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When I read about Second Darkness, it appealed to me. Its epic plot, the grand sweep of its scope, awesome backdrops and of course a chance to play with iconic baddies, all whispered to me in that darkly seductive way that no GM can resist!
In this thread, I want to share my take on Second Darkness, which I’ve been running since April 2016 (and planning for a lot longer) using the 5th Edition ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t intend to go too much into the conversion from 3.5 to 5th Edition, but rather outline how I handled the plot and invested my characters in this wonderful story.
I hope it will be useful for other DMs running Second Darkness or those planning to do so.
Who this thread is not for
The adventure path, following on from the legendary Rise of the Runelords and Crimson Throne had a lot to live up to in terms of quality and expectations. It has long been maligned as the poor relation of the three, criticised as severely lacking or deficient in several areas.
I don’t agree (or entirely agree) with many of these criticisms, which are to my mind as much to do with the attitude and play styles of individual GMs and their groups as inherent deficiencies in the AP. In any case, I have no wish to rehash all that here - there are plenty of threads covering such topics on these boards and I point you to those. However, running Second Darkness 8 years after its release has afforded me the benefit of many these critiques and the great advice from other GMs who have run it.
Who this thread is for
This thread is for DMs who wish to run Second Darkness and are looking for examples and maybe inspiration on what can be done with this marvelous adventure. It is my and my group’s take on things so take what you want and leave what you don’t.
- If you would like to chip in with comments, questions, or other ideas and examples of your own for the benefit for GMs coming after, please do so!
- If you want to tell me how flawed Second Darkness is, please don’t. Start your own thread.
- If you are interested in my 5e conversion, PM me. I’m not sure what is legal to post on a public forum, and can’t be bothered to find out so I’ll just keep it system neutral for now
As I alluded above, I have benefited enormously from the collated wisdom of those who post on these boards. I will shout out where I can remember the specific thread or poster who inspired me, but if I fail to do so – please forgive me! It is not my intent to claim credit for another’s ideas.
WARNING: There WILL BE SPOILERS! If you intend to play this adventure path, stop reading now.
Prologue – The Cast of Characters
I used a prologue to deal with the oft cited lack of incentive to move from Book 2 onto the rest of the AP. Namely – “why should the PCs leave Riddleport after investing the first two adventures in it and its environs?”
I created a prologue adventure for each character that rooted them in the adventure, gave them a reason for going to Riddleport and, more specifically, a reason to visit the Gold Goblin at the beginning of Book 1.
I decided to play this out as a series of 1:1 adventures that brought them just about to 2nd level (you level to 2nd pretty fast in 5th Edition). I did this partly because there were only three of them and wanted them to be robust enough to survive what I was going to throw at them in Book 1 - they’d reach level 2 immediately after “Cheat the Devil, Steal his Gold”, but mainly I wanted to sow seeds for later events and give them each a reason for being in Riddleport and investigating the Gold Goblin.
Our characters were:
Xilosian – an elf ranger from Crying Leaf in the Mierisiel Forest with a troubled past.
I played up elven culture as well as the nameless, shadowed threat that lurked in Celwynivan without revealing its nature. He encountered clues to the drow and a demon presence (foreshadowing Book 3). He also met and formed a dislike of Kaerishiel (captain of the Lantern Bearers in book 3), Shalelu’s mother, Eviana (leader of Crying Leaf).
The prologue ended with an attack by Razorhorn (I used Razorhorn rather than his mother to make him more memorable in Book 3). The dragon attack ended in Shalelu’s mother’s death and the breaking of Jakardaros Sovark’s sword (Jakardaros was another character that appears in RotRL). Jakardaros gave the broken blade to Xilo before leaving in grief, followed sometime after by Shalelu. The sword plays a role in Book 3 and allowed all sorts of threads to be pulled together.
Fast forward to present day (4708AR), Xilo has finally managed to join the Shin’Rakorath and continues to have a troubled relationship with Kaerishiel. As his first proper mission, Xilo is sent to Riddleport to investigate an ‘elven renegade’ who is working with the enemy in Celwynvian. His mission is to find the renegade and report back on what he/she is doing in Riddleport – the suspicion is the renegade is sourcing supplies for the enemy in Celwynvian. The Gold Goblin is given as the last place the renegade was sighted.
Flitterfingers – a fetchling rogue (assassin) adopted as baby into a Varisian caravan after being found at a roadside shrine to Desna.
When the caravan stops at Riddleport, the father goes off to do a job but doesn’t come back. The prologue details Flitterfingers leaving the caravan to look for his missing father in Riddleport. He quickly falls afoul of the criminal structure of Riddleport and is played by a ‘capp’ (lieutenant of one of the crimelords) looking for a stool pigeon. Flitterfingers turns the tables on the capp and gains the upper-hand as well as the info he needed – that his father was last seen heading into the Gold Goblin.
Interestingly, Flitterfingers spared the traitorous capp, Guaril Karela, who becomes a long-term NPC and informant (and eventually a friend) during the first two books.
This prologue allowed me to start laying out the criminal underworld of Riddleport and introduce some of the crimelords who don’t otherwise get a look in during the AP plot. Flitterfinger’s story arc also allowed me to tie in several cool lines from the background matter, which are ancillary but related to the main plot, including Lavender Lil, the Vancaskerkin boys and the Zinchers. But we’ll come to that in good time.
Flitterfinger’s father will also serve to drive this character to Celwynvian – you’ll see!
Alston – A gnome warrior from the south who had come to Riddleport on news of his uncle's death
On investigation, Alston discovers that his uncle was almost certainly murdered and that he had been in secret correspondence with a pathfinder called Eando Kline. The pathfinder had entrusted a mysterious puzzle box into his care. The box was missing and the only lead to go on was a blood soaked ticket to a gambling tournament at a place called the Gold Goblin...
This arc gave the PC a mystery to solve that tied in the great story at the back of AP13 and linked to the main storyline to give Alston motive to leave Riddleport for Celwynvian – again, you’ll see!
These were the specifics I used, but you could use the principle to emphasise whatever you wanted
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Shadow in the Sky
This first book turned out pretty complicated with many, seemingly unrelated threads running (eventually) together.
A few things to mention:
- Go mad on the first night! Use props. Don’t use skill checks. I created an actual casino in my house with the different games at different tables and poker chips in different colours for badges of hell. I made a skiff board and used gem tokens as skiffs, made a working ghoullete wheel and we also had golem and bounder. My players loved it! Just as they were utterly absorbed in winning (or losing) their fortune, I kicked off the Gold Goblin Job
- Don’t forget the blot and the strange events accompanying it. I decided on an order in which I wanted them to happen (gradually increasing in intensity and weirdness, but relevant to when and where they were encountered) and then every time the PCs went out on a mission, one of the strange events would happen
- Really play up the seedy, threatening nature of Riddleport. Not lawless though – every gang has its territory and pecking order. The gendarme maintains a brutal order and everyone is fine with that if they don’t stick their noses in where they aren’t wanted
- They didn’t like Saul right from the start but each had their reason for wanting to be in the Gold Goblin so they kept their feelings to themselves and loved the whole infiltration, espionage feel of this part
- Make them hate Bojask
- I made sure to play Clegg as a very intimidating figure early on – they’d heard about him even before arriving at the Gold Goblin. He was intimidating in the event “The First Night” and I continued to build his rep when I could. This paid dividends in Book 1 and by Book 2 their hatred had won over their fear and they really wanted to prove themselves by taking Clegg down
- I made Larur Feldin a very likeable fellow who the PCs immediately warmed to. They were distraught when he vanished and after confronting Lymas Smeed they were convinced Saul was behind it and nearly kicked off the end game early! Fortunately Saul managed to convince them that Clegg was the one responsible by a mix of truth, half-truth and lies. They thought he was scum but now they really wanted to go after Clegg!
