Pathfinder Society Scenario #2-13: Murder on the Throaty Mermaid (PFRPG) PDF

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

While on a routine mission to escort a dignitary to the mysterious Mordant Spire aboard a disreputable smuggler's ship, the PCs find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery that could jeopardize the Pathfinder Society's relationship with the isolationist elves who call the citadel home. Can the cunning Pathfinders discover who among the ship's crew of scum and villains is responsible for the crime in time to clear their own names? This murder mystery upon the open sea features a mechanic allowing for a different killer each time it's run to ensure that no amount of word of mouth will spoil the investigation for any team of canny players.

Written by Mark Moreland

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 Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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3.20/5 (based on 34 ratings)

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Nothing but a Shaggy Dog Story

1/5

While the scenario sounds promising, by the end it turns out that the party's actions are completely irrelevant. It's frustratingly poorly written.

Most importantly, the investigation doesn't work. Of the crew of the ship, all of them are nasty people with a secret, all of them refuse to cooperate with the PCs, and all of them have the motive and the opportunity to have committed the murder. Instead of a series of clues to follow, you get a long series of pointless conversations with NPCs who don't want to talk to you and reveal nothing but red herrings. The scenario is written so that everyone could be the killer; while that sounds nice in theory, in practice it means that there is no suspect that stands out and no way to eliminate any of them. The only way you'll find out who the murderer is, is because when the time is almost up he arbitrarily decides to attack the party (then anticlimatically die the next round, because he'll be sorely outnumbered in his head-on assault).

And as a final kick in the teeth, the investigation turns out to be completely irrelevant because

Spoiler:
the victim is not actually dead, but magically transported home. And because the victim always had the ability to do that, the entire two-month boat trip to escort him home was also completely unnecessary. The epilogue reveals that you've literally been wasting your time, both IC and OOC.

In other words, it's only a shaggy dog story. While such stories are a neat trick to pull on your friends at the pub, they're really boring to actually play in, because nothing you do makes any difference.


Its ambition is its biggest problem

1/5

I played this scenario last night with Quentin as the GM, see his review below. Before anything else, I’d like to point out that the rating I gave this scenario is not influenced by him as a GM. I’m solely basing my opinion on the scenario and its mechanics.

The idea behind the scenario is excellent, but fails to live up to its expectation. It’s something that regrettably is often the case. The premise of a murder mystery on a ship with a crew of suspects is solid. It’s understandable, easy to imagine and on paper is effective as an adventure. However the writer’s ambition ended up ruining the whole thing.

As is written in the small summary, this scenario features a mechanic allowing for a different killer each time it’s run. This is an interesting concept and in theory could work, were it not for a major issue. Every single one of the crew has a motive and means of being the murderer. One could argue that creates suspense, but in this case this means there are way too many red herrings.

This, in turn, means that the investigation will not narrow anything down and ends up feeling frustrating if you roll well or ask the right questions. You only get swamped in more and more potential suspects. The amount of evidence piles up, but against multiple people and it becomes increasingly harder to keep particular clues linked with particular people. And when you roll terribly, you will not figure anything out, or only things that are not linked to the actual murderer. Long story short: there are no conclusive clues, since everything is a clue for a possible outcome.

However, it gets even worse. While you’re slowly getting annoyed that everyone becomes a suspect and don’t get any closer to finding the real murderer, something happens. The killer all of a sudden decides to reveal him- or herself, making you feel like you’re an idiot and as if the investigation didn’t matter at all. You literally spends hours gathering too many clues, but before you can come to a conclusion, plot kicks in and spoils it all for you. I’m sorry, but that really ruins any fun you may have had up until that point. But wait, there’s even more! The conclusion to the scenario actually makes you feel even worse about the whole investigation. It’s like kicking someone that’s already down and out.

This scenario tries to be somewhat of a scenario and an evergreen scenario. Sadly it completely fails at both. It’s too complicated to be a scenario due to the amount of red herrings. That said, I can see it potentially work as an evergreen. That, however, requires it to be rewritten in such a way that certain red herrings are gone when X is the murderer. That way you can actually solve the murder and confront the killer, or close in enough to force the murderer to make a final stand. As it stands now, it’s not coherent enough and way too frustrating, regardless of the dice-rolls. It is such a shame that such an ambitious scenario ultimately ends in a major disappointment and I will not recommend it to others.


Needlessly frustrating.

2/5

(I both GMed and played this.)

