Pathfinder Society Scenario #7–00: The Sky Key Solution (PFRPG) PDF

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 1-11.

At long last, the Pathfinder Society has reassembled the Numerian device known as the Sky Key. Initial tests suggest it is capable of projecting a location's past into the present, allowing Society agents to peruse books from destroyed libraries and speak with echoes of long-dead heroes. Now that it has perfected the Sky Key's controls, the Pathfinder Society is prepared to extract a slice of Absalom's history and bring it into the present; however, there's no telling what might be waiting inside—or who in the present might wish to wield the same power.

Written by Crystal Frasier.

Note: The Sky Key Solution is designed for play in the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild. It may be run anywhere by anyone, as long as there are 5 tables playing the scenario simultaneously and are in contact with each other. To inquire about access to this scenario, refer to the Organized Play Convention Support Policy.

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Cool Premise, But Flawed

3/5

NO SPOILERS

The Sky Key Solution is a multi-table that caps off Season Six ("The Year of the Sky Key"). I got to play it last year via play-by-post at one of the highest sub-tiers using my half-orc Paladin, Trokkus. Based on that experience and reading the scenario for this review, I think the *concept* behind the adventure was fantastic--but there are some major plot holes and essentially forgettable encounters that really bring it down. It does add a tremendous amount of historical setting lore to a rarely-seen race in the game and has some exciting scripted moments, but on the whole, it's more fun in theory than in practice.

SPOILERS!:

Much of PFS Season Six was devoted to assembling pieces of the Sky Key, a legendary dwarven artifact that turned out to have been salvaged from a crashed Dominion of the Black starship in Numeria. The Sky Key, if fed a tremendous amount of power, allows locations from the past to be temporarily brought to the present (contained in a sort of "time bubble"). Although nothing can be removed from the bubble, Pathfinders can enter and see historical events as they actually happened; and indeed, they can even interact with objects and speak with historical personages. The premise of The Sky Key Solution is that, after a few small experiments, the Society is ready for a major research endeavour: by having hundreds of wizards feed lightning into the Sky Key, the Age of Serpents will be brought into the present! (More specifically, a serpentfolk city called Sessegishoss that once stood on the Isle of Kortos) Each table at the special is a group of Pathfinders charged with entering the time bubble and discovering as much historical insight as they can before the wizards run out of magic and the time bubble collapses.

In terms of structure, this special is very similar to all other Paizo specials I've played. When tables are successful in encounters, they contribute to an event-wide total of "Victory Points" that unlock other encounters or parts of the scenario. Tables can use "aid tokens" sent to them by other tables, and all skill and save DCs are fixed by subtier. There's an event-wide narrator who provides the introduction, occasional transition speeches, and reads out the conclusion, while table GMs handle the rest. And last, despite making the accumulation of Victory Points seem really important, there aren't really any consequences even if every table was an utter failure--there's the same result story-wise and characters "trapped" in the time bubble just need to spend 4 PP to be freed.

This special is divided into four parts.

Part 1 ("Gathering Outside the Walls") has the PCs assembling in a muddy field outside Absalom called Bloodwatered Meadow, the site for the first large-scale test of the Sky Key. This part of the scenario is mostly exposition (delivered by Master of Scrolls Kreighton Shaine) about the mission, though PCs can make some Knowledge checks for additional information, buy supplies from vendors, or get some bonuses if they have relevant Season Six Chronicles. Unlike some other specials I've played, this one doesn't have any little tasks or skill challenges for tables to handle during the mustering process, which is a shame. The exposition is handled nicely and really sets the grand scale for the adventure to come.

Part 2 ("The Temple District of Sessegishoss") has each table venturing into the sprawling serpentfolk city from 10,000 years ago! The city has an interesting vertical structure, and PCs start at the bottom but can start moving up as additional options are unlocked. Whether intentional or not, the day that the PCs experience happens to be both a special serpentfolk festival ("Spent Coils") and the day of an Azlanti slave revolt. How this all plays out in practice is that each of the five districts of the city has both a combat encounter and a research encounter. In the Zoological Gardens, the PCs fight serpentfolk and dinosaurs and can decode symbols on plinths for (never-detailed) lore about serpentfolk society. In the Slave Pens, they can fight troglodytes and talk to a rebel leader. In the Temple Plaza, there are battles against guardian statues and research into festival preparations. In the Temple (of Ydersius, a dead serpentfolk god?), the PCs fight serpentfolk priests and more snakes, and can find hidden stone tablets of religious lore guarded by traps. And last, in the Ophidian Rectory, the PCs interrupt a plan to sacrifice a legendary Azlanti hero and general, Krahnaliara Lac Suhn and can interview him at length about Azlanti lore.

