Pathfinder Society Quest: Phantom Phenomena (PFRPG) PDF

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A series of six Quests designed for 1st-level characters.

Bizarre phenomena have tormented the people of southeastern Ustalav for decades, and these events become stronger and more dangerous every year. Hoping to uncover the origins of these flashes of red lightning and spectral hauntings, Dr. Quolorum from the Sincomakti School of Sciences has set out with a team of able-bodied assistants. Can the PCs help the professor unlock the secret that dwells above Lantern Lake?

Phantom Phenomena includes six, 1-hour adventures that take the PCs to a superstitious village, a lightning-scarred woodland, an ancient Kellid monolith, a haunted manor, an occult university, and finally into the storm-choked mountains. Experience the adventures in any order to create a unique story.

These Quests are designed for play in Pathfinder Society Organized Play, but can easily be adapted for use with any world.

Written by Brian Duckwitz, Cole Kronewitter, and Nicholas Milasich.

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***½( ) (based on 6 ratings)

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A Chance for Something Different

*****

NO SPOILERS

hantom Phenomena is a series of six one-hour Pathfinder Society Quests. If you're not familiar with the "Quests" concept in this context, essentially each Quest contains one role-playing encounter and one combat encounter. The six are linked together by a shared story-arc, but (except for the last one) can be played in any order and for credit individually. The Quests in Phantom Phenomena are themed around investigation of psychic and occult phenomena, and thus are perfect for players interested in the Occult Adventures classes like the Spiritualist, Medium, Psychic, etc. I ran this for a group of experienced Pathfinder players using pre-gens, and we found it *very* easy in terms of combat encounters. Still, it has some really nice flavour that sets it apart from standard sword-and-sorcery adventures, and I'd recommend it for players and GMs looking for someone a little more original and off-beat.

SPOILERS

The premise of Phantom Phenomena is that a university professor in Ustalav named Dr. Quolorum is investigating a series of strange (one might say "phantom") phenomena centred around the village of Dunhob and the estate of a missing (and presumed deceaded) noblewoman who had an interest in the occult named Lady Illirigarde. Instead of being members of the Pathfinder Society like normal, the PCs are actually paranormal investigators/graduate students of Dr. Quolorum. Via a series of letters, Dr. Quolorum sends the PCs off to investigate the causes of the strange apparitions and, perhaps, lay them to rest.

Quest # 1, "Harrow", sends the PCs to Dunhob to investigate a supposedly-haunted tavern. At the beginning, in a fun scene, the PCs are pelted by horseshoes by angry villagers who think they bring with them evil spirits! It's a good way to show the "rustic superstitious villagers" element of Ustalav, and reveals whether the PCs can be trusted to role-play or are going to try to murder everything in sight. Once they make it inside the tavern, the PCs encounter a mysterious robed figure who offers them a harrow reading. Harrow cards are Golarion's equivalent of tarot cards, and if you manage to snag a deck to use during the game, your players will be impressed. After the reading, the PCs are attacked by several floating skulls called "Beheaded" and "Flaming Beheaded." Afterwards, the PCs can recover the harrow deck which is still infused with psychic power (it belonged to Lady Illirigarde, and was left behind when she had to flee a reading in the tavern that went wrong). I think one of the challenges of this Quest series is that it's hard for the PCs to learn the backstory behind each one if they don't have one of the classes with particular abilities to interact with spirits or spiritual auras.

Quest # 2, "Lightning," starts with the PCs meeting Dr. Quolorum in person atop a remote hilltop in the Hungry Mountains. He's assembled the group to help him investigate strange red lightning strikes that are linked to paranormal phenomena. Once the lightning strikes, the PCs rush to the site of the crater only to restrained by a "Writhing Branches" haunt that was surprisingly effective against the group (they didn't have much in the way of positive energy or fire attacks, the only things that could harm the group). Around the crater itself, a pool of ectoplasm takes the shape of humanoid creatures and attacks; their touch has the ability to convey brief flashes of what's actually behind all of the phenomena: a pulsing fungal creature brooding somewhere in a dark mountain cave. After the ectoplasmic creatures are dispatched, Dr. Quolorum is able to obtain a sample of the ectoplasm.

