Jhaeman's Rise of the Runelords Campaign

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 0 Recap:
22 Rova 4707

On the eve of Sandpoint’s Swallowtail Festival, four adventurers arrive separately in the harbor town, little realizing that they have been destined to play a role in the fate of all of Varisia!

Bey Lin, a seer of some skill who is loosely affiliated with the Church of Desna, arrives in Sandpoint wearing her trademark armor. The armor, which at a distance appears to be torn and ripped, is revealed to be exquisitely crafted when viewed up close. It draws strange looks towards the dark-haired woman in her thirties who makes her way down the streets of Sandpoint to the base of Old Light. This crumbled tower testifies to the existence of an ancient culture thousands of years old that long predated the settling of Varisia by the Chelaxians just three centuries ago (with the concomitant displacement of the indigenous Shoanti and Varisian peoples).

Bey knocks at the front door of an old stone building, haphazardly repaired, that sits near the base of Old Light, and is greeted by a balding, cantankerous old man named Brodert Quink. Quink welcomes Bey inside, as the two have been corresponding for a few years now about the history of Thassilon, the ancient empire which used to rule the land now called Varisia. Little is known about Thassilon, but Brodert Quink is a self-proclaimed sage and historian, and has recently taken to speculating about the purposes for which Old Light was originally built. His promise to reveal his theories to Bey is one of the reasons for her travelling to Sandpoint (the other is a meeting scheduled with a reclusive Varisian mystic named Madame Mvashti for 10 bells on 24 Rova). After some small talk, Quink goes on to share his theory about Old Light with Bey: he says it was never a lighthouse, like most scholars think, but in fact a weapon capable of hurling balls of fire hundreds of miles! He suggests that the power source for the weapon could be buried deep below, but he has no concrete evidence for his theory.

Nonetheless, he leads Bey outside so she can see Old Light up close. He leads her to a particular stone block that is, like the others, surprisingly intact given its thousands of years of exposure to the elements. Here, the runic language of ancient Thassilon provides the only real clue to Old Light’s purpose. Most scholars translate the runes to say “When risk is at its highest, the light shall shine”, but Bey realizes the passage could alternatively be interpreted to say “When danger is at its height, the fires of heaven shall be unleashed.” So intent are Bey and Brodert on translating and discussing the runes, they have no idea that a pack of dire rats (filthy rats the size of small dogs) have emerged from somewhere within the rocks and are about to attack!

Meanwhile, just down the street, a professional bounty hunter and wilderness scout named Oliver Turn has arrived at the Sandpoint Garrison, a stone fortress that serves as the headquarters for the Town Watch and Town Militia. Oliver, a weather-beaten ranger in his mid-30s, has come to Sandpoint for work; the sheriff of Sandpoint, Belor Hemlock, has quietly circulated word that the city is temporarily hiring freelancers to help patrol the Swallowtail festival, and is paying 5 silver pieces a day and providing free room and board at the Garrison. After waiting in line with many other freelancers for several minutes, Oliver is taken to Sheriff Hemlock, a grim Shoanti man. Hemlock asks each recruit to demonstrate why they deserve a job, and Oliver decides to show his skill with the crossbow by firing a bolt almost dead centre into a distant target. Hemlock gives his approval with a nod, and instructs Oliver to familiarise himself with Sandpoint before going on duty in the morning. When Oliver leaves the garrison, he hears shouts of alarm coming from just down the street in the direction of Old Light!

At the base of Old Light, four dire rats have surrounded Bey Lin and Brodert Quink. Quink shrinks back in fear, but Bey readies her quarterstaff and prepares for a fight. The two are bitten multiple times by the strangely aggressive rats before help suddenly arrives as Oliver Turn charges into the battle bearing a massive greatsword! His blade quickly cuts three of the dire rats in twain, leaving only one left. Bey’s eyes go black as she intones “the darkness is coming, you must be prepared” and magically gifts Oliver with even more fighting prowess. He kills the remaining dire rat, but not before suffering a vicious wound himself.

Bey and Oliver decide to seek help for Quink, who has been badly wounded in the attack. He sends them in the direction of the new cathedral in the hopes of finding Father Zantus. But before the pair of newcomers arrive, they’re distracted by shouts and the sound of breaking glass and splintering wood: an untamed bronco is bucking madly down the street, smashing barrels and windows with its hooves, dragging a poor teenager whose foot is caught in the horse’s saddle harness! Oliver runs and tries to leap on the back of the horse, but he catches a hoof right in the ribs for his trouble. Bey manages to dash in and free the teen’s foot just before the horse dashes further down the street and out of sight.

The teenager, who is shaken but not actually hurt, gives his name as Bimmy Bean and says the horse was a new acquisition by Daviren Hosk at the Goblin Squash Stables. Bimmy says he actually hates horses, but his father, a farmer, made him try to find work in town since the surly teen doesn’t enjoy life in the Sandpoint hinterlands. When asked, he does point them in the direction of the newly-built cathedral, the dedication of which will be the highlight of tomorrow’s Swallowtail Festival.

When Bey and Oliver arrive at Sandpoint Cathedral, they’re quickly directed to the town’s high-priest, a pleasant man named Father Abstalar Zantus. Father Zantus promises to send help to Brodert Quink, but he also diagnoses that one of the bites Oliver suffered from the dire rats may be infected, and that a mild disease known as “filth fever” can be carried with such bites. He tells Oliver to monitor himself closely over the next 24 hours and to return if symptoms set in.

That same afternoon, elsewhere in Sandpoint, a seventeen-year-old named Xeveg Kishalq arrives in front of Turandarok Academy. Xeveg has developed a keen interest in history and archaeology for one so young, and in recent months has been exchanging letters with Ilsoari Gandethus, the Headmaster of Turandarok Academy. Since it’s a Sunday, classes are not in session at the institution that serves Sandpoint as a school and orphanage, and Xeveg is soon led by the Head Mother, Dorienne, to Ilsoari Gandethus’ study. Gandethus, a stern-looking man in his 60s, is widely known as a former adventurer and dabbler in the arcane, and has promised in his correspondence to show Xeveg his collection of unique artifacts held in the Academy’s basement. As the two sip tea in the study, Gandethus tells Xeveg that western Varisia holds several sites of historical significance, and perhaps even ancient treasure! He mentions Sog’s Bay, where ships have been shipwrecked on the rocks for countless years, and the Whisperwood, rumoured to hold ancient ruins of old Thassilon. Gandethus is about to lead Xeveg to the basement when he’s called away by Dorienne; one of the boarding students has been injured in an accident.

Left to his own devices, Xeveg looks around Gandethus’ study but soon hears a crash followed by a strange thumping sound. When the youth goes to investigate, he sees the sound is coming from the stairway to the basement—and the thumping sound is a rabbit, clearly dead but somehow still animated, hopping up the stairs! In moments, a second such abomination appears. The creatures quicken their pace and hop towards Xeveg, clearly intending to sink their teeth into him! Fortunately, Xeveg had prepared a minor incantation against the undead, and his magical rays are able to slow the beasts. One is blinded in the battle and ends up falling down the stairs, destroying itself. The other leaps for Xeveg but the spritely lad jumps out of the way, and the creature crashes into the wall and lays still.

Seconds later, Gandethus and the other residents of the Academy arrive on the scene. Gandethus apologises for the attack, saying he recently obtained a strange coffin that displayed necromantic auras, and that he had placed the rabbits inside to see what would happen. He promises to show Xeveg his basement collection the day after the festival, when he’s had a chance to clean everything up. Xeveg gets directions to a nearby inn, the Rusty Dragon.

Sandpoint’s other inn and tavern, the White Deer, is crowded as merchants, tourists, and farmers have come to Sandpoint for the festival. It also serves as the destination for another newcomer to the city, a rugged-looking Shoanti man wearing hide armor named Felix Bloodrider. Felix, a wanderer by nature, has come to Sandpoint for supplies and has stopped at the White Deer specifically because he’s heard it’s an establishment particularly friendly to his people. The proprietor of the White Deer is a Shoanti man named Garridan Viskalai and he’s said to offer cut-rate prices to Shoanti who are willing to share news with him of the culture he’s had to cut ties with in order to live in Sandpoint with his wife and family. Felix makes his way through the crowd and takes a seat at the bar. He’s greeted by Garridan with a tankard of ale, and the two start to converse but are quickly interrupted by Garridan’s wife, Lartie. Lartie pleads with Garridan to call the Town Watch about a pair of drunken Chelaxian merchants from Magnimar at a corner table who are harassing the servers and shouting racist comments about Garridan’s Shoanti heritage. Garridan, however, refuses to call the Watch, stating that it will only bring his brother and he’d rather endure the insults of fat foreigners from Magnimar then have “Sheriff Hemlock” set foot on his property.

Felix decides to take justice into his own hands. When one of the merchants, a portly man named Nefus Dobiggle, heads to the latrines, Felix bribes Dobiggle’s bodyguard to go “check on the horses.” Felix then enters the latrine and with two quick punches knocks him out cold! The fat merchant’s unconscious form crashes through the door of the latrine and into the common room and full view. The other merchant, Tamsyn Hollirock, and his bodyguard make for the door, but Felix continues his assault. He dodges the shortsword thrusts of the guard and pummels him to the ground, and when the fleeing Hollirock vows revenge should Felix ever come to Magnimar, the crusader chases him down and lands a vicious two-handed punch to the back of the man’s neck!

When Felix re-enters the White Deer, he’s greeted with applause from the other patrons. Garridan offers Felix free room and board for the night, and a promise of a gold piece if he’ll attend the Swallowtail Festival tomorrow and keep an eye on his wife and kids, who will be running a lemonberry juice stand.

Four adventurers from disparate walks of life have thus come to Sandpoint on the eve of the Swallowtail Festival. What happens in the succeeding weeks and months may very well become the stuff of legend . . .

Director's Commentary:
This campaign started in July of 2016. I thought it might be a good time to start posting the weekly recaps I prepared for each session. For this very first session of the campaign ("Session 0") I did something a bit unusual. I had a short, one-on-one session with each player (or a join session with two of the players since they were a couple) consisting of a single RP encounter and a single (easy) combat encounter. The idea of this Session 0 was to give the players a chance to get acquainted with their PC (both RP and mechanics wise) and to give me a chance to get a little more familiar with Sandpoint before the "real thing" started with the official beginning of the adventure path in Session # 1. This was everyone's first adventure path and first time using Golarion as a campaign setting for playing Pathfinder.

The PCs for the beginning of this campaign were:

Bey Lin, Human Oracle (Apocalypse Mystery)
Felix Bloodrider, Shoanti Brawler
Xeveg Kishalq, Human Wizard (Necromancy)
Oliver Turn, Human Ranger

Come back every week or so to see what happens next!

Good stuff! look forward to more to come.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 1 Recap:

23 Rova 4707

When the dawn bells ring in Sandpoint, the day holds the promise of clear weather, the excitement of an upcoming festival, and the solemnity of the dedication of a new house of worship.

Bey Lin awakens suddenly in her room at the Rusty Dragon just after daybreak, covered in sweat and shouting incoherently about “blood and flame in the streets!” The ruckus startles Bethana Corwin, an elderly halfling maid at the inn, who had been across the hall serving Xeveg Kishalq freshly-baked bread and tea. After Bey opens her door to Bethana’s concerned knocking, the adventurer explains matter-of-factly that “the apocalypse is coming soon upon us all, but with luck you may survive.” A sleepy-eyed Xeveg does not seem impressed, nor does the reptilian bird that perches on his shoulder.

At the nearby Sandpoint Garrison, Oliver Turn awakens to the sound of morning reveille. He gets dressed and pins a cloth badge to his tabard identifying himself as an auxiliary member of the Town Watch. As he waits to hear his duty assignment, he sees Sheriff Hemlock receiving upsetting news. Hemlock motions for Oliver and another freelancer to follow him and they head towards the North Gate, stopping at a relatively new three-story building whose entrance is flanked by a pair of carved deer made from white birch. Hemlock strides right into the White Deer Inn and starts up the stairs (after speaking briefly with a maid), much to the surprise and anger from the inn’s proprietor, Garridan Viskalai.

The argument in the hallway between Hemlock and Viskalai is loud enough to wake Felix Bloodrider seconds before there’s loud pounding on his door. Hemlock, flanked by Oliver and another watchman, with Viskalai looking on angrily, confronts Felix with the news that word quickly spread of his assault on the Magnimarian merchants and their bodyguards last night. Hemlock says that if the victims hadn’t already fled and could swear out a statement, Felix would already be in a jail cell. Felix isn’t intimidated in the least by his fellow Shoanti warrior’s imposing presence, and makes the fact clear to Hemlock. The two look poised for an altercation until Hemlock declares he doesn’t have time to deal with Felix, and appoints Oliver to keep a close eye on him all day to ensure he stays out of trouble.

The Swallowtail Festival starts on time with a series of speeches by town leaders. Mayor Kendra Deverin thanks everyone for attending and says that the construction of a new church shows that Sandpoint has heart. Sheriff Hemlock asks for a moment of silence to remember the lives that were lost in the fire that claimed the previous chapel five years earlier. As Lonjiku Kaijitsu is ill, theatre-proprietor Cyrdak Drokkus takes the stage and tells a few jokes before introducing Father Abstalar Zantus, Priest of Desna. Father Zantus declares the Swallowtail Festival officially underway. Attendees scatter for food, games, trinkets, and more.

Xeveg makes the rounds of the local vendors, hoping to stumble across anything of historical interest. He notices a dull gray ioun stone, but the price is too high for him to afford it. Felix sticks close to the lemon-berry juice stand run by Garridan Viskalia’s wife and daughters before being asked to escort the youngest daughter, nine-year-old Mantha, to the games area. There, Felix tries “The Devil Hunt” (firing arrows at a wooden rendering of the legendary Sandpoint Devil) and “Raise the Shipwreck” (hitting a bellows so hard it knocks a bucket full of coins and candy off a pole). He doesn’t have much luck with either, and grouses about it loudly. For his part, Oliver keeps a close eye on the festival-goers but doesn’t notice anything suspicious. Bey shares her matter-of-fact confidence that the day will end in flames and death, leading most people to steer well clear of her.

At midday, the festival-goers assemble before the Cathedral again, where Father Zantus and his four acolytes have arranged for a covered wagon to be brought into the square. Father Zantus delivers a parable about how Desna, goddess of luck, beauty, and travel, fell to earth after being defeated by the vicious demon-goddess Lamashtu. Desna was befriended by a young blind girl who nursed her back to health, and in gratitude the goddess turned the girl into a Swallowtail butterfly so she could see the world of Golarion and explore it for all eternity. After the story is finished, the cover on the wagon is pulled back to reveal thousands of Swallowtail butterflies; the freed creatures fly up into the sky in a beautiful spiral of color.

Lunch is provided free to all by the proprietors of three local kitchens: Garridan Viskalai, Shoanti owner of the White Deer Inn; Jargie Quinn, peg-legged owner of the Hagfish; and Ameiko Kaijitsu, well-liked owner of the Rusty Dragon. Felix and Bey end up sitting next to one another, and Bey shares her belief that the streets will soon run red with blood. Felix is enthusiastic about the idea. On the other side of the square, Oliver cleans his nails with his shortsword while Xeveg tries various exotic foods and then plays chess with his familiar, much to the daylight of nearby children.

After lunch, Bey spots her recent companion in battle and asks Oliver how he is feeling. She observes that one of his wounds seems to be infected, and that although he may die, she hopes he’ll live long enough to join in resisting the doom that will soon befall them. In turn, Oliver expresses his confidence that he’ll be fine. The ranger continues to trail Felix at a distance, leading the heavily-muscled Shoanti man to introduce himself. When asked “what his quest” is, Felix replies “beer, food, and wenches!” Xeveg continues scouring merchant and junk stalls, and has a stroke of luck: mixed in with a pile of homemade jewellery and old war medals is a medallion depicting a strikingly beautiful but enraged human woman. Xeveg instantly realizes the medallion is both ancient in creation but relatively unmarked by the passage of time, and that it depicts one of the rulers of old Thassilon, the Runelord Alaznist. He can’t afford the initial price asked for, but negotiates a deal to buy it at a cheaper price if it hasn’t been sold by the end of the day. Bey Lin takes a break from the festival and visits Brodert Quink to see if he’s recovered from his wounds; though laid up in bed, Brodert says he’s getting better. The old sage is annoyed, however, because he’s lost his brass spyglass.

At sunset, it seems like the whole of Sandpoint has turned out in front of the new cathedral to witness the dedication ceremony. Father Zantus throws a thunderstone on the ground to get everyone’s attention and starts to speak, but his words are cut off by the sound of a woman’s scream, and then the sudden surge of strange, high-pitched voices chanting a crude song. The crowd parts as a dog stumbles through, its throat cut from ear to ear and spraying blood everywhere. Felix and Oliver spot a three-foot tall creature with a scrawny body dwarfed by a wide, ungainly head. A goblin! It licks the blood from the blade used to slit the dog’s throat and cackles in obvious glee. Other goblins are spotted all around, and people begin to panic!

Xeveg reacts instantly, magically blasting a goblin off a nearby cart and into a water trough to drown. Felix literally punches a hole in the skull of another goblin, while Bey and Oliver corner a goblin in a nearby residence. The giggling goblin hurls plates and silverware at the adventurers, dodging Oliver’s attempt to catch it in a blanket and Bey’s attempt to magically shatter its weapon. Seconds later, Felix reaches the scene and, learning that Oliver wants a prisoner to interrogate, gathers the goblin up in a chokehold and slams its forehead into a table and unconsciousness. Oliver quickly binds the prisoner with fishing line.

But the raid on Sandpoint is far from over! As shouts and screams and the sound of battle can be heard everywhere, the adventurers realize that a cart full of wood, intended for an evening bonfire, has been set ablaze by another group of goblins. They’re so busy dancing and singing that they don’t even realize they’re being watched, which gives the adventurers a chance to advance. Xeveg slips into the tent holding the Thassilonian medallion and stuffs it into his pocket; he starts to run away, but then changes his mind and returns to the battle. He and Bey work together to stop an emerging threat: one of the goblins has grabbed a brand from the blazing wagon and is trying to set the new cathedral on fire! Xeveg conjures ice and Bey conjures water to put out the goblin’s torch. The ensuing fight is a difficult one, as Felix and Oliver get surrounded by goblins and their warchanter before turning the tide and emerging victorious.

There’s scant time for celebration, however, as one last challenge remains. To the north of the cathedral, near the city gates and the White Deer Inn, a nobleman has been cornered by a goblin commando mounted on a goblin dog. Three goblins who had been hiding emerge from cover to cheer and caper as the commando decapitates a dog. Oliver fires a crossbow bolt into the commando’s leg, distracting the attacker long enough for Bey to run into position and use her bardiche to defend the nobleman. She’s left fighting the commando one-on-one for several moments as the other goblins charge Felix, Oliver, and Xeveg. Xeveg gets stabbed in an unfortunate place by a goblin “dogslicer” and drops to the ground, bleeding. But Felix is a one-man army, using elbow smashes, jump kicks, and roundhouse punches to quickly fell the attackers. He and Oliver then run to join Bey in fending off the commando. Felix does a flying double-elbow strike to dismount the commando, and Oliver’s greatsword takes off his head! Bey Lin sees to everyone’s wounds, and Xeveg regains consciousness.

The cowering nobleman, who gives his name as Aldern Foxglove of Magnimar, thanks the adventurers profusely. He says he’ll be staying in Sandpoint at the Rusty Dragon for a few days and he’ll reward them for saving his life if they come by before he departs for his townhouse in the city.

As the adventurers head south back into Sandpoint, they see that the goblin raid is over, with the attackers having been killed, captured, or driven off. The Swallowtail Festival has come to a perilous end and most residents of Sandpoint have locked themselves in their homes. The Town Watch now patrols in force. Ameiko Kaitjitsu is seen cleaning her rapier of blood, and when she sees the adventurers, she praises them on their heroism in driving off the raiders and offers them a week’s free stay at the Rusty Dragon.

For a new group of adventurers forged in bloodshed, questions still remain: how could such chaotic creatures have mounted a coordinated raid? What were they hoping to achieve? Is Sandpoint truly out of danger? The coming days promise answers and dangers alike.

Director's Commentary:
I always try to put a lot of thought into how a campaign begins: I want it to be organic, interesting, and memorable. Apart from "everyone is in town for the festival," the adventure path didn't provide a lot of information so I tried to work every character into the session and trusted that the heat of combat would provide the needed bond.

I used material from the official forums to flesh out the speeches at the beginning of the festival and for the games. The PCs didn't make much use of the games, but I was glad they were there. I wanted the festival to be more than just something that passes by in a couple of lines of narrative, so I had each player tell me at least one thing their character was doing in the morning, and then again for the afternoon, and we role-played it out.

You get a glimpse of Bey's personality as an Oracle with the Apocalypse mystery: it comes across as almost bizarrely calm. The person running Oliver was brand new to gaming (not just Pathfinder), and we'll soon see how much fun that is.

The battles against the goblins went quite well and the PCs were impressive (especially Felix as a Level 1 brawler, tearing everything up). Poor Xeveg got caught with a crit and fell into negatives, but wasn't seriously close to death.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 2 Recap:
23 Rova 4707 (continued)

Having successfully defended Sandpoint from a surprise goblin raid, the adventurers return to the house where they left a bound goblin, hoping to interrogate it. Unfortunately, when they arrive they see members of the Watch removing the goblin and lifting it into the back of a hay-wagon containing a few other prisoners. Sheriff Hemlock is there overseeing events, and calls the adventurers over for a quick word. He says all non-emergency personnel should be off the streets, and asks them to come to the garrison at Nine Bells in the morning for a full report since they were spotted fighting goblins.

The adventurers head towards the Rusty Dragon. Bey, who oddly seems to see better at nighttime than during the day, notices Xeveg’s newly-acquired medallion and asks him about it. The two realize they have a shared interest in the history and language of ancient Thassilon. When the adventurers reach the inn, they realize they’ve become local heroes, as several townspeople come by to pat them on the back, shake their hand, or buy them drinks. The evening of drinking and companionship continues for some hours until interrupted by the inn’s front door slamming and the arrival of an older Tian man who is obviously angry. The newcomer shouts something in a language the adventurers don’t understand and then stalks through the common room as the previously boisterous conversation quiets completely. Bethana Corwin, the Rusty Dragon’s halfing maid, whispers to the group that it’s Lonjiku Kaijitsu; she clearly understands what he is shouting about. When Lonjiku sets eyes on the adventurers, he condemns their “antics” and derisively says they should have left the fighting to the professionals.

The adventurers argue back until the doors to the kitchen swing open and Lonjiku focuses his seething gaze on his daughter, Ameiko. Lonjiku shouts at Ameiko, again in a foreign tongue, and then grabs her by the hair as if to drag her out of the inn! Ameiko brains him with a soup ladle and Felix intervenes, restraining the enraged Lonjiku. The Tian man thrusts out a finger towards Ameiko and says in accented Common: “You are as dead to me as your mother!” Felix allows him to turn and head for the door, when suddenly, out of nowhere, Oliver does a running slam-tackle on the old man! Oliver makes as if to arrest Lonjiku, when he realizes everyone in the common room is shocked by his behaviour. A local at a nearby table whispers to him that Lonjiku is head of one of the town’s founding families, and Felix adds that as much as he liked the violence, it might not be worth antagonizing a town leader. Lonjiku himself spews an unending torrent of threats towards Oliver, including promises to contact the Sheriff, the Mayor, the Town Council, and even the Justice Court of Magnimar over the indignity. After chewing it over, Oliver decides to let Lonjiku go. The older man storms out, his clothes dirty and his face cut and bruised from the altercation.

Conversation in the common room starts to pick up again, as now the locals have both the goblin raid and an assault on the head of a founding family to talk about. Xeveg and Bey try to convince Bethana to explain what Lonjiku and Ameiko were arguing about, but she’s reluctant to discuss her employer’s family affairs with strangers, even if they are heroes. Oliver decides to ask Ameiko directly, and finds her in the kitchen trying to keep her composure; she kindly but similarly tells him to just let things be. Having had quite the day, the adventurers go up to their rooms, but stop to take note of a “Help Wanted” sign near the bar. It lists several opportunities, including dung-sweeping for someone named Gorvi, finding a lost spyglass for Brodert Quink, removing a snake from a well for Mayor Deverin, auditioning for a new play at the Sandpoint Theatre, and a bounty on goblin ears by Daviren Hosk at the Goblin Squash Stables. That night, Bey has a memorable dream about peering into a dark tunnel or hole and being lunged at by a fanged creature.

24 Rova 4707

Having forged a bond the previous night, the four adventurers decide to breakfast together in the morning. They discuss the Help Wanted board and decide that, after meeting with Sheriff Hemlock and accepting Madame Mvashti’s invitation to have tea with Bey and her friends, they should perhaps help Mayor Deverin with her snake problem. The adventurers see three liveried servants, obviously not staff of the Rusty Dragon, carefully preparing a table for one. Some minutes later, Aldern Foxglove makes his way down to breakfast, looking far more composed than when the adventurers encountered him the previous evening. He is delighted to see his rescuers and invites them to dine with him. He eats daintily and delicately, but is quite personable. As a reward for saving his life, he invites the adventurers to go on a boar hunt with him in nearby Tickwood. He offers to buy the adventurers mounts and boar spears, which they can keep, and says he plans to depart for the hunt at dawn the next day. The group accept his offer and hurry off to their appointment with Sheriff Hemlock after reminding Oliver he needs to dress in more than a simple bathrobe!

Sheriff Hemlock is in a conference room littered with maps and reports when the adventurers arrive. He says he’s heard several reports of the adventurers’ running battles against the goblins, and after asking them to confirm several details (which Xeveg does aptly), he offers sincere gratitude, even going so far as to tell Felix that he’s willing to give him another chance. Sheriff Hemlock tells Oliver that he is more than welcome to maintain his provisional status in the Town Watch. Hemlock explains that he has his deputies investigating several locations where goblins were spotted last night, and assigns Oliver to follow up on two leads: the Boneyard and Junk Beach.

Before leaving the garrison, the adventurers decide to personally interrogate the captured goblins, four of whom are held in a basement cell. Xeveg is able to speak the guttural goblin language and translates (sometimes quite loosely) for his allies. At first the goblins refuse to provide any useful information and make fun of the adventurers, but when Xeveg bluffs them into thinking they’ll be executed by horse-trampling if they don’t cooperate, they begin to talk. The goblins, two of whom are from Mosswood and two of whom are from Shank’s Wood, say that lots of goblins from all over were in on the raid. Two say they were snuck into Sandpoint in a covered wagon, while the other two came over a wall via ladder, and all were instructed by their boss, a “longshanks”, to kill and burn at will. The Shank’s Wood goblins confirm they never go to nearby Tickwood because of the wild boars there. While the interrogation is going on, Felix encounters the town jailer, a Shoanti man named Vachedi.

The adventurers head across town towards Madame Mvashti’s residence. Bey has a difficult time convincing her allies that it’s worth their time to meet with the seer, but they reluctantly go along. On the way, the adventurers receive further evidence of their popularity in the harbor town; Aneka Avertin of Sandpoint Savories rushes out with a gift basket of pastries for the “Heroes of Sandpoint”, while Felix and Oliver receive seductive smiles and winks from a ginger-haired beauty they haven’t met yet. Madame Mvashti’s house turns out to be a sprawling, decrepit mansion. After being welcomed in by her niece, Gianya Frallino, the group is taken to Madame Mvashti’s sitting room which is chock-full of bizarre trinkets, concoctions, wooden masks, and more. Madame Mvashti throws the bones and does a reading for the group. She says that trouble has been brewing for five years now, and that it’s about to erupt from above and below. Last night’s raid was just a drop in the bucket of the devastation sure to come to Sandpoint, but there’s still a chance the fates can be swayed if heroes arise to stem the tide. She finds Oliver particularly amusing, saying he has heart but no head, and gifts him with a dusty jar full of briny liquid to drink when “things are at their worst.” She also expresses her fondness for Xeveg, who is clearly sceptical of her ability to foretell the future, saying that he has head but no heart and that perhaps he and Oliver can learn from each other. Madame Mvashti finishes by saying it’s time for her nap, but that Bey and her friends are welcome to come again.

The newly-built Sandpoint Cathedral is the adventurers’ next destination. It’s the town’s largest building by far, home to chapels to six different faiths (Abadar, Desna, Erastil, Gozreh, Sarenrae, and Shelyn), and features an open-air courtyard with ancient standing stones that served as a place of worship for the indigenous Varisians for generations. Sister Arva, one of the temple’s four acolytes, expresses her willingness to heal the adventurers in gratitude for their valour the night prior. The adventurers then travel through the cathedral and out a back door that leads directly to the Boneyards, Sandpoint’s cemetery. The Boneyards overlooks the Turandarok River, and in addition to the expected grave plots it features dozens of stone vaults owned by the more affluent members of the community.

