Pathfinder Society Scenario #16: To Scale the Dragon (OGL) PDF

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for 5th to 9th level characters (Tiers: 5–6 and 8–9).

The last remains of a sage from an age long past rests high atop the snow-covered tips of the Fog Peaks in Southern Galt and the Society wants his bones in order to study them and learn from them. They've sent you into a wintry wilderness of primordial beastmen and snow creatures not seen below the snow line to do just that. With the Aspis Consortium also seeking the bones, the race is on to beat them to the top and, once the bones are recovered, to make it back down alive.

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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Funky mechanics are the saving grace

***( )( )

So the website ate my review again. I'm not willing to be that detailed yet again, so I'll try and make it short.

As is with most season 0 scenarios, this one hasn't aged well. The combats are rather easy and there's barely any role-play. While one fight can be painful for a single person, I highly doubt that players will have trouble surviving it. There is, however, a saving grace in the form of a unique travel-mechanic. It is admittedly flawed in the sense that it relies a bit much on the usage a single skill and that it leaves a lot of wiggle-room, it's still a bunch of fun as it allows for creativity.

For GMs that means that you might have to improvise a lot. I can't stress that a lot. Personally it's the kind of style I like the most: if players want to be creative and silly, I'll react with the same amount of silliness and creativity as it creates a lot of immersion and investment. The mechanic really lends itself surprisingly well to it and gives enough tools to paint a cinematic scene you likely won't find anywhere else in PFS. This does mean, however, that both the players and the GM will have to accept that the mechanics aren't watertight and to just have fun with it even if it's not their cup of tea. As we all know, not every player is willing or able to do so for a plethora of reasons, so I expect that some might really like this scenario and some will flat-out hate it.

In short: if you embrace that travel-mechanic and are willing to be creative with it, you'll have fun. If you're looking for challenging fights and in-depth role-play, you best look elsewhere.


An RPG Resource Review

****( )

Go and fetch the bones of some old mystic who lived in a cave high above the snowline... sounds simple enough (if a but chilly)? Don't you believe it, Pathfinders!

Sending the party so high that altitude sickness becomes an issue, the adventure is full of thrills from fighting off semi-sentient beast-men to wild sled chases that seem to have come from a fantasy version of James Bond. There's plenty of atmospheric description of the heights to which they have to ascend, and the added bonus of other parties who also have an interest in the bones they've been sent to fetch.

The journey itself is an adventure worthy of song or story, and those not constrained to a limited time like a convention slot might wish to make more of the thousands of miles between Absalom and the chilly mountain peak. It is an action-oriented adventure, but one in which the action is more than mere brawling (but never fear, there's plenty of that!). The terrain is challenge enough, and the dog sleds provide an interesting angle. The Faction missions fit in well, and as usual require Faction members to try and get things done without making too much of a show of what they are doing.

However, where it falls down is in character power. Characters of the suggested level ought to cope easily with - if not bypass - many dangers, lower level ones who will find the ascent a decent challenge risk being overwhelmed by the opposition. In particular, little attention is paid to the sort of things a half-decent mage can do. I'd recommend scaling back the opposition and enjoying the fight against the elements with a lower-level party.

Conceptually, it's got the potential for great fun. Take the time to hone it a bit, and have a blast!


Dated and easily derailed V2

***( )( )

Echoing the sentiments of some previous reviewers, this is a pretty interesting scenario that is far too easily derailed by modern/optimized parties in the provided level range. A single 9th level caster has enough tricks to trivialize alot of the scenario, never mind if there are 2+ casters in the party.

Honestly, as one of my players pointed out last night, this would be a really cool low level scenario if the encounter CRs were modified down. The unique sled mechanics, environments, and story would would really shine if they couldn't be circumvented. Which a party of 6 level 7-9's with all their abilities, items, magic, etc can easily do...

I know it would never happen, but I'd love to see this scenario re-balanced for modern parties or modified to a lower tier.

TL;DR: Good story/scenario, but the mechanics are sorely under-powered and easily trivialized in the provided level range.


Dated and easily derailed

*( )( )( )( )

I am so late to this party. Finally ran this scenario tonight. It does not hold up well. Most of this is simply the change in expected power levels combined with the unpredictable nature of regional meta. When written, this was probably a much more interesting and challenging scenario. The party was very well-balanced and, as typical for the MN lodge, we had a table of 6 (not the greatest situation here) - Occultist 9, Bard 8, UC Rogue 8, APG Summoner 9, Fighter 8, and Alchemist 6. I'll be describing these in spoilers just for space's sake.

Waystation + Sledding Up:
There was very little to work with for Rysam and Krysher. I had handed out the faction missions with the explicit "these are not for prestige" statement and the Liberty's Edge folks tried to shake down Krysher immediately. They could tell he wasn't fully honest, but did not do anything to derail things here. He was summarily executed by the UC rogue at the end of the scenario.

I handed out the dogsledding rules, the party determined who could best handle mushing, and they were off to the races. The ascent was thoroughly described, though the fact that there are only 2 events on the way up was somewhat disengaging for the players. They eagerly seized on what was available, though, and figured out some things about the taer and Aspis presence with The Bodies.

