Pathfinder Module: From Shore to Sea (PFRPG)

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Pathfinder Module: From Shore to Sea (PFRPG)
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An aquatic dungeon adventure for 6th-level Pathfinder Roleplaying Game characters.

They Come from Beneath the Sea!

The deep waters of the Hellmouth Gulf have long concealed ancient mysteries, both wondrous and terrible. But these secrets have been submerged for too long, and the remote coastal village of Blackcove has accidentally awoken a slumbering horror from a bygone age. Strange creatures now venture from beneath the waves to steal townsfolk away in the dark of night.

Can the PCs discover the fate of Blackcove’s lost villagers? What secrets still lie hidden on the mysterious, ruined island just offshore, and what now lurks in the flooded temples beneath the isle? And what horrific fate lies in store for those unfortunate souls who fall prey to the island's eldritch influence?

From Shore to Sea is an adventure for 6th-level characters, written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and compatible with the 3.5 edition of the world’s oldest RPG, and produced in collaboration with the patrons of Open Design. Inside you’ll find villagers slowly succumbing to the ancestral taint in their blood, tentacled abominations from the deep, debased fish-men, ancient Azlanti technology, and a secret stretching back millennia to the legendary empire of Azlant itself.

This adventure is set along the mysterious Hellmouth Gulf coast in the diabolical empire of Cheliax in the Pathfinder Chronicles campaign setting, but can be easily adapted for any game world.

Written by Brandon Hodge

Pathfinder Modules are 32-page, high-quality, full-color, adventures using the Open Game License to work with both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the standard 3.5 fantasy RPG rules set. This Pathfinder Module includes four pre-made characters so players can jump right into the action, and full-color maps to enhance play.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60125-257-9

From Shore to Sea is sanctioned for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play. Its Chronicle Sheet and additional rules for running this module are a free download (213 KB zip/PDF).

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Adventure Subscription.

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Great Atmosphere (but Tough!)

4/5

NO SPOILERS

I played through From Shore to Sea with my "caveman shaman" Gurkagh, and had a great time. It's a really atmospheric adventure with a strong story and lots of room for exploration and adventure in an open-ended way. Although the beginning is a little rough, on the whole the writing is really strong. However, the monsters in the module are also really strong! Probably a bit too strong (combined with other factors) for an average group of sixth level characters to successfully complete it. I'd definitely recommend groups play through the module, but maybe not until they're a level or two higher than what's stated on the cover.

SPOILERS!:

From Shore to Sea takes place in two locations in the Hellmouth Gulf, which is a remote and rarely-visited area off the coast of Cheliax. The first location is the village of Blackcove, where the PCs quickly get the sense that something strange is going on, and the second location (where the bulk of the gameplay is set) is a small island off the coast called Nal-Kashel. The gist of the adventure is the PCs exploring Nal-Kashel and piecing together clues to realise that an aboleth (trapped underground since the days of Old Azlant) has been mind-controlling villagers from Blackcove to help it escape! The adventure background is pretty complicated (and perhaps over-complicated for a 32-page module), involving Nal-Kashel (an ancient Azlanti observatory and university); the villagers of Blackcove who, for generations, have been birthing gillmen; a strange curse on the island; off-shore colonies of skum; an alchemist named Gerlach who tried and failed to solve the mystery of Nal-Kashel; and the aforementioned aboleth with the fitting name of Mohlomog. I won't go into all of the backstory here, though bits and pieces will come out later in the review.