- I had to think fast and so threw in the Foam Runner encounter (see below), Saul convinced them that a better way to win was to get Clegg to make a mistake – to do that they needed to make him mad…
- Don’t forget to introduce Samaritha – Xilo was convinced she was the renegade elf or working for him/her!
- The main events and encounters played out pretty much as written – each one was great fun. Reading them in the book really doesn’t do them justice for how they played out. For instance, the Attack on the Foamrunner reads like a rather short and vanilla encounter, but it turned out to be epic...
- When they heard about the shipment, they immediately hot footed it to the docks (convinced they could black Clegg’s eye by messing with the shipment). I really wanted the PCs to get there after Braddikar Faje as I felt it would make a more interesting tactical encounter. En-route they heard a cry from a ruined house – Alston wanted to ignore it, but the others went to investigate. The ensuing rescue of two orphans (dropping a seed for St Caspieran’s Salavation) from giant centipedes in the sewer delayed them long enough for Braddikar Faje to plausibly beat them to the Foam Runner. The battle of the Foam Runner was awesome as Clegg’s men had taken up defensive positions. It ended particularly dramatically when I had a tidal surge (blot strange event) hit and wreck the dock and overturn the ship as well as depositing several disorientated and angry reefclaws and a bunyip on the dockside!
So, I'm about to resume with my group after a year-long hiatus (I was in Japan), and we're on Endless Night. They're a bit under-leveled (10) but they're about to leave the tavern and head to Alicavniss. I was wondering if I should throw an encounter at them before as a warm up, and if I should steer them toward the stores to stock up, since they have a trek. (No teleporting)
Also, do you know more about the other noble families? I basically gave each family a theme and would stick to very generic interactions.
@kadance: Definitely more to come, just got busy with life and thought this place was dead!
@Loki: We're playing Endless Night now and as you'll see when I write it up, I've taken things in a slightly different direction.
I'd let them stock up, but depending on how your game has gone you'll want to make sure the pressure keeps on mounting from the meeting with Alicavniss. Will giving them a 'warm up' fight put them in a fighting or a talking mood?
My feeling is that a lot of the cool stuff in the Solacas Tower is wasted if they don't end up fighting their way out, but on the other hand it seems hard to imagine Alicavniss tolerating them murdering their way out of the tower.
On the other families, I've tried bringing in a number of them and have show-cased their 'specialities'. So:
Vonnarc - magecraft, but also deep resentment of the Azrinaes and trying to find ways to capitalise on the sudden exodus of the 'first' family
Misraria - assassins
Dolour - hunters, scouts
Parastric - flesh-warpers
Haven't used more than is in the Zirnakaynin article though.
The PCs plot lines and how I wove them into my tapestry (Thread reboot)
What was interesting was how the PCs’ own missions drove the story and the main plot just sort of bubbled away in the background until they realised that all roads led beneath the Gold Goblin!
Flitterfingers, Lavender Lil, Clegg Zincher and the Vancaskerkins
- Flitterfinger’s father had been hired by Orik Vancaskerkin (RotRL) to kill his own father, Saul Vancaskerkin, in revenge for Saul murdering Orik’s mother;
- Lavender Lil (Second Darkness Player’s Guide), currently hiding from Clegg Zincher in the House of the Silken Veil, under the protection of Shorafa Pamodae, is implicated as Flitterfinger’s father visited her prior to going to the Gold Goblin. She reaches out to Flitterfingers once she hears he’s looking for the assassin;
- Lil had been involved in the mess that led to Orik killing Falk Zincher (Clegg’s brother and Lil’s lover) in a fit of jealousy. Orik fled south to Sandpoint and Clegg sought retribution from Saul who, seeking to cut his losses and tie up loose ends, killed his own wife and burnt his own house down to make it appear he’d been killed. Unfortunately, for him, he got caught anyway and lost his hand to Overlord Cromarchy’s rough justice;
- This hook allowed me to throw in some of the wonderful characters from the background material, such as Lil and Shorafa, and exposes Lil’s backstory with Falk Zincher and Orik (which my players appreciated as they’d met Orik in RotRL) and explains why Clegg hates Saul so much;
Still with me?
Alston, Uncle Hamley, the Spithog Pauper and Depora
- Alston’s Uncle, Wilbur Hamley had been working with Eando Kline to investigate a strange puzzle box the pathfinder had come across on his travels;
- The puzzle box was a decryption key for the runes on the Riddleport Cyphergate;
- The Cyphergate is key to Nolveniss Azrinae’s (Book 3) plans as this structure was once used by the Runelords as a window to peer through time. Nolveniss needs to understand how they did this to activate the Armaggedon portal (in Depora’s lair, they find pieces of the Cyphergate missing and later in Celwynvian the gate to the Armaggeddon Echo has a chunk of Cyhphergate as the keystone);
- On hearing about the Puzzle Box, Depora Azrinae hires the Spithog Pauper to recover it and kidnap UNCLE – so he can spill what he’s learned;
- The PCs end up at St Casperian’s Mission and find this documented in the Spithog Pauper’s journal; this allowed me to explain what had happened to Uncle Hamley and indicate that the gnome might still be alive, having been handed over to the mysterious woman who’d hired him;
- This hook kept Alston invested as the trail of Wilbur Hamley lead to Devil’s Elbow and (unfortunately) ended in Celwynvian
Guaril Karela and the mysterious shipments
I was less worried about keeping Xilo involved as his whole mission was to discover the whereabouts of the ‘elven renegade’. Guaril Karela proved a useful contact for investigating shady dealings in the city and allowed me to drip feed them tidbits of info, such as a heavily cloaked woman – possibly elven – ordering strange alchemical and spell reagents and supplies (mining equipment, food) and sending them on various ships headed south out of Riddleport. As each ship had different ultimate destinations I didn’t tip them off to Devil’s Elbow too soon, but when the meteor struck all the pieces fell into place for them and I had no trouble getting them to go to the island.
Guaril also ended up leading them to the Spit Hog pauper – as Alston asked him to investigate what had happened to his Uncle.
Wrapping up Book 1
With all the plot lines laid, the story unfolded pretty much as expected, culminating in an epic showdown in the Gold Goblin and the revelation that a terrible secret lay beneath.
From here the adventure ran its course with the revelation of Depora Azrinae, the existence(!) and involvement of the drow, and climaxed beautifully atop the Cyphergate with the meteor blazing overhead!
A few points to wrap up:
- I really turned up the Strange Dial once they descended below the Goblin. Up until now it had been a gritty, Thieves’ World drama with murders, spies, and double dealing gangsters. The strangeness of the blot was ever present and the sense of a building, unseen doom, but it wasn’t until the reveal of the drow and the meteor that this chapter was put properly into perspective;
- Play up the otherworldly nature of the darkland sentinel, the fungal crawler and the gricks, weird crystals and strange lights (all foreshadowing books 4 and 6);
- Depora as a drow came as a bit of a shock to my PCs (if not all the players) but they were delighted with this archetypal baddy. The fact she was super tricky with her darkness and slippers of spider climb made it all the better;
- The magic items found here were great and are still being used in my campaign. Flitterfingers is still using Depora's slippers and her crossbow is his main weapon!
