The Slumbering Tsar - Starting, DM Set up, Questions, and Advice

Advice and Rules Questions

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There are going to be tons of spoilers in here so if you are playing stop reading, this adventure is pretty awesome so don't ruin it for yourself.

Ok, so I've read the first three books and have a decent handle on the Desolation and the Camp. I've been reading the play-by-post thread called "The Camp-Forward", which has been great for a visualisation. I've got a few questions and concerns.

The Distance: Bard's Gate is 300 miles or so from the Camp, I was looking through to find some kind of travel encounters for the trip, because its a long way. I set this up as 150 miles up a river and 150 miles through stony plains. So far my group has made it up the River with a few attacks in some woods by a troll and some ogres. I need something to round out the rest of the trip for the last half. From the adventure description there is just nothing between Bard's Gate and the Camp right? In my game I exchanged Magnimar for Bard's Gate and set the Camp in the Cinderlands in place of Urglin. To isolate the area, I told them Kaer Maga was hostile to travelers, but this still leaves Turtleback Ferry on the way. I am using bits of RotRL AP3 for some filler content and using the encounter tables and Fort Rannick to make the trip dangerous. So any suggestions for the trip from Fort Rannick/Skull's Crossing to the Camp (previously Urglin) through the Desolation (previously the Cinderlands).

NPCs: I'm concerned with a lack of npcs for the players to interact with, besides the Camp and that group of dwarves are there any settlements big or small in the region I have missed? Are there any things other DM's have done to break up the "desolation" of the Desolation? I know there's a few monster interactions and a couple of hostile demihumans. I know my players and they are going to want to talk to non-threatening npcs. I'd even go as far as to put other camps of adventurers out in the wasteland just to have some conversations, what have others done, did I miss something?

The Weather: There's some mention of the weather being horrendus in the region, but there aren't any real specifics other than some nasty stuff in the encounters table. To touch on this I modified the base rules for bad weather and doubled the range of non-normal weather and reduced the chances of normal weather. Am I making this to difficult or is this what was intended? I don't have my chart handy, but there's at least a 50% chance every day of the weather being miserable for one reason or another including heat waves, windstorms, or cold snaps.

Hunting and Fishing: Even though it starts mid level there are some modifiers to survival checks in the area, from what I've seen a flat +5 from the adventure looks like the fix. In some areas, it specifies no plant life, so I would assume you really can't use survival for food in those areas. Since by and large it said water was difficult to find I have in my notes that all water found not specifically defined in the adventure as safe to drink is infested with Dysentery and Filth Fever to show how dangerous it is to drink out of a non-Well. It makes the Camp almost a must, except clerics can make water and rings of sustenance aren't that hard to find. Notably during a Heat wave water consumption is increased x3, I really wanted to make the region as volatile as the book makes it out to be. Am I going to far?

I'm sure I'll think of more and keep this thread running, thanks in advance.

Bard's Gate is in the Stoneheart Valley (or near it). So the best resource you could obtain that describes that valley (towns, farms, wilderness, denizens) is Stoneheart Valley.

More is in the Necromancer Games book Bard's Gate, but that hasn't as yet been converted to Pathfinder or S&W as yet. You might also be able to obtain it through various online stores or ebay.

Check out Frog God Games new website.

Edit: I finally read your entire post. I think that is a great place to position the Desolation. Exchanging Magnimar for Bard's Gate works. As for ideas on what to place in the pre-desolation areas before reaching the camp. You could still use Stoneheart Valley as a resource for types of encounters in the wilderness and Bard's Gate as a resource for NPC personalities and organizations, (although you'd have to convert to Pathfinder for stats, at least at this time).

@Dark Sasha hey thanks for the links! I'm new to FGG products, but so far I like the retro aspect of the adventures. Are there actually any significant settlements within 300 miles of the Camp? Anything outside of that and they would just go to the major city, but anything inside of that they might try and use.

More thoughts on making the setting matter:

Food and Drink: Given that rations go bad, but the basic equipment section doesn't bog itself down in minutia I'd say that standard rations go bad after about two weeks. But, given the horrendous condition and corruption of the Wasteland having them go bad in half that time might be doable. Why do this? Because I think part of the challenge of the Desolation is basic survival and there are some spells and items that trump that challenge, but I like making my players use their skills. Why have so much detail about decay and desolation if there are no in game mechanics around it? How does that sound? As far as water its usually well contained, but it might begin to taste foul or there might be some creatures in the Desolation that ruin water, even if they are just critters, any ideas?

