The Imperial Customs House of Corentyn


Round 3: Design an encounter

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Arkos

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The Imperial Customs House of Corentyn
==========
When the city of Corentyn was first founded in 1520 AR, the Taldan Empire established a center of trade and commerce couched in the safety of indomitable military strength. Knowing that Corentyn would be the gateway between the Arcadian Ocean and the Inner Sea, stonemasons and architects from across the empire competed to design magnificent structures that would win them eternal renown. Corentyn became known as the City of Nine Forts, and many of the administrative buildings were constructed to stand for centuries.

Built in 3427 AR, the towering Imperial Customs House looked out upon the sprawling harbor and was even visible to those Garundi crossing the Arch of Aroden. The three floors of the building each had vaulted ceilings, fluted columns, and large open rooms designed to inspire travelers from across Golarion to appreciate the countless accomplishments of Taldor.

After centuries of operation, the rise of an independent Cheliax meant very little change for the workers at the Imperial Customs House, except in the specifics of the laws they were meant to enforce. Over the years, Corentyn held strong against military incursions from all sides, and trade continued to flow through this administrative center and across the Inner Sea.

The Chelish civil war shattered the city of Corentyn, and powerful evocations toppled the once great Customs House. The third story crashed down, shearing through the second floor and filling the streets below with rubble and debris. A brief restoration attempt stalled due to the already flooding streets of the West Drenches, and the broken remains of the Customs House were eventually abandoned as a casualty of the war.

In the years since, the ruined Customs House gained a reputation for being haunted, though this hasn’t kept the lower floor from being used as a clandestine meeting place for the criminal organizations of the city. On quiet nights, weeping and moaning can be heard coming from within the ruined structure, and curious citizens who come too close find themselves returning home with minds clouded by a deep and abiding sadness.

The Stolen Child (CR 5)
==========
The streets of Easttown seem ominously quiet as night begins to fall over the city of Corentyn. Before you, Tarak Bel appears to be a man tormented. His cheekbones are gaunt, his eyes red, and the bandage on his arm is caked with dried blood. “When we moved here, our neighbors told us to stay clear of Hellknights and devils, but we never expected...” Tarak keeps his gaze downcast at the cobblestone street. “I looked for any trace of Galan across the city, but a woman in a black cloak and bright red hair attacked me and—well, she said not to involve the watch, or they’d hurt him.” With the faintest glimmer of hope in his teary eyes, he turns his gaze to you. “Could you find my son?”

Galan, Tarak’s only son, has been kidnapped by a woman named Aleosa Tauranor and trapped inside the Imperial Customs House. For the last century, the ruins have been the home of Kacia, a shattered dryad whose tree was harvested to help rebuild the collapsed structure. Doomed to remain trapped within the building for the rest of her existence, Kacia lured a young Aleosa inside, and used the power of her alienation aura over weeks and months of captivity to turn the girl into her own personal slave. In the isolation of the ruins, Kacia has begun preparing Galan to become her hand within the city, just as she once indoctrinated Aleosa. While Tarak still hopes to find a way to meet Aleosa’s demands, Kacia has no intent of ever returning Galan to his father.

Outside the Customs House

Rumors of a mysterious, red-haired woman have led to a ruined structure surrounded by the flooded streets of the West Drenches. This decaying edifice stands as a monument to a lost era. Once an imposing center of imperial administration, the third floor of the forgotten Customs House has collapsed into the rest of the building, leaving the interior open to the sky and rain. Decades of graffiti conceal the myriad of engravings dating back before the Chelish civil war and the rise of House Thrune. Beyond the scattered roofing tiles and rotten planks covering the cobblestone street, the front door sits slightly ajar.

The front door remains the easiest way to enter the Customs House, but the wreckage has left many openings scattered throughout the structure. Athletic PCs may climb the walls of the building with a successful DC 17 Climb check and enter the second floor through the broken walls at the east and southwest.

First Floor

The ruins of the Customs House sway and creak with the evening wind. Scattered wreckage is strewn across the front of this room, while the far side is all but impassible beneath piles of broken floorboards and stone. A light rain falls through a gaping and jagged hole in the ceiling twenty feet above. Where the walls haven’t fallen down, open doorways look into empty meeting rooms and offices. At the end of the room is a stone staircase leading to the shattered floor above.

The fallen wreckage of the floors above have toppled down, cracking the northwest walls and leaving them open to the street. The first floor of the Customs House is littered with broken floorboards and debris, and the far end of the room is considered difficult terrain to all creatures. PCs who succeed at a DC 18 Knowledge (engineering) check realize that some of the splintered debris is freshly broken, as if it were hurled at the ground with unnatural force.

Development: Aware that Tarak is searching for his son, Kacia quietly waits above for any intruders, looking down at the floor below and attacking as soon as an enemy comes within range.

