A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 3-7.
Alarm bells blare throughout the Pathfinder Society's Grand Lodge as chaos reigns in one of the vaults below. The PCs must venture into the vaults to put a stop to the mysterious incident. They quickly learn, however, that what has happened in the Grand Lodge is almost certainly not an isolated event. It falls to the PCs to follow this disruption's trail, a mission that puts them on a collision course with mysterious forces that wish to unleash horrors from beyond reality upon Golarion.
Contents in Call of the Copper Gate also contribute directly to the ongoing storyline of the Dark Archive faction.
I GMd this last night for a group of 4 on low Subtier without adaptation for 4 players (because: Swashbuckler 3, Fighter 3, Witch 7, Vigilante 6). While prepping this scenario I already thought that the low Subtier would be a lot easier than the high subtier for players of the respective levels. And this is exactly what happened. But let me go into more of the details.
I liked the beginning of the scenario. I just had the players lounging in the Grand Lodge when the alarms began, and had them witness the talk between Zarta and Ambrus. Then Zarta saw the PCs and just wrapped them up and took them to the vault, giving exposition on the way. I love these kinds of beginnings where the players are just thrown into the scenario :)
Just the description of the vault made my players apprehensive of the whole situation. However, vigilante and witch were able to manouver the terrain easily and started to try to disable the sphere. In this time, the fighter distracted the swarm golem (not doing a lot of damage at all, but also not really bothered by it HP-wise, and easily managing the saves for the ability damage) and the swashbuckler also managed to reach the beacon. And of course he just smashed it in 2 rounds and that was that. So:
The Encounter had a very atmospheric start, but was way too easy. Then after the encounter, a lot of exposition, a lot of rolls to study the artifact, and Zarta healing a little before running off. Sadly, this broke the last remaining creepy and dangerous atmosphere that was left. So on my players went to the Arcanamirium.
After bullying the clerk to give them the location of the two remaining beacons, the went to Maren. He did not let them in, and they were to imparient to wait the 5 minutes Maren told them to wait, so they broke down the door. My players were also not inclined to talk to the strange summoned creature which was asking even stranger questions (even after Zartas and Marens request they do so), so again, they just easily killed the creature (in 1.5 rounds), packaged the beacon and ran off to Blakros Museum. I do not know what I could have done to motivate roleplay in this case, and I was not able to create any creepy or dangerous atmosphere. My players also missed any information that could have been given to them by not asking any questions to either the creature or Maren. Anyway:
This Encounter war intended to introduce more lore about the copper gate and the imminent danger of it being opened from the other side, possibly letting out unknown dangers. This was supposed to instill fear into the minds of the PCs. But in my opinion this failed due to the creature being too weak. In a true cthulhu-esque manner, why not have the creature just suck the answers to its questions out of the PCs heads, if they do not want to interact with it, and leaving behind damage and some information? This should create the necessary atmosphere, a feeling of danger and helplessness in the PCs.
This optional Encounter was all right. Just a little pinch of flavour instead of just more exposition by the curator of the museum.
Actually experiencing the creatures which the players later get told were "sown" by a strange mutant from the basement gave them a little more sense of urgency.
So, nothing bad to say about this encounter.
I liked the idea of the room slowly filling with poison, forcing the players to actually think about where they could move and stand and still breathe normally. Sadly, this idea was foiled by the quite low saving throw against the poison. Over the 8 rounds of fighting only six of the 32 saving throws were failures (and two of those were by the lion they summoned), so mostly my players simply ignored the poison gas. The Grioths were each down in one hit and within the first three rounds, and it only took so long because two of them kept their distance to use their spychic magic. They were useless. Why even put them in this scenario? The final boss was... too weak as well. Since my players opened the door in time, he only had shield and his alter ego as buffs. And since all previous encounters were so easy, I decided for him to use his first round to cast his scroll of fly, so that the whole thing would at least be a little harder. That was a very good decision. Instead of circle stomped to death in two rounds while not being able to do anything (casting while in close combat never works), he was able to shoot some spells, do quite a bit of damage, and actually be threatening. Besides this, my players only checked on Imrizade once, saw she was stable, and then forgot about her and leaving her in the poison gas... Anyway:
This Encounter was - once more - much too easy. I get the feeling that this encounter would have been at an appropriate difficulty on the high Subtier, where the boss can do some crowd control by himself. And when designing an encounter with an environmental hazard, then it should be able to actually be dangerous instead of just having basically unfailable rolls every round. Again, this was an encounter which just did not feel in any way creepy, dangerous or atmospheric in any other way.
inspiration for changes:
Why not have the BEG stand behind a force barrier where the PCs can observe him preparing the gate for opening while he tells them that he is looking forward to the things that will happen when it opens, tell them that in a few seconds the gate will open and laugh at their helplessness. And all the while the Grioths sneak up on them while they are distracted. But of course the PCs can dismantle/smash the devices powering the force field, and defeat the BEG. But then, they have to reverse the preparations done to open the door, and this could be a final challenge, maybe a puzzle. That would have had an atmosphere of danger, creepyness and urgency, instead of yet another "go there, smash, and be done".
