. Sure I’ll grab you and fly 50 feet up. Oh, you cut yourself loose? Take 5d6 damage. Wash, rinse, repeat. I wouldn’t recommend such tactics for your table, but given that my players are 2 levels higher (and their opponents are equally scaled up) and relatively skilled, I need to up the ante from time to time.

The other major change here was upgrading Salask’s weapon to the disintegrator liquidator rifle in the back of the book (pg 52). It’s more of a sniper weapon, it does a solid amount of damage, and it’s a great reward to give my players after defeating this challenging pair of combats back to back.

Furthermore, with the PCs positions secured for the night, the pair of ksariks that attack them this evening are little threat and I hand-waive the combat.

Transmission End

Notes from Session 9

  • I was hesitant to add a 6th player (as I typically dislike large tables), but he’s been a welcome addition and so far everything has gone smoothly. With the scaling up I’ve already done to adjust for PCs two levels higher, I haven’t had to do anything else to adjust for a 6th player. Perhaps I will if combats become trivial, but so far they are still exciting enough.
  • As this was the second jungle trek my players had gone through in this AP (my side quest was also set in a jungle, so thanks for one-upping me Paizo *eyeroll*), I was a little worried they would be bored by it. Fortunately, aliens are aliens, and this jungle feels a lot different than their last one. Also the expedition is done, so I won’t need to worry about it any more.
  • The minisystem involving the chase was good, and I liked that it was a fluctuating number of successes based on the number of players, because it self-adjusts for larger or smaller tables (something other APs don’t often do). The flavor of it was also so strong, but maybe because I’d just seen the new Jumanji.

  • Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Getting away from the specific fashion thing...

    I want to say that I really like the "2 months in" format for your review of PFS because it means you actually played it a few times. There are a lot of threads and posts out there from people that played once or twice and have reached a verdict, without really exploring the meat of the OP environment. And they're hard to have a conversation with, because the first thing I want to say is "try it again, table variation is a thing." So thanks for playing a few times and letting us know how you feel about things. This is the kind of feedback that helps us grow.

    I think you've hit upon the core of PFS exactly. PFS is always there and ready to play which is nice, but there are some folks you'd rather not play with and some rules you sometimes rather weren't there.

    And I think a lot of the die-hard PFS fans (like myself) got spoiled with a regular group of people that kick ass. I've had a few negative table experiences throughout my years with PFS, and if I imagine getting those tables at the start of my time with PFS instead of in the middle, I'd probably not be so enthusiastic about it as a whole. It's a matter of perspective. Given enough time the good far outweighs the bad. So I'm betting future experiences will be better than the negative ones you've had thusfar.

    And as far as PFS specific rules go, I've adopted a "whatever" outlook on them in general. Follow the rules as best you can, correct folks that aren't aware of rule X, Y, or Z. If some weird case comes up in a game, I'll hash it out with my players/GM then. Otherwise, it often boils down to a "huh, neat," or "huh, that might have been overlooked." Just another odd landmark of the PFS landscape. Every now and then that really is a mountain up ahead, most of the times it's just a molehill. In the end this is a game, and if everyone at the table is having fun you are doing it right, so have fun.

    So thank you for your earnest review of our OP environment and I hope you keep enjoying what PFS has to offer, which is in my mind a consistent platform for gaming. And it sounds like you're having fun already, so I'm speculating your enjoyment will continue to grow as you explore the various PFS storylines and high-level content it presents.

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Tineke Bolleman wrote:

    Kyle was also very active on the boards, paticipating in GM threads, answering questions, engaging players, which was great.

    I think he's also the (infamous) source of the fun sponge?

    Does Thursty hold that title now?

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    If you were playing in the right home game, you could make a shifter shifter shifter. Race from Eberron, base class from Pathfinder, prestige class from 3rd.

    Last book I learned the classes from was ACG. Brawler might by favorite class, despite only having made one. Occult, Intrigue, and Wilderness I haven't read through completely and the class mechanics are relatively unknown. I just don't have the time anymore between keeping up with PFS, home games, and now Starfinder. Pathfinder is one of my favorite hobbies, but it's not my only hobby. I'll read through a class and build one when it interests me--these newest ones haven't.

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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    This is thread #2 for an ongoing campaign of Dead Suns I’m running. It serves as a record of our game and of the various decisions and modifications that have been made during it. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting and useful!

    You can find Part 1 here.

    Book 2 – Temple of the Twelve

    First of all, I love the flavor of this book. We’ve got our first longer non-Absalom station adventure, and the setting is great. Its Jurassic Park meets advanced technology, with warp gates and political tension. And we get to explore the lost world part of Castrovel that’s ancient ruins and modern bunkers both overgrown by alien jungle fauna. Pretty dope, all in all.

    For the cityscapes (like Qabarat) I pictured your standard Coruscant-esque future city, but with special care taken to preserve sections of the natural jungle terrain—like Central Park but with alien trees. The meshing of technology and nature feels a lot like the art of Simon Stalenhag or Jakub Rozalski, for anyone familiar with Tales from the Loop or the board game Scythe.

    Character Data Dump
    PCs are now level 5

    • Gnome Operative… Scholar… Hacker
    • Halfling Mystic… Ace Pilot… Star Shaman
    • Kasatha Solarian… Xenoseeker… Solar focused
    • Android Technomancer… Icon… rebuilt from envoy
    • Ysoki Mechanic… Outlaw… Exocortex

    Changes Made to Temple of the Twelve
    Because my players are already level 5, I have to scale up book 2. Fortunately, Alien Archive makes this super easy. I simply take the existing creature, figure out what array and grafts were used, and then increase the CR by 2. To do the entire book took less than 30 minutes. I then blanket increased the DCs of skill checks by 2, the DCs of required saves by 1-2, and the damage from hazards by 50%. Credit rewards were doubled, although this might prove to be too much of an increase. Looted items were boiled down into their iLvl, and then increased by 2. So now my players loot a random iLvl 6 longarm, instead of a specific iLvl 4 longarm. Story wise, the only change I had to make was when the Iron Rictus attacks the PCs, so rather than attacking at the Drift Rock it attacked when they returned from their side quest.

    Part 1 - Questions in Qabarat
    Transmission Begins… Session 8, 11/27/17

    Upon arriving outside Absalom Station space, the PCs find themselves immediately set upon by an unknown vessel. The markings identify it as a Corpse Fleet Cairncarver, and its weapons are hot. After a few rounds of combat, the enemy ship is wounded and resorts to overloading it’s engines in an attempt to self destruct and take the Sunrise Maiden with it! Fortunately, Captain Serissi and the Dust Runner of the Hardscrabble Collective arrives in time to fire up their laz drills and shred the detonating vessel before it can go off. The PCs open coms with their old friend, who brings them up to speed. Turns out Gevalarsk Nor shared the footage of the PCs exploration aboard the Drift Rock across Absalom Station, and then found on behalf of the Hardscrabble Collective in their case against Astral Extractions. Apparently the media is eager to question the PCs about their investigation, so Serissi offers his ship’s docking bay as a back door into the station, past all the reporters.

    So a couple of changes here, the first just being the timing of things. The second is the provincial arrival of Serissi. I did this for a few reasons. The first is that I needed some Deus Ex to let my players know what happened regarding the Drift Rock. I also wanted to spice up an otherwise placid space combat. My PCs easily handled the Iron Rictus, and adding the “threat” of it self destructing brought some players out of their space-combat coma. The last reason was because aside from Book 1, the player’s decisions regarding the Hardscrabble Collective and Astral Extractions never come up again. I didn’t really like that, so by presenting Serissi here it gives meaning to their earlier choices.

    Landing on Serissi’s low-key docking bay the PCs are easily able to return to the Lorespire Complex and turn in their last side quest. They also get the low down from Chiskisk, who tells them that since the Drift Rock’s details have been spoiled to the whole Station, there’s no telling who might be moving to investigate it now—which means the Starfinders are going to begin their investigation a lot sooner than planned. He’s sent the strange writings from the alien artifact out to all his contacts, in the hopes that someone will know something. In the meantime, the players spend credits and gear up.

    Once they finish shopping, Chiskisk gives them the mission briefing (pg. 5) and the PCs are bound for Castrovel. However, as they begin to board their ship, a flock of reporters begins to hound them—getting in their face and asking sensational questions while hover cams film it all. Weaving through the reporters, the PCs are finally free to leave Absalom Station and begin the adventure in earnest.

    Oddly my players never thought of speaking with Nor about the Corpse Fleet ship, probably because he had already paid them for their work in Book 1. I included the mob of reporters to foreshadow the same thing that happens later at the university, but as you’ll see that didn’t really matter.

    Arriving on Castrovel, the players meet up with Whaloss and head to Qabarat University. He leaves them at Karei hall, where the players have a meeting scheduled with the head of the linguistic anthropology department—Professor Muhali. Elevator doors open and the PCs see a mob of reporters scrambling to get in to see the professor. A lone assistant is overwhelmed as he tries to hold them off. Wasting no time, the android sees conflict and heads to a different floor. The operative enters stealth, and the remaining three players approach. After a few feeble attempts and quelling the reporters, the solarion looses her patience and lays one out. The distraction is enough that the three are able to get inside and see Muhali. She gives them the low down about Aliabiens 21:2 (as his name comes up this first time I allow my players Culture check to learn of his names significance) and gives them the deal—help me settle this and I’ll track down the professor on leave who can possibly translate those writings. As the player’s agree, the door opens and campus security arrives to escort the solarion off the premises.

    I had no idea how to expect this scene to break out, I had some thoughts, but combat wasn’t one of them. Fortunately the bit about campus police is in the book, which made it easy to deal with the situation. For all of the descriptive bits about Qabarat University, I just pulled from my time in college and having two parents as professors. The players and I joked about the QU’s rival, University of Qabarat (or UQ), and we came up with school colors (neon green and safety orange, like a PFS HQ shirt). Most of Muhali’s personality I took from the chair of a department I know, who’s mantra seems to be “I got into this to be a scientist, not an administrator” – which jives with how Muhali is presented anyway.

    The operative, mystic, and mechanic go to speak with Aliabiens 21:2 while the technomancer tries to hack into the university computer system and get the absent professor’s home address. He whiffs the Computers check, and a moment later campus security arrives to escort yet another member of the team off the grounds. In speaking with Aliabiens 21:2, the PCs are a mix of disgusted (mystic), enamored (mechanic), and indifferent (operative), which makes for some great table talk.

    The mystic and the mechanic head back to Muhali with Aliabiens 21:2’s demands, while the operative stays behind. Muhali agrees to 2 of the 3 concessions, but refuses to wipe Aliabiens 21:2’s tenure review file. The mystic and mechanic decide to lie, and text the operative that Muhali agreed to all three points—and the operative (not knowing he’s been lied to) shows Aliabiens 21:2 the text. Futhermore, while Muhali is distracted, the mechanic remote hacks her system and wipes the tenure file anyway—he did like the guy, after all.

    So in the end, Aliabiens 21:2 believes the tenure file has been wiped. The operative, mystic, and Muhali know it hasn’t, and the mechanic knows that it has. Shenanigans!

