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I'm reading through the second playtest module and it involves quicksand, for which it refers back to the Bestiary. The entry for Quicksand includes this in its routine:

"On its initiative, the quicksand pulls down each creature within it. A creature that was submerged up to its waist becomes submerged up to its neck, and a creature that was submerged up to its neck is pulled under and has to hold its breath to avoid suffocation. On its turn, a creature in the quicksand can attempt a DC 18 Athletics check to Swim to raise itself by one step, or to move 5 feet if it’s submerged only up to its waist."

By a strict reading of this, the PC only gets to make one attempt to recover a step per round, in which case they'll just keep see-sawing with the quicksand (on their turn they recover a step, on the quicksand's turn they lose that step again, and then on their turn they recover it once more...).

Is the intention here that that the PCs can recover one step *per action*, getting their normal three? I can see the (1 action) part on the routine but I assumed that applied specifically to the quicksand; that assumption could be incorrect though.

For what it's worth, I'd like to throw in my vote on ditching shields requiring an action every round to use. Shields are already kind of underpowered in my opinion, and having to sacrifice 33% of EVERYTHING I CAN DO IN COMBAT just to carry one is... baffling. I get that their ability to block specific things is supposed to offset that, but I'm not convinced it does.

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My primary concern is that the lists of what you can and can't do at specific tiers will become something of a memory nightmare.

"I'm going to pole-vault across that gap."
"You can't do that until you're at expert."
"Is that expert? I thought that was trained..."
"Let me check... no, wait, you're right, trained. But earlier when you leapt out of that loft without taking damage, that should've required expert..."

I foresee variations of that conversation happening constantly.

If your PCs enter on friendly terms with the inhabitants, it's probably not particularly necessary to have all of the rooms prepped. Know generally what's there, and you can answer questions without needing maps and exact distances and such. If they sided with Malisindre and are invading... yup, you've got lots of prep ahead. However you prepared for Artrosa, but do that more.

I relocated it to the Wormwood setting from Rifts, but mostly just reskinned everything and kept the stats the same. As far as story connection, I took it not so much as Baba Yaga testing the PCs as simply they they're retracing her route and she stopped here to check on her winter engines. Those are mentioned but not addressed anywhere in the module; if you wanted to tie it in more storywise, I'd suggest starting there.

Raef13 wrote:
My group already sees this AP as a kid-hating AP ...

Hahah. Good to know it's not just my campaign...

So... nearly a year later (yikes!) and my PCs have finally put Yrax in the cold, hard ground.

(Note: semi-spoilers abound ahead.)

I did indeed transpose this to Wormwood, but I found I could leave a lot of the structure of it intact (after all, I'm quite a lazy DM). There was still the siege at the Spurhorn, the Rimekeening Crevasse, and Ivoryglass. Dragonkin were basically reskinned into a lot of Wormwood native creatures. The Skyfire Mandate became a vast swath of (unnamed) land in between the holdings of the Cathedral and the realm controlled by the Unholy, with the Spurhorn situated in a strategically important range of mountains. The dragonkin in the Cathedral's forces became insect-like symbiotes, and the dragonkin (and similar creatures) in the Unholy's forces became skelterbats, feathered serpents, and a few other nasties. Pure dragons were swapped with demons and devils generally, and Yrax himself was converted into a fallen trumpet archon.

There were three areas that received major revision (not all of it intentional).

The first of these was the beginning. Instead of Bescaylie and Efrixes, the PCs sort of wandered in the inhospitable wastes for a few days before coming across Gavin Wormtongue and his band of "free peoples." Gavin and company took the PCs in, acquainted them with basic survival in Wormwood, and helped them get their bearings. He explained that his group were on a recruiting mission for soldiers for the Free Peoples to combat the oppressive Cathedral. When the PCs finally realized that "recruiting" wasn't precisely voluntary, they found themselves in a bit of an ethical bind. It was during this village raid that Penitence the apok showed up and the PCs suddenly had a choice: stick with Gavin and his people who had been so helpful to them but were now stealing villagers from their homes, or throw their luck in with this new, demon-faced character who was rather violently defending said villagers. (After some deliberation they sided with Penitence, who then took over Bescaylie's responsibilities getting them to the Spurhorn.)

