The Midnight Mirror [Spoilers]

GM Discussion

The Exchange

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A possible Pathfinder Society briefing, if you're so inclined to use one:

Choose a single PC from the group who best meets the following criteria:

  • Bard, cavalier, cleric or paladin. If there are multiple candidates, then:
  • Highest charisma score. If scores are tied, then:
  • Lawful alignment. If none are Lawful, then:
  • Good alignment
  • If no one qualifies, choose the least-repugnant PC.

The PC has been singled out by Sheila Heidmarch as a rising star in the Society and is chosen to lead the mission. Read the following to the player, in private if possible.

While between missions in Magnimar you are sought out by a messenger. It appears you have been invited to attend a dinner party at Heidmarch Manor. Knowing that the key to advancing in the Society is often making the right connections, you dress in your Godsday best and arrive at the party in a prompt manner. Venture-Captain Sheila Heidmarch shepherds you around the ballroom introducing you to the movers and shakers in the City of Monuments. After an hour of social niceties and empty banter she excuses herself, explaining she must attend to her husband lest he become jealous of the disproportional amount of time spent in your company. She instructs you to stay after the party breaks up as she needs a word with you in private. The rest of the party is a blur, you're pretty sure you shouldn't have tried the Thuvian wine.

Later you join Sheila in her study where she makes polite inquiries regarding your last successful mission. She picks at a confectionery with a tiny silver fork as she half-listens to your report. After a lull, she puts down her now-dissected treat and sighs.

“Well, I suppose we should get down to business. Being a Venture-Captain is like wielding a chakram, it cuts you just as easy as it does your opponent. I adore being a Venture-Captain--today isn't one of them. I take no joy in sending my subordinates into harm’s way, but this mission has positively ruined my appetite.

You are being sent to Nidal. I’m sorry, I shouldn't be so blunt but having that name in my mouth was like tasting troglodyte stench. I've been trying to clear my palate all evening. Now I know that you have heard rumors, but let me tell you what I know for I myself have walked beneath the boughs of the Uskwood. It's all true. A millennia ago when Earthfall cast the world into the Age of Darkness, the people of Nidal were like a drowning man struggling to stay afloat in a roiling sea. The hand that reached out to aid those desperate masses belonged to Zon-Kuthon. Pain is his meat, shadow his drink. The cost was steep. Total subservience, no joy without loss, no pleasure without suffering. I suppose those damned people don't know things are any better elsewhere. A blessing, perhaps.

That's the 'where'. As to the 'why', it goes back to the that bloody mess at Delvehaven. The Society has never gotten to the bottom of things. Well, there's a Chelish government official who claims to know what really happened to our property. We have reason to believe him, based on the falling out he's had with Queen Abrogail. Never you mind his name, we don't want anything happening to him if you are--I'm getting ahead of myself. He's willing to swear a godsoath to it, but he wants something in return. His wife's shadow. I know it sounds odd, but apparently it's missing.

The story is that this unnamed gentleman and a nobleman from Nidal both had intentions for the woman who would become his wife. Obviously she chose the Chelaxian, and the Nidalese obviously didn't take rejection laying down. His name is Iozef Boroi, scion of some estate in northern Nidal. He possessed a minor Kuthite artifact called The Book of Night Without Moon. He used it to steal the shadow of his intended, so she would know no joy or contentment in the arms of her husband. All this mess happened many years ago. Now her husband has become disaffected with his government and is willing to betray the House of Thrune in exchange for what seems to be a simple boon. If only...

Your mission is to travel to a small barony in northern Nidal. Gain an audience with the baron and see if he can be persuaded to release this woman's shadow. He should know who you're talking about. If you learn her name, please try and forget it for Aroden's sake. If the sadistic Kuthites get their hands on you, death will be a fate you will pray for. You will beg them to pause and listen to your most closely held secrets, if only to gain a few minutes' respite. Have you heard of The Eternal Kiss? Better you haven't. Anyhow, I know you can be persuasive. That should be your first move. I wouldn't try to strongarm him or outright steal the book unless I had the means to get out of Nidal fast. Blackmail is another route, but I trust you to be creative. Your wits have served you well in the past.

Listen, the Decemverate believes that the risk to you agents is worth finding out where our property from Delvehaven went. I'm following their orders, sick as it makes me. Get that woman's shadow back and get out of Nidal with all your limbs intact. That's all I'm asking. Will you accept this mission?"

Of course! Sheila gives the PC a list with the names of several agents currently at-liberty in Magnimar (the rest of the PCs) and suggests he/she seek them out for assistance. After the team is assembled, the GM should describe a harrowing journey into Nidal with several close calls. You probably want to heighten the tension by asking the players where their characters are carrying their holy symbols and wayfinders while in Nidal. Their answers could be very amusing.

The Book of Night Without Moon becomes a back-burner issue when the PCs discover what is happening in Karpad. If the players don't bite, then the baron (who turns out to not be Iozef after all) offers to deal with the PCs only if they can help his village avert the oncoming disaster. The module picks up from there.

Silver Crusade

Excellent job, Doug. I will shamelessly steal this when I run this. Was already reading it through. :)

Scarab Sages

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Here's the one I did last month:

Dreading the long trip from Ravenmoor back to Absalom, the party instead heeded a summons along the way in Korvosa. There they met with Venture-Captain Varian Jeggare. The half-elven noble warmly greeted the party at his apartment near the Acadamae campus. His bodyguard, Radovan, stood quietly in the corner, arms crossed.

"It is fortuitous that I was able to reach you so quickly, Pathfinders. A dear friend of mine, Lady Tiboros of Nisroch, has some troubling news of her lovely daughter Anya. A sprightly girl, but I found her a competent enough horse rider on my last visit to their manor. Anyways, Anya was wed to Baron Boroi of Karpad going on a year now and she has already birthed a beautiful boy going on two months old now I believe. You see as a dutiful daughter, she maintains frequent contact with her mother, keeping her abreast of her day-to-day going-ons.

However, the tone of her letters has grown increasingly strained and her mother, Lady Tiboros, has not received any communication in going on three weeks. So as you can imagine the Lady is quite concerned about the well-being of her daughter. I do hate to impose, but it would bring relief to both myself and the Tiboros family if you would please travel to Karpad and check on dear Anya? She is the youngest of her family and her mother loves her so. I will take care of all your travel arrangements and you should arrive in a week's time."