- Once the meteor struck, I played up the devastation caused by the resulting tsunami but also didn’t want them hanging around in Riddleport (we’ll come to some of the tricks I used in the next chapter). As it turned out, I had nothing to fear – they knew exactly where they needed to go next and were itching to do so;
- We had an absolute blast playing this adventure and all of my players would have probably been happy to play in Riddleport for longer. However, the hooks I'd set were far more compeling and I had no issues moving them on.
BOOK 2: CHILDREN OF THE VOID
So, turns out you can't edit posts...
Children of the Void played out pretty much as written. The main things that I changed or ‘underlined’ were as follows:
- I made more of the alien origin of the meteor and the deadly ‘visitors’ it brought with it. This was achieved principally through an epic moonflower fight at the ruined docks as they tried to leave the island;
- Reference to the abolethic runes (foreshadowing Book 6) by allowing the PCs to find evidence of the glyphs at the crash site crater (Area D);
- Placing hooks for Alston and Flitterfingers’ storylines to keep them invested and interested in moving on to Book 3. This was achieved by planting evidence that Flitterfinger’s father and Wilbur Hamley were still alive and had been shipped to Celwynvian as captives;
Key things that happened in our adventure:
- My PCs needed no prompting from Kwava to go to Devil's Elbow, my issue was trying to prevent them from stealing a ship from the Overlord's navy (being among the only ships left undamaged after the tsunami by virtue of being up river when it hit). In hindsight, I should have just let them do it as it would have been fun, but my concern was that it was likely to end them in prison and I wanted to get on to the island. Anyway, it was no big issue and they leapt at the Flying Cloud when presented to them;
- After the sabotauge attempt (which they handled easily and found out had been orchestrated by Zincher - another mark against him) they set sail and were beset by pirates (The Teeth of Araska) en-route to Devil's Elbow;
- They captured Captain Elreth "Grudge" Treeg and charged Captain Creesy with turning him over to the Overlord after he'd dropped them at Devil's Elbow;
- On the island they met the Goldhammer expedition and began to get a sense that all was not well;
- Seeing flashes from the Witch Light, they of course ignored it and headed for the impact crater. There they discovered clues that this had been more than a random hit (abolethic runes carved on rock fragments of stone littered about) and were attacked by akata. This fight was pretty eerie and terrifying. Driving the creatures off they headed for the Witch Light to regroup;
- At the tower, they encountered the other part of the akata life cycle - void zombies - and met up with their old friend Samaritha and the besieged Cyphermages. The void zombie reveal was awesome and the subsequent akata siege was epic!
- Escaping the ruins they ended up at Zincher's camp where an uneasy truce was reached;
- Didn't take them long to realise something was up with Zincher, but a few waves of attacking akatas kept them distracted;
- Zincher had them explore the ruins to the east, where they found Yaris Neraken's sword (this brought the wraiths and spectres out hunting that evening when they'd returned to camp). They defeated the wraiths and made friends with Akron Erix and learned of his mission;
- Keeping an eye on Zincher, they spotted him creeping out of the camp and Flitterfingers followed him to the drow caves...then decided to try to storm the place on his own! The guards at the front door almost did for him, but he got lucky and beat them (just) and ran back to camp on 1 hp (narrowly missing a band of hunting scrags on the cliffs);
- Things ran to a conclusion from here, with the drow caves being stormed, many cool battles with the drow and the shadow demon. The sea cave battle being particularly memorable;
- They recovered the noqual and learned a bit more of the drow plans in Celwynvian, about something called the Armaggeddon Echo and the name Nolveniss. They also learned that Wilbur Hamley and Flitter's father were both still alive and had been taken to Celwynivan;
- All that was left now was to capture Clegg, survive until the Flying Cloud returned and get off the island...
BOOK 3: ARMAGGEDDON ECHO
Book 3 is where things start to go off-piste and get pretty interesting. Armaggeddon Echo has been my favourite book of the adventure path so far.
But before we can deal with the Mierani Forest and the drow-occupied ruins of Celwynvian, we must deal with the ‘level gap’.
At the time of writing Second Darkness, Paizo were experimenting with a different format for their adventure paths, which essentially involved less scripted content. This was thankfully abandoned as the reason most people buy Adventure Path’s is for storylines produced by professional writers and developers. Anyway, Book 3 is (intentionally) missing a level, with the assumed starting level for Book 3 being level 7 and the PCs finishing Book 2 at level 6 (or even level 5).
To fill in the gap I used the brilliant Last Breaths of Ashenport (as suggested by several members of these forums). It’s not really important what you use, but for me Last Breaths filled the gap nicely. I’ve outlined how I fit it into my ongoing storyline below if you are interested, but you can use whatever suits your group to fill the gap.
Or, just proceed with the PCs under level. I wanted my PCs to be a bit higher level as I intended to throw some serious stuff at them in Book 3.
Hi Matrix Sorcica, thank you for letting me know, it's very much appreciated. If people are reading this thread I'll make more of an effort to update more regularly.
I'll be making another update soon - probably over the w/e. We're just finishing up Book 4 and things went quite off script; we're having an absolute blast but it has been quite a bit of extra work. I haven't quite decided how I want to tie things back into the main plot line yet, but I've got a number of options...
INTERLUDE: Last Breaths of Ashenport
Last Breaths of Ashenport is a story straight out of the Cthulhu Mythos. It features a dingy fishing town with a hideous secret.
I was going to go into some detail about this interlude adventure, but it’s not really that relevant and I want to get on to the main storyline in Book 3 and 4 where things got really interesting. In the spoiler tags I’ve given a synopsis of what occurred in Ashenport and how it linked with the main adventure path in case this is of use to anyone. Just skip to the next post if you’re not interested in this bit.
♦ Riddleport was in the middle of (another) civil war following the shift in power caused by the tsunami wiping out whole gangs and shifting the balance of power held by the various crime lords. As new players tried to muscle their way in and fill the power vacuum, the Overlord was cracking down -hard –to maintain order and his position at the top of the hierarchy;
♦ Creesy had heard that the PCs were high on the Overlord’s wanted list and, as one of their known associates, had only just got out of the port ahead of the Overlord’s blockade. He advised them not to go back to Riddleport any time soon;
♦ Akron Erix wanted to deliver Clegg Zincher to Korvosa and didn’t want to get caught up in Riddleport politics (and certainly didn’t want to risk taking Zincher back there). For his part, Creesy was glad for an excuse not to return to the pirate port and offered to take Erix and Zincher as far as Magnimar. He agreed to drop the PCs off before they sailed south, and suggested Rodderick’s Cove. They’d need to be careful, though, as Zincher had sent the bulk of his crew on the Black Bunyip to Rodderick’s Cove to get it squibbed;
Essentially, I wanted to give them lots of story reasons not to go to Rodderick’s Cove and not back to Riddleport. If they’d gone back to Riddleport instead, I would have skipped to the beginning of Book 3 and missed out Last Breaths of Ashenport – which would have been a shame, so I’m glad they didn’t!
In Rodderick’s Cove they avoided Zincher’s men, said good bye to Captain Creesy, Akron Erix and Clegg Zincher (in irons).
Leaving Rodderick’s Cove they planned to take the overland route, skirt round or sneak through Riddleport and make their way up into the Velashu Uplands and the Mierani Forest. The skies were black and ominous as they left northbound on the Cinder Road. A raging storm caught them on the open road several hours later. In the almost supernatural darkness and driving rain, they took a wrong turn and ended up at a narrow bridge across a deep ravine. As they crossed lightning struck, destroying the bridge and cutting off the route back. Pressing on they soon found themselves in the decaying fishing town of Ashenport…
The basic story of the Last Breaths of Ashenport is that the whole town belongs to a cult of Dagon, and each year their blasphemous ‘god’ demands a bloody sacrifice to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Much sinister mystery, supernatural horror and deep one attacking ensued with the result that the PCs beat the cult and destroyed the Voice of Dagon. An enraged Dagon made a final irresistible call, compelling his failed minions to drown themselves in the raging sea. With Dagon’s spell lifted, the storm abated and the PCs were free to escape the dreary town, leaving it a sodden and empty shell, utterly devoid of human life.
