Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-05: Ungrounded but Unbroken (PFRPG) PDF

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 1–5.

The Peerless Empire of shaitan genies has warred with their fiery counterparts for centuries, and thinly stretched resources leave the shaitans in need of additional aid. They have founded a new state-sanctioned mercenary company known as the Ungrounded, which draws upon free agents from across the multiverse. One of the Society’s few friends on the Plane of Earth has recommended at least a handful of Pathfinders join the Ungrounded, knowing that even a few months’ service could dramatically enhance the Society’s reputation (and fill those agents’ pockets) in this distant realm. The PCs travel to the magnificent Opaline Vault as the Society’s first envoys, but in doing so they must survive the otherworldly threats that lurk in both this strange environment and within their own ranks.

Content in “Ungrounded but Unbroken” also contributes directly to the ongoing storyline of the Sovereign Court faction.

This scenario is designed for play in Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild 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.

Written by Jenny Jarzabski.

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Society Scenario Subscription.

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"Pathfinders huh? Is that supposed to impress me!?"


This is a great low level scenario. Such a welcome relief from the typical “here’s a dungeon, explore it,” adventures lowbies tend to get. It takes place in a cool setting with some really interesting locations to explore and fun NPCs to roleplay as a GM. A great deal of this scenario is in the description, of which a lot is provided. The author does an outstanding job delivering a cool setting, concept, and characters, and I look forward to more from her in the future. This scenario is definitely going into my back-pocket as another 1-5 I can run on the fly if needed.

The players are presented with an immediately unlikable NPC but forced to follow their direction. They then collect evidence that shows that NPC is actually a bad-guy, and get the satisfaction of having them court-marshaled for their crimes. They get to do all this while going through boot camp, travelling to another plane, protecting an exotic fantasy casino from theft, and negotiating a ceasefire with a giant, intelligent, acid-spewing rock worm. Honestly, this scenario has so much awesome packed in to it I’m surprised I ran it in under 4 hours.

Part 1--Boot Camp: So the PCs are tasked with joining up with a mercenary company in order to better align the society with that group. In order to that, they need to go through boot camp which means (at least according to every movie ever and the ex-military player at my table) a ton of hazing. My players are good sports and we had a great time roleplaying the over-the-top shouting, saluting, and camaraderie that comes with hating your training officer. I threw peoples bedding away, replaced their meals with gruel, and responded to every clever quip from the PCs by making them run the obstacle course again. “IF YOU’VE GOT ENOUGH ENERGY TO MAKE JOKES YOU’VE GOT ENOUGH ENERGY TO RUN IT AGAIN, PRIVATE!”

There’s a brief combat where the PCs have to brawl other trainees, and I’m fairly certain it’s supposed to be an easy fight—at least it was for my players. Of course all this does is infuriate their CO, which starts the cycle all over again. My players missed the thread where they could speak with their opponents, and instead went back to the obstacle course for some late night runs.

Part 2--The Casino: The first job the PCs get is to guard a casino on opening night against a master-of-disguise con-artist. And gods what a great backdrop to have. A Bellagio-styled resort embedded in the skyline of the plane of earth. The PCs had a great time posting up and keeping an eye out for their mark. They find her, and quickly realize that they’ve been given false information by their CO, and in fact just attempted to arrest the general in charge of their mercenary company. Oops! The general brushes it off, and the PCs double down their efforts to find the swindler. They spy her and confront her, and manage to talk her down. As they are escorting her out, I have her palm one of the PCs wayfinders and give a sultry wink. The mesmerist hypnotises her as she activates her get-away trap and as the elevator falls I figure, what the heck, let’s spice this up. I reckon that since she’s paralyzed, she can’t remove her heel from the trap, so the elevator just plummets 400 feet to the ground below and shatters, killing Inysha in the process. The PCs look down and see her sprawled there, gold and blood framing the grim scene. Picture the start of Lethal Weapon or those noir classics where the bodies of femme fatales are found. They have a riot with it, slapping the mesmerist on the back for getting his first kill.