There's a lot here to unpack. Obviously, the details of each combat encounter varies by sub-tier. The problem from my perspective is that there's very little introduction to the combat scenes & opponents (PCs are essentially hurled into battle) and there's no interesting terrain or hazards for the combats, which makes them rather bland and forgettable. Although the scenario taken as a whole establishes a lot about serpentfolk history, the details of what the PCs uncover with their research checks are never provided, making a GM's task a lot harder to provide flavour to what's going on. But the biggest issue I had is the incomprehensibility of what's actually going on with this time bubble. PCs can do things like aid and speed up the rebellion, and save the life of that Azlanti general--so is this actually altering the past? Is it creating an alternative timeline? Is it all a "holodeck" exercise? We're not given any answers. The scenario treats it like helping the "good guys" (Azlanti) vs the "bad guys" (serpentfolk) is really important, but it would almost seem to make a lot more sense if all the Pathfinders went in with illusory disguise magic or something to just observe and report instead of getting actively involved. This isn't just an abstract armchair nit-pick either, as it really affected what (to me) the stakes were for my PC's decisions while playing. Time-travel is always a really tricky concept because it creates paradox-headaches, so if it's going to be integrated into a game, it needs to be handled really intelligently--and that's just not done here.

Part 3 ("The Sky Comes Crashing Down") probably over-eggs the pudding. If time-travelling serpentfolk from 10,000 years ago wasn't enough drama to deal with, the Pathfinder Society has failed to notice a massive external threat. The Harbingers of Fate--a secret society dedicated to proving Aroden's prophecy to generate his return--has learned of the Sky Key experiment and decided to hijack it for their own purposes. When the Harbingers take control of the Sky Key, something goes wrong (or right?) and hurls the Pathfinders and the Harbingers into a different point in time: right before the legendary starstone is about to crash into Golarion and launch the Age of Darkness!

The goal in this part is for the Pathfinders to hurriedly explore the Azlanti city of Lacshuhnolio (named after the general from Part 2), find the Harbinger "anchors" who maintain the new time bubble, and either kill them or coax them into surrendering. It's a pretty cool (cinematic) premise in the sense that the Pathfinders have to solve the problem quickly or face an impending worldwide apocalypse (my Oracle of Groetus would have loved it!). Again though, in practice, the scenario doesn't live up to the premise. There's very little flavour provided for this ancient Azlanti city or its people, and the poor table GM won't be able to fill in any gaps as they have an enormous workload (keeping track now of "Anchor", "Discovery", and "Vault" points as well as running a copy of Kreighton Shaine to aid the PCs).

The combats here can be a bit of kooky-fun, as the time disruption has brought primordial oozes and cavemen from the past and undead (bearing uncanny resemblance to the PCs!) from the future. (The flip-mat chosen for these fights, Village Square, is super-mundane for an ancient Azlanti city.) Each of the Harbinger anchors is given a surprising amount of background, but if (as is likely the case) things boil down to a fight, they'll be outnumbered 5 or 6 to 1 and easily dispatched. Mid-tier and higher level groups can then take the fight to the Harbinger leader herself, Lady Arodeth--statted up as a magus. I do like how the scenario presents combat and diplomatic alternatives for dealing with her.

The Conclusion records that after dealing with the Harbingers, the Sky Key is lost but the Pathfinders are returned to their normal time.

Overall, I don't want to be too hard on The Sky Key Solution. It's certainly an epic task to generate encounters for so many subtiers, a plot that seems suitably epic for a yearly special, and a ways to make it feel like the tables are cooperating in a joint effort. And in addition, by doing it play-by-post, I missed out on that buzz of energy and excitement that comes from playing it in-person with dozens of others. Still, the scenario needed to spice up the meat of the gameplay (the battles) and better explain the core question about how the time-travel elements worked. As a capstone to Season Six and a source of lore on both the serpentfolk and the Harbingers, the scenario succeeds. Otherwise--not so much.


5/5


Too ambitious, too much, but still fun.

3/5

A year was spend gathering Sky Key Components and now was the time to put them to good use. Like three others below (Quentin, Damanta and Ascalaphus) I got ready to give it my best during a 7-hour-timeslot. Originally I planned to play this with my alchemist, who gathered two or three pieces, but due to circumstances and opportunities I ended up using a specific boon to "Kobold or go home". Imagine my surprise as we got to free humans from the reptilian overlords in the first half of the special.