This adventure was a fantastic change of theme but still worked very nicely with the overarching themes and plot of Second Darkness. I made a couple of key (minor) changes that tied it more closely to the Adventure Path:
♦ the Voice of Dagon was an aboleth (albeit a juvenile one so it wouldn’t devour my 5th level characters!). This served the purpose of introducing the aboleths in a suitably dramatic way for this terrifying race. The aboleths are obliquely involved in the AP due to the fact that it is ancient abolethic runes that are being used by the drow to trigger a second earthfall. I felt this was a better introduction to the aboleths than the scripted encounter in Book 3 that features an aboleth, which I didn’t particularly like and intended to remove;
♦ I allowed the PCs to recover a disturbing piece of jewelry–a tall tiara of gold and other unidentifiable alloys that had an eerily beautiful luminescence. It had a large and curiously irregular periphery, as if deigned for a head of almost freakishly elliptical outline. This artifact was a helm of telepathy and I intended it to be useful in later adventures [they haven’t used it yet, but who knows!)
After they left Ashenport, they continued north then west along the Cinder Road, intending to sneak through Riddleport before carrying on to the Mierani Forest.
BOOK 3: ARMAGGEDDON ECHO (Hello and Goodbye, Riddleport)
We last left our protagonists weary and shocked after the events in Ashenport, but they knew they had to get to Crying Leaf to deliver the intelligence they had recovered from the drow in Devil’s Elbow.
I opened the events of Book 3 by presenting the PCs with the challenge of getting past Riddleport and into the Velashu Uplands - where the actual scripted adventure of Book 3 starts.
You are now travelling west on the poorly maintained Cinder Road and Riddleport lies over the next rise. It is likely that Overlord Cromarchy is still looking for your group. You will need all your wits to slip through the city and pick up the Cyrusibakari trail north. Alternatively, you could avoid Riddleport altogether, making a detour north around the Calphiak foothills before cutting west across untracked wilderness and hoping to find a place to cross the Velashu.
Like ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, they opted to go through it [the city].
I wanted to bring into play elements from their previous adventures in Riddleport, emphasise what had changed since they had left, and also gently, but firmly, push them on their way and discourage them from staying overlong in the city. To this end, I made getting through the city a challenge: they knew the Overlord’s forces were likely on the lookout for them, but they had the advantage of being able to choose how and when to cross the city.
The challenges facing the PCs were:
♦ Getting across the city unseen - sneak or use a disguise
♦ Crossing the Velashu River – swim (eww!); use the Velashu Ferry (the ferryman, Grimas Oltedle, is in the pay of the Gendarmes and will tip them off if he recognises them); or go underneath the river via the caves beneath the Gold Goblin (both the Gendarme and Zincher’s men are watching the Goblin)
♦ Getting out of the city – the only option they knew about was the north gate (heavily guarded by the gendarme)
♦ Potential conflicts were with the various groups who might recognise them and try to kill or detain them: the Riddleport Gendarmes, Boss Croat’s men, Zincher’s men
♦ They also had an ally: Guaril Karela who was looking for them and could help by smuggling them out of the city via the sewers.
There had also been tensions emerging in the party, between Xilo and Samaritha (run as an NPC played by one of the players but ultimately controlled by me). Samaritha was attracted to Xilo, but had been increasingly appalled by the violence he used against his foes, in Book 2, she’d even compared him to the drow! This came to a head as they stood on the road east of Riddleport. Samaritha announced she didn’t think she would be accompanying them to Crying Leaf - she’d seen enough of adventure and violence and didn’t think it was for her. I gave the PCs the opportunity to persuade her to stay with them – which they successfully did, though Xilo again pissed her off. Luckily Alston and Flitterfingers were more persuasive!
They chose to go through the Boneyard and over the Boneyard Cut. I took the opportunity for them to encounter the serial killer, Hyram Crooge. Hilariously they took him hostage and holed up in his shack while Samaritha, who wasn’t really known to the Gendarme scouted out the city.
They ended up going through the Gold Goblin, evading detection by some excellent stealth rolls. Samaritha went to buy horses and crossed by the ferry, intending to meet them outside the North Gate.
Finally, things fell apart at the city gate when a gendarme captain saw through their disguises. A bloody fight ensued but they manged to slip through the gate before it was closed, hotly pursued by Riddleport gendarmes. They met with Samaritha and tried to lose the gendarme in the hills. Unable to shake their pursuers they made a stand – wining, of course.
They went on their way until they met the Velashu Horse Lord, Windbraid and the official adventure in Book 3 commenced!
BOOK 3: ARMAGGEDDON ECHO (Plot Synopsis and adventure objectives)
“The PCs travel to the town of Crying Leaf at the edge of the Mierani Forest and meet the leaders of the elven forces fighting in the forest. Joining the elves, they make the journey through the Mierani to an army encampment at the edge of Celwynvian. There they are assigned various missions infiltrating the city. The war for control over Celwynvian has been at a stalemate for some time, but information the PCs recovered from Devil’s Elbow could be just the thing to finally tip things in favor of the surface elves.
Soon the PCs discover that the drow have created a portal to a shadow plane, and in that realm’s version of the city, the drow have created a “window” in time, allowing them to observe the effects of Earthfall 10,000 years ago and refine their own doomsday magic.
The adventure ends with the PCs defeating the wizard who leads the drow of Celwynvian, but the question remains—now that the drow can rain down devastation from the heavens, who is their target?”
This is taken from book 3 and , by and large, I stuck to this synopsis…with a few tweaks ;). I also wanted to make sure that I tied up several story threads that had been laid down in earlier adventures. To this end, I defined objectives for each of the protagonists and made a list of things I wanted to achieve in the story telling and encounters during this book. Making these notes and prompts was incredibly helpful and made sure that I used all the amazing content of Book 3 (there’s a lot going on and it is easy to forget things), set the tone and atmosphere I wanted, and most importantly, foreshadowed events coming in Book 4 and beyond, which benefited those aspects of the story immensely. I’ve included these in the spoiler tags below.
- The fetchling seeks his kidnapped father who, according to notes found on Devil’s Elbow, is being held in a drow encampment in Celwynvian.
Find and rescue Zaverik Zarelli
- Xilo’s triumphant return to Crying Leaf is marred by Kaerishiel’s suspicious treatment of the outsiders Xilo brings with him, and his jealousy over the influence the young elf now commands with Lady Eviana Nirgassa
- Xilo is to be reunited with his old friend, Shalelu, who has returned after a decade-long sojourn to the south. Shalelu appears changed by her time away: calmer and more focussed. Her passions and grief seem to motivate rather than distract her now, and though she still seeks revenge against the dragon that slew her mother, Seanthis, she recognises that the drow represent a greater threat to her people.
- The green dragon, Razorhorn, still haunts the Mierani and has aligned itself with the drow. A reckoning approaches and the Hunter’s Blade begins to awaken in readiness.
Build bridges with Kaerishiel and gain his trust
Reforge a friendship with Shalelu Andosoran
Slay the dragon Razorhorn
Recover the fragment of the Hunter’s Blade from Razorhorn’s body and reforge the sword Naar’dae
*As you can see, this book is Xilo's big moment to shine!