As for the Spurhorn, the beginning and end played out as in the book: they had to sneak in past numerous Unholy patrols, there was the council discussion, and eventually the siege which was pretty much straight from the book. There was a significantly expanded middle, though, in which the PCs were sent out into the surrounding foothills to pick off Unholy patrols that were trying to find a Battle Saint rumored to be hidden there. (A Battle Saint, incidentally, is a Godzilla-sized magical robot of goodness and butt-kicking that can be activated by a Battle Orb). The council informed the PCs that the Cathedral had decided to send them an Orb to activate the Saint and break the seige; Malisindre, having learned of the orb, was desperate to find the Saint first to prevent the Cathedral forces from activating it.

Naturally, then, the siege coincided with the arrival of the Orb. The final battle was replaced with a battle in and around the Orb (it forms the head of the Saint when activated, so it's pretty sizable; and also it flies), which lead to one of the PCs having to assume control of it and then the Saint. So they didn't get to ride dragons, but one of them did get to pilot a skyscraper-sized engine of mass destruction and lay waste to Malisindre's encampment. They seemed pretty pleased with that outcome.

(Oh yeah, and all of this prompted the PCs to suspect that there was a traitor in the Spurhorn, so I figured, "why not?" Thus Amarenth turned coat--corrupted by the nocturnal needling of the crone's two-headed bird.)

The last big change--and the most accidental of them--involved me noticing the night before the session in question that there's kind of a small village around Ivoryglass that gets all of one sentence in the book and absolutely no map or details. I think they intended it to just be another string of patrol encounters leading up to the fortress, but my ad-libbing of it kind of turned it into a pretty sizable establishment, including a small rebellion against Yrax. Their eventual plan to get into the fortress (after their first plan of going up and knocking on the door, explaining that they'd murdered Malisindre, and inquiring if a certain rug was for purchase) involved a circus. It... made for a pretty fun couple of sessions. Once they got inside, it went pretty much according to plan.

So that's probably more about all of this than any of you actually wanted to know. I think it went really well, though. I had a lot of fun running it and my players gave me a lot of compliments, so I think it was well received. Now wait until they see what comes next (no, I'm not altering that part)...

If you want to give them the chance to explore but still keep them on the path, you could consider moving one of the keys to the ruins somewhere. Perhaps the warden lost it in the ruins on one of her rare jaunts? She could provide the PCs with the clues to seek it out after the clear Artrosa. Or you could have the centaurs provide clues to it so they can look for it before entering Artrosa (maybe they don't actually know where the three statues are, but know they've seen a strange woman in the wilderness on occasion who might...).

GM-JZ wrote:

Guys, I have a question about the Animate Dream at the start of this book.

The encounter calls for the PCs to beat the Dream's Sense Motive with Bluff checks to reveal her identity/desires. The problem is, the Dream has a SM of +17, making it - in my party's case anyway - extremely unlikely that they can beat it.

Did anyone else have issues with this encounter?

I reworked the encounter--and that whole segment of the module--entirely: http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2sa9q?Alternate-Raven-Challenge

One of the major reasons I did so was exactly what you're worried about: the keystone encounter of the scenario relies pretty much exclusively on one skill (which the players may not even think to attempt while under assault).

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It seemed to me it was pretty harsh, especially given all the ability damage the party suffered on the way through, so I instead had Jadrenka take the bullet for them. It became a storytelling moment rather than a mechanical one (although it involved Jadrenka finally embracing her inevitable hag transformation, which mechanically was intended to provide a backup final boss if the fight with Vsevolod went too quickly).

There are some really nice scenario maps for the first two books (sadly, the guy that created them wasn't able to continue past that). A number of people on this forum have also posted various alternate scenarios, modifications to encounters, etc. Are there specific things you're looking for?

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Not through any fault of their own. It seemed to me like the dungeon lacked the feeling that it was being invaded, so I decided to have a section of it that had been decimated by the centaurs, and then a centaur encampment where some of them had holed up while Vsevolod went on ahead to attack the Eon Pit. I decided that, in addition to the areas occupied by frost giants and andrazku, they had cleared E1, E2, E3, and C8[1]; they then barricaded E2 and set traps along the corridor leading up to it. The players found the corpses of the various denizens in those rooms, and eventually faced off against a small group of centaurs led by Vsevolod's right-hand man.