    Roleplaying the uber-logical floating brain was easy, as I basically made him act like the brains from Futurama. He refused to admit fault, as he couldn’t possibly be wrong. And if debating a point for more than a moment with a PC, he brought up their lack of qualifications and dismissed them. There was some good roleplay to be had, as the player of the mechanic is highly logical thinker and enjoyed some verbal sparring.

    As Muhali learns that professor Solstarni is missing, she contacts the fuzz and gives the PCs (well the 3 that are still there) access to Solstarni’s office. They search and find the breadcrumbs that Solstarni was researching what they’re looking to research, and that she was probably kidnapped by this mysterious figure Eryub Paqual. The cops arrive and they lay out their findings, and the cop suggests they go undercover and see what they can learn about Paqual by heading to the Five Arches—where Paqual was slated to meet Solstarni a few days ago. The second thing to investigate is the Port Authority, where the goons that took Solstarni appeared to work. Fortunately, half the party is already back at the ship by the Port Authority, having being kicked off campus.

    Nothing much to say here—there was just a lot of plot exposition that needed to get out in this section. I did replace the no-name Qabarat detective with the same hardboiled detective from Absalom Station—transferred to Castrovel for some peace and quiet. Needless to say he was unsurprised with the PCs arrived to interrupt his zen.

    At the Port Authority the solarion and the technomancer spend an hour in bureaucratic hell tracking down a gate controller. They get the info they are after though, and learn that Solstarni has gone through one of the aiudara as part of a 15 man team headed to Ukulam. The remaining PCs head to the Five Arches.

    I envisioned the TSA mixed with the police from Half Life 2 for the Port Authority. High tech scanners, slow moving lines, and lots of red tape. For the passage through the aiudara I thought of any border crossing, but with alien technology and some automated turrets.

    After spinning their wheels a bit, they notice a lashunta looking in their direction. After making contact, the operative and the lashunta, Twonas En, go sit privately to discuss some transportation. The operative does a great job acting the part of a criminal, and before long has bought five illegal visas and a hassle-free baggage check through customs. Twonas thanks the operative for his business and heads out.

    As fun as roleplaying a shady transaction is, nothing was more fun that describing Five Arches in great detail and playing the PCs waiter—an energetic man with well over 15 pieces of flair named Bobby. We decided that Fiver Arches is the equivalent of space Applebees, with all these stereotypical pact worlds’ memorabilia hanging off the walls in various sections. The PCs opted to sit in the Akiton section, where faded black and white photographs of Akitonian miners hung between rusted sections of mining equipment bolted to the wall. At the center of the restaurant was a slow moving collection of tables that made up Diaspora, complete with a traveling bar and bartender. The various food dishes we came up with were also extraordinary, my personal favorite was probably the Pact Worlds Sushi Platter – a massive dish of over 50 unique space sushi, one for each planet, moon, or other landmark in the Pact Worlds.

    The PCs reconvened and shared their intel with the cops. Tracer Bullet tells the PCs that he’s going to move on their intel and seize the smugglers, and Muhali agrees to give the PCs visas to travel to Ukalam if they agree to try and recover Solstarni. Not being heartless monsters, the players accept. The smugglers are captured offscreen and the operative’s credits are returned in block text. The next day they head through TSA Gate Security and find themselves on another continent.

    Some more plot movement here. The descriptive text nearly everything about an aiudara is lacking, aside from what it does, so I had to make some things up. Our aiudaras are a couple hundred feet tall or so and are crawling with security staff. Massive scanners mirror the curved arch, scanning the ships that pass through the top half of the arch as well as any people traveling on foot through the bottom. Security on the other side of the gate is much lighter—as the goal is to limit traffic into Ukalam, not out. The gate itself doesn’t have a perceptive field, but you just see another location through the middle—like the doors in Doctor Strange

    We finished up the session with the players meeting Dr. Khair at Turhalu Point, who told them Solstarni’s expedition headed into the jungle a couple days ago—so she was at least alive then. The PCs are free to rest and resupply at the Qabarat University base camp before heading out into the Ukalam wilds after Dr. Solstarni and the mysterious Paqual.

    I imagined Turhalu Point like any actual base camp at the foot of a mountain. So you’ve got annual support staff, some physical structures, and a bit of a tent city going on. Given Qabarat Universities influence and annual visas, they have a standing structure, which is where the PCs are free to gear up before heading into the jungle. Dr. Khair played the role of explainer—telling the PCs all this information as he showed them around the camp.

    Transmission End

    Notes from Session 8

    • First session with no combat! I’m excited because this is the first time, both in running this AP and in any game of Starfinder I’ve participated in thusfar, that there was no combat. And it ran beautifully. We had only a handful of d20s rolled at all, really, just on a couple Culture, Perception, and Computers checks—none of which were vastly important. Glad to see first hand that RP is alive and well in this new system.
    • As I said before, I really like this setting. I’m excited that we’re out of the city and about to enter the jungle. I could have used more descriptive text with the aiudara, but was able to make do.
    • Proper names. A running joke of mine is that at the start of some games of PFS, you get hit with a wall of proper names—locations, factions, names, objects, etc—that you are expected to know in order to understand the plot of the game. I was worried when I saw so many characters so quickly at the start of this AP, but the more we played the easier it was to keep things straight. That said, you still have: Halkueem Zan, Castrovel, Qabarat, Whaloss, Ikimsi, Muhali, Aliabiens 21:2, Ukalam, Solstarni, Eryub Paqual, Uilee, Five Arches, Twonas En, aiudara, Raiyiri, Turhalu Point, and Dr. Khair al-Nuaf. That’s a lot for one session.

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Dear Thursty,

    Please take however long you need to make parts of the AA legal. Same goes for book two of Dead Suns. I'm fine with waiting for you to figure out what things you want to introduce in scenarios, boons, or later in the campaign.

    Like, maybe we do a scenario where we fight that sweet space eel then get access to its hide for crafting. Or we do some stuff on Eox and can play one of them nicer undead dudes at the end of some reputation gaining. Something like that.

    I also would love to see some stuff on Castrovel cause I've been reading book two and damn--that place is all kinds of alien Jurassic Park meets abandoned technology and ancient ruins. Have you been reading my wish journal? Does this mean we're gonna get something with everyone's favorite space whale: the Oma? If we do please PLEASE include a starship boon slot that's a space whale for future games. I love those space whales.

    Thanks again.

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

    6 people marked this as a favorite.

    If you can read your audience, there are some great scenarios to pick from that can fit almost any situation.

  • Lovecraftian mythos and monsters? Consider 1-35 Voice in the Void or 3-07 Echoes of the Overwatched.

  • Want puzzles and non-combat enjoyment? 5-11 Library of the Lion and 6-15 Overflow Archives are both excellent choices.

  • Want to recreate the 7 Samurai? 3-13 Defenders of Nesting Swallow. If you can, get in the other two parts first for bonus points (3-09, 3-11).

  • Players that want to RAWR SMASH with their 6 barbarian table? Test their mettle in 6-06 Hall of the Flesh Eaters

  • Want to introduce them to the Pathfinder Society as an institution? 5-08 The Confirmation and 6-10 The Wounded Wisp are what you need.

  • Do you want to do a multipart scenario set in a 'Lost World' jungle of tribal kobolds and savage dinosaurs? Scions of the Sky Pet part 1-3 (6-12, 6-14, and 6-16) are right up your alley.

  • Players that want to play Pacific Rim? 2-02 Before the Dawn, part 2 has a giant robot battle in it.

  • Interested in showing your players the joys sarcasm tag of gotcha mechanics? Force them to go through 4-07 Severing Ties.

  • Looking to have your players explore a plant-based cult in a barren, mutated radioactive wasteland!? Look no further than 7-12 The Twisted Circle.

  • Have a table of toddlers and want to softball em? 0-01 Silent Tide is the scenario for you.

  • Players that want to investigate and solve a crime? 5-21 Scars of the Third Crusade and 4-11 The Disappeared fit that bill.

  • Do you want to take your players to different planes? 8-05 Ungrounded but Unbroken , 3-19 The Icebound Outpost, and 3-21 The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment come to mind.

  • Looking for some urban investigation? Check out 6-22 Out of Anarchy and 4-15 The Cyphermage Dillema. The latter has the added bonus of being about PIRATES.

  • Need to balance your pirates with ninjas? Look into redacted.

  • Want to work on your 10 GM specials for your 5th star, have new players try level 7 pregens, and butcher them so badly they never return? Might I suggest Ruins of Bonekeep level 1 and 2.

  • Still can't find the perfect scenario? Consider trying Starfinder with SFS 1-01 The Commencement.

  • Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    You need a party of all Skittermanders with a single Vesk for leadership.

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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    And with this final installment, Book 1.5 has come to an end.

    Part 7 – Into the Mind of Madness

    Session 7: Adventure Overview
    This is it. The side quest’s climatic ending. The design structure for this finale came from a discussion my friend and I had on our podcast (shameless plug for Table Variation), the crux of which basically was “how to make boss fights more exciting.” And the model I went off of was a multi-phase boss battle, similar to those you see in video games. So we’ll have some waves of mooks, a distinct phase change, some interactive terrain throughout, and finish with a final confrontation. Overall, this single longer combat took about 3 hours to play out, and my players really enjoyed it. The fight ended up being a unique experience for them, and I got to play with some fun encounter design elements.

    Transmission Begins… Session 7, 10/30/17

    Phase 1
    Indari’s monologue finished, we head straight into phase one. A barrier of swirling color flares up around the elf, and the assembled cultists begin arming themselves and taking cover. The players use the shattered statues as cover, and begin tactically making their way forward. Dropping some cultists, they reach the center. Taking actions to check the containers as they battle off a second wave of cultists and mindbroken followers, they find additional firepower and a few “healing stations” – next gen technology that periodically provides a burst of nanites that heal stamina and health. Making use of the nanite stations, they have a harrowing battle against a mindbroken lieutenant – a bulky solarion with heavy weapons training that hits like a garggakal on steroids.

    Mechanically, phase one was broken into two waves of enemies. Flavorfully, all of the goons need time to gear up, so the players fight a dozen enemies, broken into two waves. The first wave is a handful of cultists (the same ones they encountered at the start of this side quest), and the second contains some mindbroken cultists (tentacle heads) with a single “elite” mindbroken—the solarion.

    Since the PCs aren’t going to have to time to take any ten minute rests during the final fight, I also positioned several “healing stations” throughout the map. They were useable every 1d6 rounds and healed 3d8 stamina and 3d8 HP. In retrospect, I could have probably removed one of the stations, but overall having some way of healing the PCs mid combat was crucial to making this super long fight work. My on-the-fly adjustment was to have the enemies start using one of the stations, which the PCs really didn’t like (in a good way!)

    During this phase, Indari is also protected by a plot-shield, so the PCs only wasted a single action trying to disrupt him before realizing they’d have to go through the goon squad before confronting their leader.

    Phase 2
    As the final cultist falls, Indari finishes his ritual and we move to phase two. “Yes! YES!” Indari screams with delight as the entire chamber begins to shake, dislodging stone and splitting the floor across the great rune. “You see, you are too late—you cannot stop the inevitable!” Moments later, giant black tentacles erupt from the fissure in the ground, and everyone finds their minds bombarded by a powerful presence. The PCs are entering the aura of a demon lord, albeit weakened.

