Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-20: Countdown to Round Mountain

2.20/5 (based on 9 ratings)

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 7–11.

As the Hao Jin Tapestry demiplane collapses at an increasing rate, the Pathfinder Society has decided that it must evacuate the surviving inhabitants using a powerful ritual that can return one of the demiplane's monumental sites back to the Material Plane. The only candidate large enough is Round Mountain, an immense, tunnel-ridden stone sphere pulled from the Darklands of Tian Xia centuries ago. However, in the generations since Round Mountain vanished from the Darklands, countless subterranean creatures moved into the vast cavern left behind. If the mountain returns—and it must return to save the demiplane’s refugees—it would crush all those who have moved into the cavern since.

The Society must move quickly. The PCs are one of several teams tasked with exploring the vast cavern, cataloguing the doomed architecture, and above all coordinating the occupants' evacuation before the long ritual concludes.

Contents in Countdown to Round Mountain also contribute directly to the ongoing storyline of the Exchange faction.

Written by Jerall Toi

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

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2.20/5 (based on 9 ratings)

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Difficult to Present, but Interesting

4/5

NO SPOILERS

I ran Countdown to Round Mountain at high subtier using the four-player adjustment. It's one of the more complicated scenarios to run, with a lot to keep track of, so I'd suggest it's best for experienced GMs. It's a skills-heavy scenario, but the encounters can be surprisingly difficult. The setting is interesting and there's a nice pay off for a long-running story arc. This is a meaty scenario--one worth taking one's time with.

SPOILERS!:

Countdown to Round Mountain is one of the final scenarios in the long-running Hao Jin Tapestry story arc (and ties in to # 3-20 and # 3-22). Round Mountain was a ysoki (ratfolk) occupied cavern deep in the Darklands under Tian Xia that was magically teleported by Hao Jin into the magical tapestry demiplane. As part of the Season Ten story arc, the Pathfinder Society has located Hao Jin and arranged for locations in the fraying demiplane to be returned to Golarion. But in the hundreds of years since Round Mountain was removed, ratfolk have turned the now-empty space it occupied into a new settlement (and major trading route) named Zhotan. The Pathfinder Society only has a couple of weeks to document everything it can about the culture of Zhotan and persuade the inhabitants to evacuate before Round Mountain returns and destroys everything built in its place. The PCs are part of a major expedition to Zhotan led by Venture-Captain Amara Li, but members of the Exchange faction will find plenty of profitable trading opportunities as well.

The core gameplay mechanic in the scenario is the accumulation of Exploration Points. The PCs accomplish this by travelling to various parts of Zhotan--the settlement itself, its outlying mushroom farms, a subterranean lake, its garrison, etc--and observing and documenting local customs. Each successful skill check (a PC can make one per day) results in an Exploration Point. This sounds simple enough, but I found as a GM it was really hard to run in an organic way. Most players aren't anthropologists or biologists, and they're not naturally going to think "I should collect shellfish for later study" or "I'm going to watch ratfolk mushroom farmers to see how they conduct local agriculture." The alternative to letting the group flail is for the GM to just tell the players what checks are available in each location, but that can turn the whole thing into a dice-rolling exercise. Although there's an entire settlement of ysokis the PCs are ostensibly interacting with, I think there's really only one named NPC (the governor). Finally, it's very rare in Pathfinder Society for several days to pass in-session, but this scenario is built to last a couple of weeks--many groups start getting antsy and wondering where the drama is if encounters don't pop up quickly. So while I like the idea, I don't think the whole thing works so well in practice.

There are some combat encounters in the scenario, and they have interesting and unusual foes. A construct army comprised of the haunted clockworks of Pan Majang has been besieging Zhotan for some weeks, and the PCs are likely to find themselves fighting some clockwork hounds, soldiers, or mages. There's also a surprise ambush by undead when PCs are exploring the subterranean lake area. At high subtier, this is a "gashadokuro", a rare monster that has a nasty starvation aura and a "corpse consumption" special ability. It killed one of the PCs in the game I ran. The encounters could be even worse if the PCs split up to tackle skill checks in different locations, which might otherwise be a perfectly rational way to accomplish as much as possible before time runs out. When the PCs convince the leadership of Zhotan to order an evacuation, there's another chance to battle the haunted clockwork army, but this is formally optional and I think my players decided it was too risky.