Note in advance: to be fair, I wasn't as skilled in my role-playing as I should've been for this scenario. That might influence this review a bit.

There are some really good things about this scenario. There's a decent mystery and some nice little touches to make it more interesting. However, there are also a lot of factors that bring it down again. First of all, there are literally no clues the PCs can follow. Both when I played it and when I ran it, there are lots of little bits that can be pieced together, but none of it forms a logical whole. There are also a lot of red herrings pointing people elsewhere, which it to be expected from an adventure like this. But when everything literally points to everything else, there's no unified whole anymore. In most novels there are at least some clues pointing towards the same thing, and the main characters have to poke holes in everything. But here, everyone mistrusts everyone and give unhelpful remarks as to who the real killer is. When everything is suspicious, nothing is.

The biggest disappointment is the cast of characters. Most of them are fun to interact with, but are unreasonably hostile towards the players. Moreover, they only give some clues when asked about a certain thing. Normally that's okay in a regular adventure, but when the plot literally hinges on that information, it's frustrating to miss that. On top of that, they're all hiding something (again, which is to be expected in a story like this), which makes it even more frustrating when you can't get any more out of them. You know there's something wrong, but you don't know if it's relevant to you or not, and they're not interested enough to help you. And finally, most of them have contrived reasons to be awake by that point, making the story increasingly more far-fetched. For a good murder mystery you need to have some leaps of logic, but the power of the Orient Express and other mysteries is that the detective can poke holes in their stories and make leaps of logic the readers can't. This scenario expects us all to be Poirots without an actual mechanic in place for allowing us to do so. As said, everyone is shifty and guilty of something, just not something that's relevant to the case at hand.

There's also no real elegant way of tying everything together. A fight gets forced while you might still be gathering clues. Again, that's fine, but for the culprit to reveal their hand like that is a bit of a downer for the party.

In the end, there's certainly some merit in this adventure, and in theory it all looks fine. I was looking forward to running it, but in the end my players got drowned in red herrings, unhelpful NPCs and ended in an exercise in frustration. It might've been better with a better GM (for which I totally take the blame), but when I played it I ended up with pretty much the same impression.


Entertaining, but with some problems

3/5

Played this with a three-player crew + Zadim at high tier. We were an easygoing group; we know that in order to have a murder mystery there has to be a murder, so we didn't try to break the scenario by trying to make the murder impossible to carry out or something like that. Likewise, we were prepared to tolerate a certain amount of nonsensical plotting necessary to keep everything on the rails. I think such a relaxed frame of mind, and a small group of players, helps make this a fun scenario.

We had a good time. Especially the fight against the monster on the cover was hilarious, with a PC dropping all his inexpensive weapons to try to distract it while he ran to hide behind me (monk). Absolutely classic.

However, as murder mystery, it leaves something to be desired. There were so many red herrings, some big logic holes and so few actual clues that by the end we hadn't really managed to narrow things down; everyone had sort of a motive but also sort of an alibi. We talked to everyone and looked everywhere and didn't find anything that looked conclusive. It was starting to look like we'd have to resort to trying to brute-force things with layered Zone of Truth spells (see if you can pass six Will saves..) or something like that. And then the killer suddenly decides "we were getting too close" and reveals him/herself with a hopeless-odds attack.


Murder Mystery

3/5

Played this at the lower tier. Simply put the heroes are escorting an elven ambassador back to the Mordant spire and on route he is murdered. It then falls to the heroes to investigate and solve the murder.

It is a good investigative scenario but the one complaint that seemed to arise was the utter lack of any real clues which made it more about supposition than finding the murderer. There is lots of roleplay opportunities but again I found this lacking as the crew don't give enough information away.

The climax... well, I can see why some feel it is a let down but I thought it quite a cool ending though makes the whole investigation somewhat pointless. Even so I give this one an average rating as I did enjoy it as an evenings session.


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Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

ThornDJL7 wrote:
What's in their footlockers?

Feet?

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

ThornDJL7 wrote:
Anyone know where I can get more information on the Woodbane Hunters Assassins Guild? Did a quick scan through the old campaign setting and didn't turn anything up. Just looking for a better understanding of the backstory.

They are a new creation I made up for the scenario. So until we expand on them in another product, which we may do someday but not anytime specific, they're whatever you want them to be.

Answers to your other questions behind the spoiler.

