Racing to Ruin (GM Reference)


Serpent's Skull

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Liberty's Edge

Just finished our first session of Racing to Ruin. I kinda . . . heavily adapted the narrative Hitchcock gave us (Freeman's Brotherhood agent sent a retired PC as envoy to party way before Umagro events, asking them to keep a watchful eye on the Sargavan government and the Aspis Consortium; I'm playing up the "Brotherhood wasn't ALWAYS like this" angle and changing it so that Umagro doesn't want anyone with any Chelish blood in Sargava). I only saw Khelavraa's suggestion a few hours before we started so I couldn't fully incorporate it, but I think that would have been the best way to handle it. I'm desperately searching for a way to make Nkechi less of a Mystical Black Man, but that's a concern for another session.

Despite the awkward story, we had a lot of fun! This was a 5-hour session when our normal length is 3 hours, and even though it was also a mashup with our Eleder-centric game, the groups accomplished a f+%+ ton. They got to convince the harbor master to let in their swan boat with its human-skin sail, to fully decipher Yarzoth's notes using the Colonial Archives, and to pick a faction (they were close to going Sargavan government, but eventually went with PFS) and sell a bunch of loot. After a fortnight with the PCs shipwrecked on an island populated mostly by monsters and cannibals who didn't speak Common, it was a real treat to get to roleplay. Also to kill some dogs apparently???

Liberty's Edge

Last session Gelik was ambushed and beaten up by some Aspis Consortium thugs for information on Tazion, so I feel kind of bad making him Umagro's bait, too. Pretty sure the PCs are going to get annoyed at him for messing up again. But . . . it's Gelik, so he can take it???


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walter mcwilliams wrote:
One of the changes I made was the final encounter prior to arriving in Kalabuto. Made it a haunt.

Interesting. I'm making a haunt after Kalabuto based on a character's backstory. An abandoned church that the Zenj don't go near for it's unholiness.

Liberty's Edge

So far, Diamata Sirathini is a hit. She's suspicious of the party's ambitions, but she's impressed by their surviving the Shiv. She also proved her worth with an incredible critical hit against Athyra.

Speaking of which, I rejiggered Athyra, and was rewarded when the wizard's player immediately identified her as "basically the Apache tracker from Nightvale." Unfortunately Diplomacy went awry and the wizard blasted her with color spray, but after a protracted battle they knocked both her and Jaji unconscious. After healing her they convinced her to leave them alone, and then wrote a note to the PFS warning them not to do any dinosaur hunting in the Fzumi Hills.

Liberty's Edge

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We just reached Zakiyya today, and DAMN was that a fun session to GM. The party was totally willing to come have a meal, and the capitalist duergar decided that they would "trade" stories for the food and for the free tattoos. So while the party was recounting their entire history from the Shiv to the Eloko attack, they were also making Sense Motive checks to figure out why the women were acting so oddly. And then they started secretly casting spells to identify the spells, which gave Zakiyya a great opportunity to secretly use some SLAs of her own . . . resulting in the fighter being suggested to stop his allies from casting spells (because it's super rude). Alala also started feeding Jaji poisoned fish, but he was completely unaffected.

Then they had a tense moment where the fighter started grappling his friend to stop her from casting dispel magic on him and then one of the women, but the situation managed to sort of calm after that - the wizard went outside, saying that she would cast detect magic and THEN open the door, so that she wouldn't cast any spells in the spirit dancer's proximity but could still check for mind control. Zakiyya was like, "Yes, let's do that," and when the door shut immediately spammed charm monster on everyone in the hut (the wizard and fighter were outside). Only the cleric made her Will save. The wizard and fighter started buffing themselves and summoning stuff.

So shortly before we ended the session, one of the spirit dancers opened the door prematurely, and a fight broke out. The wizard's summoned monsters started filling the hut with stinking cloud, which meant Zakiyya couldn't target her spells but also that she could totally just teleport into the side room. The best part is that the party has no idea which one is the central mind controller (since Masozi also cast charm person), and all their attempts at dispelling are failing. But I doubt they're in any actual danger - we'll see once the blowdarts and babaus start flying.