The avalanche was one of the things I was most concerned about. Having read the rules thoroughly on this in advance, I was relatively certain that this would either be a non-issue or a TPK, as determined solely by the result of the d6 roll. I got a 2, it was a non-issue. 1 character was buried, but the Occultist could use telekinesis to remove 250 lbs. of snow per round, while the eidolon could clear 1400 lbs. per minute without tools. I'm glad it was relatively forgiving in that a 2 or higher trivialized the encounter since a 1 is almost always going to be a TPK. The only PC in the party who could make the strength check to escape being buried was the fighter. The eidolon was flying the entire time, so even then it wouldn't have been a TPK for this group - it would only take about 5-10 minutes to clear everyone with just the eidolon working.

The Maw:
The players were thoroughly amused that the anger of the taer barbarians make them stinkier. The 5 barbarians lasted less than 2 rounds. This, however, is where the scenario broke.

Quote:
The monstrosity arrives a few minutes after PCs start digging...

A few minutes, eh? Well, the ice was destroyed in approximately 18 seconds by the fighter + eidolon. Mind you, this fighter is not a two-hander, but a sword and board defender. They find the bones, pop them in a haversack (still under the 1 minute mark by my count) and start heading back to the sleds, objective in hand. I decided that their "few minutes" were up at this point and had the remorhaz appear by the eggs. The party opted to go to the sleds and leave since the remorhaz can't keep up with the dogs. A couple Handle Animal checks later and the secondary success condition is essentially automatic - the waystation was never on fire because the taer were never enraged into attacking.

The Descent:
The Handle Animal checks were fine all the way down and started being hot as soon as the Aspis rolled out. The Occultist uses telekinesis to devastating effect here, throwing one of the sleds into another, sending all 4 Aspis agents flying. The eidolon flies over to another sled and simply destroys the front end, freeing the dogs and sending the Aspis agents into the snow. The Occultist then telekinetically grapples Fyrth, who remains stationary as his musher and sled move at increment 8 speed. In effect, the encounter was over in slightly more than 1 round.

What bothers me here is that this was assumed to be a chase. Frankly, even a 3.5 core-only party could resolve this within a round without leaving the sleds within 1-2 rounds of "combat." Some suggestions from the party for resolution:

  • Cast sleep on the dogs.
  • Fireball the dogs.
  • Shoot the dogs.
  • JUST TARGET THE DOGS.

Frankly, this entire encounter could be resolved with level 1 spells at range as long as you can make the violent motion concentration check. It sounded cool, it was interesting to prep, but the reality of it was simply not a letdown.

Wrap-up:
This was non-existent. The scenario was easily derailed at The Maw, so Act 5 literally did not happen. It is also not particularly clear what an appropriately leveled caster with Create Water prepared does to the fire - I assumed a bucket of water is 1 gallon and Create Water is going to give you at least 10 gallons, which leads me to believe that I should be doing level*2d4 "healing" with each casting of a cantrip.

As mentioned above, the PCs suspected Krysher was up to no good and summarily executed him in the kitchen before leaving. I cut to Osprey and started writing chronicles at this point because there was not a whole lot of anything to work with here.

Gold:
Where do I even begin with this? I want to start with expletives, but I'd rather not invoke the wrath of the moderators.

First, the gold is INCREDIBLY low. Like, a full tier behind. I actually pulled chronicles from 3-7 scenarios in advance to compare and it's within 100 gold on a significant number of them. I was amazed that there was not a revised chronicle for this scenario and, if I didn't have the option to do a level 1 version of the chronicle, I simply wouldn't have taken GM credit for the scenario. The players were baffled by the max gold on this scenario.

Second, nearly all of the wealth is predicated on two encounters: the remorhaz and the Aspis ambush. I took a liberal reading of the conditions ("defeat" being that they successfully completed the remorhaz encounter via bypass, just like traps, and the PCs certainly "survived the ambush"). Were I to take a more strict reading of the scenario, the players could have gotten full prestige, but walked out with only 333 gold for the chronicle. That is ridiculous. I felt bad enough with the 3531 gold in the 8-9 subtier, but to reduce it further? No. Absolutely not. This is woefully out of line with other scenarios in the tier. Even the Alchemist, who pulled in out-of-subtier gold, barely got rewarded for his efforts. Seriously, I apologized to the players for how lame this chronicle was.

The players, in the end, thanked me for doing the best I could with a dated scenario. It had so much promise, but just a few issues caused the whole plot train to derail. Thinking through it, though, I want to stress that literally everything that happened could have been duplicated with a 3.5 core party. Whether that's a failing of the play environment of the time or a lack of imagination on the part of the author, I'm not sure, but this felt like a 3-7 scenario with 5-9 written on it by accident given that it certainly did not predict the types of resources available to 8th and 9th level characters. Additionally, because of the unique subsystem presented for dogsledding and use of relatively obscure pieces of the ruleset (altitude, avalanches, and cave-ins, for example), the preparation was significantly more difficult than other 8-9 scenarios I've run.