Spoiler:
ThornDJL7 wrote:
1) I was looking over the Shira Acidaxe encounter and am a little confused. It states if the party uncovers her poisonous plotting, that she'd attack, but later it says if the party succeeds an intimidate check that she'll openly admit to her poisoning the crew. Why would she admit to poisoning them, instead of out and out attacking, or is the intimidate check to keep her from attacking when she reveals her plot?

That's the idea. If they intimidate her, she admits what she's doing, but doesn't attack cause the PCs have intimidated her. If she has no reason to fear the PCs, she attacks when they start getting up in her business.

ThornDJL7 wrote:
2) It says if the party doesn't fight Shira, they can find her alchemical reagents, and get the money from it. What's to prevent them from finding it afterwards? In my understanding, it should be the other way around, there is nothing to stop them from finding it when she's dead.

This is a result of the organized play wealth system, whereby the maximum amount of gold available to a PC is capped. By allowing them to still find her stuff even if they don't fight her, it doesn't punish parties that avoided combat through diplomacy or other social solutions. If they've already killed her, the alchemical reagents simply aren't there or aren't worth any money.

ThornDHL7 wrote:
3) It says Captain Veane interferes with any combat between the party and the crew, why doesn't he interfere with the Shira fight?

He doesn't overhear combat with Shira, perhaps because he's on a different part of the ship, or has a personal grudge against her and permits the fight to happen.

ThornDHL7 wrote:
4) The module details what's in Killik's footlocker, but mentions nothing of what's in the other crew's footlockers. What's in their footlockers?

Clothes and other mundane gear. His is the only one detailed because it's the only one that's trapped and contains more than just junk.

Silver Crusade

Mark Moreland wrote:
Said stuff

The prompt reply is why I love this company. You guys are very open and extremely approachable. My buddy thinks I have more than a serious admiration of James Jacobs already. At this rate he's going to think I have a man-crush on all of you. :P

Edit: Oh, and sorry about the lack of spoiler. I forgot that not only GMs may be perusing these topics.

The Exchange

I just played this module and I have to say that this was an extremely enjoyable and simultaneously extremely frustrating module for my group. The problem was one that has popped up a couple of other times, our expectations of what we "needed" to do were not correct.

Pseudo-spoilerish analogies to a popular TV show cleverly disguised below the

Spoiler:
I described this to someone as if we were all members of the team on "House." Foreman, Chase, Talb, and Masters (us) thought that after several dead ends we would eventually discover the root disease and then have a dramatic third commercial break followed by our crazy yet heroic tactics to defeat the disease. However we never did figure out what the cause was so we were spread out all over the hospital for hours, trying to figure out what the patient and family were lying about, rescreening samples, chasing our own tail, getting more and more frustrated until we finally broke the fourth wall and screamed "cut to commercial already!"

What we didn't realize was that this was one of those episodes where House walks in after the third commercial break, calls us idiots, and tells us what the disease was and we immediately start fighting it.

In other words, we spent so much time on the roleplaying we were extremely emotionally invested in finding an answer through investigation. Yes the GM could force our hand, but as long as we weren't running out of time and someone wanted to keep interviewing people, why should he?

The problem for players is that it can be extremely dissatisfying when the resolution doesn't come the way they think it "should."


I realise these posts are quite old, but for the benefit of future GMs, here are my responses.

0gre wrote:
I'm curious what people's play times have been like on this module. I played in it and GMed it and ran over significantly both times.

I'm notorious for going over time and I've run this twice. One was exactly on time and the second one finished an hour or so early. I hand waved the skill challenge at the end as I hate skill challenges and I didn't run the optional encounter. So I would argue this should finish on time for a GM that doesn't always go over like me even when including the skill challenge and optional encounter. Although I do go over time due to adding roleplaying, which this mod already has quite a bit of. So this could be why I find it possible to run on time with this where other GMs struggle.

Matthew Trent wrote:
I really don't know why people think that murder mysteries are fun. I've never had fun playing one. Though to be fair the DM was only okay.

I've had a great time with this both times I ran it and one of my players went on to GM it for another group and reported a similar experience with another player from THAT table going on to GM the game and borrowing heavily from his experience as a player when running the mod. So in short, I know of 4 times this mod has been run by 3 different GMs. Every game was a resounding success.

How it went the first time round:
When I ran it I had the PCs board at Absalom and spend the 50 days aboard the boat. I allowed them to do whatever they wanted in this period, although I didn't hand out the faction missions yet.