I do have to give the scenario credit for an impressive integration of setting lore (involving a region and backstory that's off the Inner Sea beaten track) and Pathfinder Society background. One definitely gets the sense that Zhotan is a "real" place, and in a way it's unfortunate that so much work went into a location that is effectively erased at the end of the scenario with the return of Round Mountain. Come to think of it, Countdown to Round Mountain reminds me a lot of Starfinder Society Scenario # 2-04: Future's Fall.

Overall, I think this is a strong, solid scenario. It's one to run when there's no real-life time-crunch, and where the GM has plenty of time to prepare notes on various skill checks (and how to present them), make a timeline of what happens on certain days, and perhaps to even invent a couple of NPCs to help flesh out different areas. In other words, this not one I'd run with little prep in a four-hour convention slot. With those caveats, this should be a reasonably good experience.


History and Engineering

2/5

Like others have already said, History and Engineering skills pretty much dominated this scenario.

It wasn't very interesting, I have some notes about coffee grinding and merchants. Was certainly not heroic.


Pretty fun, not terribly challenging, will have slow bits for some players

3/5

When I ran this, I had a good time. There's some interesting roleplaying in there, particularly if you have creative players. The setup is interesting, and there's a cool thing:

Spoiler:
you get minions partway through, which can help with some skill checks

The story is a little bit random. I liked it, but I can see where it would be confusing. There's a big overarching time-limited thing happening, and you're supposed to deal with this, but if you succesfully deal with it too soon, it means that you'll miss out what it turns out the scenario really wants you to do. I would recommend to GMs:

Spoiler:
Make sure that the briefing emphasizes that you want to learn as much about the culture, history, etc. of the place as possible before the evacuation starts, at which point it will be impossible to learn more.

The flaws are that it's easy to have several characters present who almost can't contribute at all to the skill check portion of the scenario. I had one player creatively contribute by making friends with locals and convincing them to do some checks for her, but others had to sit back and attempt checks they weren't that good at.

The combats turned out to be almost trivially easy. This doesn't really bother me that much; the scenario isn't supposed to be a meat grinder, and the combats aren't the core focus. (Indeed, I was playing the low subtier, and my players unanimously requested that I sub in the high subtier last encounter. That made it a little challenging, but they still handled it readily.) Part of this isn't a flaw of the scenario, but a flaw of Pathfinder -- the rules system is so amazingly bloated at this point, that yes, if a character wants to, he can create a Mr. Hyde like monster that gets seven attacks that all do a lot of damage all at once. (At least, others have assured me that that character was legal. All it did was convince me that Pathfinder has become broken.)


I ran this 4 times and all I got was this lousy T Shirt

1/5

I ran this at Origins last month several times and while in terms of plot devices and overall ideas this was a really interesting adventure this was truly annoying to run and the combats were mostly entirely pointless.

I have these problems three:

1 - This is set up for the archaeology/anthropology to be the star of the show. That is fine/cool on its own but the execution made GMing this a bear. There was very little detail of any kind for the archaeology and anthropology sections, instead devoting that page space to in depth explanations of which skills were valid to roll in a given location. The whole adventure it set up for the players to spend the majority of their time discovering things yet there is staggeringly little for them to find.

2 - The plot structure assumes that the PCs are going to be more concerned about the anthropology and history than with the safety of the people they meet. There are paladins, good aligned clerics, and just generally that feeling like the path of least resistance. Given the incredible DCs that optimized Diplomacy characters can reach this adventure has the ability to end before it even begins if run strictly as written.

3 - The final fight was waaaay lamer than it was set up to be.

Final Fight:
You seed up this big conflict between the clockworks and the rats, build up the clockworks as having infinite numbers where wave after wave of foe is coming for the gate while the party is set to cover the retreat of the rats and then....its just basically a regular, not that good, not all that interesting combat vs the same things you already fought once this adventure

It also isn't a sequel in much of any way to Rats of Round Mountain at all, which was a huge let down.


Skill-heavy language-locked mess.

1/5

I hated GM'ing this scenario.

Reading through it, it sounds fine, maybe heavy on the skill checks, but fine.

The problem is that the GM is privy to much more information than is ever reasonably explained to the PCs. Most encounters seem completely random, and the final encounter feels both forced and anti-climactic.