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We finished Tazion a good month ago and I've been prepping for the next module. It would have been useful if I had planted one or two personal story plothooks during the travel. The sandbox we call Saventh-Yhi is full of opportunities (and in serious need for you to plant any relevant plotlines), but if you can manage to drop in maybe few quests which require to reach Saventh-Yhi to perform, it'd not feel like at this point players just reached the greatest quest-hub of all Mwangi. Seriously, drop in personal plot hooks; put in scholars asking questions about the gods lost in Earthfall; give the quests Shiv Survivors have before the intensive travelling starts (found in module 3 by searching surviover's name); leave a faction or two alone so you can bring in suprises with them later on; give some personality for your faction leader, he'll need it; read a bit about how to large the faction could be by Tacticslion http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2l1he&page=3?The-City-of-Seven-Spears.

I had fun with Tazion. For the starters, players skipped 50% of the encounters of the town and went straight to the Ziggurat. Then they broke in quietly, killed mithril cobras only (and skipped every damn poisonous thing meant to weaken them) and surprised Issilar pants down. He escaped afterwards with aid of webs and ran to Elephant Temple to Raogru and his cohorts. Issilar did get Dominate Person cast successfully, party figured it out and retreated to forests. Then they decided to wait 3 days to let their faction to catch up, so they could get domination dispelled by Jask. The clock was ticking, but they wanted to play safe... So I decided not to listen the AP say to let the party explore Tazion without other factions interfering:

The party was timewise neck to neck with Aspis Consortium, but they slowed them down by accident. They sent false information of their route to the Red Mantis after the Mantis's hired local assassins failed in Kalabuto. The fake route they described was accidentally the route Consortium was having, so the caravan was slowed down by an exploding bridge. Their trailblazers would have gotten over by fly spell and continued ahead while the others fixed crossing. Their scouts found Tazion a day after party had retreated temporarily, and so they stumbled in the trap Issilar & Raogru had prepared in the Elephant Temple FOR the party. When party was assaulting the Temple, mind-controlled Ishirou tried shoving payers into tar pit, Ishirou's buddy was being sacrificed in fire room and the second buddy was trying to tackle Ishirou after saving from the mind control. Charau-kas assaulted with throwing weapons and Raogru with spells as players were (for some reason) afraid to cross the tar pit bridges, and Issilar was disguised as charau-ka. In the end, Issilar escaped again by setting the tar pit on fire. Later that day party tracked Issilar down and drove him up a tree. One parlaying and information&material exchange later he was granted his life.

Stories are nice, but this had at least some purpose. Ishirou is friend of the party, but he and his surviving pals will have some rough time as the prisoners of Sargavans and General Havelar. This also grants lots of possible ways to interact with the Aspis Consortium (assassins to silence Ishirou, hostage exchange, trouble with party's own faction leader, meeting Etters himself before he gets nasty ending in book 4). Then, I too had the ziggurat, which was still only very briefly explored, and party needed only the memories to complete the quest. It encouraged the players to check every room when the memories also gave them insights how the whole place was before Earthfall (lore ftw). Also, they walked in every poisonous thing that place had and in the end two almost died in the yellow mold - the bard was ready to give his dying speech after three failed saves and 8 dmg to CON.

Liberty's Edge

Notti wrote:

We finished Tazion a good month ago and I've been prepping for the next module. It would have been useful if I had planted one or two personal story plothooks during the travel. The sandbox we call Saventh-Yhi is full of opportunities (and in serious need for you to plant any relevant plotlines), but if you can manage to drop in maybe few quests which require to reach Saventh-Yhi to perform, it'd not feel like at this point players just reached the greatest quest-hub of all Mwangi. Seriously, drop in personal plot hooks; put in scholars asking questions about the gods lost in Earthfall; give the quests Shiv Survivors have before the intensive travelling starts (found in module 3 by searching surviover's name); leave a faction or two alone so you can bring in suprises with them later on; give some personality for your faction leader, he'll need it; read a bit about how to large the faction could be by Tacticslion http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2l1he&page=3?The-City-of-Seven-Spears.