I think you could make use of Paizo's setting as you describe.
The ruined City of Tsar is supposed to be set far outside of normal caravan routes and thus hard to transport salvaged loot from the city and ancient battle site surrounding it. Hence the camp exists to provide essential services at a tremendous profit.

The Distance: I mark the distance at more around 200 miles. The reference is 2 weeks and with bad roads and terrain it fits for me. Although in my game I am not concerned with travel south of the camp. I consider that relatively safe. I just mark the time and rations off.

NPCs: As Dark Sasha says Stoneheart Valley would be on the way and a good source for that as well as Bard's Gate.

Weather: Between the bone and sand storms I think it is rough enough. I do not see much precipitation in the Desolation. Cold snaps and heat waves, yes.

Hunting and Fishing: North of the camp, pretty much non-existent. I won't allow a ring of sustenance as it is too gamey for my tastes and too easily solves the food and water issue. Clerics need to keep create water and the party needs to bring a ton of rations!

Do you have the rest of RORL? I'm going to assume you do...


There are more encounters you can pull (this is from memory)

Adding a few tribes of goblins to the Desolation might work, just make the goblins dangerous scavengers and less comic relief

From book two, there are a lot of rural encounters, farmhouses and the like. You could spread them out through the Desolation, here and there.

The rangers and the druids from Tsar live some ways outside the camp. Could easily be on the Magnimar side of things.

Fort Rannick could easily be associated with the Pounders. Decide if Gurg is higher or lower in rank than whoever runs the camp now

Cannot comment on the RoRL connection as I don't run Paizo stuff. But I question why you would assume rations would spoil in two weeks? We used to call these things Iron Rations in 1E for a reason. They were designed to last for months, hard tack, jerky, dried fruit, etc. Yes, any food would eventually go bad and it severe conditions more quickly. For me there is enough in the 900+ pages of Tsar without having to look too far for other sources.

@Dark Sasha, yeah, I'm trying to add some extra personality to the npcs to make the Camp really come to life. As written it works pretty well and the encounter charts add alot of interaction, I will just need to flesh out some of the inhabitants more than nameless Commoner 2, works though.

@Brvheart as far as distance I guess as long as the Desolation and the Camp are kept isolated it will get that Wasteland feel. I reread the rations entry and it says they should stay good for months, but I'm still thinking about adding some kind of blight creature or having a percentage roll for ravenous vermin to attack their foodstuffs at night, ie diseased rats and bugs. Decay seems like a good theme for this.

@Anonymous I've run the RotRL series a few times and wrote an adventure for it (see Wayfinder 7, Chopper's Isle) I was thinking about throwing some goblins out there, but just about everything would use them as a food source, which probably wouldn't be a bad thing. They'd either be sickly or fiendish given the unstable area, I can see a starving diseased swarm of goblins attacking occasionally. Might make a good event or random encounter, something to keep people on watch. As far as Fort Rannick, its operational as of yet but I am using it as a dangerous road home full of cannibal ogres and trolls, using some thematic stuff from the anime Attack on Titan.

The Hook: From what I've read it sounds like some groups clear the roads for the trade route hook, but avoid the city. What have you done to get the player's more interested in rooting through Tsar, especially if they aren't paladins? So far I've had npcs promise the pc's lordship of the lands if they can make it safe, like Kingmaker. I'm intending to point to Tsar as the source of the danger to get them to clean out the city. My players eventually got tired of the Kingmaker building rules and the expanded rules so we won't be going into that much detail.

Have other adventurers in the area, and have one of them be spectacularly successful, for a while.

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Yea, going to work on something. Probably going to take every adventure hook and mash them all into one group and have them get murdered horribly, maybe have one survive as a pc replacement.

I tried to edit my post to add this, but oh well.

Experience and Advancement: For a Pathfinder game, what xp track is everyone using? I assumed slow, but since the mortality rate should be really high is a fast track best? I'm assuming with the amount of combats and sheer size of the adventure that we are going to be running this for a long time.

Character Death and Cashing-Out: Just for my own sanity I've let my players know that if they bring in a new character it will be APL-1. I think this fixes the problem with people doing silly things and coming in with a new character, possibly with better gp value. I think it also encourages people to evenly weigh new characters and raising them. I've never been a big fan of the wealth by level chart are other people doing the same thing?