[1] At the time I had some justification for how they got to E3 without clearing E7, E5, or E4 but I don't recall now what it was. Might've involved Caigreal talking them through.

I assumed they were identical to normal panthers stat-wise, just cold adapted. It never really came up for my group, though (even the zombie ones got removed).

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It's not an ability that winter wolves have in general; it's something that Baba Yaga granted to them while they're in the Howlings in Whitethrone. So whenever they're within the confines of the Howlings, they can turn into humans, but the moment they set foot outside (even to go somewhere else in Whitethrone) they revert to wolves.

Haladir wrote:
You need dragons and dragon-riders. One logical replacement would be Krynn, where you could pull out your old Dragonlance books.

I don't think you actually do, to be honest. Aside from the dragon scale key, there's nothing in the overall story that requires the dragons to be there: the entirety of the Triaxus storyline is more or less self-contained, and you could drop in pretty much any planet and still get the PCs where they need to go (with the keys to take them to the next book). It should probably be somewhere with lots of winter, as ostensibly the reason Baba Yaga went there is because she's syphoning its winter into Irrisen. Even that could be worked around, though, with any planet that has poles. So there are several reasons why Wormwood is attractive to me as a replacement (aside from, as previously mentioned, not being excited about Triaxus and having always wanted to play in Wormwood).

First, it has a strong light vs. dark storyline, which plays nicely with some other extra-AP stuff I've got in the works. The timing of this works out very well too, as I'm planning to drop kind of a bombshell on one of my players soon that will make him very aware of that angle. So it'll arise as a major story force right at the time when said player will be concerned with it.

Second, there's a big ol' war going on, which will make it easy to reuse parts of the adventure path (seige mechanics, dungeon layouts, etc.) with a bit of reskinning. Likewise, most of the setting maps pretty well to D&D tropes without being obvious (ex.: apoks are paladins, wormspeakers are icky clerics).

Third, it gives me a chance to flip the fairytale angle on its head. Wormwood is a grim and miserable place, and then these weird people are going to show up and start describing this magical place full of trees and rivers and people who aren't trying to kill you. It'll seem like a fairytale to the denizens of Wormwood, and the PCs will seem like fairytale creatures to them (no elves or giant wolves on Wormwood). I think it'll be fun to give the PCs the opportunity to experience the fairytale from the other side.

Haladir wrote:
Another would be Pern, but I'm unaware of any published OGL materials based on the Dragonriders of Pern series.

Nothing for Wormwood either, just the abominable Palladium system. I'm up for the challenge, though.

Bellona wrote:
I thought that it was Bretheda or Liavara which had the sky-whales?

Triaxus has sky whales too, but they're far removed from where the AP takes place. Which sort of feeds into my point: if you're going to send the PCs to another planet, why pick the place that's the most like the planet they were already on?

So my surgery on this AP continues. One thing that's kind of been bothering me is

that we start out in this fantasy world and eventually get hurled to another planet, which contains... castles and dragons. If we're going to bother going to another planet shouldn't it be just a bit less familiar than that?

I'm still debating if I'm feeling this ambitious, but I'm giving serious thought to replacing Triaxus with another fantasy world. One that's a bit less stock. One that I was always bummed I never got to play in back when I spent way too much time playing a far less satisfying system...

Who here remembers the Rifts RPG? Who here remembers the Wormwood dimension book for it? I think that's where my players are going. Of course, Baba Yaga isn't going to be on the side of the Cathedral...

I'm looking forward to the Apok fight. And maybe a Battle Saint.

Not at all! I'm glad you enjoy them. I've been slacking lately and need to get back to that. I'm considering a course of absolute madness, which ought to make them interesting going forward.

Feel like sharing what you've done? I'd love to see them.

No problem. Let me know how it goes for you. It seemed to go pretty well for my group. As an aside, I just revealed Moc's duplicity to the players via a cutscene*, and now they're feeling a bit murderous. I'm looking forward to it just for the abundant "murder of raven" jokes (yes, I know it's crows, but still).

I ended up doing a bit of surgery on the MMC dungeon itself as well, although the players have managed to avoid pretty much all of the affected areas.

* Since the beginning of my campaign, I've punctuated sessions with DM cutscenes: vignettes of villains and other NPCs that occur outside the characters' awareness, but I think help the players get a better feel of what's going on around them. Reaction to them has been mixed, but occasionally helpful.