Part One ("The Shores of Hellmouth Gulf") starts off with the PCs walking along the coast of the Hellmouth Gulf. Absolutely no mention whatsoever is given for why the PCs might be doing this, so a GM is going to have to make up a reason from scratch. I like it when modules give at least a small sidebar listing possibilities, because if the initial adventure hook doesn't sink in, it can be hard for the GM to get things on track. The adventure hook for this module is pretty weak, I think. The PCs hear a scream in the distance and see a man in an old rowboat fighting off an attack by giant crabs. If a rescue is made in time, the man will explain that his wife is from the village of Blackcove up ahead. The couple followed a local tradition and went to spend the night on an island (Nal-Kashel), but she was abducted by strange sea creatures and the man barely escaped. He asks the PCs to travel to Blackcove and the island to see if they can rescue her, and says there's lot of ancient golden artifacts in the area. The reason it's a weak adventure hook is that Blackcove is five hours out of the way down a rarely-used road, the husband is too scared to accompany the PCs (instead, he flees back to his own village, which isn't a trait likely to make PCs feel sympathetic towards him), and no provision is made for what the GM should do if the man is killed or rendered unconscious during the battle against the crabs. Fortunately, despite a poor start, the rest of the module gets better.

When the PCs reach Blackcove, they see a village that looks almost entirely abandoned. The village has a great, creepy vibe, and the module uses the most of little vignettes, weather effects, and description to help get a table in the right mood. This is a gray, misty, lugubrious place like something out of Lovecraft's Kingsport. Eventually, the PCs will encounter one of the few remaining villagers, and the group is (quite organically) steered toward visiting the lighthouse, where an assembly is taking place. PCs can start to gather some information about what's going on here (with a nicely written and detailed section on what different Diplomacy check results will reveal) and probably learn that a local man named Gerlach visited Nal-Kashel some weeks ago but never returned. There are fears that he must have "stirred something up," and, ever since, more and villagers have been disappearing. Many of the villagers are revealed to have fish-like traits (and are mechanically Gillmen), though this is a generations-long phenomena and not something directly tied to the current adventure.

A very cool and cinematic encounter takes place in the lighthouse. The waters of the bay begin surging and flooding lower levels, while a massive (off-screen) sea creature begins probing the higher levels with gigantic tentacles to batter and snatch villagers! The PCs have to try to simultaneously keep people from panicking while fending off the tentacles. The battle is handled in an abstract way (a grid isn't supposed to be used, and there's not a floor map of the lighthouse), and when I played through it there were parts that were somewhat cumbersome because so many PC abilities assume precise areas or distances that just weren't available. The encounter goes on until a certain number of tentacles have been destroyed or a certain number of villagers have been taken, and I don't think our group got the positive result! The PCs, as professional adventurers, are naturally asked to travel to Nal-Kashel and rescue the (presumably kidnapped) villagers. Some financial incentives are offered, and a local man is willing to ferry the group over in his boat. In a really nice twist, once the journey is underway, the man transforms rapidly into a skum (a croaking evil fish-man) and attempts to rock the boat and pitch the PCs into the sea! This is an encounter that could be pretty lethal for PCs who haven't taken the necessary precautions; though, if they're in a module called "From Shore to Sea" and don't have any ranks in Swim, I don't feel *too* bad for them.

Part Two ("The Ruined Island of Nal-Kashel") involves exploration of the island. One of the common criticism of RPG adventures is rail-roading, but one of the real strengths of From Shore to Sea is that it's very open-ended. There are several locations that be visited in any order, and they're really cool, fitting the theme of an ancient Azlanti scientific outpost quite well. There's an old archives, an observatory, some mysterious towers, an astronomical center, and more. Most of the locations hold encounters and, when combined with the random encounters listed on a chart, the PCs are likely to have a pretty tough time just surviving. There are chuuls, rust monsters, a giant octopus, some particularly nasty (recurring) traps, and more. A particularly difficult location is the observatory which turns out to be crucial for the PCs to understand and solve the mystery of the island but it pulses with constant damaging effects. At one of the locations, the PCs will find the missing villagers--but they've obviously been mind-controlled and forced to dig out a tunnel from the sea into the interior of the island. There's no realistic way to rescue them, as an unlimited number of skum intervene (in waves every few rounds) if the PCs try.

Adding to the difficulty is that when the PCs step foot on the island, they will, sooner or later, be affected by a mysterious curse that starts to gradually give them fish-like traits! At first the changes are innocuous or even mildly beneficial, but the problem continues to get worse the longer the PCs spend on the island--and this isn't a place that can be handled in a quick SWAT-team style sweep.