Xeveg’s keen eyes quickly spots where the goblins climbed over the wall. Oliver’s woodland skill in tracking reveals that there were six goblins and one lightweight humanoid. The ranger follows the tracks from the wall to a particular vault whose heavy square door still hangs ajar. Felix puts his shoulder to the door and forces it open further, revealing four stone sarcophagi inside. But far more pressing to the skilled brawler are two skeletal abominations that leaps out at him with rusty scimitars and bony claws! Fortunately, Felix dodges away from their attacks and shatters one of their skulls with his fist! Xeveg’s darting ray of positive energy and Oliver’s greatsword make short work of the remaining skeleton. After the battle, Xeveg examines the remnants of the skeletons and realizes they were magically conjured from nothingness and were never the bones of an actual corpse. Inside the vault, he sees the lid to one of the sarcophagi has been pried open and is empty; a plaque on its side reads: “Father Ezakien Tobyn, Honoured Citizen of Sandpoint and Priest of Desna.” In addition, crumpled up in a corner of the vault is a black robe that Xeveg realizes has some sort of connection to necromancy. He stuffs it in his backpack. The group look for a secret door but do not find one.

Oliver discerns that the intruders then went towards a cemetery gate, but he loses their trail once it leads onto a cobblestone road in the town proper. The adventurers decide to return to the cathedral and confer with Father Zantus about the missing body. He is distraught at hearing the news that Father Tobyn’s body has been stolen. He explains that Father Tobyn died in the same fire that burned down Sandpoint’s previous chapel five years previously, and that he was a mentor to many in the community, including Father Zantus himself. He has no idea why someone would steal the body of a priest. The adventurers decide to stay for the noon dedication ceremony of the cathedral, which is a much quieter and more intimate affair than the interrupted ceremony planned for the night prior. After the ceremony, Bey takes the opportunity to ask Mayor Deverin about the request she placed on the Rusty Dragon’s “Help Wanted” board. Mayor Deverin confirms that one of the wells at Deverin Manor has been befouled by a snake, and that the adventurers would be rewarded if they can remove it. She says to speak to her groundskeeper for more information.

The adventurers head to Junker’s Edge, a clifftop overlooking the sea and a junk-covered beach below, in order to follow-up on the second goblin spotting that Sheriff Hemlock told them about. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Bey mentions to the others that Brodert Quink may have lost his spyglass in the area. Xeveg and Felix work together to determine the most likely spot on the beach below that a spyglass would end up if it were to have dropped accidentally. Felix spots a narrow channel down the side of the cliff-face that could provide a safe path down to the beach below, and everyone sets off. Oliver slips on the way down and crashes into Bey, and both end up with scrapes and bruises. When everyone reaches the beach, they split up to look for the spyglass. Bey is poking through various bits of debris when she suddenly hears a shriek right underneath her feet; a goblin had hidden himself in the sand and junk and fallen asleep, and Bey stepped right on him! His shriek awakens three other goblins hidden nearby, and in moments a fight is on.

The goblins are undisciplined, easily distracted combatants. Nonetheless, Oliver quickly drinks the strange concoction given to him by Madame Mvashti for emergencies and discovers that it is a powerful healing potion; but as he hadn’t yet been wounded, it has little effect. Bey tussles with one of the goblins only to realize it’s attacking her with a brass spyglass; when Oliver kills it, Felix does a diving leap to catch the spyglass before it crashes into the ground. Having exhausted his offensive magicks, Xeveg uses a shovel to fight the goblins and nearly decapitates one. Felix continues to prove himself a master of unarmed fighting and in seconds all of the goblins are dead. Oliver collects ears for the bounty, and the adventurers espy a burlap sack containing a mixture of rotting garbage and semi-valuable items like a copper necklace and a filthy but workable hand crossbow. The climb back up the cliff is again perilous, as Xeveg falls twice before being pulled up with a rope lowered by Felix. As the adventurers catch their breath, they notice a horse-drawn cart arrive with more junk to drop over the side.

The inhabitants of Sandpoint have quickly taken to Bey, Oliver, Xeveg, and Felix, and the local heroes have continued their record of success by uncovering the theft of Father Tobyn’s body and catching four more goblins. But will their encounter with Lonjiku Kaijitsu come back to haunt them?

Director's Commentary:
I was really proud of how I role-played the argument between Lonjiku and Ameiko--handling both sides of a shouting match is a challenging thing for a director! The encounter, which I understand was added to the Anniversary Edition, did an excellent job encapsulating Lonjiku's and Ameiko's relationship. The PCs *just* missed the Diplomacy DCs to find out what was going on from Bethana (and later, Ameiko). Of course, nobody expected the encounter to end with old man Lonjiku being slam-tackled! The player running Oliver is brand new to RPGs and is a little . . . enthusiastic. Tie in his insistence on running around in a bath robe and his drinking what turned out to be a healing potion while at full health, and you have one strange dude running around Sandpoint.

One of the minor additions I've made to the adventure path that has worked extremely well is posting various items to the Rusty Dragon's "Help Wanted" board. This has served as an excellent way to introduce minor side-quests and add some character to events happening in the town. The incident at Junk Beach is taken from the encounter of the same name from the Dark Waters Rising hardcover (collecting the first six issues of the Pathfinder comic). That comic has proved to be an excellent resource to flesh out Sandpoint and its surroundings.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 3 Recap::
24 Rova 4707 (continued)

Having successfully retrieved Brodert Quink’s spyglass, the adventurers make their way to the sage’s residence near the base of the ancient crumbling tower known as Old Light. Inside, Quink gives the group a sizable reward and explains his theory about the true purpose of Old Light to a sceptical Xeveg. He also mentions to Bey that he suspects there may be an underground chamber below the tower that acts as its power source, but she convinces him that if there is one, he must not explore it alone.

Next, the adventurers travel to the Goblin Squash Stables. They notice the dozens of goblin ears nailed to the rafters, each with the goblin’s name branded into the dried leathery skin. The surly teenager Bimmy Beems, rescued a few days previously from a wild horse by Oliver and Bey, motion the group to the rear of the barn when they ask about the horses promised them by Aldern Foxglove for the next morning’s boar hunt. They pass by a large jar on a pedestal containing the preserved corpse of goblin chief, and then come to the owner of the stables, a retired ranger named Daviren Hosk. Hosk speaks dismissively of “that fop” Foxglove, but says his coin is good and that the adventurers can choose from the mounts he has available. Bey ends up with a horse who bites but that Daviren promises will be good on a boar hunt. Felix chooses a horse that nuzzles him as an act of submission, while Oliver settles on a heavy draft horse. Xeveg leaves suddenly and waits for the other adventurers outside. They remember to turn in the pairs of goblin ears they’ve collected for Daviren’s promised 5 gp/pair bounty, and find a glint of pleasure in the man’s eyes for the first time.

As he drops off some of the group’s captured equipment in his room at the Rusty Dragon, Xeveg notices two teenage girls slipping a note under the door to Felix’s room. He uses a minor incantation to retrieve it and then shows it to the Shoanti man, who uses the note expressing affection from “secret admirers” to wipe goblin blood off of his boots.

Next stop is Deverin Manor, reached by crossing Sandpoint Bridge and then following along a road overlooking Sandpoint Harbor. A groundskeeper who neither asks nor offers his name directs the trouble-shooters to a well on the estate grounds that has been befouled by a snake. Oliver ties one end of his rope to the wood-and-metal frame that supports a chain and bucket, gives himself about 10’ of slack, and then dramatically jumps in! With an everburning torch in one hand, he drops a bundle of bread and ham into the bottom of the well with his other hand and is rewarded for his efforts by seeing a serpentine head emerge from the water to snatch it! After Oliver is pulled back to the lip of the well, the adventurers discuss what to do. Xeveg can tell from Oliver’s description that the creature at the bottom of the well is a goblin snake, a cruel and impulsive sentient creature that cares for little besides its next meal. Bey volunteers to be lowered down since she can see surprisingly well in the dark and trusts her bardiche to keep her safe. The plan works almost to perfection, as when the goblin snake springs from the water to bite her, she lops off its head with a single slash! But the serpentine menace had just enough time to belch a poisonous gas in Bey’s direction, leaving her feeling sick and nauseated as she’s raised to the top. Her illness soon passes and Oliver cleverly uses the camouflage netting from his pack to scoop out the body of the goblin snake. Witnessing the Deverin Manor well problem solved in an unorthodox but speedy fashion, the pleased groundskeeper distributes five gold pieces to each adventurer.

Felix finds an enticing opportunity waiting for him outside the Rusty Dragon when the group returns. A voluptuous, red-haired beauty named Shayliss Vinder introduces herself as part of the family that runs the town’s general store and says there's a problem with giant rats in the basement that only Felix could solve. Felix doesn’t hesitate to go along. The general store has a handwritten “Closed, Back in Five Minutes” sign on the door as Shayliss leads Felix inside and down into the basement. There, behind several barrels of grog, Felix finds not rats but a cot! One thing leads to another until footsteps are heard on the stairs. Ven Vinder, Shayliss’s father, comes down the stairs with a box of empty bottles in his hands and is stunned to see a barbaric outlander seducing his "naïve, virginal" daughter! He shouts for Shayliss to go upstairs and hurls the box of bottles at Felix, who dodges adroitly. Vinder promises to give Felix a beating he’ll never forget and takes wild swings at the interloper, but Felix keeps his cool, dodges, and calmly heads up the stairs to impotent shouts of rage from below. On the street outside, Shayliss says she’ll try to sneak out some night soon to see Felix again.

The rest of the evening passes uneventfully in the common room of the Rusty Dragon.

25 Rova 4707

Dawn sees the adventurers assembled early for a boar hunt with Aldern Foxglove and his three manservants. Everyone receives a specially-crafted boar spear and instructions on its use. Xeveg asks Aldern if he can ride tandem behind him, and although the nobleman’s horse shies away at first, Aldern manages to calm his mount and pulls Xeveg up. Aldern leads the group north and then east across Tanner’s Bridge to trot on the Lost Coast Road. To their left, the Varisian Gulf sparkles before them, with small fleets of fishing vessels already plying their trade. The group see a ragged range of broken hills to their right (Ravenroost) as Aldern, who is clearly a morning person, makes sure conversation continues to flow. He alternates between being astounded and amused by Bey’s talk of a coming apocalypse, tells Xeveg about the hundreds of books he has in his townhouse (purely for decoration), asks unknowingly ridiculous and condescending questions about Felix’s Shoanti heritage, and offers to assist Oliver in becoming Sheriff of Sandpoint by using his pull with the Justice Court of Magnimar to make it happen. He invites all of the adventurers to visit him in Magnimar as his personal guests to experience the city’s art galleries, theatres, and sparkling soirees.

The travellers soon find themselves with forestlands to their left and their right. To the left lies Shank’s Wood, which Aldern says is full of goblins and a notorious highwayman. To the right lies Tickwood, a perfect place to catch boar. Oliver puts his wilderness lore to good use, expertly finding the tracks of a boar and leading the group to a thicket of bushes. He scares it out, and the hunt is on! Felix tries to stab it with his boar spear but misses, while Oliver wounds it slightly with a crossbow bolt. Bey tries to spear it but is unused to fighting from horseback and ends up stabbing herself in the leg! Aldern gallantly ties his own silk scarf around the wound to try to staunch the bleeding. The boar sprints away but Felix gives chase and stabs it hard, only to find his upper thigh gored in return! Aldern, Felix, and Xeveg manage to finish off the hardy beast, and the nobleman’s manservants hog-tie the body for the return to Sandpoint. Aldern is clearly elated with their success and invites everyone to dine with him that evening at the Rusty Dragon, promising that Ameiko Lonjiku is an excellent cook. The hunters make it back to town well before lunchtime, and Aldern excuses himself to freshen up.

The next few hours pass quickly with various errands taking up most of the group’s time. Xeveg uses divination magic to discern that the black robe found in the stone vault at the cemetery is a robe of bones, presently exhausted but in the past capable of magically conjuring undead creatures. He likes the look of it and decides to wear it. A journey is made to the local armory, Savah’s, to sell some spoils of war and buy new ones. The eponymous owner is ecstatic to see Sandpoint’s newest heroes in her store and she offers substantial discounts on her wares. With their coin purses jingling, Bey and Oliver visit the town’s bank (underneath the Town Hall) and are assisted by Sister Arva, priestess of Abadar, with exchanging silver and gold for platinum.

As everyone is on their way back to the Rusty Dragon, they witness a middle-aged woman running frantically down the street, holding a baby in one arm and dragging a little boy behind her in the other. She shouts that her husband is alone in the house fighting a vicious goblin! The woman, Amele Barrett, hurriedly explains that each night after the goblin raid her son Aeren has awoken in the middle of the night screaming about a goblin in his closet. And each time, her husband Alergast went to investigate and found nothing awry. Today though, when Aeren was taking a nap, he woke up screaming and when Alergast and Amele went to check, they found a goblin chewing on his arm! Amele dragged Aeren to safety and grabbed her infant while Alergast attacked the goblin. The adventurers immediately rush to the house and to a child’s room on the second floor. There, they find the legs of a man sticking out of a dark closet. Felix flips the body over to reveal that Alergast’s throat has been slashed and that his face was being gnawed on! The distraction allows the goblin, who had been hiding in the back of the closet underneath some pried-up floorboards, to leap out and attack. Oliver’s greatsword and Felix’s fists are too much for the starved, crazed goblin and it collapses to the ground. Xeveg decapitates it with his shovel. On their way out of the house, the Town Watch arrive and take over the scene. One of the guards says that Sheriff Hemlock was looking for them, so the adventurers head for the town garrison.

A tense meeting is underway when the adventurers arrive. Mayor Deverin and Sheriff Hemlock are hearing a report from an elven ranger named Shalelu Andosana. Shalelu, who happens to be an old friend of Oliver’s, spends months at a time in the wilderness of Western Varisia working as a scout and bounty hunter for various small towns. She says that she’s hurried to Sandpoint with ominous news: there are multiple reports of goblin raids on farms and caravans in the area, and, even worse, it seems that several goblin tribes are working together. She explains that usually the various chaotic and short-sighted tribes keep each other in check through infighting, and that only a powerful leader could succeed in getting them to act with unity. Shalelu says she plans to set off again in the morning to try to gather more intelligence. Sheriff Hemlock receives Mayor Deverin’s approval to set off that very night for Magnimar to press for a contingent of soldiers to help protect the town against a further raid. After hearing about the goblin attacks at the Barretts’ and Junk Beach, Mayor Deverin asks the adventurers if they’d be willing to stay in Sandpoint and maintain a very public presence for a few days to help reassure the citizenry that everything is under control. The adventurers agree, with Xeveg advising house-to-house searches to ferret out any remaining goblins and Bey suggesting that any goblin sightings, however unlikely, be followed up on immediately. Mayor Deverin agrees.

Before going to ready his mount for an overnight ride to Magnimar, Sheriff Hemlock stops and talks with Oliver about the altercation with Lonjiku Kaijitsu at the Rusty Dragon on the night of the raid. Sheriff Hemlock says the locals seem split on whether or not Oliver acted appropriately, but that Lonjiku himself has surprisingly kept a low-profile and is apparently working on a secret project at his glass factory. Hemlock says that a member of the Town Watch, even a provisional one, must walk a fine line between avoiding excessive force and not backing down when the law must be upheld.

After the meeting, Shalelu asks Oliver and his new friends if they’ll accompany her for a seafood dinner at the Hagfish, promising to fill them in more on the goblin threat.

Director's Commentary::
One of the brilliant things about this part of the first chapter of the adventure path is how there are various encounters provided for the GM to integrate into the game, but there's a lot of flexibility on exactly how and when. It allows for great customization to take into account the PCs actions, and makes it easy to fit the encounters into the game in an organic way. I much prefer this to some campaigns I've seen where the PCs launch into a huge mission from the very beginning and get very little time to get the feel of their surroundings. Perhaps my favourite of these early encounters was the business with Shayliss. Hilarious, but also potentially sowing the seeds of future plotlines!

The adventure path treats goblins in an interesting but occasionally confusing way. They're treated as both comical and murderous. They're sentient creatures, but bounties are offered on their ears with no questions asked.

The goblin snake encounter was one I made up, and it turned out quite well. I think it's good to give the PCs some easily-achievable mini-quests early in the campaign to build up their teamwork and sense of accomplishment. After all, things will get much harder down the line!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 4 Recap:
25 Rova 4707 (continued)

As the adventurers get ready to depart the Sandpoint Garrison in order to dine with Shalelu Andosana at the Hagfish, Bey suggests someone should notify Aldern Foxglove that they may be late to the planned boar-roast. Oliver volunteers, and after delivering the message to one of the nobleman’s manservants, notices that some new opportunities have been posted to the Rusty Dragon’s Help Wanted board. Along with requests to find a missing horse and catch a bandit in Shank’s Wood, there’s a mysterious message about a ghost-talker. Oliver returns to the group just as they reach Sandpoint’s harbor area.

The Hagfish proves to be a raucous and popular seafood restaurant. The proprietor, Jargie Quinn, tells Felix a ludicrous story about a whale biting off his leg before being shrunk, caught, and thrown into the aquarium behind the bar. The adventurers quickly learn about the Hagfish’s long-running sport: anyone who can keep down a ladle-full of water from the aquarium of the repellent Varisian hagfish named Norah is entitled to a purse full of silver and their name carved into the rafter above the bar. Although Felix looks intrigued, he’s beaten to the punch by his allies. Xeveg quickly drinks a ladleful and, although looking a bit queasy, manages to keep it down and receives general applause and the prize money. Bey follows suit and succeeds as well, but when Oliver tries, the slimy and foul-tasting water is regurgitated all over the floor to even louder applause and jeers.

At a corner table, Oliver’s old friend Shalelu orders several seafood platters before being asked if she knows of anyone who has a grudge against Sandpoint, as the adventurers suspect that the mysterious “longshanks” who is leading the goblin raids against the town may be a local. Although Shalelu has been coming into town for years, she rarely stays more than a day or two at a time and isn’t able to help. She is, however, able to share some general information about the so-called “Late Unpleasantness.” About five years ago, a series of tragedies struck Sandpoint in quick succession: a fire destroyed the town’s chapel and led to the death of Father Ezakien Tobyn and his daughter Nualia; the wife of Lonjiku Kaijitsu (Atsuii) fell off a cliff near the family home; and a serial killer nicknamed “The Chopper” preyed on over two-dozen residents before being caught and perishing in a mutual battle to the death with the town’s previous sheriff, Casp Avertin.

Shalelu intentionally turns the conversation from the past to the present, as she expresses her concern over the suspected unification of the nearby goblin tribes under a strong leader. She provides a brief overview of the five tribes: the Birdcrunchers of Devil’s Platter (traditionally the least aggressive); the Licktoads of Brinestump Marsh (excellent swimmers); the Seven Tooths of Shank’s Wood (scavengers); the Mosswood tribe (the most numerous); and the Thistletop goblins (who have the best lair, a small island off the coast). Oliver suggest an expedition to wipe out the strongest goblin tribe to end the threat, but the others remind him that they’ve been asked to stay in Sandpoint and maintain a public profile to reassure the townspeople. As the food and drinks continue, discussion turns to the items on the Rusty Dragon’s Help Wanted sign.

Bey pays close attention to the town bells and, after a farewell to Shalelu (who hopes to return with more intelligence soon), gets her companions to the Rusty Dragon in time for supper with Aldern. Aldern turns in early citing an early departure the next morning for Magnimar, but before going he engages in an unintentionally but incredibly offensive colloquy with Felix about Shoanti living in trees and chasing buffalo. Oliver circulates around the common room asking about the missing horse (“Shadowmist”) and learns that it apparently bolted after travellers were mugged near Shank’s Wood. After Ameiko plays a few beautiful songs on her lute, the adventurers stay late drinking and discussing what to do the next day; they remain divided between an expedition to Shank’s Wood to collect the 250 gp bounty on the legendary highwayman Vyron “Shank” Jethezme or staying closer to Sandpoint and perhaps investigating the “ghost-talker” request.

26 Rova 4707

As they come down the stairs for breakfast in the morning, the adventurers are stunned to see a flyer for a new play listing them as participants! The play, “Local Heroes,” purports to depict the heroic defence of Sandpoint against the goblin raiders and will be held in the evening at 8 bells. Xeveg is insulted at being linked to a character named “The Diabolist,” whereas Felix (“The Savage”) is excited about being a celebrity and Bey (“The Doomsayer”) is eager to attend as she feels that doom will surely accompany such a production. Oliver (“The Maverick”) is more interested in collecting on a bounty. Upon noticing that the usual array of fresh fruit, warm baked breads, and platters of deliciously prepared cured meats and eggs have been replaced by day-old pastries, Bey heads into the kitchens to see what’s going on. She sees a troubled Bethana Corwin speaking to another staff member, and convinces the halfling maid to explain what’s on her mind: it seems that Ameiko, who is always up early to prepare the breakfast service, hasn’t yet made an appearance. Bey senses something may be wrong and persuades the reluctant maid to open the door to Ameiko’s room. Inside, they find a bed that hasn’t been slept in and a handwritten note from someone named Tsuto to Ameiko. The note says that “father” may have had something to do with the recent goblin raid and that a way has to be found to make sure he’s punished. It concludes by asking Ameiko to come to the delivery entrance of the Glassworks at midnight.

Bethana realises that there’s no point in keeping secrets from the adventurers any longer. She explains that Tsuto is Ameiko’s half-brother. Both of Ameiko’s parents were human, and when Tsuto was born a half-elf, it was clear that scandalous infidelity was involved. Tsuto was cast out of the Kaijitsu family and sent to grow up at Turandarok Academy as an orphan, and Ameiko didn’t even learn of her brother’s existence until she was ten years old. Once she did learn, however, she befriended him. After a year abroad adventuring in her teens, she returned to Sandpoint for their mother’s funeral. At the funeral, Tsuto accused Lonjiku of murdering his mother and Lonjiku beat the boy with his cane. Tsuto fled Sandpoint and hasn’t been seen in years. Bethana explains that the night the adventurers witnessed Lonjiku and Ameiko arguing, Lonjiku had determined to move the family back to Magnimar and was trying to get his daughter to come along.

Bey hurries downstairs to share the news with her adventuring companions. Xeveg agrees that the Glassworks should be visited for any signs of Ameiko, though he explains that he has an important errand to run first. He hurries to the Sandpoint Cathedral and talks with Father Zantus, kindly offering to help repair and make presentable for funereal rites any corpses that come in. Father Zantus is sincerely touched by the offer and promises to keep the young man’s offer in mind. Xeveg reunites with the others outside the cathedral and, as a thick fog begins to roll into the harbor town, he and the others decide to make a brief inquiry about the “ghost-talker” request and travel, as directed, to the corner of High Street and Festival Street. There, they see several residences and a sign featuring two massive red mastiffs peering at an anvil: the Red Dog Smithy. The group surmise that perhaps the local blacksmith has placed the advertisement and, noticing that the smithy is closed, they make their way to a small loft at the rear.

Despite repeated shouts to go away (and to do quite vulgar things to themselves), the adventurers persevere and eventually see the door opened by a bald, muscular man: Das Korvut. Korvut, after finally realizing the adventurers aren’t there to mock him, explains that he wants a ghost-talker because he’s recently seen the ghostly figure of his son, Simon, across the bay on Chopper’s Isle. Korvut, who has clearly lapsed into an angry depression and alcoholism, says that his wife and son went missing during the Chopper murders. Although his wife’s body was found when the home of Jervas Stoot (who was really the Chopper) was searched, no sign of his son was ever found. The Stoot house was burned to the ground, and there’s never been any proof of what happened to Simon. After promising to help, the adventurers leave and discuss the matter. Xeveg says that usually, in cases of spectral apparitions, a spirit will voluntarily depart if whatever unfinished business is tethering it to the material plane is completed. Bey asks Oliver if he can get records of the original investigation into Simon’s disappearance, and the provisional town constable says he’ll try.

The adventurers arrive at the glass factory on the western edge of Sandpoint to find its rooftop chimneys blowing smoke and a handwritten sign on the front door stating “Closed for Special Project.” After the special knock on the delivery entrance indicated in Tsuto’s letter has no effect, Bey decides to take matters into her own hands: with several swings of her bardiche, she chops the door into pieces! A small crowd of locals assemble as Sandpoint’s newest crop of heroes are apparently breaking into a building in broad daylight. Most prominent among them are Ven Vinder, proprietor of the town general store, Alma Avertin of Sandpoint Savories (the local bakery), and Sabyl Sorn of the House of Blue Stones. Sabyl immediately questions the adventurers’ legal authority to break and enter the Glassworks, and is not persuaded by their cryptic references to a letter and Ameiko not turning up at breakfast. Oliver almost provokes a fight by trying to intimidate the slim but unshaken monk before Xeveg brokers a truce by promising Sabyl he’ll be personally responsible for any damages caused to the Glassworks should Ameiko’s disappearance have a perfectly normal explanation.

The suspicions of the adventurers are immediately confirmed as they enter through the shattered delivery entrance and find an opened, empty safe on the floor of the delivery room. Their search of the factory soon leads them to a long, narrow glass-firing room full of ovens, tables of tools, and raw materials. But most prominent is the ghastly sight of eight goblins cavorting around and mutilating the bodies of the Glasswork’s slain employees. Even worse, in the center of the room, Lonjiku Kaitjitsu’s corpse can be seen through several melted sheets of glass. Noise from the furnaces and the goblins’ sick revelry masks the adventurers’ appearance, and they catch their foes off-guard. Felix strides boldly into the room and ends up fighting four goblins at once, bare-handed! Bey and Oliver join the fray with polearm and greatsword respectively. The goblins, armed variously with dogslicers, tongs of molten glass, and other improvised weapons, are outmatched and quickly routed. Xeveg shouts at the survivors to surrender, and two of them make a run for it. Felix catches up to one of them and slams his fist through the goblin’s back! The lone survivor is cowed and starts to grovel and beg as Oliver collects ears for Daviren Hosk’s bounty. Xeveg interrogates the goblin and learns that their leader and the “girl longshanks” are in the basement. Sabyl Sorn is summoned to secure the scene and the goblin prisoner, and, witnessing the truth of the adventurers’ claims, tells Xeveg she owes him a debt of honour.

With her uncanny ability to see in total darkness, Bey leads the adventurers into the basement. They come across two locked doors and a section of brick wall that has been recently broken through to a subterranean tunnel that branches into three parts. Backtracking, Felix punches through one of the locked wooden doors to reveal Ameiko, bound and gagged, laying on a pile of sandbags! But the noise hasn’t gone unnoticed; the other door just down the hall springs open, and Tsuto is ready for a fight!

Director's Commentary:
I love all the little bits of local colour that James Jacobs included in his overview of Sandpoint, like the contest at the Hagfish to drink a ladleful of water from Norah's tank. The ironic thing with my PCs is that the two members of the group with lower Fort saves (a wizard an an oracle) made the check, but the group's Fighter failed!

The PCs decide to follow a Chopper's Isle adventure hook in this session. I stuck pretty closely with the premise of the scenario written by James B. Cline in Wayfinder # 7. I thought the sheer darkness of the story fit perfectly with the tone of Rise of the Runelords, though, as we'll see in a subsequent session, I made it even a little bit darker. The one thing I was irritated about my depiction of Das Korvut and the Red Dog Smithy was that I completely forgot about his hounds! And the place is named after them!

I really liked the little detail of the PCs deciding to break their way into the Glassworks and having to justify their actions to several concerned locals. PCs are used to being a law unto themselves, and sometimes forget that not every encounter site is a dungeon.

For all the set-up and the great setting, the fight against the goblins in the Glassworks' furnace room was a cakewalk for the PCs. I don't know if the goblins hit them at all. But I didn't mind; I knew there was enough tough stuff coming their way little in the adventure path to make up for it.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 5 Recap:
26 Rova 4707 (continued)

In the basement of the Sandpoint Glassworks, a team of adventurers has discovered the whereabouts of Ameiko and her kidnapper (and brother), Tsuto. As the team is distracted by seeing Ameiko’s unconscious, bound, and prone form, Tsuto launches a surprise attack. His punch, aimed for Bey’s throat, slides harmlessly off her armor and the battle begins! Tsuto’s quick reflexes and mobility are of limited use in the narrow basement corridor, and soon he’s wounded from multiple strikes while barely landing a glancing blow on Bey’s jaw. The kidnapper turns and runs for it, but the adventurers give chase! Xeveg and Felix manage keep up with the spritely half-elf, and corner him in a small cul-de-sac in one of the long tunnels. Xeveg conjures a freezing ray and Felix punches Tsuto square in the nose, and in moments their target is unconscious. They drag him back to the scene of the initial attack and Xeveg uses the ropes binding Ameiko to bind Tsuto instead. The group exit the Glassworks carrying the unconscious siblings and receive general applause from the small crowd of townspeople assembled outside. Ameiko is taken to the Rusty Dragon to rest while Tsuto is deposited in a jail cell underneath the Sandpoint Garrison. Bey estimates the villain will awaken naturally in a couple of hours and can then be interrogated.