GM only, although there are probably ways the PCs could figure it out (either by catching and interrogating the ravens or some sort of divination magic, or maybe even just clever diplomacy).

I find it helpful to have more going on in a scene than I intend for my players to be aware of, because it gives me more material to work with when they inevitably do something I couldn't have predicted (my players are good at that). Also helps me portray the NPCs better (the ravens, in this case) if I know more about what they're doing.

If you wanted the PCs to discover the deceit, it could be as simple as having the ravens go into wild celebration once they're successful; or maybe allowing some sense motive checks as they go along. The latter is preferable, in my opinion, because then you could refactor it to the PCs have a moral choice to make at the end: go along with the ravens and torture the poor spirit to further their own goals; or take the high road and endanger their quest (and themselves--remember that geas). The PCs are already in a moral grey area, what with their end goal being to set free an unspeakable evil. Piling on to that could be fun.

One last (perhaps unnecessary) point of clarification: The tests are real, they're just not there for the purpose the raven states. They're defenses thrown up by Yelizaveta to keep the ravens away from her (and each other).

Took them a bit longer to finish than I anticipated, but the details are in this thread.

A6. A Memory of Porcelain Street.

Scattered throughout the scene are a number of garments in different colors. In order to complete the memory, the PCs must place the appropriate garments of the appropriate colors on each of the five porcelain figures in the street. Only when the correct combination of garments and colors is achieved is the memory completed.

The figures are (in order from north to south): the Peddler, the Dollmaker, the Child, the Guard, and the Jadwiga.

The garments are: a scarf, a tabard, a hat, a belt, and a pair of gloves.

The colors are: brown, white, green, blue, and red.

The PCs can get clues to the proper arrangements by listening to the snippets of conversation endlessly repeated by the animated denizens of the memory. The PCs can make perception or gather information rolls, learning a clue for each five points rolled above 10 (ex., rolling a 20 will yield two clues). Successive attempts can be made, revealing new clues until all six clues have been uncovered. The six clues are:

1. The hat is one position north of the brown garment.
2. The blue garment is two positions north of the belt.
3. There is exactly one garment south of the tabard.
4. The tabard is north of the red garment.
5. The gloves are one position south of the green garment.
6. The belt is three positions south of the brown garment.

(Note that these clues aren't intended to exactly replicate the conversations, but simply the information that the PCs glean from what they hear.)

The solution to the riddle is:

Peddler: green hat
Dollmaker: brown gloves
Child: blue scarf
Guard: white tabard
Jadwiga: red belt

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I didn't really like the raven challenges at the beginning of Maiden, Mother, Crone; so I decided to rework them a little bit. My players just finished it tonight (and got as far as meeting the Rashalka), so I figured I'd share the changes I made.

The basic premise, for those who don't want to read the whole thing, is this:

mix of new and book material:
Before her mother could take her, Yelizaveta--the 13th and previous queen of Irrisin--managed to shard off pieces of her soul. When Baba Yaga consumed her, she realized that the soul was incomplete. She tracked down all but one shard and trapped it here, and then commanded her oracle ravens to interrogate Yelizaveta's ghost and learn where the remaining shard is hidden. The ravens’ interrogation has not been gentle and has left Yelizaveta’s ghost howlingly insane: so much so that she has warped this configuration of the hut with her madness-fueled witchcraft. Meanwhile, the presence of the ravens now throws her into such fits of rage that they stand no hope of getting any information out of her.

The warping of the hut has also trapped the ravens within the ghost's labyrinth. They can't get past the challenges to each other, nor can they escape. When the party arrives, Moc sees an opportunity to enlist their unwitting aid in completing his assignment.

The Details (really, you can safely assume it's spoilers from here on out)

New map for Dancing Hut, Iobaria Configuration

A1. The Cauldron Room. This area is exactly the same as in the book.

A2. The Corridor of Counted Sorrows. Instead of a never-ending knot, the corridor is a large ring. The door from A1 is on the inner side of the ring, and the secret door to A9 is on the outer wall of the ring. On the far side, also on the inner wall, is the door to Moc's chamber.