Balancing the Party: Flipping through I'm guessing an ideal party of 4 would be 2 paladins, a ranger/rogue, and a cleric. My current group has no cleric at all, but I advised them to buy a couple wands of cure light wounds at least and to invest in the heal skill. As a DM I know these things tend to work themselves out naturally, but has anyone had success with non-traditional parties. Just food for thought the party is currently at start a human Magus, a human sorcerer, a human rogue, a dwarf fighter, and a human soulknife.

I'm using medium advancement and it has worked perfectly.

Those wants will get used up in a hurry without a cleric. I am doing medium also. Compared to RA, it isn't as deadly. At least not yet anyway for us. Might try and talk the person doing the soulknife to switch to cleric. They will need one. I don't use psionics anymore. Haven't since 1E. The systems really aren't balanced for it anymore. In 1E if you used psionics you were signing your death warrant. Do it and your next cure light wounds could mean an intellect devourer could eat your brain! Not enough monsters with psionics in the game to balance it. Ok, enough of the off-tangent! While you are throwing blight at them, throw in diseases, too! That will make them want a cleric!

I was worried slow advancement might set them back to far, but without knowing I'd rather go slow than let them level to fast. It sounds like medium might be the way to go though.

@Brvheart while I really don't enjoy psionics and had previously stuck to paizo products only one of my players is going through some stuff so I let them bring it in. I felt like a hypocrite since I'm running a 3PP adventure. As to the no cleric thing, without one the chances of character death jump alot, because they can't deal with burst of damage, diseases, curses, or attrition combats so it will work itself out. The wands will run out and soon, they are only halfway to the Camp and they are down 10 charges.

Not to play "against" the party, but I'm putting a 1 month shelf life on rations, which is going to leave them catching diseases from eating and drinking in the Desolation. Here's the amendment I'm looking at adding to the Desolation.

Pests and Vermin: There is a 30% chance every night in the Desolation that vermin attack the food stores of the adventures destroying 1d4 rations at random, whether they become maggot infested or devoured by rodents and other pests. If animals are set to keep pests out, instead roll a fortitude save versus Filth Fever to see if they catch a disease from the pests.

How often did your plays camp in the fields of the Desolation, rather than the Camp or somewhere else?

That ought to give them enough time out in the field and resupply at the Camp I guess. The vermin, etc idea sounds interesting!

The Desolation is pretty deadly as it is with the wandering monsters at night. Bad rations will be the least of their worries...

So the party should reach the camp tonight, they've got 150 miles to walk through the unpartitioned Desolation, no roads and worsening weather conditions I've got about 12 days of challenges and encounters to run with them. (8 hours x 3 mph)/2 for no roads = 12 miles per day. They are travelling Oregon Trail style with a big wagon. Help me throw some interesting and mundane challenges at them.

Flying: Does flying in the Desolation double (or triple?) your encounter chances? Given the constant bad weather and windstorms, winds should be high requiring fly checks. Given the winds on the ground visibility is bad, but a flying character should attract alot of attention. How have others dealt with this? I'm thinking corrupted air elementals, various demons, or gargoyles. Other recommendations?

The Pall Over Tsar: This says it changes people's alignement towards CE and if it changes it completely they loose their character. What happens if the character is already CE? After one save should they loose their character, what about a CN? My assumption was that a CE person might not be affected by this ability. How have you dealt with this? As written it seems pretty rough.

The Road to the Camp
Fixed Site 1: On the way the party has to cross an old stone bridge over a deep gorge, the problem is that the bridge is missing a 30' span. They are only about 6 miles out so they can go back to a small village (in my case Fort Rannick/Turtleback Ferry) for supplies.

Fixed Site 2: Abandoned Wagon, apparently this wagon was abandoned when a Roc came by and snatched off the driver and horse. The two mercenary guards fled on horseback when a second Roc arrived and flew off with one of them and his horse. The remaining caravan guard, Rugnus (CG dwarf warrior 2, thirst, 10 nonlethal), has been hidding about a half mile off the road under a rock, he's already eaten his horse and vultures are circling requiring an easy perception check DC10. He will gladly accompany any travelers, but he is incredibly thirsty requiring 3 water rations. Personality: Rugnus abandoned the wagon when he saw that the situation was hopeless, he's loyal if the party treats him well and will gladly keep watch. He will hire out to the party for half his normal wage of 6 sp/day. The wagon still has 300 gp of trade goods left in it. Quote - "Yar, they swept in like the wind and ripped that poor bastard apart like a wishbone. I hate what happened, but coulda been me."