- The gnome seeks his missing uncle who, along with Flitterfinger’s father, was taken by the drow to Celwynvian. Why they would be interested in a gnome toymaker is unknown, but perhaps it has something to do with the secret association Wilbur had with the pathfinder, Eando Kline and the Cyphergate?
Find and rescue Wilbur Hamley
Find out what the drow are doing with Eando Kline’s puzzle box and the Cypergate fragments
- Samaritha became embroiled with the heroes in Riddleport then again on Devil’s Elbow when they rescued her from the terrifying alkata. Samaritha is greatly conflicted – she is terrified and wants nothing more than to return to the Cypherlodge in Riddleport (and is even contemplating abandoning her studies and returning to Magnimar), yet she recognises the danger the drow represent and could be persuaded to help.
Persuade Samaritha to accompany them to Crying Leaf
ENCOUNTERS AND EVENTS
Meeting with Eviana – as PCs approach she is communicating with an unseen person via magic. Use to foreshadow situation in Tanglebriar and the fact that Allevrah (the great elven general) is still missing, assumed to be on a secret mission
Constellar Gallery – haunt of Hharvel, a devious maftet
The Fluted Goblin – lair of the drow necromancer, Fisaria and her apprentice, Bixus. They are testing the recorporeal incarnation spell using troglodyte slaves as subjects. The PCs encounter one disguised as an elf and witness its flesh slough away when it is killed, revealing the trog. Among Fisaria’s books they find a note to Nolveniss from a mysterious ‘A’. The note indicates the spell was stolen from the House Vonnarc vaults in Tower Solacas [Thanks Joana for this REALLY great idea – it made the transition into Book 4 and engagement with House Vonnarc much more seamless).
Raivanyiel Smithy – witness phantom elven smith forging a blade. Watching for a complete cycle gives insight into reforging Naar’dae. Later, meeting the shadow smith in the Armageddon Echo provides the opportunity for him to reforge the blade
Razorhorn’s lair – this key monster needs a better lair than a room in the Armageddon Echo. Also, reinstate the encounter with the dragon during the Rescue Mission encounter.
The Path of Fallen Shadows – PCs encounter, or hear about from other elven soldiers, the strange shadows here and the story surrounding them. This foreshadows events in the Armageddon Echo.
Verithes Park Drow wizards and guards maintain dark magic that keeps the skies overcast. Destroying their magical circle dismisses the clouds and weakens the drow during the day.
Treerazor and the war in Kyonin
BOOK 3: ARMAGGEDDON ECHO (Atmosphere and ambience)
I thought Book 3 was well written and does a good job of setting out a warzone adventure in which the PCs can make a real difference. It feels very heroic.
However, just running the adventure as written might feel slightly forced and two dimensional. To truly get the most out of this dynamic and vibrant setting it’s important to weave in your own encounters and events and consider how to evoke the larger battle happening around the PCs across the city.
As the elves launch their all-out attack against the entrenched drow, the PCs should feel like an important part of a larger scale battle:
- the tree-choked ruins ring with the clash of steel and the air is rent by the cries of the injured and dying, the roar of spell-fire and the inhuman screams of demons;
- vision is obscured by smoke and creeping mist, the acrid sting of alchemical fires and the cloying stench of unearthed death foul the air;
- the PCs should frequently come across signs of recent battle – dead bodies, gore and pools of blood or strange alchemical liquids;
- Some of these will be dangerous or deadly – a hail of arrows, booby-trapped corpses, staged bodies presaging an ambush
Including these details and making moving from one encounter location to the next a harrowing and dangerous experience will take the adventure from good to great.
Most of the raw material is already there – the Celwynvian gazetteer is full of great descriptions of locales in the ruined city, as well as adventure ideas. However, you will need to flesh them out and weave them into your story. This is well worth the effort; but I recommend you think about this beforehand as including them is likely to require extra prep work.
BOOK 3: ARMAGGEDDON ECHO (Summing up)
You might see the lack of complete encounters covering the whole adventure as a flaw of this adventure book. If you buy published Adventure Paths so you don’t have to do any/much prep, then this aspect of Book 3 might rankle.
In truth, the limitations of space mean the developers could never really do justice to an epic setting like this simply by providing more scripted encounters. I think the compromise they have given us – a scripted storyline and bare-bones encounters coupled with an evocative gazetteer – is probably the best approach. But, you should be aware that more preparatory work than normal will be required to get the most out of this book- Book 4 is even more ‘guilty’ of this and I’d go as far as saying that a satisfying adventure can’t be had in Book 4 without (a lot of) extra work…but we’ll get to that.
The flip-side, however, is that this format gives much more room for a DM to weave in their own ideas and stories and truly personalise the adventure. Book 3: The Armageddon Echo has been my (and my players) favourite book of Second Darkness so far.
BOOK 3: ARMAGGEDDON ECHO (Changes I made and the way it played out)
From meeting the Velashu Horse Lords, the adventure played out pretty much as set out in the book, with the following changes or embellishments. I’ll explain what I was trying to accomplish, what I emphasised and why I changed things, if I did, in the posts below.
If anything is unclear or you have questions or comments, please chime in!
BOOK 3: PART ONE: The Path into Peril
Velashu Horse Lords
Be sure to pass on information about the worsening situation in the Meirani – the elves have completely closed the borders to all non-elves, rumours of pitched battles deep within the wood.
Hunters in the Forest
The forest drake encounter takes place in a ruined elven shrine used as a meeting point or place to leave messages for other elves in the forest. It has recently become infested with deadly and enormously bloated spiders. This showcases the spreading influence of the drow and creates a more dynamic and challenging environment for the encounter. Reduce the number of drakes to two but include giant spiders.
The temple is an opportunity to showcase elven culture through their architecture and the gods they worship, but also highlights that their influence in the world has long since diminished - they are a fading light and their glory days are long behind them.
Kaerishiel and his hunters arrive at the end for a tense reunion with Xilo (he can arrive earlier if the PCs are struggling).
Play up the elven settlement’s sympathy with nature, as well as the features that indicate the elves are at war: the vines that once shielded Crying Leaf have been replaced with an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Wild birds call (calls by hidden elven sentries warning of the party’s approach).
The PCs find Crying Leaf a bustling war camp. Scouts and warriors move back and forth among the gracefully shaped houses and a veritable city of tents. The houses are made of wood and stone and are carefully decorated and carved. The tents are elegant affairs, their fabrics decorated with swirling motifs and stylised woodland scenes. Many of the buildings bear scorch marks and other damage and most of the citizens are armed with blade and bow.
Meeting with Eviana
The PCs overhear Eviana’s magical conversation with a contact back in Kyonin, but can’t hear the other side of the conversation.
Contacts in Kyonin
Eviana: “I see, that does not bode well. And no word from Allevrah?”
Eviana sighs, “It cannot be helped. I know her work requires her to disappear for long periods, but I worry that some ill fate has befallen her. Her loss would be such a blow to Kyonin’s morale.”
Eviana’s laugh sounds forced, “No, no, all is quite well here. No change, really. The enemy remains quiet in Celwynvian and we maintain our cordon. I’m afraid I must go, I have visitors.”
Eviana laughs, more lightly this time. “Of course, my friend, you too. May Desna guide you in these darkening times”.
With this I am trying to expose parts of the back story that otherwise would only be seen by the DM. I’m also creating a sense of the elven culture: Kyonin at war on multiple fronts (with Celwynivan being the least of them), the importance of heroes (Allevrah) and foreshadowing her loss, and the sense of impending doom.
During the meeting with Eviana, highlight Kaerishiel’s hostility towards the non-elves in the party and play up a palpable tension between Eviana and Kaerishiel.