The description of the corridor is largely the same, except that the carvings in the walls begin to subtly shift as the party gets closer to Moc's door. Instead of pleasant pastoral scenes, they begin to take on a more sinister caste, depicting people in torment and agony. By the time they reach the door, faces seem to be screaming silently at them from the carvings.

A3. The Iron Forest of Moc, the Twilight Raven. Pretty much the same description as in the book, except it's a large ring instead of a rectangle. Moc's nest is on the far side of the ring from the entrance, as is the door to the next innermost ring (where the party will fight the Beast of Gelghlast).

Moc is surprised at first when the party enters, but quickly recovers. Once he determines that they're working for Baba Yaga, he hatches his plan. He informs them that they must complete three trials in order to proceed on their quest. The first is the Trial of Strength: they must proceed into the next ring, defeat the beast within, and bring him its tusks. They can then proceed to the next trial.

In reality, the Beast is immune to Moc's mind-effecting abilities, which makes it unlikely that he can defeat it. He can't get past it to Rozum: it's been affected by Yelizaveta's magical madness and will attack him on sight. He wants the PCs to bring him the tusks so he can confirm it's dead before venturing into the room with it.

Once the PCs have defeated the beast and returned with its tusks, Moc will give them his amulet and escort them to Rozum's chamber.

A4. The Beast of Gelghlast. The same as per the book, except that the room is a ring and the beast has an additional ability: immune to mind-effecting spells and abilities. If this will be a significant detriment to the party, other abilities can be removed or weaknesses added to compensate.

A5. The Moonflower Bower of Rozum, the Raven of Midnight. The description of the room is the same, except that it's a ring and Rozum's nest is on the far side of the ring. Moc accompanies the party into the room and is able to silently communicate his plan to Rozum. Rozum then informs the party that their second trial is upon them: the Trial of Cunning.

In the next room, he tells them, is a projection of a memory. It is, however, jumbled up. In order to proceed, the PCs must set the memory back in its proper order. They will be granted a boon once this is complete, and they must return with it to Rozum.

In reality, Rozum is unable to pass through the room because of its blinding brightness and his pigmentless eyes. It literally hurts him to even enter it. He hopes that once the PCs complete the memory, it will fade and allow him through.

A6. A Memory of Porcelain Street. (Note: My goal here was to create a puzzle that's more thematically tied to the story. I'm not sure I really succeeded. The puzzle I used is presented here, but I encourage you to swap it out with better ideas. It's a long one, so I'll include the details in the first comment.)

This long, circular corridor is decorated into a twisted rendition of Porcelain Street on a bright winter day, very much like a madwoman's attempt to feign sanity. Bright, cheery building are painted along the walls with ghostly faces screaming from upper windows. Facades jut out into the street at strange angles, nailed crudely to the walls with iron spikes that sometimes also holds small birds or even human appendages. Figures made of porcelain lean out from some of the shops and perform simple, repetitive motions: like animatronics at an amusement park. Some speak in tinny voices, repeating broken phrases over and over.

Five porcelain figures are different: they stand unmoving and whole in the middle of the street, evenly spaced around the ring. The figures are: a Peddler, a Dollmaker, a Child (actually a representation of Yelizaveta), a Guard, and a Jadwiga (Yelizaveta’s mother, who is searching for her). There are numerous garments of different colors strewn throughout the scene.

The door where the PCs enter represents the north end of the street. Moving clockwise is equivalent to moving south.

The scene represents the only happy memory that Yelizaveta's fragmented soul can recall: a time as a child when her mother took her to Porcelain Street to buy a new doll, they got separated, and the young princess strolled the street taking in all of the exciting sights and sounds. Once the memory is completed, the doll appears in the Child's hands and she offers it to the PCs. The memory begins to fade as soon as they take the doll from the child's hands. Once they bring it to Rozum, he will lead them through the now dim room to the "south" end, where a new door has appeared (leading to Tryva's chamber).

A7. The Reflecting Pool of Tryva, the Raven of Dawn. Same as described in the book, with the standard ring exception. Rozum and Moc can silently pass the plan on to Tryva when they enter.

Tryva then informs the PCs that they have one trial left: the Trial of Resilience. She informs the PCs that they must enter the next and final chamber. There they will encounter an entity; from that entity they must learn the location of "the shard." She will not tell the PCs anything about the shard, informing them that they need only know its location, not anything else. Once the PCs return to her with the location of the shard--in truth, the information they've been trying to coax out of Yelizaveta the whole time--she'll grant them her amulet and inform them of the secret door to area A9.