What story? Nothing interesting there.
The players get next to no story besides a little, very vague information about some gate which is maybe about to open or not and is linked to the Dark Tapestry. Thats it.
The idea of having NPCs aid the PCs in fights is nice, but in my opinion this was not implemented very well. None of these NPCs are stupid, but still the PCs have to ask nicely or pressure them into actually helping them, using a Standard Action. This basically meant that my players just ignored them, because the fights were easy enough without help.
That said, it was nice to see some environmental hazards built into the fighting encounters. They could also have been a little more dangerous so they would actually be hazards, but it at least forced my players to think a little.
The whole scenario was very much too easy for a horror scenario dealing with the Dark Tapestry, at least on low Subtier . This is maybe because Pathfinder in general is a System where the PCs heroic heroes, while in the classical Lovecraftian stories the protagonists are usually more helpless in the face of an ancient, over-powerful evil. But still, why use lovecraftian lore and creatures in a manner where they are absolutely no threat? It was a serious let-down for my players. This prevented any kind of horror-atmosphere and made the scenario a "go somewhere, fetch stuff and kill everything that you encounter"-scenario. No caution needed, no roleplaying required.
I did not like this scenario. The combats and the challenges were fun, but the story is purely sequel-bait. We get tasked with finding three MacGuffins, but there is no information to be obtained what they do, only that they'll be important later. Then out of nowhere a baddie appears we're supposed to care about, but we don't. This whole thing feels like a season 1 scenario, where proper rules weren't really codified yet and writers could do whatever. I guess it'll be important for later, but as a stand-alone adventure, it feels really lacklustre. I'd go into more details about it, but I simply can't muster the enthusiasm.
There are light spoilers here. I talk in general about various activities in the game -- nothing big, but you might be able to surmise some things after reading my review. So, you've been warned.
Our team consisted of oracle, cleric, ninja, wizard, barbarian, monk. High tier. The oracle was our only Diplomacy character. The ninja was our only Disable Device character. The wizard was our only Knowledge character (mostly). In all 3 cases, there was a point where getting information depended upon someone doing well with Diplomacy, Knowledge, or Disable Device -- and in each case, we had a "single point of failure" that... failed. Because of this, we missed out on information, back story, lore, and in some cases even missed out on how to solve things properly.
So for me, I had a couple of places where I wanted to understand what was happening but just couldn't. My character couldn't, and I couldn't in real life either.
Having said that, the wild start of the game is fun and action-packed. It begins with alarms blaring and it's very clear that you're rushing to fix some emergency. I liked how my GM ran the first encounter with so many terrain conditions. In fact, that seems to be the hallmark of this module. In multiple encounters, the terrain isn't just "you're at the door to a room, go fight." I really appreciated this. It was cool to have the environment be an important factor.
I also enjoyed the mystery and weirdness of things. Something has triggered all this chaos and the PCs have to figure it out, but it isn't just "who's the bad guy?" There are talking encounters where your questions and answers don't necessarily make sense, but you're obviously getting accurate information -- it's just beyond comprehension. It's like staring into infinity and trying to explain it to a 2 year-old.
The big encounter was, in my opinion, very well done. Here's why. My character failed everything. Things went badly. Yet, I didn't die. It was scary and I was tense as I rolled die after die and failed again & again. I could see my character heading toward death, but also feeling like "I have a couple rounds to avert disaster. It's still possible to survive and win." While that was happening to me, there was SO MUCH for others to do. There were a lot of issues to tackle. People struggled to overcome obstacles, just as I did (but they overcame issues while I didn't). When they did overcome things, they raced around trying to accomplish anything before the situation got too dire. So it overall felt like a difficult challenge, relentless, but also didn't murder us. It's rare to find something so balanced.
This was a good time. It felt like it might be leading to bigger things, like during the season finale or something. If you play this, remember to have a good team with lots of diverse abilities. This module rewards "boy scout" types -- those who are prepared for anything.