The trip to Karpad was mercifully unremarkable, involving little more than a short ship ride through Conqueror's Bay allowing them to bypass the Mindspin Mountains. Then a short overland trek brought them directly to the village of Karpad. The nearest bit of civilization is the city of Pangolais that lies some 100 miles to the south.

The Exchange

Thanks Dan.

Greg, that's as true to what the module suggested as anyone in PFS can get. Short and to the point. I'd use that if I hadn't done all the work writing mine.

There's a cleric of Desna and at least one Shelyn-worshiping bard in the party I am running through it this Friday. I think in order to make Nidal stand out in their minds, I have to play up the threat of Zon-Kuthon's fanatical followers.

I think it might be adding insult to injury because The Heart is going to slaughter them. There's not a single PC in the party that's going to live after two rounds of attacks from that thing. I'm concerned it'll be a de facto TPK since they'll be trapped in the Mirror after they lose a couple of PCs and run away. How did your table fare, Greg? What was the party make-up?

Sovereign Court 5/5

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Doug Miles wrote:

Thanks Dan.

Greg, that's as true to what the module suggested as anyone in PFS can get. Short and to the point. I'd use that if I hadn't done all the work writing mine.

There's a cleric of Desna and at least one Shelyn-worshiping bard in the party I am running through it this Friday. I think in order to make Nidal stand out in their minds, I have to play up the threat of Zon-Kuthon's fanatical followers.

I think it might be adding insult to injury because The Heart is going to slaughter them. There's not a single PC in the party that's going to live after two rounds of attacks from that thing. I'm concerned it'll be a de facto TPK since they'll be trapped in the Mirror after they lose a couple of PCs and run away. How did your table fare, Greg? What was the party make-up?

As a side note, I thought this was going to happen when I ran it. Turns out that when anything rolls entirely 1's, they lose. Instead, I killed someone since they killed the heart first so they were triggering deterioration of the house and kept getting 1d3 shadows in a ton of rooms.

Grand Lodge

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Doug Miles wrote:

I think it might be adding insult to injury because The Heart is going to slaughter them. There's not a single PC in the party that's going to live after two rounds of attacks from that thing. I'm concerned it'll be a de facto TPK since they'll be trapped in the Mirror after they lose a couple of PCs and run away. How did your table fare, Greg? What was the party make-up?

I played it through this weekend. It's a horrifying fight. We only just scraped through because of a lucky hit with the shard, an Eidolon that distracted the heart for a round and the fact my gunslinger could stand well back and consistently pound damage into it.

If I were you, I would stress to the players that whatever is beyond the ichor-dripping walls is a source of great evil and strong magic. Really stress the sense of dread coming from whatever is behind the bloodied wall. When the players see the creature and you describe it, make sure you describe the 'thick layer of protective bark covered with a mesh of sharp, painfully long looking thorns' across its body.

This will kickstart the players minds into thinking more strategically, and they might come up with good 'opening barrage' attacks to take it's health down quickly, rather than risk all the regeneration. It may also have the natural attack players be a bit more wary about punching all the thorns.

To make matters worse, we found that Nighcaslor was extremely deadly as well, although he can be dealt with through smart saving throw attacks.

Scarab Sages

My party was made up of a oracle 5, ninja 5, bard 4, gunslinger/cleric/something else 4 and a witch 4. The entire mission involved a lot of tears and basically people loved the module, but hated the combat. The Lurker totally decimated the group and had everyone blind and the ninja dominated. However it was down pretty far in HP and its base had been routed out so after smacking them around for awhile it took off to go hang out with that satyr in the woods or something. Yes, I took mercy on them, it was a moment of weakness.

Going into our next session I warned them that a TPK was coming and that they really needed to bring their 'A' game. Well that didn't happen and basically the Heart had 2 people at a time knocked out while the oracle channeled her little heart out. The bard was killed in there somewhere, but the Heart didn't have much appetite so it didn't swallow anyone. Finally the ninja managed to do just enough damage with the fragment to take out the heart.

So to sum up, the party had 0 chance at success and only through lots of handwaving were they able to succeed. The players felt totally beaten down and to say they were upset that they still had to fight Nicasor would be an understatement. Fortunately, that battle went better despite it still being difficult.

Now part of the problem we experienced was that the players were supposed to be playing the same characters through this modules so they'd be appropriately leveled, however most of them have been swapping them out with other characters and playing in normal Society games so the whole thing was a hot mess. I've prepped City of Golden Death for the next game and I think it might be ugly despite being an older module designed for 4 players vs 6.

The Exchange

LOL. Let me tell you about my impending disaster. Non-melee cleric 5, sorcerer 5, barbarian 4, rogue 3, bard/oracle 3, bard/rogue 3. I saw the bard/rogue's character sheet and noted he's got a 10 CON and put his favored class points into skills. They'll do great for Part 1 until they meet the Lurker. So this is what I imagine happening in Part 2:

  • Round 1; The barbarian moves in to melee, takes an AOO and gets grabbed. He might get in a slash with the shard. The rest of the party does ineffective attacks because they can't hit AC 25 or overcome Regeneration 10.
  • Round 2; The barbarian is swallowed. At this point he's taken 20 points of damage so he's probably 1/3 down if he's raging. If the rest of the party is smart they'll stay out of reach and just be helpless to assist.
  • Round 3; If he's smart the barbarian's player will realize he's safer in The Heart's stomach taking 2d6 a round and can win through attrition. If he's not smart he'll cut his way out and take a full attack and get grabbed again.

The reason I laughed was the barbarian was a last-minute addition to the table. I had originally limited recruitment to 5 players until I saw the party mix. Can you imagine how hosed they'd be without the barbarian?

Scarab Sages

I know exactly how hosed, because the player for the cleric of Besmara/pirate/gunslinger in our party played the barbarian in the earlier modules we played. He was an HP CMB/CMD build and probably could've stayed alive stabbing the tree while the oracle healed him.

For better or worse, I had the heart power attack the whole time so while the bites were brutal the additional 2 hits generally missed.