Quest # 3, "Manor", has the PCs investigate Illirigarde Manor in search of psychically-sensitive "etheric compasses" that Lady Illirigarde was said to be developing before her mysterious disappearance. I should note that the flip-mat for this one, Pathfinder Lodge, is out-of-print but worth purchasing on the secondary market because it would be quite time consuming to draw out (even though only a few rooms are actually used). In investigating the manor, the PCs encounter a couple of haunts that convey what happened long ago: Lady Illirigarde was successful in developing the etheric compasses, only to be murdered by a homunculus she had created for the experiments. PCs have to destroy the homunculus (nice drawing!) and a few mites in order to clear the house of its evil. In doing so, they'll have a chance to communicate with the spirit of Lady Illirigarde before it departs, and she asks them to track down the true cause of the phenomena that has plagued the region.

Quest # 4, "Monolith", involves the PCs exploring an ancient Kellid monolith and the tunnels underneath. They discover that the tunnels lead to a well that was once covered by a heavy iron lid that has been recently pushed aside. At the bottom of the well are dozens of sleeping morlocks! I liked this encounter, as morlocks will periodically emerge from the well until the PCs manage to replace the lid and seal it with a protective ward (which involves some ability/skill challenges as well as player ingenuity). Encounters that mix combat with other urgent things the PCs have to accomplish at the same time create a good sense of drama and make otherwise forgettable battles into something more memorable.

Quest # 5, "University", has the PCs sent to fetch an experimental herbicide from Dr. Quolorum's office at the Sincomakti School of Sciences. As an academic, I'm a sucker for stories involving universities. Inside Quolorum's office, the PCs have to deal with a reverse gravity trap only to discover that the herbicide is missing. A magical book imprinted with the psychic essences of three past occult researchers can reveal what happened (someone entered the office, took the herbicide, and triggered the trap before escaping)--this bit can be a little silly if not handled carefully by the GM because there are multiple personalities imprinted in the book that try to talk over one another. Afterwards, the PCs can track the thief to the university's gardens, where they learn that the groundskeeper (and his assistant) have fallen under the sway of something called Mindslaver Mold! This was another solid encounter, as the PCs have to figure out how to defeat the mold without killing the innocent person it's taken possession of.

Quest # 6, "Epicenter", starts with the PCs escorting Dr. Quolorum up a dangerous mountain trail in the hopes of finally discovering the cause of the phenomena that has plagued the Hungry Mountains region. Hallucinations (at GM discretion) provide an opportunity to make the PCs a bit paranoid, and there's a good challenge involving the need to cross a chasm while an illusory effect plays havoc with the PCs' senses. Inside a cave, the PCs discover the source of the manifestations: a "cerebric fungus", an alien entity capable of broadcasting its nonsensical thoughts. The terrain makes good use of the fungus' ability to use its tentacles to move people around, as it might drop them off a ledge. Once the cerebric fungus is destroyed, the psychic episodes cease and life returns to normal--except for the PCs, who are offered membership in the Pathfinder Society!

Phantom Phenomena is definitely one of those scenarios that rewards GMs who are able to set a certain tone (in this case, spooky mystery). The more atmospheric the surroundings, the better the investigation and encounters will come off. I also wouldn't recommend running all six Quests in a single session, but breaking them up over a couple of sessions if possible to avoid player-fatigue (if you have the luxury.) The combat encounters are pretty easy, and are better suited to new players who pick less melee-oriented classes (one of my players ran the Iconic Bloodrager and decimated everything with ease). The major NPC in the series, Dr. Quolorum, was a fun character that I wish would reappear again--though oddly, we don't get a picture of him which is unusual given his importance in the adventure. Anyway, all in all, I really enjoyed running Phantom Phenomena and the different vibe it lent to Pathfinder.


Underused and Under Appreciated

*****

Phantom is a horror scenario with a mix of investigation, combat, puzzles, and a little roleplay.