The adventurers discuss whether they should go to Chopper’s Isle and investigate Das Korvut’s believe that he saw the ghost of his missing son Simon there. The thick fog, 120’ high cliff face, and realisation that the isle can only be reached on foot at low-tide lead the group to determine they should wait for a better opportunity and gather additional information. After Bey delivers a note asking for an audience with Madame Mvashti to discuss spirits, Felix suggests that a conversation with the locals about what happened five years ago during the “Late Unpleasantness” could be useful. They talk to Jodar Provolost, a part-time member of the Town Watch. Provolost tells them that five years ago, in a span of just a couple of months, three tragedies struck Sandpoint: Lonjiku Kaitjitsu’s wife, Atsuii, slipped and fell to her death from a cliff near the family home; a fire consumed the town chapel and resulted in the death of Father Ezakien Tobyn and his foster-daughter, an aasimar named Nualia; and a serial-murderer nick-named “The Chopper” terrorized Sandpoint and claimed over two-dozen victims. The Chopper was revealed to be an eccentric but seemingly gentle man named Jervas Stoot, beloved in Sandpoint for the delicate and graceful wood carvings he did of birds. Stoot built his home on the small tidal island just north of Old Light, nimbly climbing up and down the cliff face in good weather until the townspeople chipped in and had a set of wooden stairs built. After Stoot’s crimes were discovered and he perished in mortal combat with the town’s previous sheriff, the house and stairs on the isle were burned.

As they wait for Tsuto to awaken, the adventurers go through the half-elf’s possessions which have been piled neatly outside of his cell by the town jailer, Vachedi. Bey and Xeveg work together to determine that Tsuto carried a magical potion of healing and minor ring of protection, and each are assigned to Felix. Tsuto’s journal is also found, and when read reveals that the real goal for the raid on Sandpoint on the night of the Swallowtail Festival was the theft of Father Tobyn’s body. Tsuto writes that his “love” burned the remains at a shrine in Thistletop to “start the transformation” and remove her “celestial taint”. The journal also mentions the names Ripnugget, Bruthazmus, Malfeshnikor, Lamashtu, and a potential plan to have a mysterious quasit attack Sandpoint from below using the old smuggler’s tunnels under the Glassworks. Xeveg recognises the name Lamashtu as the demonic goddess of deformity, miscarriage, and madness, while Bey makes a connection between Father Tobyn’s body being stolen and his foster-daughter being a member of the celestial aasimar race. To test the latter theory, the team ask one of the longest-serving members of the Town Watch, a grey-haired veteran named Bosk Hartigan, about Nualia. He says that Nualia was presumed to have died in the chapel fire, but that her body was never found. He describes Nualia as having been a great beauty, so much so that she could be off-putting to regular people. After Bosk departs, the group speculates whether the fact that next month is Lamashan (named after the demon goddess) could have special significance. Bey says that if the group can’t figure out when the true invasion will occur, they may need to evacuate the town!

Tsuto awakens with a groan, and realising his situation, he sits with his back to the adventurers and starts meditating. At first he ignores them entirely, but Bey and Xeveg manage to get a reaction out of him by mentioning his “love” and his deceased father, respectively. Xeveg suggests that Bey poke him with the blunt end of her bardiche through the bars of his cell, but when she does so, Tsuto suddenly jumps around and pulls the weapon from her hands! He stabs Xeveg with it and then starts attacking the cell’s lock. He tells the group he’ll see that they’re treated mercifully if they let him go, but Oliver draws his greatsword and impales Tsuto! The prisoner slumps to the ground, hovering on death’s door before Bey manages to stabilize him. The commotion draws Vachedi and other guards from the garrison. Vachedi takes Felix aside and says that he’s happy to give his fellow Shoanti plenty of lee-way when it comes to interrogation, but he’ll have to be more subtle next time, especially once Sheriff Hemlock returns.

The adventurers decide to discuss Tsuto’s journal and the discussion of further attacks with Mayor Deverin at the town hall across the street from the garrison. Mayor Deverin grants them an instant audience, and is horrified when shown Tsuto’s journal. She exclaims that the tunnels below the Glassworks need to be secured and asks the adventurers to scout where they lead. The potential menace of Thistletop is also discussed, though Mayor Deverin is loathe for the town’s new heroes to be publicly seen leaving during this time of crisis. She says she’ll trust in the adventurers’ expertise, however, as they’ve always come through for the town. She agrees to post guards in the Glassworks’ basement and at each entrance to the town.

Xeveg decides that research in the library at the House of Blue Stones could be useful in gathering more information about some of the names mentioned in Tsuto’s journal. He is admitted entry by Sabyl Sorn in order to discharge the debt of honour she says she owes the group for doubting their word outside the Glassworks that morning. Inside, Xeveg sees that the interior of the building consists of a single large chamber, the floor of which is decorated with polished blue stones set within winding pathways of reed mats. Sabyl lifts a particular reed mat to reveal a trapdoor leading into a library of scrolls below. She lectures Xeveg about the rules for using the collection, most of which she says was gathered by her now-deceased father. She also stays and watches Xeveg at all times. Although he turns up nothing in regards to the name “Malfeshnikor”, he is able to set aside at least one theory: the cultists of Lamashtu are not known to pay any particular reverence to holy months, days, or the lunar calendar.

After waiting outside for some time and realizing they have no idea how long Xeveg could take, the other adventurers decide to return to the Rusty Dragon for the afternoon. They learn that Ameiko has been visited by Father Zantus and has been healed of her physical wounds, but has kept to her room. As Madame Mvashti has not left word for them, the group ask around and learn that the aged seer is often taken on walks throughout Sandpoint or its environs by her niece Gianya. The trio wander around Sandpoint hoping to run into them, but the fates are not with them and they end up back at the House of Blue Stone to wait for Xeveg. After the young wizard emerges and shares what he’s found, Bey expresses excitement about attending the play “Local Heroes” at the Sandpoint Theatre that evening. Xeveg adamantly refuses to attend, but the others decide to go and even show up early.

Bey, Felix, and Oliver find that the theatre’s box office is attended by surly teenager Bimmy Beems, who explains that he quit working for Daviren Hosk “because horses are stupid.” Beems says that the actor’s entrance is around the side and, intrigued, the trio use the door to enter backstage. Cyrdak Drokkus, proprietor of the theatre is there, and he enthusiastically welcomes the group. Although they refuse Drokkus’ attempt to get them “in costume,” Felix is ambushed by a make-up artist before the play “Local Heroes” begins before a packed house. Local children dressed up like goblins riding broomstick goblin dogs rush on stage to “attack” the heroes (with Bimmy Beems taking on the role of Xeveg). Bey recites impromptu dialogue that goes over spectacularly well with the audience before whirling her bardiche impressively. Felix is grabbed by two “goblins” and he spins the youths about, but overdoes it and one of them vomits! Oliver does equally as well as the group saves “Aldern Foxglove” in the final scene. The crowd loves the production and claps frenetically. Cyrdak follows through on a promise to split the take with the performers and then the cast and crew head to the Rusty Dragon for an after-party.

During the party, Ameiko comes out to the common room and everyone hushes. She offers her sincere thanks to the adventurers for saving her life and gives the room a strained smile as she says she’ll be back to normal in no time. Later, Bey speaks with Ameiko about Tsuto; Ameiko says her brother can be extremely stubborn, and will never talk unless forced to do so by magic.

27 Rova 4707

At breakfast that morning, Shayliss Vinder enters the common room and draws Felix aside for a private conversation. She implies that she is pregnant and asks Felix for 25 gp so she can “take care of it.” Felix clearly disbelieves her, leading Shayliss to start sobbing uncontrollably, drawing everyone’s attention to her. When Felix turns to leave, Shayliss’ tears suddenly dry up and she coldly says he better pay because she wants a new necklace; if she doesn’t get the money, she’ll ruin him! She says he has 24 hours to make up his mind. Felix returns to his allies and explains the extortion attempt, but says he’s not worried about “women’s gossip.”

The adventurers decide to investigate the tunnels underneath the Glassworks, but their first stop is to dispose of some of the spoils of war they’ve accumulated to date at Savah’s Armoury and a store filled with an eccentric array of items named The Feathered Serpent. There, Xeveg makes an arrangement with the proprietor to be informed if any rings of sustenance become available for sale.

One of Sandpoint's most popular citizens has been rescued by its newest heroes, but what secrets lurk in the catacombs beneath the town?

Director's Commentary:
Tsuto, who I guess is the "boss" villain of the Glassworks, was a real pushover for the PCs, even though he had the element of surprise. My favourite scene with him this session was when he *almost* escaped from the cells under the Garrison by readying an action to disarm Bey's bardiche. That certainly ramped up the drama of the interrogation.

I'm glad that the writers of the adventure path put a lot of letters, journals, and other forms of exposition into the game; they help explain the story to PCs in a way that might otherwise be quite fuzzy, and it's always fun to have handouts.

I was glad to see my players do some research into the Late Unpleasantness. All of that backstory, much of it quite important, shouldn't go to waste!

The bit with the play was my own addition. I just thought it would be fantastic fun to see how the PCs would "act" if forced on to the stage, and although none of them had any ranks in a Perform skill, the results weren't *too* bad. I really wanted to play up the PCs being treated like heroes, and having a play produced about their exploits was a good way to show the town's enthusiasm for them.

Really careful readers familiar with Sandpoint might notice a minor mistake on my part: I shouldn't have had the "after party" at the Rusty Dragon, as, for a mysterious reason, Cyrdak Drokkus and Ameiko Kaijitsu don't get along at all. I just have to assume that, for this session, Cyrdak was swept up in the high spirits of the success and forgot about his grudge for a night.

The session ended on a downward note, as appraising and selling the loot took a long time and wasn't especially exciting. I try to handle that sort of thing via e-mail between sessions when possible, but sometimes it isn't and it can be quite important for PCs to be properly equipped. I do a better job in some later sessions of role-playing the shopkeepers to add some better flavour to scenes set in The Feathered Serpent and elsewhere.

Dotting. This is a nice narrative. It captures the key events without getting mired in details, and the end result is a very smooth retelling of the story.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 6 Recap:
[27 Rova 4707 continued]

The adventurers set off towards the basement of the Glassworks, planning to explore the recently-discovered tunnels branching off of it. On the way, Xeveg shares what he knows about quasits, a type of creature mentioned in Tsuto’s journal: that they are tiny winged demons from another plane of existence and are resistant to fire. In the basement, the adventurers see the sentries posted by Mayor Deverin. The sentries say they are stretched thin guarding the multiple approaches to Sandpoint, as there’s only a dozen guards in the Town Watch. One of them, Jodar Provolost, says that if things get worse and Sheriff Hemlock hasn’t returned from Magnimar yet, Mayor Deverin may have to call out the citizen militia.

The adventurers face a choice of three directions when they enter the tunnels: northeast, east, and west. Xeveg suggests the group choose the west route, and they do. A rough-cut passageway, it meanders for about fifty feet west before turning north for another hundred feet and continuing down through a torn-down brick wall. From a side-chamber barely visible in the light of Oliver’s everburning torch, a monstrous form suddenly appears! The creature, a hairless humanoid with back-bent dog-like legs, tiny arms with three-fingered hands, and a mouth full of sharp teeth immediately leaps to attack Felix. The Shoanti warrior is scratched by one of its claws but he fends it off and then pummels it to the ground as Oliver’s greatsword and Bey’s bardiche slash it to pieces. The terrifying incident is over almost as soon as it has begun. A search of the rough-hewn chamber reveals nothing of interest.

The tunnels continue north but also branch off to the east. Choosing east, the adventurers discover a solid, worked stone wall that has been torn down to reveal a finished underground complex. Still filled partially with debris, a heavy stone door is pushed open to reveal corridors winding north and east. The adventurers again choose east, and as their footsteps echo heavily through the ancient darkness, they come across a small shrine to an unknown entity. Steps lead up to a platform of gray stone, and sitting atop the platform is an altar, little more than a jagged block of black marble with a shallow concavity on top of it. The basin is filled with what appears to be filthy water, but Xeveg insists it is, in fact, holy water. Oliver decides to drink some and immediately becomes queasy and ill. After he recovers enough to continue, the adventurers examine a locked set of stone double-doors leading off of the shrine room. Oliver spends several minutes loudly picking the locks, but finally a rusty tumbler turns and the doors open.

A large underground cathedral reveals itself. With small stone doors hanging just ajar on either side of the main entrance, the walls of the cathedral are carved with strange, spiky runes. In the center of the room is a large pool with a ring of polished human skulls balanced on stone spikes around it. At the far end of the room, a pair of stone stairways lead up to a dais on which sits a second pool, this one filled with churning, glowing orange liquid. But what demands the adventurers’ attention is the sudden appearance of a quasit hovering above the pool. “How dare you intrude in the Mother’s sanctum!” she shouts before slashing the palm of her hand with a dagger. Blood drips into the churning pool, and the quasit becomes alarmed as the orange glow diminishes noticeably. But from out of the pool, another monstrosity like the one that guarded the approach to these catacombs emerges. It sniffs the air and moves to attack the intruders.

An epic battle begins! The monstrosity is soon felled before the adventurers’ might, but the wily winged quasit flies out of reach and turns invisible at crucial moments. It hurls spells and charms to vex the adventurers, such as magically compelling Felix to flee twice! The quasit, whose name is revealed to be Erylium, shouts that the adventurers are committing blasphemy merely by setting foot in her “empire” and that she will punish them on behalf of the Demon Mother. Xeveg is the subject of several magical attacks but manages to fight them off, and then, through either desperation or mistaken strategy, decides to cut his own hand and drip blood into the cauldron of bubbling orange liquid! Another abomination emerges and attacks the young wizard, rending at him with claws and teeth! The adventurer falls to the ground, unconscious. As the battle rages on, a stalemate begins to show: Erylium has exhausted most of her magic and has only a tiny dagger to harm the adventurers, but her ability to fly out of their reach combined with demonically-strong skin and the ability to slowly heal wounds means neither side can gain an advantage.

Bey, realizing that Erylium is paranoid about protecting the pool, conjures a rush of water into it to force it to overflow. Erylium screams in rage that if the adventurers do not flee, she’ll slit the throat of their downed companion. But the remaining adventurers keep fighting and Erylium follows through on her threat! In seconds, Xeveg’s lifeblood splatters the floor and walls of the cathedral and he dies. Recognizing that Erylium is both visible and near the ground, Felix leaps and grabs the demon before she can escape! He squeezes to crush her frail bones and punches her repeatedly in the face, and it looks like she’s about to succumb until somehow she squirms free of his grasp and flies away!

The adventurers give chase as she hurtles out of sight into the darkness. They hear her shouting at someone to “gather everyone to repel the invasion!” and, after a few moments’ equivocation, they decide that a retreat is in order. The adventurers make their way back to the Glassworks, with Oliver dragging Xeveg’s body with a loop of fishing line around the corpse’s neck. Jodar Provolost is sent to get reinforcements as the adventurers spend tense moments wondering whether an attack is imminent. He returns with the skeleton crew that had been manning the garrison, and says that Mayor Deverin is calling out the militia. Meanwhile, Oliver starts stripping Xeveg’s body of wealth and possessions. A couple of hours later, Mayor Deverin arrives with several townspeople serving as volunteer soldiers. Felix notes that an attack hasn’t come yet, and suggests another expedition into the catacombs. Mayor Deverin, worried that an attack could come from anywhere, says she can spare two members of the militia for the scouting mission. The group select Vachedi and Sabyl Sorn, and prepare to set forth again.

Director's Commentary:
Director's Commentary (26/02/2017)

The big event in this session, unfortunately, was the first PC death of the campaign. Although Erylium is extremely hard to kill (fast healing, flying, invisibility, DR), she does an incredibly small amount of damage with a Tiny-sized dagger. The reason Xeveg died was that the players at the table, other than the one running Xeveg, either didn't know about or forgot about the coup de grace action, and thus didn't take Erylium's threat to slit Xeveg's throat seriously. The dagger did 1 point of damage, doubled to 2 with the automatic critical hit, resulting in a DC 12 Fortitude save for the wizard to live or die. Alas, the check failed. It was sad at the time, and still a bummer, as I thought Xeveg was a really interesting character with a lot of potential, and having a full arcane spellcaster is something that would have made subsequent encounters later in the campaign *much* easier.

I had to improv, of course, Mayor Deverin's response when the PCs retreated, but I thought it worked out pretty well.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 7 Recap:
27 Rova 4707 (continued)

The adventurers, along with Vachedi and Sabyl Sorn, begin walking back down the tunnel towards the mysterious chambers they were forced to retreat from just hours prior. But as they reach the point where the tunnel turns from west to north, Daviren Hosk appears with a message for Vachedi. The adventurers can't hear their conversation, but it's clearly heated and at one point the two scuffle before Felix intervenes and breaks it up. Vachedi stalks off back towards the basement of the Glassworks, while Daviren explains that he's gone to fetch something to aid the adventurers on their mission and they should wait for his return. The stable-master goes on to say that Mayor Deverin has asked him and Sabyl Sorn to separately scout the other two branches of the tunnel to ensure Sandpoint can't be invaded from any previously-unknown entrances to this subterranean network. The two head off on their mission, leaving the adventurers to wait for Vachedi's return.

Sometime later, the town jailer does arrive pushing a wheeled cage. Inside, bound to an upright wooden-frame, is a masked, heavily-muscled figured. Vachedi scowls as he starts the laborious process of unlocking the multiple sets of restraints that keep this figure restrained. Vachedi tells the others to watch their backs before sighing and unlocking the final restraint. The figure steps out of the cage as Vachedi kicks over a bag of gear, and the former prisoner starts donning armor, weapons, and a strange mask from the bag. Vachedi gives a meaningful look to Felix before heading back down the tunnel.

In a deep, gravelly voice, the newcomer asks for a report on the nature and disposition of enemy forces. The others provide a summary and the whole group begins marching again. Soon, the rough-hewn tunnel reaches the point where the adventurers were first attacked by a strange monster in these catacombs. This time, no monster lurks in the side chamber but a giggling voice taunts them from further north. It is clearly Erylium, and she says that she's ruled this "empire" for thousands of years and that the adventurers are foolish to return, for they will surely meet their doom just as their wizard companion did. The adventurers follow the sound down the tunnel until it turns to the right and emerges in a chamber of worked stone with three passages (north, south, and east) branching off. In the center of this room stands a red marble statue of a beautiful, enraged woman holding a glittering metal-and-ivory ranseur in one hand and a book with a strange seven-pointed star on the cover in her other hand. Bey's research into ancient Thassilon leads her to believe that the star symbol is called a Sihedron, and that each of the seven points represent one of the types of Sin Magic, which is how Thassilonian wizards divided schools of magic. The statue matches the medallion previously worn by Xeveg, and clearly depicts Alaznist, the Lord of Wrath.

The mocking voice of Erylium continues from the north. The adventurers know they're being led into a trap, but they're determined not to let the quasit escape them again. They soon find themselves atop a rickety wooden platform overlooking a large stone chamber with several barred cells. When they get close to the edge of the platform, two of the monsters with three-fingered hands attack from the darkness under the platform, trying to knock the intruders to the ground! The battle is hard-fought by both sides, but soon the adventurers emerged bloodied but victorious. Erylium's voice echoes from the west, stating that she's sending another gift now that her "sinspawn" have properly welcomed the group. The adventurers hear the sound of something moving towards them quickly and take up defensive positions. Seconds later, a massive three-armed, deformed goblin charges into the fray! But the adventurers were ready for them, and he's dropped in seconds. The group’s new ally, who gives his name as Nedrin, quickly strips the attacker of weapons. The adventurers conduct a search of the chamber and notice that one of the cells has a secret tunnel leading to the rough-hewn passages that brought them to this underground complex. But unbeknownst to the adventurers, the strange goblin attacker possessed the ability to heal his own wounds! He rises to do battle again, but is again defeated and this time the group show him no mercy, stomping his skull into thin paste.

During the battle, Nedrin briefly removes his mask and is revealed to be a member of the militaristic and expansionist race known as hobgoblins! His new companions pay little mind, however.

Erylium mocks the group again, but Felix discerns the tremor in her voice that makes him realize she is actually terrified and is just trying to lure them away from the cathedral. The adventurers give chase and reach an ancient interrogation chamber full of rusty torture devices. A small chamber to the south is filled with rubble and debris, but Bey cleverly uses a spell to determine that there is one item of note within: a black vellum scroll that is magical.

The adventurers continue to the east and see a large chamber that features large square wooden boards in a regular pattern on the stone floor, with another passageway heading south. Strange moaning sounds can be heard from somewhere below. Erylium makes herself visible, obviously hoping to trick the adventurers into treading on the boards, but they're too clever and avoid them when they attack. Erylium still has some tricks up her sleeve, however, and uses powerful magic to make Bey fall asleep. And then, the tiny demon manages to push the adventurer onto one of the wooden boards, which collapses and sends her tumbling into a deep pit containing an undead abomination! The other adventurers frantically try to both contain Erylium and rescue Bey, but succeeding on both tasks simultaneously is difficult. Oliver tries to fashion a make-shift lasso to grab onto Bey, but his wild swing instead entangles Felix! Fortunately, Bey wakes up after being repeatedly smashed by her zombie attacker and manages to climb out of the pit on her own, just seconds before she would have succumbed.

Nedrin fires a powerful composite bow at Erylium and his arrows seem to have an effect. When she flies close to the ground, Felix leaps on her and locks his grip tight. The seconds that follow see everyone trying to stab, cut, and stomp their demonic tormentor until Erylium pleads for mercy and even telepathically offers to make Felix her "general" if he lets her go. But when he angrily refuses, she summons all of her wiliness for one last desperate maneuver. She slips free of his grasp just long enough to roll onto one of the wooden boards herself, fall into the pit, and then fly free! Near death, she turns invisible and flies away frantically. The adventurers give chase to the west but can't keep up with her.

They decide that they should seek out what she obviously cares about the most: the strange pool of orange liquid in the cathedral. They find their way back to the shrine adjacent to the cathedral and realize that Erylium has set one of her minions to guard the chamber. This strange creature looks like a demon's head with bat-wings, but although it unleashes a piercing shriek to paralyze its foes, the adventurers' anger and frustration give them strength and they resist the effects. The last sentinel before the cathedral is quickly and efficiently slain.

Twice now the heroes of Sandpoint have fought Erylium, and twice now she's escaped their clutches. The adventurers are badly hurt and low on resources, but Erylium has unleashed her "armies" on the group to no avail. A third, and final battle, is ahead, and only one side will emerge victorious . . .

Director's Commentary:
I was quite proud of the introduction of Nedrin, the new PC being ran by the player who previous ran Xeveg. I went full on "Hannibal Lecter" and thought it was pretty cool. I don't know if the players care a lot, but I always try to find new and interesting ways to introduce new PCs. Surprisingly, no one batted an eyelash (in-character or out) that the new PC was a hobgoblin, which was mildly disappointing from an RP perspective.

Erylium's ambush plan was pretty good and in-character for her, but the PCs had no difficulty with any of her minions. Indeed, Koruvus, this three-armed mutant goblin with a terrifying picture, got curb-stomped and I don't think he even did a point of damage to the PCs. The battle against Erylium was another long, frustrating one, and I think I was hoping for her death as much as the PCs. Still, I had to play with as much cunning as a I could. I made a rules mistake when it came to Bey and the zombie pit--I forgot that the first time the zombie did damage to her, she should instantly wake up. I'm really glad she survived, because I would have felt quite guilty if my mistake had led to a PC death.

It's kind of funny that many gaming groups happen to skip the Catacombs of Wrath altogether, whereas my group spent three full sessions on it . . .

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 8 Recap:
27 Rova 4707 (continued)

Standing before the doors to the subterranean cathedral to the Mother of Monsters, the adventurers discuss whether to press ahead or retreat. Bey expresses a strong preference to return to Sandpoint for healing and Nedrin agrees, citing the need to discover the quasit’s weaknesses before battling it again. Felix says he would rather continue the fight now and smash the profane cathedral to pieces, but after much discussion and (seeing he is outvoted), he reluctantly agrees to return to Sandpoint with the others.

The group reach the basement of the Glassworks without further incident. In addition to the expected sentries, they also see Das Korvut measuring the width and height of the point where the tunnel meets the basement; it becomes apparent that he’s been retained by Mayor Deverin to install a thick steel door. The adventurers are told by members of the Watch that the militia has been fully deployed and that all known entrances to the town are being guarded.

The Sandpoint Cathedral is the first stop for the adventurers. Father Zantus happens to know a little bit about quasits and shares with the group that they are vulnerable to cold iron weapons. He provides them with some emergency healing but is loath to expend too many resources given the widespread fear that an invasion is imminent. Before the adventurers depart, Father Zantus leads them over to a side chamber. There, in a stone alcove, lies the covered body of their deceased adventuring companion, Xeveg Kishalq. Father Zantus asks if anyone knows where in Varisia he hailed from, but no one does. Father Zantus says he’ll ask around town and then arrange a suitable disposition of the body. The adventurers go through Xeveg’s possessions (to the distaste of Father Zantus) and Bey takes the medallion of Runelord Alaznist.

The adventurers discuss whether to return to fight Erylium immediately or instead spend a few days recovering from the day’s intense fighting while planning a fresh assault. Oliver is reluctant to wait, but he is persuaded by the others and plans are made to reunite on the morning of 1 Lamashan.

28 Rova 4707 to 30 Rova 4707

Over the next few days, the adventurers try to make the most of their downtime.

Felix trains vigorously with Sabyl Sorn at the House of Blue Stone. She is impressed by his ferocity in hand-to-hand combat but dismayed at his lack of discipline. One night, returning to the Rusty Dragon covered in sweat and fresh bruises, Felix runs into Lartie Garridan. Lartie asks if Felix wouldn’t mind paying a visit to the White Deer. She explains that there are very few Shoantis in Sandpoint apart from the jailer Vachedi and some of the bouncers at The Pixie’s Kitten, and that her husband would surely appreciate Felix’s company. She says that Garridan has sacrificed his ties to his tribe in order to be with her and that, although he’d never admit it, he is lonely. More to the point, she adds, the adventurers’ custom of spending all of their time at the Rusty Dragon has proven to be a draw that the White Deer Inn can’t match. Felix promises to try to stop in more often.

Oliver also spends time training, though his exercises take place in the courtyard of the Sandpoint Garrison. After one practice, part-time guardsman Jodar Provolost congratulates Oliver on his new position. Oliver is confused until Jodar explains that a courier arrived from Magnimar just a few hours ago carrying a commission from the Justice Council appointing him as Deputy Sheriff of Sandpoint! Along with the letter of commission and a metal insignia of rank came a personal missive from Aldern Foxglove. This letter begins by thanking Oliver again for saving his life, praises the ranger’s martial prowess, states that Aldern pulled some strings with a friend on the Justice Council for the commission, and promises that after a respectful amount of time for the sake of appearances, Belor Hemlock can be removed from office and Oliver appointed in his place.

Oliver is quite pleased with the news and goes to visit Mayor Deverin. She is not nearly as pleased, and notes that he must have friends in high places as the commission by-passed her traditional prerogative to appoint law enforcement officials in the town. She extracts a promise from Oliver to take his new rank seriously and to confer with her before ordering the Town Watch into taking any drastic action. The discussion turns to the potential threats facing Sandpoint. Mayor Deverin says that no further dangers have manifested and that perhaps the whole thing was overblown. She’s stepped down the commitments of the members of the citizen’s militia, citing their need to return to families and businesses. She reports that their scouts have returned from the other two branches of the tunnels leading off from the Glassworks basement and that one leads to a dead end and the other leads all the way to a cave on the side of a cliff overlooking the Varisian Gulf. Given the crude collection of goblin beds and remnants of meals, this latter route must have been the surreptitious entrance taken by Tsuto and the goblins occupying the Glassworks. Finally, she confirms that she’s asked blacksmith Das Korvut to fashion a steel barrier or door to block off access from the tunnels to the Glassworks, since it is obvious that brick walls are not enough of an impediment.

Bey spends the days holed up in her room at the Rusty Dragon attempting to develop a new spell, but her efforts prove fruitless. One night, after throwing her books down in frustration, she hears a knock at the door. The visitor is a stern-looking older man named Ilsoari Gandethus, former adventurer and headmaster of the town’s school, the Turandarok Academy. Ilsoari explains that Father Zantus asked him to come see Bey after learning that Ilsoari knew Xeveg. Ilsoari explains that in some of his letters, the youth had mentioned growing up in the nearby town of Galduria with his adopted father. Ilsoari says merchants from Galduria come to the Sunday markets in Sandpoint and that he could arrange for Xeveg’s body to be returned, but that if Bey and her companions would like to escort the body and explain to his father how his son died they would be welcome to. Bey expresses no interest in the idea and Ilsoari leaves.