Secondly is the problem of the NPCs' native tongue. We were fortunate enough to have one PC who could speak the uncommon language they use. But even when the backup team arrived, with an additional translator, the party still felt crippled in what they could do, the fluff given for most of the checks, implies that the PC must be able to speak the necessary language. Of course half the party were int-dumped combat-focused characters, and had maybe one or two irrelevant skills to contribute to any checks (if they had a translator handy). Paired with the fact that only one check was permitted per day, I couldn't even reasonably waive this arbitrary barrier with magic like comprehend languages or tongues.

At one point an argument broke out between two of my players about how to handle the checks, and I wanted to join in, my frustration was so great at this point.

I didn't have fun, my players didn't have fun, and I honestly need a break from PFS after this experience.


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Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

It's the Final Countdown!

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

1 person marked this as a favorite.
TriOmegaZero wrote:
It's the Final Countdown!

Well that's stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks TOZ.

Shadow Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh...

Paizo Employee Organized Play Lead Developer

13 people marked this as a favorite.
Michael Sayre wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
It's the Final Countdown!
Well that's stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks TOZ.

Hey Mike? About this adventure? One of the encounters reads "B3. The Final Countdown," and then there are four lines of read-aloud text that say—and I quote—"Mah nuh na naaaa, nuh na nuh nuh naaa, nuh nuh na naaa, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh—" Like, Mike? There aren't even creatures listed. You just tell the GM to play the air guitar for 40 seconds and then hand out Chronicle sheets. I hate to be the bad guy here, Mike, but I think I'm going to have to redo this encounter.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

3 people marked this as a favorite.
John Compton wrote:
Michael Sayre wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
It's the Final Countdown!
Well that's stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks TOZ.
Hey Mike? About this adventure? One of the encounters reads "B3. The Final Countdown," and then there are four lines of read-aloud text that say—and I quote—"Mah nuh na naaaa, nuh na nuh nuh naaa, nuh nuh na naaa, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh—" Like, Mike? There aren't even creatures listed. You just tell the GM to play the air guitar for 40 seconds and then hand out Chronicle sheets. I hate to be the bad guy here, Mike, but I think I'm going to have to redo this encounter.

>_>

<_<

Whelp, I tried everyone.

Dark Archive

So does this mean players failed to get Hao Jin's help? I'm kinda out of the loop on the storyline ._.

Sovereign Court

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Starfinder Maps Subscriber
CorvusMask wrote:
So does this mean players failed to get Hao Jin's help? I'm kinda out of the loop on the storyline ._.

major 10-15 Tapestry's Trial spoiler:
Hao Jin told the Pathfinders the damage was beyond repair, but she was able to devise a ritual to return one of the places in the Tapestry to its original location. Whether or not she'll be physically there to help with the ritual depends on the outcome of the that scenario.
Scarab Sages

2 people marked this as a favorite.

You all know that Europe released songs other than the Final Countdown, right? The whole Prisoners in Paradise album is amazing. That should get its on scenario, or maybe a 32-page module.


Could GMs running this at PaizoCon get a map list like posted to Siege of Gallowspire?

Paizo Employee Organized Play Lead Developer

Maps appearing in #10-20:

  • Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Bigger Bridge
  • Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Winter Forest

  • 2 people marked this as a favorite.
    John Compton wrote:


    You just tell the GM to play the air guitar for 40 seconds and then hand out Chronicle sheets.

    IDK, I've definitely had AP sessions that ended almost exactly that way before.

    Grand Lodge

    Did somebody say Darklands? This looks like a job for... me!

    Dark Archive

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    Just played through this at ConnectiCon and, frankly, it was a very frustrating experience. I expect and can totally understand some errors, but this module doesn't seem to have been play-tested or even edited with any thoroughness.

    Things like obvious wrong creature types on enemies and suchlike is acceptable and can be easily corrected by the GM but undermining the entire premise given to the players is not. When the in-game scenario briefing promises a second, more detailed briefing but just skips over it completely, that's just sloppy writing and quality control.

    When the entire primary success condition is based on utterly deceptive criteria, however, then it looks more like maliciousness. After all was said and done, our GM and players alike went over the in-scenario briefing multiple times and agreed that it did not so much as hint at the myriad things we were "supposed" to be doing.

    Definitely recommend avoiding unless you like frustrating your players.

    Grand Lodge

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    I emailed the entire Adventure Background to all my players a couple days before play. It even says Amara relays all the info before the adventure starts. I didn't want to waste time reading that whole page to the players in our limited time slot. Those that bothered to read it (or didn't!) have the chance to ask questions after the mission briefing.

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