In regards to the Lurker, maybe gently hint they should bring some alchemist fire or something. I play an alchemist when not GMing and I think if I'd been there I could've at least pinged away enough damage to make a difference even with the Lurker invis or my PC blinded.

Silver Crusade

The cleric/gunslinger/rogue is actually level 3. I actually liked the tree combat. I hated that it was followed by Nicasor, especially since I felt like we'd made friends. And I was perfectly willing to help kill the Baron and wanted to kill him the entire game for being a liar who caused all the havoc in the city. I still think we should have killed him. After Nicasor.

That lurker was mean.

The Exchange

With the introduction that I wrote there's no association with Anya the Baroness so the PCs won't be restrained from supporting Nicasor. I've got a very chaotic, contrary group so I can see this unfolding.

Silver Crusade

I've noticed your groups tend to be very Chaotic Neutral. :P

Silver Crusade 3/5

Just a heads up on this one, it's seriously bad for rogues. Many of the opponents don't allow sneak attack and this led to 4 PC deaths when I ran it at a con.

The Exchange

Yeah, everyone over here is anti-authority. I'm lucky they haven't shivved the GM yet. On the bright side FoC, they each will get almost enough gold to pay for a raise dead. If they can defeat The Heart and get out of the Mirror.

Silver Crusade

If you'd like Doug. I'll make an event out of it, and you can come play your character over here. I know you get a rare opportunity to play. Wouldn't mind your feedback either.

The Exchange

Thanks for the offer, I don't have much time to range that far from home so when I have spare time I run tables locally. I have to keep my session count ahead of my 5-Star rivals. It gives me a sense of purpose.

Silver Crusade

Well, it's a bit more of a stretch. Maybe I could range out there and run you a table. Since I seem to be a bit more mobile than you. Day trips are far easier to arrange in my schedule.

Shadow Lodge

Doug Miles wrote:

A possible Pathfinder Society briefing, if you're so inclined to use one:

You are...

Thanks, Doug. This is a big help.

Can someone help out a 'blind' woman? I found the PFS rules for The Midnight Mirror but all it had was the Chronicle. Is that it? The previous ones I've run have had notes about using the module in Society play and a tracking sheet.

Shadow Lodge

Sewicked wrote:

Thanks, Doug. This is a big help.

Can someone help out a 'blind' woman? I found the PFS rules for The Midnight Mirror but all it had was the Chronicle. Is that it? The previous ones I've run have had notes about using the module in Society play and a tracking sheet.

Never mind, it's in the organized play guide

The Exchange

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So I ran this module on Black Friday with the following group:

  • 5th level gnome sorcerer
  • 5th level human cleric of Desna (non-melee)
  • 3rd level half-orc barbarian
  • 3rd level elf rogue
  • 3rd level halfling bard/oracle
  • 3rd level bard/rogue

I imagined from the outset that they would end up trapped in the Mirror and I'd have to figure out a way for the Society to recover them. Everything started fine. The PCs were a colorful bunch, and the introduction that I used worked nicely--although the "leader" of the team kept the information about the mission very close to his chest. The other players said they felt like they were kept in the dark.

They did fine for Part 1, and after 2.5 hours of role-play and screwing around we finally rolled initiative for the first time. The Lurker blinded two PCs, but the sorcerer managed to glitterdust it (immune to blindness though) and force it to flee. They lost the loot but found some valuable clues. They laid down the evidence in front of the Baron and he fessed up. One interesting thing was after they learned about the Baron trading places with Nicasor, they questioned him thoroughly about the other occupants of the Mirror--which I didn't foresee. Into the Mirror they went.

One more thing I did in Part 1 was drop some hints that a messenger had been sent to Pangolias to request assistance against the 'shadow creatures'. The town priest said he expected a detachment of clerics and inquisitors of Zon-Kuthon to be arriving in Karpad soon. This lit a fire under their behinds, especially the cleric of Desna ;)

Two more PCs were blinded by the fetchling sorceress (why does she have darkvision as a spell again?). They chose to talk and negotiate with the rest of the prisoners they met. They tried to enlist their help, but the shae & fetchlings were too cowed by The Heart to risk it.

When they met Nicasor they argued that he should help them out as well. He offered to tell them what he knew of The Heart in exchange for free reign when he escaped. I imagine that at some point early in their imprisonment, when their numbers were greater, the prisoners had tried to destroy The Heart unsuccessfully. Having been around to observe The Heart in combat, Nicasor could bargain with what he knew of its hefty capabilities. One of the good-aligned PCs was concerned about the innocent being harmed by Nicasor, so he promised that he wouldn't kill anyone but the Baron and he would leave Karpad after his revenge was complete. At the time I was thinking Nicasor won't hurt anyone, but his followers aren't bound by that promise.

Thus prepared (and knowing is half the battle!) the players started to strategasize. I resolved that I wasn't going to pull any punches, even if it looked hopeless. They broke down the wall and things immediately looked bad. The barbarian won init, stepped up and slashed with the shard--and got nailed 3 times in return. It failed to grab him, however, which I had been hoping for since at least that way he wouldn't take a full attack again. Then the tide turned. The sorcerer produced a scroll of haste which was crucial. The Heart missed the barbarian twice but managed a grab with a tentacle. This made an opportunity for the rest of the party to swarm into the room and surround The Heart. The cleric laid a bestow curse and The Heart failed the save. The cleric chose CON loss, which amounted to 27HP--a huge hit. My dice went cold. Like Iammars said, there's no helping it when you roll 1s on your attacks. Hope welled in my chest as the barbarian slashed madly with the benefit of the haste. After four rounds The Heart collapsed. And then the world began to come apart.

The party ran upstairs, grabbed Sorin and made it out of the Mirror in time. Nicasor gathered his followers and reminded the PCs of their promise. He headed upstairs to find the Baron. The fetchlings began their bloody revenge and they PCs had to intervene as the Baronness and her infant were set upon. After a confrontation the fetchlings agreed to leave the Baroness to the PCs and departed with their red-handed master. The PCs explained to the Baroness about Iozef and Sorin. She was not happy, but Karpad was no longer a safe place to stay so she decided to return to her family for the time being.