    They’re required to make DC 30 Will saves each round or be stunned. Unsurprisingly, everyone fails. Quite surpisingly, the mechanic with the exo-cortex uses a feature of it to shunt the negative contrition into his exo-cortex! So while everyone else is crippled with pain, he’s free to run around the room. Fortunately, for everyone involved, phase two is an expositional one. More of the demon lord emerges, Indari is impaled by a tentacle in block text, and the presence begins to deal wisdom damage—shredding the players sanity as it taunts them in their minds.

    This is the all is lost moment.

    But in that moment, golden ghosts begin to rise from the broken statues throughout the chamber. They move to confront the monster emerging in the center of the room, and as they pass by the PCs they help them to their feet (granting them a +20 divine bonus to their Will save). The leader of these ghosts, a golden spectral dwarf, proclaims that their vigil is eternal, and that even in death they oppose The Shadow in the Sea. With that, the ghosts begin battling Dagon’s weakened form and the PCs square off against several animated tendrils that dislodge from the monster.

    Not much to add here. Phase two was designed to be a bit of a combat breather and a noted gear-up in the difficulty curve. No longer are the players fighting humanoids (things they know how to kill), but now they’ve got to contend with a powerful demonic entity and his bizarre spawn. The trope of “you’re stunned while the boss monologues” is well worn and present in a lot of video games, and this was its place in this encounter. Fortunately, it was quick and we transitioned easily into phase three.

    Phase 3
    The PCs war against the Tendrils of Dagon, aided by some of the ancient crusader spirits. A healing surge here, a shred blast of holy light there—hand in hand with the warriors of the past the PCs butcher their way through the shifting animated tentacles and move to take on the beast itself. Unfortunately, Dagon has other plans.

    This was the second combat phase, and it played a bit differently than the first. Instead of battling against creatures the players could defeat on their own, I squared them off against a trio of tendrils, of which each one individually would have been a challenge (as it was previously). To aid the PCs, they had the ability to call on the golden spirits during combat. Each round, they could choose form a short list of positive effects that included things like: Gain a +4 divine bonus to attack rolls, heal 3d8 points of Stamina or HP damage, regain 1 resolve point (useable only once per PC), etc. By making tactical choices from the list, they were able to power through phase three with moderate difficulty.

    Phase 4
    Enraged by the spirits, Dagon begins sending out waves of evil energy. The golden ghosts are disrupted, and begin to dissolve. The leader points and the PCs, and gives them the mission to finish what was started. He tells them that while the demon lord is focused on suppressing their spirits, his own mind is unguarded. With a spectral shunt, the players are ejected from their bodies and thrown into Dagon’s weakened form. Here, in the shifting grey mindscape, they face off against the true incarnation of their foe.

    Another combat pallet cleanser. There was a great deal of dramatic flavor text, heroic speeches from the ghosts and doomsaying from the demon lord. A bit ham-handed, but I think it fit with the impossibly high stakes battle the PCs were engaging in. I also made sure never to have the dwarf give his name to the players, so there was an added layer of mystery as they engaged with him. His was the funerary procession they had witnessed. His was the memory the solarion had seen. But they never learned his name. Some things remain lost to time… (oooh, mysterious!)

    Phase 5
    A withered pile of tentacles and eyes folds into itself over and over, like a pile of dough being kneaded by unseen hands. Each time it folds, it doubles in size. Within moments, the PCs are facing down a huge bipedal abomination. One arm ends in a three fingered hand, while the other is a flailing mass of tentacles that seems to act independent from the body.

    The solarion takes the fight right to the creature, landing solid blows with the blessed Toragian hammer. Supporting fire tears through the monsters chest from the rest of the PCs as the beast bombards those at range with slow moving orbs of ice and its tentacle arm attacks the solarion—seemingly without direction. Periodically, the monster casts spells, infecting the PCs minds and causing them to flee in terror. By the time the solarion drives the silvered hammer through the creatures head, the players are inches away from defeat.

    As the monster slumps, the dreamscape shatters like glass and the players return to their bodies. The golden ghosts are gone, and the underground chamber is shuddering, like a mine about to cave in. Gathering what gear they can (and the Kestrel’s power supply), they make a hasty retreat, escaping the chamber moments before it collapses.

    This was the final fight, and I wanted it to be a solidly challenging one with no gimmicks. The players were at probably 75% resources, but close to full on HP and Stamina (the result of using the nanites and ghostly healing), so they squared off against a solid CR 8 with a mix of spells and standard attacks. I gave the ranged attack a move speed, so the players were able to move and dodge most of its damage. The tentacle arm could attack as a swift, but attacked a random player in melee. Spell-wise, nothing savaged the players more than fear (lvl 3), but only because of the duration. I’d probably remove that spell running this again, or reduce it’s duration to 1d4 rounds.

    Plugging the power supply back into the Kestrel the players are able to return to Intrepid. They abandon the Kestrel there, and wire it’s PSU into the Intrepid, freeing up it’s mainframe for recovery. There are goodbyes, and thanks from the inhabitants, and with a wave, the players board the Maiden and head off back to Absalom Station—Brannor and Melika in tow.

    Entering Station space, they encounter the first combat from Dead Suns #2 (ship combat), which I’ll detail in that thread. That combat aside, concluding this adventure was fairly straightforward. The players earned some credits for the recovery of the mainframe and clearing the Society’s name. They also gained the favor of two NPCs that will likely have minor reoccurrences in the future. Brannor’s sight was restored by the Society, and he’s begun teaching classes at the Lorespire Complex. After a brief time exploring the station, Melika decided to be a Starfinder, and has started her training.

    And with that, we concluded the first Dead Sun sidequest: Echoes of the Past!

    Transmission End

    Notes from Session 7

  • Alien Archive, Alien Archive, Alien Archive. This book, you guys. You need this book. The last fifty pages is where it’s at. All that good stuff for monster creation is a must if you’re going to do any homebrewing or adjusting. They made some smart moves swapping to a straight CR template, instead of having you build the creature with HD, Feats, etc. Now you just pick the CR, copy down the stats, and make minor adjustments to that. Takes me about 5 minutes to make a creature now. Very, very, useful.
  • I was also a little worried about making adjustments to future AP books, but with the AA I’m 100% less worried. In fact, I’ve already made all the adjustments. I just looked up each creature, found its CR and template and scaled up the CR. My players are 5 instead of 3, so the CRs are 2 higher almost across the board. The whole thing took about 30 minutes. This is a good book.
  • Overall, I think the multi-phase boss fight was a success. That said, it was very dramatic and I wouldn’t use it for the final confrontation every time. The way I used it here, because of the challenge the PCs were overcoming, did seem very appropriate though. So maybe two to three times a campaign? The less you do something like that, the more of an impact it will have overall, which is something to consider.
  • Holy crap, this entire side quest wound up being a lot more work than I thought it would. I’m looking forward to just running off of an AP again. That said, it was very rewarding and I’m glad we were able to get through the story and my players had a good time.
  • I have my entire document of notes that I used for this side quest, with full stat blocks, random encounter tables, and descriptive text (almost like a real AP). If anyone is interested, shoot me a PM and I’d be happy to email it to you.

    Thanks for reading along and hope you’re enjoying the ride! See you in thread #2!

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    Part 6 – Unravelling the Past

    Session 6: Adventure Overview
    Armed with more knowledge of Obo’s history, the PCs press further north. They survive the dangerous night, find more ruins from the First Visitors, and enter some sort of vault. Inside, they find a ritual underway where Indari and his followers are attempting to release Dagon from his captivity.

    Transmission Begins... Session 6, 10/23/17

    Spending a night in the Toragian fort, the PCs rest is interrupted by the arrival of a deadly creature. A caypin (Alien Archive, pg. 26) that’s adapted to nocturnal hunting cycles begins by sending a swarm of eyestalks into the fort. After the PCs battle their way through that, the caypin itself smashes through the front door. It looses another eyestalk blob, which is blasted apart, leaving the poor creature blind. Wounded and blind, it runs into the jungle. The PCs chase it down and eliminate the thing with prejudice.

    At this point, the PCs are level 4 and the caypin CR 6. But even so, the thing was a deadly foe to tangle with. Had I been more brutal in my tactics, I would have surely killed a character. Again, I’m happy to have so many built in options to throttle back power. From attacking 1-2 times a round, having combat maneuvers, and then, specifically with this creature, choosing to make eyestalk swarms or not.

    Pressing on, by the 5th day the PCs have reached the mountain. Here the jungle abruptly turns rotten and dead, and the ground falls away into a stagnant swamp. The PCs move on in an eerie silence, broken only by their own movements. They are stopped only once, to watch as a spectral procession of golden ghostly dwarves moves through the swamp, carrying a golden casket between them. The dwarven pallbearers enter the side of a rocky hill and disappear. Following, the PCs find a small crypt where the dwarf was laid to rest long ago. The name has been lost to time, but some of the valuables within remained, and the PCs pick up some easy credits.

    The desire to have this encounter came from reading my old DND DMG, where it has a myriad of adventure ideas. One of which is to have a half-dozen skeletal pallbearers in a silent, undead procession. I liked this idea, and I also like the idea of having encounters that can be cinematic rather than combative. Here the PCs go to explore a bit more about the history of the First Visitors, get a first glimpse at non-hostile undead (which will be important later), and get some easy loot.

    Their long journey ends as they find the base of the mountain, where a smattering of pillars mark the entrance to some ancient vault or prison. The magical wards and runes are faded, and the potency has long since waned. A door sits slightly ajar in the stone surface of the mountain. As the PCs discuss the next course of action, the ysoki engineer sneaks off. Moments later, the rest of the party notices and chases after. We get that comedic moment where the camera is viewing a single shocked person’s expression, more people show up—focused on the person—and it takes them a moment to notice what the shocked person is looking at.

    The PCs are standing at the end of a massive underground chamber. Defaced and destroyed statues line the walls, and a large mezzanine overlooks a massive dwarven rune that lies partially buried in the ground. The rune emanates a soft golden light. Modern mining equipment, generators, and floodlights illuminate some sort of excavation, and a dozen or more people fill the chamber. From the elevated platform, Indari calls out:

    ““Ahh, the interlopers! You’ve come to stop this? You are fools! Could an ant stop the tides? You stand here, expecting to undo this—but you would just as surely stop the sea!” As he says this streaks of purple rain from his hands, and begin muting out the golden light from the rune below. He then turns his attention to those gathered around the circle. “We are nearly there—protect the ritual!”

    And we cut to a ‘to be continued’ screen for next session.

    Although I would have liked to finish up the game this session, because book 2 of Dead Suns is now out, if we did have to end at some point it was a perfect stopping point. The final battle is designed to be multiphased, which is something I’ve been wanting to try out for a while and should take a couple hours to play through. Obviously this climax is straight out of pop culture, and there are a lot of easy influences to draw from. For me, it felt like a mix between the end of the first Hellboy movie, with some snippets from Indiana Jones and the Mummy (the excavation).

