Pathfinder Society Scenario #2: The Hydra's Fang Incident (OGL) PDF

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for 1st to 5th level characters (Tiers: 1–2, 4–5).

After an Andoren village is razed by the Hydra's Fang, a renegade Chelish slaver-ship, outrage threatens the stability of both nations. You and your fellow Pathfinders are sent to capture the Fang before the Inner Sea is pitched into political frenzy.

Written by Tim Hitchcock

This scenario is designed for play in Pathfinder Society Organized Play, but can easily be adapted for use with any world. This scenario is compliant with the Open Game License (OGL) and is suitable for use with the 3.5 edition of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game.

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Poorly Developed and Poorly Balanced

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NO SPOILERS

The Hydra's Fang Incident was the second of the very first batch of Pathfinder Society "Season 0" scenarios to debut at GenCon '08. I was going to say that it hasn't aged well, but really the problems with the scenario aren't due to evolutions in Pathfinder or scenario-design generally: the flaws in it must have been as visible then as they are now. First, the overall plot and backstory just aren't very creative or interesting. Second, it's incredibly linear--every encounter has to be hit in order and there's no way to bypass any of them. Third, the encounter design is pedestrian and (apart from the next point) forgettable. Fourth, the encounters (at least in the low tier version) basically consist of two types: almost trivially easy ones and possible/probable (depending on the level/optimization of the PCs) TPK generators. I don't want to make it sound like an absolute disaster--it is playable. But given the (literally) hundreds of Pathfinder Society scenarios available, this one can be safely avoided unless, like me, you're trying to work through them in publication order. My review is based on running the scenario this past weekend as a home game for four Level 1 Iconics (one of them optimized, the other three stock).

SPOILERS

The premise is a relatively straightforward one. A young, spoiled Chelaxian noble named Darsielle Du Moire has turned from privateering to true piracy, rampaging up and down the Andoren coast burning ships and towns alike. His reign of terror has nearly led Andoran and Cheliax to war, but the countries have negotiated a temporary truce on the condition that the latter solve the "Du Moire problem" quickly. Du Moire's ship, The Hydra's Fang, has found refuge in one of the few ports open to it: the smuggler's city of Diobel on the Isle of Kortos. The Pathfinder Society is interested in Du Moire not for reasons of justice or avoiding war, but because he's stolen (from a slain sage) a quartet of tablets dating to the days of Old Azlant. The PCs are charged with recovering the tablets, though some of the Faction missions want Du Moire taken care of as well.

The PCs receive their missing briefing from Osprey in a ramshackle tavern on the docks of Diobel. The scenario does a good job of describing the tavern and the longshoremen inside, and an enterprising GM should be able to get some good role-playing out of the PCs before Osprey reveals himself. The scenario has sidebars on Diobel itself and the organization that runs it, the Kortos Consortium. I'd suggest asking for relevant Knowledge checks in order to determine how much the PCs know about the city and the Consortium. In order to achieve their goals, the PCs must overcome five encounters.

Encounter # 1: The PCs are ambushed at the warehouse of a merchant that they think Du Moire might have been in contact with. Two of Du Moire's thugs and a wizard in his employ are looting the place when the PCs arrive (as Du Moire has already killed the merchant and left). When they hear noise, the wizard magically disguises herself as a teenage girl sobbing her over "father's" body while the two thugs conceal themselves in the shadows to get the drop on the PCs. It's a reasonably clever idea, but the way the encounter is set up the ambush doesn't really accomplish much in game terms: the thugs fire once the PCs move into the room and after that's done, any advantage from the disguised wizard is lost. This encounter would have been better as an attempt by the disguised wizard to mislead the PCs (calling for role-playing and Sense Motive checks) while her thugs stayed hidden in the next room in case the deception failed. As it was, the PCs in the group I ran it for made short work of the villains (though, to be fair, more damage was inflicted on them than I expected). Now's a good time to remind GMs that the Season 0 scenarios are D&D 3.5, not Pathfinder, so updating is necessary in terms of things like CMB, CMD, and wizard class abilities (with the last one being particularly relevant). An easy Perception check after the fight shows the PCs a trap door that Du Moire presumably fled through.