The seer instead seeks out her old friend Brodert Quink to ask about the figure on Xeveg’s medallion, Runelord Alaznist. Brodert explains that much of what he believes can’t be proven to the satisfaction of scholars, but that he thinks ancient Thassilon was a vast empire ruled by powerful wizards, as the massive monuments they left behind testify to the extent of their might. He says that Alaznist must have been one of these powerful wizards known as “Runelords” and that each ruled a particular region of Thassilon and was linked to one of the seven schools of magic recognized by the ancient empire. He adds something that Bey already knows: the seven Thassilonian schools of magic were also said to correspond to virtues and their concomitant vices.

Nedrin’s experience in Sandpoint is much different than the others. Whereas they are known as local heroes and often receive praise and discounts from shopkeepers, Nedrin is forced to wear a mask to conceal his hobgoblin heritage and is increasingly the subject of rumours and hostile gossip. The warrior spends his time crafting arrows and sells a batch of them to the Town Watch for a small profit. As he leaves the garrison, Nedrin sees that Daviren Hosk is waiting for him, holding the reins of a beautiful, well-muscled stallion. Daviren is terse as always, but says that the horse is partial repayment for the debt he owes since Nedrin’s father saved his life. He adds that he’ll stable the horse for free as long as Nedrin wants, and then departs.

1 Lamashan 4707

After spending a few days apart, the adventurers meet up in the common room of the Rusty Dragon for breakfast. Felix says that Sabyl was a harsh taskmaster but good at what she does. The Shoanti man notes that Nedrin’s presence in town has made him seem less threatening in comparison! Bey expresses her frustration at having failed her spell research but then turns the conversation to the future. She says the adventurers should investigate the purchase of cold iron weapons and then return to the catacombs for a final confrontation with the quasit.

The adventurers’ first idea of a place to obtain cold iron weapons is the Red Dog Smithy. Inside, they see Das Korvut working on a massive rectangular sheet of steel propped up by wooden blocks. All around him are empty liquor bottles, and his large red mastiffs snore lazily near the rear. Das swears at them when they ask about cold iron weapons, annoyed that they can’t see he’s busy and that they haven’t followed through on their promise to investigate the sighting of his son on Chopper’s Isle. When Oliver presses, Das grabs a massive forging hammer and advances threateningly. The adventurers depart to the sound of a door slamming behind them.

Next, they try Savah’s Armory. The proprietor, Savah Bevaniky, is happy to see them but says she can’t offer quite the discount as before: Sandpoint’s heroes have lost some of their lustre in the locals’ eyes given recent events, and she alludes to Felix’s “ungentlemanly” treatment of Shayliss Vinder, Oliver “going behind Mayor Deverin’s back” in being appointed Deputy Sheriff, and the general presence of Nedrin. Still, she’s more than willing to do business with them. Nedrin sells the silver dagger he took off of Koruvus’ body and uses the funds to help Felix buy a cold iron shortsword. Bey and Oliver pool their resources so that the latter can buy a cold iron greatsword.

From there the adventurers head to The Feathered Serpent, a cramped and cluttered shop smelling of exotic incense and spice. Vorvashali Voon greets them enthusiastically and says he has a lead on the ring that Xeveg is looking for; the adventurers decide not to divulge that the young wizard is dead. They ask Vorvashali about potions or scrolls of see invisibility but he says the former are impossible and that the latter are quite expensive. They follow his suggestion, however, and buy sacks of flour from the local bakery.

Before heading back to the Glassworks, one final stop is made: at the athedral. Inside, Bey asks Father Zantus if he would give or loan her a holy symbol of Desna to aid in the coming fight against Erylium. Father Zantus hesitates and pulls Bey aside. He explains that he doesn’t want to embarrass her or cause a problem since the adventurers have been so useful, but that he believes her frequent prophecies of an impending apocalypse are heterodoxical to Desna’s teachings of optimism, luck, and joy. Bey explains that her prophecies are, ultimately, optimistic because they allow for the apocalypse to be prevented with luck and courage. The two debate the teachings of Desna for some time. At one point, Father Zantus is about to accede but further argument hardens his position and eventually he refuses while still wishing the group luck in its efforts.

In the middle of the afternoon, the adventurers decide to return to the catacombs before Das Korvut can finish installing the thick steel door. The group travels single-file in total darkness, trusting Bey’s and Nedrin’s ability to see in the dark to lead them. The reach the ancient underground complex without incident and make their way straight for the cathedral. Oliver pulls out an everburning torch to reveal that the cathedral’s stone doors bar their way, but Felix and Nedrin put their shoulders to it and eventually burst through. The repeated pounding has alerted Erylium, however, and she stands ready for a last, desperate battle. “I will show you no mercy!” she vows. “Soon my general will arise, and then your precious Sandpoint will be destroyed!”

The battle begins in earnest as Nedrin, Bey, and Oliver shoot arrows and crossbow bolts at the quasit while Felix closes the doors to bar escape. The barrage of projectiles rarely strike Erylium, however, and when they do few manage to even pierce her skin. The ancient demon responds with a succession of summoning spells that manifest goblin dogs and dire rats to fight for her followed by enchantments to try to paralyse her foes. The adventurers are able to fight off most of her magicks and eventually slay the magically-summoned creatures, but one of Erylium’s spells has a dramatic effect: Nedrin falls prey to a command to approach Erylium, stepping into the strange orange pool to do so! He instantly becomes enraged and turns on his allies, attacking whomever is nearest with the full force of his longsword. Oliver is on the receiving end of a vicious slash from the hobgoblin’s sword, leading the ranger to respond in kind using his greatsword! Oliver decides that he has no choice but to subdue Nedrin, and despite the calls of Felix and Bey, turns his attention away from Erylium, leading to much cackling laughter. Nedrin succumbs to Oliver’s assault, bleeding and unconscious, but alive. The ranger quickly binds Nedrin.

Erylium casts a hex on Bey to make her fall asleep again, but Felix moves quickly and wakes her before the demon can slit her throat. Bey retaliates by uttering a divine curse which succeeds in shattering Erylium’s magical dagger. The stunned quasit is then on the receiving end of a leaping charge by Felix, who manages to grab her by the throat! He begins pummelling her and stabbing with his new cold iron shortsword while Oliver joins in with his cold iron greatsword. Erylium struggles frantically to get free, but this time her luck runs out: with a mighty overhead swing, Oliver cuts the ten-thousand year-old demon in twain!

With victory at last in hand, the adventurers have a difficult decision to make: what to do next?

Director's Commentary:
This session started with each character taking a few days' worth of Downtime. I planned one role-playing encounter for each PC to help fill in the gaps while this was taking place and thought it turned out pretty well.

I thought the trick Erylium pulled on Nedrin was pretty clever and wicked, which fits the quasit's profile well. Things could have gotten pretty bloody if Oliver hadn't subdued Nedrin so quickly. Speaking of Erylium, I think we were all relieved that the PCs finally managed to take her down. She took up three sessions of gameplay!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 9 Recap:
[1 Lamashan 4707 continued]

In the aftermath of their victorious battle against Erylium in the hidden cathedral underneath Sandpoint, the heroes search the dead quasit and the room, finding little of interest. Bey magically heals Nedrin’s wounds and, after some minutes, the hobgoblin stops trying to burst his bonds. Judging that the effects of the magical orange liquid that enraged him have subsided, the other members of the group untie him. Nedrin rails at Oliver for having attacked him, but Bey speaks up in the ranger’s defence. For his part, Oliver merely sharpens his sword and fills a canteen with the glowing orange liquid.

After informing the sentries in the Glassworks’ basement that the demon quasit has been slain, the adventurers return and search the rest of the underground complex. With bows and crossbows they destroy the zombies in the pits without putting themselves at risk. Down a side tunnel, they find a spiral staircase descending down; alas, it is completely blocked with rubble. Another room presents a strange sight: several objects floating gently in mid-air! The walls of this spherical room are plated in sheets of strange red metal that ripple periodically with black electricity that occasionally coalesces into ancient Thassilonian runes of anger, wrath, and revenge. After much discussion and cautious trial-and-error, the adventurers retrieve a bottle of wine (of recent vintage), an arcane scroll, an ancient, ragged book written in an unknown tongue (with illustrations depicting grisly and cruel rituals), and an iron wand that Bey identifies as a wand of cure light wounds. Another previously-unexplored room holds a pool lined with skulls, and the last features a spiral staircase around a pillar leading into darkness above. Exploration shows that passage upwards is blocked by tons of stone that has collapsed from above, but that small fissures allow air to flow to and from the surface. After speculating about where this complex lies in relation to Sandpoint, the adventurers work together to confirm that the fissures place the staircase somewhere below an alleyway between Tower Street and Junker’s Way.

Having completed their exploration of the catacombs, the adventurers walk to the Sandpoint Cathedral. They arrive in time to witness the end of a memorial service for the victims of the goblin raid on the Glassworks and for Xeveg, who heroically fell during the initial foray into the catacombs. After the service is completed, Bey speaks with Mayor Deverin about the fissures from the surface to the catacombs. Mayor Deverin promises to have the alleyway inspected and paved over with stone tiles. Mayor Deverin reports Brodert Quink’s impatience to explore the catacombs, though Bey warns that the aged sage should not be allowed to enter without an escort. Father Zantus approaches the group after he finishes consoling some of the families of the murdered Glassworks employees. When asked, he assures Felix that the severe rash that broke out on the brawler’s skin from fighting the goblin dog should pass in a day or so. Bey shows Father Zantus the book found within the strange spherical chamber; he identifies it as a prayer and ritual book to Lamashtu, and states that it must be burned immediately. Bey is reticent to have it destroyed at first, but eventually agrees; due to suspicions raised by Oliver that Father Zantus may be misleading them, the entire group of adventurers go with the priest to his private study to witness the book being reduced completely to ashes in his fireplace.

Later, after Felix learns the hard way that what Bey identified as a wand of cure light wounds was actually a wand of shocking grasp, Nedrin is filled in about the adventurers’ activities in Sandpoint to date. They provide him with Tsuto’s journal to read, discuss Nualia, and mention that they’ve also taken a commission to explore Chopper’s Isle. Nedrin says that he’s been placed within the care of the group and that staying with them is the best alternative to being imprisoned or forcibly run out of town.

The adventurers settle in for an evening in the common room of the White Deer. Felix buys everyone a round and introduces Nedrin to Garridan. Bey begins drinking quite heavily. Cyrdak Drokkus, the local theatre director, comes in alongside a somewhat stiff middle-aged man. Bey goes over, and the stranger is introduced to her as Sir Jasper Korvaski, day manager of the Sandpoint Mercantile League. Bey, who is getting drunker by the minute, tells Cyrdak about the fight in the catacombs and he enthusiastically promises to use it as the basis of another theatrical production. Bey also mentions her friend Bodowen, a well-known actor and singer in Magnimar, but Cyrdak scoffs at both Bedowen’s and Magnimar’s “unearned” reputations. Over at the bar, Nedrin suddenly punches Felix in the mouth! The two tussle until Felix lands a solid blow, dropping his new ally to the floor. It turns out, however, that the fight was a friendly one to add a little excitement to the common room (though Garridan is not best pleased). As the evening goes on, Oliver brings the suspect bottle of wine from the catacombs over to Cyrdak’s and Jasper’s table and watches them drink it with no ill effects. He quickly discerns that the two are lovers, and hears how the Sandpoint Mercantile League can arrange journeys by boat or carriage all over Varisia, deliver messages to distant communities, handle land purchases and construction contracts, and arrange for the import or export of valuable trade goods. Over a few hours’ time, Jasper begins to loosen up a bit and shows a dry sense of humor. After a heavily-intoxicated Bey singes her hand in the fireplace trying to prove something, she’s put to bed. Nedrin retires as well, while Felix and Oliver stay up late into the night gambling with Cyrdak and Jasper.

[2 Lamashan 4707]

In the morning, the adventurers head in the direction of Junker’s Edge to inspect the tides in preparation for an expedition to Chopper’s Isle. On the way, they see Jodar Provolost and two new members of the Town Watch, youthful recruits from Magnimar named Jeyver and Bothon. Jodar says that Sheriff Hemlock wasn’t happy with the condescension he received when asking for help in Magnimar, and that he was even more steamed to return to Sandpoint and find out that a “deputy” has been appointed without his being consulted. After asking some questions about Chopper’s Isle, the adventurers decide they had better visit the Garrison to talk with Sheriff Hemlock.

At the Garrison, the adventurers see Sheriff Hemlock and grey-haired veteran Bosk Hartigan drilling the raw new recruits. Noticing his new audience, Hemlock shouts an order for Oliver to follow him and stalks off towards his office. Once there, he angrily demands Oliver’s immediate resignation. The ranger refuses. Hemlock asks how Oliver managed to get the position, and the latter shows the former the letter from Aldern Foxglove. After reading it, Hemlock crumples it up and says that if Oliver won’t resign, things are going to have to be done the hard way. He orders Oliver out of his office. On the way back to the others, Oliver passes by Bosk Hartigan; the older guardsman makes it clear he’s not happy at being passed over for promotion after having been a founding member of the Town Watch more than 40 years ago.

The local heroes reach Junker’s Edge and climb down to the beach below without difficulty. Having timed their expedition correctly, they wade over the slippery rocks between the beach and the base of Chopper’s Isle. Once there, they spot an area in the rounded cliff face where stairs had once been affixed before being burned along with the house itself. Felix adroitly climbs the face of the rock and lowers a knotted rope for the others. Everyone assembles at the top to see a windswept area of about two square acres. Heavy moss sags from the branches of old oak trees, nearly every branch of which has been carved in the shape of owls, hawks, eagles, and vultures. In the distance, little can be seen beside the remnants of a small, burned down cottage overgrown with tangled weeds and vines. Searching the clifftop, the adventures find tracks belonging to what Oliver says is a three-clawed large winged quadruped. The tracks lead to a small cache of gnawed bones, both recent and years old.

Felix is the first to enter the burned-out cottage, and pays a price: rotted floorboards crack underneath his feet, sending him tumbling hard to a hidden basement! Nedrin tries to climb down to lend a hand, but slips and falls as well. Oliver and Bey secure a rope around the base of a nearby tree and manage to descend safely. The basement has walls of packed earth and shaky wooden support beams, all carved with bird motifs. Two narrow passageways lead off in opposite directions, while the center of the room is dominated by a man-shaped wooden statue with the legs and talons of a giant eagle, two sets of eagle wings, a snake in place of its genitals, and a gem-studded avian head. The sound of whimpering and distress is heard by Nedrin and Bey, though Oliver and Felix hear nothing.

Nedrin angrily pushes over the statue and the group head down one of the side tunnels. The hobgoblin takes the lead, using his excellent darkvision to good effect. He turns a corner and sees a small chamber, the walls of which are covered in small alcoves. In one corner of the room is a pedestal with a dusty tome. Nedrin uses the blade of his longsword to flip open the cover of the book, and suddenly finds himself being attacked by the Chopper! Nedrin tries to fight off the nightmarish attacker, but his longsword passes right through him! Eerily, the others see no attacker; only that Nedrin is bleeding from several deep red wounds carved in his flesh in the shape of birds! At the rear of the single file line, Oliver feels a gentle touch on the back of his neck, and loses the ability to speak!

Facing an attacker he cannot harm, Nedrin runs for it. Oliver looks terrified and gives mute gestures to indicate his inability to speak, leading everyone to decide to escape the basement while they still can. A furious scramble up the wall keeps the adventurers alive, and they regroup to discuss what to do next. Nedrin says the group should leave Chopper’s Isle and tell no one what happened below, but Bey insists that the group would get reputations as cowards and failures. The consensus is that it’s too dangerous to return to the basement, at least for the moment, so the group scour the clifftop for any other clues and, finding none, wait for low tide before climbing safely down to the base of Chopper’s Isle.

The rumours that Chopper’s Isle is a forbidding, haunted place have been proven true. What remains to be seen is if Sandpoint’s local heroes will find the courage to return . . .

Director's Commentary:
The group found some very interesting things in the Catacombs of Wrath. The tricky part was that it took them almost 15 sessions to identify some of it! I've taken to trying to give a sort of "keyword" adjective now whenever I hand out magical treasure to help me figure out what it is if it's being identified down the line. So for example, every potion has a colour ("a magenta potion") and every wand has a description ("a forked iron wand") that should match what's in my notes. Otherwise, if players just write down "potion" on their character sheet, I'll have no idea what it is later on.

Everyone was aghast that Oliver would intentionally test out what could be a poisoned bottle of wine from the Catacombs on two perfectly innocuous NPCs. Fortunately, it really was just ordinary wine so he didn't have murder on his hands. Speaking of Oliver, the stuff with him getting named Deputy worked out quite well and was probably the highlight for the character. Later, when the player ran a different PC, the new one just never really gelled.

The group first got the adventure hook for Chopper's Isle back in Session # 4, and I was happy to see them follow through. I had to do some quick Googling to figure out how tides work (i.e., the time between low tide and high tide), but I was happy without the characters' terror of the place.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 10 Recap:
[2 Lamashan 4707 continued]

As the adventurers cross the short distance between Chopper’s Isle and Junk Beach, they discuss what transpired in the basement of Jervas Stoot’s home and whether they should return. Bey is keen to return in the morning, but Nedrin says the ghost of the Chopper will kill them! Felix whispers to Bey that perhaps Nedrin isn’t right in the head, as no one else saw a ghost. Bey confirms, however, that she did hear the ghostly sobbing of a child, and if they can find the ghost’s mortal link to the material realm, perhaps they can lay its spirit to rest. The consensus is that the group should return to Chopper’s Isle, but that they’ll avoid the area with the book and prepare by asking Father Zantus specific questions.

The return to Sandpoint is uneventful except for the adventurers’ failure to anticipate that a load of junk would be dumped down the side of Junker’s Edge while they were trying to climb up! Nedrin takes a hard fall, but survives. Once in Sandpoint, the adventurers head straight for the Cathedral. There, they see Father Zantus finishing a homily about Desna to a small crowd of worshippers. Once the ceremony is over, he sees the adventurers lurking at the edge of the audience and greets them with a wry observation about their frequent visits despite their observable lack of interest in religious matters. Felix relates what happened on Chopper’s Isle. Father Zantus explains the difference between ghosts, complex manifestations of the dead that may be intelligent and mobile throughout the material realm, and haunts, spectral phenomena that convey the memory of a traumatic experience but that are bound to specific areas or objects. When asked about the wooden statue, Father Zantus says that it sounds like a representation of Pazuzu, Demon Lord of Avians. Finally, conversation turns to the tracks and bones found atop the foreboding island. Father Zantus is dismissive about the suggestion that they could belong to the legendary Sandpoint Devil, stating that reports of a mythical, winged, fire-breathing horse-like creature that devours animals and brings curses upon anyone who sees it are unfounded and uncorroborated. He notes that his friend, Ilsoari Gandethus, is quite interested in the folklore surrounding the Sandpoint Devil.

The adventurers walk across town to Turandarok Academy in order to speak to Ilsoari, headmaster of Sandpoint’s school and orphanage. They’re reluctantly escorted in by prim House Mother Dorienne Vilch. In his study full of exotic souvenirs from his adventuring days, the normally reserved Ilsoari is quite interested in the group’s tale that they may have found signs of the Sandpoint Devil. Ilsoari explains that he politely disagrees with Abstalar Zantus about the veracity of sightings of the creature. He admits that few who claim to have seen it can offer concrete descriptions, for it always appears at night or under the cover of fog; some describe it as a strange horse, others as an enormous bat, and still others as a saurian behemoth. Ilsoari goes on to say that the signs the Sandpoint Devil leaves behind are more common than actual sightings: deep, hooflike prints carved or even burned in places no hoof prints should be found, like the tops of high roofs or on the side of cliffs; missing or partially burned livestock; strange illnesses; and more. Ilsoari says that although no one knows for sure where the Sandpoint Devil has its lair, some believe it lies in the nearby rocky plateau known as Devil’s Platter. Ilsoari gets more and more excited as he continues his stories, and eventually talks the group into letting him come along on the next morning’s planned expedition to Chopper’s Isle.

The adventurers find accommodation for the night, with all but Bey staying at the White Deer. Apart from a heated argument between dwarf carpenter Aesrick Battlehorn and a lanky wheelright named Bilivar Wheen (which is settled by the timely intervention of Lartie Viskalai), the evening at the White Deer passes quietly. Bey stays at the Rusty Dragon and starts an enjoyable game of blindfolded, backwards darts (losing to Ameiko in the process). She also converses with a farmer named Maester Grump; he and some other farmers hint at a reward if the adventurers can stop the Sandpoint Devil from devouring their livestock.

Late that night, the adventurers are awakened by messengers sent from the Sandpoint Garrison, with those at the White Deer receiving a visit from Bosk Hartigan and Bey encountering one of the new recruits, a nervous lad named Benmo. Each messenger says that an emergency meeting is being held by Sheriff Hemlock, and that the adventurers’ presence is requested. The adventurers get dressed hurriedly, apart from Oliver who inexplicably goes in his bathrobe. Once inside the garrison’s war room, the adventurers see that Sheriff Hemlock has been joined by limping elven scout Shalelu Andosana. Shalelu hefts a large sack onto the conference table, unties it, and turns it over; a small goblin spills out, bound and gagged! Shalelu explains that this goblin, whose name is Grizzlenik, has something important to say. She holds a knife to his throat until he explains that he’s a member of the Thistletop tribe who was sent by Warchief Ripnugget to tell the other goblin tribes in the region to get ready for a big attack on Sandpoint in a few weeks’ time. Grizzlenik goes on to say that he was instructed to say that any day now an invincible ally will be set free to aid in the attack, and that this time Sandpoint will be razed to the ground! Nedrin interrogates the goblin about the defences of Thistletop and learns that it consists of a wooden stockade atop a small island, with a rope bridge leading from the mainland. Access to the bridge is guarded by a goblin named Gogmurt and his pet cougar. When the goblin has finished revealing what he knows, Shalelu tosses him back in the bag and into a corner.

Everyone assembled discusses what to do next. After raising and discarding some initial proposals, the group accedes to Bey’s suggestion that a small strike force could raid Thistletop and at least discover what the goblins are doing there. Bey tells Sheriff Hemlock that she and her allies will undertake the dangerous mission, but only if the town supports them by making weapons, adventuring gear, and even healing potions available. Recognising the extreme risk the adventurers are taking, Sheriff Hemlock agrees. Shalelu says she would like to accompany the adventurers, but that she’s limping from an arrow fired by her bitter rival, the bugbear Bruthazmus. She says that as soon as she’s healed, she’ll be back in the field. The adventurers settle on a plan to explore Chopper’s Isle first thing in the morning, and then travel the six miles to Thistletop at sunset, with a plan to camp overnight and attack at dawn when the goblins will be asleep and unable to make full use of their advantage in being able to see in the dark. Nedrin surprises the group by stating that Grizzlenik could be very useful, and receives permission from Sheriff Hemlock to oversee the prisoner for the duration of the raid.

After the excitement of the late-night meeting, the adventurers return to their rooms to rest. Bey has a strange dream of being entangled in sharp-thorned vines.

[3 Lamashan 4707]

The adventurers assemble at Junker’s Edge at seven bells (with Nedrin carrying Grizzlenik in a sack), and see Ilsoari Gandethus waiting for them. Felix and Oliver had difficulty getting back to sleep, and each is dragging as the group make their way back to Chopper’s Isle. Once they arrive, Oliver makes the surprising decision to curl up for a nap, while Ilsoari investigates the nest of bones and the other adventurers return to the burned-out cottage. Nedrin, Bey, Felix, and Gizzlenik carefully lower themselves into the basement and take the tunnel opposite the room where Nedrin believes he encountered the ghost of the Chopper. They reach a small circular chamber littered with tiny bone carvings of horrific winged creatures and leathery papers. In the center of the room is a small hole in the floor, along with a bucket tied with a rope to a metal ring. Bey lowers her bardiche to disturb a small pile of clothing at the bottom of the hole and uncovers a child sized skeleton. Immediately, she feels something trying to push her into the hole! She resists, however, and the adventurers act quickly to lower Grizzlenik into the hole to recover the bones. They then make a run for it, with Felix growing progressively more and more tired from the chilling touch of a ghostly figure that looks like a sad little boy. The adventurers reach the surface and hurry away from the remnants of the Stoot house. The tragic story of what must have happened to Simon Korvut is all too clear.

The adventurers make their way back to Sandpoint, leaving Ilsoari behind at his own request to further investigate what he believes are signs of the Sandpoint Devil. Once back in town, Oliver and Felix spend the afternoon resting. Bey and Nedrin (with Grizzlenik in a sack “for his own safety”) take the skeletal remains to the cathedral. There, Sister Giulia says she will arrange for a suitable disposition of the body once Das Korvut arrives. The adventurers shoulder the burden of informing the blacksmith of what they found on Chopper’s Isle. Das is overwrought and rushes to the cathedral to say a final farewell to his son.

Late that afternoon, the adventurers assemble at Savah’s Armory. Sheriff Hemlock, true to his word, has arranged for the town to cover the cost of weapons and armor needed for the planned expedition to Thistletop. Felix arms himself with a bola, while Nedrin is thanked profusely by Grizzlenik for the gift of armor and a dogslicer. The grateful, but gullible, goblin is even happy to wear a dog-collar (with attachable leash) purchased from Rovanky Tannery “to protect his neck.” The adventurers purchase additional supplies from Nisk Tander, half-elf proprietor of an alchemical supply store named Bottled Solutions. With the day’s shadows lengthening, the adventurers make final preparations for the coming journey.

Having solved the mystery of Chopper’s Isle, the adventurers now ready themselves for a very different adventure: a raid on the most fortified goblin tribe in the region!

Director's Commentary:
This was an enjoyable session, as the PCs finished off a side-quest and got ready to venture into the last section in Chapter 1 of the adventure path.

Sometimes a little information can be a dangerous thing, as the player running Nedrin was convinced that the spectral apparition initially encountered on Chopper's Isle was a ghost (and thus extremely hard to kill at low levels). In fact, it was a haunt and not nearly as dangerous.

I played up Ilsoari's interest in the Sandpoint Devil, and, although I have to be careful about what I say since the campaign is still on-going, I'm happy with his portrayal as someone with a keen interest in local legends and superstitions.

In the adventure path, Shalelu's arrival to talk about Thistletop is done as more traditional exposition. I tried to add some colour to it with the idea of the captured goblin, Grizzlenik, but little did I know that Nedrin's player would seize on the opportunity to take a veritable slave. It was a fun twist, so I rolled with it.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 11 Recap:
[3 Lamashan 4707 continued]

Having made the final preparations necessary for their impending raid on the goblin fortress of Thistletop, the adventurers collect their mounts from the Goblin Squash Stables and leave Sandpoint. Their departure is punctuated by excitement when their goblin prisoner, Grizzlenik, runs away rather than being seated on a horse; after a lengthy chase, Grizzlenik is subdued with a modicum of violence and the journey begins.

The adventurers set off east along the Lost Coast Road, expecting the six mile journey to Thistletop to take only a couple of hours. Short after leaving Sandpoint, however, they notice a listless cow swaying oddly on the road in front of them. Noticing that blood seems to be dripping from it, Oliver approaches to see if the animal is hurt when, much to his disgust and dismay, two dire rats leap from a wound in the cow’s side and attack! The ranger is bitten by one of the rats, but his companions react quickly, with Felix stomping one and Nedrin killing the other with his longsword. The group continue east, passing by the broken hills of Ravenroost, the boar-hunting ground called Tickwood, the goblin-infested Shank’s Wood, and the stony hills known collectively as The Tors. There, just before reaching the western edge of Nettlewood, the adventurers decide to go off road and head north to the cliffs overlooking the Varisian Gulf. They set up camp and post sentries before experiencing an uneventful night.

[4 Lamashan 4707]

The adventurers are startled during their morning routines by an uncanny squeaky howl coming from nearby. Felix and Nedrin react quickly, realizing that a pack of the mangy, beady-eyed canines known as goblin dogs are slinking towards the campsite! Believing they’ve found easy prey, the craven creatures encircle the adventurers and attack. Oliver suffers a serious bite to the abdomen, while Felix, who has quickly mounted his Shoanti-bred steed, takes a minor wound to his leg when flanked by two goblin dogs. But the skilled pugilist responds in kind, lashing out with both legs simultaneously to either side of his horse and kicking the beasts in the head. Nedrin circles the campsite on his mount and comes to Bey’s aid by having his horse stomp on a goblin dog’s back. Oliver and Felix make short work of the last attacker, and the battle is over almost as soon as it began. Bey exhausts her reserve of healing magicks to address Felix’s and Oliver’s wounds.