Second Floor

This jagged wooden floor was shattered when the third story came crashing down a century before. The remaining floorboards rest precariously on thick, stone columns, which protrude from the ruin and point up into the night sky. At the southern end of the room, broken furniture provides some shelter from the elements to small bundles of food and supplies.

The broken floorboards on the second story have been endlessly warped by both the rain and Kacia’s rage. Any items dropped near the edge have a 50% chance of falling down to the first floor. If creatures of medium or larger size end their movement in a square next to the edge, they must succeed at a DC 14 Reflex save or fall 20 feet to the wreckage below. Because of her extensive experience within the Customs House, Kacia automatically succeeds at these saves.

Creatures: Kacia stands near the barely-conscious Galan on the edge of the second floor, keeping him within a continual aura of alienation. Following Kacia’s instructions, Aleosa has hidden herself in a specially prepared bookcase in the southeastern end of the room. Aleosa waits silently, and will leap from hiding and attempt to flank the nearest PC when Kacia commands.

Once Kacia attacks the PCs, she cackles and shouts at her foes:

"Foolish mortals! Have you come to save the boy? Soon, he will know what it is to be truly alone! Trapped in this ruin of a building for a lifetime! Leave now, meddlers, before you have no choice but to stay here with us!"

Kacia, Shattered Dryad CR 4
XP 1,200
hp 21 (R2)
Tactics:
Before Combat Kacia stands near the edge of the second floor, using her structural mishap ability as soon as an enemy comes within range.
During Combat Kacia uses structural mishap as often as possible, while keeping her dagger drawn to allow Aleosa to flank their enemies. Kacia uses confusion on the second enemy she sees, and uses command to compel enemies standing at the jagged edge to drop their weapons, hoping they’ll fall to the floor below.
Morale Kacia will protect her home to the death, and will send Aleosa to pursue the PCs if they flee.

Aleosa Tauranor, Indoctrinated Rogue CR 2
XP 600
hp 20 (Inner Sea NPC Codex 49)
Tactics:
During Combat Once Kacia orders her to attack, Aleosa will burst from the bookcase and attempt to flank her opponents whenever possible.
Morale Aleosa is incapable of disobeying Kacia and will fight to the death. If the dryad is killed, Aleosa will surrender if convinced through Diplomacy or Intimidation.

Development: Galan slowly crawls away from combat and remains huddled near a solid-looking wall until Kacia is defeated. Being held in such close proximity to the aura of alienation has left him unable to speak, though he will recover once returned to his father. If the PCs leave Aleosa alive, she may eventually recover and become a potential source of information about criminal activities in Corentyn.

Liberty's Edge Digital Products Assistant

Hi! I’m Crystal and I’m one of your judges this round. I’ll be looking at your encounter not just as a GM and writer, but also as a professional cartographer, to see how much fun it would be to run and if the map helps or hinders the experience. For a little background, I’ve been writing for RPGs since the late 90’s, and am the author of The Harrowing and Pathfinder Adventure Path #80: Empty Graves, and I try to apply the standards of pitch, challenge, fun, and map design to my own writing just as I’m applying them here.

Criteria Details:

Pitch
Is the idea clear, evocation, and easy to sit down and run without a lot of extra prep time. If it needs extra prep time, is it worth it? This also includes whether or not the formatting adheres to Paizo’s standards.

Challenge
Is the challenge level-appropriate? Does the presumed challenge players face match up with the numerical CR? If not, is there a good reason why not?

Fun
Is the encounter going to be memorable, or is this just a speed bump on the way to the treasure room?

Map Design
The map doesn’t need to be vitally important to an encounter, but it should never, ever ruin an encounter. And if the map or environmental elements can add to the flavor of an encounter, or give players more options, all the better.

Pitch
There are a lot of “This building is haunted, but not really” encounters in this round. In this case, “but its an evil fey and her henchwoman.” I think the bait-and-switch doesn’t really work in this case because the hook has nothing to do with the building being spooky, and Kacia’s Republic serial-style monologuing kills any attempt to build a spooky atmosphere. What we’re left with is “spellcaster and hidden rogue hold the high ground;” it’s a good setup, but it doesn’t really take advantage of the flavor text.

Challenge
This encounter is likely to be a little more difficult than the numbers would suggest since the NPCs start off in a very advantageous position, but the positioning doesn’t look prime enough to unbalance the CR, especially since Aleosa probably won’t be acting for the first few rounds

Fun
The encounter seems balanced, but most of how memorable it will be probably comes down to how individual GMs play up the NPCs.

Map Design
The open, damaged floor on the second level actually looks like a lot of fun, and makes up from the ground-floor rooms being boxy and nondescript. But nothing about the map suggestions majestic or grandiose, as the text describes.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

Cartographer

Nice looking map reference. Everything is easy to read, wall thicknesses are very thin. Room layout could be a bit more exciting. Ruined locations are always fun to work on, so I wish the building style was a bit more unique.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.