Fixed Site 3: Abandoned Roadside Camp (80 miles from the Camp), this roadside feature is placed with near access to a small spring (100 yards away, direction marked with rocks shaped like an arrow). Though this area is harder to survive in normally -4, this area has game trails lessening the penalty to -2. Over the years travelers have left a few nick nacks at the site: A rusty cauldron, a well worn flint and steel, and a small pile of firewood.

I'd have to check to verify, but it is my understanding that the pal over Tsar is centered about the city itself and does not extend to the camp or past it.

As for a chaotic character, they are in the most danger from the pal and to their party. I personally would never allow a chaotic evil character as they would likely side with the followers of Orcus and betray the party. A chaotic neutral character might do the same, and is more easily affected by the pal. I suppose it depends on your players and if they can handle party members turning on them. Sometimes that makes for fun and exciting adventures, but for others it can destroy game groups and friendships.

Once in the Desolation past the camp, flying becomes hazardous as many minions of Orcus and others can fly themselves and spot fliers, even invisible ones. My advice is to read through all of the Desolation and the camp (if you haven't already) to find those denizens most likely to attack a flying adventurer. There are some hints and suggestions that Greg provides, as I recall. So you would do well to read up on those.

Before the camp? I'd say that is up to you and how dangerous you choose to make it.

@Dark Sasha

As for the trip to the Camp, just trying to find some neat stuff to put on the road to help isolate it. Not necessarily fights, maybe some creepy stuff.

We don't really have that problem with evil players turning on the party, but we have an older group of players. I usually stress to people playing evils (or Neutrals) that just because the badguy offers you a better deal doesn't mean he isn't going to stab you in the face after he kills all your allies. Also that your party is what is getting you ahead in life, its an asset and generally they have your back in life threatening situations.

The Pall is just for the city itself. Very few of my players ever are lawful and even fewer play paladins, though we have one occasionally. Just because someone is CE doesn't mean they side with Orcus they might want to destroy him just as much as anyone else, they can be following a completely different demon/diety/whatever. I like the idea of the Pall it just seems like it needs a minimum of 2 saves to fall to it or at least some forewarning about it, its a massive massively powerful effect. I think it has some great RP potential, but its a bit much. I mean the Army of Light itself could have walked into an empty city and destroyed itself overnight, no hordes of Orcus needed. Just to put it in perspective, had the hordes of Tsar, who kept the Army of Light at bay, retreated to the inner defenses and flung the gates open the first night the army of light would have lost almost all of its NE, CN, and CE people to the effect, the next day they would have lost all of their LE, TN, and CG. I'd change the effect to say each save changes their alignment towards CE and after that another save makes them a servant of Orcus, characters who begin CE take 2 saves.

I imagine if the pal existed back when the Army of Light assaulted the city that some would have fallen to it. Also, the story is continued in Rappan Athuk, where you will find what happened to certain prominent members of the Army of Light.

As a side note: some crucial backstory information is also available in the Tomb of Abysthor, which is a part of the Stoneheart Valley supplement from Frog God.

As for the number of saves needed to resist the pal, I'd say you can and should change it to suit your group. For my group I would make it take two consecutive saves and the individual resists the pal and needs no further saves (against the pal, not against other things within the city). But I am nicer than Greg. :-) I like your idea of needing to fail twice before the shift down towards CE and/or minion of Orcus.

Keep in mind, too, that even those corrupted can be redeemed by their party by such things as remove curse, atonement and the like.

Keep it up! It sounds good. I hope you post your group's exploits in a campaign journal.

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I personally don't allow players to play evil characters or CN anymore. Just too many issues with both.

As for flying, the only times they have flown is when they have been in dire straights already so I have not piled on. They do not do it regularly or I would give them flyers as randoms. Too many things can fly in the Desolation not to.

Yeah Dark Shasha is nicer that I am:) Yeah, I know you were referring to Greg Vaughan, but he isn't the only Greg around here:) My party was handling the Rift too easily so I threw in a blue dragon!

Just remember the pal is only in affect in the city itself and only gets a roll when they sleep there. The simple solution is not to sleep in the city.

Oops! I've been misspelling pall!
(I should know better.)

Publisher, Frog God Games

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Sales op I know--but Stoneheart makes a good starter to Tsar

brvheart wrote:

I personally don't allow players to play evil characters or CN anymore. Just too many issues with both.