It’s a cold, crisp autumn morning when the adventurers talk over how they should approach Thistletop. They settle on a plan to scout the goblin fortress during the daytime, rest nearby overnight, and then launch a raid at dawn. Oliver’s wilderness skills come to the fore as he leads the group through the dense, tangled undergrowth of Nettlewood. At about midday, the adventurers reach a hedge wall made of thistle and sharp brambles. Grizzlenik is persuaded to reveal where a secret door can be found, so the adventurers tie their horses in a safe place nearby and prepare for their first incursion into Thistletop.

The secret door made of a rigid mat of thistles and nettles is pushed open easily to reveal an unexpected sight: a veritable maze made from 4’ high hedges that grow together at the top to form a thin canopy overhead. The adventurers are forced to crouch to navigate the goblin tunnels and, with no reason to pick one direction over another, decide to follow the eastern path. After passing next to a chamber containing a hole from which the distant sound of sloshing waves could be heard, the adventurers stumble unsubtly into a goblin-dog kennel! Four of the mangy mutts are tied to wooden stakes by fraying rope, and they begin to howl when they scent intruders. One of the goblin dogs breaks free and jumps at Bey, while Oliver gets too close to another and is bitten viciously under the armpit. Bey cuts deep into one with her bardiche and drops it as Oliver begins hurling flasks of fire and acid into the kennel. Nedrin lines up a seemingly-impossible shot with his longbow, but somehow the arrow flies true and catches a goblin dog in the eye!

The immediate battle is won, but the results have been disastrous: Thistletop has been placed on alert! The first defenders to arrive on scene, seconds later, are the goblin druid Gogmurt and his beautiful firepelt cougar, Tangletooth. Gogmurt literally steps out of a hedgerow towards a startled Felix and slashes him across the chest with a blade made of fire! Simultaneously, Tangletooth pounces on Bey’s back and knocks her to the ground unconscious! To make matters even worse, Grizzlenik’s predictable betrayal occurs, as he stabs Nedrin in the back with the very dogslicer the hobgoblin gave him! The adventurers seem moments away from being completely routed by the surprise attacks, but, somehow, they rally. Felix gets Gogmurt in a headlock and begins punching the druid in the face, while Oliver and Nedrin combine their efforts to cut down Tangletooth. Grizzlenik changes sides again and helps the adventurers. Seeing his dearest companion dead, Gogmurt draws upon his magicks to change into a dire badger! Although Felix tries to hold on, Gogmurt wriggles free and burrows into the ground to make good his escape.

The heroes of Sandpoint make an immediate decision to withdraw before more reinforcements arrive. Felix uses a healing potion to awaken Bey, and the group quickly makes their way out of the hedge maze and back to the horses. Disoriented from their hasty flight, the adventurers find themselves temporarily lost in Nettlewood and have difficulty finding a safe campsite. Eventually, after unfortunate run-ins with stinging nettles and goblinberries, they are able to make camp. Nedrin uses corporal punishment on Grizzlenik for his earlier betrayal. Desna favours the adventurers, and they face no further dangers in the night.

[5 Lamashan 4707]

Bey’s divine abilities to heal the adventurers allow them to return to Thistletop immediately. This time, Felix bursts through the thistle door to see ten goblins ostensibly on sentry duty. Alas, some are napping, others are distracted with arguing or playing games, and only a couple are ready for a fight. Rather than repeat the mistake of fighting the goblins in the cramped tunnels, the adventurers cleverly lure the goblins to the entrance and fight on their own terms. The disorganized, easily distracted goblins are mowed down in seconds.

The first battle of the group’s second incursion into Thistletop has been a rousing success! But will their good fortune continue?

Director's Commentary:
The dire rats bursting out of the cow's stomach and the goblin dogs attacking the early morning campsite were, of course, random encounters. The adventure path assumes that PCs will face random encounters and gives tables of monsters for different areas. The challenging, but fun part of random encounters is trying to very quickly think of a semi-original reason why the PCs are running into the monsters. This has to be done while the GM is frantically trying to organize the grid, finding minis, pulling up stats, and so forth, and all of the players are either staring expectantly (bad players!) or taking the opportunity to role-play (good players!).

The first intrusion into Thistletop really was as suspenseful as the recap described. As the GM, I was shocked that Gogmurt (a goblin druid) and his animal companion were doing so well but then, somehow, the PCs turned things around and narrowly won the day and escaped with their lives. They were wise not to press on any further, and were lucky the rolls were with them to avoid further random encounters while they rested.

For the second intrusion, I had to make notes to remind myself that the goblins should be really bad--verging on ridiculous--when it comes to combat. It's part of their schtick that they're easily distracted, take ridiculous risks, and are the furthest things from sensible tacticians. But since the PCs will face plenty of much harder challenges down the line, I don't mind throwing them some softballs early on.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 12 Recap:
[5 Lamashan 4707 continued]

Having had great success defeating goblin reinforcements sent to guard the entrance, the adventurers decide to push further into the thistle maze. They advance in single file to the north and come to an intersection of sorts, only to find vines and brambles animating and trying to entangle them! Oliver finds himself fully wrapped up, but the others fight their way free and soon realize the source of the verdant attack: Gogmurt. The goblin druid tries to stab Bey in the back with his flaming blade, but she manages to twist away just in time. And in response, she conjures magical fire around herself like a sheathe, leaving herself unharmed but Gogmurt singed. Before their head to head battle can continue any further, Felix picks his way through the writhing undergrowth and launches a single punch at Gogmurt’s face; the blow connects with an audible crack and Gogmurt is instantly knocked unconscious! The Shoanti brawler then finishes the fight permanently by stomping his foe’s skull and crushing it. A subsequent search of Gogmurt’s corpse reveals several enchanted items, including a cloak, a suit of leather armor, and two wands (one of which Bey is able to identify as a wand of tree shape).

Further search of Thistletop’s outer defences reveal an abandoned watch post to the west, a chamber to the east containing little but a matted nest of red and black hair, and a chamber just to the south of that containing the remnants of several meals and gruesome décor. Another abandoned watch post to the northeast offers Felix a first view of Thistletop itself. Connected to the mainland by a swaying rope bridge stands a wooden stockade built atop a rounded, flat-topped island about sixty feet away. Two tall guard towers are visible, and Felix can discern movement within as well as four goblin commandos mounted on goblin dogs performing a regular patrol. He descends from the watch post to formulate a plan with his allies. Bey first suggests trying to swim across, but the daunting height of the cliffs leads to that idea being quickly discarded. Nedrin suggests picking the defenders off from a distance using bows and crossbows, while another idea is floated to set the stockade on fire to draw the goblins out. As the group discuss the pros and cons of various ideas, some members of the party with keen hearing hear shouts coming from the stockade. Although meaningless babble to most, Nedrin is able to translate the shouting: “Gogmurt sent the thrush! They’re on their way!” The hobgoblin ascends the watch post and sees that the mounted goblins have taken up defensive positions on the far side of the rope bridge with shortbows at the ready, and that one has positioned himself to block invaders from setting foot on the island.

A plan is quickly settled upon: with Nedrin providing ranged cover with his bow, the other three adventurers will charge quickly across the bridge so that the goblins won’t have time to cut it. Nedrin misses his first shot as Felix bravely charges across the rickety bridge. The skilled pugilist is grazed by a few arrows from the four mounted goblins and the four sentries in the guard towers, and soon finds himself in hand-to-hand combat with the commando blocking his way off the bridge. Bey runs across next, without incident, but the second Oliver sets foot on the bridge disaster occurs! Suddenly, the western ropes tear free from their supports, tipping the bridge on its side! Felix and Bey manage to grab the eastern ropes and hold on, but Oliver doesn’t react quickly enough and falls 80 feet into the surf below! The impact knocks Oliver out cold, and he begins to take in water. In seconds, the unconscious hero succumbs to his sad fate and drowns.

Nedrin, and his coerced ally Grizzlenik continue shooting at targets across the channel. Felix and Bey manage to make it off of the precariously dangling bridge and on to the far side of the island, where they face a brutal fight against the mounted commandos in front of them and the archers above them. Felix fights bravely, elbowing goblin dogs in the face and pummelling other defenders with his fists, while Bey joins with her bardiche. She manages to trick one of the goblins into thinking that Oliver carried secret defense plans for Sandpoint, and the deluded goblin jumps to his death trying to recover them. Felix and Bey establish a beachhead by finishing off the commandos and their mounts, but a fusillade of arrows continue to rain down. Dozens of small wounds take their toll, leading Felix to dive for cover in order to survive; but Bey pulls her crossbow out and fires back at the archers! Meanwhile, across the channel, even more dramatic events occur: Grizzlenik turns on Nedrin again! The goblin fires an arrow at his “master” at point blank range but misses. The two tussle until Nedrin drags Grizzlenik (who is connected by a rope leash around Nedrin’s waste) with him to cling onto the surviving rope strands halfway between the mainland and the island. The two try to stab each other to death but are tangled up so tightly neither can get the right angle. Finally, Grizzlenik tries the most desperate maneuver of all: he tries to cut both strands of the rope bridge! But luck abandons him, as his dogslicer is only able to cut through one of the two strands. Nedrin’s brute strength allows him to get the upper hand, and he stabs Grizzlenik and then cuts the goblin free to send him plummeting to his death below.

Nedrin makes it to the island to join Bey’s exchange of projectiles with the goblins in the guard towers. She shoots one through the elbow and it falls to its death, while Nedrin’s sharpshooting sends arrows through the eyes of two others. Soon, the defenders are silenced. At the base of the stockade, the three adventurers hastily discuss whether to press forward or back. Bey is eager to continue on, but Felix is severely wounded and persuades her that a retreat is in order. With only a single strand of rope now connecting the island to the mainland, even withdrawing has major risks. Felix and Bey manage to make the exhausting hand over hand journey back, but Nedrin slips and falls! Careful planning saves his life, however, as the adventurers tied another strand of rope around Nedrin’s waist with the far end being held by Felix. Nedrin’s fall turns into an arcing swing and he slams into the cliffside with great force. Still, he survives and is pulled up by Felix.

Deciding that a renewed assault is not tenable, at least for the time being, the adventurers decide to try to contain the threat of the Thistletop goblins by cutting the last strand of rope between the island and the mainland. They then make their way out of Nettlewood and back to Sandpoint. They head directly for the Cathedral, where Felix, barely conscious and slumped over his mount, collapses on the ground. Father Zantus rushes to revive the fallen warrior, and the surviving trio of adventurers relate what happened to the town’s Deputy Sheriff. Father Zantus hears about Oliver’s fate, and promises to hold a memorial service in the ranger’s honour.

Bey, Felix, and Nedrin then walk to the Garrison, where they find Sheriff Hemlock and Bosk Hartigan drilling the new recruits on how to march in formation. Despite everything, Sheriff Hemlock is not pleased to hear about Oliver’s death; he berates the group for failing to notice such an obvious trap given the animal cunning possessed by goblins and the warnings that the Thistletop tribe had the most heavily fortified goblin lair in western Varisia. Nor is Sheriff Hemlock mollified by the destruction of the rope bridge, stating that the Thistletop goblins could very well escape by boat to continue whatever plans they have for Sandpoint. He says that he’s trying to get the recruits up to basic proficiency as quickly as possible, but if the adventurers plan to raid Thistletop again, they might find Shalelu’s leg has healed and that she’s up to the task of accompanying them.

Shalelu is sharpening arrows at a table in the common room in the Rusty Dragon when the adventurers seek her out. She is deeply saddened to hear about her old friend’s death, and keen to avenge him. She promises to hire a small boat from the Mercantile League so that the adventurers can approach Thistletop by sea, scale the cliffs, and perhaps catch the tribe by surprise. While she sets off to make the necessary arrangements, Nedrin and Felix discuss a plan to try to smoke out the Thistletop goblins so that they leave their fortified stockade and can be dispatched in the open. To this end, they visit Nisk Tander’s shop and, after some haggling and a deal to promote Bottled Solutions when they act in Cyrdak Drokkus’s next play, the two adventurers leave with a bundle of smoke sticks each.

Bey is waiting outside for the pair, and relates distressing news. Her revelations have revealed to her a simple truth: if Bey accompanies the adventurers to Thistletop, everyone will die! Bey says that she has foreseen every possible permutation, and that the only scenario with a chance of success is one in which the adventurers go without her but are accompanied by Shalelu and another figure she doesn’t recognize. Having relayed the ominous news, Bey bids the adventurers farewell for the near future and sets off to talk about Thassilon with Brodert Quink.

The morning’s raid on Thistletop proved a pyrrhic victory; the adventurers established a beachhead but could not hold it, and lost one of their teammates in the process. Now, they plan to approach by sea rather than land, guided by the expertise of Shalelu Andosana. But who is this mysterious stranger Bey foresaw in her mystical glimpse into the future?

Director's Commentary:
This was an exciting and memorable session! It was action-packed and cinematic throughout. Oliver's death was a real tragedy, as although the character was often goofy and always unpredictable, he had a nice niche as Sandpoint's Deputy Sheriff. I felt bad for the player as well since Oliver was his first ever PC. The battle between Nedrin and Grizzlenik could have gone either way, as Nedrin was much higher level but was rolling poorly, while Grizzlenik's luck abandoned him only at the very end when he didn't roll high enough to cut through all of the ropes. The battle outside the stockade on the island was like something out of D-Day, as the defenders poured on fire from above and the attackers had to fight with everything they had not to get pushed off the island. The decision to retreat was probably a sound one, however, as they were hurting pretty bad after the victory. Bey's vision at the end of the session was my in-game explanation for the player's plans to leave on holiday for a couple of months after the session--I thought it was pretty clever, if I dare say so myself!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 13 Recap:
[5 Lamashan 4707 continued]

Having returned to Sandpoint from their first journey to the goblin fortress of Thistletop, Felix and Nedrin sell some of the spoils of war and resupply for another planned raid. Felix sells a magical suit of goblin-sized armor to Vorvashali Voon at The Feathered Serpent, and, for a small fee, learns that the cloak taken from the body of the goblin druid Gogmurt is actually a cloak of resistance. A journey to Bottled Solutions for healing potions leads to a hair-raising experience as a small explosion occurs amongst a concoction that proprietor Nisk Tander is brewing. Meanwhile, experienced elven scout Shalelu Andosana walks to the harbourfront and hires a small rowboat from the Mercantile League. While there, she notices a human wearing a steel breastplate with a greataxe strapped to his back. Shalelu correctly deduces that the man is a sellsword and persuades him to join the planned attack on Thistletop in exchange for an equal share of whatever treasure is found within.

The adventurers reunite at the Rusty Dragon, and Shalelu introduces the sellsword, Arnald Swiss, to Felix and Nedrin. Felix makes a joke about Oliver which doesn’t go over well with Shalelu, and she retires to her room once the decision is made to depart in the early morning hours for Thistletop. Nedrin also retires early, but Arnald and Felix spend the evening in the Rusty Dragon’s common room. Arnald sees Daviren Hosk, and Felix realizes that the two know each other: Arnald helped keep Daviren out of a goblin cookpot when the latter had a vendetta against Chief Whartus and the Bonegrinder tribe. Daviren warns Felix to be careful in Thistletop and to watch out for Warchief Ripnugget, as he’s known to try to lure his enemies into traps. Later that evening, Felix tells Arnald a humorous story about accidentally burning down an inn in Magnimar (and having to escape the city in a hurry!) while Arnald boasts about fighting and travelling throughout the land. Arnald also hears a story from Ameiko about a legendary monster in the Varisian Gulf named Old Murdermaw that can bite a boat in half!

[6 Lamashan 4707]

The crisp autumn day sees little wind and smooth rowing for the adventurers, and in just a few hours they approach Thistletop from the west just as the sun appears over the horizon. A decision is made to do a full circuit of the island instead of just scaling the western cliffs, and the group’s patience is rewarded as they notice a small cave on the eastern face of the island, about twenty feet below the clifftop. A goblin in the southeastern guard tower spots the rowboat, but Nedrin reacts instantly and shoots an arrow to kill the sentry before it can sound the alarm!

Felix’s upbringing as a Shoanti of the Storval Plateau allows him to scale the damp rock face, but as he nears the cave, something up there starts to move! Before he can react, a dark blue creature with long tentacles emerges from the cave and crawls down the cliffside towards him One of the creature’s tentacles is pointed and barbed, and cuts into Felix’s shoulder, dislodging the warrior’s grip and sending him tumbling into the water below. Fortunately, Felix executes a skilled dive and Arnald jumps in to assist him in getting back into the boat. The squid-like creature continues its search for prey by wrapping a tentacle around Arnald’s neck and trying to drag him upwards until Shalelu unleashes a fusillade of arrows to kill the creature. Arnald, in a bout of dark humour or eccentricity, hollows out the creature and pulls it over his head as a sort of ghastly costume!

Felix resumes his climb and makes it to the cave, which has a strangely smooth, polished floor and passages heading off of it in three directions, one of which ends in a wooden door; the adventurers have taken an unorthodox approach but have pierced the outer defences of Thistletop! Felix throws down a rope which is tied to one of the slats in the centre of the rowboat, and, after the others climb up, he ties the other end to an arrow which Arnald jams into a crevice in the rock-face. If everything holds, the adventurers have secured an escape route and have chosen a propitious time to investigate Thistletop, as most of its denizens will still be asleep.

The group begins by venturing into the southwest tunnel, noting that the worked stone passages here are clearly man-made, and that lit lanterns hang in the hallways. The tunnel ends in a storage room full of junk obviously scavenged from elsewhere, but a wooden door to the west indicates an exit. The adventurers instead head back to their entry point and explore the northern passage, which leads to what must be the lair of the tentacled monster they just slew. Several seabird and even goblin corpses are scattered around the room, each consisting of just skin and bones as if their insides have been somehow drained. A search of the goblin corpses shows that one died in possession of high-quality dog-hide armor and a skilfully crafted shortbow. Felix and Nedrin take the former and latter, respectively.

The intruders gird themselves for battle behind the wooden door heading directly west, but when it opens, no enemies lay on the other side. Instead, the corridor leads to a pair of large stone doors, their faces carved with images of horrific, deformed monsters clawing their way out of pregnant women of all races. Wooden doors lay to the north and south, and the adventurers decide to try their luck south. They find stairs leading up, which they avoid for the nonce, and a depressing chamber that passes for a nursery in Thistletop: cages along the walls containing dirty mounds of straw and three goblin infants. Arnald callously asks the others what goblin infants are worth on the free market, but Shalelu says there will be no talk of slavery in her presence.

Felix opens another door, and the time for cautious exploration is over! Inside, a harem of goblin females lounge while a massive, 7 foot tall bugbear mounts one of them. Shalelu shouts “Bruthazmus!” as Felix lights and throws a smokestick into the room. A furious battle takes place in the doorway, as Shalelu’s rival, unarmoured and taken by surprise, nonetheless gives a roar and rushes to crush his nemesis’s skull with his flail. Shalelu responds with her blade, and both take wounds in the battle in which no quarter is given. Arnald’s massive axe whistles through the air and lands a telling blow in Bruthazmus’ abdomen, and another stab from Shalelu’s sword is enough to drop the giant goblinoid. She shows no hesitation in slitting his throat. She refuses to have anything else to do with his body, but a search by Nedrin reveals four masterwork arrows with the goblin runes for “Elf Hate” etched into them; he adds these to his quiver. The goblin females, still dazed and disoriented from the smokestick, are tied up and the door to the harem room is closed.

The adventurers decide to pause their explorations of the southern corridors and instead make a foray through the northern doors. They find what looks like a crude goblin art gallery, filled with drawings of goblins engaging in violence against humans, horses, and dogs. One picture is much larger and more complex than the others, and shows what appears to be a massive goblin with snakelike eyes in a chamber in the subterranean centre of the island. An adjoining room is clearly a war room of some type, and the adventurers find notes indicating that once “the whispering beast is tamed”, another raid on Sandpoint will be launched in the space of mere weeks. More stairs leading upward are nearby.

Just off the war room is a study, but this one is occupied. A woman in her early twenties with dark skin and long hair braided into cornrows is sitting at a table, poring over books, scrolls, and stone fragments. She looks up as the adventurers enter, annoyed at being disturbed, but Nedrin keeps her from becoming alarmed by cleverly making a counter-intuitive decision: he lifts his mask to show her that he’s a hobgoblin! The woman, who gives her name as Lyrie, assumes the newcomers are reinforcements hired to replace the guards killed in the previous day’s raid, and she tells them that they’ve taken a wrong turn and are interfering with her research. Nedrin asks Lyrie where he can find “the boss”, and she says Nualia is either in the chapel behind the carved doors or a level below. Although the group’s deception is going well, Arnald inexplicably asks, right in front of her, whether they should tie Lyrie up, which leads her to try to cast a spell. It fails, however, and, cornered by four heavily-armed warriors, she submits to being tied up. The adventurers’ surreptitious entry into Thistletop is further rewarded by their discovery of a secret door that Lyrie has left ajar, on the far side of which are stairs leading down. The adventurers force Lyrie to move into the room that served as the lair of the monster she says was called a tentamort.

The adventurers return to their search, deciding to save the chapel for last in case Nualia is there and can summon reinforcements from elsewhere in the complex. The adventurers find a torture room with several unoccupied cells, and Shalelu suggest moving their prisoners there if they can find the keys. Another corridor leads to several doorways, and, opening the first one on the right, the adventurers barge into a mercenary finishing his breakfast of bread and smoked salmon. The ruggedly handsome human is heavily armored and has a shield and a bastard sword laying nearby on the bed. Nedrin plays it cool, however, and once again bluffs the man into thinking they’re sellswords hired by Nualia, recently arrived by boat since the bridge has been cut. The mercenary, who gives his name as Orik Vancaskerkin, says that Nualia pays well but is involved in some “creepy” things. He offers to show the “new hires” around Thistletop once he finishes his meal. Nedrin thanks him and shuts his door.

The adventurers have acted boldly and luck has been with them, as they’ve penetrated deep into the goblin fortress of Thistletop and, through a combination of quick thinking and luck, have caught the defenders completely by surprise. If they can continue to exploit their advantage, they may just make it off the island alive!

Director's Commentary:
This session marks the first appearance of Arnald Swiss, the new character for the player who previous ran the dear departed Oliver. Arnald shared a lot of Oliver's quirky behavior, and in this session we see Arnald trying on the corpse of a tentamort as a disguise and alerting an NPC the group was trying to bluff their way past by opening asking if they should tie her up.

With Bey's player away, I ran Shalelu as a DMPC for the rest of Chapter 1 so there would be 4 party members.

I remember doing prep work for this section of the adventure and reading in the forums about groups who ended up entering Thistletop through the tentamort's cave, and thinking at the time how unlikely that was since it would require a) an approach by boat; b) a conscious decision to survey the far side of the island from where the boat would come from; and c) a high Perception check to notice the opening. And, of course, the PCs in my group did all three! I'm just happy that I had the sub-level prepared, otherwise I would have been super stressed.

I may have talked about this before, but I often get a kick out of how the adventure path sometimes puts so much effort into developing NPC antagonists (back-stories, full-colour artwork, connections with other NPCs, etc.) and then those NPCs die in a round or two of combat and all of that work is wasted. In this session, Bruthazmus and Lyrie were disposed of, and next session will see Orik get taken down quite quickly.

As the recap notes, the PCs really did stumble upon the perfect timing and approach to entering Thistletop, purely through luck. Alas, their luck won't hold much longer and tragedy will be the result.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 14 Recap:
[5 Lamashan 4707 continued]

The adventurers open the door across the hallway from Orik Vancaskerkin’s room to find a bedroom with a faint musty odor and a stack of birds’ feet heaped on the blood-stained floor. A search of the room turns up nothing further of interest, but by the time they’re done they hear Orik moving about and getting ready to start his day. A quick whispered conversation is held, and the adventurers agree on a plan: “kill him!” The moment Orik steps out of his room, the adventurers attack. Nedrin begins to shimmer for a moment and then stabs Orik through the abdomen with his longsword, and the others pile on. Orik tries to make a deal as he fights frantically for his life, but no quarter is given and the “Heroes of Sandpoint” slit his throat once he falls unconscious. Arnald takes Orik’s bastard sword and heavy steel shield that has been designed to resemble a human face. The other rooms at the end of this hallway also turn out to be bedrooms. Nedrin finds a chunk of obsidian he considers quite valuable, and underneath it are drafts of plans written by Tsuto Konjiku for the initial raid on Sandpoint.

As the adventurers leave the area and reach the point where they slew the bugbear Bruthazmus, a goblin strolls to the bottom of the stairs with a tray in its hands. When it sees the puddle of blood outside of the harem room and an elf (Shalelu) standing next to it, the goblin shrieks, drops the tray, and bolts up the stairs! The adventurers don’t react quickly enough to stop him, so instead of chasing him they prepare for the inevitable goblin counter-attack and take up defensive positions. Nedrin hears a booming voice from above shouting in the goblin tongue to “send the fodder down with the hounds”, and, sure enough, four goblin dogs and three goblins charge down the stairs. But the adventurers are ready for them and let loose with a barrage of arrows. The skilled archery of Nedrin and Shalelu, combined with Arnald’s massive great axe and Felix’s fists of fury, quickly create a pile of dead assailants at the bottom of the stairs. The heroes emerge from the battle unscathed!

Shalelu shouts “let’s finish this!” and charges up the stairs with the others at her heels. The adventurers find themselves in a trophy room of sorts, as poorly preserved horse and dog heads are mounted along one wall while a large pair of black-feathered wings are tacked to another wall with several daggers. A large pair of double-doors, barred from the inside, indicate the front exit of the stockade. The intruders first scout down a western corridor to find a guard tower that’s empty except for a stashed jar of half-eaten pickles. Turning north and moving further into the stockade, the party reaches an open-air courtyard. Doors along the southern wall lead to rabbit cages and a food storage room. To the north, two dead goblins lay slumped on the ground near a door that has been nailed shut. Hearing thumping from within, the adventurers prepare for battle as Arnald cuts the door down with his axe. He’s surprised to see a black and white horse inside, starved nearly to death, frantic with fear and hunger. It bites Arnald before passing out from sheer exhaustion.

A search of the seemingly empty stockade continues, as the adventurers find a filthy latrine (“we’re not searching through that!” says Felix), a barracks, a planning room, and more. When they reach a locked door, Felix puts his ear to it and his keen hearing picks up whispering on the other side, which Nedrin then translates: the goblins inside know the adventurers are coming. Rather than force the issue now, the group decides to continue searching the rest of the stockade.

When the group reach the eastern guard tower, Nedrin scales to the top and sees the body of the sentry he so aptly targeted when the group made their seaborne approach to Thistletop. Nedrin takes a careful look to ensure the group’s rowboat is still tied to the cliffside, but instead he spies something very different: Lyrie Akenja has somehow gotten free of her bonds and is rowing the boat towards the mainland! The adventurers are not about to let a former captive escape with their best way off the island, so they unleash a volley of arrows at the ill-fated scholar. She’s pierced through and through with arrows, and although she somehow survives long enough to jump into the water to try to swim for safety, Arnald finishes her off with an expert shot and her body floats gently on the waves.

The determined adventurers return to the first subterranean level of Thistletop so that Felix can scale down the side of the cliff and then swim out to recover the boat. He also pulls Lyrie’s body on board and (after fending off and throwing her cat familiar into the sea) strips the body of possessions, including going so far as to remove the woman’s pearl earrings. He dumps the corpse, along with a thick book she was carrying, into the water and rows the boat back to the island. There, the group work together to secure it again. The adventurers return to the stockade on the surface of the island and prepare to attack what they surmise is Warchief Ripnugget’s throne room. Arnald chops down the door to reveal Ripnugget mounted on a giant gecko. Ripnugget’s planned trap is foiled when Felix notices three goblin commandos hiding behind spiked timbers and a warchanter crouching behind the throne. Ripnugget tries to lure Felix further into the room, but the Shoanti warrior is in no mood for conversation. The battle begins! Arnald charges into the room and is quickly surrounded before falling prey to a malicious enchantment cast by the warchanter, which leads the mercenary to fall into bouts of hysterical laughter! Nedrin doesn’t leave his ally defenceless, however, as he enters the room and kills Ripnugget’s mount with a single arrow. Felix also enters to fight next to Arnald and taunts Ripnugget, but the powerful goblin chief responds by stabbing the pugilist in the belly. As Shalelu fires arrow after arrow, Nedrin draws his sword and lands a telling slash on the back of Ripnugget’s neck. The battle is over almost as soon as it began, and the entire Thistletop goblin tribe has been wiped out.

After looting the corpses and completing a search of the stockade (finding an armoury and a butchery in the process), the adventurers return to the lower level. After further exploration turns up the keys to the cages, Felix shows mercy by putting the goblin females inside along with the infants. The adventurers continue their exploration and open a door that turns out to be the southwest entrance to a chapel dedicated to the Mother of Monsters, the demonic goddess Lamashtu! Along with stone fonts, a black marble stone altar, and a ten foot tall statue of Lamashtu, the chapel is home to two unearthly hairless canines that fly and exude an air of menace and cruelty. Sensing intruders, they let loose with a terrifying, uncanny howl that echoes through the entire complex. Nedrin manages to stand firm, but all of his companions flee in panick! The hobgoblin wisely retreats, shutting the doors to the chapel behind him. The creatures, known as yeth hounds, begin slamming their bodies against the doors to break free.