Encounter # 2: Directly below the warehouse is a part of Diobel's Underdocks. The idea of the Underdocks is that they're, quite literally, a set of docks underneath the city's main docks. Clothed in shadows, they allow for smuggling in and out of the city. As several reviewers have noted, it's hard to conceptually wrap one's head around the layout of Diobel--there's not just the Underdocks to imagine, but there's an "inner harbor maze", locks, and an outer harbor. This is one of those times where an artist's rendering of what the city looks like, from 3/4 perspective, would do wonders for helping a GM. Anyway, a trail of footprints in the muck lead the PCs to a pier where a couple of rowboats are tied up (though a third is obviously gone) and two Enforcers from the Kortos Consortium are on duty. The Enforcers have strict orders not to let anyone through unless they have a "Harbormaster's Pass," which the PCs don't have. Apart from a sizable bribe (100 gp at the low tier), the only real way through this encounter is violence. Depending on alignment and class, PCs could legitimately bristle at this, as the Enforcers are the lawful authority of Diobel's government, and their actions (stopping trespassers from stealing boats) is also lawful. My PCs handled it adroitly at first (casting sleep) on the Enforcers, and then completely bungled the matter by murdering them! Anyway, inside the Enforcers' bunker are the items the PCs need to unlock the rowboats and determine what mooring the Hydra's Fang is tied up at.

Encounter # 3: There's a description of what the inner harbor maze is like, but (oddly) the PCs don't have to do anything to successfully navigate it before finding themselves in open water in the harbor. Once they're several hundred yards into the harbor, an encounter starts that is the most controversial of the scenario. Simply put, they're attacked from out of nowhere by two sahuagin (on a rather labored pretext) who try to flip the boat over with a simple DC 15 Strength check. Two sahuagin against 4-6 PCs might not seem like that big of a deal, but if that boat flips, any Level 1 PC wearing armor probably has a negative Swim modifier and is in big trouble of sinking and drowning. This encounter has caused TPKs for several groups. The scenario's writer, Tim Hitchcock, has said conflicting things about how deep the water is supposed to be in the harbor but, suffice it to say, if it's deep enough for the drafts of large-masted ships, it's deep enough for PCs to drown in. This didn't happen to be a problem when I ran it because the sahuagin failed their Strength checks and were promptly dispatched by the PCs. As a general rule, I think it's great when scenarios make use of skills that are often neglected by PCs, like Swim, but this encounter is a particularly lethal way to do it!

Encounter # 4: The PCs have to board The Hydra's Fang while under fire from two of Du Moire's men. Du Moire himself is on board as well, though the scenario has him make a run for it if seriously hurt. One of the hilarious things about this scenario is that Du Moire, "scourge of the Andoren and Chelaxian navies," has no particular feats, class abilities, or skills relevant to sailing or piracy, and, as far as we can tell, his "crew" consists of five people (the three from the first encounter and two more here) and a vessel that (apparently) has no weaponry. Anyway, I like how the scenario explains the different ways (and Climb DCs) that the ship can be boarded, though it would be helpful to have a better understanding of how tall the sides of the ship are above the water line. Perhaps the biggest problem with this encounter is that there's a tripwire trap running across the rear of the ship; a PC who sets it off is covered in chum and knocked into the water, wherein a shark or a sea cat arrives to attack in just 1d4 rounds. This trap is consistent across tiers, meaning that an unlucky Level 1 PC who sets off this trap could be all alone in the water fighting a shark. That's pretty close to certain death! Obviously, more thought needed to be given to the trap. In addition, Du Moire himself is simply not satisfying as the villain for the scenario--he'll be easily dispatched and has nothing memorable about him. I gave him a bad Monty Python French accent because, hey, why not? (oddly, he has an oil of invisibility in his equipment list but his tactics make no mention of it) The layout given for the ship is also pretty bad (there's no placement of ladders/stairs, and something (a cabin?) completely blocks access to the bow of the main deck. I was lucky enough to have the Ship flip-mat on hand, which helped immensely.