Part 3--The Convoy: The second (and final) job the PCs get is to escort some rocks from one side of rock town to a rock manor off in the rocky wastes outside of rock town. Basically, at least. They travel with some rock beetles, a massive rock worm, and a pair of dwarves. Part way through their delivery, they’re jumped by a rock elemental and a rock mephit. Combat ensues and the rock worm gets enraged, spewing acid everywhere. They manage to talk him down and dispatch the rock bandits, ultimately recovering the spilled rock cargo, the rock beetles, and completing their journey to the rock manor. This is a pretty cut and dry type of encounter, livened up by the exotic characters that participate. The players especially liked the diamond-studded halfpipe beneath the bridge, as the mephit happened to fall onto it and was shredded to death. They also enjoyed the large rock worm, who I named Jeff and had eat the earth elemental after combat. Again, my players missed the thread to gather more evidence against their CO here, but ultimately didn’t need it.

Part 4--Courtmarshal: The PCs are called in by the general because their corrupt CO is trying to get them to wash out. Instead, the PCs turn the dishonorable discharge meeting against the CO, refuting her claims and proving that she, in fact, has been the one acting suspiciously. They make some token diplomacy checks, aided by their collected evidence and roleplaying, and the general ultimately has the CO taken away in shackles.

Overall, this is a unique scenario that takes place in exotic locations with exotic creatures, but at the end of the day is a fairly straightforward scenario. There are no new mini systems to learn, and very few “secret GM things” to keep track of. Everything is presented well and the one new map that is included likely doesn’t need to be drawn, and if so, probably only a room or two.

Other reviews: Reading over the other reviews, it occurs to me that some people have downvoted this scenario because of it's subject--that being one of a military-style boot camp. Various reviewers didn't care for that setting, and as a result left a low mark for this scenario. That seems rather unfair, as scenario authors are rarely left leeway to make such decisions and (in my experience) are given a general concept and then direction to run with it. Since this is Jenny's first scenario, I think she's done an outstanding job of giving us something new, exciting, and memorable.

Tell your players what the title means. It may help lessen the unhappiness.


For those of you who do not know this, around the time this module was conceived, a movie came out called Unbroken. It tells the story of a prisoner who is subjected to very harsh treatment, but somehow perseveres. You'll notice that the title of this module calls back to that movie. And my hint to GMs is that if you mention this to your players before the game starts, it may soften the blow.

You will see in other reviews that some people said things such as, "I do not find being yelled at and degraded to be a fun way to spend a game night." However, if players are aware of the homage to the movie, they may find the obnoxious captain bearable, knowing that this is the module's "shtick" or angle, and that like the movie, there may be some justice in the end.

Having said that, I personally found the module to be another un-word: unrelenting. Part of this was not the module's fault. If you're a GM, read this:

During the obstacle course, our GM expressly forbade any and all gear, and all magic. In the real world, at the table, it got heated before we ever did anything, as we questioned this and so the GM forcefully clarified that using anything other than "gear provided" (none) would be a cheat and a demerit. Because of this, we largely failed every skill check. However, now that I've purchased the module, I can see that it is only the climbing wall in which the captain objects to use of rope or magic, and it isn't in advance as a warning. It's just that if magic is used, then the captain mocks the PCs. This makes sense, as the wall is the only trapped obstacle, so the captain likely wants the PCs to be as weak as possible when the trap is sprung. Using this one limited prohibition against magic in unlimited fashion for ALL obstacles effectively rendered the full course impossible for us. With any other GM, my luck domain cleric would have likely been able to use a supernatural ability to give re-rolls to some PCs at various obstacles, granting us some success.

During the bridge fight, my cleric was bull-rushed off the edge on round 1 and removed from the fight. I had Feather Fall and was told that I was falling for all the remaining rounds of the fight (so hundreds of feet down, as the fight went on for many rounds after I fell). Because of this, I was unable to heal anyone, nor could I get back in the fight. One PC went to something like -20 HP because of this, and only survived due to the store boon that Paizo put out -- the one that grants you a +10 bonus for buying $50+ worth of store products. The GM suggested there was a lesson to be learned there, about how to be a proper cleric and not take risks. I mostly declined to learn the lesson, saying that I wanted to take risks even after seeing the cost. My suspicion was that there was no lesson to be learned. Lo and behold, upon checking the module afterwards, I discovered that it says "The fall is just 10 feet. You can climb out with just a DC 15 climb check." That's much more plausible, given our low level. So I could have been back in the fight immediately, and should have been able to keep everyone from going unconscious.