Another issue was what ended up leading the group I played with to decide to leave the island with the task unfinished: this is definitely an adventure for smart PCs with lots of skill in Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana). The complex backstory makes it hard to tell which of the various problems are just part of the island's magic and what parts are related to Gerlach's visit, and the problems of the taint and the (tough!) random encounters make too much lingering and back-and-forth between locations (to experiment with different ideas) a dicey prospect. Depending on party composition, the necessary skills and problem solving abilities just might not be available, and, unfortunately, I don't think there's really a way around it here. I didn't mind too much, as I think different characters with different skillsets should get a chance to shine in different adventures. We just happened to have the wrong group of characters, and couldn't figure out how to move forward.

Part Three ("The Natatorium of Mohl'omog") details the subterranean caverns beneath the island. Here, the PCs will encounter Gerlach (a sorcerer who has been dominated by Mohl'omog), multiple traps and ambushes, and, finally, the aboleth itself. My group never made it this far, so I can only evaluate the section from reading it, but I'd be honestly surprised if a group of normal sixth-level PCs survive it. There are multiple CR 5-9 encounters in short order, and one bad saving throw vs. the aboleth's domination ability can result in PCs fighting each other.

It's ironic, from an internal story perspective, that things probably work out fine (at least in the short- to medium- term) if the PCs never visit the island. Once the mind-controlled villagers dig the aboleth free, it swims away to carry on centuries-long evil machinations and schemes, and likely leaves Blackcove alone. I'm not saying aboleths on the loose are a good thing, but Mohl'omog has been out of currency for a while, and it's not like he's the only aboleth in the big blue sea. I suppose that's neither here nor there, however.

We can't move on without recognising that awesome cover--definitely poster worthy! The inside front cover is a map of the island of Nal-Kashel,while the inside back cover is a map of the observatory. The maps are done in an interesting and unusual style that I don't really know how to describe. For the sake of completeness, I'll mention that there's a page containing capsule stats for four level 6 Iconics; Paizo stopped doing this in the module line after a while, but I think there is something to be said for being able to get a game up-and-running quickly even if not everyone has original characters (though, I'm sceptical the foursome would be tough enough to survive the island).

Overall, I love the feel of From Shore to Sea. The setting is memorable and atmospheric, the exploration of the island reveals rich and interesting aspects of Azlanti lore, there's a wide variety of encounters (diplomatic, combat, and problem-solving), and the plot is interesting. I do think it's pitched a couple of levels too low, and I would recommend characters around level 8 that (hopefully) have a diverse range of knowledge skills.


Fun, but a little underwhelming

3/5

(I GMed this.)

This module shows its age. It's not a bad module by any means, but it clearly doesn't stand up to today's level of quality. This is mainly in regards to combats. Granted, I played with a party of 6, on the high end of the level requirement, but most combats were almost not even worth bothering with. If you're going to play this, play it with 4 characters. Likewise, skill checks seem mostly trivial, except for a handful that are stupidly difficult. More balance would've been appreciated.

That aside, the atmosphere of this module was great. As the GM, I enjoyed conveying it, though I don't know how the players felt about it. The story is perhaps on the predictable side, but exploring the island was a fun experience in how alien everything is. I hope I did everything justice.
As other people have noticed, some more direction would've been useful. My players were roaming around with no clear objective until they came upon the key location that made everything clear.

All in all, I had fun running this. It might not have been the best it could've been, but it's certainly not a bad module.


Was this playtested?

1/5

From a DC 40 Spellcraft check which must be made to progress in the module and which has special rules to prevent party assistance - for a module intended for 6th level characters to a final encounter with a creature with the wrong CR - hint final encounter is at least CR 11 - again for a level 6 party.

That's a rhetorical question because these problems would have been obvious if it was playtested by anyone other than the author running it for his home group. It is amazing with the effort Paizo puts into playtesting new rules that I have only seen one module which didn't have massive problems that even a cursory playtest by someone other than the author would have caught.

I played the PFS version so the GM didn't have the option of correcting the authors egregious errors.