Encounter # 5: The PCs probably assume the scenario is pretty much over as they search the hold of the ship for the tablets. What they don't realize (because how could they?) is that they're in near-TPK territory again. Three lacedons are waiting behind the door the PCs have to open in order to recover the tablets. Lacedons (aquatic ghouls) are just like their land-bound cousins when it comes to "much higher than CR would indicate" lethality. Each one gets three attacks a round, and any hit requires a saving throw to avoid paralysis. Paralysis then results in a coup de grace unless a GM is being particularly merciful. Ghouls can be real threats even to mid-level parties, but throwing three of them up against a Level 1 group is a recipe for disaster and frankly unfair. When I ran it, three of the players essentially metagamed (as they failed their in-character Knowledge checks to know what the lacedons were) and retreated, while the fourth player (playing a tabletop RPG for the first time ever) was unceremoniously left behind and promptly murdered. Even the three retreating PCs barely survived, as two of them were paralyzed and the third was lucky to kill the last lacedon before succumbing herself. And to think the author originally wanted to include *four* lacedons in the encounter! I wouldn't inflict this encounter on your players unless they really like you!

One thing I should note is that the Cheliax Faction mission requires Du Moire be killed and his body "disappeared." This can create major role-playing and potential PvP issues, since the scenario tells GMs that Du Moire will be keen to surrender. There was a major discussion of this problem in the forums, so just be aware.

In sum, this is a lethal, linear, RP-lite, forgettable scenario filled with minor errors and problems for GMs. I'd suggest giving it a pass unless you have nothing else to run.


Pirate flavor, fast pace combats

***( )( )

Runned once, not played yet.

Very combat central, with little roleplay opportunities.

There's some cultural image of Diobel and pirate life, but need imagination to get involved in. There's one deadly combat due to underwater fight of Tier 1-2, don't mean not to wipe out the party.

Some pirate flavor, but a bit of bland compares to later scenarios.


***( )( )

From both a player and a GM perspective this scenario is fairly bland and average. Typical of the starting season really.


An RPG Resource Review

*****

Darsielle Du Moire has always been trouble, a wastrel noble's son sent to sea with a letter of marque, he's turned pirate and it's up to the Pathfinders to do what the Andorian and Chelish navies cannot - bring him to book. Or at least, get hold of a book he's stolen. It's an exciting and atmospheric adventure, that is reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean in feel.

The adventure starts with the party getting their mission briefing in a rowdy tavern in a run-down port, and whilst there's information to be had (the briefing officer is surprisingly well-informed) speed is, as always, of the essence and they're soon swept along. The first lead seems to be a dead-end, but is it? A mad scramble across (and under) the docks leads the party to the pirate ship where unsurprisingly a brawl ensues.

On the face of it, this is a really simple - and rather linear - adventure. Yet with its vivid atmosphere and plenty of opportunities to fight (even before you reach the pirate ship), it makes for a good, swift romp - it benefits from being run with high energy, plenty of description and headlong action.

This is the sort of adventure that is what attracts young bravos to join the Pathfinders in the first place, and should prove a memorable incident in anyone's early career. Whilst embedded well in Golarion, it should adapt with a few name-changes to any campaign world, especially one with a thriving pirate community. An excellent opportunity to swash your buckle!


A fun and simple scenario

***( )( )

Today I GM'ed my first scenario, namely this one - big surprise, right? I agree with others before me that the story can be a bit thin, especially if the party ends up being unable to question opponents due to various reasons. A similar thing can be said about explaining what this 'city' looks like: unless the players ask questions, they'll likely end up being confused by the layout of the city and how it functions as a whole. For a GM this means some more work and at times it's a bit annoying that certain features (such as the height of a ship) are missing. While a certain level of improvisation is always needed, this scenario requires a lot of on the spot thinking. Thankfully it's not all that difficult.