I had fun with Tazion. For the starters, players skipped 50% of the encounters of the town and went straight to the Ziggurat. Then they broke in quietly, killed mithril cobras only (and skipped every damn poisonous thing meant to weaken them) and surprised Issilar pants down. He escaped afterwards with aid of webs and ran to Elephant Temple to Raogru and his cohorts. Issilar did get Dominate Person cast successfully, party figured it out and retreated to forests. Then they decided to wait 3 days to let their faction to catch up, so they could get domination dispelled by Jask. The clock was ticking, but they wanted to play safe... So I decided not to listen the AP say to let the party explore Tazion without other factions interfering:

The party was timewise neck to neck with Aspis Consortium, but they slowed them down by accident. They sent false information of their route to the Red Mantis after the Mantis's hired local assassins failed in Kalabuto. The fake route they described was accidentally the route Consortium was having, so...

Dang, having them suggest the quests before travel is a good idea. My group just finished the Spirit Dancers though so it's unfortunately too late to introduce quests from people outside their faction.

That said, they just left a message for Gelik asking for some diamond dust to be sent forward, so I can at least give them his quest in his response.

I am definitely having the Aspis group show up in Tazion when they're scheduled to - right now, probably between 0-24 hours after the party. So that conflict should be fun.

Liberty's Edge

Anyone got any good ideas for a monster to rise up out of one of the tar pits in Tazion? I want something as viscerally disturbing to my 20something players as the Scooby Doo tar monster was to my 9-year-old self, but I'm not literally looking for tar monster stats. That said, a black pudding would be level-appropriate?


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Gark the Goblin wrote:
Anyone got any good ideas for a monster to rise up out of one of the tar pits in Tazion? I want something as viscerally disturbing to my 20something players as the Scooby Doo tar monster was to my 9-year-old self, but I'm not literally looking for tar monster stats. That said, a black pudding would be level-appropriate?

I harassed Impus Major, Master of All Things Undead, and he was kind of stumped, though he thought a mohrg would be cool and about the right CR, or perhaps a group of wights. Perhaps even undead dinosaur wights. I like Impus Major.

Searching the PRD for "tar" I got:
- Slurk: CR 2
- Putrid Ooze: CR 11
- Demodand, Tarry: CR 13

So you either need a group of advanced slurks (which actually sounds kind of cool), a black pudding (seems about the right CR to me), or a really weak putrid ooze.

I personally don't like acid-spewing creatures in low-wealth campaigns. If it were WotR, RotRL, or JR, where money pretty much falls into PCs' laps at every opportunity, then occasionally dissolving it all is amusing. Doing it in SS where wealth is scarce would be... mean...

Liberty's Edge

A mohrg would be pretty scary rising out of the muck with tar dripping from its bones and its stomach suddenly writhing to life, but since there's already (I think) a half-fiend mohrg in a later book, I might go with those dinosaur wights. Ooh, or just straight up rip off the La Brea tar pits and have some undead pachyderms emerge.

The black pudding would be fun for me, but I agree that it's a bit harsh when the AP awards so little treasure. Also because the party fighter is super specialized in his quarterstaff. I might still replace the leech swarms with that, though.

Thanks! And make sure to thank Impus Major :)


Re-flavor the pudding or ooze a new type that acts like a base and dissolves all organic matter instead, basically hitting as if it had disintegrate as a touch attack (or just when engulfed).

Liberty's Edge

Unfortunately the fighter's staff is wooden, so that'd still lock him out of half his class features.