The Exchange

The whole module took about 10 hours, with a 30 minute food break.

I am running it again next month. We're planning to do it over two weeknights before Christmas. The players I had on Black Friday were all experienced back to the 3.5 Edition days. Although the party mix wasn't optimal, they made up for it through good tactics. My weeknight players have a better mix of PCs, but their grasp of tactics and cooperation have been an anchor around their necks since we began. It will be interesting to see how another table goes.

Scarab Sages

Our lurker battle outlasted glitterdust being cast 3x. Well 4x, but the spellcaster missed the area one of the times. Did he get very many of his sneak attacks in? I generally found that one full-round attack with his claws would floor someone while he was invisible.

The Exchange

  • Round 1 he blinded the PC addressing him
  • Round 2 he got glitterdusted and retaliated against the gnome sorcerer with another blindness
  • Round 3 the blind gnome cursed him out in Sylvan so the Lurker magic missiled him and told him to shut his potty mouth
  • Round 4 he missed a melee attack against the gnome
  • Round 5 the Lurker had gotten hit enough to break his morale

That's how it went down as I recall. The glitterdust early in the fight was critical.

Grand Lodge

Doug, that sounds awesome. Your players sound like pros.

I especially love the idea that there's a bunch of Zon Kuthon clerics and inquisitors coming to 'sort out the mess'. That would scare any group into sorting out the problem and getting the hell out of there!

Dark Archive

Wish I'd seen this thread before I ran this module. Here is what I wrote for the intro.

"It has been several weeks since you first arrived upon the shadowy shores of Nisroch, the only open port to the twilight nation of Nidal. Tasked by the Decemvirate to deliver a rare Kuthonite icon, a triptych, to the Baronet Tiboros, you had successfully concluded your mission when the baronet asked you to stay for dinner. After a sumptuous meal, you found yourselves comfortably situated in the music room. The final notes of a hauntingly beautiful aria sung by his youngest daughter were still mournfully sighing from the strange pipe organ-like instrument being played by the baronetess as the lord of the house signaled for you to join him in his private study.

Directing you to be seated amongst the plush ox-blood leather sofas, the butler served digestifs as the baronet took up station before the fireplace. Snifters of brandy in hand, you listened as he told you of his eldest daughter, Anya. She had married into one of the oldest of Nidalese families, the Boroi, whose lands were centered around their ancient keep in Arpad. Her match seemed well made, value of the native name along with their title helped to propel his social standing while his daughter and her husband actually seemed happy with one another. Her letters, sometimes two or three a week, had been constant and uninterrupted even through the months of her confinement and the birth of their son two months ago. It was three weeks past that her letters abruptly stopped arriving. The baronet was worried that something had happened to Anya. He could not go himself without prior notice and his business interests were at a delicate stage. He feared to involve the authorities without knowing the cause of this silence as their zeal could further any damage. This was where you came into his plans. He could arrange for legitimate travel papers allowing you to travel to the village of Arpad along with a letter of introduction to the baron and baroness. He asked that you take some personal letters to his daughter and determine the cause of her broken communications. Baronet Tiboros promised 5,000 gold pieces to cover expenses and to ensure the safety of his daughter.

Correspondence and letter of introduction safely packed, you began the journey to Nidal’s capital city of perpetual darkness, Pangolais, traveling up the Usk River by paddle boat. From there, you followed alongside the minor tributary of Dimar’s Way. After several weeks you find yourselves on the river road to Arpad. There is chimney smoke rising from several homes as the trees part before the edges of a modest village."

The Exchange

I broke this into two parts. I ran Part 1 last night at my weeknight game. Was supposed to have a table of six, but one player backed out, one player showed up only to say he couldn't play and one was a no-show. Of the three players present, two didn't have PCs of an appropriate level. God help me, I ran the table with 3 pre-gens and one real character. The Lurker massacred them. They got some licks in, but after everyone was down I just had the Lurker leave. Earlier Ezren had charmed Lucian the town watch captain and brought him along to look for Olya. After finding his daughter and freeing her from the wax, I had him stabilize the characters who hadn't done so on their own. It was generous to have the Lurker just leave, but the alternative was a TPK. The Lurker's operation was exposed and its helpers had been incapacitated.

Lucian went and got help from the town watch, who carried the unconscious PCs to the temple of Zon-Kuthon. The party had already stopped there earlier and had maintained their cover as Kuthites, allowing themselves to be mangled in order to show respect. Too bad only one real PC was at the table, because they paid for their healing/blindness removal with permanent disfigurements (will be documented on the Chronicle). It's fun to be creatively cruel. I always say "Trauma" is when it happens to me, "No big deal" is when it happens to you.

I hope I have all my players next week, or they are boned. This is not a tactically astute group :( Obviously they will not get full credit if they didn't play Part 1, but you guys know how combat-intense Part 2 is. I plan on introducing the new players as existing prisoners in the Baron's dungeon whom he is offering freedom to in exchange for helping to destroy the Mirror.

5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Finland—Tampere aka Rei

Hey guys, looking forward to running this in a week or so. I'm not a very experienced GM, so if you could point out any specific "tough bits" that might throw me off while running the scenario, I'd be happy to take a look at your suggestions. I'm lucky to have some extremely good players who know the rules like the backs of their hands that I can trust to keep me in check in terms of mechanics, but there's some things I can't ask them about beforehand that I should have prepped before we start playing -- a specific example I can come up with right away is the matter of summon spells in the Mirror itself. Am I correct in assuming that no variant of summon spell, including summoning eidolons, would function within the Mirror?

The Exchange

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Correct, once within the mirror no summoning is possible. No escaping either. I would say that the Lurker in Light encounter was challenging to run.

The players will dislike the Baron right away. He seems clueless; unable to connect the dots. I would play him as struggling to be humble while dealing with mercenaries. The players may openly mock him, and the fact is he doesn't have any means to retaliate. You may want to have the Baron's wife Anya present with their newborn son. That will help suppress the players' urges to grab the Baron and throttle him for being an idiot.