In short, don't run this for players who know how to play the game. If you do run it, it's ideal to do so in Core and with 4 players. Frankly, the design felt as though it failed to plan for the existence of casters. This severely undermined the fun of everyone involved.


Not bad; a bit dated

***( )( )

So, I rather enjoy the setup for this adventure. The idea of a race against the Aspis is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it completely glosses over Galt, one of the coolest locations in the campaign. The combat also doesn't hold up as well these days. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.


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Great adventure and our group had a blast with it. The dog sledding was a great addition and really made for some fun situations. Especially when the party was on it's way back down!

I also took the liberty of making some props that added a lot to the adventure. Here are some pics and descriptions of what I did. Be sure to click on the photo and check out the descriptions for tips on how to do them yourself!

http://s808.photobucket.com/albums/zz10/pic_dumpster/


Penny Sue wrote:

Great adventure and our group had a blast with it. The dog sledding was a great addition and really made for some fun situations. Especially when the party was on it's way back down!

I also took the liberty of making some props that added a lot to the adventure. Here are some pics and descriptions of what I did. Be sure to click on the photo and check out the descriptions for tips on how to do them yourself!

http://s808.photobucket.com/albums/zz10/pic_dumpster/

I love your dog sleds - where did you find the images?

Liberty's Edge Contributor

Penny Sue wrote:

Great adventure and our group had a blast with it. The dog sledding was a great addition and really made for some fun situations. Especially when the party was on it's way back down!

I also took the liberty of making some props that added a lot to the adventure. Here are some pics and descriptions of what I did. Be sure to click on the photo and check out the descriptions for tips on how to do them yourself!

http://s808.photobucket.com/albums/zz10/pic_dumpster/

Holy CoW!!! Those dogsleds are awesome!

Sovereign Court

If I'm signed up to play this with a 1st level character, is it likely the GM will just turn me away? I don't want to be slaughtered, but I'd really like to play in Pathfinder Society and this is the only game Tampa Area Gamers has scheduled for Saturday AM.

Scarab Sages

Warforged Gardener wrote:
If I'm signed up to play this with a 1st level character, is it likely the GM will just turn me away? I don't want to be slaughtered, but I'd really like to play in Pathfinder Society and this is the only game Tampa Area Gamers has scheduled for Saturday AM.

I was at Origins 09 with my first level in this scenario and it was fantastic.

Grand Lodge

Question about the Chronicle:

Spoiler:
I understand that the amulet of health (4000gp) remains available for purchase, that it gives me the +2 version listed as costing 4000gp and that I must bring the 3.5 rules for it to each game. Can it be upgraded to the +4 or +6 version?


Starglim wrote:

Question about the Chronicle:

** spoiler omitted **

Considering the Season 0 scenarios are pretty outdated, I'm no official, but that is probably now a Belt of Mighty Constitution +2, which is in core. (At either rate, you may already have enough prestige for 4000 GP items, so just buy the belt instead? They are both the same item, just updated for Pathfinder.)

Grand Lodge

Marthian wrote:
Starglim wrote:

Question about the Chronicle:

** spoiler omitted **
Considering the Season 0 scenarios are pretty outdated, I'm no official, but that is probably now a Belt of Mighty Constitution +2, which is in core. (At either rate, you may already have enough prestige for 4000 GP items, so just buy the belt instead? They are both the same item, just updated for Pathfinder.)

Wearing a belt of giant strength with this item costs slightly less than a belt of physical might and doesn't tie me in to upgrading both scores in tandem, with the drawback of taking up another slot. It's not a choice every character would make.

Liberty's Edge

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Tales Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

It has been awhile since it has been brought up, but Joshua the original lead of PFS said any items that changed from 3.5 to PFRPG you had to buy the PFRPG version.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Had a party entirely unsuited to the task at hand, but we persevered through it all thanks to good item selection and being stacked with healing. Sadly not enough to save the low-man from needing a rez. Great theme, wonky mechanics.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Modules Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Just been smashed to pieces by this scenario.

4 character party (as per season 1 rules)

Spoiler:
Had all of our healing and resources sucked up by the sledding, last little bit dragged out by the Taars.

So, three level 5s and a level 4 pre-gen faced a Remorhaz (CR7 melee brute) in difficult terrain where the barbarian was fatigued (no rage) and everyone was around half hit-points before the fight began.

First round, oracle reduced to -5
Second round, investigator pre-gen reduced to -5
third round, slayer grappled - no chance of escape
fourth round, slayer swallowed and in negatives

at this point, barbarian is fleeing and remorhaz is still on full hit points...

I'm really not convinced that the sled mechanics would ever work for a party of 4 level 5 characters unless they were all druids and rangers with maxed-out handle animal. Nobody at that level has casting which will help much with the mountain (use your one lvl3 spell on communal endure elements, maybe?) and the chances of an optimised party are low with mid-level PFS.

So, yeah, pretty frustrating to have a TPK because of a few low skill checks.

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