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Chapter 9: "Escape from Old Korvosa"
by Richard Pett
Old Korvosa is under quarantine, a sprawling slum contained by roadblocks and guardposts manned by remorseless Hellknights and sinister plague doctors. While the rest of Korvosa stifles under an increasingly brutal martial law, the quarantined streets of Old Korvosa descend into true bedlam. Yet the one man who may hold the truth behind the perils that have brought Korvosa to its knees is lost inside the quarantine zone. Can he be rescued from the clutches of a new menace rising in the festering pits of Old Korvosa, and what secrets does he know that could justify the bounties for his death?
This volume of Pathfinder presents an in-depth exploration of the rakshasas of the world of Golarion and reveals details on one of the world’s most sinister networks of assassins, the Red Mantis.
For characters of 7th to 10th level.
Pathfinder is Paizo Publishing's 96-page, perfect-bound, full-color softcover Adventure Path book printed on high-quality paper that releases in a monthly volume. Each volume is brought to you by the same staff which brought you Dragon and Dungeon magazines for over five years. It contains an in-depth Adventure Path scenario, stats for about a half-dozen new monsters, and several support articles meant to give Game Masters additional material to expand their campaign. Because Pathfinder uses the Open Game License, it is 100% compatible with the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game.
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Escape from Korvosa continues the great storyline established in previous chapters, and features some fantastic NPCs and unforgettable scenes. There's plenty of room for role-playing and different ways the players can get from Point A to Point B as the overall AP plot really heats up. It's maybe a touch below Chapter Two in my personal rankings, but still a great adventure. But for now, lets get on to the non-spoilery back matter--there's lots of good stuff in this one!
* "Faces of the Earthbound Evils: A Pathfinder's Guide to Rakshasas" (6 pages) is a really interesting, well-written overview of rakshasas. It covers their (in-game) history, anatomy, society, and weaknesses, along with some great art and a few adventure hooks. Rakshasas are essentially "earthbound fiends", the reincarnation of evil souls in mortal bodies, and their connection to real-world myth allows for some great lore to develop. I've never done much with rakshasas in prior campaigns, but I can certainly imagine doing more now.
* "The Red Mantis: Those Who Walk in Blood" (6 pages) covers Golarion's most notorious assassin cult. The "cult" part is important, as the Red Mantis aren't simply hired killers--they have a strict (evil) ethos, killing in the name of their god but refusing to harm reigning monarchs. I like their guarantee that when they kill someone, that person stays dead. The entry covers their philosophy, headquarters, and has a little on their leaders. It introduces a new (overpowered for the price) magic item, the mask of the mantis--one of the few "loot items" in the game that the PCs in my game actually used rather than sell. Importantly, there's also a Red Mantis Assassin prestige class that I quite like ( and that I think is followed pretty closely when later adopted for the Pathfinder rules in the poorly-named Adventurer's Guide).
* "Thin Air" (6 pages) is the next entry in the adventures of Eando Kline. Still with his guide Joskan, Kline is travelling through the Hold of Belkzen. The geography is well-described and useful to a GM setting an adventure in the locale (and there's a sidebar on Belkzen flora and fauna). The story here involves Kline and Joskan fleeing from predatory orcs and into the mouth of a bizarre stone dragon carved around the side of a mountain. The story is good, but the lack of a real overall plotline (Kline is just following this mysterious wayfinder) means it doesn't feel like it's really going anywhere.
* "Bestiary" (12 pages) starts with a random encounter table for Old Korvosa suitable for the range of PCs in the main adventure. We then get five two-page-long entries on new creatures. "Achaekek" is the mantis god that the Red Mantis worship, and I for one would not mess with this CR 30 creature that's immune to lethal damage and has unstoppable regeneration! I also like the role Achaekek plays in the pantheon of Pathfinder deities. A "beatific one" is a type of asura--a class of beings from Indian legend. The entry has a big sidebar on Vudrani weapons, which is something I don't think I've seen elsewhere in Pathfinder books. "Rajput Ambari" are essentially undead elephants--fine, but unremarkable. "Rakshasa maharajahs" are like the highest tier of rakshasa--CR 18 creatures, with extensive spell-like abilities and a very cool ability that allows them to act on two initiative counts each round. Probably my favourite entry is the "sikari macaque swarm", a horde of tiny monkeys infected with a disease that turns them into an unstoppable wave of killing machines! Even the picture creeps me out, and the idea of PCs catching the disease (rage + confusion) is delightful.