I wrote all that spoiler text so there would be a basis for this plea to GMs: follow the module. Don't extrapolate more than what is written there. The module is already getting bad ratings, and if you make an already harsh module even harsher, your players are not going to enjoy your game. Having said that, some blame does lie with the module. Some things are simply impossible if you don't have the one single thing needed. Example:

During the bridge fight, there are multiple spots where the PCs are expected to use Handle Animal (beetles & agrawgh). This is a trained-only skill, so if nobody has ranks, then it simply cannot be done. As luck would have it, our party had nobody with a rank in that skill. So we auto-failed all the way through that. There were no alternatives. EDIT: nope. Reading the module some more, it appears that calming the agrawgh could have been a Diplomacy check OR any healing. We were told "Handle Animal." I'm going to not fault the module here. I'm going to adjust my 2 star rating to a 3 star rating because of this.

OK, finally, let me talk about the good part. Dell is interesting! Check out this bit of backstory for one encounter with him:

"Dell Darkblade, the unofficial leader of the group, is secretly thrilled that the captain’s attention shifted to the PCs. He’s afraid his friends can’t take much more before they break. When the captain ordered him to cheat, Dell refused, only to watch one of his friends get dragged into the captain’s office and severely beaten. Dell quickly recanted to spare his friends from further harm. He stoically carries the secrets of the rigged obstacle course and the poisoned weapons, but the burden weighs heavily on his heart."

If you are doing more of a role-play kind of game, this character is fun & difficult to act out. He has 3 conflicting goals going at once! He could make decisions in any direction, or refuse, and there's a great justification for all of it. His 3 goals are:

1: Get the captain to focus on the PCs. 2: Stop the cheating. 3: Protect his friends. Each goal wins out, until one of the other goals trumps it. He's having a terrible time juggling them all.

And that can make for some good social interactions! Overall, this module rates as "meh" or "OK" to me. It might be better, but I think my GM's presentation of the module sorta corrupted my view of it. Maybe after running the module I'll boost the star rating. We'll see.

EDIT (June 5, 2017): I've now run the module multiple times, and I have to confess that even with great effort to make it enjoyable, players just don't enjoy this. Here is what one player emailed to me after the module: "As for your GM style, I enjoyed it immensely. The NPCs had life and the module moved along and you told a good story. As for the module itself, it was crap - certainly in the bottom few. There was an overwhelming dependency on skills. So much of our final success depended on diplomacy, which is stupid for a module all about martial tests. Also, it handicapped non fighters throughout the previous parts."

For one group, I was unable to convince them to do that 1 bad thing, that 1 taboo thing, that is so important. If you've run it, you know what I'm talking about -- the thing that reveals all the plot, but which no person with military background would ever do. The group had military people in it, and they just simply refused to take the hint. They talked it over, but just rejected the notion at every point. And so in the end their Chronicle sheets were not ideal and they felt the whole thing was rather stupid.

Because of these issues, I'm finally giving up on the module, and lowering my rating to 2 stars. Note that in a home game, you could fix this easily and it'd be fine. There ARE fun encounters. I really enjoyed running it because if you take your time it can be a 6 or even 7 hour game with lots to do. Some of the combat encounters have fun tactical options. However, I just cannot get over the fact that the game run as-is for PFS will often upset players. That's the bottom line. Some will find it unfair, some will find it stupid, and some will call it crap, even if you ran it to the best of your ability.

Interesting premise, but somewhat difficult to convey


I really enjoyed playing and later GMing this scenario, but it does have some weak spots.

The good part: there are quite a few opportunities for RP and for comedy. You get to play drill sergeant as GM which can be very entertaining :P

What doesn't work entirely well though is that there are some challenges set up to be almost unbeatable, making it feel that the writer, not the BBEG, is being unfair to the PCs. It serves a function in the story, but it does require a concentrated effort from the GM to hit the right vibe instead of pissing people off. (As attested in a lot of previous reviews.)