Phantom is a really great introduction to Pathfinder. I used it with my 7-year-old daughter and her friends to introduce them to RPGs. They watch Scooby Doo and Ghostbusters, so they were OK with the themes in the scenario.

It had a great horror vibe that could be expanded upon, and I did!

I also loved the quest format for my kids, because we started with only 1 hour at a time. I think it also suites teaching beginners the game at conventions, since people can just jump in and out.

There are a lot of good things about Phantom, but there are several problems as well. I didn’t like that you had to play all 6 quests to get the same rewards as playing a regular scenario. Each quest can easily take an hour. I’ve finished some regular scenarios in 1.5 hours, why would a quest take 6 hours for the same reward? In the future they should consider giving a full XP and gold rewards with only 3-4 quests accomplished.

While I thought the scenario was very strong, it has the following problems which lead to it not being used. I believe these faults are now fixed in scenarios like House of Harmonious Wisdom:
1) To legally play it, it says you need to play pregens. This is bad idea, any 1st level character should be able to play it.
2) It takes 6 hours to fully complete. The target time should have been 4 hours or less, like other scenarios.
3) If you spend 4 hours, you do not get the rewards you’d get from playing a non-quest scenario.
4) Two encounters can TPK the party, which is an extremely bad experience for a demo.

Spoiler:

For example, instead of a spider swarm (that can’t be hurt by weapons) a rat swarm should have been used. The dominate at University should have been more limited, also most GMs don’t know it’s a full round action to cast (so it's likely not going to work because concentration will be broken), and don’t know the details of the spell (as seen in other reviews).

5) I did not like the Harrow Deck and did not use it after the 2nd quest. Waste of time.
6) While handouts are normally good, the encounters shouldn’t have been done in any order. It should always start with Harrow, then you discover through roleplaying either Lightning or Mansion, get defensive help by investigating Monolith on the way back to University, and then finish with Epicenter. That's a good story. Otherwise if you start with Epicenter, the rest makes no sense at all.

All of the quests are good, but Mansion is the best.

What a shame. If you do find yourself starting a new character, consider playing this scenario.

”Detailed Rating”:

Length: Extremely long (6 hours). The children were new to the game but did not take longer than new adults to the game. If it runs shorter, you’re not really doing this scenario justice.
Experience: GM at subtier 1 with 4 pregens.
Entertainment: Great horror theme, especially in Harrow and Mansion which I expanded on. (9/10)
Story: Good story as long as you don’t do the quests randomly. (9/10)
Roleplay: There were decent roleplay encounters in every quest. There were some unique and fun NPCs. (8/10)
Combat/Challenges: All encounters were interesting and thematic except for the TPK encounters mentioned. (8/10)
Maps: Good use of flip maps. (7/10)
Boons: Four quests should be enough for full XP and gold rewards. Impressive Find was nice and saves this from being a 1. (3/10)
Uniqueness: Loved the horror theme in this format. (9/10)
GM Preparation: It’s a 6 hour scenario, so longer than normal.

Overall: This has been, by far, the best way for me to demo Pathfinder.


Lack of Tactic Details

*( )( )( )( )

There is a lack tactic detail, which for one boss fight resulted in a TPK. For a first level quest, this leaves a bad feeling for the entire table. Especially when it was the first quest done within 30 min at the table.

Spoiler:
University: Greenhouse, MindSlaver Mold does have that if it hears the PC it will prepare with a seed pod attack. Our GM chose to have it use Dominate as the first attack, it had initiative and hit my PC( second in Initiative)with the orders to kill the entire party. Result was a TPK with the exception of one PC that was ruled to be far enough out of range and out of sight they could run away, My PC was then ordered to kill it self. Both of these I would say are self destructive acts which in Dominate Person says would not be followed. In a first level encounter such a powerful and controversial spell effect is not well suited without full detail of when or if it is to be used or setting limits as to what it would desire in a dominating command if used.

If this had been a high tier scenario (closer in level to where a PC could have Dominate) then no hand cuffing of the Dominate power would be needed in the tactic.