The adventurers come to their senses and gather their courage to make a stand in the prison chamber just seconds before the yeth hands break the door down. Nedrin and Arnald are knocked to the ground repeatedly by the hounds’ unrelenting bites. Shalelu fires a veritable quiver-full of arrows to kill one of the creatures, while Arnald’s axe opens huge gashes in the other before Felix manages to finish it off with a punch into the back of its throat!

The adventurers have triumphed over every obstacle so far, but they’re beginning to get worn down. Yet their task is unfinished, as the true mastermind behind the assault on Sandpoint has not yet been brought to justice . . .

Director's Commentary:

Felix's remark about the latrine, "We're not searching through that!" will prove amusing to GMs who have run this chapter.

This iteration of the party was quite bloody and brutal! Slitting poor Orik's throat and drowning Lyrie's cat are good examples. I was actually really surprised they managed to see Lyrie rowing away with the boat, as I had expected they would go to leave and be surprised to realize that the boat was gone.

The battle against Ripnugget was pretty easy. As this point, goblins just weren't going to be a threat against the adventurers. Yeth hounds, however, are a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Will saves were not the PCs' strong suit, and this would prove their undoing next session.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 15 Recap:
[6 Lamashan 4707 continued]

Having defeated two yeth hounds in a difficult battle, the party discuss their next course of action. Nedrin suggests barricading a room and resting for the night, but Shalelu urges her allies to press on before Nualia, the mastermind behind the raid on Sandpoint, can escape. Encouraged by Shalelu’s liberal use of a healing wand, the group agree. They quickly search the chapel that had been guarded by the yeth hounds. Felix spends several minutes yanking free the two glowing kukris held by the statue of the demon goddess Lamashtu.

The adventurers then head for the “secret” door they learned about by surprising Lyrie Akenja during her research. Arnald takes the lead as the group head down a flight of stairs to emerge at a deeper subterranean area. This level is canted, forcing the adventurers to walk at an upwards angle as they move east. They pass through a large room containing several statues of a man in robes clutching a book and glaive, but it’s clear that whatever ancient upheaval tilted the floor also severely damaged the statues. The eastern door is ajar, and when Arnold opens it, the end begins for two of the brave explorers.

The doorway leads to a short, narrow hallway, with alcoves to the north and south containing statues of stern men wielding glaives. At the end of the hallway are two sets of stone doors to the north and south, but standing at that point is the group’s quarry: Nualia! The beautiful silver-haired aasimar has madness in her violet eyes, her left hand has been transformed into a red talon, and she wears the distinctive scars on her stomach of one specially favoured by Lamashtu herself! “The so-called Heroes of Sandpoint have ventured thus far,” she spits out arrogantly, “so come at me then, if you dare!” Arnald takes the challenge and charges down the hallway, only to fall prey to a cunning trap! A pair of metal portcullis slam down right in front and right behind him as he crosses the area right in front of the statutes, and then the glaives begin hacking downward. Nualia laughs maniacally and enters the room to the north, but from the same doorway emerges one of the dreaded yeth hounds.

Felix comes to his trapped ally’s aid and helps Arnald lift up the portcullis that served to cut him off from the others, and the rescue came at a good time, as, seconds later, a pit opens on the very spot Arnald had been standing on! When the trapdoor raises shut, the other portcullis also raises up and the statues stop their attack. Shalelu, Nedrin, and Arnald decide to fight the yeth hound from a distance with archery, but the creature darts pass their barrage of arrows and flies over their heads, landing behind them to cut off their escape. Then the creature unleashes its horrific howl which sends Shalelu, Felix, and Arnald fleeing in absolute terror to the east . . . right into the grinning visage of Nualia, who has returned fully prepared for battle! Able only to cower in fear, Felix soon falls before the demon-worshipper’s bastard sword. “Your blood is well-spilt,” she cackles, “and will only speed the cleansing of my revolting celestial taint!”

Nedrin is the only adventurer capable of fighting, and heroically duels the yeth hound one-on-one. The hobgoblin is sorely taxed but ultimately prevails and decapitates the creature! Nualia shows admiration rather than anger, however, and starts channelling waves of pure demonic energy through the room, sapping the adventurers’ strength! “You will make a fine sacrifice to the Demon Mother,” she promises Nedrin, as the hobgoblin finally falls. Shalelu and Arnald, badly hurt but finally recovered from the supernaturally terrifying howl of the yeth hound, have no choice but to flee from the almost completely uninjured cleric of Lamashtu. “The bones of my father were but the first to be burned on the Mother of Monster’s altar,” Nualia shouts as they flee, “and soon all of Sandpoint will be next!”

Shalelu and Arnald run up the stairs and over to the cave where the tentamort once looked out over the waves below. They hurriedly climb down the rope and into the rowboat tethered at the bottom of the cliffside. Their return voyage to Sandpoint is a solemn one of shocked silence. When they arrive back at the community, the pair leave the boat at the docks and walk in silence to the Garrison. There, they deliver the news of the group’s failure to Sheriff Hemlock. Hemlock says it’s regrettable to hear about the deaths of Felix and Nedrin, but that another assault will have to be made on Thistletop to bring Nualia to justice before she can gather reinforcements and launch another attack on the town. He promises to look into finding others who would be willing to take on such a dangerous mission.

Once they reach the Rusty Dragon, Shalelu pushes through the lunchtime crowd and heads straight to her room. Arnald quickly knocks back a tankard of ale and speaks to the tavern’s halfling barmaid, Bethana Corwin. Arnald explains that he’s in Sandpoint to protect it and drive off the goblin threat, but that his cause has suffered a severe setback. Bethana mentions that adventurers who tell an entertaining or moving story to their fellow patrons receive a room at half-price, but Arnald explains that he’s not in the mood. He does find himself the object of attraction for a fellow newcomer to Sandpoint: a new acolyte at the Cathedral named Sister Celia, an attractive woman in her early 40s. Sister Celia explains that she worships Shelyn, goddess of beauty, love, and dance. She flirts with Arnald but he rebuffs her advances and leaves to resupply for another expedition.

Visits to Savah’s Armory and Bottled Solutions are productive, but Arnald unwittingly walks into an argument when he visits the town’s general store. The proprietor Ven Vinder is yelling at his daughter Katrine that he doesn’t want her “going around with that fellow from the mill anymore.” Katrine shouts back that she loves “Banny.” When Vin sees Arnald enter, the storekeeper shouts “no adventurers!” and threatens the sellsword with his cudgel while angrily denouncing Felix (whom he doesn't know is now deceased) for “violating my chaste princess” (referring to his other daughter, Shayliss). Arnald wisely leaves before violence ensues. Instead, he walks over to the Goblin Squash Stables and buys some barding for his horse. Conversation turns to the local goblin tribes, and Daviren explains that in Mosswood, the tribe is broken into several warring families and that one of the families is deformed and rumoured to worship Lamashtu. Arnald makes one final stop, this time visiting the cathedral where he meets the other new acolyte, a halfling priestess of Erastil named Sister Erica. Arnald is disappointed when, instead of the powerful magic he seeks, Sister Erica offers him spiritual development by letting him help out in the garden behind the building.

Arnald returns to the Rusty Dragon as the sun sets. He sees Sister Celia flirting with Vorvashali Voon and awkwardly intrudes, before heading up to his room for the night.

[7 Lamash 4707]

A new day dawns over Sandpoint. But after the raids on Thistletop, is the town safer or in even more danger?

Director's Commentary:
So here it was, the big boss fight to end Chapter 1 of Rise of the Runelords. I'm sorry to say things just did not go in the PCs' favor. One problem was that the earlier fight against the yeth hounds alerted everyone in the whole fortress that intruders were present, because their cries can be heard at least 300' away. This alerted Nualia and allowed her to institute a cunning plan when the PCs appeared on her level--she lured Arnald into the trap, then retreated to her chamber to fully buff for a few rounds, then (and most wickedly) had a yeth hound bay *behind* the PCs so they would run *towards* her instead of away from her. Some of these tactics were a bit more devious than those given in the book, but I also wanted to account for the advance warning she had.

Felix just got worn down over several rounds and expired unceremoniously, while Nedrin put up a heroic fight in destroying the yeth hound before being repeatedly assailed by something he couldn't do anything about: Nualia's ability to channel negative energy. It was sad to see both characters die, especially Felix since he was one of the starting characters for the game.

I really liked the idea of the canted level giving an advantage over combatants on higher ground, but despite making myself a reminder card I think I and the players consistently forgot to apply it. Sometimes with so much going on, it's really hard to remember little bonuses! I'm also not the best (though I try) at having NPCs talk, mock, and reveal some of their personality or backstories during battles, otherwise they're often complete enigmas. I'm sure that during the battle, I didn't word Nualia's statements quite so articulately, but that's one of the advantages of a recap.

There's a very quick appearance by Katrine Vinder because I wanted to introduce her ahead of what I knew was going to happen in Chapter Two. Alas, I don't think it helped in terms of narrative because Arnald's player didn't remember meeting her (and I can't really blame him).

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 16 Recap:
[7 Lamashan 4707]

As the first rays of another autumn morning begin filtering through the shutters into Arnald Swiss’s room at the Rusty Dragon, a sharp knocking can be heard at his door. The cause of the noise proves to be Shalelu Andosana, fully outfitted for travel. She brusquely tells Arnald that she didn’t sleep well and doesn’t want to wait for Sheriff Hemlock to turn his attention away from training the new recruits to finding experienced warriors to help continue the search for Nualia. Instead, Shalelu explains, she plans to take a risky course of action in order to capture or kill the silver-haired worshipper of Lamashtu before the cultist can obtain reinforcements or find the mysterious weapon boasted about in Tsuto’s journal. Shalelu says she’s long heard tale of a pair of dangerous outcasts living just a couple of miles south of Sandpoint. According to local gossip, they’re dangerous and untrustworthy, but after the death of Felix and Nedrin, she’s decided that it may just be time to throw caution to the wind and fight fire with fire. She gives Arnald time to get dressed before setting off at a quick pace.

She and Arnald pass sleepy guards as they leave Sandpoint via the southern bridge and walk briskly along the Lost Coast Road before reaching the area where a wide stream disappears into the rocky hills south of town. There, at the abandoned Bradley farmstead, an old fisherman’s shack serves as the home of two of the area’s most disreputable occupants. Shalelu nocks an arrow and motions for Arnald to ready himself for battle as the two approach the shack cautiously. Inside, however, the visitors’ approach has not gone undetected. “Not so fast, one more step and it’ll be your last!” a voice rings out. Shalelu shouts back that she’s come on business, and succinctly summarizes the threat posed by Nualia and the events of the previous raids on Thistletop. Tense negotiations lead Shalelu to grudgingly offer those inside the shack one of her personal magical items, an enchanted amulet, in order to purchase their loyalty for the mission to come.

The ill-fitting door to the shack creaks open, and a figure emerges: a powerful-looking half-orc, wearing a kilt and a long-sleeved tunic, with a long braid of hair. Accompanied by a goat, the half-orc, whose name will eventually be known as Eugeni, approaches as, by arrangement, Arnald delivers the magical amulet. With terms agreed upon and payment rendered, the door to the shack opens again and the remaining resident emerges: a member of the feathered, bird-like species commonly known as tengu. The tengu, whose name is Ome, is accompanied by a startling sight: a massive giant wasp, the size of a full-grown cat! The two pairs of adventurers watch each other tensely.

Shalelu proposes that, before attempting their ultimate goal of dealing with Nualia, the four adventurers should learn to evaluate each other’s strengths and weaknesses by undertaking an easier task. The four settle on attempting to collect the bounty offered by the Sandpoint Mercantile League for the capture or death of the notorious bandit Shank, known to have operated for years from the small forest that now bears his name. For almost four years now, Shank has been plaguing the Lost Coast Road, holding up lone travellers and entire carriages, leaving his victims poorer but alive. Yet in the past six months, the highwayman has turned to kidnapping—-with no ransom demands having been made!

The newly-formed hunting band follow the Lost Coast Road back through Sandpoint and out the northern gate. As the road continues east parallel to the coast, a brightly-coloured wagonful of the area’s indigenous Varisians wave and smile. Later in the morning, the adventurers reach a patch of the road just south of Shank’s Wood where Shalelu says the highwayman was last known to have attacked. Ome kneels down to look for signs, and although it’s been weeks since the attack, the tengu is confident she’s found tracks heading into the forest! Shalelu is dubious of Ome’s findings, but reluctantly agrees to accompany them into the woods. Ome reports that several sets of goblin prints criss-cross the area and make tracking difficult, but after about a mile she suddenly stands up and points. A gurgling brook runs from east to west in front of them, spanned by a mossy fallen log. On the far side of the water, an old trapper’s cabin made from scavenged timber and driftwood can be discerned through the treeline.

Arnald, as the most heavily armoured of the group, is chosen to take the lead in approaching the shack. He calls out, and soon the poorly-hung front door opens. An older man with unkempt grey hair peers out cautiously. When asked about the bandit Shank, the man says he hasn’t had any run-ins with bandits but that there are several goblins about. He says that he’s a trapper and fisherman, and invites Arnald in for a cup of tea.

The interior of the cabin is dark and smoky for some reason. Arnald loses sight of the man and the next thing he knows, a thick leathery arm is wrapping around his head! Arnald calls out in distress as something sharp sinks into his neck and a sloppy sucking sound can be heard. Shalelu rushes into the shack, but although she hears Arnald yelling she can’t tell exactly where he is because of the smoke. She notices a small firepit on the ground and, thinking quickly, smothers it with a blanket. Seconds later, Eugeni makes a dramatic entrance: having become magically twice as large, he smashes through the wall of the shack, sending shards of wood everywhere! Ome follows through, bow at the ready. The air begins to clear as the three adventurers see that Arnald is struggling futilely against his attackers grip. And, for the first time, they realize his attacker is no elderly trapper: it’s a grotesque, faceless creature with leathery skin!

The creature, which Eugeni identifies as an Ugothol (or “faceless stalker”) continues to squeeze and drain the life out of Arnald as the others attack it and inflict several deep wounds. The aberration offers to let Arnald go if they’ll let it go, but they refuse; when bartering fails, the creature threatens a lifetime of stalking the adventurers, as they’ll never know when they’re safe. But when the Ugothol pushes Arnald away and tries to flee, Eugeni knocks the creature to the ground and then Arnald finally gets vengeance and cuts the creature in twain with one might swing of his greataxe! Eugeni and Ome quickly scour the interior of the shack and discover a small cache of money and magical items hidden underneath a filthy bed made of fur and branches. The two adventurers use their bodies to shield their find from the others, and keep most of the treasure to themselves. Outside, Shalelu finds a ten-foot deep pit containing mud, decomposing bodies (“Shank’s” victims), and a disgusting maggot-like grub the size of a small dog! Arnald is very interested in searching the pit, but the others persuade him to leave it alone.

Shalelu announces herself more-or-less satisfied with the newcomers’ skill in battle. Although it’s out of their way, the group must return to Sandpoint before tackling Thistletop because the elf’s bow splintered in the battle against the faceless stalker. They reach the town again in the early afternoon and Shalelu leaves the other three to wait at the northern gate while she goes to buy a new bow. While she’s gone, Ome asks Arnald for more information on what happened on his previous foray to Thistletop. His answers are vague and full of jokes, much to the tengu’s annoyance. Eugenie quietly tells his long-time friend that the human sellsword is clearly not the brains of the operation. The three talk about passing the time gambling, but realize they don’t have dice or a deck of cards to play with. Arnald heads into town and to the general store. Seeing the “No Adventurers!” sign in the window, he tries to disguise himself by pulling up the hood on his winter cloak. But Ven Vinder isn’t fooled, and when Arnald is slow in leaving, Ven swings his cudgel so hard it makes an audible “crack” when it connects with Arnald’s skull! The mercenary gets the message and leaves before further violence erupts.

Once the four adventurers are back together, they head back east. Shalelu is able to find a route through Nettlewood that avoids most of the dense forest’s obstacles and dangers. Soon, in the later afternoon, they stand on the edge of the promontory, across from which is the isle fortress of Thistletop. Shalelu, Arnald, and Ome are able to scramble down the 80’ cliff and into the water below with little difficulty, but Eugenie slips and tumbles awkwardly, hurting himself in the process. Fortunately, the half-orc’s friend is able to draw up divine magic to heal him. The group then swims across the narrow channel and are able to scale Thistletop using the rope to the former lair of the tentamort. The adventurers make haste towards the research room containing a secret door to the stairs below. Shalelu notices that many of the books and scrolls that had been there are now gone.

Once the adventurers are on the second subterranean level of the complex, Shalelu and Arnald point out to Ome and Eugenie the exact spot where the corridor ahead is trapped. The four spend a long time discussing various ways to get past the trap until Shalelu, frustrated, backs up and leaps over the pressure plate on the floor! The other three follow her lead without incident. Surprisingly, however, Nualia is nowhere to be found. A cursory look at the room she had been in before shows it to be a study of some sort, as it contains various small tables and chairs and is well-lit by enchanted blazing skulls. Wide stone ledges of red marble line the curving walls of the room and contain strange scrimshaw artwork, taxidermied animals and limbs, and several spots where the dust has been recently disturbed as if things that were once there are now gone.

The adventurers move on to another chamber across the corridor. Here they find an “L” shaped hallway, the southern part of which ends at a pair of stone doors carved with the depictions of two skeletons reaching out to clutch a skull between them. The walls of the eastern part of the chamber narrows down to frame a circular carving of what seems to be immense stacks of tens of thousands of gold coins rising from floor to ceiling. Eugenie casts a minor divination spell to discern that the stacks carry with them the aura of illusion magic.

Pressing on, the adventurers open the skull-marked stone doors. Four pillars support the vaulted ceiling of the room beyond, while alcoves containing standing stone sarcophagi line the walls. The centre of the room is dominated by the statue of a stern man wielding a glaive and holding a book. The adventurers decide to split up and take their time looking for secret doors, but their search is interrupted as insubstantial, inky black, vaguely humanoid-shaped shadows emerge from three of the sarcophagi and fly towards the intruders! Their touch is witheringly cold and drains the vitality of living creatures, a fact Shalelu discovers all too well before retreating out of the room. In her haste, she fails to account for the trap the group bypassed earlier and suffers multiple cuts.

Ome, Eugeni, and Arnald fall back as well and soon realize the manifestations of spiritual energy are bound to the crypt and cannot leave. Ome, having come prepared for many eventualities, coats the tip of several arrows with an alchemical compound that will allow the projectiles to harm the ghostly figures. Eugeni manifests blast after blast of eldritch fire to burn the creatures, and the renewed battle goes well until Arnald strays too close to the entrance to the crypt and gets swarmed! His body grows incredibly weak and he is barely able to fight off the siren song of death before Eugeni destroys the last of the undead lurkers.

A third and perhaps final raid on Thistletop has begun, yet Nualia is nowhere to be found. Has she slipped through the adventurers’ grasp?

Director's Commentary:
Eugeni and Ome were, of course, the new characters for, respectively, Nedrin's and Felix's players. Eugeni was a half-orc wizard, while Ome was a tengu inquisitor of Calistria. The two players worked together to create some shared background for their characters, which was a nice touch that made it much easier to integrate them into the campaign. The PCs were around 5th level at this time but because of all the character deaths I wanted to have the first encounter for the session be something more manageable than they might find at Thistletop. I used an encounter from the first hardcover volume of the Pathfinder comic involving a Faceless Stalker masquerading as a common highwayman. I liked how the encounter turned out, because the dim lighting and smoke inside the shack made for a naturally more challenging (and exciting) battle than I expected.

Speaking of Thistletop, I had to put some thought into deciding what Nualia would do. The adventure path has instructions for what happens if she escapes, but she actually won the battle and it was the PCs who retreated. But, she was also almost the only living creature alive in the fortress and I didn't want to have a video game style campaign where the boss just sits around waiting for the heroes to come back. So the PCs lost out on a clear victory, some XP, some treasure, and a lot of information when she abandoned Thistletop. She makes a return appearance in Chapter Two, however, and the PCs luck will prove much better.

GMs will note something major in Thistletop that the PCs missed, but that's okay. Not every party has to have the same experiences, and it's good that the adventure path isn't on rails.

I was nervous about the fight against the shadows since they can easily overwhelm and kill PCs, so I was impressed with how well the group did against them.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 17 Recap:
[7 Lamashan 4707 continued]

After the difficult battle over the Shadows in an ancient crypt below the surface of Thistletop, Ome finds a secret door hidden in an alcove. Arnald, weakened from the strength-draining touch of the creatures, takes off his armor and gear and decides to rest while the others continue exploring. The secret door leads to a passage sloping steeply downward, and eventually ending in what was once a treasury but is now partially submerged under seawater. Two of the remaining walls of the chamber depict carvings of incredible treasures, while the third shows a towering mountain, its peak carved in the shape of a stern face above a great palace on the side of the mountain, overlooking an immense city of spires. Eugeni draws closer to the pool of water and notices thousands of coins glinting from the light of Ome’s everburning torch. The pool contains a stranger treasure, however: a massive helmet, almost five-feet wide, made of gold. But as Eugeni looks at it more closely, he sees eyes move within it and then the helmet rotates!

The giant hermit crab which has adopted the helmet as its shell watches the adventurers closely. Shalelu tells her allies that, obviously, Nualia is not here and that they should depart, but Ome and Eugeni are transfixed by the amount of treasure in the pool and decide to attack! Eugeni transmutes his hair until the strands are dozens of feet long and wrap around the hermit grab. Ome and Shalelu begin shooting arrows into the trapped invertebrate, but then it breaks free and charges towards the adventurers, opening and closing massive pincers! Shalelu shouts in agony as one of the pincers crushes her ribcage and throws her unconscious form against a wall. Some distance away, Arnald hears the cry and decides to come to his companions’ aid.

As Ome darts in and out of the chamber to avoid the giant crab, Eugeni tries to entrap it again with his magically-enhanced hair, but he gets caught by a pincer as well! Arnald arrives on the scene and revives Shalelu with a healing potion, but no one is fast enough to aid Eugeni as the half-orc is grievously wounded and tossed aside like a rag doll. Ome appears cornered, but manages to tumble her way free and runs out of the room to rejoin Shalelu and Arnald who have already withdrawn. With all of the intruders out of sight except for the unconscious Eugeni, the giant crab begins to devour its fresh kill. Ome returns to the chamber just in time to see her friend die and cries out in sorrow. She begins firing arrow after arrow into the crab until it finally succumbs. The overwrought tengu tears the crab apart with her bare claws before realizing something significant: with all of the treasure in the chamber, perhaps she could pay a cleric to bring her friend back to life! The three survivors work hard to collect the thousands of coins, precious stones, and other treasures in the chamber and then return to the surface stockade. There, Arnald takes the lead and uses his axe to chop down enough planks to build a makeshift catamaran capable of hauling the adventurers, Eugeni’s corpse, the coins, and the massive helmet back to Sandpoint. Exhausted and demoralized, the invaders rest in a secure chamber for the evening.

[8 Lamashan 4707]

The adventurers row, with some difficulty, the makeshift catamaran all the way back to Sandpoint. At the dock, Shalelu says her farewell for the time being, saying she plans to rest and then head for the wilderness to see if she can find any trace of Nualia. Ome and Arnald haul the thousands of coins and the massive golden helm to the town hall and barter with Sister Arva, the town banker, to exchange the treasure for platinum pieces. Subsequent visits are made to the town jeweller and the Feathered Serpent, the proprietors of each of which watch Ome quite closely as the reputation of tengu as thieves and scoundrels is well known. At the cathedral, Father Zantus is saddened to hear that yet another has died to protect Sandpoint. When pressed, he acknowledges having a single scroll with the power to raise someone from the dead, but claims it is intended for the truest of emergencies only (such as the death of Mayor Deverin or Sheriff Hemlock in a time of crisis) and that he can’t guarantee it will work. He is reluctantly persuaded to use it on Eugeni on the condition that the funds necessary to replace the scroll are provided to him as soon as possible. Ome and Father Zantus agree that, in the morning, Eugeni’s spirit will be contacted through magic to determine if the half-orc would wish to return to the mortal plane.

Later that day, Ome visits a location she is quite familiar with: the Pixie’s Kitten. Many of the employees of Sandpoint’s elegant and tasteful brothel are fellow devotees of the goddess Calistria, and Ome is personal friends with the owner, Kaye Tesarani. Ome receives consolation on her friend’s death and a safe place to sleep for the night.

[9 Lamashan 4707]

In the morning, Ome and Arnald meet at the cathedral where Father Zantus has prepared a spell to speak with Eugeni’s spirit. Although the answers received are brief and cryptic, those assembled understand them to mean that Eugeni’s spirit is willing to return and that, if necessary, his possessions can be sold to raise the necessary funds to do so. Father Zantus suggests the ceremony should take place at dusk, and says he’s willing to go forward with it even if the adventurers haven’t quite raised the total funds necessary to replace the scroll. However, he notes again that there is a risk of failure, and that clerics in Magnimar will prove more capable than he; but also, less willing to be as understanding about payment.

Ome decides to sell a dagger, possessed by Eugeni, that is made out of the rare and valuable metal adamantine. She first visits the Red Dog Smithy and sees Das Korvut hard at work on a bardiche; the blacksmith sends the tengu over to Savah’s Armory. There, after repeated assurances and even a signed document attesting that the dagger came into her hands lawfully, Ome is able to sell the dagger for over 2,000 gold pieces. Later, she persuades Arnald to do the talking when the pair walk to the headquarters of the Sandpoint Mercantile League to collect the posted bounty on the bandit Shank. However, not having obtained any proof of their deed, the adventurers are turned back. Ome spends the rest of the afternoon at the Pixie’s Kitten, drinking and telling stories to his friends about some of the previous adventures she and Eugeni had. Arnald, having been turned away at the door by Shoanti bouncers due to a refusal to have his weapons checked, waits across the street.

At dusk, the final preparations are in place at the cathedral. Eugeni’s body lies on a stone altar in the centre of the cathedral, under the open sky of the central courtyard. Father Zantus has assembled all of his available acolytes to assist him with the complex spell, and thus represented are the faiths of Desna, Gozreh, Abadar, Shelyn, and Erastil. Receiving a final nod from Ome, Father Zantus unfurls the scroll and begins intoning its pleas for the spirit to return to the flesh. But whether from Father Zantus’ inexperience or the will of the gods, the spell summons not life but a bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky that incinerates Eugeni’s corpse to ashes! “This was a being never meant to return to life!” shouts Father Zantus, interpreting the result as divine disapproval. Ome is furious at what she perceives as Father Zantus’ bungling, and she demands a return of the several thousand gold pieces she gave him to conduct the ceremony. But Father Zantus is uncharacteristically unyielding and says that the gods have spoken and that the scroll must be replaced. Ome calls him a thief, eliciting a gasp from the assembled acolytes, before scraping the ashes into a porcelain jar to be given to Eugeni’s parents.

Thus ends the beginning chapter in an epic story of ancient threats risen anew and the heroes who will face the greatest of perils to stop evil from sweeping across the land.

Director's Commentary:
A dramatic and somewhat bitter end to the first chapter of the adventure path. It was definitely a more lethal chapter than the writers and most groups have experienced, and made me very, very nervous about what would happen when the real threats started mounting in later chapters! Although Bey's player would be back for the start of Chapter 2 so the group would have four PCs, the death toll made me start looking very seriously for a fifth player.

The death of Eugeni was a disappointing but avoidable one, and perhaps encapsulates the theme of adventurers and their greed. The timing of the battle was unfortunate, as Arnald had decided to rest in an adjoining chamber, Shalelu was badly hurt, and Eugeni's and Ome's players were still learning the best ways to use their characters. The battle started off well, but then went downhill fast. Giant hermit crabs are tougher than they look! On the other hand, no risk, no reward. That's the life (and death) of adventurers.

The disaster of the attempt to cast raise dead on Eugeni was because Father Zantus was much too low of a level to automatically succeed in using the scroll, and thus had to roll a caster level check: he rolled a natural 1. Natural 1s on rolls are treated as automatic failures and critical fumbles under our house rules, so I had the body struck by lightning and the scroll destroyed. The scroll being destroyed was a mistake, as I assumed it automatically happened with the failure to use a scroll, but I didn't discover I had messed up until talking with a fellow GM a couple of days later. I gave Eugeni's player the option to assume another scroll became available, but he was happy to move on and work on another PC--and this one would go on to survive the entirety of Chapter Two!

Nice to see this pick up again!

Actually, you are right and the other GM is wrong. A mishap does destroy the scroll, because the spell does go off, just not correctly. The scroll is not destroyed if the caster level check fails without a mishap.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 18 Recap:
[Lamashan, 4707]

In the month following the second failed raid on Thistletop, the adventurers go their separate ways.