    Transmission End

    Notes from Session 6

  • This was a half session due to some scheduling conflicts, but we stopped in a great place.
  • There were a lot more random encounters the PCs could have experienced, but it’s interesting to see their perspective when they’re only seeing some of the story. Once we finish, I’ll let them read through the stuff I have written up and see if their opinions on things change.

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    Out of game, a player returned so we’ve been finishing up that campaign while playing through Dead Suns. As a result, we’re only playing every other week now.

    Part 5 – The Lost World of Obo

    Session 5: Adventure Overview
    Now in orbit over a strange world, the PCs pick up the signals of both the Kestrel and another old Starfinder ship, the Intrepid, on its surface. Landing, they find that the Intrepid is no longer a ship, and more of a city built in the wreckage of a capital-class vessel.

    Inside the city they meet with the sole survivor of the Intrepid’s last voyage, Last Seeker Brannor. He tells the PCs of the Starfinders’ crash, their mutiny, and their eventual acceptance of their fate on Obo. He repaired the Kestrel as a side project, and was shocked to learn of its departure and return. Brannor relates the mysticism surrounding the mountain, and indicates the PCs might find their answers there.

    Voyaging into the jungle, the PCs make their way towards the mountain and. Along the way, they come upon ancient ruins to a long forgotten faith (Torag), and locate some old relics and weapons that can aid them in the battles to come. They see more of Dagon’s corruption throughout the jungle, as many of the creatures now carry the demon lord’s taint within them.

    Transmission Begins... Session 5, 10/9/17

    In orbit above the world of Obo, the PCs choose to land at the southern part of the largest island, where the Kestrel was last sighted and where the distress signal emanates from. Setting the Maiden down in the shoals, they head in on foot, cutting a path through the jungle wilds.

    The inspiration for this lost world feel comes from my childhood (and everyone else’s, I assume) love of dinosaurs. I wanted to mix a shipwrecked space crew, an ancient imprisoned evil and freaking space dinosaurs. Welcome to Obo.

    It’s not long before their presence attracts the attention of some local predators, and combat against a pair of large cat-like geckos ensues. After the battle, where the mechanic was nearly taken away by one of these saurian beasts, the PCs decide to dissect the creatures. Inside the bodies they find evidence of strange black discoloration, and dozens of small pustules growing within the creatures’ organs.

    This fight was touch and go for a while, but the PCs made it through without any real problems. As I was statting up the creatures for this part of the filler material, Alien Archive showed up and I was able to incorporate a lot of that into these enemies. Starting with these cat-lizards (which the locals call Ferisaurs), everything is designed following the super cool rules from AI.

    A short while later, the PCs encounter a local hunting party. Tan, golden eyed, with a mix of human and elven features, these people, called Mualans, address the PCs in common. The leader of this group, named Melika, informs them that she’s been sent by the Last Seeker to find the PCs, and bring them to her village. The PCs warily follow her through the jungle. Before long they find themselves standing outside a large tribal village. However, the primitive here has been mixed with the modern. Metal struts support the treetop huts, generators power water pumps, and motorized cables ferry people and goods throughout the tops of the trees. Half-buried in the back of the village is the ruins of a massive ship—the Intrepid—which has been systematically cannibalized for parts, parts that have been built into the surrounding village.

    It is here they meet Brannor Rustknuckle—an old blind dwarf, former engineer aboard the Intrepid and last surviving Starfinder from the original mission 200 years ago. And he info dumps to the PCs everything from the adventure background. That they crashed here, couldn’t leave, and made a new life with the locals. Intrepid the ship became Intrepid the village, and they lived harmoniously in the southern part of the island ever since.

    Why the south? Because the locals (wisely) stay away from the mountain. Old stories tell that a great evil was imprisoned there by the First Visitors long before the Starfinders arrived. Brannor informs the PCs that he rebuilt the Kestrel to pass the time, and was shocked to discover it had been stolen a few days ago.

    Hearing the PCs side of things, he reckons it is up by that mountain, where something sinister surely lurks. He’s happy to return with the PCs to Absalom station, but first requests they recover the Kestrel’s power supply, so it can continue to provide Intrepid with electricity. The PCs agree, and set off.

    The characterization of the dwarf I pulled straight from Max von Sydow’s endearing performance in the remake of Robin Hood. Blind, wise, and cheerful, Brannor serves to deliver about 50% of the adventure backstory and fill in any gaps in the PCs own deductions thusfar. The rest the PCs will experience as they explore the jungle, from the ruins of the “First Visitors”—the Toragian crusaders.

    As they adventure north, the PCs have some random encounters, but there are three primary ones that serve to further the background of the First Visitors. The first is an old dwarven ruin. Here the PCs can find evidence that the First Visitors worshipped the old Golarian pantheon of dwarven gods, with Torag at the helm and Angradd as more of a footnote than the major player. They also seemed to be militant, setting up a dozen or so small bases of operation all over the island. They also locate some small magical items that seem to be attuned to protecting the wearer from demons.

    The second is some background on the Mualan (native) culture. They find a clearing where there are some tribal etchings. They mark this place as “The Trial of the God Dragon” and indicate that the particpants of this trial would steal an egg from the ‘God Dragon,’ hide with it for some time, and then return it. While they are contemplating this, the ‘God Dragon’ (a massive alien T-Rex with feathers and longer arms) arrives to tend to its nest. We have some good RP before the alien dinosaur and it’s newly hatched offspring leave into the woods.

    The inspiration for the trial came from the trials of manhood the Easter Island people would do. They had a trial where they had to swim to an island, recover a bird egg, and return with it unbroken. I felt that something similar, with the ante upped to an alien t-rex egg, would fit nicely on my alien dinosaur island. And it did!

    The final encounter of note was where the players found a larger Toragian fort. Here the artifacts they’d collected reacted with the throne in the main chamber, and they viewed scenes of the past. They witnessed what must have been a multi-faith coalition of forces, working together to defeat a monster known only as “the Shadow in the Sea” (to which the PCs failed their Mysticism checks to ID that as Dagon), and also the first signs of Dagon’s corruption, as a courier arrived, carrying a sickness within him. The vision ends as the PCs encounter that same courier, thousands of years later and still within the fort, reduced to a withered host for a ‘Tendril of Dagon,’ basically a glorified body snatcher.

    The fight against the tendril was great, and ended with it infesting a PC. This is where it gruesomely forces itself into a PCs body and slowly begins to corrupt it. The players freaked out, and made Medicine checks to put the infested PC through major surgery, cut him open, and kill the tendril within.

    Transmission End

    Notes from Session 5

  • Everything went fairly smoothly here. Having all my thoughts written down helped, as did having Alien Archive.
  • I really like how Obo turned out. It’s a mix of Dinotopia, Gilligan’s Island, and some standard space monster stuff. The final fight is shaping up to be a promising encounter.
  • I’m looking forward to having all this filler material done up in a more professional manner for when I run it for that table. I can also provide stat blocks and a full write up of this filler “AP” once my table finishes their playthrough, so anyone else that wants to can make use of it.

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    Apologies for the late transmission… prepare yourselves for a large info dump.

    Part 4 – Arrivals and Departures
    As was hinted at, I had to generate some filler content to supplement my group between the releases of the books for Dead Suns, as we’re playing faster than they’re coming out. What follows is a brief summary of the story that my players will be adventuring through, followed by the usual scene by scene.

  • The first goal I’m hoping to achieve with this is the simplest: I need something my players to enjoy between AP books.
  • Second, since Alien Archive is also not out yet, I need to test the capabilities of my players as they level, and create CR appropriate challenges.
  • Third, I want to create something robust enough that other GMs could use it in the future, should they wish to do something similar.
  • Lastly, I need my “filler sessions” to neatly fit between the written APs. With this first one, it was a bit tricky as we only have a teaser about how the next book begins.

    Adventure Background:

    Before the Gap, a mighty battle raged on the distant world of Obo. A coalition of multi-faith crusaders succeeded in defeating the Herald of Dagon, a demon lord from Golarion. Unable to slay the monster entirely, they imprisoned him within a dormant volcano on the island planet.

    The most devout remained behind on the tropical island to guard the volcano, and ensure the demon within was never released. When the Gap occurred, the crusaders forgot their purpose, boarded their ships, and left the planet. The locals remained, knowing only that the volcano was dangerous, and to keep their distance.

    Two centuries ago, the Starfinder Society sent off an expedition of two vessels, the frigate Intrepid and its accompanying explorer, the Kestrel. When the Intrepid activated its Drift drive, something malfunctioned, causing the Intrepid’s drive to shear apart and ripping a rift that sucked both vessels through, into the void. In an uncharted part of space, the twin ships crashed onto the small world of Obo.

    The damage to the Intrepid was severe, and the ship beyond repair. The Kestrel was functional, as was its Drift drive. The combined Starfinder crew had the ability to send some survivors back, but not all. It was decided that the First Seeker and her entourage would leave, and return at some point with help. But when the First Seeker went to board, a small mutiny ensued. It was quashed, but not before the First Seeker was slain and the Drift drive aboard the Kestrel rendered inoperable. The mutineers were executed for their treason, but not before one escaped, the elf Indari.

    Indari fled inland, and lost himself in the jungle. After days of wandering, he found his way to the large mountain in its center. Something called from within it, and he headed down the wide lava tubes into its heart. A devil, imprisoned within the mountain by protectors from another place and time, wormed its way into Indari’s mind, poisoning it. For the last two centuries, Indari has been gathering followers from the locals on the island and they have been constantly mining the belly of the mountain out by hand.

    The rest of the shipwrecked Starfinders took a different path. They met with the locals and made peace; they turned the wreck of the Intrepid into a small city, and made lives with the people of Obo. Two hundred years later, of the original Starfinder crew, only one remains: former engineering officer and now self-appointed Last Seeker Brannor Rustknuckle. To pass the time, he has spent the better part of the last century forging replacement parts for the Kestrel and has just finished making it operational.

    Through his followers, Indari has learned that the Kestrel is repaired. He leapt at the opportunity to take it off world and get some better mining equipment. Taking his most loyal followers he completed what he failed to do 200 years prior, and stole the Kestrel. His first stop: Absalom Station.

    Session 4: Adventure Overview
    With the Drift Rock cleared and the Sunrise Maiden in their possession, the PCs return to Absalom Station. After receiving their rewards from Nor, they are directed by Chiskisk to the docking bays, where a long lost Starfinder ship, the Kestrel has returned after 200 years in space.

    Upon approaching the crew of the Kestrel, the PCs are attacked and the ship abruptly takes off. Chiskisk tasks the PCs to chase down the rogue ship and figure out what in the nine hells is going on. The trail leads to Akiton, where the Kestrel picked up mining equipment. There they once again encounter the crew of the Kestrel, but find them to be strangely corrupted, as one sprouts excessive tentacles (although any amount is probably excessive, now that I consider it). A second confrontation breaks out, and afterwards the PCs race to stop the Kestrel from escaping, the PCs catch up to the rogue ship in space.

    After a brief ship battle, the Kestrel activates its Drift drive to escape, but a malfunction occurs—pulling both ships through. The PCs must safely guide the Maiden into the unknown or risk being torn apart!