As for flying, the only times they have flown is when they have been in dire straights already so I have not piled on. They do not do it regularly or I would give them flyers as randoms. Too many things can fly in the Desolation not to.

Yeah Dark Shasha is nicer that I am:) Yeah, I know you were referring to Greg Vaughan, but he isn't the only Greg around here:) My party was handling the Rift too easily so I threw in a blue dragon!

Just remember the pal is only in affect in the city itself and only gets a roll when they sleep there. The simple solution is not to sleep in the city.

Yeah, The Greg I meant is the author of that monstrosity.

I knew there was a trick to when the party must save versus the pall. I had forgotten what it was.

Also, tossing in a curious treasure seeking dragon is always fun and helps keep parties from relying on easy modes of transportation. Though I agree, if a party is running away, best to let them, (unless they poked a tiger with a sharp stick, proverbially speaking).

Thanks for all the help, I'll keep chaining my questions on this thread to keep it organized. Game starts in about two hours so I'll let everyone know how it turns out, what works/what doesn't.

Definitely not looking to softball this adventure! I need a killcount as a signature.

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I keep the kill count on my big white board. So far RA is leading hands down over my other campaigns!

Bill Webb wrote:
Sales op I know--but Stoneheart makes a good starter to Tsar

Dutifully, I posted links to that, plus Bard's Gate and Rappan Athuk above.

P.S. This is Dawn, if you forgot Dark Sasha is my log-in tag. :-)

Games 1 - 3 Summary
Well just to sum up what happened during the first 3 games. My players traveled from Magnimar (Bard's Gate) to Fort Rannick (the halfway point, game 1). Game two they traveled through the Outer Desolation and got a taste of the hazardous environment, reached the Camp and almost got stomped by Gurg. Our Soulknife decided he wanted to go toe to toe and got knocked to -9 and rolled a lucky natural 20 on his bleeding roll. Our dwarf fighter was at 8 hp and almost joined him, but the three arcane casters threw 5 fireballs/lightning bolts and finally took Gurg down. They only had a few hours to stumble around town and they got a room at the Bender Bros Inn to recover. They lost the Soul Knife and a Sorcerer before they managed to flee out into the middle of the night. Game 3 the three remaining 2 arcane casters and a rogue (who wasn't at last game) ended up getting no sleep because they had an encounter with the Peddler then a couple storms of acid rain disentegrate some of their tents. They came back into town and met the replacement characters (a human paladin 7, new player, and a gnome oracle 7, replacement) who were in the process of securing rooms at the Inn. The replacements had been attacked by the hanged man, defeated him, and were anxious not to spend another night outside. The rogue snuck into the Inn and started a fight and managed to convince the replacements that the innkeeper's were cannibals so they helped him down the Benders with no fatalities. The Usurer made sure they understood it was their responsibility to run the Inn and the next day they met Sammar and went looking for Gurg's Caravan. So they ended the game at the Crossroads with good weather and no encounters after ignoring seeing the dead dragon D1, they were too freaked out about leaving the road.
Deaths so far:
Level 7 Human Soulknife (Bender Bros)
Level 7 Genie? Sorcerer (Bender Bros)

Here's where my players are xp wise from the first 3 games just for reference:
XP Totals:
Daisy: 39,800 (Human Paladin 7)
Hinkel: 41,635 (Halfling Rogue 7)
Britney: 41,950 (Elven Sorcerer 7)
Jody: 28,600 (Gnome Oracle 6)
Travis: 26,200 (Human Soulknife 6)
James: 42,185 (Dwarf Fighter 7)
Liz: 43,200 (Elven Magus 7)

The Bender Brothers: I'm not sure if it says they are cannibals, but to me it kind of made sense. Why waste the meat in the Desolation? It doesn't really say what they do if a party retreats, but I didn't have them follow the party out into the night. Also, the gem of seeing is an insanely expensive item, but it can be sold at a metropolis for the equivalent of two ressurections and restorations, which including spellcasting costs will bring back the two dead party members they lost to the innkeepers. I've been running the adventure as-is.

The Roads of the Desolation: I think my party was suprised at the shortness of the 22 or so total miles of what I have been calling the "Golden Road". Just to measure it out the total length of the mapped area of the Desolation is only about 22 miles from North to south and about 14 from east to west, roughly. Just seems short to me and given the weather conditions alluded to in the descriptions of the areas it seems hard for the players to spot the fixed sites. I think their slowest mount is a ridding dog at 3 mph, so in 4 hours they easily reach the Crossroads in good weather. They got lucky on the encounter rolls and haven't fought anything, but I judged that D1 is close enough to see on a clear day. Should A1 and A4 be visible from the road?