(I would highly URGE PFS to add a GM 301 and explain balancing combat tactics with level of Scenario and how desperate (injured)a NPC is before they hit with the largest gun in their bag instead of a opening salvo. Further take on the Dominate Command issue and educate GM's as to what is meant by, Obviously a self destructive command will not be followed)


***( )( )

Review from a player perspective.
Not a bad little scenario. We managed to do everything within our four hour time limit.

There are role play opportunities but mostly it is some investigation and then combat. A little more Ustalev horror vibe would have made it better. I had high hopes in that regard and they didn't manifest.

We had some issues because of a lack of knowledge skills among the characters but although handy didn't spoil the enjoyment.


A creepy introduction to Pathfinder

****( )

Just like the Silverhex Chronicles, I ended up doing the entirety of the Phantom Phenomena in one sit. Every player was allowed to change characters between quests, and so we saw the majority of the occult classes make an appearance. Especially the Spiritualist and the Kineticist were popular.

Harrow was the first one we visited. The group entered the village and one of them even got hit by a horseshoe. It wasn't the start we imagined, but it was fun regardless. What this quest does well, is create a spooky atmosphere. It really sets the tone for the entire series in a dramatic fashion.

Lightning was next and I'm a bit on the fence about it. The idea of exploring red lightning and gathering ectoplasm is nice and throwing in a haunt as well as a silly gnome is a nice change of pace, but if you have a certain pregen with you in the party – Hello Kyra! – it's basically a walk in the park. Without her, I can imagine it being a rather more difficult quest though.

Third up was Manor. Again immersion and atmosphere dominate this quest. I'm tempted to say it's tied with University for best quest in the series. It's creepy, spooky and the combat is fairly eventful. I quite like it.

I can not really say the same about Monolith. The description of the place is nice, but then instead of doing something with the monolith itself, you enter a creepy cave. The misleading title just annoys me and when the first encounter isn't scary at all, it doesn't really attribute to the overall immersion. The last encounter is more challenging, but I can't honestly say it fits the theme of the Phantom Phenomena overall. It felt out of place.

Following that, we played University. I loved this part. From the floating room with the entertaining NPC to the encounter at the end, it is simply a lot of fun. The encounter at the end actually was the most difficult in the entire series. It just went on and on due to some poor rolls on the PC's side, but it didn't really feel boring either.

Epicenter was the grand finale, or at least it's supposed to be on paper. Thematically it is great. Again the creepy atmosphere oozes through to the players, but that final fight was anticlimactic. The four-player adjustment really lowers the scariness by a lot and if you face casters or anything that just targets touch, it's just going to make the GM cry. I myself faced a spiritualist, kineticist, gunslinger and occultist. It hardly felt challenging for the players at all and I was honestly a bit disappointed I couldn't make it feel like an actual tough ending.

Overall the Phantom Phenomena are nice short adventures which all provide a different experience. There's role-play, puzzle-solving, investigation and combat. However players will miss out on a lot of the background and the bits that are available require a vast diversity of knowledge checks. If your party lacks those skills, it's rather difficult to get the overarching plot.

To summarise: it has a better plot than the Silverhex Chronicles, but it's a probably too hard to find out about. That said, it's thematically better as there's more of an emphasis on the atmosphere throughout the quests. I do however feel as if there's slightly less room for creativity than is the case in the Silverhex Chronicles. I'd say they're equally good so I'll just echo what I wrote for the Silverhex Chronicles: for a free product it's rather good and serves as a good introduction to Pathfinder. Based on that I give it four stars.


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Sczarni

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

When can I start GMing this for PFS?

Paizo Employee Developer

Immediately! Go wild!

Sczarni

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Will do =)


Looks like fun.....


Tons of fun, and when played with the new occult classes, perhaps even better.

Grand Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Huh, no description whatsoever of Dr. Quolorum.
What is he and what does he look like?


