Pathfinder Society Scenario #3: Murder on the Silken Caravan (OGL) PDF

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

Volunteers are needed to escort the body of a deceased venture-captain across the parched Qadiran desert to Katheer. The Silken Caravan offers passage, hauling exotic treasures across the perilous sea of sands. You'll brave bandits, spies, and unwelcome mourners hell-bent on paying respects to your dead companion. Worse still, the caravan's mistress, a satin-swathed Qadiran princess, has designs of her own on you and your cargo.

Written by Greg A. Vaughan

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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Railroads and Flaws Abound

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NO SPOILERS

Murder on the Silken Caravan was one of the very first batch of scenarios released for Pathfinder Society. Although the title may evoke Agatha Christie's classic "Murder on the Orient Express", and there is a murder in this scenario, this is definitely not a "whodunnit" in the sense of expecting PCs to gather clues to figure out who the culprit is. Instead, it's a very straightforward series of encounters in which the culprit reveals themself quite dramatically. By their very nature, Pathfinder Society scenarios tend to be somewhat "railroady", but Murder on the Silken Caravan is worse than most. Encounter design is solid (though one is more dangerous than probably justifiable), but I'd primarily recommend this for players/GMs with a real interest in Qadira and desert-themed adventuring.

SPOILERS

The basic idea of the scenario is that a famous Pathfinder Venture-Captain named Targos has died, and the PCs are asked to escort the body across Qadira from the caravan city of Lopul to the major city of Katheer. Drama happens along the way of course, ranging from classic bandit attacks to diseased cultists to a (quite difficult!) battle against harpies at an ancient shrine. One of the members of the caravan turns up with a dagger in his back after a sandstorm, but there's no way to interview suspects or canvass the area for clues: the murderer is simply revealed at the beginning of the last encounter. If there had been a real mystery for the PCs to solve, this would be a much more interesting scenario. In any event, the scenario is divided into five acts (four of them with combat encounters).

In Act One, the PCs arrive in the caravan city of Lopul to collect Targos' body. They find a crowd of mourners around his home, and "local priests" ostensibly "preparing the body for transport." In fact, they're disguised cultists of Lamashtu planning to seize the body and desecrate it! The PCs should penetrate the ruse and engage in battle. As an added twists, the cultists are suffering from leprosy! This put some fear into some of my players, and I quite liked it. The entire scenario depends on the PCs recovering Targos' body, so even if the PCs fail to penetrate the ruse (and mine almost didn't!), the scenario is very forgiving about allowing them another chance later. One minor snag is that the players will understandably think this cult of Lamashtu is a major player in the scenario, and may try to interrogate prisoners. Very little info is provided on exactly what the cult planned, where their base is, why they hate Targos, etc. I had to do some fast-thinking when my players took this route.

In Act Two, the PCs meet the only caravan in the city that will be travelling the route they need to go. The caravan mistress is a woman named Jamila, while other NPCs include an aged Taldan knight named Gaspar Du Mer, his Qadiran business partner Mahmoud, a water trader from Osirion named Hokama, and Hokama's slave boy, Atmar. I'd strongly suggest that the GM find images roughly fitting the descriptions and taping the pictures to note cards with the NPCs' names--players will find such an aid extremely useful. Anyway, the task facing the PCs in this Act is to persuade Jamila to allow them to come with her in the caravan. The Diplomacy DCs to persuade Jamila are fairly high for low-level PCs, and there's a good chance they'll make the DCs even higher by failing a check by more than 5. But the PCs *have* to join the caravan for the rest of the scenario to proceed as intended (there's very vague guidance on what to do if they fail, as my group did, so again I had to do some quick thinking). The GM knows, although the PCs don't, that Jamila was secretly Targos' lover and that they arranged his death in order to lure out the parties responsible for raiding caravans along the Silken Way. All of the suspects are part of this caravan, and Jamila expects Pathfinders to show up with Targos' body.

In Act Three, the PCs are with the caravan when a huge sandstorm separates them from most of the other travellers. Goblin and hobgoblin bandits pounce. The sheer number of enemies (13 in Tier 1-2) makes this a reasonably challenging encounter and definitely gives every PC something to do. (GMs should note that although D&D 3.5 hobgoblins and Pathfinder RPG hobgoblins are same CR, the latter have a *lot* more hit points.) There's nothing fancy with the encounter, but that's okay. I do like how this Act and a couple of the later ones make some use of the environmental (heat) rules, since characters who take stuff like Endurance or put ranks in Survival will see a benefit. As the PCs continue travelling, they come across a body (Mahmoud) in the sand, with a dagger stuck in his back!