    Transmission Begins... Session 4, 9/18/17

    The PCs finish up at the Drift Rock, and with their new prize: the Sunrise Maiden in tow they head back to Absalom Station. What follows is some basic bookkeeping. They meet with Nor, who happily pays them for his cargo, as well as a fee for services rendered. He informs them that he’ll need some time to ponder the data they’ve brought him on the Drift Rock and the Acreon, and afterwards a decision will be reached. A couple of days pass, during which the PCs spend their credits and upgrade their gear.

    Then, I hit them with the plot hook as an urgent message from Chiskisk flashes across their comms: “Starfinders! We have an urgent assignment for you. Please report to Docking Bay 29—the Kestrel has returned! She’s an old Starfinder explorer-class vessel that was thought lost ages ago. It’s a miracle! Make haste and greet them. We will be along as quick as we can.”

    With a quick bit of research on their way, they learn that about 200 years ago, the Kestrel and another ship (the Intrepid) were thought destroyed in a terrible Drift drive accident outside Absalom Station. The accident occurred when the Intrepid fired up its Drift engine. Something malfunctioned, and both ships were sucked into the Drift—and thought destroyed.

    Here’s where things get different. It’s relatively easy to change the timeline of when the Corpse Fleet arrives. They’ll be coming at the end of my side-quest arc, meaning that Nor will broadcast the info while the PCs are abroad, so that when they return to Absalom Station they’ll be at relatively the same point as they normally would.

    The PCs arrive and find a crowd of onlookers standing before an old explorer ship; a faded name painted across it’s side identifies it as the Kestrel. Making their way through the crowd, they meet up with the sullen crew of the old Starfinder ship, who refuse all attempts to break bread. Enough conversation pushes some unknown buttons with the armed crewmen, who attack the PCs. Combat ensues, and as the tide of battle favors the PCs, the ship makes an abrupt exit, tossing the mechanic and the solarion from the open cargo bay. The Kestrel smashes through some Station equipment before breaching the atmospheric force field and escaping into the void. They manage to take one member of the crew alive, and question him as best they can. He reveals little aside from ominous quips about “the weakness of the Starfinder Society” and phrases like “the Last Seeker was wrong.”

    So my goal here was to have something explosive and exciting to kick off my mission. The combat was fairly straightforward, and began with the PCs trying not to harm the crew. After a few rounds, they (rightly) assumed that these people were not lost Starfinders and took to more lethal methods. I added a hazard of the fuel line (the Kestrel was mid fueling when combat begins), but the mechanic wisely disconnected it. Had he not, when the ship took off the line would have broken, and we could have had a real situation with a rocket-fuel fire.

    The PCs meet with Chiskisk moments after he gets chewed out by Absalom Station security. Apparently, the Society is on the hook for all the damages caused by the Kestrel, so if they’re to salvage anything from this disaster the PCs will need to hunt down that whoever is flying that ship and get some answers. When presented with the captive, Chiskisk plies his mind but gets little more. The shrrien is perplexed by the mention of a “Last Seeker” as such a thing doesn’t exist within the Starfinder Society. With the captive in Starifnder custody, the PCs pile into the Sunrise Maiden and after the Kestrel, which headed straight for Akiton.

    I have a great attraction to Akiton, as it plays off of a few tropes that I love from sci fi culture. We have the dystopian future, where megacorps live in the upper 1% (literally, in the case of Maro). We get the Red Faction-esque world lore, of disinfrancished hard working miners, oppressed by said megacorps.. And to top it off the whole place feels like a Judge Dredd / Blade Runner world. So I had to take my players there.

    Using their background contacts, the mystic and the mechanic find that an old Starfinder ship landed in the “bowels,” the lowest level of Maro. Arriving at Ultor’s Mining (an homage to Red Faction), the PCs find the crew of the Kestrel in the process of looting the nearly-bankrupt business. A second combat ensues, as the PCs dodge animated active salvage equipment (ala SW2: Attack of the Clones). A female crewmember, which has been slinging mystic spells at the players, takes enough damage to push her into “phase 2,” where her head rips apart to reveal a stem of flailing, squid like tentacles. The players collectively drop bricks, and proceed to put the creature down with extreme prejudice. Saving Ultor (tied to a chair in the back), they learn that these crew are lead by an old elf named Indari--one of the original crew aboard the Intrepid—and they stole a great deal of mining equipment.

    This was a fun part to run. I love the city of Maro (detailed further in SFS 1-02), and Ultor’s shop was a great way bring the PCs into that. Mechanically, the tentacle monster thing is partially inspired by some games of Dark Heresy I played a couple years ago and the nether thralls from Torchlight 2. Flavor-wise, that creature is a ‘mindbroken’ a humanoid that has been wholly corrupted by the entity imprisoned within Oro. It did a great job of shocking the PCs, and bringing the “space-occult-mystery” theme of the adventure into focus.

    Making tracks, they see the Kestrel lift off and promise not to let it get away a second time. The Maiden gives chase, and before long they encounter the ship in space above Akiton and battle begins. Though large and un-maneuverable, the Kestrel packs a wallop, nearly blasting the PCs apart with it’s second salvo. As things look grim, the Kestrel activates its warp engines.

    Briefly: this ship combat was too hard. I pulled the stats for a CR 3 ship from an online source and adjusted some numbers, and the combat was too rough for my players. I’m going to halve the damage the ships guns do for future use.

    Alarms ring out across the Maiden—anomalous readings coming from the Kestrel—as a tear to the rift splits into view. Defying all reason, the Kestrel pilots into the breach. The PCs try their hardest to resist the space-railroad-tracks leading them into the unknown, but in the end need to direct their own ship into the rift. The opening is littered with the wreckage of several ships, among them the remains of the Intrepid. If the PCs are going to survive the passage through the rift, they’ll need to navigate the cluster of space debris.

    This was a simple skill test, the PCs had two rounds to make any justifiable check to reduce the hull damage their ship was about to take. For example, the PC piloting made Pilot checks, another made Computer checks to plot a course through the wreck, and yet another made Athletics checks to race about the ship and secure various doors, etc. I had the incoming damage set at 20d6, and had them reduce the damage the ship took by 1d6 for a DC 12, +1d6 removed for every 5 they beat the DC by. So a Pilot check of 25 reduced the incoming damage by 3d6. The numbers were spot on for this, and the PCs avoided all of the debris damage due to some solid rolls.

    Once through the wreckage, the PCs find themselves in orbit above a bright blue world. Wisps of clouds circulate across its surface, while the vast ocean is interrupted only by various clusters of small, archipelago style islands. Twin suns illuminate the tropical paradise. The Maiden’s computers report three things.

    First, the Drift anomaly is over—having finished as quickly as it began. The wreckage around the Maiden can be identified as belonging mostly to the Intrepid, although other smaller scouting ships and probes are interspersed as well.

    Second, the Kestrel seems to have headed to the planet below, and is landing in the forested area of one of the larger islands. Also present on that island is an encoded Starfinder transponder, periodically communicating an emergency signal into space. If the PCs scan the surface of the planet, they find the atmosphere breathable, and comparable to that of Absalom Station.

    Lastly, the Maiden’s computers report that the PCs are beyond the Pact Worlds, in a section of uncharted space.

    Here's where I left the PCs after Session 4, with a nice cliff-hanger ending.

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    Part 3 – Phantoms of the Drift
    Character Data Dump

  • Gnome Operative… Scholar… Hacker
  • Halfling Mystic… Ace Pilot… Star Shaman
  • Kasatha Solarian… Xenoseeker… Solar Weapon, Stellar Rush
  • Android Envoy… Icon… Get ‘Em
  • Ysoki Mechanic… Outlaw… Exocortex

    Transmission Begins... Session 3, 9/11/17

    Session begins straight into combat, coming off Clara-247’s crit, which messes up the solarian something fierce. We navigate the additional rules of zero-g combat no problem, but Clara fails to deliver another meaningful blow and surrenders just shy of her HP threshold, but in the Initiative pass right before the solarian (still standing and pissed) goes Supernova. They keep her alive, but take her gear and credits. They make the connection tying her to Astral Extractions, and have her wait on the Acreon for a ride back to Absalom Station. The cost of the ride is, unsurprisingly, all her possessions. A fair price to pay.

    With the exception of the initial crit, nothing really noteworthy happened here. I did find zero-g combat to be both interesting and a little distracting. Having to remind my players about it through the first half of the map, and moving people’s miniatures and bumping them into walls felt like a “gotcha” kind of mechanic, which I dislike doing to my players. Fortunately any discomfort was minor, and no one was ever screwed over by floating a square or two somewhere they didn’t really want to.

    The PCs find the Drift Rock wholly intriguing, and spend several minutes examine the strange ceramic-alloy plating when they discover it. Given that the AP doesn’t detail what the alloy actually is, I have to adjudicate on the fly some PC driven decisions, like how much of it they could harvest with actions X, Y, or Z. A small, controlled, explosion later and they have a few shards of this alien alloy. Beginning the process of counting missing Acreon crew, the PCs count 1 dead, 1 zombie before being interrupted by a ghost, who, with the exception of being very durable, is a relatively easy combat due to exclusively laz weaponry. Her confusion aura gets one PC, but he trains onto her round 1 and nicks another player round 2. Between the combats, there is a short rest and some resolve points are spent here and there.

    So I thought the driftdead would be more of a challenge, but my dice make her more or less meh. The real threat was that single void zombie, who got in some solid hits for 1d6+5, which still feels huge even at level 2. As a side note, it would have been nice to had some more info on the ceramic-alloy. Even if the PCs couldn’t learn it, I’d like to know how it reacts to things and how important (or unimportant) it is later. The PCs are very transfixed by it (at least the operative-scholar and mechanic are).

    If they thought one void zombie was hard, just wait till there are two. Oh wait, there are. Ouch. The solarian does an admirable job holding both off at the entrance to the room, which serves as a natural choke point, protecting him with some cover from a void zombie. But, as the ysoki mechanic quickly learned, everything just a dice roll away from being deadly. He attempts to pass above the two void zombies, given that it’s still zero-g. He fails the Acrobatics (tumble) attempt, and provokes two attacks from the zombies. They both hit, and if 1d6+5 feels bad to take at level 2, 2d6+10 is worse—especially with that Strength damage on each hit. The party limps through the fight, and saves the ysoki moments before he burns his last resolve. Now left with a difficult decision—return to the Acreon and rest, or press on knowing that more crew members could be in danger ahead. They pick the nobler, if more dangerous choice, and open the next door.

    Nothing much to say for this combat except that my dice were rolling hot-hot-hot. As usual, I roll all my stuff in the open for my player’s to see. When the ysoki mechanic floated by, and rolled the attacks and when the dice landed 18, 19 (or something similarly high), the entire table cringed. I guess the CR of the void zombie is balanced by its abysmal EAC, but it’s attacks are fairly savage. Especially when you have the option of taking two attacks at a -4 on your turn, I can really ramp up the damage when I want to. The good news is my players will think twice before provoking two AOOs in the future.