I would make them visible if for no other reason to give them a reason to get off of the road. They really don't want to cross the crossroads this early without gaining some experience anyway.

The Forest of Hope - I know in the adventure it said something about the Dungeon of Graves and the Forest of hope being to the east some distance away and the epic chase of the Army of Light. How far away is it in miles? I like an open world feel and might have it available for my players to wander into if they need a break or want to go exploring. Is this recommended, besides getting me to buy more books? :) I'm sure Slumbering Tsar has enough ways to earn XP, and I'm not even sure what level Rappan Athuk starts at, 1-20? If its got some interesting locations I'd be interested in at least reading it. What I do not want is to remove the isolation feeling the players have in the Camp/the Desolation.

@Brvheart - I send out an addenda to the replacements that the treasure map they had for the "Tomb of Argos" was somewhere in the Ashen Wastes, so that might have them take a side treck on the way back from finding Sammar's Caravan. I'll probably have them see some kind of structures or unusual hills at the edge of their vision so at least they might go investigate. I'm thinking my players might not be as thorough in clearing out and leveling as I'd like, but I'll try and drop some hints, rumors, and secret treasure maps. By and large at this point, no one has expressed interest in going into the mysterious city of Tsar.

Hopefully they can get some of the old Sword & Sorcery Studios people on board with it.

Given where you placed Slumbering Tsar in your campaign I think you could place Rappan Athuk on the shores of Lake Encarthen in terms of approximate distance.

As far as I could tell from the old Necromancer Games books, the distances were not set. Thus it was up to the individual GM how far Rappan Athuk is from Bard's Gate. It was done this way deliberately to allow GMs great flexibility in incorporating Necromancer Games products into various campaign worlds or home brew campaigns.

In the old books yes, but now with The Lost Lands distances need more clarification. I had set RA in the Scarred Lands previous to this.

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@James B Cline,

When I started planning for this adventure I looked at the scaled distances on the maps versus what is stated on page 35 in the Desolation Primer section:

"The Desolation stretches roughly 70 miles east and west and 50 miles
north to south. Its southern boundary, marked by the tiny refuge known
as the Camp, gradually rises to the stony hills that mark the northern edge of the civilized kingdoms."

I felt that the size of The Desolation shown on the maps was just too small. I revised the scale so that it took 3 days travel to reach the crossroads. They are now down in the Chaos Rift and almost out of supplies which means their cleric has to burn a 3rd level spell everyday to keep them and the horses fed and they are very conscious of being far far far from help.

At the top of this thread you mention the desire for more NPC's for them to interact with. Some possiblities include a wandering survivor from a caravan or a full blown caravan heading south to The Camp, creatures/NPCs turned to stone, and always the possiblity of opponents that they encounter asking for quarter instead of fighting to the death. (My group took out Gurg but then stabalized him and ended up with him acting as an unpaid guide for a few days - out of shame. They've also parlayed with a Wyvern)

Publisher, Frog God Games

Make them bigger if you like. I think the best part of the sandbox is making it fit your needs.

I'm planning on quadrupling the size, and scaling back to a wandering monster every 12 hours.

I like the limited size myself. Had people complain that the Wilderlands weren't big enough also. To each his own I guess.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I agree with the size needing to be increased. I am treating the desolation as a land grant to the PC's and using the exploration and kingdom building rules ( 1 hex=12 miles). my only concern is how to avoid the one encounter a day syndrome and weaving the larger story through the exploration. Random encounters are a huge part of the desolation along with the harsh environment, I worry my players will bore of this quickly but don't really want to hand waive it either. Ideas?

I'd go with an encounter every 12 hours. There will still be 3 encounters between A and B, so that's the same. The only difference you'll really notice is going through supplies at triple the speed.

Minor effects on travel, the horses are more important, and you can't teleport quite as far.

I've been running it as 1 mile per square instead of 2000 ft - it's been working quite well as far as keeping the party slugging through distance, without making it so cumbersome just to get to locations that they have to turn back repeatedly from random encounters. With horses and 3 hours of hustling (along with channels to heal up the horses), they can just barely make it across one quadrant in a day, if they're doing "grid by grid" searching.