Arnald spends many of his days drinking and looking for work. Occasionally, he assists Shalelu Andosana in trying to verify sightings of a “silver-haired witch” in the Sandpoint hinterlands. On one such venture, he and Shalelu are ambushed by a group of goblins in Mosswood. The last surviving goblin flees and tries to climb a nearby tree, but Arnald has no difficulty catching up to it. “Wait!” the goblin screeches. “Axeman and the Hunter Elf! I can help you!” The goblin has just enough time to say something about “Longshanks Silverhead” and the Bloodfangs before Arnald mercilessly chops its head off. When Shalelu catches up and asks what the goblin was shouting about, Arnald replies simply “nothing important.”

Ome devotes her time to singing melancholy songs at the Pixie’s Kitten and collecting dossiers on certain members of the Sandpoint community. One afternoon late in Lamashan, Ome arrives at the Pixie’s Kitten to see that a staff meeting is underway: discussion is being held about how to respond to a new push by Titus Scarnetti, conservative head of one of Sandpoint’s four founding families, to have prostitution made illegal in the town. Scarnetti has posted fliers about a public meeting on 4 Neth at the town hall, and rumors are spreading that he and his backers are going to start a “name and shame” campaign against the clients of the Pixie’s Kitten. Although some of the bouncers and working girls think Scarnetti is all hot air or that Sheriff Hemlock’s “being sweet on” Kaye Tessarani will be enough to protect the brothel, the establishment’s proprietor is clearly concerned. Ome listens and offers her support, but the meeting ends inconclusively.

Bey has spent the last several weeks helping her old friend Brodert Quink continue his study of Old Light. Quink remains convinced there must be chambers underneath the rubble, but after laboriously moving heavy stone blocks and examining every surface for runes, the pair’s efforts to find anything has so far come to naught. Near the end of the month of Lamashan, Bey is working at the site one day when she sees Madame Mvashti slowly trudging across the street towards her with the help of a cane. The aged Varisian seer seems unconcerned by the fact that a wagon pulled by two strong horses is bearing down on her quickly, and that the wagon’s driver is busy shouting at someone behind him! Bey moves quickly and dashes in to save Madame Mvashti, but she need not have bothered: instants before a fatal collision would have occurred, the wagon throws a wheel and the horses drag it to a stop with inches to spare. Madame Mvashti mumbles something about having told the wagon’s handler to get that wheel fixed and then shares with Bey her purpose for coming. “What started five years ago ain’t done yet, cheri,” she says. “Sandpoint’s gonna be in flames, no stoppin’ dat, but you an yer friends can keep it from getting’ too bad.” Madame Mvashti goes on to say that although she was already old when Sandpoint was founded over forty years ago, this is her last winter and the town will need someone with their inner-eye open to help guide it when she’s gone. Bey is completely nonplussed by the seer’s words.

Meanwhile, over fifty miles away in the city of Magnimar, a member of the City Watch named Artemis Lahs has just finished giving testimony against an offender in a courtroom in the Pediment Building. Artemis is a tall, muscular man with an odd line of scales along the sides of his face and a pronounced ridgeline on his brow. Once Artemis leaves the courtroom, he’s surprised to see his watch captain, Gibble Fank, waiting for him. Fank explains that something unusual has come up, and that Artemis has received new orders. Moreso, a member of the Justice Court (the city’s highest court) has instructed Artemis to come to his chambers. When Fank and Artemis reach the elegant oak door bearing the nameplate “Justice Ironbriar”, Fank stops and actually looks a bit nervous. “In ya go, lad,” he says. “Mind yer manners in there! Ironbriar’s been alive longer than both of us put together, an ya don’t wanna cross him!” Eventually, a law clerk leads Artemis into a massive office dominated by looming bookcases and a wide desk. The person sitting behind the desk is a stern-faced elf wearing an elegant red and purple cloak. He doesn’t stand up when Artemis enters, but instead says in a crisp Chellish accent “Staff Sergeant Artemis Lahs. You have a clean record. Three commendations for valor. A wife, no children. I think you’ll do. You’re being transferred. Sandpoint. You’ve heard of it, yes?” When Artemis replies in the affirmative, Justice Ironbriar explains that the Shoanti sheriff of the town has made several dubious reports lately about goblin armies, demon cults, and more. Artemis is to keep an eye on the situation and personally report, by letter, to Ironbriar every week.

[1 Neth 4707]

In Sheriff Hemlock’s “war room” in the town garrison, an unlikely combination of people have gathered at his request. Present are Arnald, Ome, Bey, and Artemis. As, apart from Sheriff Hemlock, only Arnald and Ome have met each other previously, introductions are made. Sheriff Hemlock explains that, just hours ago, a goblin bearing a white flag arrived in Sandpoint hoping to claim part of the bounty on Nualia, the demon-touched former resident of Sandpoint responsible for masterminding attacks on the town. The goblin said that Nualia has been living with the Bloodfang tribe in southern Mosswood at the foot of the mountains. Sheriff Hemlock says that he’s received strict orders from Magnimar to “avoid arousing the anger of the surrounding goblinoid inhabitants.” Thus, Hemlock can’t take any official action to investigate the sighting. He mentions, seemingly off-hand, however, that the bounty on Nualia is 2,000 gold pieces, dead or alive. Further, he says that Artemis isn’t officially on duty until Hemlock signs his commission papers, and that southern Mosswood would be the perfect place for a hunting and fishing trip this time of year. Hemlock then dismisses the group. Artemis and Ome instantly get the hint and explain it to Arnald, while Bey is consumed by one of her mystical visions.

Artemis has prepared for his secondment to Sandpoint by studying maps of the local geography and is able to lead the group towards Mosswood with little difficulty. The journey east along the Lost Coast Road is uneventful, and in just a few hours, the group is at the northern borders of the forest. It’s a beautiful autumn day, and the leaves on the trees have turned into gorgeous shades of red and yellow. With little to go on besides word that the Bloodfang family of goblins lives near the mountains in the southern portion of the forest, the group pushes into Mosswood itself. Their progress slows as they move off the road. Several times they see signs that goblins and other creatures are in the area, but luck or the imposing sight of four heavily-armed warriors keeps anything from attacking. Eventually, the bounty-hunters decide to set up camp near a stream so they’ll be fresh to push on for the Bloodfangs the following morning.

As dusk begins to fall over the camp, everyone present can hear the distinctive shrill voice of a goblin approaching. The goblin is loudly lamenting his chore of fetching water and is oblivious to the fact that he’s almost walked right up to the campsite! Artemis and Ome instantly take cover, but Arnald rushes the goblin, axe at the ready, and terrifies the creature into utter submission! The goblin, who gives his name as Gurthak, is hard to get useful information out of given his low intelligence and bewilderment at his situation, but Ome is able to extract additional clues about the location of the Bloodfangs. The group decide to pull up stakes in case other goblins use the stream. They head further south, dragging Gurthak with them. A couple of hours’ journey into darkness, they set up another campsite. A debate ensues about what to do with Gurthak: Arnald wants to kill him for the bounty on goblin ears, Artemis says it’s too dangerous to let him go, and Bey says the pathetic creature shouldn’t be murdered in cold blood. Eventually, Ome kills the terrified creature with a point-blank arrow shot and Arnald cuts the ears off Gurthak’s corpse.

[2 Neth 4707]

The group’s journey south continues. While crossing a portion of the forest composed of rocky, forested hills, the group pass by a small cave and unwittingly frighten a giant, furry bat nearly the size of an ox! The creature, a dire bat, screeches and attacks, but Ome’s and Artemis’ archery skills combined with Bey’s bardiche are enough to fell it.

The travellers come upon a stroke of luck a little later in their journey. They crest a small hillock and see that below them is a small clearing to the south that contains a handful of huts and a large bonfire. With small mountains in the distance, the group rightly suspect this could be the location of the Bloodfangs. Artemis climbs a nearby tree to get a better vantage point, and is able to discern a single goblin walking around the near side of the clearing. In the hopes of killing the sentinel silently to pave the way for his allies to approach, the Magnimarian watchman takes careful aim with his bow and releases an arrow, but the goblin is still hundreds of feet away and the shot narrowly misses. The goblin, realizing it is being attacked, rouses the camp!

Arnald charges into battle, while Artemis and Ome stay behind and rely on archery. Bey, alas, has slipped into another mystical trance and provides no assistance. At first, the Bloodfangs are confused about where the attack is coming from and scatter. But they’re clearly more disciplined than the rabble the invaders have encountered before, and soon Arnald is surrounded! The Bloodfangs have teeth stained a frightening shade of red, and, unbeknownst to the attackers, are part of a cult devoted to the demon-goddess Lamashtu. One of the Bloodfangs runs to summon their chief while the others attack. Arnald fights valiantly and is able to kill several of the goblins with his greataxe while Ome and Artemis stay hidden and fire arrows. Even the Bloodfang’s pet wolverine is slain! But suddenly Arnald is paralyzed as Big Chief Wortus, leader of the Bloodfangs, casts a spell and reveals he has approached while invisible!

Ome is close enough for Big Chief Wortus to see and thus draws his attention. The goblin chief used the early seconds of the battle to prepare, and illusory duplicates of himself consistently foil the outsiders’ attacks. Fortunately, Artemis and Ome keep Big Chief Wortus distracted by the hail of arrows long enough for the badly-hurt Arnald to shake off the malevolent enchantment and withdraw. The axeman decides to change his tactics and draws his own composite longbow. With a single pull of the bowstring, he succeeds in doing what his allies couldn’t! Big Chief Wortus dies with Arnald’s arrow protruding from his throat.

With all visible opposition slain, the group enter the Bloodfangs’ campsite. Arnald tries to persuade Ome to magically heal his wounds, but instead the tengu offers to sell Arnald healing potions at the guileful price of 49 gold pieces each or two for 99! The dim-witted mercenary takes the deal. Ome casts a minor divination to discern that Big Chief Wortus carried an enchanted falchion and two magic wands in addition to other valuable, non-magical treasure. Ome and Artemis persuade Arnald, who is still badly hurt, to take the lead in searching the huts one by one. One hut contains a stack of polished human skulls, while another seems to be a crude workshop for the manufacture of dogslicers. A third hut is barred with a wooden door and its outside is covered with layer after layer of tar, blood, and leaves to prevent even the smallest light from penetrating. Arnald cleaves the door in twain with one swing of his greataxe and sees a flash of silver hair in the darkness inside! But good sense overwhelms instinct, and Arnald refrains from attacking immediately. Instead, he hurls his ever-burning torch into the hut and realizes it is not Nualia he has found: but instead, Shalelu, bound and gagged, her hair alchemically dyed silver!

The protectors of Sandpoint have defeated the Bloodfangs and avoided a cunning trap to rescue an ally they hadn’t even realized was in danger. But are they any closer to finding Nualia?

Director's Commentary:
This was the first session of Chapter 2, and the first session back after some weeks off for the winter holidays. The timing of the real-world break coincided nicely with the in-game break advised by the AP after Chapter 1, and I used the optional Downtime system from Ultimate Campaign to reflect this. I also had one solo RP encounter for each PC set during this period to foreshadow some coming events.

Since Bey's player was back after a while away and Xeveg/Nedrin/Eugeni's player was debuting a new PC named Artemis, I again thought it might be a good idea to start the chapter off with a more straightforward one-session adventure to help the group bond before launching into the main storyline in the next session. I also wanted to remind the players about Shalelu (since she otherwise wouldn't appear in this chapter) and tie in Nualia's escape at the end of the previous chapter. I used the "Bloodfang Goblins" encounter from the first hardcover volume of the Pathfinder comic as a basis. The encounter was fun and reasonably challenging without being overly difficult. I was pleasantly surprised the group avoided (what I thought was) Nualia's clever trap of trying to get the PCs to kill Shalelu.

Having a member of the Magnimar City Watch as a PC was fantastic for story purposes and really added some extra dimension to later events in the chapter. I had Justice Ironbriar appear now so that the revelation he was the head of the Skinsaw Cult would have some extra impact, because as the AP is written, he might be a perfect stranger to the PCs. As an unrelated PC note, whenever the recaps describe Bey as "going into her mystery" or "entering a trance or vision", that's code for the player needing to do either babyminding or taking a nap--it's hard to game as the parent of an infant!

I'm still surprised by the bloodthirsty end of poor Gurthak, a goblin I made up on the spot when the random encounter table told me that 1d6 goblins would approach and the die result was a 1. I liked the poor little guy, and I thought his end was rather cold and cruel.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 19 Recap:
[2 Neth 4707 continued]

Everyone gathers around to hear Shalelu’s tale of how she saw strands of silver hair on some tree branches and followed them straight into an ambush! Nualia knew she was being hunted, and, having captured Shalelu, sent a goblin to the Sandpoint authorities to set up a trap. Nualia used an alchemical mixture to dye Shalelu’s hair and hoped to enjoy the exquisite revenge of seeing the elf killed by her own over-zealous allies. Shalelu says she’s been held in the complete darkness of that hut for days now, and that Nualia is probably long gone. Bey, who has come out of her trance, helps tend to her wounds.

Ome decides to investigate a large, artificial cavern at the eastern end of the clearing. The structure was made by covering several fallen trees with dead leaves and furs, and, as the largest area in the clearing, was probably the home of Big Chief Wortus. Ome searches the place carefully and finds a hollow log stuffed with Wortus’ personal treasure trove! Gold, jewelry, a mithral buckler, and a forked crystal rod that proves to be a magic wand are discovered. Ome decides to repeat Arnald’s search of the other huts, and in one finds a polished human skull full of gold and jewellery.

The group escort the badly-beaten Shalelu out of the clearing and back the way they came through Mosswood. A couple of hours’ journey sees them reach the Lost Coast Road, and from there they turn west. Soon they spot a caravan of about twenty wagons headed towards them, with several guards mounted on horseback. Arnald waves two of the guards over and asks them where they’re headed: they explain that they’re taking food to Galduria. Arnald asks them some unusual questions about Galduria, leaving the suspicious guards to return quickly to the caravan. About an hour later, the group see a wagon sitting in the middle of the road. It clearly has a broken axle, and a terrified-looking farmer is standing in the wagon bed scanning the area with a nocked longbow. Beside him is an adolescent girl who appears far less panicked. Ome approaches slowly and tries to calm the man down enough to offer some assistance, but the farmer is so frightened he threatens to shoot if Ome takes one more step! Artemis tries to offer help as well, but is equally rebuffed. The group circle around the wagon and continue on their way, promising to contact Billivar Wheen in Sandpoint to render aid.

The travellers reach Sandpoint in the early afternoon. Noticing that the guards at the northern gates seem agitated, Artemis asks what’s going on. They reply that there were two murders last night! Banny Harker, co-operator of the Sandpoint Lumber Mill, and Katrine Vinder, daughter of General Store owner Ven Vinder, were found dead. After Bey tells the guards about the stranded wagon on the road and Shalelu departs to rest and resupply (determined to strike out on Nualia’s trail again as soon as possible), the group head straight for the mill. When they arrive, they see several members of the Town Watch outside, some searching for clues while others make sure the small crowd of townspeople that has assembled stay back. A breathless Jodar Provolost waves the four travellers in, saying that Sheriff Hemlock mentioned wanting to talk to them.

Sheriff Hemlock is just outside the entrance to the mill, speaking with his deputy, Bosk Hartigan. Hemlock finishes giving Hartigan instructions and then turns to address the group. Hemlock starts by saying that he’s speaking with them because, other than himself, they’re the only people in Sandpoint he’s absolutely sure aren’t responsible for the murders, since they were out of town last night. Hemlock says that early this morning, the bodies of Banny Harker and Katrine Vinder were found by the mill’s other operator, a man named Ibor Thorne. Hemlock says he and his officers are trying to keep the mill locked down to prevent a panic, because if people saw what was inside they’d be horrified and think the Chopper was somehow back. Even more disturbing, Hemlock adds, is that the two bodies inside the mill are the second set of murders in the past few days: three known con men were found murdered in an abandoned barn on the old Bradley farm near Cougar Creek, just a half-mile or so from the old fisherman’s shack that Ome claims as home. Finally, Hemlock says another personal link exists between the murders and the adventurers: a bloodstained scrap of parchment was found pinned to the sleeve of Katrine Vinder by a splinter of wood, and Bey’s name was on it! Hemlock has his lead investigator on the case, Bosk Hartigan, show the group what the parchment says: “You will learn to love me, desire me in time as she did. Give yourself to the Pack and it shall end. Your Lordship.” Hemlock says he has more to share but will have to meet with them at the garrison later as he’s pressed for time. He asks them to take a careful look around the mill to see if they can uncover any clues that his officers have missed, with Artemis to report directly to Hartigan if they do.

Inside the mill is a ghastly scene: the body of Banny Harker has been affixed to the wall with lumber hooks, while mangled lumps of flesh and a decapitated head testify to the grisly fact that Katrine Vinder’s corpse has been through the logsplitter. A handaxe is embedded in the floor nearby, and the whole area carries the lingering scent of decay, a curious fact since the bodies were found just this morning. Artemis begins his investigation with the axe, and sees there are bloody handprints on the handle and bits of rotten flesh on the blade; the experienced guardsman is overcome by the nauseating scent and has to run to the pier outside for fresh air. Bey is able to discern from the amount of blood-spray on the wall near the logsplitter that, distressingly, Katrine Vinder was alive when she passed through it. The seer speculates that the attacker must have felt great rage or great disdain to do such a terrible thing to a young woman. Next, Bey turns her attention to Harker’s body. She sees it’s been mutilated, with the face and lower jaw missing entirely. The body’s bare chest has been defaced as well, carved with the distinctive seven-pointed star that Bey instantly recognizes as a Sihedron rune, a glyph from ancient Thassilon that symbolizes power, magic, and mortal sin. She’s also able to discern that Harker was killed by deep gouges to the abdomen made by claws, and notices that the rotten smell that permeates the room seems even stronger near these wounds.

Meanwhile, while lurking in the corner to allow his more experienced allies to conduct the investigation, Arnald notices an important clue! Bloody footprints in the sawdust head towards the small pier outside the lumber mill. Ome follows Arnald, and together the two discern that the attacker must have clambered onto the pier from the muddy area directly underneath it, scaled the outer wall, and entered the building through a second-floor window. Arnald notices a spot on the opposite bank of the river that would make a perfect vantage point for anyone watching the mill. He and Ome set out to investigate it more closely and find a relatively dry spot that carries the lingering smell of rotten flesh. Curiously, the barefoot human-like footprints reveal tracks leading from and into the river, but never further inland.

The members of the make-shift investigative team assemble to discuss their findings. Bey surmises that Harker was the first victim, and that Katrine was the second, as she interrupted something and caught her attacker by surprise. The hand axe was probably used by Katrine to defend herself, which is why it shows petite handprints on the axe and rotten flesh on the blade. Ome agrees, suggesting that Harker had probably been waiting for Katrine when he was attacked by the murderer. To confirm Ome’s theory, the group scour the lumber mill for further clues and uncover a blanket and a bottle of wine hidden in a toolbox in Harker’s office: further proof of a planned romantic liaison. After reporting their findings to Bosk Hartigan and learning that Katrine had been seen coming to the mill late at night on previous evenings, their theory seems confirmed. Bosk says that Ven Vinder and Ibor Thorne are in custody at the garrison for questioning, and that he can arrange it if anyone in the group wishes to speak with them.

Additional lines of enquiry are made that prove fruitful. A sample of the rotten flesh is taken to Father Zantus and to Sabyl Sorn to see if either can identify its source. Father Zantus is nauseated by a mere whiff and isn’t helpful, but Sabyl Sorn says she’s seen the like before on the bodies of the walking dead! Bey takes a sketch of the Sihedron rune found on Harker’s body and shows it to Brodert Quink, asking whether it can be tied to a specific sin. Quink’s knowledge of ancient Thassilon is unparalleled, and he says that the rotation and placement of the rune indicates it is related to the sin of greed.

The group take their findings to Sheriff Hemlock at the garrison and offer their conclusions that the attacker must have been a “corporeal undead” and that Harker’s death had something to do with greed. Sheriff Hemlock is impressed, and adds that Harker was well-known in town as a penny-pincher. Hemlock carries out his promise to tell the group more information about the first set of murders, which were discovered just two days prior. He explains that a patrol of the Town Watch was making may their way south along the Lost Coast Road when they were assaulted by a deranged man near the old Bradley homestead. The man, whose clothes were caked with blood, was obviously sick and insane: flesh fevered, eyes wild, and moth frothing. Bey gives a gasp because she’s recognized something crucially important, but Hemlock keeps talking. The guards subdued the deranged man, who was later identified as a Varisian thug named Grayst Sevilla, but when they followed his tracks back to the Bradley barn, they discovered the mutilated bodies of three men inside! The bodies of the men bore the same seven-pointed star marking, and from a piece of parchment found in one’s pocket, Sheriff Hemlock concludes that the bodies belong to con men well-known to him: Tarch Mortwell, Lener Hask, and Gedwin Tabe. He adds that the three bodies are in the garrison’s basement if the group think they could learn anything from an examination of them.

Once Hemlock’s explanation is over, Bey adds her surprising insight: Grayst Sevilla is suffering from ghoul fever! A mere description of his symptoms was enough for the oracle to identify the cause, and the fact ties in perfectly with the strong stench of rotten flesh (a well-known attribute of ghouls) found at the crime scene in the mill. Bey says that Sevilla must be treated immediately lest he spread the disease elsewhere. Hemlock says that the man is in the care of Dr. Erin Habe at a sanatorium south of Sandpoint. Hemlock says he’ll write a letter of introduction for the group, and, when asked, says he’ll arrange for the town to pay for the magical scrolls that Bey said could be used to cure the man. Before they leave, Artemis relates the details of the failed mission to capture Nualia and of Shalelu’s rescue.

The investigators walk to the basement of the garrison, where Vachedi shows them the three slabs holding the bodies of the con men. Bey confirms that each has the same Sihedron-marking and claw wounds as Banny Harker. Bey is careful to note that, because the bodies’ faces have been mutilated, there is no absolute confirmation of each victim’s identity. Next, the group manage to get the attention of Vorvashali Voon in his shop (even though it’s now after dusk and closed), and are fortunate to find that he has two magical scrolls containing spells to cure diseases.

Sandpoint is again the target of a serial killer, but this time the clues are being assembled quickly. What will the investigators discover when they question someone who could be the only surviving witness to the murders?

Director's Commentary:
I put a couple of non-combat encounters on the road back from Mosswood. I do this every so often as a role-playing opportunity for the players, to add some verisimilitude to the world, and to keep the players from thinking that every time they see something it must be monsters or an ambush. It can be fun as a GM to see some PCs attach great significance to completely innocuous things, like Arnald being incredibly suspicious about the caravan heading to Galduria.

The return to Sandpoint sees the start of the murder mystery that officially kicks off Chapter 2 in the AP. I thought this was a great part of the adventure path, as it gives the players a chance to do something different than pure combat (CSI!). It definitely ups the stakes when it comes to death and horror (that lumber mill scene is nightmarishly grisly), and I really liked the direct tie to one of the PCs built into it. Mysteries are really hard to do in role-playing games because the GM (or scenario writer, in this case) has to try to plan for all sorts of spells and special abilities the PCs may have, as well as provide contingencies in case important clues are misunderstood or simply overlooked. If anything, there were probably too many clues at the crime scene as it wasn't hard at all for the players to deduce that the murderer was a ghoul, but I didn't mind because they were diligent in collecting information and intelligently talked over its implications. It's always fun to see the players think up stuff that I (and the scenario writers) never would have expected, like taking the bits of rotten flesh to other learned people in town to see if they could identify it.

I loved how naturally the tie-in to the sanatorium worked. I know from past experience running mystery plots that it's very easy for the players to think an important connection to the next stage of the adventure (like the crazed survivor has been put into care) is simply a throwaway line for flavour. I originally thought there was a fair chance they wouldn't make it to the sanatorium at all. They did skip interrogating Ibor Thorne or Ven Vinder, but didn't miss much.

My only disappointment was that the players (and their characters), having just reached the conclusion that the murderer was a ghoul and that ghoul fever was a thing, were expecting a battle in the morgue when they went to look at the bodies of the con men. It was a bit of a let-down when the corpses really were just corpses! I perhaps such have exercised some GM discretion and had one of the bodies suddenly lurch into motion . . .

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 20 Recap:
[2 Neth 4707 continued]

Having obtained scrolls of cure disease from The Feathered Serpent, the group decide to set out for Habe’s Sanatorium immediately. There is but one problem: they don’t know how to get there! Artemis asks around and gets directions, but as night falls the consensus is that it would be better to go in the morning. The hardened warriors go their own way, planning to meet up again in the morning.

Ome makes her way to the Pixie’s Kitten. She notices a frantic giddiness in the brothel, as if everyone was trying to make the most out of a time that would soon end. It’s clear both the staff and the clientele are worried about Titus Scarnetti’s public meeting about closing down the establishment. Ome promises her friend Kaye Tessarani that she’ll help if anything happens, and might even be able to dig up dirt on Scarnetti. Meanwhile, Artemis requisitions an official Sandpoint Town Watch tabard and discusses the investigation with Bosk Hartigan. Bosk says that they’ve let Vin Vinder and Ibor Thorn ago, having learned little of value during questioning. Across town, Arnald books one of the Rusty Dragon’s four “Luxury Suites” so he can sleep in style. Out in the middle of the street, Bey suddenly emerges from her trance-state and realizes her allies just left her there. She too makes her way to the Rusty Dragon, and her decision is a fortuitous one: Das Korvut is there, and tells her he’s been meaning to talk to her for a few days’ now. He thanks her, in his own gruff way, for helping with the Chopper’s Isle matter, and says he’s been working on something over the last few weeks to say thanks. He leads Bey back to his smithy and shows her a bardiche made with exquisite attention to detail and forged from cold steel. He says maybe it’ll help her if there are any more demons like the one the adventurers fought in the catacombs under the city. Bey is grateful for the gift.

[3 Neth 4707]

Overnight, Bey has a dream about turning into a werewolf! When she comes down to the common room for breakfast, she sees Arnald and the two examine several notices nailed to the Help Wanted signpost by the inn’s entrance. They decide to go to the Pixie’s Kitten and are stopped on the way by someone handing out leaflets for the upcoming town meeting on making prostitution illegal in Sandpoint. Meanwhile, at the Pixie’s Kitten, Ome dresses early and notices Sheriff Hemlock slipping out a backdoor to an alleyway behind the building. Ome grins and makes her way out front and sees that Artemis has made the planned rendezvous on time. Once everyone is together again, Bey shows the flier and says she plans to speak up at the meeting, stating that too much order ousts any role in society for serendipity and luck. The others notice Bey’s new bardiche, and ask why she now carries two. Since it’s too far to backtrack to the Rusty Dragon, she persuades Vorvashali Voon, who is just opening up for the day, to hold on to the old one for her until she returns.

The three adventurers and Artemis set off south along the Lost Coast Road. They cross a bridge across a stream flowing south, turn west to follow the road around some low foothills, cross Cougar Creek, and then find themselves upon Ashen Moor and the northernmost farms in the Sandpoint hinterlands. As they’re walking, a projectile is suddenly launched from the direction of a nearby tree! It strikes Ome right in the chest, but, fortunately, it’s just a rotten apple. Ome nocks an arrow and runs towards the tree, shouting for her attacker to come down. A farm kid climbs down, looking abashed and scared, and whistles for her sibling, hidden in another tree, to do the same. Artemis sternly warns the children against a repeat incident, and the kids run back home.

The group’s journey continues as the Lost Coast Road curves southeast to skirt the edges of Brinestump Marsh to the west. Seeing the limestone escarpment known as Ashen Rise pass behind them on the left, Artemis realizes they’ve gone too far. They backtrack and take some farm roads to the northern face of the escarpment. A couple of hours after having left Sandpoint, they reach their destination. There, nestled up against the rock, is The Saintly Haven of Respite, more commonly known as Habe’s Sanatorium.
After climbing up on a creaky wooden veranda and entering a door marked “Reception”, the travellers find themselves in a waiting room. They tug a bellpull and some moments later, Dr. Erin Habe enters the room. Habe, a nervous man who seems to be in a hurry, listens as the travellers explain their reason for coming and present Sheriff Hemlock’s letter of introduction. Habe explains that he’s in the middle of a very delicate procedure at the moment but that he can make time if they come back the next day. Impatiently, Bey lowers her bardiche to emphasize the importance of their visit, sending Habe shrieking out of the room in a fit of panic!

Bey and Arnald, weapons drawn, chase after Habe as he runs through a disused workroom shouting for orderlies. Two tieflings armed with stout cudgels emerge from nearby rooms and stand protectively around Habe while the alienist frantically tries to unlock a door. Meanwhile, Artemis and Ome have stayed behind, annoyed at their allies’ hasty actions. Without hesitation, Arnald swings his greataxe and lodges the blade deep in the abdomen of one of the orderlies! Artemis shoots Arnald in the back in an attempt to prevent what seems like clear-cut murder, and Bey casts a spell to save the life of the downed orderly. While she’s distracted, however, the other orderly advances and lands a hard crack across the back of her head.