Kaerishiel goes in first, imperiously motioning for them to wait. They can hear his conversation, though he tries to keep his voice low.
Eviana responds coldly “That is enough, Kaerishiel. Celwynvian is my responsibility, not your interfering politician’s. I’ll hear no more about it.”
On a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check, a PC overhears Kaerishiel’s quiet reply after a moment of silence: “You go too far, Eviana. Malindil is no petty bureaucrat to be so dismissed.“ Eviana, does not answer and motions for him to bring in her guests.
I want to introduce some of the names of the Winter Council, and give a sense of a larger political force at work; obviously foreshadowing Book 5.
BOOK 3: PART TWO: The Battle for Celwynvian
Off to War
Use this to describe how the elves march to war, make the trip tense but uneventful – keep building the tension started since they entered the Mierani of watchful foes and an unseen evil. Also make sure to establish where the elven base camp is (I placed it due west of the city so the PCs would likely approach from that direction). Point out any facilities as they wander the camp and get settled in (e.g. apothecary, healers, weapon smith, etc.)
Planning the Attack
Xilo reunites with Shalelu as she flings herself into his arms with a cry, earning several raised eyebrows, not least from Samaritha. Shalelu delivers her intelligence report:
♦ Drow patrol the streets after dark, usually with more than one group in an area to aid others in case of an ambush. [foreshadowing drow tactics and what to expect];
♦ Many of the drow use dangerous alchemical weapons delivered though specially designed crossbow bolts [setting up importance of taking of Yuelral’s Rain];
♦ The drow have been releasing lesser demons and swarms of giant spiders into the Mierani beyond Celwynvian, presumably to harass our scouts and distract us from the city. [This ties up Xilo’s prelude adventure and the spiders encountered in Hunters in the Forest;
♦ The number of drow in the city seems to vary wildly. Sometimes there appears to be hundreds, while at other times the city is almost deserted [hinting at the Armageddon Echo];
♦ A building on the north side of the city is being used for some foul purpose as it constantly belches forth noxious smoke. We can’t reach it to get a closer look because drow are entrenched in the areas approaching it. [Setting up the first two missions. I moved the location of the Yuelral’s Rain west and south so it was closer to where the PCs were likely to first enter the city and also tied it in with the Library of Reenai encounter. Removing the drow from the Library during their first mission subsequently gives them easier access to Yuelral’s Rain and makes more narrative sense that there is a logic to their missions as well as providing a sense of gaining ground];
♦ Although no one else has seen it, Shalelu is positive that the dragon she spotted is Razorhorn, the green wyrm that attacked Crying Leaf a decade ago and was responsible for the death of her mother.
The gathered elves discuss the plan and assign missions. The strategy is simple –assault the Academy of Arts, where the journals brought by the PCs suggest the drow have their base of operations, and where their leadership is likely to be.
Try to create a Rebel command centre from The Empire Strikes Back feel to this. The PCs are important assets but certainly not the only actors in the events to come.
The first phase is to open up the main roads into Celwynvian so the army of Crying Leaf can be brought against the drow with ease. The elves plan to strike on multiple fronts so that the enemy must also deploy in many areas simultaneously.
Eliminate the drow entrenched in the Library of Reenai (2 BP)
--- Recover Nolveniss’ notes (1 BP)
The second phase is to eliminate key elements of the drow’s war machine.
Destroy the alchemical works in the ruins of Yuelral’s Rain (2 BP)
Defeat the Dragon (2 BP)
The final phase is to make an all-out assault on the academy to take out the drow leadership – to cut off the head of the snake.
Rescue Mission (-2–3 BP)
Battle at the Academy (0–2 BP)
- The Armageddon Echo
--- Rescue Shalelu and Kaerishiel (0–2 BP)
--- Defeat Nolveniss, get the shadow key (3 BP)
BOOK 3: PART THREE: The Library of Dust
Part three went as described in the book. This was a great fight and plays out even better on the table than it might sound on paper. These Paizo devs know how to write cool encounters!
BOOK 3: PART FOUR: Alchemical Raid
As mentioned, I moved the location of the alchemical laboratory (Yuelral’s Rain) from location 7 on the Celwynvian map to one of the unlabelled buildings north of the Library of Reenai (location 2). As this made more sense to me. YMMV.
I made a few other changes to this encounter in order to accommodate my characters’ specific plot arcs but also to address a design choice I didn’t personally like.
In the laboratory I added a grothlut to emphasise the connection of House Parastric with fleshwarping and to showcase the depravity of the drow, foreshadowing their experiences in Zirnakaynin. This particular fleshwarp served a more poignant purpose – the unfortunate creature was none other than Alston’s uncle! The thing that had been Wilbur Hamley begged his nephew to kill him…
The Dark Circle
Next the PCs decided to tackle the drow wizards maintaining a dark ritual in Verithes Park Destroying their magical circle dismissed the clouds and weakened the drow during the day.
BOOK 3: PART FIVE: Rescue Mission
Following the PCs’ success at the Library of Reenai and Yuelral’s Rain, Kaerishiel had thawed noticeably in his attitude towards them. When the PCs got word (straight after defeating the wizards of the dark circle) that Kaerishiel and his men were pinned down in a nearby ruined tower, they didn’t hesitate to go to his rescue.
This encounter was brilliant!
It played out pretty much as written with one big addition - the dragon Razorhorn appeared during this fight. I think this was originally intended (page 25, under Developments contains the following text: “After the drow and the dragon are dealt with…”!!
I read somewhere that it was considered too difficult to throw a green dragon into the mix at this stage, so they removed it from the final cut – Pish!
I had intended for Razorhorn to strafe the combat after the PCs began their assault. What I hadn’t prepared for was one of the PCs leaping off the building onto its back stabbing it between the shoulder blades! 5e has some cool rules for jumping onto large creatures and this was an epic moment. Razorhorn managed to dislodge the PC by slamming into the wall of the drow’s tower, before flying off to the west (nicely setting up their next encounter with it).
Kaerishiel was sheepish but grateful for his rescue.
The Fluted Goblet
On the way back to camp, a breathless elven scout ran up and asked the PCs to help his companions in a nearby building (the Fluted Goblet}. He was pretty vague about what kind of trouble they were in, so the PCs went along expecting a trap.
This arcana might prove very useful to our plans. Test it and inform me of the results. I want to know if it is truly impenetrable by arcane means.
I need not remind you that these scrolls were gained at great risk from the vaults of Tower Solacas. Our allies in House Vonnarc would not react well to this perfidy. Keep this knowledge secret while you test its potential – particularly from our Vonnarc brethren.
With a new friendship beginning with Kaerishiel, I took the opportunity to reveal more about the Shin’Rakorath.
Kaerishiel took Xilo aside and filled him in on what the mercenary group was about and further inducted him into their secrets. He also mentioned that a high-ranking commander of the Shin’Rakorath was coming to Celwynvian and wanted to meet with him.
Xilo did not agree with this approach but was wise-enough to keep that to himself. He did agree that the drow needed exterminating and for now that was good enough.
I’ll remind him of this meeting as we enter Book 5
I didn’t like having the dragon shut up in a confined room in the Echo, so I provided Razorhorn with a lair in the forest, a short flight from Celwynvian. The penultimate mission before the Battle at the Academy was removing the dragon, giving the elves free rein to make a full-out assault against the drow leadership in the Academy.
This concluded the Razorhorn story arc I’d started in Xilo’s prelude adventure and felt very satisfying that Shalelu and Xilo were both present to kill their old foe. With the dragon dead, Xilo recovered the missing piece of his sword. The presence of the blade in the dragon’s old wound had aided them in the fight, weakening the dragon and empowering Xilo’s attacks with the Hunter’s Blade. He is now looking forward to forging the blade anew.
