Starfinder Society Scenario #2-11: Descent into Verdant Shadow

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A Starfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 3–6.

The Ice Wells of Aballon are half-frozen jungles that line the planet's deepest craters. Preservationist Xenowardens monitor these sites of natural splendor, and they have recently granted the Starfinder Society exploration rights to the Ice Well known as Gullet. Venturing deep below Aballon's surface, a group of Starfinders quickly uncover a threat to the verdant jungles and a growing sickness that could threaten the rest of the planet.

Written by Larry Wilhelm

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Great but for Experienced GMs



Descent Into Verdant Shadow is a meaty scenario that should really test some PCs (and the GM!). The setting is interesting and original, and the encounters involve an excellent mix of role-playing, skills, and combat. It's not a scenario for when the group is in a rush or the GM hasn't had time to prepare, and the final encounter especially takes up a lot of the GM's mental bandwidth. But I still enjoyed running it, and would recommend playing it, especially for PCs with an ecological bent. I ran it at subtier 5-6 via play-by-post using the four-player adjustment.


The planet Aballon is known for its sprawling cities that cover most of the planet, teeming with countless anacites. But there are a few pockets of wilderness remaining, most notably the Ice Wells--deep chasms caused by ancient meteor strikes that contain half-frozen primordial jungles. The Ice Wells are under the protection of the Xenowardens, and the Starfinder Society has always been refused permission to send an expedition team to explore them. Until now--because a strange sickness has started affecting the flora and fauna in one of the Ice Wells called the Gullet. But this is a closely held secret, and as far as the SFS knows, they've simply been offered a guided tour of the Gullet so the Xenowardens can evaluate their ability to navigate the delicate ecoystem without causing damage.

In a briefing with the unimpressed Venture-Captain Naiaj (she thinks the Xenowardens are "glorified eco-terrorists"), the PCs are introduced to their guide: a khizar (mobile plant creature) named Hemlock. Hemlock talks like a half-stoned surfer dude, and I had the best time role-playing them! For the first part of the scenario, they act as a guide and evaluate the PCs (using a positive/negative tally system that affects scenario success conditions). But in the second half of the scenario, they become righteously angry and start flame-throwing stuff! (at least, that's how I played them) I would love to see Hemlock again in a future scenario.

Descending into the Gullet, even with cables and harnesses, isn't easy, as the walls are icy and pretty soon it becomes completely dark. The four PCs in my game were all surprisingly good at Athletics, but a PC who neglected that skill would get banged up pretty good. On a couple of occasions during the descent, Hemlock points out some rare plant specimens and encourages the PCs to take some samples. However, Hemlock is secretly testing to see whether the PCs can harvest them properly and whether the PCs know enough to only take a few and not strip the cliffside bare. It's a clever way to test both the PCs' skill and their restraint. Further down the descent (which take a few days in total), the PCs are attacked by a sharpwing (a predatory bird with eyes on its wings) that seems to be suffering from some sort of sickness. The scenario rewards the PCs if they can avoid killing the creature outright, but I think it overlooks the fact that (for some reason) sharpwings are immune to nonlethal damage--which makes taking it alive a difficult thing to achieve.

After examining the sharpwing and some plantlife in a nearby cavern, the Hemlock and the PCs will swiftly realize that a mystical disease ("monochromatic sickness") is spreading through the ecosystem and threatening its viability. Enraged that the Gullet is in danger, Hemlock flips a switch and turns from a peaceful hippy guide to a dedicated ecowarrior, demanding the PCs help discover the cause of the disease. Moving further into the cavern, the PCs will have to get past some tenebrous worms, a carnivorous plant called a vracinea, and some gremlins who have captured a ravai (a sort of humanoid-grasshopper fey that are embodiments of the sun and healing) named Radiance. Assuming Radiance is rescued alive, they'll be able to explain the cause of the disease: the planar walls between the Material Plane and the Shadow Plane are thin in this area of the Gullet, and a svaltalfar fey from the Shadow Plane named Iziphis (awesome pic!) has slipped through. Iziphis is constructing a machine to power a permanent portal between the two dimensions, and this monochromatic sickness is a side effect.

The final battle has a *lot* of moving pieces for the GM to deal with. In addition to Iziphis and her gloomwing mount (flying rules!), there are two full-fledged NPC allies to run (Hemlock and Radiance), the changing round-by-round hazardous environmental effects of the machine, and complex/confusing terrain to adjudicate. PCs who can't fly may also find it a bit of a slog to even get into the battle. I think in my run-through, Radiance ended up doing most of the damage to Iziphis. Even with my usual prep, I found it a challenging encounter to run, and I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to improv it.

All in all though, Descent Into Verdant Shadow was an interesting and memorable scenario that makes great use of the setting and challenges both the players and the GM. I'd highly recommend it for experienced gamers.

Not my worst experience in SFS but the complexity really is an issue


Just played this one, and will update my review once I have read it.

There are a couple of nice scenes, but a lot of the encounters drag on for way too long, and especially that last encounter just takes forever to resolve, without including a lot of interesting tactical options and choices.

The best I can say about some encounters is that they are there, but unpleasant speedbump is the best I can say about some of them.