I recommend having the players pre-roll several Sense Motive checks at the beginning of the adventure to use when they try to see through the Baron's deceptions. Players always metagame Sense Motive checks. If they see one player try it and roll poorly, suddenly the rest of them have the 'notion' to try also. He's not going to easily admit to personal wrongdoing, especially to his social inferiors. The players will likely never discover the Baron used Nicasor to remove his brothers from succession until after they have entered the Mirror. If they do figure out he's a dirtbag and try to overthrow him, it may make negotiations with Nicasor less interesting. Regardless, the more the players believe the Baron is a decent guy in a tough spot, the sweeter the surprises once they are committed to the Mirror prison.

The dimensional effects of the prison within the Mirror are forgettable. Remind the players how pervasively cold it is, they can see their breath fog in the air. Their lights seem to be dampened leaving the corners of the room shrouded in shadows. Their ears seem plugged up as even sound seems to die before it travels far.

Remember to give the players a chance to talk to their opponents before rolling initiative. It gives them a chance to discover the backstory from the prisoner's POV.

Have the Shadow Mastiff bay as its first action. The low Will save PCs will panic and flee allowing the beast to tear up the clerics and wizards.

When the PCs open the door to the Allip's room, have all the PCs who can see into the room at that instant make Will saves against the compulsively reading the ectoplasmic script. No one is going to say "While we fight this thing, I'm going to study the strange words floating in mid-air. What do they say?". Forcing them to make the Will save against a gaze attack is the only way this encounter can mechanically work. The allip should emerge from the hanging corpse on its turn to act. If a player wants to say they weren't looking into the room then give the PCs who were looking a surprise round in which to act.

When they decide to face the Heart, they will have to chop through the wall first. Describe how as they hack at it, black ichor splatters on their arms and faces from the bleeding wall. They have no idea how thick the wall is, so they won't know when they are about to break through. The Heart knows. When they are almost through, have the Heart tear open the hole from its side of the wall. Describe the scene to the players as if they are shining a flashlight into a dark room. They just see a thorny black trunk with a toothy maw and lashing vines. Then roll initiative.

You may not think that you need to draw out the Baron's mansion since no combat actually occurs there. It really depends how things play out after the prisoners escape from the Mirror. Nicasor is going to want revenge against the Baron. I wouldn't put it past him to kill Anya and the Baron's son as well. That kind of situation may be too intense for most players. In that case, perhaps Nicasor would keep them as servants and torment the Baron until the natural end of his life.

5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Finland—Tampere aka Rei

Thanks so much for your advice! I definitely kept a lot of it in mind, and here's a little summary of how things played out.

First up, the party:

  • the fourth-level cleric and samurai pregens
  • a dwarf wizard 1/fighter 2
  • a fourth-level elf alchemist
  • a half-elf inquisitor of Abadar 2/fighter 1
  • a third-level human inquisitor of Pharasma

So all in all, a bit of a colorful bunch. They took to going through the scenario backwards like a fish to water: their first reaction upon reaching town was to head into the central square to look for an inn, which led to them stumbling upon the lynch mob. They managed to get the watch captain calmed down enough to stop the fetchlings from dying, got accommodations in Shade Row as a reward... and immediately started to solve the mysteries of the missing child and the strange disease in town, with nary a thought to their original mission of "go to make sure Anya Boroi is alright".

The party tracked down Catalina easily enough, without actually knowing it was the candlemaker who had been behind the kidnapping (they presumed it was some sort of wax monster) and proceeded to enter the chandlery through the cellar. Despite the alchemist being decent at finding traps, they failed their Perception check to find the trap, then opened the door and got a faceful of wax as a reward. I think the half-elf went down to 1 HP at this point. They also triggered the lurker in light encounter, which ended up only being a slight challenge for the party (they were somewhat prepared for invisible enemies) and ended with the lurker escaping using daylight door. I also forgot to run the wax golem encounter, which wouldn't have done anything other than make everyone spend another few minutes waiting for the alchemist to easily finish it off. (After clearing out the rest of the building, the dwarf wanted to take the makeshift sacrificial altar with him. Those crazy Chelaxians.)

After encountering the woman whose neck explodes in front of the party, the characters went into a bit of a frenzy in their attempts to save the rest of the town from the tallowthroat plague. The events they managed to get through included talking the watch captain into drinking holy water and sleeping overnight in a cell to keep his family safe from the shadows that could potentially kill his family. They also asked for a list of people who had become infected and died, which I improvised was being kept at the temple (at the very least they'd have a list of the dead) since considering how religious the party was, they probably wouldn't have gone there otherwise. This is also where they found out that the baron's brothers aren't in their coffins. At this point, I just started running with the fact they'd have all the clues before getting the mission to collect them.

Upon encountering the Baron, they pretty much immediately got him to confess what he'd done, then decided to sleep on their newfound mission before starting it. They also combed through the manor, encountered Evgenia, and got her convinced that they think Zon-Kuthon is p. awesome and that they're trying to help out her son. This ended up being very significant, and probably saved the party in the end.

The Mirror's monsters didn't provide any truly dangerous moments for the party (although most of the monsters did elicit groans of agony from the more monster-savvy players) and they skipped the mastiff encounter entirely after hearing from the fetchlings downstairs that there was a kennel in the House of Night. They headed upstairs after clearing the rest of the rooms on the first floor except for the fireplace room, went through the allip encounter with little difficulty (though amusingly, everyone kept failing their saves throughout the scenario, resulting in -- I seem to recall -- four save fails for the allip encounter) and met with the fetchlings upstairs, one of whom went to get Nicasor.

Nicasor explained to the party what Stepan's plot was, and gleefully told them they would stand no chance against the Heart, but if they decided to challenge it anyway, he would not stand against them, and made it very clear he wants his revenge for Stepan's betrayal. The party thanked him and went to hack its way to the Heart, never encountering Sorin or the rest of the shae.

The Heart battle was... incredibly anticlimactic. My rolls were terrible and it did not score a single point of damage against the party. (Telling the players the Heart's stats after the battle made some of them feel a little sick, although our resident engineer did calculate that the Heart's chances of hitting the buffed-and-at-this-point-AC-27 samurai were so low the damage it would have dealt would have been near negligible.) They knocked it down using various normal attacks, then hacked it to death with the mirror shard. Upon making their escape, the party had a brief moment of frustration with the floor turning into quicksand, but the rest of the way back to the Mirror was smooth sailing.