Which is rough for the "random" encounter that I want this to be (the first time they figure out what the tar pits are, something rises out to scare them but probably not be life-threatening). BUT not a bad idea as something for Issilar (or a later boss) to have at his disposal.

For the tar pit, I'm settling on the animate skeletons of a mastodon and a pair of dire tigers. This'll also replace some of the XP that the party missed out on when the Aspis agents got to Tazion first and cleared out the Well of Unending Screams (right now it's looking like a 3- or even 4-way conflict between the Aspis agents, the PCs, Issilar, and the charau-ka who Issilar may jettison once he realizes there are 5 armies already on their way to Saventh-Yhi).

Liberty's Edge

So uh, Raogru seems to have a domain he shouldn't: Ydersius doesn't grant the Animal domain. I'm replacing it with Chaos for now.

Liberty's Edge

Another small issue: Chu-Tok has a +3 BAB and +6 Strength modifier, so its bite attack (with magic fang and including the size penalty) should only be +9 and its damage should only be +10. Its constrict should only be dealing +9 damage, as well.

A surprisingly deadly snake nonetheless!


In a few months I will be starting this AP with my group, I get a bit OCD in prepping and the lack of a map for The pallid bluffs is driving me nuts.....lol as there any out there?

Liberty's Edge

Here's the map from my game, most likely scrawled on the roll20 5 minute before, or during, the session.

There's a lot more mapless encounters in Racing and City, though, I should warn you . . .


Gark the Goblin wrote:

Here's the map from my game, most likely scrawled on the roll20 5 minute before, or during, the session.

There's a lot more mapless encounters in Racing and City, though, I should warn you . . .

that will work!! I'll play around with it some more, many thanks, and apologies for the tardy response

Liberty's Edge

bigmatty wrote:
Gark the Goblin wrote:

Here's the map from my game, most likely scrawled on the roll20 5 minute before, or during, the session.

There's a lot more mapless encounters in Racing and City, though, I should warn you . . .

that will work!! I'll play around with it some more, many thanks, and apologies for the tardy response

No worries, that's kinda how things run in this subforum ;)

Let us know how things are going for your group!


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Hey there, so this is my first post here ever, but I thought I should share my experience with you. I have been GMing all sorts of systems, settings and campaigns for over 25 years now an when a friend of mine asked me last year, if I would like to start a new pen&paper-group with him and a bunch of other newbies, I thought "hey, what a cool chance to show this awesome hobby to a new generation of players!"

After deciding to settle on Pathfinder, since I already had a ton of books, I choose the Serpent's Skull AP, as I've always had a special love for snake-themed villains in fantasy. We started out with Smuggler's Shiv last February and it was awesome. After about roughly 40 hours, we finished it in late August. In September we started "Racing to Ruin" and so far it has been one wild ride, since my players really tend to screw things up due to unwise decisions, hesitation in timecritical moments, bad dice rolls and deliberately not acting as a team since they left Smuggler's Shiv. For me as a GM this means a lot of work, but also a lot of fun watching them fail (which is very strange, since I'm usually very Pro-player as a GM).