I have mixed feelings about Act Four. The premise is really cool: the PCs stumble upon an ancient shrine to Irori that takes the form of a huge figure carved into the side of a cliff, with its eyes serving as caves for a nest of harpies. The harpies lure the PCs (and the couple of NPCs still with them) to start climbing the cliff, and then swoop down to carry off the NPCs. The problem is that the DC to resist the song is quite high, and there's a fair chance that all or almost all of the PCs will fail and become entranced. In my group, only one PC succeeded on the save. The tactics of the harpies are a little bit confusing, but it's clear that they'll attack if (non-entranced) PCs start climbing the cliff toward their nest. Low-level PCs fighting while climbing against creatures with Flyby Attack is another recipe for disaster. One PC and the two NPCs were killed in the group I was running this for, and there are a lot of reports of TPKs in the forums. Adventuring is supposed to be dangerous, but this encounter is probably unfair (at least at the lower tier).

Act Five has the PCs catching up to the rest of the caravan just as the criminal mastermind and murderer Gaspar Du Mer reveals himself. Jamila, who is apparently a half-Janni(!), summons a genie to battle Gaspar's bandits, but the PCs have to take care of Gaspar and his bodyguards themselves. Gaspar's a straightforward fighter and a challenge in head-to-head combat. After he's defeated, Jamila explains what's been going on and the rest of the voyage to Katheer passes without incident.

There's a lot of little things to criticize about Murder on the Silken Caravan, including: 1) The geography of the Silken Caravan doesn't fit with existing maps of Qadira; 2) the timeline is quite fuzzy, making it hard to decide how many days/nights should pass for different portions of the trip; 3) the Janni/Genie stuff comes from out of nowhere and doesn't add anything; 4) the Chronicle sheet for Tier 1-2 provides an almost laughably-specific special item (a map of the Zho Mountains that provides a minor bonus to Survival and Tracking checks when in that area) and nothing else besides credits. More substantial issues include the aforementioned lack of contingency-planning (some "What if?" sidebars would have been fantastic) and the overall railroading in a scenario that, at first glance of the title, might have players thinking they've signed up for a mystery-themed adventure.

Overall, I'd suggest that this one should be pretty far down on the list of scenarios to run. It's playable and has a couple of interesting elements, but it also contains numerous shortcomings.


Entertaining, but hasn't aged very well

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Played this today with a party of 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 3. By the rules for old scenarios, that put us in low tier. Here we start to see things break down a bit...

The fights weren't challenging - not anymore; they may have been for a party of 4 PCs using CRB-only stuff.

That said, it was still an entertaining adventure to play. It's one of those old adventures that have a good premise even if the mechanics have gotten a bit moldy by now. A savvy GM can really milk the flavor of it.

My recommendation would be to play this with a level 1-2 party of 6 PCs. Originally this adventure can be brutal due to the vast numbers of enemies. Using a modern 6-player party that's fine now. Also having L3+ PCs playing down is too much though. I'd advise against playing this at high tier, I think it'll be grinding with a LOT of individually ineffective enemies.

Another thing is knowing a couple of key rules. At least one encounter goes from TPK-potential to quite reasonable just by having the players understand the Ready action rules.


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An RPG Resource Review

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Taking the Pathfinders to another exotic and cinematic location, this adventure sees them tasked with escorting the remains of the famous Venture-Captain Targos Min-Katheer to his final resting place... but it's never quite as simple as that, is it?

The scenario sees a lot of travelling, although the trip to the oasis city of Lopul where they are to pick up the body is glossed over in a few words (those playing this at home without the constraints of a convention slot might want to expand on this journey). Once there, it appears that others also want the corpse so a brawl will ensue before the party can find a caravan going in the right direction to join. Needless to say, it's not just the desert that they will have to contend with, and I'm not just talking about a few wilful camels! Sandstorms, desert raiders, treachery and an ancient shrine await... and there's a final twist in the tale as well.

It's an exciting adventure in an exotic, arid landscape with plenty to challenge the party - they'll need sharp wits as well as combat skills to survive, never mind complete their task and deliver the Venture-Captain's remains to his home town for burial. Should you be playing this as part of your own campaign, there are various things you could follow up on in future adventures, too.

The Faction tasks are pertinent and varied, and could prove for some amusing interaction between members of the party if several Factions are represented. This time, they really enhance the adventure, being well-considered and appropriate to what is going on.

Overall, an excellent adventure for low-level Pathfinders with hidden nuances that serve to make it a lot more than a simple desert trip.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I see the other PFS scenarios are available - when will this one be?

Scarab Sages

It is...


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
kessukoofah wrote:
It is...

I'm still seeing currerntly unavailable

Scarab Sages

Rauol_Duke wrote:
kessukoofah wrote:
It is...
I'm still seeing currerntly unavailable

try restartign your browser and clearing out your cookies and temp internet files. cuz not only do i see Add to Cart, I've already gotten it.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
kessukoofah wrote:
Rauol_Duke wrote:
kessukoofah wrote:
It is...
I'm still seeing currerntly unavailable
try restartign your browser and clearing out your cookies and temp internet files. cuz not only do i see Add to Cart, I've already gotten it.

That did the trick. Tks.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber

Hi
I played this in 2008 and promptly lost my character after GenCon. I played with mark l as the dm and just found the character but no chronicle sheets. Can someone tell me how to acquire a chronicle sheet from 8 years ago, or at least how much gold I would have earned at 1st level

Thanks

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