That said, I had the feeling that the players had a fun time and as a result I enjoyed this session as well. From what I gathered the scenario was at times rather challenging. It was difficult, but not too hard, to overcome an obstacle or survive an encounter, but they managed to succeed without any casualties on their side. Tipping the boat is not as dangerous as long as you remember they're still in the shallow part of the bay. It's only really dangerous for the smaller races.

Would I recommend this scenario? I think I would. While it's true that you have to wing it at times, it's not awfully hard to prepare. I'm also convinced it caters to most players as well. The main focus in this scenario is on fighting with a few situations on the side where role-playing can shine. If you're looking for puzzles, you are best to skip this one as there are none. It's just a fun and simple scenario that doesn't really stands out, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.


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Sovereign Court

I have a few questions and notices regarding the adventure. I've found some minor editing errors, some of which confuse me. I'll put them under a spoiler tag, since they do contain spoilers.

Spoiler:
Is the town razed by Du Moire named Wittleshine or Wittlestone? Both names appear during the scenario.
The thug doesn't seem to have daggers listed in its gear nor attacks. An easy thing to fix oneself, but still a minor editing error.
On page 9, the map of the Underdocks encounter ... how large squares are they? I'm assuming 10 ft., but they could be 20 ft. 5 ft. would be ridiculously small. And why is the pathway blocked by the bunker? This map seriously made me stop for 30 minutes to try to think why it was ever put there.

Other than that, this scenario is brutal! Very well written and so, but I'd consider the Tier 1-2 to be way too difficult at certain points.


I ran this adventure during GenCon and

Spoiler:
...I saw what you saw with the bunker and docks, but since the description referred to boats being lowered into the water, I just made the part of the docks that sticks out the guard watch post and assumed that they access the rest of the docks via cargo nets or somesuch...but then, I ad-lib stuff all the time. I don't know if that map issue you saw was intentional or not, is what I'm trying to say.

Liberty's Edge Contributor

Hey All.

The small town is Wittleshine.

The map scale is 5ft per square (narrow docks). I wanted to keep them a little dangerous.
more on the docks here

Spoiler:
The dock running straight into the the bunker is correct,
however the other dock that seems to just stop... That's actually supposed to go off towards Lubor's Exports.

As far as the final enounter,

Spoiler:
thank Nick the lacedon encounter isn't more brutal, I'd actually used 4 in the original text

More stuff I found that was wonky-

Spoiler:
DuMoire is supposed to be wearing a Signet Ring, though its not listed in his possessions.


I didn’t have quite enough space in my review to explain my statements.

I think the entire premise was rather forced and inappropriate for first level characters.

Spoiler:
The adventure synopsis paints Captain Darsielle Du Moire as the scourge of the Inner Sea and the bane of the Chelish and Andoran navies. He has sunken half a dozen pirate ships! Yet, for most parties he is a 4th level aristocrat surrounded by 1st level warrior flunkies. I think this would have been a much better adventure tiered to challenge 4th or 5th level characters with appropriately dangerous foes.

Not all of the encounters seemed entirely rational.

Spoiler:
Why is the encounter with the Consortium officials in the Underdocks geared to be a combat encounter? These are the duly appointed custodians of law and order in Diobel. Yes the Consortium is made up of criminals, even if these guards are conveniently evil; they still represent the law of the city. Is it rational to assume a party of 1st level adventurers is going to attack what amounts to the City Watch? And are these the ONLY watchmen under the city? Add to this that anyone of the Qadiran faction is pretty much forced to attack them in order to steal their log book. I don’t think this encounter was thought through.

At first I had some serious problems with the sahuagin encounter. It seemed very much like it was thrown in to simply add another combat. Certainly the explanation given in the module text does not do a very good job of explaining it, or providing any rationale for why it would be occurring. I think there are ways to make it work – but they do require making inferences and conjectures that have no basis on the actual text. As written it could be an near insta-kill for a number of parties and anyone dropped into the bay in full armor.