Since they had left so many of the creatures from the House alive, the rest of the fetchlings and shae soon went past the party after they'd returned to the Material Plane, followed by Nicasor and the mastiff. Nicasor immediately turned on the party in order to stop them from alerting the Baron of what was going on, and the final battle took place in the altar room. Nicasor rolled initiative 27 and started hacking into the party. The next character called out to Evgenia, who materialized, figured out that the shae had in mind to kill her nephew, and started attacking Nicasor and the mastiff. If it hadn't been for the ghost, the party would likely have been dead at this point: the mastiff's bay sent half the party running for four turns, at which point Nicasor hacked into the samurai, the cleric frantically tried to keep the samurai on his feet (Nicasor couldn't reach the cleric) and the mastiff, confused by Evgenia attacking it, spent two attacks on the ghost before deciding to move on to more fleshy targets. It tripped both the samurai and the other inquisitor, who had blocked Nicasor from reaching the cleric, and everything was looking rather grim...

...until the bay's effect wore off, and the dwarf charged back into the room and finished Nicasor off with the wand of magic missile. After that, there was only the matter of taking down the mastiff.

In the aftermath, the Baron was left in the party's debt, they never found out about Sorin (who had at this point fled for the hills with the rest of the fetchling and shae inhabitants of the Mirror), and the entire party survived, albeit some heavily wounded.


Prepping to run this ... As usual, very helpful notes, folks!

A question: the iron maiden ghost seems very cool, but I can't see PCs ever encountering her. Does the baron actually give them free run of the manor unattended? Why would he, when he has so many secrets to be kept? Seems his best option is to steer PCs to the mirror and have them fight Nicasor for him.


The Exchange

I have used the iron maiden in two ways. When the baron finally confesses to the PCs about his involvement with the mirror, he will guide them to it through the dungeon. When he comes down, the iron maiden will manifest and begin to berate him for his shortcomings. She'll nag him about his lack of faith, his failure to welcome painful experiences, etc. She constantly compares him (unfavorably) to his brothers and wonders aloud how they both could perish while someone so unworthy survived. She's not hostile to the PCs, but if they want to make it an issue I'm sure the baron would not block them considering how she vexes him.

The other way I use her is if Nicasor or any other shae escape the mirror, she will not allow them to pass if she can help it. Granted she's incorporeal, but she knows what he represents and blood is thicker than water. Nicasor wants revenge on all the baron's family, the contempt is mutual. The iron maiden may slow down Nicasor and give the players a chance to catch up if they try and rescue the child after destroying the Heart. I hope that helps.


Thanks, Doug - exactly what I was looking for!

Liberty's Edge 5/5

I'm GMing this module tomorrow at a con, and I'm extremely concerned about the survivability of the party as they stand right now.

I've got 2 divine casters, both level 3; a level 4 monk; and one total unknown. I'm familiar with the two divine casters, and in no way, shape, or form would they be considered players who typically bring their A game or well-prepared.

I could either go the handwaving route (and I'll admit that I've been known to handwave from time to time if it means a greater fun factor or simply not wasting time); or, I could just run normally with a better than average chance of a TPK in several of those fights.

Would it be conceivable that they could convince Nicosor to help them in their fight against the Heart?...because that's the only way I'm guessing they'll be able to destroy it unless their dice are blazing white-hot, and that's assuming the Lurker doesn't completely make a mockery of them.

I'm not typically a GM who ever desires to make PCs miserable; I want them to have fun and succeed. But this module, woof...especially with just the 4 of them.

Shadow Lodge

All three times I've run it, the players have convinced Nicosor to help them fight the Heart. It seems reasonable to me. After all, he wants out of there even more than the PCs do.

Scarab Sages 2/5

Alright guys, so I'm running this on Saturday; Doug that intro is fantastic, so I definitely will borrow that. Is there any last minute advise you all can give me? I know one character is gonna be a paladin, so that'll be amusing to say the least.

4/5 Venture-Agent, Netherlands—Utrecht aka Quentin Coldwater

Thread necro, but I'd like to report what my group has done so far. They've pursued most of their leads and need to question Stepan for a second time before entering the Mirror. I hope I'm able to make it in a single session (next week), as otherwise I'll need like an extra hour or so.

Party composition: Dwarf Unchained Monk 3, Tiefling Asmodean Advocate 4, Herald Caller 5 on a giant chameleon, Arcanist 3 (or 4), Fighter/Arcanist/Cleric 4 or 5.
I gave the introduction as written by Doug, but to everyone. The text is too cool to leave to just one person.
They arrived in Karpad, went to the town first. Prevented the hanging, though it was difficult to get them to realise they couldn't just walk up to the gallows or they'd just get mobbed. Party felt a little overconfident they could take a mob of 30 people, but I had to impress upon them fighting all of them at once would've been a bad idea. Anyway, situation defused, they wanted to bring Lucian to Stepan to get an official death warrant. They explained the situation, eventually diagnosed the disease, cured Lucian of it, he became a lot more reasonable. Perhaps I overdid it a bit on the 180, he'd still be paranoid due to the Charisma damage. Anyway, he goes off to prevent the hanging, but the Dwarf gets diseased because some sick people rub up against him.
Anyway, lots of socialising in an inn to get a feel for the town. The first lead brings them to the chandlery. Since the wax golem is described as a handsome human male, I added in the detail how he's built like a wax Chippendale in a speedo, and he acted more or less like Armstrong in combat. Anyway, no one took damage because the thing got grappled by the chameleon, then tripped, and it became useless. The next fight with the Shadows was pretty scary at first, because the Arcanist/Fighter/Cleric was overconfident in his abilities and went in front (7 or 8 STR, I believe), then got flanked. They managed to punch through without any STR damage because of amazing AC (the multiclass has a weird thing where he can get pretty insane AC), albeit with quite a few Magic Missiles and Spiritual Weapons cast. Multiclass went in front again and triggered the Lurker combat, and got shanked pretty bad before using a scroll of Glitterdust, which saved them (he did fail against the poison, though, which made them sweat a bit). The flunkies got Burst of Radiance'd and were only in the way, and never got off a single attack. Meanwhile, the Lurker put up quite a fight as only the Monk was a real source of damage, and he Color Sprayed him. The chameleon managed to grapple him twice, but got out because of the Fey Touch and the Color Spray, but eventually a barrage of Magic Missiles and a summoned hyena got the better of him. He was about to DimDoor away, when another Burst of Radiance put him from 1 to -11 (of 10 CON). Dead, no source of info. The Lurker was quite a hassle, with pretty nasty Blindness saves and cool debuffs, but the Glitterdust was a real kick in the pants.
Onto the Church. The Cleric there offered to cure him in exchange for him punching a wall until it fell over (he was broke and couldn't pay for it). They got some info out of the man, got to see the graves, and connected the disease with Boroi himself, possibly the garden. It was near midnight in-game and they wanted to sleep and check out the rest of the manor next morning.