    The players move into the manufactured corridors and into artifical gravity. They head to the west first, coming upon the malfunctioning security robot. Given the difficulty of the previous fight, I’m preparing to drop a PC, but its not in the cards dice. The robot begins by firing its jolting arc, and the players mostly save (the operative has evasion!). They return fire with their laz weapons, managing to hit its relatively high ACs of 16. It takes some pot shots with its arc emitter. I notice that the “stun” setting doesn’t have a save, so I give it one of 10+CR (13) and manage to stun the mystic, who was dealing some solid laz rife damage. They bludgeon it for another round, with the mystic drawing a knife and dealing the final blow. With a bit of a whimper, the robot powers down, it’s security duties finally over.

    I’m unsure if the weapon wasn’t supposed to have a DC and just always Stun on a hit. If so that’s quite powerful, given that the robot could take two attacks at a +7/+7, with the first stunning and the second more easily hitting for damage. The added DC seemed right, and the PC targeted by the attack failed anyway, so no harm no foul I suppose.

    They quickly find Moriko’s hidden compartment, and manage to Engineer their way inside. We do a brief infodump of the datapad contents, with some inspired RP drawn from old Windows 95 boot prompts (as it’s outdated, this datapad was obviously running an old OS). The wallpaper of the datapad is an image of the Sunrise Maiden, with Nash standing proudly in front. Inside they find an old Word .doc and accompanying media file that plays her recording. I change it from a holo-recording to an old-fashioned handheld, shot in the very compartment where she died, and it played very well with my players. The mystic ace pilot gets quite giddy with anticipation of finding the party’s new ship.

    This was a great scene to play out with my table. I kept adding more detail about Moriko from the datapad and the patches on her old flight uniform, and the players fell more and more in love with her, or rather the romanticized way she had died. The mystic ace pilot took a tarnished pin from her jacket and added it to his own, so that he could take her along as he travelled, still seeing the stars.

    Discovering the alien computer console, the PCs jump in—mechanic and operative working in tandem to crack the code. Excited, they start rolling. Triggering the trap and nearly frying the ysoki, they slow down and take their time (5d6, ouch!). Three checks later, all they could hope for is revealed—in some alien language no one speaks. Again, I wish the AP included the language of the code, although I can assume it’s Kishalee it’d have been nice to know. There’s some infodump once they skill check into the code, and I’m able to draw on my own technical knowledge of computer systems to liven up what they uncover. “Knowing how these things typically work, you begin taking strips of space-tape from the mechanic’s bag and begin labeling all the monitors and systems: auxiliary power, manual control, backup power transmitter, etc. After a few minutes, you’re able to piece together some probably right information about this system…”

    As a rule, I typically don’t like “make X skill checks of DC Y” mechanics in my games. They tend to break immersion pretty regularly because the players table talk “I have a +12 in that skill, let me do it,” which is a minor pain point for me. However in this case, given the unexpected electrical-short trap, I didn’t mind. The infodump went well, and the PCs are good and baffled about the Drift Rock overall, which I count as a success.

    The PCs consider resting for the night before continuing, and then decide not to and open the final door. The consequences of their actions are rapidly apparent. I redraw the final map to include the parked Maiden. The reason being I have a very clear image in my mind that I want to present to my players, and need the ship there to do it. I introduce the garggakal as their attention shifts from the Maiden to the disemboweled corpses at her feet; they begin to hear it’s strange guttural calls, and it rises over the top of the ship. It spreads its wings like a dragon, roars once more, and swoops towards them. Roll initiatve.

    The mystic gets off a solid hit with his laz rifle before the garggakal is among them, and with a single bite (2d6+9=19) drops the solarian that’s out of stamina. Uh-oh. PCs scramble, stabbing their solarian with a mk 1 serum of healing, and firing off some rounds. A couple hit, one of which is electricity damage—courtesy of the operative. Past it’s 60 HP threshold, the garggakal targets the operative with it’s 5d6 leech life ability. Fortunately, the PC saves, only taking 12 damage, which the garggakal gains as temporary HP. The party notices this, and collectively wets themselves.

    Things are looking very grim, and, knowing enough about my players, I’m now looking down the barrel of a TPK. The garggakal is basically uninjured, and each of the PCs is a single hit from unconsciousness. Furthermore, the garggakal can use it’s pseude-heal another 3 times. Thank god for the ship and quick thinking players.

    Player: “Do I think Nash would have left her ship ready to go at a moments notice?”
    Me: “Hell. Yes.”

    The PCs have a new plan—get on that ship, get on that turret, blast this monster to bits. The operative serves as a distraction, and kites the garggakal back into the tunnel while the rest of the PCs race to the Maiden. The operative baseball slides underneath the garggakal with a guarded step, and flavorfully shoots the control panel as he does so to close the doors—sealing the beast inside the Drift Rock. Unfortunately, it can phase through walls. It does so. More cries of terror from my players.

    Meanwhile, the Maiden is powered on, and the solarion in the turret fires a salvo into the beast. Typically, starship weapons do x10 damage. Given that the solarion doesn’t want to the hit the operative, I offer that he can aim to wing the garggakal for only x5 damage. Still though, 3d6x5 isn’t bad. They blast the beast, which is now well into bloodied. It roars in anger and ignores the operative, swooping back to the ship. With another resolve point, the overgrown zubat leeches life from the solarion through the glass in the gunner pod. He slumps over, dying once more. With herculean effort, the pilot does a space-k-turn at break neck speeds, flinging the garggakal off his new ship. This places the monster directly in front of the Maiden, and her gyrolaser. A successful hit and 1d8x10 damage later, there isn’t much of a creature left to speak of.

    Garggakal: 0, PCs: 1

    So obviously, a lot of liberties happened here. I don’t think the AP assumes players will want to use the ship, but reading over the garggakal’s stats again, I don’t see how else they can get through this fight without at least one PC dying. The thing has very high ACs (17/19), 75 HP, the ability to heal for 5d6 (or half) 4 times a day, and a bite that does an average of 16 damage a turn. If it ever full attacks, it’s dropping a level 3 PC. I am really happy with how this fight did turn out, and that it happened so organically. I would have hated to present the PCs an unwinnable challenge to pigeonhole them into using the ship, but am ecstatic that they discovered that solution for themselves. I don’t think there was a more satisfying way for them to kill the garggakal than by blasting it apart with starship guns.

    The garggakal defeated, the party rejoices. Looting the room and the ship, they decide it’s time to head out. About now is when other GMs might expect them to run into some sort of cliffhanger with a Corpse Fleet and the start of book 2. Unfortunately for me, book 2 isn’t out yet, and my players want to keep playing Starfinder. So instead we’re going to “book 1.5” – a filler arc to pass the time until book 2 begins. Given that, we can’t have the cliffhanger from book 1 occur just yet, it’ll happen after they get through the lengthy side quest I’m writing up to pass the time. For now, however, the players have a reprieve, and set their course for Absalom Station!

    Transmission End

    Changes made during Session 3

  • Having Clara surrender a couple HPs prior to her threshold made sense, and provided them the opportunity to chat her up rather than poke her charred body. What happens with her going forward might be interesting; the party is split on their impressions of her as a gun-for-hire.
  • The void zombies were rough, but the challenge level was right where it needed to be for my party. As I was prepping, I though about adding an akata to one of the fights, but am glad I didn’t. We’re just about where we need to be with the difficultly slider for this table—from safe to deadly with a single roll. Basically like Shadowrun.
  • I liked what the PCs and I collectively came up with for Nash’s datapad, there was good back and forth as we all reminisced about old operating systems and bad computers we used and loved. The mention of Netscape and AOL came up at one point I believe.
  • Embellishing the computer console wasn’t difficult, and helped turn an otherwise straightforward “roll these dice X times and get Y positive results” series of checks into something engaging for the entire table. I’d advise shoveling on the lore and descriptive text to make it more fun.
  • The biggest thing was the garggakal fight. Looking at the AP as objectively as possible, being run for 4 players at level 3 (which they might not actually be if they’ve missed some XP opportunities), I think there’s a high enough probability of a TPK (at least 25%) that something needs to change. Whether this is something as simple as lowering everything by 2 across the board, like an inverted advance template, or something more—like possibly having a different creature here, more related to the void zombie/akata theme from earlier—I don’t know. But as written, this fight is beyond brutal. I mean, 75 HP and the thing can ranged vampiric touch 4 times a day? Holy crow.
    I liked using the spaceship, but it was so unique and perfect in the moment that I don’t want to tempt fate by assuming future tables would go in that direction. I’m going to look at other reviews and GM threads and see how this final combat goes. I will be changing something for my second group, because, without a mystic or an envoy to heal them in combat effectively, it’s going to go even worse.
  • As I solidify what the adventure in book 1.5 is going to look like, I’ll post up chunks of that so this story continues to make sense. The addition of that content is going to add some wealth and gear to my players, as well as another level, so book 2 of this AP will be getting a facelift once I get my hands on it.

  • Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    I suspect that since there is only one First Seeker, the current reporting lsystem is adequate. When another is added, they can likely make the change. Given that the reporting sheet has a space to include which first seeker you championed, I think they do want to track that information.

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    With the assistance of my father (on his banjo) I got this space-folk-song recorded. Here's "The Man they called Talbot", as a standalone track off Table Variation's podcast.

    Feel free to download it use it in your games if you'd like!

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    Glad you all are enjoying our journey too!

    Lord Fyre wrote:

    But, what themes are being used by the ...
    • gnome operative
    • android envoy
    • halfling mystic
    • kasatha solarian
    • yasoki engineer

    I'll get more PC details from my players after our session next week.

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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    Part 2 - Ghost Ship
    Transmission Begins... Session 2, 9/4/17
    With the Downside Kings gangland queen out of the picture, the rest of the gang scatters and the PCs are left to loot the gang's crib. They get some credits and a datapad, which the operative easily breaks into, confirming their suspicions--the Kings were hired by Astral Extractions to both put the squeeze on the Hardscrabble Collective and keep the Starfinders from getting to interested in this mysterious "Drift Rock" that's the talk of Absalom Station. My players report back to Chiskisk, who makes them all Starfinders and adds a 5th to their company, a new recruit (and player #5): a ysoki mechanic.

    This is just a bit of plot exposition, and nothing too much to liven up. I am able to pull from SFS Scenario: The Commencement, and get my new players introduced to Guidance, the Lorespire Complex, and the Society in general. They all leave with official "Society Subdermal Grafts," which allows them to show off their Starfinder Society membership through a neat glowing palm tattoo. I also get to detail the Station's rumors surrounding the Arceon and the Drift Rock, which helps with the rest of this session.

    The party relaxes, enjoying their well earned downtime. The operative hacks further into the datapad, and I find this to be a good opportunity to hook in Ms. Joss from Astral Excavations. The datapad screen flickers, and a vid-screen appears where Joss sits behinds a desk, and address the operative by name. She candidly invites him to join her for a meeting at Bluerise Tower next evening. Given that I want them to meet with the Eoxian ambassador first, I have Nor's invitation be for the same day, forcing my players to meet people in the order they should probably be met in.

    I mentally scolded myself for having Joss contact the party before the party knew why Astral Extractions would be interested, but then decided that they're a megacorp, and likely know of the meeting with the ambassador and a great many things not detailed in this book. Also the computer being hacked by the megacorp to send a threatening message was too juicy an opportunity to pass up.