With Razorhorn defeated, the elves prepared for their final assault.
BOOK 3: PART SIX: Battle at the Academy
This is the epic finale of the battle for Celwynvian
Don’t forget to play up the fierce fighting going on in other areas of the city – explaining why only a relatively small group are attempting to storm the drow’s HQ.
I really liked the “pick your doom” approach to choosing which entrance to attack, with the other entrances being covered by other strike teams led by Kaerishiel and Shalelu. But I wanted the encounters here to be a bit more dynamic than scripted. As such, I made the following minor changes:
- If the PCs enter by D1a, the flesh golem in D2 will join the battle.
- If they enter by D1b, the drow will quickly retreat back into D6 so that the vrock can join their side.
- If they enter by D1c, they will fight the drow as described as the water elementals only appear once non-drow approach their pool, but the drow will also try to lure the PCs into D5 by exchanging fire from the roof then dropping through the hole into the chamber below. They will leave the dretches to be massacred.
Within the Academy the PCs find signs of a struggle in the other rooms and must contend with the other encounters. They can also find tracks indicating a group of drow took prisoners through the doors to the west.
The one slight jarring element to this encounter is the capture of Shalelu and Kaerishiel. My PCs stormed the front of the Academy (of course they did), and an epic fight ensued. They moved pretty quickly into the interior of the building and it just didn’t seem like there was time for Shalelu and Kaerishiel to have their fights, lose and be captured. Nonetheless, my PCs bought it, but they commented on this point.
I made the following additional changes to the locations within the Academy of Arts:
D8. Black Gate
Two gates, two guardians? All a bit confusing. I removed the aboleth; partly because I used a lesser aboleth in Last Breaths of Ashenport, but mostly because I wanted a drider to be the focus here.
D9. Gate to Armageddon
I made D8 and D9 into one encounter area. D8 became a simple pool and I placed the elf gate in D9. It made more sense to me that the elf gate would be a prominent feature of the original academy structure rather than stuck in a corridor leading to the main room. The Elf Gate is inactive, its magic quiescent for now.
A ragged hole in the floor of D9 leads to caves beneath the academy where Nolveniss has constructed the Shadow Gate using fragments of the Cyphergate Depora Azrinae sent him from Riddleport. The elf gate chamber and tunnels below are choked with thick strands of sticky webbing and sheets of gossamer cobweb. A drider lurks in these webs and attacks at the first opportunity to surprise the PCs
Given the selfish nature of drow it didn’t make sense to me that Kardrogas (pain-taster or not) would stay behind to commit suicide by PC. So I changed him into a drider. This was a cool reveal for a classic drow bad-guy and given driders are slave-thralls to the drow, it made better sense that Nolveniss could order him to ‘cover his retreat’.
This encounter ended up being quite hilarious as the PCs we so intent on getting Nolveniss and rescuing Kaerishiel and Shalelu that they just ran past the drider and jumped through the Shadow Gate!
Kardrogas of course followed them and their fight took place in the eerie shadow Celwynvian with the growing blot in the sky.
This worked out extremely well as the gate appeared among beautiful elven buildings where an elf sage stared at the sky. He was oblivious to the combat raging around him and only responded when one of the PCs touched his arm. This allowed me to get across the ‘wrongness’ of the Echo and its inhabitants very nicely. It creeped my players out more than the drider!
BOOK 3: PART SEVEN: In Armageddon’s Shadow.
And at last we reach the final chapter of this beautiful, beautiful book!
When running this part, make sure to take some time beforehand to think about what Shadow Celwynvian looks, sounds, smells and feels like. The difference between the cool twilight of this enchanting city in its prime and the war-torn ruin the PCs have just left should be emphasised for maximum effect.
However, there is also a sinister overtone in this place; an imperceptible wrongness that grows more obvious the longer the PCs spend here. The scholarly elf (Ilamin Silverwind) encountered as they burst through the portal, battling a drooling drider, is a great example of the strangeness of this place.
I wanted to make sure my PCs had time to experience Celwynvian as it had been, and get some glimpse into the elven psyche at the time of Earthfall – to understand why the vast majority of elves left and why a minority chose to stay. Use the NPCs encountered here to express both sides of this argument: most NPCs encountered are those who chose to stay, but the Kyonin wizards in the Academy of Arts urge everyone, including the PCs to leave. They can articulate the reasons for leaving.
At the end of their visit here my PCs were conflicted; they understood that the elves who’d remained behind ultimately became the drow, but visiting Shadow Celwynvian gave these ancestors of their present-day foe a ‘human’ dimension. In fact, the elves came out looking rather bad – as cowards who’d chosen to abandon Golarion and everyone on it.
Some ideas I used are in the spoiler below. Most are from the book but it’s helpful to list them so you don’t forget – the PCs will probably be hell-bent on finding and killing Nolveniss by now and there is a danger the adventure will rush to a conclusion and skip all the atmospheric goodness that resides here. Also, this part is the perfect opportunity to reveal more of the backstory, not just of Second Darkness but also of one of Golarion’s most significant events. As the PCs don’t know where Nolveniss is, they’ll need to accept a change of pace while they discover the whereabouts of his evil lairTM
♦ Have the transition through the shadow gate be traumatic, leaving them retching and nauseous. In game terms, I gave them a saving throw and imposed the sickened/nauseated condition on whoever failed (including the drider);
♦ Call out the places they fought in or visited in present-day Celwynvian, and let them visit their unspoiled shadows in the past;
♦ Have the blast shadows and babaus stalk the PCs, keeping at the edge of their vision and vanishing if approached. Then attack when you feel the moment is right;
♦ Have them speak to Eloquan the Librarian and remember to mention Ekardarni (the Thassilonian) and Talgoren (the Azlanti) and have him blame their cultures for the coming doom (my players loved this, having played Rise of the Runelords – a real-live Thassilonian!);
♦ Play up the Kyonin mages in the Academy of Arts – I played them as condescending, but generally well-meaning do-gooders – and ‘nice’ racists. They have no interest in non-elves but hold no real ranker towards them; they just consider them as unimportant life-forms. This is probably the first time the PCs have encountered a native of Kyonin, and it’s a good opportunity to foreshadow the aloof arrogance of the elves they’ll encounter in Book 5.
The Blade Naar’dae
The PCs visited the elven smith and asked him to reforge the parts of Naar’dae. They intended to return before heading back through the Shadow Gate, but…
I also made the following changes to the encounters:
The Assassin - Zaverik Zarelli
You thought I’d forgotten about Flitterfinger’s quest, didn’t you!
I replaced the assassin, Arkaxis, with Flitterfinger’s adopted father, Zaverik Zarelli. The Varissian had been enchanted by Nolveniss and attacked the PCs as they approached the Observatory. He struck then disengaged, leading them into an ambush of blast shadows. Nasty. You’ll be pleased to know that they subdued him and broke the enchantment, but he was too badly wounded to accompany them into the observatory.
Revert to the originally intended encounter with drow scholars, guarded by drow soldiers. Remove the babaus. Eight drow scholars study astronomical charts here. They are guarded by 2 drow soldiers.
Q7 Great Hall
Unless he escaped the PCs in the Present, Razorhorn is already dead and so isn’t here. This chamber is guarded by babau demons. Two babau demons lurk here. Once fighting breaks out, the drow arcanists from Q9 will come to investigate. The babau taunt the ‘little elf wizards’ prompting one of them to hurl a fireball including the babau in its blast radius. The arcanists then retreat up to the landing (Q9).