Paizo Employee Developer , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Hey Rich, congratulations on making it to the top 16.

I am the developer of Pathfinder Society Organized Play, which means I see lots of short adventures and self-contained encounters over the course of a year. It’s a developer’s job to read through, revise, and fact-check pretty much everything, so it’s tough to boil down what I’m looking for into a couple of clever headers. Essentially, I’m approaching this round like I would a scenario turnover, which involves marking up a copy of your encounter and providing feedback on what you did and how you might improve—my teaching experience in action.

My Style:
Since tone is a little hard to express while in this medium, I encourage you to read my comments in a friendly way; it’s how I intend them. As I warn many freelancers, I ask the question “why” a lot. Sometimes I do this because I am legitimately confused. Sometimes I do this to get the freelancer thinking in a certain way. Sometimes I know what the answer is, but I want to illustrate that there’s not enough information for the GM to understand what’s going on.

That said, this is a tough round, for we’re going from 16 to four contestants.


My Criteria:

Setting: Does your encounter fit in Golarion? Is it an urban encounter? Is the CR appropriate for the setting and the encounter? Is it clear how a GM might use this encounter?
NPCs and Creatures: How well did you incorporate the Round 2 creature into your encounter? Does it feel like a natural fit, or was it forced? Does the creature have a chance to shine? Do your NPCs fit in the location? Do their motives make sense? Is there an opportunity for roleplaying (appreciated but not essential)?
Numbers: Are all of your statistics and calculations correct? Are your skill check DCs reasonable?
Style: Did you watch Paizo’s styles, both in terms of writing and formatting? The more closely a writer can match Paizo’s styles in the turnover, the easier it is for me to develop. The easier it is for me to develop, the more eagerly I assign that author more work.

Setting
Your background provides good, mundane reasons for the customs house to remain abandoned. There are hints of something more sinister going on, but I don’t learn of what that is until later. Since there’s not a summary section in these encounter entries, I would appreciate at least a quick name-drop or identification of what’s being all monster-y before I’m done with the background. In further reading, the customs house works as a location, but there’s not much about the encounter’s concept that synergizes with the concept of a customs house; this could be a warehouse, a barn, or any other multistory building made at least partly of wood.

NPCs and Creatures
I’m not a fan of the encounter’s hook. When there’s a child endangerment, I find I’m willing to play along if there’s an immediate threat that calls on me to react rather than take the initiative to go find trouble. The suddenness with which Tarak springs this on the PCs combined with the gloomy mood leaves me sympathetic but hardly inspired to get up and go.

The dryad has a nice but not overwhelming terrain advantage that gives it ample ammunition and a possible means of dumping one or more PCs over the edge of the second floor. Kacia has some vague motivations to share her pain with others, but combined with Tarak’s abrupt yet timid quest assignment, this encounter feels like a random act of heroism rather than a showcase encounter. Given a shattered dryad’s creepily elusive nature, I would think she would try and scare off the PCs with faux-hauntings rather than deliver a villainous monologue.

Giving her an ally was a good move, and the combat is more robust for it.

Numbers
Your saving throw DCs and skill check DCs work well for a 3rd-level party. The CR might end up being a little tougher than expected given the favorable terrain and Kacia’s use of confusion, but I believe it will be manageable.

Style
You’re nailing a lot of my stylistic criteria. I’m especially pleased to see effective use of the “If the PCs succeed at a DC XYZ skill check, they can do ABC” construction. Writing that type of sentence several times in an encounter area can be tedious, yet it’s also an effective and accurate way to convey important information.

Avoid the use of future tense, except in dialogue or in exceptional circumstances in which the outcome really is 100% guaranteed. Where you are using future tense, Paizo typically uses present tense, sometimes with the subjunctive or conditional mood. You did a great job of using present tense up until your creature tactics entries. Also, police your use of passive voice (e.g. “Weeping and moaning can be heard…”). Passive voice has its uses, but active voice is strongly preferred in all other circumstances.

Closing Thoughts
I don’t feel a strong connection between the building, the villain, and the location in Golarion. The encounter is a solid challenge for a party, but there’s not a lot that jumps out and grabs me.

I do not recommend this encounter for advancement.


I really like what you're doing here, Rich, in that you are bringing Golarion history and canon into your encounter, and that your encounter actually tells a story of a shattered dryad and her victims. And on top of that, the logistics of the encounter are creative and even three-dimensional with an interesting terrain feature!

It's not often that we see encounters that have all three of these elements. Encounters with pretty maps and stat blocks are a dime a dozen, but an encounter that tells a story, explores Golarion canon, and has creative execution is rare. Good job, Rich!