* "Characters" (2 pages)--Level 7 versions of Ezren, Seelah, Harsk, and Lem.
Into the adventure! Off-screen between last chapter and this one, some really significant events occurred in Korvosa. The Queen survived a point-blank crossbow bolt to the face during an assassination attempt, thus displaying some type of magical invulnerability. Old Korvosa is no longer plagued with blood veil, but has been effectively abandoned by the rest of the city. And the Queen's Gray Maidens are now everywhere (except, ironically, Old Korvosa). A good GM will help the PCs experience these changes organically before launching into the heart of the adventure in Chapter Three.
Part One is "Into the Dying City". The premise is that Cressida Kroft sends the PCs to sneak into still-quarantined Old Korvosa to find Vencarlo Orisini because, before his recent disappearance, he had sent her secret messages implying he knew something about Queen Ileosa's newfound invulnerability. Old Korvosa is the slum area of the city, and after blood veil, has become a completely lawless and anarchic place--perfect for adventuring! When the PCs find Vencarlo's home, they're ambushed by Red Mantis assassins (also looking for him, at the Queen's behest) that probably end up burning the house down. A lead will probably see the PCs head toward the home of an artist named Salvator Scream; Scream isn't there, but the PCs will meet a lot of players' favourite NPC, a surprisingly-cheerful cleric of Zon-Kuthon named Laori Vaus (her artwork gets much improved in the hardcover collection). My players didn't actually meet her then (and wouldn't until Chapter Five) because they bypassed Scream's house after learning his location through some other information gathering.
Part Two is "The Emperor of Old Korvosa", and it may just have one of the campaign's most memorable sequences. In this part of the adventure, the PCs should figure out (through one of various means; I always appreciate the open-ended way these early APs are written) that Salvator Scream has been taken by someone calling himself The Emperor of Old Korvosa. Getting to the guy isn't easy, as he's got a devoted mob of thugs and ruffians, but there are both violent and non-violent ways to gain access to his "palace"--a set of abandoned tenements with rickety rope-bridges connecting the roofs. The Emperor himself is a delight. A former playwright of hideous and grotesque tastes, he's disgusting, insane, and dangerous, and yet it's easy to see why the mobs love him (love the artwork, too). Now, the PCs could choose the boring route and launch an attack to free Salvator Scream, or they could be cool and participate in the The Emperor's favourite sport: "blood pig." As the ominous name suggests, a live pig is used as the "ball" in this sport as two teams try to get it in their opponent's goal--where a wolverine waits to devour it! I know it's cruel in concept (hey, vegetarian here!) but the description of the "rules" of the game and the various random things that can happen make it obvious just how hilarious it would be at the gaming table. Unfortunately, my group chose the boring option--their loss!
In Part Three, "Wrath of the Arkonas", a rescued Salvator Scream explains that Vencarlo did visit him, but went looking for the seneschal of Castle Korvosa at the palace of an aristocratic family, House Arkona, and never emerged. Assuming the PCs follow up, this is another example where the adventure supports a variety a ways the group can approach things. The patron of House Arkona, Glorio Arkona, is one of my favourite PCs to role-play in the campaign. The Arkonas are from Vudra (the Indian-themed area of Golarion) and the distinctive decor of the palace is presented really well. The twin secrets of the Arkona family is that 1) they're the patrons of the city's thieves guild; and 2) they're rakshasas! The seneschal (and Vencarlo Orisini) are being held captive in a high-concept dungeon under the palace. Named the Vivified Labyrinth, the conceit of the dungeon is that it's made of four separate disks each of which can be rotated independently through levers hidden throughout. That means there's sixteen possible configurations for the dungeon, and not all of the disks are accessible in each configuration. It's a really cool idea, though it took me some planning to make work on the tabletop (I went with cardboard disks held down by blu-tak). What makes this part of the adventure most interesting is that Glorio Arkona is locked in a rivalry with his sister, Meliya Arkona, and each is more than willing to use the PCs against the other. In my game, the PCs started by supporting Meliya in a battle against Glorio and then changed sides in the middle of the encounter (a fun surprise for me, but I got revenge by revealing the "silver dagger" they'd been carrying around since Chapter 1 was really a raktavarna!; and with Meliya fled, Glorio has become a *major* NPC in the campaign and might just win the throne!) Anyway, it is a dungeon-crawling part of the adventure, but I thought it was handled really well. The rescue of Vencarlo, and more important the seneschal, sets up Chapter Four.