A8. The Interrogation Room. Description initially as in the book, except it's a circle. However, once the PCs have all entered the candlelight begins to turn reddish and pulsing. The figure of Yelizaveta rises up from the stain on the bed, and then fragments. The room suddenly becomes a swirling chaos of tortured faces, reaching arms, twisting hair. Yelizaveta is everywhere within the room at once, screaming and shrieking. Allow each PC an immediate reaction, and then have them all roll a Will save (DC 10); each failing PC takes a point of wisdom damage. Note that Yelizaveta's fragmented ghost is too diffuse to be effectively targeted by attacks or spells.

Each round thereafter Yelizaveta will shriek again: the DC increases by 1 each time. Meanwhile, the PCs must attempt to coax information about the shard out of her. This is accomplished by making diplomacy checks against a DC 18 (showing her the doll can decrease this DC to 15). The PCs must succeed at three consecutive diplomacy checks before she'll reveal the shard's location: it inhabited a doll in the hut, which later helped a young girl named Vasilisa escape from Baba Yaga.

Once the PCs have learned Yelizaveta's secret, they can exit the chamber and take the information to Tryva, who will give them her amulet and tell them the way out.

(Note: The PCs will meet Vasilisa's doll later in the adventure path, confined and tortured within the hut. The shard in the doll knows nothing of Yelizaveta's fate since it was separated from her.)

A9. Ratibor's room. As in the book.

So... apparently just me who wasn't too jazzed about the raven challenges? (Sorry, Tim Hitchcock. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the module, but that part just didn't do it for me.) I was hoping to find some ideas on how to rework that part to involve less rhyming and riddles. I've come up with what I think is a pretty decent rewrite of the section, though. I'll share more details after the session tomorrow, when I inflict it on my poor players (at least one of whom reads this board).

Richard Pitt wrote:
Ryschwith: Did you post your idea on these boards originally? If so then I saw it and that's where I got the idea. If it was you thank you. My players loved it. I like the sharing of ideas f on these boards and it has really got my creative juices flowing.

Apparently I did, but I know that only because I went and looked. Glad it went over well. :) And yeah, I've definitely poached a few great ideas from the boards here as well. Keep 'em coming, folks, because I've got four more books to get them through... ;)

Richard Pitt wrote:
(5) In town, one of the possible rumors says Owl Lake is haunted. A strange owl watches them from atop the statue in town, which flies off if harassed. In the lodge one of the sick bandits was blind and blathering on about a beautiful woman he saw by the lake. On the map on Rohkar´s wall Owl Lake was marked as Dangerous Fey (not winter!). When they cross over the bridge from the lodge I had another path leading down the ravine towards the lake. Suddenly a tulip sprouts up down this path, and then another further down, and then another flower further down etc etc. Basically at the lake is a powerful Nymph who is also a level 10 water oracle manipulating the environment to bring the PC´s to her.

I did the same thing! I didn't connect her to the later nymph, but the Lady of Owls had a team of nereids that charmed a few of the PCs into the water. They were able to convince the Lady that they were seeking to end the unnatural winter, and so she gave them a few small magic items and sent some of her owls to help scout for them (which didn't turn out well for one of the owls [warning: language]).

It was part of my attempt to allow the PCs more options. The first module felt pretty railroady to them, so I fleshed out several different ways they could approach Teb's camp. Naturally, they opted for the haunted fairy lake and completely missed Thora (although they came back for her after clearing out the Pale Tower).

One other possibility to consider...

Nadya's role in the story is over once she gets the PCs into Whitethrone--really, once she introduces them to Ringeirr midway through the second book. There are notes for allowing her to stick with the party after that (and I'm sure she frequently does), but as long as you've got some way to get them to the Pale Tower and then some clue to lead them to Ringeirr, you could effectively write Nadya out entirely.

Maybe they follow Meirul there, or maybe they get captured by a guard patrol, or any of a dozen other things.

I'm not sure this is necessarily the way I'd prefer to run it (my party, thankfully, took to Nadya fairly readily), but it's a possible way to keep the story going without forcing the PCs onto a path they may not be inclined to take.

