Pathfinder Society Scenario #11: The Third Riddle (OGL) PDF (Retired)

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

When Pathfinder Colm Safan entered the Nethys-linked heart of the fabled dungeon known as the Ravenous Sphinx, the Pathfinder Society expected to solve one of Osirion's greatest riddles. Months passed with no word from Safan, and you and your fellow Pathfinders find yourselves dispatched into the desolate wastes of Osirion's notorious Parched Dunes to find the sphinx, find Safan, and uncover the mystery he sought. With a band of cloaked riders on your trail and a trap-filled dungeon ahead, will you solve the third riddle before time runs out?

Written by Clinton J. Boomer

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.

This scenario uses the GameMastery Map Pack: Caravans set.

This scenario was retired from Pathfinder Society Organized Play on November 15, 2010. After November 15, 2010, it will no longer be legal for Pathfinder Society Organized Play and will no longer be available in the Pathfinder Society Organized Play reporting system.

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Understandably Retired



The Third Riddle was one of the first dozen scenarios published for Pathfinder Society, and was one of the handful of "Season 0" scenarios unceremoniously retired later on. The reason this one was retired isn't a mystery: it's bloody hard! I played through it with a new character (a summoner named Jakeric with an "uplifted" bear eidolon named Grizzlebin) and a couple of others, and we were lucky to survive the very first encounter. We had to abandon the mission soon thereafter, when it became clear that proceeding any further would be suicidal. A modern group of six optimised Pathfinder PCs would probably be okay, but why the writer thought four 3.5-era PCs would be able to handle this mission is beyond me. The scenario does establish some interesting historical Osirion lore that is reflected in later setting materials, but is otherwise a very old school style mission that doesn't have a lot to recommend it today.


There's a fairly elaborate (and interesting) backstory to The Third Riddle. It seems that thousands of years ago, a wizard-priest named Mektep-Han discovered the last of three known locations of the dread riddles of the insane god of magic Nethys. Solving these riddles would apparently unbind the universe, so Mektep-Han wisely had the locations hidden away. He even had his soul bound to the third location, the Ravenous Sphinx, to guard it for all eternity. Yet recently, a scholarly Pathfinder named Colm Safan uncovered the Ravenous Sphinx. The poor sod was immediately killed by a trap in the structure's entryway, but news of his discovery reached the Pathfinder Lodge in Sothis. This is where the PCs come in, with a mission to find out what happened to the missing Safan.

The briefing is told in the odd flashback style used in many Season 0 scenarios, with Act 1 starting in media res as the PCs are in a caravan on their way to the Ravenous Sphinx. They're promptly attacked by *eight* Aspis Consortium warriors. Our Level 1 PCs were pretty clearly outmatched, and at that level a few bad die rolls can become catastrophic. I liked the *idea* of the encounter (a mobile run-n-gun chase with mounted warriors attacking a fleeing wagon caravan), but despite a neat table of random events, the actual execution was problematic.

The exterior of the sphinx doesn't get much in terms of description, so reaching it may feel somewhat anti-climactic. It's essentially just a housing for a puzzle-ridden dozen crawl. The layout and room descriptions are given separately from the actual puzzles/encounters in the rooms, which can make for a lot of confusing back-and-forth for an unprepared GM (there was a similar problem with King Xeros of Old Azlant).

The entryway to the Ravenous Sphinx is a corridor in which the body of Colm Safan is clearly visible (he was obviously a much better scholar than tomb-raider!). The body is impaled on the blade of a scythe trap, and removing the body resets the trap: it's a +8 attack that does *5d8* damage (x3 crit) at Level 1! That's an automatic PC kill right there. More, the corridor has two more (though less lethal) traps beyond that one. When I played, we managed to detect the traps but then realised we had no way to disable or safely bypass them, which admittedly was a limitation on our group, and not the scenario's fault. Anyway, we decided that, since our mission was to find out what happened to Safan and we had done that, we'd take his body back to Sothis and call it a win. Hopefully, the Pathfinder Lodge could send out some professional dungeon-delvers to explore the tomb!

It was certainly wise of us not to proceed any further. The rest of the sphinx consists of three large puzzle chambers branching off from a central point. The central point contains the spirit of Mektap-Han, but he's not dangerous and there are some good role-playing opportunities there to learn more about the backstory to the scenario. As for the puzzle chambers, one features several zombies and a shadow, one features a real giant scorpion mixed with two illusory ones (a clever trick), and the third has a large viper snake. Each chamber has an additional hazard relating to the puzzle (like being burned up in one or drowned in another).