Now due to the whole Kobold situation, I wasn't even the only one at the table, the first part of the special was a blast. We were the true descendants of dragons and our unique alignment added a lot of flavor to the mix. It also allowed our party to pursue some more intimidating approaches at times, which actually worked in our favor. The two of us had an average intimidate of 28, while the rest of our tier 3-4 group had an average diplomacy of 30 with everyone assisting. We made a mess of things, but it worked and it was hilarious. I can't thank my GM enough for letting us be silly like that.

The second part was a bit different and more of a sandbox. It allows for creativity and is put well together. However, since it's a special, it's in my honest opinion a huge mistake. Specials are not known for being able to be creative as there are huge time-constraints. Even though we had a 7 hour slot, there was just not enough time. We like to actually talk to NPC's instead of rolling dice and moving on instantly.

The idea is nice, but the special suffers from the typical special flaws. It's too ambitious and tries to do too many things in too little time. I could tell by the amount of paperwork and time GMs needed to find the right page that is was even more complex on their side. I had the feeling that it simply too much for them to handle, even though they had prepared well. Mind you, they all still did a great job, but I could sense the frustration.

In the end the story was nice, but would have been better had it been two separate specials. The combats were a bit easy as well and not challenging. While that is a nice change of pace compared to some other specials, this was just underwhelming. The fact that every party-member could contribute with literally every skill is a major improvement though. Everyone was useful the entire time and I also applaud the fact that there were more solutions for certain problems. The fact that you don't necessarily have to fight in order to be successful is something I appreciate seeing in a special. If you were to combine this with certain mechanics of Legacy of the Stonelords and you have a recipe for a five-star special in the future. For now, this one only gets three.


Entertaining, but should have been much more

3/5

After spending a year gathering Sky Key components, this should be the big payoff. We're turning it on and bringing a slice of the past into our grasp. There's so much riding on this. Does it deliver? I'm not really sure.

First, let's talk about the choice of "slices". I kinda dig them; the first one is a bit of a rematch of Stonelords exploration, which was great. Although I think fewer players will have their imagination fired by Serpentfolk than dwarves did (we have Moria to thank for that), they make for a fresh breath of enemies we haven't faced a lot. What could have been improved is the research agenda; I think a "shopping list" of things we want to investigate would have made this more of an exploration bit and less of a "kill them and then notice their pottery" bit.

The Inevitable Surprise Twist was IMO well chosen, does a nice job of putting on the pressure. It ties in to Golarion lore, although you may have to be a bit of a lorehound as a player to know that. Which means for a lot of people it'll fall a bit flat and these'll just be random enemies.

I didn't like the execution of the second part quite so much. The justification for the sandboxy start of it was a bit too much "I don't know any actual science but this sounds like believable technobabble to me" blah blah. We got to interact with and try to persuade a lot of caricaturesque NPCs to cooperate. This is where the time pressure starts to kick in; OOC you know you can't really afford the time to RP this out, but it doesn't make any sense for your party not to (LG, LG, LG, NG, CG, with average diplomacy score >= 15).

At the final fight we got a choice: face the waves or face the boss. We concluded that tactically, facing the waves made more sense, especially given that many tables had gone for the boss. But who really wants to play second fiddle? I remember facing the waves at lowest tier during Siege of the Diamond City and being bored out of my skull; don't want that again. The "steps of the throne room" fight in Stonelords was a much more elegant way of doing that, it gave the impression of everyone being in it together, while still having a nice way to separate enemies by tier.

---

Let's evaluate the combats. Mostly, they were fine. Many of them were a bit easy, with enemies that had trouble hitting so-so AC (24 on 10-11 tier). Choice of enemies was varied while keeping to a theme, which is good. Enemies had some tricks up their sleeves which was also good. On the whole we didn't really need to pull out all the stops; a bit more intensity would've been fine by me.

The big problem was time. We got cut off in the middle of the big fight of part one because we got yanked into part two. It made sense story-wise, but it's a real turn-off. I much prefer the "finish this encounter faster" approach over "the encounter just ends inconclusively as you proceed to a new act". And in part two we almost ran out of time in the final fight as well. Now the time pressure mechanics made perfect sense in the context of the scenario, but we were all exasperated at how little time was budgetted compared to the number of encounters.

I really felt that we were doing ourselves a disservice by actually talking to NPCs instead of just rolling skills and moving on as fast as possible. Because the time pressure was so intense.