That's where I ended it. I hope I can manage to fit the manor and shadow-manor in a singe session of 5 hours, but I think I can skip some encounters. They're a talkative bunch and they should be able to Diplomacy away several of the encounters. Also, some of the encounters are pretty lacklustre, I feel. The mutliclass has a pretty infuriating debuff build where he shuts down enemies and he has great AC, so some encounters will be trivial. I already skipped the second Shadow encounter because I knew it would be pretty easy, and pretty boring to copy-paste a previous encounter. I plan to skip the animated furniture encounter because frankly, the furniture itself will be trivial. The ground is more scary than anything else, and I can possibly transplant that onto a different encounter. The single Shadow Mastiff is pretty boring, as a single creature versus a party of five isn't challenging. Perhaps here I can put the ground hazard, or skip as well. The hound itself is pretty nasty, but nothing insurmountable. Elenuta and Takris might be more interesting. I expect they'll be able to talk their way through the Shae, apart from Nicasor, and maybe even then. The Asmodean Advocate has a nice talky build and they could strike a deal.
Of the combats, there are still:

Combats remaining:

Shadow Mastiff (could be combined with the Necros I think, CR-wise it could work, if I don't pile up the debuffs too much)
Three Shae encounters I don't plan to run all of (first two are reasonable and I don't want to copy-paste encounters, and they could all be Diplomacy'd, I think, if given the right angle).

That's seven encounters and a lot of roleplay with more NPCs, and exploring the house. Considering the time from setup to briefing up to the chandlery also took nearly three hours, and three combats about two, this might work, especially if I ditch some of the encounters. People who've played this before, do you think I can cram this in a five-hour slot, or I rush them slightly? Or should I just take my time and plan a third session?

4/5 Venture-Agent, Netherlands—Utrecht aka Quentin Coldwater

Week 2 report, if anyone's interested.

Party talked to more NPCs about clues for about two more hours (including interacting with Auntie Evgenia for a bit), then finally entered the Mirror, unaware of Stepan's deal. They just thought something was amiss in the mirror. I moved the Mastiff to the Necrophidius room to make it more interesting. They open the room, two run away in fear because of the howl, they manage to close the door before the snakes can open it. They lock it somehow and I left it at that. They managed to lock it before it could be opened, so I left it at that. Technically they could've broken out eventually, but I counted it as a defeat. I skipped the animated furniture as it really wasn't impressive. Tried a few attack rolls as the door opened as a semi-haunt, but rolled so low I didn't even hit through their flat-footed AC. Skipped the Fetchling Sorcerer/Rogue combo as it really doesn't work (Obscuring Mist makes ranged targeted spells impossible, so her tactic doesn't work, and you can't sneak attack in fog, so the entire combat is just a timewaster.
The Fetchling NPCs were a good source of background info and made the villain a bit more fun to set up. Elementals were potentially interesting, but dead before they connected a single blow. By now, three combats had gone by and no one had taken damage so far.
They skirted around the Heart to upstairs, fought against the Allip without it landing a single blow (high Monk AC and a Helpful Bodyguard makes for a literally unhittable touch AC) and pretty much met Nicasor immediately. He seemed sympathetic enough that he made a reasonable case. The Asmodean Advocate was outraged that Stepan reneged on his contract and made a new contract that if he was freed, he'd talk it out with out with Stepan, no innocents would get hurt because of this disagreement, and that no matter what, they'd get what they wanted (the Macguffin lady's shadow). Nicasor agreed and he led them to the Heart (after giving a short tour of the rest of the floor). I skimmed over the rest of the Shae as they really weren't important by that point.
They fought against the Heart. Heart landed one big blow against the Monk and left him at 3 HP, then the incredibly annoying Bodyguard routine kicked in and got hit once more after receiving a lot of healing and Resist Acid, so it took the sting out a lot. The multiclass ate a lot of attacks but was literally unhittable, so it was mainly a timewaster.
The plane came crashing down, they saved everyone, Nicasor got away and they managed to convince Stepan he was dealt with. A good Bluff check and being techincally correct scored them their victory, and they took Sorin back to Absalom because they didn't trust him there (they didn't do anything with the heir thing directly, though) and they later heard Nicasor killed Stepan in the conclusion. They weren't too sad about that, as they all agreed Stepan was a bit of a jerk.

In the end, I liked the module a lot. Lots of opportunity to find out backstory, and enemies get a voice, which I like. I rushed through some minor things, but it wouldn't have affected gameplay. I finished right on time, so that's a plus. I complained that the multiclass character was quite annoying to GM for, as he shuts down enemy tactics completely. He said I should just change tactics, which is fair, but most of the time, that's not possible. He has impossibly high AC, with a Bodyguard familiar and is impossible to damage, and he's so good at tripping that no one can get past him if he's in front. Anyway, he trivialised a lot of combats in this scenario, but for the Heart combat I agree they needed it. But anyway, that's me just whining about a build. People said they liked it, even though there's only a bit of combat. But there really wasn't a lot of reason to fight a lot of things, and I thought it was a bit of a waste to let them fight unimpressive things when we were pressed for time.

Sovereign Court 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

I played the Asmodean lawyer Quentin mentioned. It was an enjoyable module. A few notes:

The hook used to draw us into the adventure was important. Quentin went with Doug's Book of No Shadow approach, so we didn't really need Stepan alive or happy as long as someone helped us with the book. Whether that was him or Nicasor didn't really matter that much to us. If we'd had the mission to check up on Anya's (happy-ish) marriage, we might have grudgingly sided with Stepan.