I really enjoyed running Chapter Three. It's not as thematically strong as Chapter Two, but it still had plenty of opportunities for player creativity. It also features some great set-piece encounters and memorable NPCs. Combined with the excellent back matter, the result is an excellent package.
Warning: This review contains spoilers
Written from a GMs perspective
I ran this for 7 PCs
I ran the Pathfinder re-released version
Escape From Old Korvosa is another strong chapter in the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path. For my table, everything ran very smoothly and I was very close to giving this five stars. However, I held back from giving it a perfect score due to a few obvious flaws that I was able to avoid, but that could cause a lot of trouble for other game masters if they ran the book exactly as written.
First, let's talk about the positives. I've said it in past reviews, but I really love the world building and character development in the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path. The third book is no exception. By the time you reach "Escape From Old Korvosa" there are a ton of characters and plot threads. However, everything feels like it builds naturally and it seems like my players were able to follow along with no trouble. This book also felt like an important turning point in the plot, where things that were hinted at for two books, like Vencarlo's identity and Illeosa's true motives started to really pay off. The opening cut scene with the attempted assassination of the Queen was utterly fantastic. Despite there being heavy hints that the Queen was corrupt, the reveal of her truth strength felt appropriately shocking, especially for players who still weren't sure that she was anything more than a pawn.
Not only did this chapter do a great job building upon previous chapters, but the new characters that were introduced were also quite memorable. Pilts was just the right balance being a ridiculous figure, while still proving to be truly dangerous. Laori and Salvatore as morally gray allies made for interesting additions to the story. Neolandus, while not remarkably interesting in his own right, did provide a lot of good RP for characters who now found themselves tasked to rescuing and protecting such a high ranking political figure. Finally, Glorio Arkona and his whole manor stuck the right chord, that the PC's struggled to read and figure out how to hand. I have heard some other reviewers complain that they felt a little disappointed by the Arkona's arc ending here, since there was a lot of build up to them in the earlier books. I can see where those reviewers are coming from, as the GM is told about their involvements several times in the previous books. However, most of these are behind the scenes mentions that the PCs do not learn about, so for my players their introduction and conclusion didn't seem to leave anything lacking. The book also leaves open the possibility for the GM to have the Arkona's hound the PCs again should this feel like a loose end.
Another thing I liked a lot in Escape From Old Korvosa was the setting. The quarantined district allowed the PCs to stay within elements they were familiar with, like the riots and the plague, while allowing them to explore an area in more detail and deal with the consequences of that area's isolation. Exploring Old Korvosa temporarily separated them from the heavily marshaled mainland and put them an entirely lawless region. From an RP perspective in was interesting to see how this both freed them in some regards and constrained them in others.
Finally, I felt that this chapter had a good balance of both combat and RP. This was especially true as most of the book's event could be handled by both. They could try to take down Pilts or just negotiate with him. They could storm the Arkona manor or accept Glorio's meeting.
As far as negatives go, there was only one component that I outright did not like. Blood pig. On paper, it seemed like a funny mini game that did a great job highlighting how crude and inhumane Pilts and his crew had become in the absence of the law. However, in practice, the game did not work so well. My players (fortunately) only played for a few rounds, before one of them launched a surprise attack on Pilts. However, it was already becoming quite clear that all the turns and rolls were going to become tiresome. I think it would have been quite time consuming and dull to get through a whole game, let alone do a best of three like the campaign suggests. It's also worth mentioning that, if the PCs don't cooperate with the game and instead choose to fight, this becomes a very dangerous encounter. Pilt's mind affecting spells can all but remove PCs from the fight and greater invisibility makes him hard to bring down quickly, Jabbyr hits hard and there are a lot of mooks who crowd out the battlefield and make it hard for the PCs to go after the main two guys. This fight came very close to a TPK for my party and ended with Pilts getting away.