Our GM was fairly well-prepared, but also had to spend quite some time paging back and forth. Statblocks spread acrosss multiple pages for all the things you need in a single encounter, complex tracking mechanisms. This could have been ameliorated with layout that focuses on practicality for the GM, rather than aesthetics or minimizing page count.

I think it would save a lot of time if encounters were concentrated in 2-page spreads, where you have all the statblocks needed to run an encounter on a tier, on two pages facing each other. That saves you time looking in appendices, paging back and forth because some statblock is re-used from earlier in the same scenario and so forth.


Tries to do too much.

3/5

(I GMed this at tier 3-4.)

This is a very busy special. GMs have to track a lot of things, and have to track three different point systems at one point. That's quite a handful when you're also on the clock to finish on time and there's so much to do in this scenario. Special writers the last few years seem to think that more equals better, but I think there's simply too much to do in this scenario. Legacy of the Stonelords is my go-to example where complexity met with simplicity perfectly, as well as story and challenge. That special had (to me, where I GMed the 1-2 table) a clean and simple story, and each area operated mostly under the same rules. The GM understood those rules and could focus on running the encounters. This scenario however, changes the rules between parts, and sometimes even during a part, and vital information (such as how many successes are needed to progress) is hidden away in regular text. There's one instance where it is clear and bolded out, but there are also many more instances where it isn't.

Storywise, I love the concept, but it too feels cluttered. There's two parts to this, and each part could've been its own special, but now it tries for a weird reveal halfway through that creates a whiplash for the players just as they're starting to get a grasp on things. I love Crystal Frasier's work as she's clearly very imaginative, but her work clearly shows some problems, which is a shame.

On the combat side of things, it's fine. There are no real standouts like in Siege of Serpents (which had an amazing diversity of creatures), but combats felt sort of dull to me. Maybe it's the tier I was GMing in, maybe it's the fact that I had a well-rounded table of 6, but my players didn't feel challenged that much, except for one or two encounters, and those weren't even major encounters. The enemies' damage output wasn't really threatening enough, and most of their to-hit was only so-so, comparable to first-level PCs, except for those one or two threatening encounters, which hit like a truck. Overall though, fights mostly consisted of small groups (2-3 enemies) of enemies with between 10 and 30 HP (or one big one with double that), which all fell within two rounds without much effort, or one round with some effort, which made combats more like a hassle than an actual challenge. Players just stomped over them due to sheer numbers and action economy, rather than through power or tactical play.
This might've been just my tier, but I feel that combats could've been improved somewhat. I think slapping the Advanced template on most of the creatures would've been a decent challenge, instead of a speed bump.

There's a big time limit on this adventure, and there's no way people can do and explore at their own pace. Locations also feel pretty bare-bones as a result, as my players kept wanting to explore further, but there wasn't any more to find or do. I would've preferred some more detail here.

There's a weird sandboxy bit in the middle that could've been handled more elegantly, I feel. Maybe it's just me, as I don't handle free-form too well, but when I explained how it's now a mad scramble to wherever you want to go, they just asked me where they should go, instead of seizing the initiative themselves. Maybe it's just my players, maybe it's just me, but after pushing my players so hard all this time, getting free rein put them in shock. In general though, I feel like the social encounters could've been handled better. I must admit I'm not the greatest in social roleplay, but these encounters felt a little too open-ended, with not much for me to go on. I wouldn't call it hand-holding, but I would've liked some more guidance in this respect.

Perhaps my biggest gripe is how the scenario encourages GMs not to run the final (and coolest) encounter for low-level tables, and instead just fight waves of regular enemies, like Legacy of the Stonelords. Unlike Legacy, though, you don't miss out on plot if you decide to stay behind, which is a shame. My players were torn between fighting more waves that weren't really challenging for them, or start an encounter they've been warned about is much more challenging than they've fought so far.

But, there's also a good part, not just an angry rant: I like how skill checks were incorporated into the scenario, rather than it being a stomp-fest. No matter what you specialised in, if you had some skill points to spare (sorry, Paladins, Clerics, Fighters, and Warpriests), you could've contributed in some way to this adventure. They really rewarded skill monkeys and specialists alike, although I felt like the skill DCs were maybe a bit too easy, as most of them could've been made by taking 10 (I didn't tell them that, though, I let them roll), so at one point those challenges felt trivial as well.

I also like the tie-ins to last season. While not everyone is an equally active player, I like how having played some key scenarios made you get an advantage during this special, which made it feel more awesome that you contributed.