    At the meeting with Gevalarsk Nor, I have him speak in a manner both sinister and intelligent. Like your standard Machiavellian British villain. I include a painting of the corpse fleet behind Nor, to give my players a bit of a hint as to what is in Nor's mysterious cargo. Post meeting, the party is stopped by a hover-cycle ridden by Captain Serissi, who invites them to exchange words at his ship in the Armada. With the pieces in place, the party is fairly sure they'll have to decide which faction to support.

    I really liked RPing Nor. I did my best inflections to make even his nicest statements seem sinister. The addition of the painting of the corpse fleet also seemed fitting, drawing on some Dark Heresy themes of some actual physical art, to contrast with the digital landscape of Starfinder.

    With some research the party learns about the Bluerise Tower (pg. 47) and gets rightly anxious for their meeting with Ms. Joss. I present the Tower as a massive imposing structure, like the Robot Arms Apts. from Futurama. The party heads inside, past security, up an elevator that only goes to the floor they're permitted to be on, and into a room where Ms. Joss is waiting. She offers them fine food and drink, jams their electronic equipment (naturally), and informs them that, although she is certainly not employed at Astral Excavations, they'd be eternally grateful and probably generous should the players indicate to Nor that the Drift Rock should remain their property. The meeting ends and the players are divided on which side they'd rather support.

    I gave Joss a pair of android bodyguards wearing suits, with unique head modifications that restricted their memory and personality--basically a restraining bolt from Star Wars. The players asked about them, and I had Joss explain that these androids agreed to such terms in their contract for confidentiality reasons, and the bolts are removed when they rotate off shift. The mechanic and mystic are sure she's evil; but strangely the party's own android had no problem with it!

    The meet with Serissi is much less formal, and I rip the framing and the personality of the captain from Liam Nesson's character in K-19, the Widowmaker. Captain Serissi is an officer of his crew, which he considers first and foremost his family, and his ship, The Dust Runner, is their home. They interrupt him in the middle of repairing a part of the engine with his staff, and join him for a cup of black Akitonian coffee. The captain has no fancy gimmicks, and tugs on the party's heartstrings before returning to work--and asks for their fair consideration in deciding who the Acreon and it's cargo belong to: the megacorp or the families of the lost miners.

    I really liked the characterization I was able to give to Serissi here. The trope of the high ranking officer that still gets his hands dirty to help his men was well received by my players. I also described the Dust Runner as a spaceship submarine, so full of scrabbled together parts of other ships that navigating it's corridors is something of a challenge.

    The party discusses more before leaning towards helping the Collective, which is what the AP assumes. This means that upon taking Nor's shuttle out to the Acreon, the party encounters their first spaceship combat as expected. We start with a lot of excitement, a lot of rules mistakes, and a lot of enjoyment, but run into a mechanical glitch. The NPC ship is twice as fast as theirs, meaning that if they lose their piloting initiative check, it makes zero sense for them to really move about the board, given that the NPC can always position herself to shoot up their aft. After a couple good hits by the party, I have the NPC ship spiral out of control and they shoot it down.

    This first starship combat was rough. I had handouts for each position, for ship movement, and for myself and even with that it was still difficult to parse through. We only needed about three rounds of combat before we realized this issue with the enemy ship's speed and maneuverability, and after that some wind visibly left our sails. I think I was right to end the combat prematurely, as PC victory was all but assured anyway, so we could proceed into the real meat of the session.

    The Arceon. The party enters the open aft airlock and I draw hard from every derelict-ship-horror-trope I can imagine as they begin to explore. Combats with the akatas are brutal slugfests that test the players to their limits. I hold off on leveling them up until after the ship is cleared out, given that they have 5 players and this AP (as others are) is designed for 4. I also add an advanced template (just +2 to all d20 rolls and 4 more HP) to one Akata in the bridge fight. These changes are good, and we're vindicated with some really good combat scenes.

    Adjusting for an additional player is always tricky, but given Starfinder's approach to NPCs, I find it easy to do. My creatures will always be relatively easy to hit, so the only adjustments need to come in terms of their damage output and HP. The first is refined even further by the decision to full attack (-4/-4) or not each round, which is a great tool to have for fine adjustments.

    Level two and the party seeks out the remaining rooms of the ship, encountering space goblins--just like regular goblins, but with more guns--and Nor's cargo. They deliberate briefly before opening, and encounter Eskolar. I keep her responses curt and unemotional, and a majority of the party fails to identify her trappings as that of a corpse fleet officer. The only PC that does is the operative, who is actually a bleachling gnome, and cares little about that fact one way or the other. They reseal the elebrian and finish up on the Acreon. As they do, their own shuttle begins heading back to Absalom Station--as per the railroad tracks leading to the Drift Rock.

    So when I read about the inclusion of the goblins into this AP, I was a bit saddened. It seemed to be a ham-handed approach to keep the Paizo Goblin IP alive in Starfinder. Fortunately, my players didn't mind and they were more or less a footnote. The interaction with Eskolar went about as expected, with little interest from the PCs. It's mentioned in the book that future chapters might come back to this, so we'll see how they incorporate that.

    I include a communiqué of Nor contacting the PCs, explaining that they can't risk the PCs returning until they are certain there is no contamination hazard (as the AP says). This more or less railroads the PCs towards the Rock. They enter the main chamber, and we end the session with the NPC pilot from before, a sniper operative android named Clara-247, taking a shot at their solarian. And, as usual, I roll another crit.

    Adding the message from Nor when the Hippocampus departs seemed to be the right move, and made sense. Nor has placed value in the PCs success--he wants his cargo back--and wouldn't want them to overreact to the ship leaving by doing something like opening it or jettisoning it. After all, the PCs are a relative unknown, all he knows is they can kill gangbangers. The crit train on the poor solarion keeps going, and I hope it moves on to other players soon, because 2d10+4+1d8 is a bit much for a level 2 PC to handle.
    Transmission End

    Changes made during Session 2

  • Expanding what the AP provides for the Starfinder Society based off what I know from participating in the real world Starfinder Society went well; the inclusion of all that material from the Commencement was very easy to do and I'd do again.
  • Given that there was only 2 pages in the book given to all three meetings (Nor, Joss, and Seressi) I had some content to allow any decent RPing to take place. Fortunately, between the primer in the back for Bluerise Tower, information about Eoxians found in the Starfinder Core, and lots of tropes dug up elsewhere, it all came together.
  • The starship combat with the Stiletto could have gone on another couple of rounds, but the end result would have been the same. I'm going to re-read starship combat and do more of it in SFS before it comes up again in my running of this AP. It still feels clunky, and I want all my players to be engaged at all times.
  • The easiest way to scale difficulty for more players is to level them up a little slower in some areas, and to make enemies a little stronger in others, and that worked beautifully this session. I've already got plans for how to adjust combats on the Drift Rock, so we'll see how those go.

  • Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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    Something I've long wanted to do is write a blow by blow of my time GMing a good adventure path. Both for my addled mind, so that I can look back upon my words and see what cool stuff happened during those games, but also to perhaps help new GMs and add to the ever expanding amount of excellent prep material available out there for would-be game masters. And with Starfinder freshly released, and their first AP - Dead Suns - also newly minted, I decided to start here. So, without further ado:

    Book 1 - Incident on Absalom Station
    Just in reading the adventure background, I'm in love with the plot of this book. It's simple, decently full of tropes I can draw on, and unique enough that my players shouldn't guess all the twists when I'm running it. We (the GM that is) also have a great hook for the rest of Dead Suns and a well needed primer on Absalom Station. Between the shiny newness of Starfinder and the extra spice we can now deliver to our players with that primer, running the first chapter of this AP should be a snap.

    A fun fact to note about Absalom Station is that it was originally founded by gangs. Post Gap, the Station had little need for a government and "Anarchy reigned." (pg. 40). It was only when a near catastrophe vented the residents into space, did the gang leaders get together to form the first form of government, and elected the first Prime Executive. After reading this, I need to get that info to my players as quickly as possible. I'd like to give a kind of Shadowrun vibe to Absalom Station, which should be helped by their future encounters with Astral Excavations.

    Part 1 - Absalom Gang War
    Transmission Begins... Session 1, 8/28/17
    I give them the platform of travelling on a shuttle together for the past few weeks, making stops at major locations across the Pact Worlds with the Station as their final destination, and the players intro themselves in the usual fashion. There are four: a gnome operative, an android envoy, a halfling mystic, and a kasatha solarian After the last drop at Akiton, the PCs are the only passengers remaining on the shuttle, and naturally get to talking. They discover they share a further similarity: a meeting with a Starfinder contact named Kreel.

    The shuttle lands, and before most can get their wits about them, combat ensues. It's surprising brutal, with a couple of lucky 20's from my side (I imagine this will become a reoccuring theme, if my previous tables are of any indication), I almost kill their solarian with a laz pistol. Before I end combat prematurely with a security claxon sounding off, scattering the gangs, the operative has words with a member of the Level 21 Crew, and learns that the PCs and that gang aren't necessarily foes. As the dust settles, the party discovers the real purpose of the gang shootout--Kreel has been killed, a classic block text fatality.

    Reminders for future combats: criticals are very deadly in this game compared to Pathfinder. Basically the way it works now is that a 20 = an auto hit, but if that 20 + attack modifiers would hit anyway, it's a crit. Which means, at lower levels at least, that a natural 20 is an auto confirming crit. Add to that the burn effect of laz weapons, and players can drop out of nowhere. Had I continued the combat until the AP suggested morale points, I would have certainly killed a player.

    The cops arrive late, as they often do in these parts my players learn, and question everyone. I rip a page from the Automata series from Penny Arcade and make the lead detective a brooding hard-boiled 1930's noir type with a sterile, android sidekick and the pair liven up an other rather bland plot transition.

    This is the first addition of something relevant to this AP, and it seems to have worked really well. My players later spent actions to investigate the brooding detective, so now I have to develop the character past his 2 dimensional personality

    The players follow the (hidden) rails to the Starfinder Society and meet up with Chiskisk. I do my best telepathic bug man impersonation and give them their first quest: find out if Kreel's death was an accident and if it wasn't, find out who killed him and why! They get lodgings and begin research. After a series of skill checks and some info dumps, they head off to locate the level 21 crew.

    Brilliant addition to allow the PCs to use "space Google" to research topics in Starfinder. It makes all the "who has this check, roll it up!" more or less a thing of the past, and helps everyone get involved at the table researching. And whenever someone whiffs it Google searching, I just end up describing them lost in space Reddit, looking at pictures of space cats.

    They enter the Spike, and again I am glad to have the primer in the back of the book. I draw inspiration from dystopian space-fiction and paint a grim, hodge-podge existence of survivors crushed under a system designed to oppress them. Mama Fats is their contact for the L21 Crew and I play her as the halfling version of Annie from Cowboy Bebop--supporting of the Crew for the good they do, but not willing to get involved in any turf business. They leave word and before long have a sit down with Jabaxa.