Writing and concepts are as expected pretty good considering the author, but I find the mechanical implementation a bit lackluster and it does feel a bit like stumbling upon a random mission.

I think that final encounter deserves it's own, retrospective, it seems to have a lot of moving parts, for little to no actual benefit. If a complicated encounter does not actually give players challenges to solve or overcome, then it is just idle busywork.

GMs are busy, pretty much always, and while I also complain about encounters with no real tactical dept, in this case, it is the worst of both worlds.
Other relatively recent scenarios have similar problems, but if the GM has to write a tracking sheet, the scenario likely could have explained it better.

The boards ate large parts of the first version of this review, but to keep this short, the rising complexity and need for the GM to do a lot of annotations to statblocks, can make it pretty unpleasant to run some scenarios and the final encounter is really only hurt by it.

An Old School TOS episode with many bumps in the road.


Overall there was a lot to enjoy in this one.

The journey down the cliff was fair and memorable and gave science oriented and physical oriented characters alike opportunities to shine. It overall answers a number of calls I have been waiting for in Starfinder and the overall descent journey theme is a memorable one. The campy and over the top characters reminded me of an episode of Star Trek from the 60s.

Even the use of certain combats to set up plot elements is brilliant.

However, the overall plot organization of the episode lacked some basic hooks for the PCs to be able to relate to what was happening.

Plot Details:

There were limited opportunities for the PCs to interact with the fact that the shadow plane was breaking loose and into the material plane and what that had to do with anything else. The entire plot with Radiance and the unseelie shadow fey at the end came out of right field and ran counter to the rest of the adventures theme.

Why wasn't the final encounter in some way related back to Aballonian pollution or industry or something? The why of Radiance's appearance AND the villain's were murky to the players at best and hell even with the benefit of the background section they were murky to me. I tried to make the best of it but even in two full runs of it I wasn't able to present it to the players in such a way that it much if any sense.

The final encounter was also somewhat ridiculous in terms of presentation and content.

Final Encounter:

There are two allied NPCs the GM has to run and thanks to the nature of NPC statblocks in Starfinder vs say Pathfinder 1, both of them have potential to greatly outshine the PCs and its unclear if this is the intention or not. As written, Radiance can pretty well wax the enemies pretty much by himself in 2-3 rounds.

On top of this, you have environmental and lighting effects going, you have a portal which may or may not be able to be interacted with by certain witchwarper spells in interesting ways and the scaffolding plus the nature of the rooms height and your unusual entrance into the room via dropping through the ceiling all combine to present large challenges in terms of presentation that are largely unrewarded as all of the enemies and Radiance can fly.

Overall, this just ended up feeling a bit half baked. There is a good scenario in here somewhere but like a number of other season 2 efforts they weren't fully realized. I liked the first hour of this a lot. I really badly wanted to like the rest of it but it didnt quite work.

Way overwrought final combat.


(I played this.)

What the previous reviewer said about half of the plot being a big coincidence is true, but a bit unfair, IMHO. There's been lots of Path-/Starfinder scenarios that have ended up like that. That doesn't excuse it, of course, but I personally don't find it that much of a detriment to the story.

The majority feels like a good exploration. The NPC is fun to interact with, and the challenges and combats are interesting. No complaints there. I do have a big complaint about the final encounter, though.

Final encounter:
There's way too much going on in the final encounter. My GM, a fairly experienced player, forgot or missed several things, purely because there are several conditions overlapping and happening at once. Two NPCs fighting along, mooks that have a "save every round"-effect, a constant Blur on the boss, and like three or four stage hazards. That's just hostile writing, apart from being an administrative nightmare. I am docking points for this, purely because it's such a headache for players and GM alike.

This scenario is fun. Larry Wilhelm is one of my favourite authors and he usually manages to write imaginative setpieces. This scenario certainly isn't different. But just the absolute misery of that final boss put it down a few notches for me. I'm sorry, Larry.

Starts off great, then detours into weirdness


So this scenario’s a bit confusing. I mean, it starts off alright. You are told to explore the native flora and fauna of an area, report back, play nicey-nice with an NPC guide. The guide is exotic, the local is exotic, and it is a scenario that favors a skill that isn’t computers or engineering, so that’s refreshing! And the first half of the scenario is fine, follows logically very nicely.

The second half of the scenario jumps right off the rails and takes a right turn into unknown waters. I mean, it just comes out of nowhere and makes no logical sense. Without spoiling anything, you stumble upon something you had no idea was going on and it is just coincidence the Starfinders show up when they do. And it is up to the Starfinders, who just happen to be there by happenstance, to save the day. That kind of extreme ‘oh, we just happened to show up at the at the exact right time even though we had no idea what was going on’ writing is a bit too trite for my taste.

That said, the fights and set pieces were all tactically challenging, interesting, and fun! Just wish the story had been workshopped a bit more.


Wooooah... The machine planet and xenowardens? I guess I gotta get off my rear and get over there, y'aaaall.

Paizo Employee Starfinder Society Developer

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Maps in 2-11:
-Pathfinder Map Pack: Perilous Paths
-Two Half-Page Custom Maps

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