In the end, I like this special for its ambitiousness, but I think it overreached somewhat. In this case, less is definitely more. There's a word and page count you have to work with, but I would've preferred less subgames/subsystems and more attention to a few encounters, rather than lots of mediocre encounters.


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Announced!

Shadow Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Put it in the Dark Archive and RUN!

Sovereign Court

So is this also a multi-table?


Matt Savage - Texas wrote:
So is this also a multi-table?

Yes. They are putting out 2 multi-table events for this year. One debuts at PaizoCon and one at GenCon (with the PaizoCon one being rerun at there). Both scenarios are levels 1-11.

Shadow Lodge

Yay for more multi-table events! :)

Lantern Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4

Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. That is a terrible idea. There's going to be Aboleth everywhere. D:

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16

I am very excited for this one! Can someone confirm for me that this will debut at this year's GenCon and then will be played at NEXT year's PaizoCon? I'm going to PaizoCon THIS year (in May).


Hello Aroden? Yes I'll hold but that may not be the best... Dammit.

Dark Archive

Man, this sounds so cool. I wish I could make it to one of the Cons that had the tables to run this!

Grand Lodge

I just downloaded this and noted a couple of odd things.

Is is just me, but the Sign in and Chronicle sheets for this are for #7-02 Six Seconds to Midnight.

Also the map on page 9 seems to be missing.

Is there an update due on these?


If its a PDF, then why is it "unavailable"? Especially since it is so new and the next 3 are available.


Serpentfolk rampage in the past ... interesting.


Ran this as GM at Gencon 2015. There were issues with the first pdf I got for it. No map for the Serpentfolk city, no page references for enemies, a few typos and the Sign in and Chronicle sheets were for #7-02, Six Seconds to Midnight. I have a feeling this was a "rush in production" issue. The download for it was fixed by the weekend before Gencon (and all issues mentioned above fixed)...

Overall, a really fun game to run, and it seemed like the people at my table enjoyed playing it. The history of the "Ages" involved are fleshed out just enough. There are plenty of options here, for a hack and slash party or a diplomacy-based party. Especially a diplomacy based party, truth be told.

Only real problem I can find with multi-table games like this is the issue of pacing, which I imagine differ from table to table, and GM to GM. If the temple interior is open, bypass the plaza entirely, or you might not have enough time to enjoy the possibilities with an ancient hero. This is a timed game, so certain role-playing luxuries (scenery chewing) must be foregone.

If the vault opens in the final chapter, forget the rest of the anchors and get right to Arodeth.

Overall, great game, and lot of potential for future games like it involving the Sky Key's chronal powers. I enjoyed it even more than Siege of Serpents.


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

I'm trying to understand the numbering scheme of these special scenarios, but I'm confused. #5-99 was listed as "kicking off season 6", and it seems #6-99 does the same for season 7. while #6-00 looks more like it belong to season 5, and #7-00 to season 6 ("sky key"). Am I the only one who can't make sense of that? what gives?

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Lane Williams wrote:
Ran this as GM at Gencon 2015. There were issues with the first pdf I got for it. No map for the Serpentfolk city, no page references for enemies, a few typos and the Sign in and Chronicle sheets were for #7-02, Six Seconds to Midnight. I have a feeling this was a "rush in production" issue. The download for it was fixed by the weekend before Gencon (and all issues mentioned above fixed)...

You should've got a message when you originally got 7-00 in your downloads that the version you were getting was specifically not a cleaned up version because Paizo wanted us to have the scenario early so we could better prepare it for GenCon. It wasn't supposed to be perfect. This was intentional.

@GamesManipulator: The multi-table specials from the past year are only available to conventions. Once one year has passed, they will become available for purchase and there will be a new special that is con-exclusive.

Grand Lodge

Zaister wrote:
I'm trying to understand the numbering scheme of these special scenarios, but I'm confused. #5-99 was listed as "kicking off season 6", and it seems #6-99 does the same for season 7. while #6-00 looks more like it belong to season 5, and #7-00 to season 6 ("sky key"). Am I the only one who can't make sense of that? what gives?

Sort of the same question, does this follow the events of Siege of Serpents, or happen before?

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

7-00 happens about a week or so after 6-99. 6-99 starts up a storyline for season 7, whereas 7-00 closes out a storyline for season 6 (while perhaps opening up a new one for season 7? we don't know yet)

Shadow Lodge

6-99 is True Dragons. I think you're meaning 6-97

Scarab Sages

Can anyone with Paizo comment on when this scenario will be available for purchase?

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