It all started, when they managed to get Gellick, Aerys and Jask killed by the cannibals on SS. To make things worse, the party showed open dislike for the other two survivors (Tasha and Ichiro) even before that. They even murdered the Tengu in cold blood. After they had arrived in Eleder and the factions contacted them, things escalated even more. Within a couple of hours after meeting the factions, the party got in a huge argument which faction they should join. Two were with the pirates, one was with the Pathfinders, one was with Aspis and one was with Mantis (out of fear). They somehow managed to arrange themselves with trying to get the pirates and the Pathfinders work together (and right after that the party's druid seduced Amivor). They even managed to have succeed on their diplomacy checks and thus a new alliance was formed. Everything worked out fine...or so I thought. Suddenly I get a private note from one of my players stating, that he wants to make a deal with Aspis, to work as a spy for them. So I met with that player separately and we roleplayed an actual pretty cool negotiation scene between him and Dargan Etters.
Two days later, the slave insurgence took place and despite telling my players straight to the face, that immediate action is crucial since they kidnapped Amivor (since neither Aerys, nor Gellick were still alive at his point and the party's druid actually was starting to become sort of a romantic interest of Amivor), my players hesitated to storm the Whaling Company. I told them things could get out of hand very fast and in order to save Amivor, they should act quickly. Instead my players decided to take a stroll across town, to hire a fisherman to row them to the Whaling Company from the seaside. No fisherman was willing to get into the fray, so they went a different route and tried to get the city guard to solve the problem. I told them there is a huge smoke pillar coming from the Whaling Company, which had the effect of them wanting to avoid storming in there even more. The whole scene took us more than 5 real world hours to play through, which roughly translated to 7 hours in game time, by which I decided "ok, they might be new to this game, but not being heroes must have consequences after all". Hence Amivor got killed. My players were devastated. We finished the session and I talked to them, about the whole situation. They seemed to understand, it was their fault.
Next session they dealt with the Pathfinders pulling out of the alliance, so now they are stuck with the pirates. They were not interested in dealing with Nkechi, since they had a jungle druid who thought she could handle everything Nkechi would otherwise do for them.

The expedition eventually started and at first it all went well. They absolutely proved themselves on the route to Kalabuto. Then came the assassins ambush in Kalabuto. They stroke at night, when they were asleep at the inn (they explicitely did not want to stay at the dwarf's house). Two of them made it very clear, that they would like a single bedroom, since they don't wnat to deal with the rest of the party's snorring. Long story short, one of them did not survive the night. To make things worse, they decided, that traveling by boat up the river is way more comfortable, than walking through the jungle. I told them over and over again, that their job is trailblazing for the expedition, but I guess I already had lost them at this point, since they looked me in the eye, stating "screw them, we gonna go to Tazion on our own and claim all the fame and all the loot for ourselves". Then it hit me: "Congratulations! You have spawned a new generation of murder hobos!"
To be honest, I was a little disappointed at first. But then I thought to myself, I might as well roll with it and watch them realize, that they eventually will need the help and support of one of the other factions and I'm really looking forward to that day.

Apart from that, I really love this AP and its whole theme.


Just started this book last night. The PC’s manage to keep most of the castaways alive (i had about 30 in addition to the NPC’s) so where hailed as heros. They took a few days to celebrate befor they got down to the decifering of the notes. They split up and each went in search of there befriended npc’s who also happened to be the ones helping them take the notes on the shive (Gelik, Ishiro and Jask).

It was then they found out that everyone else had already started working on it and there where already something like 10 expositions planed but only 5 or so of any significance. They did not get in touch with the Red Mantis faction and they will not be reaching out as Sasha didn’t get along with most of the PC’s.

I am also reducing the Pirates to a minor group and adding an alliance of the Aristocracy and the Hellknight order of the Coil. The PC’s seem to be leaning toward the Aspis due to them offering way more gold but we will see.


Still in book 1, but I am prepping book 2 already.
Again I have an exp-problem.
Isn't there enough exp already from the standard encounter?
And then you should (and would like to) have a lot of random encounter..?
I rolled the REs for RtR and the PCs would be lvl 8, on the way to lvl 9 then probably at the end of book 2.

I understand more and more, why many GMs choose to just level up at certain points.
But if you don't do that, how did you manage book 2?

Liberty's Edge

Narjana wrote:

Still in book 1, but I am prepping book 2 already.

Again I have an exp-problem.
Isn't there enough exp already from the standard encounter?
And then you should (and would like to) have a lot of random encounter..?
I rolled the REs for RtR and the PCs would be lvl 8, on the way to lvl 9 then probably at the end of book 2.

I understand more and more, why many GMs choose to just level up at certain points.
But if you don't do that, how did you manage book 2?