    I got some good roleplay from my table by talking up the drop off with Mama Fats. "You should buy a post card if you want to send a message to any old friends; I can make sure it gets delivered, of course." It fit well with the bodega theme of her shop and again gave life to the few lines allotted this NPC in the book.

    For the scene with Jabaxa, I gave the ysoki an Italian accent and drew on the classic mafioso tropes associated with meetings in back rooms of restaurants. As the PCs learn that the Downside Kings are responsible for Kreels death, I add some spice by indicating that it was their vesk soldier, Hatchbuster, that also took Jabaxa's eye. My players latch on to this, and as good players often do, and are able to wrangle it into a bounty to personally ensure Hatchbuster was taken out. What could I do but accept, and promise them 200 credits for the job.

    The party heads to the Fusion Queen for the first major battle of the AP. They spend a great deal hemming and hawing about how to enter the back room, where they know guards to be, and ultimately just go in, guns blazing. Another series of unlucky crits has the players looking at the shortest AP run in history, but their envoy thinks quickly and cuts some enemies out of the combat by closing and barricading a door. I'm glad because it means the difficult is just right for my players--they being forced to think creatively and are rewarded for doing so. Combat ends in their favor and their quite the richer for it.

    Good golly Ms. Molly, the crits in this game are unreal. Hatchbuster opened with a crit from his gun that 2d10+2 and set the solarion on fire (again!) for 1d6. Thank god my players are working as a team or I might have to start rolling these combats back.
    Transmission End

    Changes made during Session 1

  • Adding an intro period while the players are on the shuttle before they land proved to work well. We probably spent 10 minutes of table time just talking about their shuttle journey.
  • I played up the fact that the two gangs were enemies, and that one was only firing into the other. It helped the PCs not get overwhelmed by fighting six enemies.
  • Addition of the detective and android partner NPCs went over well; would recommend having some named NPC present with the Station Security for potential future interactions.
  • I interspersed their research onto the two gangs, the Collective, and Astral Extractions with rumors about Absalom Station in general, pulled right out of the primer in the back. Provided me a great platform for giving them any info I wanted--like about the gangland origins of the government there.
  • The characterization given to Mama Fats and Jabaxa was well received, so I'm glad those tropes were well placed.
  • Overall the second combat was made too difficult when the two guards outside joined the three guards inside. I don't know if the dice weren't in my players favor or not, but I'd consider holding off on adding more to the melee next time. Hatchbuster alone proved a decent challenge for my party of four, not to mention his envoy support and gangbanger trash mobs.

  • Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    I don't think the handling of rules changes has gotten harsher over the years. I think maybe more people are vocal about it, maybe certain changes effect more people, or perhaps the people effected are reacting differently.

    Just after my first year with PFS Synthesists were banned and people were upset. I remember specifically because I met with Mike Brock at PAX East and told him "this archetype is really powerful, it should probably be banned," to which he agreed. I remember it being powerful from running a series of modules the winter prior where one player, a synthesist, soloed the final third of City of Golden Flame.

    Second major change I recall was when they allowed early entry SLA into prestige classes, like Mystic Theruge. Everywhere it seemed, players started playing MTs. And wherever they cropped up, folks were quick to remind "this is really powerful, I bet they ban this crap." And sure enough, they did. The local player that has one grandfathered in now admits how strong the PC is, and is glad that they don't allow early entry SLA any more.

    Over my years we've also had the change from chained summoners to unchained, various items being nerfed, feats being banned, and so on. These changes happen, and as I say like a broken record, it's just part of the game.

    So again, I don't think anything's harsher. Maybe there's just more changes back to back? Maybe more people are online than were previously? Maybe PFS has gotten larger and inevitably the adage of "you can't please everyone" is ringing true and the unhappy are numbering enough to make a lot of noise online. Whatever the case may be, I still don't really mind any of the changes, despite being effected by them myself. It's just something that happens.

    Short list of PFS characters retired or altered due to rules changes:

  • crane wing monk
  • crane wing lore warden duelist
  • shadow caller fetchling
  • allosaurus animal companion centered mounted PC
  • lore warden dipped disarming pirate
  • master of many styles kirin striker
  • vermin hunter (fast healing 1 shenanigans) / life oracle PC
  • invulnerable barbarian with tribal scars, boots of the earth, and 3x extra rage power (increased DR)

  • Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    SMC has already made an appearance at once of my Dead Sun's games; the band was spotted dining at an exclusive restaurant in the Parkside district just last evening!

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Regarding PFS needing more clarification, here my anecdote, apologies in advance.

    I've noticed this trend in life as something that happens whenever anything gets big. When I worked for a small business, there was wiggle room for not quite following the rules because it was appropriate. Instances of "using common sense" were good enough because you knew the name of everyone working around you. It was a good work environment because everyone was burning the candle at both ends to get things done, but we were far from perfectly efficient.

    Later, when I was hired on at a large engineering manufacturer, there were no "common sense" clauses, and way more standard operating procedure documents (SOPs). There was a hierarchy of leadership, paths of promotion, and every process--major or minor--was documented. And on some levels it needed to be. It allowed for the individuals to change roles, be fired, be hired, and for the company to be sustainable. The downside is that I as an individual employee felt like a nameless cog in the machine. Which is, in a mechanical sense, exactly what I was to the company.

    I don't think that PFS has gotten to that point, and given its volunteer base I don't think it ever will. But good documentation, SOPs, and things like that allow it to live on beyond its members.

    There are countless times when I see the forums, see a question, and literally slam my head into my desk, asking "why can't we just use common sense?" And the answer inevitably is "because we have so many people, and people understand things differently."

    So, locally, with my people that I know by name. I encourage the use of common sense. But here, in this global network we belong to, there are times I must accept that some of these "common sense" questions need official answers too.

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    In prepping this adventure, I found there wasn't much to do. No handouts, no mini-rules systems to learn. Nothing really except the option to add some spicy flavor for my players.

    Anyone that's read the first page of this scenario has probably thought about that episode of Firefly called Jaynestown, where the population of a small town is convinced that a visiting criminal was actually their savior. In the show, they play a rather infamous folk song called "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb," also known as the "Hero of Canton" or "The Man they call Jayne." You can find that scene and specifically the song on Youtube.

    Anyway, I had entirely too much time on my hands and decided that having a song in the same vein, but with Talbot, thasteron, and Tasch, as the focus would be a perfect addition to this scenario. What follows is my finalish draft of the "The Ballad of Reynald Talbot." The plan is to sing this to my players when they enter Digger's Dive. Feel free to embellish, include, or whatever with this at your tables!

    A man sits in the corner, tuning an archaic stringed instrument of some sort. After a moment, the ysoki at the bar gives him a nod, to which he strums a chord. The patrons notice, and as he continues strumming, most begin to stomp their feet or clap in rhythm--obviously following the local tune. He begins to sing:

    The Man they call Talbot:

    (Sung to the tune of 'Man they call Jayne')

    Talbot.. The man they call Talbot.

    He turned dust into diamonds and soil into gold,
    He saw what we had so he gave us some more.
    If devils are real, Asmodeous is to blame,
    but we have an angel and Talbot is his name.

    The mega corps came and started mining,
    looking for thasteron.
    It was that mineral they used,
    to make their fuel,
    found right here on Akiton.
    It was the blood of our world that made them rich,
    and the hands of our men that dug the land,
    But when Drift ships sailed, the mines failed,
    and they left us to die in the sands.

    He turned dust into diamonds and soil into gold,
    He saw what we had so he gave us some more.
    If devils are real, Asmodeous is to blame,
    but we have an angel and Talbot is his name.

    Now our town of Tasch ain't much,
    it's humble, like you and I,
    So we prayed and we prayed,
    and one day were saved,
    when Talbot came from the sky.
    He heard the people lamenting,
    And he offered his hand as a friend,
    Then he entered the mines, and there he did find,
    A way to make our ore good again.

    He turned dust into diamonds and soil into gold,
    He saw what we had so he gave us some more.
    If devils are real, Asmodeous is to blame,
    but we have an angel and Talbot is his name!

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Playing RPGs is a ton of fun, but it’s hard with scheduling to get games off the ground every week. PFS happens every week, no matter who can make it. So you can play whatever character you want, whenever you’re free.

    Scarab Sages 5/5 5/5

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    What Changed: Tribal Scars feat
    What's the problem: The feat used to grant +6 HP and some other things, now it just grants other things. I needed that +6 HP to continue my quest of having the most health points. Without it, I go from 499 raging HPs to 493 HPs, with is a paltry sum.
    What I'd like to see: Allow only me to keep the old version of this feat, given that I am a powerful Jarl. It will help solidify my position as the leader of my people. Allow everyone else to retrain it for free.

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Thanks for having me remotely Ryan! And thanks to everyone else that participated in 8-25 tonight -- had a ton of fun!

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    Postin here hoping that Ryan Blomquist sees this!

    Hey Ryan, I am one of your players for the 7 PM game of Unleashing the Untouchable and I'd like to apologize for not being physically at your table this evening.

    Yesterday I went to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. The surgery went perfectly and I've actually just been released from the hospital (4:30 PM Indiana time). Unfortuantely, I won't be at GenCon until later this week (Friday at the earliest). I would, however, still love to play!

    My friend Glav is attending the game (he snagged Gary's ticket), and I have spoken with him. He would be 100% willing to connect me to the game via his mobile device (laptop/phone), if you are willing to have me basically Skype into the game.

    My character sheet is digitailly up to date on Paizo's website: Ismaire. She's basically a two handed melee character with some paladin / scar seeker tricks. But nothing overly complicated, even for level 15. Anyway, I am home now with a mic, headphones, dice, etc, ready to go if you'll have me.

    If not, I totally understand. If you want to get in touch with me shoot me a PM, email me (, or reply here. Thanks!

    Shadow Lodge 5/5 5/5 RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 aka WalterGM

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    As others have said, better safe than sorry. I don't want to be at HQ and hear about table strife because a GM asked for an audit at a 12-15 table, and the player didn't have their chronicles because they take up too much room. It's just a bad situation for everyone involved.

    Personally, I whittle myself down to three characters for most conventions. Low level, mid level, and high level.

    For each of those characters I bring everything I need to play them. Any specific rules print outs (obscure feat or item?), chronicles, inventory sheets, faction cards, etc. That's a stack of maybe 50-75 pieces of paper, which fits in a single folder. Or in my case, a single character folio with the inner pages removed.

    Writing implements for such sheets, obviously. And extras for people that forgot this step.

    I also bring any specific miniatures, props, or dice those characters use (roll a bunch of d6? bring those d6).

    Last item is an iPad, with versions of whatever books those characters use. If I didn't have an iPad, but still had digital copies, I'd have a screenshot of my downloads page on hand. If I didn't have digital copies, I'd have a copy of my receipts for those books, and just keep them in a zip-lock. This is a newer FAQ, but a great one to know of that makes such alternatives legal.

    Ultimately, you can travel very light for a convention, even if you're bringing a few characters. My entire PFS travel bag is the size of a small laptop satchel, and includes everything I need for GMing as well: map, pens, extra miniatures, new PFS #s, charging cables, etc. Here's what it looks like broken down, although I've added a handful of 3" bases as well (for that odd-ball huge monster).

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