I stressed that they would be protecting the ship from attacks rather than protecting the ambassador from the crew. I also took the time to point out the ambassador had his own personal bodyguard. As such they took very few steps towards ensuring the safety of the ambassador.

They got their faction missions after 50 days and get a couple of days to try to carry them out. This distracted them from guarding the ambassador. Exactly as planned.

I also used this time to have the "courtesan" work on the elf bodyguard simply because he was attractive. After 53 days or so, he finally breaks down and has his way with her for a few nights. She wasn't the murderer, she just liked a challenge.

After the murder occurred and they were tasked with finding the murderer, they questioned the crew. They fulfilled their faction missions, couldn't work out who the murderer was so decided to pin it on the Cleric of Abadar.

They then defeat the First Mate when they get attacked. Afterwards they told me as the GM they would have looked the other way if the First Mate killed the Captain, but I explained the only way the First Mate got the half-elves help was by promising to help her kill the PC half-orc.

Second go round:
As before I had the PCs board at Absalom and spend the 50 days aboard the boat. I allowed them to do whatever they wanted in this period, although I didn't hand out the faction missions yet.

Alas this time I played up how dodgy and untrustworthy the crew was. I had 2 new players so I wanted the Pathfinder Society to come across as capable adventurers. I had them point out that the transportation was a terrible idea, but the ambassador had insisted.

This time the party went to great lengths to keep the ambassador alive. I was okay with that, because I was going to have the cook be the murderer. Alas they accidentally triggered the fight with the cook when in port. One of the PCs told the cook there was a 50k reward for turning over the ambassador and then used the cook's eagerness as evidence of his bad character. He was vigorously questioned (as one of the PCs was a sailor and so had impressed the captain with his behaviour) by the Captain who discovered the cook had been poisoning the crew. He was tossed overboard and the voyage was going to be delayed while a new cook was hired.

However one of the PCs stepped forward and offered to cook all the food. This was a disaster, as I was struggling to find a way to kill the ambassador. The cook PC had also diplomacised his way into sleeping in the ambassador's room.

I had to have the druid shape change and go through the window, but only after the battle had drawn the PC out of the bedroom chamber. The PCs had identified the need to keep watch over the porthole from above on the deck. But they then forgot to actually do it.

After the battle all of the PCs run downstairs into the hold with the wererat to complete their faction mission. A single half-orc rogue stayed near the body when the captain and first mate discuss what will happen. The Captain turns to the half-orc and says he'll get blamed for this and he'll be handed over unless he finds the real killer.

The half-orcs response is to kill the Captain (who had his weapon, but no armor). I had to grab stats on the fly (we were playing low so I used the high tier version of the First Mate). The First Mate simply watches in stunned silence as this happens. Afterwards the half-orc congratulates the First Mate on his promotion. The First Mate informs the half-orc that he can get some evidence that will appear quite convincing. He gets the actual murder weapon (which had yet to be destroyed because the PCs ran into the lower hold so quickly) and plants it on the Captain's body.

This time of running the mod, because we roleplayed the initial being told about the job, travelling through Absalom, journeying for 50 days before they get their faction mission. We probably ended up playing the actual adventure for an hour at best. The rest of the time was spent roleplaying stuff before the adventure is suppose to start.

P.S. Never say "you won't need the stats for this NPC" in an adventure. It guarantees the stats for that NPC will be needed ;)

I love the reaction from both groups of players was to say "eh, screw finding the real murderer, let's just pin it on someone else."

Dark Archive

If anyone here uses Hero Lab and plans on running this, I have all the Tier 1-2 NPC's entered and will gladly share to save people time. I will probably also do the Tier 4-5 this week because I'm obsessive like that.

You can email me at mpwinn@gmail.com, with the subject "Murder on the Throaty Mermaid NPC's"

On a side note: Worldworks games makes a papercraft ship, The Maiden, which is perfect for this scenario (though you have to use the bottom floor for both the bottom and mid-levels of the ship, so there's a little juggling)

Dark Archive

I ran this yesterday and...:

To say the least, I had to wing quite a bit of it. First, as soon as the PCs discovered they were to ensure Seph's safe arrival at the Mordant Spire, they wanted someone close to the door and someone on deck at all times, alongside some of the regular crew. I assumed the named crew were major players, but that other, minor members were required to run the ship (a good portion of my group is prior Navy ... try telling them there's only a handful of men on 3-deck sailing vessel and keep it believable). So, as soon as they heard the elves coming aboard, they sounded the alarm (show me a ship without a bell) and one of the PCs immediately moved to Seph's cabin (which, after 50 days aboard the ship, they'd know the location of).