Another point that one of my players remarked is that although you get a lot of training, there's no real sense of progress; after weeks of training, you haven't actually gotten better at things. Any skill is tested once, there's no chance to demonstrate improvement (if any).

What I do like is that there is a decent variety of challenges, with a significant athletic and mental/social part. Don't think of this as a grunt muscle job; it's for thinking warriors and thinkers who can fight.

Above average for some, terrible for others


This has the foundation for a good adventure, but some mechanical/design choices make the PCs enjoyment largely conditional on whether they have one particular trained-only skill and enough ranks in it (or a good enough roll) to notice something very early on.

I've both played and GMed this and I've seen it go both ways. If you make the check, you get an idea of what's going on. That makes you more likely to go where the scenario expects you to go, and this'll probably be a lot of fun to play. If you don't make the check, you're probably going off the poorly-aligned rails, and you're probably going to lose gold and maybe even prestige.

A GM who realizes this during prep can foreshadow things and amp up certain aspects of the roleplay and get the party to where they need to be, but 1-5's see far more inexperienced GMs. This isn't a great scenario for an inexperienced GM.

It's hard to rate this because the possible outcomes are so diametrically opposed. Between 4 stars and 1, I'd like to give it 2.5 stars, but since I can't do fractions, I'm rounding down to 2.

Play this with a good, well-prepared GM and you'll have more fun than my rating indicates.

Theme makes this fun for some, awful for others


If your idea of fun fantasy adventure includes belligerent, degrading Full Metal Jacket style boot camp, then you'll love this. It's not a badly done scenario, I don't fault the writing at all. The skill DCs that a lot of people are complaining about fit the scenario, and don't seem to affect the overall success or failure as far as getting your money and prestige. It all works well together as a scenario, and I think my gm did a great job running it. But I have no interest in being yelled at, embarrassed, and treated poorly for an evening of what is supposed to be fun time playing a game with friends.

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Liberty's Edge

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Sounds fun; I'm interested to know if this has any crossover with a shaitan encounter in:

Season 7 scenario:
#7–13: Captive in Crystal.

Paz wrote:

Sounds fun; I'm interested to know if this has any crossover with a shaitan encounter in:

** spoiler omitted **

I feel like either that or its related to the convention scenario.

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

5 people marked this as a favorite.
MadScientistWorking wrote:
Paz wrote:

Sounds fun; I'm interested to know if this has any crossover with a shaitan encounter in:

** spoiler omitted **
I feel like either that or its related to the convention scenario.

In response, a very minor spoiler:

Reyshal ik Jalman does appear in this adventure and is the Society's main contact on the Plane of Earth at the start of Season 8.

I'll be running this at a con shortly after release, please provide the names of the map packs and flip mats used so I can ensure that I have them.

Silver Crusade

Did the release date shift from September 28?

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

Salafax wrote:
Did the release date shift from September 28?

Unfortunately, the date did shift as a result of initial growing pains as we adjust our production to account for all of the digital subscription service's needs. This should be a one-time event, and future months' adventures should return to the expected last Wednesday of the month release. I note this in today's blog, which released a few hours after you made your post.

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

Maps for #8–05:

This adventure has a half-page custom map. It also makes use of the following.
  • Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Arena (note that although this is out of print, Flip-Mat Classics: Arena is on its way)
  • Pathfinder Map Pack: Ice Caverns
  • Silver Crusade

    John Compton wrote:
    Salafax wrote:
    Did the release date shift from September 28?
    Unfortunately, the date did shift as a result of initial growing pains as we adjust our production to account for all of the digital subscription service's needs. This should be a one-time event, and future months' adventures should return to the expected last Wednesday of the month release. I note this in today's blog, which released a few hours after you made your post.

    No problem - thanks, John!

    John Compton wrote:
    ** spoiler omitted **

    Thanks. Although, with delay in release, it moot.

    Scarab Sages

    Mr. Compton, I deeply appreciate you posting which maps are in these scenarios. Thanks!

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