For Red, it may be possible to play off their paranoia with a red (riding) herring. Have a "wolf" harrying them through the woods as they escort the girl to grandmother's house. Once they get there... whoops, the girl's actually the monster and the thing that's been chasing her is trying to rid the world of its evil. Particularly effective if you can arrange things such that the party kills the "wolf" on the treshold of the cabin, just before Red reveals herself.

For me, the answer lay in playing up the invasion aspect a bit. By making it clear that these things crawling through the inexplicably snowy forest are the advance scouting party for an invasion force, I was able to get the players thinking tactically. I also fleshed out a lot of the surrounding forest with additional encounters so they could take any of a number of routes to get to the portal (they ended up approaching from Owl Lake).

This seemed to reduce the "proceed to next encounter, fight, proceed to next encounter" feel that had my players kind of bored initially (and, to be fair, is largely my fault).

As far as the Black Rider's wall of text, I think less is more in this case. Have him give the PCs _just_ enough information to get them pointed in the right direction, but leave as much of it mysterious as you can. This way they're still trying to figure a lot out as they trudge toward the white tower. I failed in this regard, but I think if you could get them to the Dancing Hut without them knowing what they're really after, they could have a lot of fun discovering what this weird thing is capable of.

My players felt the beginning section was too railroady, so I ended up adding a lot of encounters and giving them some different paths to take. They ended up approaching the Somir Valley from Owl Lake, so they missed little Thora, but overall I think the sessions were better for it. That'd be my key piece of advice, really: the first module isn't great at giving players choices, so take some time to fill those in.

The two major encounters I added were:

1. A squad of goblins, lead by a hobgoblin captain, were sent out to the area around Lake Termain. They came across a yeti; it managed to kill the captain, and then the rest of the goblins took it captive. As the PCs stumbled across them, they had tied the yeti to a post and were taking bets on which goblin dog would last longer against it (like bear baiting, but... yeti baiting).

The hope for the encounter is that the chained yeti will provide something of an obstacle to be avoided during the fight with the gobbos, and the PCs will realize afterward that they can release the yeti rather than trying to fight it (the yeti would tear them apart, but is intelligent enough to recognize when someone does it a favor). I don't know how well that will play out in general, but it worked pretty well with my group.

2. Owl Lake is rumored to be haunted (as conveyed by a surviving Sentinel, but it could certainly be dropped in earlier). If the PCs approach the lake, a group of nixies start singing to try to draw them into the water. If successful, the nixies will cast water breathing on anyone affected and take them down to the lake bottom to meet the Lady of Owls, a nymph who overseas the lake and surrounding environs. She's been able to fend off the invaders thus far, but is anxious to see them leave. If the PCs can convince them that they intend to drive off Teb and the gang, she'll let them leave and may even provide them a boon.

In my party's case, she gave them a couple of magical trinkets and sent a few owls scouting for them; one of whom was captured, allowing me to repurpose the "Ambush!" encounter as Fawfein leading a squad out to deal with the troublesome nymph but stumbling across the incoming PCs instead. I had hoped to spin that into a chase through the woods (assuming the PCs route the fey) leading directly into the big fight with Teb and Hommelstaub, but it didn't really work out that way.

I guess where I'm going with all of that is: it pays to flesh out the rest of the forest a bit and give the PCs a looser leash than the AP provides by default.

If I were running it again, I'd also put more work into consciously making it feel like an invasion. I think that would do a lot to up the sense of urgency.

The Deceased:
Robyn Taillifer, elf druid 1
Marrok, wolf
Harmall Verodsson, human transmuter 1
Validar, half-elf rogue 1
Maeller Stockton, human bard 1
Adventure: The Snows of Summer
Location: The High Sentinels' Lodge
Catalyst: Poor party composition. And also frost skeletons.

The Gory Details: (optional)

After slogging through fey, elementals, bandits, and driving snow, the party made its way to the High Sentinels' Lodge, expecting it to be overrun. They were beaten and low of resources, but pressed on.

The rogue set off the crossbow trap, triggering a fight on the front porch. The party managed to kill the bandits in the windows, leap in, unbar the door, and commence a large melee in the great hall. Many bandits died; the sick ones were thrown out into the snow. The party searched the rest of the main floor*, and then turned their attention toward the stairs.