The last thing that needs to be talked about is the Vivified Labyrinth. This is the Arkona's underground labyrinth, where pulling switches causes sections of the dungeon to rotate. From what I have read, this dungeon was a negative experience for a lot of people. However, for my group in ran fairly smoothly and was a memorable and enjoyable experience. I credit the positive experience we had to two things. First, while researching this dungeon, I found a website with incredibly helpful information. First, the author pointed out something very important, that the rotating sections all rotate simultaneously, resulting in only four possible layouts. This is mentioned in the adventure itself, but is not made is obvious as it could be. The website also provides maps for all four of those layouts, which the adventure itself doesn't not provide and some additional advice, such as having Sivit stay in one place instead of move around the dungeon. The maps and the advice were incredibly helpful. The second thing that helped running the Vivified Labyrinth was that I look the time to draw out all four map on graph paper (the maps provided showed secret doors and pathways), then covered the different rooms with post it notes. Each time someone in the dungeon pulled a switch, I flipped to the next page. This allowed for the chaotic confused feel of the dungeon, while still giving the players something visual to latch on to. As a result, it seemed like my players were able to understand what was going on and avoid the confusion (and subsequent frustration) that this dungeon is certainly capable of causing. Still, while this dungeon was fun for my group, it required a lot of work for me as the GM and it could have been easier to run if the alternate maps were provided and things were explained a little more clearly. This seems like a bad oversight, considering that we ran through a re-released version of the campaign.
Complaints aside, this is still a strong chapter in a great adventure path. As long as the GM is willing to put some time and effort into planning the Vivified Labyrinth and is careful to not drag out Blood Pig if the players aren't enjoying it, you will most likely have a great time with this adventure.
On one side, I like the pig game, Laori Vaus character and the use of a galtan final blade.
The article on rakshasas give depth on creatures I had no interest before.
On the other side, the whole Arkona thing (and how Golio acts during this part of the story) is poorly handled for me.
Glorio's cover is totally exposed when he sends the PCs in the labyrinth. It seems not enough subtle from a rakshasa leader, politically too risky. And honestly if he really wants to kill his sister, he can do it himself without involving anyone, especially not the PCs.
Futhermore, the idea of a "rotating dungeon" might seem nice on paper, but in practice I don't see how I can handle that in a game session.
Como um todo Escape from Old Korvosa funciona apenas inserida no contexto de Curse of the Crimson Throne, mas ela possui elementos muito interessantes que podem ser explorados em outras campanhas (principalmente para quem gosta de mitologia hindu). Seu foco no enredo pode gerar problemas, mas eu recomendo que os mestres leiam a aventura e tirem suas próprias conclusões. De qualquer forma, tanto o artigo sobre os Rakshasas e sobre a Red Mantis valem a compra da edição e os monstros novos são bem diferentes e exóticos do que estamos acostumados como monstros de D&D. Recomendo bastante.
Only kidding - it's a tricky one to give too much away about really, think Escape from New York meets the French Revolution during the Black Death whilst perusing a Jeff Vandermeer Novel as rome burns and you're getting there.
It should run very fast paced and very unpredictably, everyone may well have a different take on this one at various stages and I hope it will translate into the most open-running adventure I've ever done for Paizo. Certainly I'm looking forward to seeing how it runs, as much as how it reads as the playtesting of segments of it ran very wildly.
Very brief skim of the pdf says this looks awesome. CotCT is really becoming something special, I'm itching to run it (we'll finally be starting mid-late May if RL doesn't catch up with us again). I'm in love with the Rakshasas already. Also BEST LOOKING BESTIARY EVER, is it just me or has the book yet again improved in terms of look? Though what on earth is going on with Laori Vaus picture? I mean I don't mind the old school anime look, and it kind of fits with the character, but it's so out of place amongst all the other artwork that it feels really jarring, hmm...
anyway, I'm mostly getting over-excited, now to get a giant mug of tea and curl up in front of the computer screen for a couple of hours reading and plotting...
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So far this is looking great. I have read through the pdf but I don't get too in depth until I get my copy. Still so far this is looking really good. Though at the moment I wish there was a little more "time" for the PC's and Vencarlo to interact before the other rescue. (I will have to make time for that.) Great job as always.
I liked this module, its got a lot going for it. One thing I'd like to see that was missing in this one and past mods, is a bit more info, very brief, on some of the staff/guards at the major locations. At a minimum, just list their classes and races. In this mod, that applies to the Arkonas Palace. It applies to the Korvosan Guards, Sable Company, etc. Who's the 2nd in command of those? 3rd, etc. Maybe its in the guide, but in one of these mods it should be listed out.