A Possible Solution:
One solution might be that in order to get to where the Hydra's Fang lays at anchor any small boat has to pass through a narrow and shallow "passage" between some large derelict vessels. The sahuagin are lying in wait in the passage waiting for any small boat headed toward the Fang. They know that any boat moving through the passage is going to the Fang as it is the only vessel at anchor in this particular anchorage (the anchorage is somewhat secluded and Darcy bribed the harbor pilot to use it). The sahuagin can easily discern that the row boat headed toward the Fang is being crewed by novice seamen (too much splashing, unsteady oar strokes, bad navigation, etc.). Hence they know that they have a pretty good chance of swamping the boat and dropping the boaters into the shallow waters of the passage. Also, given the orientation of the passage and the Hydra's Fang, any lookouts posted aboard the Fang are unlikely to see the sahuagin's assault.

The party I ran through this module had no trouble dispatching the vicious pirates at each turn. I’m not sure how the dastardly 1st level warriors managed to sink so many pirate ships but they weren’t much of a match for even a lightly optimized adventuring party.

The Hydra’s Fang didn’t work for me.

Spoiler:
Almost nothing about the Hydra’s Fang makes sense. Given that Paizo has put out some very well received nautical adventures I was thoroughly underwhelmed. I would encourage the author to do a little more research about sailing vessels, what it takes to crew them, and how they are put together – I’m still not sure what the big box in the center of the boat is.

I have done quite a bit of research on medieval and Renaissance-era sailing vessels. I probably had a lot more time and energy to devote to this than the author, and came up with an alternative deck plan for the ship.

There is also a discussion going on here with major spoilers.

CJ

Liberty's Edge Contributor

Hey Gavin,

Glad you liked reading the adventure.

You should check the spoiler threads be for running it, as there are a couple of wierd issues that you might want to address. Check my maps comments in particular, as they came out a little wonky in the final piece.

Dark Archive

Not for 1st level characters!!

Spoiler alert!!!:

This was the second Pathfinder Society module I played through, and for 4, 1st level characters, it was a real pain. The module made sense, and I got the time intensive element, but it was, overall, deadly.

For Tier 1, ouch. The GM let me have a look at the module afterwards and, wow.

Encounter 1's EL wasn't listed, but it could have easily been a EL 2.

Encounter 2 wasn't bad. It felt balanced.

Encounter 3 felt like it was designed to kill the PCs. I'm curious as to how many players didn't tie off gear, take off armor, and died when the boat flipped...

Encounter 4, again, doesn't list an EL. Nor does the trap have a CR. So, I'll assume the trap's CR is equal to the 1d3 medium sharks it summons. (An EL 2 or 3 itself, we'll be nice and call it CR 1). Add two more brigands (CR 1/2 x2) and the CR 3 end guy? I'm going to say EL 4, maybe 5.

Encounter 5 was a solid EL 3. However, by the time we reached it, resources were completely exhausted and it was far more difficult. A party without a cleric would die here.

All in all, the run of the module for 1st level characters is very difficult.

I would not run this for level 1 characters. Moreover, as it is the second Pathfinder Society module, it strikes me as being intended for 1st level characters when released, which seems inappropriate.

The writing, story line, and feel was amazing. I loved the feel of it. But the encounters. Ouch.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

Jason Sonia wrote:

Not for 1st level characters!!

** spoiler omitted **

It took them a little while to get a feel for balanced scenarios. Silent Tide was the best of the first four scenarios, and while each of the other GenCon 08 offerings were good, they each have at least one encounter that is deadly or are relatively low in the peril department.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Played this tonight and had a blast, with some lucky diplomacy managing to bypass a few fights and party archers and two-handers managing the fights we couldn't avoid. A pity my brother had a worse time of it at Origins last year!

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