At the sound of fighting Lagrozan the slave master in Q3c remains hidden in his room (so as not to spoil the big surprise – see Nolveniss the Illusionist, below)
BOOK 3: PART SEVEN: Nolveniss the illusionist
I felt this point was important enough to have its own post.
My only big issue with Book 3 is how Nolveniss is portrayed and the final ‘climatic’ battle. Nolveniss is described as an illusionist, but he’s stated and scripted as an evoker. Where’s the illusion, people?
I took a different approach, and with the advantage of running 5e, an appropriately challenging Nolveniss had access to 7th level spells…As a result, the change I made here to conclude Book 3 in a more satisfying way is still having repercussions in Book 4 and possibly Book 5. This is how it played out…
After the babau and drow arcanists were defeated, the PCs heard a cry for help coming from the south-east (Q3d). A male voice was speaking elvish, distraught and crying. On investigation, the PCs find Kaerishiel, badly beaten and chained by the ankle, sitting on the floor cradling Shalelu’s severed head in his lap! At the PCs approach, Kaerishiel looks up in uncomprehending horror, tears streaming down his face and repeats his plaintive “Help ME!”
In fact, this 'Kaerishiel' was Nolveniss in an illusory disguise.
Nolveniss-Kaerishiel tells the PCs that Nolveniss killed Shalelu and took her body up to the observatory (Q11) for some unspeakable ritual. Once freed he tells them that he will go and try to get help from the ‘Echo Elves’. He uses this opportunity to escape via the Shadow Portal, still disguised as Kaerishiel to fool the elves waiting on the other side.
I feel this much better played up Nolveniss as a cunning, genius level intelligence, centuries old drow who is a master of illusion master. He completely played them and when they found out how much he’d played them, he was cemented as their arch nemesis.
I played fair in that I did give them opportunities to uncover the illusion or they might have gone into Q3c where Slave Master Lagrozan was keeping the real Kaerishiel and Shalelu captive. Don't be over generous though - remember, PCs should only get a save to disbelieve an illusion if they interact with it or they say they disbelieve it (and they had no real reason to). The chain was real and Nolveniss was real so unchaining him, or touching him in the process shouldn't provoke a save. He wouldn't hand over Shalelu's head (which was a helmet) and does his best to get them on their way rather than fussing over him. By now, the PCs should be howling for Nolveniss' head - mine were and so this trick played out beautifully. If they'd uncovered Nolveniss at this point, things would have played out very differently...
So if Nolveniss is heading out the door, who’s on the roof?
Q11 The Grand Observatory
* This becomes really important in Book 4.
The fight was cool, particularly with the inclusion of the spinning orrery to mix things up (thanks to fra77 from the boards for the ideas on how to run this).
What really threw them for a loop though, was when they killed Nolveniss, he dissolved into a pile of snow! As it dawned on them that they’d been had, the sky started to fall.
BOOK 3: PART SEVEN: Wrapping up
Things were pretty chaotic from this point; the key events were:
♦ The PC hurried downstairs and found the real Kaerishiel and Shalelu alive in Q3c. Now they really wanted to kill Nolveniss;
♦ Grabbing Zaverik from where they’d left him in a nearby house they ran for the shadow portal, pursued by blast shadows;
♦ Xilo was royally pissed that he had to leave his sword behind as the smith was at the opposite side of town to the portal and Earthfall was coming;
♦ At the portal, a large group of blast shadows tried to cut them off, but Alston moved to fend them off so the others could escape. Alas they proved too much for the valiant gnome, and the last his friends saw of him as the portal snapped shut was him using thunderwave, causing a chain reaction of exploding blast shadows. Alston didn’t make it;
♦ Back in present day Celwynvian, the elf guards were surprised to see another Kaerishiel come through the portal. On investigating, the PCs found the two guards who’d accompanied the first Kaerishiel to his tent murdered and Nolveniss gone;
♦ After a thorough search of the camp, they concluded Nolveniss had escaped and the PCs and the elves celebrated a bitter-sweet victory.
♦ One thing they did find when searching the ruins of Celwynvian for Nolveniss, though: the reforged blade Naar'dae. The ghost of the elven smith appeared one last time, smiled, then vanished for good. The blade a ghostly image on the anvil became solid at Xilo's touch and as he held it aloft, it burst into flame - the light of justice...or the fire of vengeance?
THE END (of Book 3)
Hi Shadowfane,Any news on next update?
Hey Matrix Sorica,
Sorry for the delay - it got awfully quiet on these boards and life got busy. We're now on book 6.
I'll write up some notes on book 4 and 5 - give me a prod if I've not done it in the next week or so.
Also, if you are still interested, give me your email by PM and I'll send you my (incomplete) notes on my 5e conversions.
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Hey dude, sorry! Not ignoring you, just got a lot on at the moment. I'm just tarting up my notes to send on to you - as you can imagine, most of it is in written form, and my electronic notes are less complete than I remembered! Sorry for the lack of comms, though.
Should be out of the (deadline) woods by end of next week then will send you what I've got. Thanks for the continuing interest - really appreciated.
Back to SD, we're currently playing book 6 and it's going really well. I'm really enjoying it, but also really excited to bring it all to a close - it's been a long (and fun) haul. The main reason is we're all really looking forward to starting the next AP!!
Curse of the Crimson Throne (AE), or
I'm planning to run Second Darkness as our next campaign, and I've been really enjoying your take on it. I hope you can find the time to write up the last 3 books at some point.
The way I will be approaching it is
They will all meet up at a big Elven conclave (probably at Mordant Spire, because I like that place), but are deemed too inexperienced at present for the Lantern Bearers. However, a certain prominent Elven general will identify their potential, and recruit them for a mission - a ring of standing stones has toppled over, revealing an ancient elven ruin beneath it which might hold all sorts of artefacts, but the unreasonable Spire Elves are refusing to allow any exploration (some balderdash about an ancient evil, or something ...) I'll run the PCs through the 2nd edition adventure The Shattered Circle, and they'll hand over a strange artefact to the general, and sit back and wait for the plaudits.
Next thing they know, the general has disappeared (something about a secret mission to Sargava, but they might well suspect foul play) and the PCs are very much persona non grata with the Lantern Bearers for reasons which nobody will explain.
Thirty (?) years pass without incident (hence they all have to be elves) ... and then they are suddenly contacted by a wild elf they befriended all those years ago, who has a mission in Riddleport he is very much unsuited to, and would they be willing to check out a new casino on his behalf ...
Sorry for the long radio silence. RL suddenly got really busy and Ive not had chance to catch up up the boards or my notes. In fact it's been just over a month since we've played SD. Restarted today and had an epic session (we're about third-way through the last book).
Matrix Sorcica, I've definitely not forgotten you. I have a half-finished email with a load of files for you. I never sent it as I realised a lot of my 'digital' notes were rather less complete than I'd remembered! I figure that you'd rather have something (even if rough) than nothing at all, so will endeavour to send them to you this week.
Amethal, thank you for the kind words! I'll try to get something written up for the remaining books soon, but I think your idea is a good one. I really like how you tie in the 'general' and involve the PCs in the meta plot. Just remember to keep teasing them with tidbits from 'their' mission in Riddleport so they don't get fed up an leave too early!
Thank you for this awesome telling of the first half of the AP! I'm about to run for my group! We've played Rise of the Runelords, CotCT, And we're soon to play Shattered Star and Return!
I love CotCT and Strange Aeons, as both are phenomenal campaigns and feel close to this campaign.
If you get back to playing SD, just wanted to let you know you have another fan!