As a side note: This adventure would have been stronger if it had set out from Riddleport and the PCs were just meeting the crew and Seph. Were it a ten day journey, there would be a logical reason to not have a better feel for the ship's layout and its crew. But after 50+ days? It doesn't follow.

I assumed the murder (Killick on my table) would take advantage of the situation and move to kill Seph anyone. The PC hid, the NPCs failed their perceptions, and the PC witnessed the captain and the first mate kill Seph. Of course, witnessing that, much of the questioning went right out the window, especially when the real captain showed up several rounds later (on deck) to see what the hell was going on!

Once the PCs compared notes, they knew immediately it was the first mate and an accomplice. They only had to investigate who the second man was. It took them longer than the time slot allotted to figure it out, and more than a few times they wanted to drag the first mate atop the deck and just toss him overboard. It was a fun adventure, but it definitely requires a firm grasp of the NPCs, plot, and a heavy dose of common sense.

I ran this with a mixed group of first level characters, two players who were very green. Only one person on the table was a 3.5/PF veteran. It took us roughly 5 1/2 hours to get through (with breaks for jokes, pizza, and the like).

All in all, I really liked this, but GMs definitely need to have a strong feel for a muder-mystery sandbox. Knowing a bit about basic naval positions (terms, ect) will definitely strengthen the believability of this scenario. (Especially if you've anyone familiar with it on your table). I'd also suggest modifying some of the clues with added descriptions, especially with players that start taking inventory about who wears and uses what sorts of items, their conditions, ect. Also, review the spell disguise self (which doesn't change audible components and offers a save when interacted with).

Because the PCs forced the final encounter with the first mate and his accomplice, I just skipped the final encounter, which at that point, seemed pointless (and didn't increase the plot in a tangible way).

All in all, this was a very fun adventure, even if it does require some additional patchwork to account for creative or attentive players...


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This module was very frustrating for me. As a player it became quite apparently that despite our choices, the module would end the exact same way. It makes for "watching" a module rather than playing it.

Liberty's Edge

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Can someone do something about the latest review by Roshan? It is in desperate need of spoiler tags.

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

Dragnmoon wrote:
Can someone do something about the latest review by Roshan? It is in desperate need of spoiler tags.

I've put the most egregious spoiler in the review behind a spoiler tag.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Getting ready to run this again this Wednesday. It will be my 3rd time running it. Stopped by here to refresh my memory on the "extra" details.

Sovereign Court

I ran this scenario just yesterday and myself and the party had a great time. It was our normal GM's last night in town before moving to Indiana for PhD Studies. Lots of roleplaying and character development available, which is what I like. The group however decided to go to the Captain's room to talk to Captain Veine alone, who then sent Azurrete out, so they never got to talk to her directly. Then, I hit them with Act III, and had her poke her head out on deck just before the final battle along with the other two real culprits to keep them guessing up to the last minute. My only gripe was that it turned into a one sided battle since I had 4 2nd-3rd level PC's against the 2nd level villains. If I could run it again, I'd have one of them take Azurrete or the Captain hostage to make things more challenging for a more than 1st Tier, but not up to 2nd Tier party.

I don't know if that's allowed, but that's what I'd do as a long time GM of other games, and only who only recently started running Pathfinder/D&D games.

Liberty's Edge

I ran this for the 3rd time yesterday

plot breakage:
It was the first time that the PCs insisted on staying next to the diplomats door instead of fighting the aquatic elves. As a fellow GM pointed out the PCs should be told that the captain is in command of the ship. I tried to have the captain order them into the fight against the aquatic elves they ignored him. So we took a time out after the fight to explain the plot.

The PCs were 1st and 2nd level so I didn't assume the killer had access to invisibility. The idea that the crew befriended them is a good way to handle the issue as well. I enjoy the module but GMs should expect that the party might take a turn and do something that the author doesn't explain how to handle. I'm running this again in a few weeks so I'll take the suggestion and have the crew befriend the PCs on the days before the attack by the elves.


This scenario got brought up during today’s GCP Ruins of Azlant episode. The guys seemed to have very fond memories. Looks like I’ve figured out what scenario I’m picking up to run during our first Pathfinder Brewery Game Day session.

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