Never play this module! You will have more fun licking the edges of the pages in an attempt to get paper cuts on your tongue than you will playing the module.

Ed


Good on paper, disastrous in practice

3/5

When I read this module, it looked really awesome, and I couldn't wait to run it. When I actually did run it, my players had the worst experience ever at my table. In fact, this marked one of the few times my players were actually very angry at me. While the encounters, plot, background, and maps are high quality, several issues make the adventure frustrating to play.

1) Because of the structure and order of locations and events, the adventure gives very little exposition until very late in the module. My players were left with almost no information to act on. Every decision they made felt like a shot in the dark.

2) The island's effects misled the players into believing there's a time limit. This put a lot of stress on my players, disabling them from leisurely exploring the island at their own pace. Worse is that it railroaded my players into continuing an adventure they had no fun with. It was so bad that a couple of the PCs preferred they leave and spend another adventure curing themselves than actually finishing out the adventure.

3) Martial characters felt completely useless. Nearly all of the adventure's major challenges require magical expertise. All non-spellcasters in my group spent most of the two 4-hour sessions twiddling their thumbs while the spellcasters solved the mystery.

4) I also noticed that sometimes the text did not match the maps provided. For example, the description said one location was in the west when it was north on the map.

Thankfully, all of these can be avoided with some clever GMing. If you wish to run this adventure, I suggest the following recommendation:

Spoiler:

Have the party encounter Sara or the villagers early when they visit the island. My players struggled because they lacked a clear objective other than wander around the island hoping they find something. The module does not let the Sara encounter line doesn't happen until they find the excavation site, which is likely the very last place they'll visit.

Overall, From Shore to Sea has a great story and premise marred by poor sequencing and a frustrating pseudo-time limit mechanic.


Poorly designed and overly challenging.

1/5

And WAY to long. It took our experienced group almost 12 hours to complete this mod, and we skipped or hand waved several (4?)encounters along the way. How is someone supposed to GM this at a Con or event with that kind of run time!?!

The first part of the mod was good, until we reached the island. Then it felt like we were getting repeatedly hosed for no good reason. The hourly mutation chance, with no ability to stop or even understand it, made us feel like we certainly had no time to stop and rest. And we really could have used some rest.

A encounter with a CR equal to the APL of the party is supposed to consume 1/4 of the party's resources. On the island we had way more than 4 encounters (6-8, and we skipped some)and one of them was CR=APL+3, all before reaching the climactic encounter! How is a party that has no time to rest supposed to have anything left for the BBEG after that?

If we had had a Sorcerer instead of a Wizard there is no way we could have made that DC40 Spellcraft check, and with out it we would have been screwed. And what is with requiring 4 ranks of Spellcraft to assist the check. Did someone pull that number out of the air, or was there a reason for it? It certainly doesn't seem fair to be changing the rules in a PFS module.

Finally, the extensive use of permanent illusions felt cheap, especially the final illusionary wall. When "it" popped through I wanted to just leave the table in disgust and frustration.

This is the first time I have been actively pissed off after completing a PF module. Not with our GM (who is great and did what he could to not make this mod last 14 hours), or my party members (a stalwart bunch), but with the adventure itself!


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Liberty's Edge

I just wrote a whole long post and my page timed out. very frustrating. I apologize that my question is blunt and impersonal.

Spoiler:
In the giant tentacle attack in the lighthouse, the text says the PCs can attack or sunder with a slashing weapon. The stat block doesn't list any DR or immunity to non slashing weapon damage. Am I missing something or over thinking it?

Thanks and again I apologize.

Merlino

Paizo Employee Developer

This is just a case of slightly confusing language. What it means is that the PCs can attack the tentacles (with any weapon), or they can attempt to sunder the tentacles with slashing weapons. The tentacles don't have any DR or immunity to slashing damage, but only slashing weapons can be used to sunder them.

Liberty's Edge

Thank you for clearing that up for me.