Pouncin' on that free stuff. :)


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Glancing through this I'm really enjoying reading through the adventure and I look forward to running it. I do however have one point of contention. While I really like the idea of handing players the first five handouts and letting them decide which order to play them, the increasingly respectful tone of the letters does imply a growing relationship with Dr. Quolorum and it seems most immersive to hand out the letters one at a time and run quests in order.

Paizo Employee Developer

p-sto wrote:
Glancing through this I'm really enjoying reading through the adventure and I look forward to running it. I do however have one point of contention. While I really like the idea of handing players the first five handouts and letting them decide which order to play them, the increasingly respectful tone of the letters does imply a growing relationship with Dr. Quolorum and it seems most immersive to hand out the letters one at a time and run quests in order.

I do agree that running the adventures from beginning to end can create one of the best experiences for your players. However, in the interest of making this easier to play out of order and facilitate any number of busy schedules, the quests are playable in any order.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

That's perfectly reasonable, John, but I feel that's more of an out of character conversation to have with the players before starting than something I would want decided in character. That and while with Silverhex doing the last entry mid way through play seems viable I can't see doing the last chapter of Phantom Phenomena anything but last.

Sczarni

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Really enjoyed reading through these. Great job! This rates "very high" on my creepy presentation scale. I'm running these once this afternoon for Regular play and once tomorrow night for Core. I'll report back with my experiences.

These'll be perfect for Halloween, too.

Sczarni

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Just finished running today's session. Had 6 players originally signed up on Warhorn but only 3 showed. Played through Lightning and caught the attention of two passers by. They sat down through Harrow and Manor before they had to take off. Finished Monolith, University and Epicenter with the original three. Everyone survived, had a couple challenges (including an extra BBEG in Monolith) and everyone enjoyed themselves.

Working as intended =)


I'm not quite understanding how the GM credit is applied for this scenario. Does it have to be applied to first level characters like the players? And how does earning work for multiple sessions?

Thanks,
allison

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber; Pathfinder Legends Subscriber

I have a question about applying credit for this quest.

The section at the beginning of the document says

At any time, he can apply the Chronicle sheet to a 1st-level Pathfinder Society character, but if that character gains XP from another Chronicle sheet, he can no longer earn additional rewards for that character for playing the other Phantom Phenomena quests.

Does this mean I cannot apply the chronicle at all to any character but a brand new first level character with 0 experience? Or does it just mean I can't, for example, complete 3 parts of Phantom Phenomena, play a separate scenario, and then come back and finish Phenomena?

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber
Andrew L Klein wrote:
complete 3 parts of Phantom Phenomena, play a separate scenario, and then come back and finish Phenomena?

This is correct. You can apply it to any 1st level.

Silver Crusade

The chronicle sheet has two lists of reduced prices for the items mention for the boon at the bottom which do you use?

Grand Lodge

Just did the download - looks interesting. So this is designed to take characters from level 1 to level 3?

Liberty's Edge

Do you HAVE to use pregens with this? Thanks!!

Grand Lodge

Hi - Can I use a level 2 to play this or is it a must play as level 1?

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

Helaman wrote:
Hi - Can I use a level 2 to play this or is it a must play as level 1?

These are designed for level 1 characters only.


I am GMing it. Can I apply the GM credit to a character level 1 with 2 XP?

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

gfvelastegui wrote:
I am GMing it. Can I apply the GM credit to a character level 1 with 2 XP?

Yes you can, so long as the character is 1st-level when you apply the Chronicle sheet. You could, in fact, play all of The Silverhex Chronicles, receive credit for Phantom Phenomena, and then play Honor's Echo (the upcoming quest series) and apply the credit to the same character. After that, though, you'd have 3 XP and be 2nd level.

The Exchange

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I noticed you listed Silver Hex first in your list, is Silver Hes still listed as needing to be the first chronical on a new player, or is this the new standard for quests; that the character have less than 3 xp to receive credit for them?


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Kara Kramer-Rapp wrote:
I noticed you listed Silver Hex first in your list, is Silver Hes still listed as needing to be the first chronical on a new player, or is this the new standard for quests; that the character have less than 3 xp to receive credit for them?

If I could mark this as FAQ-worthy, I would.

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