Weather effects have mostly been limited to visibility so far, from the dust. I do a simple d6 for wind (1=still, 1.5 mile visibility, down to 6=strong winds, 100-300 yards visibility,depending on the zone) and d6 for storms (1=clear, 3=cloudy, 6=pouring rain). Clear days are treasured for exploring. I'd like to add more effects though - just need more planning time!

I've also been using Medium advancement - it's been working well - about 20-25% of encounters are inherently tough, the rest grind them down, and they never know when they'll get a string of bad luck.

FYI - doing an encounter every 12 hours means the party replenishes spells, etc., much faster than every 3 or 6 hours. No chance of 3 minor encounters wearing them down.

@Geo Fix as far as the disconnet between the description and the maps, I went for a Outer Ring Desolation and an Inner Circle, which is the actual land described in the adventure.

Distance in the Desolation: I like Majuba's idea about making 1 square a mile or a half mile just for ease of book keeping. I can see why using the original distances could work, but it just makes the place seem a bit to small to me.

Travel on a road 3 miles an hour for a standard human or ridding dog, 4 or 5 for a horse. Off Road you can easily half that because of unforgiving weather moreaso than bad terrain, but I believe lack of roads slows movement.

Encounter Frequency: I think the once every three hours is great. It keeps the players going back to the Camp to sleep and if they do sleep out in the Desolation it will live up to its deadly reputation, because its very hard to get a night's sleep out there without bunking in some dungeon or ruins. It forces players to clear out safe zones where they can rest or to eat up spells just to deal with the environment.

@Majuba here's what I'm using for weather, modified from the SRD. I have a calendar I'm keeping up with the seasons on.

Roll Type Winter Fall/Spring Summer
01-40 Normal Normal Normal Normal
40-60 Abnormal Coldsnap Normal Heatwave
61-80 Inclement Snow(StrongWind) Strong Wind HeatWave-StrongWind
81-98 Storm Snowstorm Thunderstorm DustStorm
99-100 Powerful storm Blizzard Windstorm Flash Flood

Notably Heatwave requires x3 water per creature so 3 gallons for 1 day for a normal human. Strong Winds give a -2 ranged. And there is no rain with the thunderstorm, just lightning.

I don't see their being a lot of precipitation in the Desolation from the description. The frequent sand and bone storms are enough weather for my purposes although I guess I can see cold snaps and heat waves. I generally have my players take their rest periods during the winter months to avoid the snowy months though. It allows them down time to make items.

@ brvheart & Bill Webb

Agreed - it all depends on the flavour you're going for.

@ Bill Webb

The game is going very well and my group is really enjoying the weirdness and harsh environment aspects of the adventure. It's caused folks to tweak their gaming styles and made things more enjoyable so thanks to you & your team.

@ James B. Cline

I like weather table, especially the the thunderstorms. My group has found that the bonestorms are particularly nasty so a thunderstorm wil put them on tenterhooks.

I haven't been giving the party any movement bonus for being on the road. My feeling is that it's too damaged and abused to be of benefit beyond being a navagational marker.

Agreed about the road. I guess I don't want to increase the distances because my party is seemingly going back and forth to Bard's Gate a lot and the 2+ weeks each way is long enough for them.

@Brvheart I removed the water aspects of the weather, except snow and Flash Flood, which should be more of an obstacle than a windfall by stranding them in areas or forcing them to make a ridiculous swim in a fast flowing river full of dead and dying monsters.

@Geo Fix I've had alot of fun with the Thunderstorms, I think the rule was there was a 10% chance per ten minutes to get struck for 6d8+1d4d8 damage. One of my players got struck for max, but survived barely, though I decreased the frequency to once per hour.

I really like the Windstorms that come with the bad weather, I've been watching to much Man versus Wild and there are some hideous Windstorms in Iceland that pretty much stop travel and can strip skin.

The Cold Snaps and Heat waves I'm using to force the players to pay attention to the weather, its not much damage, but it makes them build camps and forces them to take shelter. Its a great way to drive them to locations. During the Winter months I'll probably ramp up the danger so the players take a break and spend some time crafting and settling in or trading in Bard's Gate (Magnimar in my case).

I'll probably drop the road movement benefit and not increase the size of the area. That seems to require the least work. We've got a game in a few hours so I'll post about it afterwards.

Covered Wagons: Yes, we've made the joke about Oregon Trail quite a bit with this group. Can anyone think of anything interesting about the perks and consequences of a covered wagon in the Desolation. My players have one because they wanted to always have access to alot of their gear and bigger equipment, good planning I think. It sticks out on the Stony Plains for sure.