I can certainly see why for a GM an untouchable PC build is annoying. However, the Heart is also quite a monster. It's way over the top for a L3-5 party. Sure, you could try to snipe at it from range since it's immobile (though it has a listed speed?) but it has 15ft reach and chances are that you don't have enough room to stand back safely. Also, it's nowhere near guaranteed that a party is carrying enough ammo to whittle down an AC 25 creature with 94 hp and regeneration 10. So if you're fighting such over the top monsters, using an over the top build becomes sort of justified. Though I really don't like that kind of arms race.

I don't think Quention should have skipped quite so many fights as he did. Or, when he did skip pointless fights, told us as much about it - don't criticize the module while running it. Maintain the facade everything is awesome, you're trying to sell something here.

Especially Nicasor - sure, we made a fair deal with him, but in the end he's a villain and backstabbing us out of paranoia or just because we served our purpose (facing the Heart and getting him out) and became a loose end would have been good enough reasons to renege. I feel we lacked a good boss fight with a person. We'd been gearing up for a confrontation with Nicasor, and I think we should have fought either him or Stepan as adventure climax.

I understand Stepan has no stats, hence why having Nicasor turn on us would have been best. And having Stepan look on approvingly as the PCs do his dirty work would have been just perfect for leaving you feeling appropriately used. If the players openly wonder if they don't "know too much", you can even tell them that in Nidal, Stepan doesn't have to worry about this tarnishing his reputation. In fact, using foreigners as pawns like this is going to earn him street cred with the rest of the shadowy nobility.

4/5 Venture-Agent, Netherlands—Utrecht aka Quentin Coldwater

I would've run it differently if we had the time. Yeah, I streamlined some of the fights, but they would've perhaps drained some resources. Though I'm doubtful in some cases, the moving furniture would've just been a timesink, they really weren't capable of doing much, especially if someone keeps bodyguarding. But in the end, there wasn't enough time to play it all out. And truth be told, Nicasor is quite a pushover. The Heart's way more difficult to deal with (I don't begrudge the Bodyguarding tactic here, I agree it was necessary, I just feel like I don't present much of a challenge if I just don't hit), Nicasor is just a sub-boss. He has less HP, AC, to-hit and damage output, his only advantage is his Blur. If you defeated the Heart, Nicasor would've been easy peasy. Might've been a better conclusion to the story, but not really a challenge. That's a bit of an anticlimax. Also, we were rushing for time, but the entire thing would maybe have run an hour or so longer, that's just a waste of everyone's time.
My personal frustration is that a lot of fights here are easily neutered through effective bottlenecking. You guys were fairly optimal, but aside from the sub-bosses and up, nothing really would've posed a challenge for you. I did some fights so you had the feeling you didn't cruise through the module, but for me it mostly felt like an exercise in frustration. No real ways of dealing damage, poor tactics, and so much battlefield control a GM doesn't have many options. A poor workman blames his tools, sure, but from a tactical point of view, you would've aced every fight, and for me there wasn't much interesting I could do. Most of my tactics involve "get close and hit stuff." The Lurker was fun though, that's an interesting change of tactics.

About the Heart: yeah, it has a land speed, but tactics say it's immobile, and that he doesn't use tactics. So while he has Grab and Swallow Whole (with a very nasty paralysis), he doesn't use it.

I agree I should've shut up about skipping fights. I tend to do this, don't know why. Maybe my sense of fairness prevents me from not telling I changed something.

Grand Lodge

I'm expecting to run this for PFS in a few weeks, and there are a few things I'm not clear on.

Regarding tallowthroat, the "Intimidate should be treated as Diplomacy" effect confuses me. What I think it's saying is that whereas Intimidate normally has its own DC and automatically makes the target friendly, in this case it should work just like Diplomacy and use the same DC - success shifts the target's attitude by one level plus one for every 5 by which you beat the DC. Does that sound right?

The mob encounter in town also confuses me. It sounds like there are two ways of saving the fetchlings without combat:

  • Talk down Lucien himself. His attitude is hostile, so with his 4 Cha that's a Diplomacy DC 22, or DC 27 if you think that they need to raise his attitude to indifferent rather than just unfriendly.
  • Raise the entire crowd's attitude to helpful, at which point they'll stop Lucien for you. The crowd starts indifferent and it takes Diplomacy DC 15 or Intimidate DC 20 to shift the attitudes of 1d6 villagers by one step. Since helpful is two steps up, that sounds like Diplomacy DC 20 or Intimidate DC 25 - not that far off from convincing Lucien himself. Even using the lower DCs and assuming friendly is enough, this has to be done probably 6-10 times in a row to convince all 30 villagers depending on how lucky you get with those d6 rolls, with no failures allowed (since you can't retry within 24 hours). That doesn't sound like the "easier path" that the module seems to think it is (it's also a lot more rolling than I usually see for this sort of thing).

Is it supposed to be this hard? Maybe it is - you are talking down a lynch mob, after all - but the module seems to think that coming to blows with Lucien is unlikely, and I don't think most PCs would just walk away. How do other people interpret this?

There also seems to be some question here about how Nicasor interacts with the PCs. My thinking is that Nicasor only tries to conceal his plans for conquest - he makes no secret of his anger against Stepan, and tries to turn the PCs against him, claiming he has tricked them as well. As far as helping against the Heart, he won't suggest it, hoping that the PCs will be too exhausted from the battle to interfere with his plans for revenge, but it doesn't take too much convincing to get him to help - his first goal is to escape the mirror, and if the PCs fail against the Heart it's far from obvious that he can finish the job himself. If he does help, he tries to ensure victory while taking as few risks as possible - he wants the PCs to be the ones taking the hits.

Also, the module seems to think that Nicasor will be alone against the PCs when he escapes the mirror, but it seems like there's a reasonably good chance that some of his underlings will survive. The basic fetchlings might not help, but the PCs can theoretically encounter Nicasor without fighting Eleutia or any of his three shae relatives, making it possible they'd join him in the final fight. If that happened, how would you handle it?

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