Rob McCreary wrote:
This is just a case of slightly confusing language. What it means is that the PCs can attack the tentacles (with any weapon), or they can attempt to sunder the tentacles with slashing weapons. The tentacles don't have any DR or immunity to slashing damage, but only slashing weapons can be used to sunder them.


I didn't see this question in previous posts, so I'll ask here:

Due to certain events in a previous adventure the PCs are sailors on a ship. It seems like the perfect introduction to From Shore to Sea but I wonder if they'll just try to bypass Blackcove altogether and go to the island right away. At the very least, they'll skip a certain encounter on the boat ride over. Has this happened to anyone else and, if so, how did you modify?

Contributor

Dustin Ashe wrote:

I didn't see this question in previous posts, so I'll ask here:

Due to certain events in a previous adventure the PCs are sailors on a ship. It seems like the perfect introduction to From Shore to Sea but I wonder if they'll just try to bypass Blackcove altogether and go to the island right away. At the very least, they'll skip a certain encounter on the boat ride over. Has this happened to anyone else and, if so, how did you modify?

I think this one's easy--the PCs run aground near Blackcove in a storm, and don't see or even know about the island until told of it by the villagers in the council. Would that work?

The Exchange

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That, or they see some sort of distress beacon from the village.

Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Or even: "Ye Gods! We've a storm churnin' and fog thick as guttersludge, mates, and the Blackcove lighthouse isn't a'light as we'd expect! Hold for the stern to meet the shore, men!!!"

*crash*


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Brandon Hodge wrote:

Or even: "Ye Gods! We've a storm churnin' and fog thick as guttersludge, mates, and the Blackcove lighthouse isn't a'light as we'd expect! Hold for the stern to meet the shore, men!!!"

*crash*

This is what I love about Paizo messageboards. The freakin' writers of these modules answer my questions.

Awesome solution. Thanks, Brandon.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Or the ship could pull in to re provision and find a guide or pilot to take them around the fog shrouded reef.

When the "thing" happens the ship can be run aground and 2/3rds of the crew be taken. The village promises to help re-float the ship if they go to the island.

You have 4 motivations for your players, get your crew back, get your ship re-floated, investigate the mystery and make the sea-way safe for other ships.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

I'm pleased to see renewed interest in From Shore to Sea. Be looking for more Sunken Empires inspired adventures and vril magic rules in the near future! :^ )

James Thomas
Official Unelected Chair of S.E.A.S. (Sunken Empires Appreciation Society)


My party has a dhampir inquisitor with the holy brand ability. Would it work on the many-tentacled abomination that attacks them in the lighthouse? I ruled that it did though now that I've read it only affects creatures of the evil *subtype*, not just any evil creature as I mistakenly believed, I'm thinking that was a mistake.

Anyway, now that it's branded (and I don't really want to take back my ruling) where is this creature probably going to go? Where doors it hang out? Nal-Kashel? Or somewhere deep in the ocean or maybe even on the elemental plane of water?


Speaking of the lighthouse attack, I just had a Pharasmin cleric use Gentle Rest on a tentacle in a PbP. On the one hand, the tentacles are immune to mind-affecting effects. OTOH, Gentle Rest is not listed as a mind-affecting effect. Thoughts on how to handle this?

Contributor

DM Carbide wrote:
Speaking of the lighthouse attack, I just had a Pharasmin cleric use Gentle Rest on a tentacle in a PbP. On the one hand, the tentacles are immune to mind-affecting effects. OTOH, Gentle Rest is not listed as a mind-affecting effect. Thoughts on how to handle this?

That is a tough one. You could split the difference--give it the staggered condition since it is representing a creature, but not the sleep effect--which is most certainly mind-affecting. Probably your easiest bet to award the PC's action without unduly crippling the encounter.


That's reasonable. OTOH, affecting the whole creature, even for one round, is a little much. Thanks for the reply!


After some debate, I agreed to have the ability affect each tentacle individually. So if a tentacle would normally reach in through a window and make a grab attempt, it would instead only be able to reach in through a window.

Dark Archive

Nice to see, that this great adventure SOLD OUT after seven years! :-)

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