Robyn, the druid, sent her wolf Marrok up the stairs first. He got to the top and balked. Robyn followed him up and dashed to the far side of the door... into the space occupied by the invisible Rokhar. Having nowhere else to flee, Rokhar instead pushed the druid off the twenty-foot balcony. She would remain there for the rest of the encounter, slowly bleeding out.

The two frost skeletons emerged from the room to attack the party just as Harmall, the transmuter, hit Rokhar with a sleep spell. He would remain there, quietly slumbering for the rest of the encounter.

The frost skeletons advanced down the stairs. Their progress was hindered first by Harmall and then by Validar, the rogue. Both were hearty northmen, but both soon succumbed to the frosty auras surrounding the skeletons. They advanced then on Maeller, the bard. He put up a staunch resistance. Marrok dove in and crushed one skeleton, then bard and wolf turned to the remaining one.

It had one hit point left when both Maeller and Marrok slumped frigidly to the floor.

Note: This is more or less a TPK. Technically, however, the vanaran monk is still out there somewhere, since his player couldn't make this session. I'm also giving the players the option to keep their characters, figuring that Rokhar could conceivably have stabilized them to keep them as hostages. At least two have decided on new characters, though. The fight will continue.

* Ten-Penny was long gone by the time they got to the kitchen. They had been noisy as hell and slow in getting to it, and it would've been clear to her that the rest of the bandits got wiped out. I don't figure she would've stuck around, so she opened a window and ran out into the snow.

When I read the description of the portal's appearance--explosion in the woods, rings of downed trees--that and the general Russianness of the campaign overall reminded me a lot of another wintery explosion...

So I decided to play up that angle a bit.

I then decided, for dramatic effect, to rewind the first session to a few days prior and left the out-of-character knowledge of that event looming over them, capping the first session with the players witnessing it. (They messed around with some bandits in the meantime, making them popular among the townsfolk.)

This has some unfortunate consequences, though. I needed to give Teb and his crew time to set things up in the woods, including meeting and dealing with Rokhar, building Thora's hut, and so on. But the players, of course, wanted to rush right into the woods to figure out what was going on. I also dropped some of the information about Lady Argentea too soon, so they were eager to investigate where her caravan had disappeared to.

I had them run into Dryden Kepp on their foray into the woods but not be able to penetrate too far; and I had to kind of goad them into going back to town to wait for the village council meeting.

In the end, I got them where they needed to be (they've now got as far as the tatzylwyrm, which beat up on the vanaran monk a bit). However, this also earned me an email from one of the players asking why I stuck so slavishly to the story when I could've just had them run into the caravan when they were looking for it.

I figured I'd relate this as food for thought in case anyone else is tempted to go a similar route, so they can avoid the pitfalls I encountered.

I haven't really read this far into the AP to have the context, but... am I alone in thinking that this actually kind of sounds like an awesome development in a campaign devoted to dimension hopping?

I haven't run it yet (starting the AP next week) and I don't have the book handy, but I think I recall something about the keys being able to unlock the teleporters to the passwords from the other side. So I'm kind of liking this sequence of events for Radosek:

1. PCs acquire key.
2. PCs learn they need password.
3. PCs find password (or are given it by Hatch).
4. PC who draws short straw takes the key up to Radosek's room.
5. Short Straw fends off Raddy and goat long enough to unlock portal.
6. Remaining PCs filter in one-by-one using the password to join fight.

I think that could end up as a tense, frantic battle that develops more deliberately than they usually do. It'd require some advance planning on the players' part as well as some strategy. I haven't completely thought through whether it would actually work, though. If nothing else, I know it'll be some work on the DM's end to lead the PCs to the appropriate conclusions.

So, I'm probably going to start this AP pretty soon. I'm an experienced DM but haven't run Pathfinder before, so I haven't bothered to acquire any of the books; the Android app and website have been perfectly sufficient for me as a player. I'm thinking this is the right time to start, though.

I'm picking up the core rulebook from Amazon within the next couple of days, but I wasn't sure what else I should get. Those of you who've run this particular AP, which books have you found most useful?

It looks like Bestiary 3 comes up a lot, with the first one close behind. How necessary would you say the Irrisen book is? Are there books that were useful later in the AP but wouldn't be necessary to have at the beginning?

(I already have the adventure path itself, obviously, and have just downloaded the free player's guide.)