I had xp drains in the form of NPCs that players asked to bring along (if they participated in more than three encounters, and weren't one of the original Shiv castaways, then they started getting an equal share of xp), and deaths/new characters (new characters start at the starting xp for that level). But my party still ended up being one level higher than intended for most of the encounters.

This stops being a problem in City of Seven Spears as

Spoiler:
you're explicitly supposed to start Vaults of Madness when the party reaches 10th level.
Sort of a natural evening-out.

But my game, like so many others, reached the end of its natural life in CoSS, so I wouldn't know how it works in practice.


I typically don't post on these forums (I enjoy reading everyone else's experiences) but I had to jump on, as my group is finishing this book tomorrow night.

I absolutely love Serpent's Skull. It's something that would appeal to me as a player and I think I didn't take into consideration what my player's thought to the campaign was before I just kinda jumped them into it, so that's my fault. With that being said, they LOVED Souls for Smuggler's Shiv. I mean, who doesn't? A supposedly deserted island shrouded in mystery. Surprisingly intriguing fellow castaways and villains. Not to mention TWO ancient Azlanti structures.

Racing to Ruin unfortunately lost them their appetite for this campaign as it's rather slow and linear. I took some of the suggestions I've seen from other posts and threw in flairs of my own to try to get their interest back but sadly Book 2's close will also be Serpent Skull's. So, tomorrow they face off against Issilar AND Raogru, whom they mistakenly forgot about after defeating him in the snake temple. So instead of killing or at least restraining him, they grabbed the stone and left, letting him wake up a few hours later to retreat and lick his wounds. I plan on having him wander around the ziggurat and having them roll for the chance that whatever room they enter they'd run into him.

I turned the pillars of light into a sort of sequencing puzzle with riddles and 4 stands on each pillar. Each stone has a number to match the numbered stands. If the wrong stone is placed on the wrong stand (I know them and I know they're just gonna try putting stones down instead of attempting the puzzle) then it'll activate an alarm that drives Paleflesh completely mad. I've hidden the remaining stones in various parts of the ziggurat rather than Issilar having them in hopes the party will explore and thus increase their chances of running into Raogru. My goal is for the puzzle to be the last thing they do. With it being a small room, I thought it would be interesting to have a sort of "wave defense" encounter and having Paleflesh attempt to squeeze into the tiny room from the various entry points, which could be very bad given his size versus the space they have to operate.

They know this'll be the last session of Serpent's Skull, so I'm sure they will be much more brave and/or careless. I held a vote for the next adventure and we will be starting Carrion Crown next week. Hopefully we can some day return to Serpent's Skull. I'm running it for another group when the other GM is in down time between modules, so I will still be fulfilled regardless.

I did really enjoy the Zakiyya and Itombu encounters. Itombu left such an impact on them that I had to make him a recurring thing. Instead of him going back to the abyss when they defeated him, he was sent into a special copy of The Book of Night Without Moon and he occasionally pops out of the book to mock and mess with them. He does not yet have enough power to be able to reform into a threat but it's a fun downtime interaction for them.

I made Zakiyya kind of an emissary of Zura, so she brought up events that happened on the shiv, sort of a call back to book 1. She was dispelled with the monkey head but not before our barbarian killed our dominated arcanist, who was extremely valuable and quite a loss. I had Zakiyya suggest everyone leave the room but him where she managed to give him a kiss and he took a negative level, so that itself was already impactful. She then asked for his help as "she believes one of the dancers was plotting to kill her." I had already sewn the thread of one of the dancers subtly asking for help against Zakiyya, so they were all trying to figure out who the real threat was.

They really enjoyed Nkechi's guidance, although he was very cynical of the team and still a little iffy on how they managed to survive two weeks on smuggler's shiv.

I am looking forward Carrion Crown but I hope this post gives someone inspiration and ideas on how to make this book a little less (okay, a lot less) dull and uninteresting.

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