-Matt

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka theheadkase

A customs house...I'm not quite intrigued yet.

Another haunted house theme!

I think you went a little too deep into the background of the city. I'm not sure what it would ultimately add to the encounter.

A little disturbing that children are featuring so prominently into the encounters this year.

At this point I'm asking why they kidnapped the child. Who is Tarak? Is the child important for some reason? This type of info should be up-front for the GM.

Alternate routes in. Nice.

I like the setup so far...but what's the mysterious force that hurled the splintered debris?

Shattered Dryad is a good choice. I'm concerned this is crossing the line with children.

I'm still not getting why this child was chosen. Was it just random?

Overall, you've got some good setup and a warped and partially shattered structure is interesting. But I'm not just feeling it. You leave some basic questions unanswered for the GM and players don't really have a vested interest to do this other than a guy asking them to.

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Well done Rich,
Is the encounter fun? Pretty straight forward Monster X, with terrain advantage. I want bigger guns in this round.
Is the encounter difficult to interpret? Nice work, the map is simple to read.
Does the monster fit? Yes, but I would have liked a bigger building. More floors maybe? At least as grand as its long intro suggests. Dryad'll be dead soon if this much of the building has decayed.
This way to Dragathoa... I like to see more than the encounter. Almost a 'no' the last line gives the dryad a potential future hook, but it is pretty small (especially with my players who will make sure she is dead.)

Not done reading but this is less exciting/interactive than I hoped.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka GM_Solspiral

The Good: Kidnapping and indoctrinated foe raises the stake a little for good aligned.
The Bad: If this was a dish I'd say needs salt. a development where the child's safety is threatened more severely could work even if it makes some uncomfortable.
The Ugly: The child bit is like gore in that it hots a button with some folk. If you're going to do it it had best be execute in such a way that I couldn't sub out a pretty maiden and not change the encounter at all. This fails that test.
Overall: 6.5/10 -Good conservative design but a little bland. The rogue could have set up some traps something...

Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

First Impressions: From the title, not sure what to expect. An infiltration or a caper? From the map: No, the place in in ruins. I hope it's not yet another "haunted" house.
Upon Reflection: Yep, it's another "haunted" house, this time by a shattered dryad with a rogue thrall. This is a meme for Round 3, but I think that's because the Round 2 monster finalists started this trend. The background is kind of interesting, although it has little to do with the encounter itself. The hook is fine, although rather conventional-- "resuce the hostage" is pretty much tried and true. The strengths of the encounter have more to do with the terrain than the adversaries. The fight and hostage rescue would be pretty enjoyable to run, and the mechanics seem solid. But the whole thing seems rather conventional. I would have liked to see more from the rogue thrall: couldn't she have set some traps or done something more interesting than hide in shadows and sneak attack?
Overall: This is a perfectly servicable side-quest in a larger adventure, but it doesn't really stand out. I'll give it a solid B.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka burrahobbit

Hi Rich! I like the use of the shattered dryad and the atmospheric setting. The shattered second floor is a cool location for a dramatic combat. I think there's some room to tie the (very nicely-done) history of the building in a bit more with the encounter; this could help ratchet up the tension and show off the work you did in telling the story of the building. Congratulations, and good luck!

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

I thought you spent way too much word count giving the history of the customs house, when it had zero impact on the encounter. You could have easily chopped the original history of it (and the city for that matter) and simply started with it being a customs house that fell into disrepair during the Chellish civil war. All of that extra word count could have been used to better develop the encounter location and/or enemies better.

I'm also not sold on Kacia's plans. Is she just trying to get some indoctrinated slaves to extend the reach of her tormenting people cause she's twisted and insane? Sure, that works for a shattered dryad, but it's not particularly far-reaching or memorable motivation for a villain. What's she going to do with her slaves that give her more mobility beyond the counting house? Will she build a small cadre of slaves that will go out and harvest more dryad trees to build into other buildings in town and create more shattered dryads? That would be far more interesting....and could have been a more interesting hook than the somewhat abrupt dialogue pleading of the worried father (where's the mother BTW?) The PCs could track down the ruined customs house after investigating attacks on lumberjacks or fey in nearby woods.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Arkos

Thanks everyone for your feedback this round. If you could see how far this has come from my first draft, you'd be shocked! Anyway, maybe I'll post some specific design commentary next week. But given that seems like the end of the line for me this year, I may have to take a litte break from writing!

Now to decide what to do with the first draft of my module write up...

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

Rich, if I may suggest, see if you can pitch it elsewhere. My module that I did with Adventure a Week stemmed from the idea I'd have pitched in 2012. In that case, I think it actually worked out a little better even not being in Golarion.

If you're idea's not too tied to the campaign setting, there's no reason you can't use it somewhere else (that goes for everyone who doesn't make the Top 4, of course)!

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