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My players use a wagon quite often although they are having issues keeping horses and mules alive out there. The first wagon was destroyed by their own wizard in friendly fire in the Druid Grove. Only due to one of their animal companions did they get out alive. The cat chewed through their bonds allowing them to make their escape.

Tonight they explored The Chaos Deeps and the Pillars of Orcus. They were fortunate that the rogue elected to fire an arrow through the Pillars as it was at 1000' up their rogue missed his reflex save vs a grease spell and had to be rescued by the cleric/monk changing into a bird and flying down to catch him. They then ascended to the top and met and defeated the Glabrezu. If not for the Inquisitor they would all be dead. His ability to deal massive damage saved their bacon while the cleric/monk held the line. Both the rogue and ranger were knocked down low on HP early and were pretty much out of the fight. The wizard had used most of her spells on the way up. They took their trophy and elected to go back to the camp to resupply. Next they are going to head west to The Western Front as they all made level 9.

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Just and update on the game, we have another one tonight.

My players made camp at the Crossroads, one of them swapped his rogue for a paladin so in exchange for starting out at base level 7 xp I let him swap. He started in a Crow's Cage with no idea how he got into there. I assume his party made a deal with the creature at the Crossroads and he got left behind starving and dehydrated. The party let him down and wanted to test the rumors about the crossroads so they decided to make camp early and wait it out. The party's dwarf fighter wanted to hunt for some food/water and was successful but got attacked by 6(5?) Margoyles and was pretty much dead meat, but I asked him for a luck roll and he got a 20, so I had them take him back to eat at their lair (lucky... right!) Anyways, he woke up in the cave without most of his equipment and weapons, but his backpack wasn't to far so he crept over to it while a few started hoping towards him for a snack. He got a potion of invisibility that I had purchased for him (he's a new player so I bought his gear for him). He chugged a few small potions as the margoyles were flipping out and make another natural 20 on his climb check up out of the chasm. This guys luck is insane. I had him make a survival check to see if he could navigate the Chaos Rift and maybe find some shelter... another 20. I was banging my head into the table at this point. He had 11 life, AFTER 2 potions of CLW. By this time the party was searching for him because he managed to kill one of the Margoyles before they carried him off, they searched for two days fighting a Dread Wraith, lots of ghouled wolves, and a black pudding. They spotted him marching across the Desolation with a high perception. The rest of the game they went back to the road, found the caravan and examined the bodies. They returned to the Crossroads and rolled a high perception to see the creature, though they refused to deal with him. The paladin saw he was evil and attacked, though the creature dissappeared. They got back to town asked Sammar about the number of people in the caravan, numbers didn't add up, but they didn't want to go looking again. Sammar offered to pay for additional help with the Furious Fourteen or the Rangers, but the party refused after making some local checks about the groups.

So what should have been a player dying for going off on their own ended up being sort of a plot hook about the Margoyle Cavern. I'm not sure if they will follow up on it. The dwarf solo definitely could not have handled the rescue and his weapons were with the party since he dropped everything. I mentioned that the party might need a paladin last game and the player that swapped is absurdly happy he swapped, paladin's are extraordinarily useful in this adventure. I expect them to go after the Usurer fairly soon, although they are now running the Inn.

Below are my players, I put a minimum level on the game since about half the group swaps out depending on schedules. Minimum level boosts anyone who misses a few games to the lowest level.
XP Totals:
Liz: 53,670/75,000 (Magus 7) LEVEL 8!
James: 52,855/75,000 (Fighter 7) LEVEL 8!
Britney: 51,000/75,000 (Sorcerer 7) LEVEL 8!
Ryan: 51,000/75,000 (??????? 8)
Hinkel: 45,940/51,000 (Paladin 7)
Daisy: 39,800/51,000 (Paladin 7)
Jody: 39,070/51,000 (Oracle 7) LEVEL 7! [past characters: Sorcerer 7 (dead @36,800 xp)]
Travis: 35,000/51,000 (Soulknife 7) BOOSTED LEVEL 7! [past characters: Soulknife 7 (dead @36,800 xp)]

Keep the stories coming!

Think I would be checking that players dice. We have 4 sets of Gamescience dice for players that have dice that don't roll randomly!

Have the same issue with players rotating in and out in my games. One day I have 5, next session I have 9!

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