One can definitely see the vestiges of classic, 1980s-style dungeon design in The Third Riddle, and although there's certainly nothing wrong with it, I wouldn't recommend it for Level 1 PCs--they just don't have the necessary margin of error or resources to have a fair chance of success. Perhaps playing it at high subtier with Level 4 or 5 PCs would be a much better experience. Anyway, I'm still glad I got a chance to play. The Ravenous Sphinx may sit unexplored, but at last Colm Safan's next of kin knows what happened to him . . .

An RPG Resource Review


This adventure opens with a long and detailed background for the DM, which provides all the underpinning information you need to understand what is going on. The party, of course, don't get anything like that much detail in their briefing - they are merely told that a senior Pathfinder has gone missing whilst exploring an ancient and long-lost edifice, the Ravenous Sphinx, and they are being sent to find out what happened to him.

The adventure as written begins with the party already well on their way to the Ravenous Sphinx, with a voyage and caravan journey behind them once they had received their mission. Naturally, if you have time and inclination you could play out their travels, otherwise the adventure starts with a running battle as the caravan is attacked! Assuming they deal with that, they soon come on the forbidding shape of the Sphinx, part-buried in the sand but with an open doorway between its front paws and a passageway leading down...

The rest of the adventure consists of their exploration of what is down there. In essence it's a well-trapped puzzle dungeon, but one for which there is a good reason - which surprisingly is actually explained to them by one of the denizens of the place (who set it up, as it happens).

The puzzles are quite challenging and it's going to take more than a strong swordarm and spells to work out what has to be done... yet it can be done. These kind of puzzles don't appeal to everybody, but they can be a fun intellectual challenge for those who do enjoy them. In essence it is a bit like Matthew Reilly meets Indiana Jones with a spot of Tomb Raider mixed in, and ought to prove a memorable adventure for those which survive it! Faction missions are linked in reasonably well, although as usual raise the question of how come the Factions know so much of what is going on wherever it is the party has been sent to give them such detailed missions!

It certainly gets to the very core of what the Pathfinder Society is all about, and those who succeed have earned the title of Pathfinder indeed.

good adventure, but can be dangerous


I really liked the adventure, but it can be quite deadly. I advice playing down with a balanced table of expierenced players!

Gimmics and Failure


This mod features nothing but gemmic encounters that make sense to the GM while reading it but which the PCs have no real way of understanding. This makes the tone of the mod to be more of a 'Gotcha!' than is in any way fun.

I will never run this event again.

Deadly for first level characters


This would be a good scenario if for the fact that it did not claim to support 1st level characters. This is the deadliest, most unbalanced scenario I have seen.

Every puzzle battle was an EL 5 battle fight where every resource available had to be spent just to avoid a TPK.

I liked the plot and concepts that were there, but I can never recommend the scenario, especially for 1st level characters.

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Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Now available!

Dark Archive Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4


Scarab Sages Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4, Legendary Games

Clinton Boomer wrote:

Congrats dude, I just got the email! Rockstar!

I am downloading it as we speak!


This looks freaking cool. :)

Thank you ahead of time for a great Friday night's entertainment. The PDF is downloaded; the popcorn's buttered; and I'm curled up with my laptop, ready for some Boomer brilliance.

Now leave me alone to read. . .

Dark Archive Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4

*gets done reading*

Wait ... this is even better than I remember it!

Thank you, Josh Frost!

Awesome, Boomer!!!!

(Will you share a room with me?)

Dark Archive Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4

farewell2kings wrote:

Awesome, Boomer!!!!

(Will you share a room with me?)


Yes, I will!

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Clinton Boomer wrote:
farewell2kings wrote:

Awesome, Boomer!!!!

(Will you share a room with me?)


Yes, I will!

You guys—get a room!

Congrats, Boomer.

The Exchange

Very cool Boomer

Scarab Sages

I feel like the mod writer wanted to impress us with how amazingly cool he was.

First encounter - caravan chase that defies all logic. It would be much easier to just circle the wagons.

The other encounters are no better. As one gimmick follows another the adventure gets less and less fun and more and more tedious.

If you have to make up new rules for an encounter its probably bad.

Grand Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber

There will always be a special place in my heart for The True Dragons of the Third Riddle.

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