Arnald corners Habe and is about to deliver a killing blow, but pleas from his allies convince him to hold up at the last second and strike the man with the flat of the blade instead. Habe drops to his knees and begs for mercy. Ome and Artemis remain aghast at this entire turn of events, but Arnald appears uncannily prescient when another door opens into the workshop and four zombies shamble out! They’re followed closely by an older Varisian man holding a dagger, chanting arcane words of power. “Caizarlu, they’re going to ruin everything!” Habe shouts. Habe draws a hidden dagger and tries to stab Bey.

Two of the zombies shamble towards Ome and Artemis, still in the reception area, while two more join the tieflings in the fight against Bey and Arnald. This leaves Caizarlu unmolested, and he takes advantage by casting spell after spell at the intruders. Arnald shakes off two magical attempts to blind him, but a zombie takes advantage of his distraction and scores a deep wound in the axeman’s back! Bey weaves and dodges to get to a better position and manages to heal Arnald and then manifests an occult ability to burst into flames that somehow do not harm her but that set the zombies ablaze. Arnald, enraged by the zombie attacks, takes his anger out on Dr. Habe: despite the man’s renewed begging and shouts that he only furnished Caizarlu with patients who died naturally, Arnald decapitates him with one mighty swing! On the other side of the room, finding her arrows largely ineffective, Ome shifts tactics. She claws and bites at her attackers, and soon both are defeated.

With the zombies destroyed and the orderlies and Dr. Habe all dead, Caizarlu stands alone. But the old necromancer doesn’t give up. He conjures illusory duplicates of himself to foil attacks and even drains some of the life from Arnald to heal himself! But Arnald and Bey advance in unison, and soon their attacks are enough to wear Caizarlu down. Moments before he can put his escape plan into action, he drops to the floor, bleeding and unconscious.

The visit to Habe’s Sanatorium certainly hasn’t gone as expected! With several corpses and one unconscious necromancer on their hands, what will the group do next? And without Dr. Habe, will they be able to get any information out of Grayst Seviilla?

Director's Commentary:
I hadn’t plan to do anything in particular with the town’s brothel, The Pixie’s Kitten, but since we had an Inquisitor of Calistria as a PC, it seemed natural to tie it in. I was really happy how the subplot turned out, as it also allowed me to incorporate Sandpoint’s conservative elements (in the persona of Titus Scarnetti) into the plot. The storyline develops quite nicely in the next few sessions and had a fairly exciting conclusion.

The whole big battle at Habe’s Sanatorium could have gone very, very differently if the PCs had just waited a day and come back. But Habe’s write-up specifically says that if the PCs make any threatening gestures, he panicks and runs. My players know that if they try to have their PCs throw their weight around on NPCs, there can be consequences, so half of the group was convinced that it was a mistake to chase after Habe. The irony, of course, was that Habe really was into some shady stuff. That still probably didn’t justify him getting beheaded though!

We’ll see a common, though inexplicable pattern with the group: they somehow manage to turn what the AP writers intended as a series of discrete encounters into one massive encounter. It definitely keeps things exciting and dynamic though, and probably speeds up gameplay in the end.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 21 Recap:
[3 Neth 4707 continued]

Having emerged as the victors in the battle at Habe’s Sanatorium, the visitors from Sandpoint quickly take action to secure the scene. Bey stabilizes Caizarlu, and Ome uses manacles to bind the unconscious necromancer’s hands. Ome and Artemis do a quick search of the rooms adjacent to the workroom but find little of interest: the orderlies’ bedrooms, a storage room, a worker’s entrance, and staircases going up and down. While they’re searching, Bey chastises Arnald for his seeming inability to follow direction during battle: “It is as though your ears are stopped with wax!” she tells him.

After Habe’s decapitated body and Caizarlu’s bound form are searched, turning up several potions, wands, and key rings, the intruders decide to look for the object of their visit, Grayst Sevilla, on the upper floors. The second floor contains five cells, two of them occupied by elderly patients—one quite senile, the other blind. The group pauses at the stairs to the third floor, apprehensive about what they’ll find and unsure in what order they should proceed. Eventually, with Arnald in front, they climb up.

Arnald peers through the small barred window in the iron-banded door of the first cell, and is startled to see a hunched creature that looks like a furry human with a rat-like face and a long, naked tail: a wererat! The occupant slyly promises to lead Arnald to great treasure if the mercenary lets him out, but Arnald refuses. The middle cell of the room is empty, so the investigators decide it would be the perfect place to detain Caizarlu. The third and last cell can be seen to hold a strait-jacketed figure with pale, greenish skin, wild hair, and milky white eyes. From the window, Bey can tell the man is sick and quite close to death, but she’s not sure if he’s Grayst Sevilla or not.

The group decide to search the rest of the building before returning to deal with the patient. A look through a nearby examination room shows two operating tables covered in blood and other bodily matter, while a nearby cabinet is full of surgical tools. It’s clear that whatever treatment was provided in this sanatorium involved surgical operations. A search of the cellar proves even more interesting. Three corpses, preserved with the magic of gentle repose, are laying on tables on what Bey is sure is a necromancer’s laboratory. She determines that all three died from failed surgical procedures, and the connection between Caizarlu and Dr. Habe becomes clear. Artemis discovers a wand of gentle repose hidden in a table leg, while Ome examines a map of the Sandpoint Hinterlands on the wall and sees it’s labelled as “Ghoul Activity” with multiple sites circled near the Foxglove River and the southern farms. “But where is the source?” is another inscription. Bey concludes that Caizarlu, although interested in ghouls, could not have been the party responsible for creating them. A search of the old necromancer’s room turns up a thick tome; Bey cautiously determines from a distance that it is magical, and concludes it is a magical book, the prolonged study of which could increase an individual’s mental aptitudes!

Returning to the third floor, the group decide the strait-jacketed prisoner in the third cell must be Grayst Sevilla. Careful plans are made on the best way to get close enough to him for Bey to safely use the remove disease scrolls the group wisely obtained before coming. After unlocking the iron-banded door, Bey cautiously pokes Sevilla with the blunt end of her bardiche, but the man, although conscious, is completely unresponsive. Arnald carefully steps into the room and restrains him. Sevilla doesn’t struggle at all until Bey enters the room and stands next to him. His eyes bulge when he notices her for the first time, and he begins speaking, more and more frantically: “He said. He said you would visit me. His Lordship. The one that unmade me said so. He has a place for you. A precious place. I’m so jealous. He has a message for you. He made me remember it. I hope I haven’t forgotten. The master wouldn’t approve if I forgot. Let me see. . . let . . . me . . . see . . . He said that if you came to his Misgivings, that if you joined his Pack, he would end his harvest in your honour!” Sevilla then starts shaking violently, froths at the mouth, and bursts the seams of his strait-jacket! However, Arnald somehow manages to hold on despite the man’s insanity-fuelled strength, giving Bey enough time to read her scroll. She succeeds in casting the spell, but it has no effect! She tries again with the second scroll, but, again, failure! Deciding that there’s no other option given the risk of Sevilla spreading ghoul-fever, Artemis and Ome kill the man with arrows fired from point-blank range.

Their grim task accomplished, Ome asks Bey about this “Lordship” that keeps trying to send her messages. Artemis says he sounds like a psychotic lover, but Bey replies she has no idea who it could be. Conversation turns to what to do about what the group has identified as a wererat in the first cell. Bey suggests killing it to prevent its curse of lycanthropy from spreading, but Artemis says the fellow could have been an innocent, and his behaviour indicates he may have been institutionalized for years. They decide to let the creature live, for now. After Artemis makes sure the remaining inmates have enough food for the next couple of days, the group leave the sanatorium, taking the still-unconscious Caizarlu with them.

The first couple of miles of journey towards Sandpoint is uneventful. As the group reach the bridge over Cougar Creek, they see a patrol of five members of the Sandpoint Town Watch. Artemis explains what happened at Habe’s Sanatorium and that they have a prisoner. Suddenly, the galloping of hooves can be heard coming towards the two groups from out of the brush to the southeast. A horse, running full tilt and lathered with near-exhaustion, is carrying a rider and is about to collide with those on the bridge! Arnald moves quickly to intervene, literally charging the horse and slamming into it to halt its momentum! The impressive display of strength is followed by the horse’s rider awkwardly dismounting. The man, dressed in overalls and a straw hat, is clearly a farmer, and he’s also clearly quite drunk. One of the watchmen identifies him as Maester Grump. Grump tells a rambling, confusing story about walking scarecrows at the Hambley place, and concludes with a sob: “they even ate the dogs!” After learning from one of the watchmen that the Hambley farm is on the northwestern edge of Whisperwood and connecting the location to those circled on Caizarlu’s map, the adventurers realize that the “walking scarecrows” may in fact be ghouls!

Everyone hurries on to Sandpoint. The adventurers head straight for the garrison and quickly report to Sheriff Hemlock what happened at the sanatorium, concluding that someone will need to be sent to look after the remaining patients. Sheriff Hemlock promises to see to it. When he hears the report of problems at the southern farms, he details four of his men, led by Jodar Provolost, to travel with the adventurers and also says they can make use of the Watch’s horses for greater speed. Sister Arva is fetched from the cathedral for some emergency healing, and then the adventurers and their Watch escorts set off again with little delay.

The eight warriors make good speed south on the Lost Coast Road, but as they get further south they can see several local farmers hurrying north. Rumours are flying about walking scarecrows coming out at night to feed, glimpses in the dark of . . . things, and neighbours visiting nearby farms and finding them completely deserted! Bey ensures that none of the refugees are injured or suffering from ghoul fever, and lets them go on their way. She vocalizes what many in the group suspect: this could be a trap set by “His Lordship”! Passing by Ashen Rise and Brinestump Marsh, the travellers continue south until they cross over Soggy River and find themselves in the heart of the southern farms nestled between the river to their north and Whisperwood to their south. Jodar leads the group on some dusty farm trails through shoulder-high cornfields and other crops until they reach the outer edges of Hambley Farm.

There are several branching trails leading to different parts of the farm, and Jodar’s not exactly sure which to take. Ome puts her tracking skills to good use by deducing that the most heavily travelled paths probably lead to the farmhouse. Heading in that direction, a scarecrow can be seen bound to a wooden post. Ome uses her divinely-granted ability to detect evil, and Bey casts a spell to determine if the thing is alive, dead, or undead! Fortunately, it’s just an ordinary scarecrow stuffed with straw. Just a few minutes later, however, the adventurers turn a bend and see another “scarecrow” moving and trying to pull itself free of its post! Together, Bey and Ome discern that the creature is both undead and evil. Before it can free itself, Ome and Artemis destroy it with arrows. The decision is made to dismount, since the horses are not trained for combat.

Several more minutes’ travel brings the adventurers and town guards to a farmhouse and a barn. Ome is able to sense the presence of six evil creatures within the barn, and one within the farmhouse. Everyone starts talking about what their plan should be, but they make no effort to be quiet and the creatures inside the barn decide to investigate. The barn’s sliding door opens to reveal several walking human corpses with pallid flesh and long, sharp teeth and claws: ghouls! Arnald happens to be near the doorway, and reacts quickly, destroying two of the foul creatures with his greataxe. But after a mere scratch from one of the ghouls, his muscles tense up and stop moving—he’s paralyzed! Bey comes to his aide and drags him a few feet closer to safety, while two members of the Watch rush to take his place. Artemis opens fire from the concealment of a nearly field, while Ome shouts for two guards to come with her so she can clear the farmhouse.

The two guards fighting the ghouls in the doorway to the barn inflict some minor wounds, but they’re no match for the creatures’ uncanny speed with claws and bites. One of the watchmen is paralyzed and then gets his throat ripped out, while the other succumbs to his wounds and collapses, only to be fed upon! Fortunately, Arnald regains control of his body and rushes back into the fray to cleave two more of the ghouls in twain, his efforts bolstered by Bey’s defensive magic and Artemis’ steady volley of arrows. Meanwhile, in the farmhouse, Ome sees the place has been reduced to a shattered wreck of blood and violence. On the kitchen table is the splayed body of a farmer, swarming with flies, with the Sihedron star carved into his chest and a scrap of parchment pinned to his tunic. Ome heads for the area of the house she detected evil in from the outside, and opens a door to the master bedroom. A nauseating stench roils over her as she sees a one-eyed corpse on the bed, wearing a large iron key on a cord around its neck. Ome calls out to the two guards with her that there’s nothing here and they can rejoin the others. But she’s spoken too soon: the eyes of the corpse open, its mouth widens into a malevolent grin, and it sits up in the bed and swivels its face towards her! “His Lordship promised someone would come for me to feast on!” the undead abomination says.

The ghast, a creature akin to but more powerful than an ordinary ghoul, attacks before Ome can escape. Her quick reflexes save her life, however, as the ghast’s claws and bites fail to land. The tengu responds in kind, dropping her bow to bite and claw at the ghast! But her attacks are charged with divine energy baneful to undead, and in moments the creature is destroyed. Outside, another expertly fired arrow from Artemis destroys the last ghoul in the barn.

The adventurers have destroyed several undead at Hambley Farm, but two members of the Town Watch are dead. Could there be more ghouls lurking in the fields or winding dirt tracks of the farm, waiting to spread their contagious evil? And what message has “His Lordship” left this time?

Director's Commentary:
You've got to feel bad for poor Grayst, being put down like a rabid dog. But Bey tried twice with the scrolls and couldn't get the caster level check high enough.

It was very smart to add the detail to Caizarlu's map, "Where is the source?", lest the PCs (quite understandably) assume that the necromancer was responsible for the ghoul outbreak.

It was clever of the PCs to use tracking to find the direct way to the farmhouse when they reached the Hambley holding. Unfortunately for me, the direct way by-passed some really interesting encounters that could have caught unwary PCs.

I liked the little bit of the ghouls in the barn overhearing the PCs talking about what to do and deciding to attack first. Players sometimes forget that monsters have ears too!

Ome going into the farmhouse all by herself could have gone very, very badly, so it was quite a victory that she destroyed the ghast in single combat.

By this point, there's been a lot of little clues pointing to "The Misgivings" as the source of the ghoul outbreaks, but my players hadn't really connected the dots yet.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 22 Recap:
[3 Neth 4707 continued]

Jodar Provolost turns even paler upon seeing Ome literally bite pieces out of the powerful ghast in the Hambley farmhouse in order to destroy it. He mutters something about how repulsive this whole matter is, and stumbles outside to see that that two of his fellow watchmen have died in the battle. Artemis secures the scene, as Bey has again lapsed into her mystery and Arnald has succumbed to a delayed onset of the ghoul’s paralytic touch.

Artemis joins Ome inside the farmhouse to examine the horrifically mutilated body of Crade Hambley. They confirm that the Sihedron star carved into his chest is orientated to place the rune of Greed at its highest point. The scrap of parchment pinned to the man’s tunic is examined; like the others, it is covered in blood and addressed to Bey: “Take the fever into you, my love—it shall be but the first of my gifts to you.” The two discuss the meaning of the note, with Ome suggesting that, by fever, the writer is referencing the supernatural disease “ghoul fever.” Artemis continues examining the corpse and finds a rusted iron key in one pocket.

The search of the farmhouse continues, as the tengu from Sandpoint and the watchman from Magnimar examine the body of the ghast that Ome defeated in single combat. The corpse is wearing dirty and torn servant’s livery and has an iron key on a chain around its neck; the key features a curious heraldic symbol of a flower surrounded by thorns, but neither Ome nor Artemis are able to attribute any meaning to it. A search of the master bedroom uncovers a loose floorboard with a small coffer hidden underneath. The key found in Crade Hambley’s pocket unlocks the coffer to reveal 34 pouches of exactly 100 silver pieces each. Artemis says that the money should be left where it is until the farmer’s next of kin can be notified.

The two conclude their investigation of the farmhouse and turn their attention to the barn. The macabre tangle of bones and partially eaten carcasses of livestock and humans testify it has obviously served as the ghouls’ lair for some days. Artemis sees the bones of children included in the pile, and suggests that the Hambley children have met the worst imaginable end. Apart from an ancient statue that the locals call “the Stone Warrior,” the barn contains nothing else notable.

Artemis and Ome, along with the two surviving members of the Watch escort, decide to return to Sandpoint with their incapacitated friends and the bodies of their two fallen allies. Sticking closely to the winding farm trails that led them here, the group make it back to the Lost Coast Road quickly and have an eventless journey back to Sandpoint. Bey and Arnald are seen safely to their rooms at the Rusty Dragon. Artemis and Ome notice several notes nailed to the inn’s Help Wanted board, including a request for escorts for a trip with Sister Guilia to Mosswood in return for which “spiritual compensation” will be offered, the offer of a reward to help wagonwright Bilivar Wheen recover some lost goods, and a request for escorts to Thistletop posted by Veznutt Parooh.

The functioning members of the team head to the garrison to make their report to Sheriff Hemlock. Hemlock is told that it’s possible the powerful undead in the Hambley farmhouse was the culprit behind the murders, but it’s by no means certain. Upon hearing that more ghouls could lurk in the fields and byways of the southern farms, Sheriff Hemlock says he’ll declare a state of emergency and send more men to sweep the area in the morning. After Artemis leaves, Ome stays for a private word with Sheriff Hemlock about the public meeting scheduled for the next night on whether brothels should be made illegal in Sandpoint. Sheriff Hemlock says he’s found no link between criminal activity and the Pixie’s Kitten and will state this at the meeting. Ome says that the instigator of this meeting, Titus Scarnetti, is the real problem. She delicately hints that if there were any skeletons in Scarnetti’s closet, it could be used to change his mind. Sheriff Hemlock shuts down the idea, but says that anything Ome can do lawfully to change public opinion at tomorrow’s meeting would be appreciated. Afterwards, Artemis tells Ome he’ll attend the meeting but that he’s not much for speech-making.

The two retire for the night, with the town watchman heading for his bunk in the garrison’s barracks and the tengu adventurer heading for the Pixie’s Kitten. Inside the latter, Ome sees that the brothel is busier than she’s ever seen it before, as many in Sandpoint anticipate it could be the final night of its existence. Ome finds Kaye in her private chamber, practicing a speech in front of a mirror. Ome uses her natural instincts for persuasion to help Kaye refine her words. Afterwards, the brothel owner explains why tomorrow’s meeting could go either way. The four representatives of the founding families each have a vote, with the mayor possessing the tie-breaker. Kaye says that, obviously, Titus Scarnetti will vote to close the brothel, but that she knows her friend Ameiko, who’s recently succeeded her slain father on the council, will vote to keep it open. Mayor Deverin has been supportive in the past, but could be swayed if public opinion leans strongly one way or the other. The wildcard is the vote from the Valdemar family. Ethram Valdemar is an old man who is quite sick, and misses as many meetings as he attends; if he doesn’t attend, his eldest son Belvan will take his place.

[4 Neth 4707]

In the morning, Ome finds Artemis and says that she’s determined to help her friends at the Pixie’s Kitten. The two decide that perhaps they could secure Mayor Deverin’s vote, so they head south towards Deverin Manor. As they cross the southern footbridge across the Turandarok, the two are stunned to see an enormous fish, over fifteen feet long, with bony scales and toothy jaws congregating in the river below! Fortunately, Ome and Artemis are both able to react quickly and run back several yards onto the northern shore before the fish, known as giant gars, are able to turn them into a one-bite snack. The two climb to the rooftops of nearby buildings and start firing arrows at the giant gars, but the angle and water makes their attacks largely ineffective. The drama of the situation escalates seconds later when a rider on horseback (town tanner Larz Rovanky) approaches the bridge from the south. Ome shouts and waves to get Larz’ attention, and succeeds in persuading the skeptical man that danger really does exist in the river. Larz turns back, and after some minutes the giant predator fish swim downstream in search of prey elsewhere.

Ome and Artemis continue their original plan and soon reach Deverin Manor. The butler is not predisposed toward admitting the tengu, but the presence of a uniformed member of the town watch is enough to gain them both entry. The two are led to a dining room where Kendra Deverin is having a late breakfast prior to her planned departure to her office at the town hall. She welcomes the two to sit down, stating that she doesn’t usually receive visitors on public business at her home, but that the combination of a tengu and a member of the Watch was too intriguing to turn down. Ome explains the purpose of their visit, and says that there’s no absolutely no evidence that the existence of a brothel in Sandpoint has any connection whatsoever to any of the terrible things that have befallen the town of late. Deverin agrees, but tells Ome that reason and logic are unlikely to persuade someone like Titus Scarnetti: questions of “sin” and “the punishment of the gods” are not capable of being proven or disproven through evidence. When asked which way she’ll vote at the meeting, Deverin says that it’s a matter of public record that she’s supported legalized prostitution in Sandpoint in the past. However, she says that it would be improper for her to announce which way she’ll be voting tonight until she’s had a chance to hear everyone out. She thanks the two for their interest in civic affairs and sincerely welcomes them to continue participating in Sandpoint public life.

After asking some questions around town to gauge public opinion, Artemis and Ome conclude that they need to find someone really popular to speak out on the Pixie’s Kitten’s behalf. They decide that Cyrdak Drokkus could be just the man, and walk to the Sandpoint Theatre. Inside, they see him frenetically directing rehearsals for a new production in which Sandpoint’s “Local Heroes” (actors in the roles of Bey Lin, Xeveg Kishalq, Oliver Turn, and Felix Bloodrider) battle a papier-mache Sandpoint Devil. The fact that three of the four real-life inspirations for the “Local Heroes” are now dead seems not to have deterred their characters’ popularity (or Cyrdak’s enthusiasm for a sure crowd-pleaser) in the slightest. Ome has difficulty getting Cyrdak’s attention until she jumps on stage and delivers a line of dialogue in a far better manner than the actor hired to play “Felix Bloodrider” did. Cyrdak immediately tells everyone to “take five” while he takes Ome backstage to try to convince her to join his production. She adroitly moves the topic of conversation to tonight’s public meeting, and asks Cyrdak if he plans to speak. The virtuoso performer says there’s no one in Sandpoint he hates more the moralistic Titus Scarnetti, but that he’s not sure if he might do more harm than good. Ome persuades Cyrdak that he could really make a difference for Sandpoint and get revenge on Scarnetti at the same time, and sweetens the deal by saying she’ll owe him a favour. Cyrdak is convinced, and announces that he’s going to bring his partner, Sir Jasper Korvaski, and anyone who doesn’t like it can be damned!

With the time left before the meeting waning, Artemis and Ome split up to make their final preparations. Artemis dresses in civilian clothing so it’s clear he’s attending the meeting in his personal capacity. He talks with Bosk Hartigan about the investigation into the murders at the mill and the old Bradley farm, and tells the man that the cases shouldn’t be considered closed until more decisive evidence is found. Ome goes to the Pixie’s Kitten. She sees that the brothel will be closed tonight so that the entire staff (barring one cleaner) can attend the public meeting en masse.

The town hall is packed! With the representatives of the four founding families sitting behind a semi-circular table at the rear of the hall and a podium in front for a speaker, Mayor Deverin begins the meeting and asks for comments from the public. Several people instantly raise their hand, and Mayor Deverin starts calling on them one by one.

Gorvi, the town’s half-orc rubbish collector, states in crude terms how much he likes visiting the Pixie’s Kitten. His words turn several people against the brothel, contrary to his intention.

Cyrdak gives an impassioned and effective speech about the need for individuality and self-expression, and how “moral know-it-alls” shouldn’t use their authority to suppress anything they don’t like. He ends his presentation by calling on his semi-secret partner, Sir Jasper Korvaski, to stand up so that their relationship can be publicly acknowledged. Cyrdak’s words are effective in swaying the crowd.

Jubrayl Vhiski, a lanky Varisian known to frequent the Fatman’s Feedbag, speaks up in opposition to the Pixie’s Kitten. Jubrayl says that everyone knows that brothels and crime go hand in hand, and that Sandpoint would be a safer place to live if it were closed down. Some heads in the crowd nod in agreement.

Sister Giulia gives a rambling, almost incoherent talk that leaves most listeners confused.

Hannah Velerin, the town healer, gives an effective, matter-of-fact statement that the management of the Pixie’s Kitten is responsible, and makes sure all of its men and women in the sex trade are healthy and treated respectfully by their clients. She says that brothels like the Pixie’s Kitten should be encouraged to exist rather than risk a much more dangerous black market sex trade flourishing in the shadows.

Sheriff Hemlock states that no link between the Pixie’s Kitten and any criminal activity has been found to exist, but his speech is undermined by the perfect timing of Jubrayl Vhiski’s mocking shout that he’s just saying that because he’s in love with Kaye Tesarani.

During a short break in the proceedings, Ome sidles up next to Jubrayl and tries to subtly intimidate him into keeping quiet. He just winks at her and slips away. Artemis uses the time to try to influence small groups of people, but as a perfect stranger to most of them, his efforts come to nought. When the meeting resumes, Ome stands up to talk. She says that she’s met men like Titus Scarnetti before, and that they live to dominate others. “It won’t stop with the Pixie’s Kitten,” Ome says. “Next will be the theatre, and the taverns, and it will go on and on until everything good in Sandpoint is banned.” Ome’s speech is extremely well-received and receives applause from large swathes of the audience.

But, following, directly on its heels, Titus Scarnetti takes the podium. Pounding his fist for emphasis and pointing his fingers at “the culprits”, he condemns the Pixie’s Kitten for allowing sin to enter and infect Sandpoint. Scarnetti links the opening of the brothel with the events of the Late Unpleasantness, and says that although the gods offered Sandpoint a brief reprieve to oust the malignancy within their midst, the townsfolk refused to do so and now the gods continue to punish their sin through goblin raids, murders, and other evils. The only way to set Sandpoint on the path of righteousness and recover the blessing of the gods, Scarnetti says, is to start by banning immoral activities like prostitution. Scarnetti’s speech is moderately effective, especially considering that Father Zantus isn’t in attendance to confirm or deny his points.

After Ameiko gives a brief talk about her personal friendship with Kaye Tesarani and her confidence that Sandpoint could have no kinder or more caring person in charge of the Pixie’s Kitten, Mayor Deverin says there’s time for only a few last comments. Ome manages to persuade a reluctant Artemis to come up to the podium with her. Ome continues the theme that Sheriff Hemlock was developing about how there is no proof of any link between the existence of a brothel in Sandpoint and any misfortunes that have been visited upon the town. She introduces Artemis, and the inexperienced public speaker gives an impressive showing! His arguments that, having lived in a large city like Magnimar, he knows that public, regulated brothels actually decrease crime and that many of the gods condone sex work is quite persuasive to those in attendance.

The members of the Town Council recess briefly, and then return. Mayor Deverin announces their decision: the brothel will be allowed to stay open. The staff of the Pixie’s Kitten are jubilant. Titus Scarnetti shoots looks of disgust at Artemis and Ome as the meeting is called to an end and people start to stand up and get ready to go home. Before they can, however, the doors of the meeting hall are thrown open by a sweat-soaked Bimmy Beems: “the town is like, on fire or something!”

Everyone rushes out of the town hall and towards the smoke and orange glow coming from the southeast. Soon the source of the flame becomes all too clear: the Pixie’s Kitten is burning! The townspeople start a bucket-line, and the fire hasn’t progressed too far; there still might be a chance to save the building! Ome starts conjuring water to help, but then she and Artemis hear a dreadful sound: screaming from inside the building. The two prove their heroism by dashing into the burning building as waves of heat and smoke-filled corridors dog them at every turn. Their excellent hearing helps them locate the source of the screaming, and when they get to a storage room on the second floor, they see the Pixie’s Kitten’s cleaner shouting for help. Ome picks the woman up, but as they turn back to go the way they’ve come, they realize the stairwell is in flames! Artemis opens a window so that Ome can jump out with the cleaner in her arms—and, thanks to a magical ring of feather falling, both touch down unharmed. Artemis ducks through the window and tries to climb down to the street, but slips and hits the ground hard. He lives, but will have serious bruises in the morning! Once the cleaner is safely out of harm’s way, the two heroes help the other residents of the town fight the fire and, fortunately, they’re able to get it under control. The Pixie’s Kitten won’t be habitable for a couple of weeks, but it’s not a total loss either.

Sheriff Hemlock tells Artemis that there’s no way the timing of the fire, when most of the town’s residents were in city hall, could have been an accident. He designates Artemis and Bosk Hartigan to find the arsonist. Meanwhile, Ome talks to the brothel’s staff—about twenty of them are now homeless. The tengu says she can house six of them at her shack south of town. With Artemis’ help, she finds temporary housing for the others at a combination of the cathedral, the theatre, and the Rusty Dragon.

It’s well past midnight as the exhausted heroes finally make it to their own beds.

[5 Neth 4707]

The autumn morning sees a constant drizzle descend over Sandpoint. Artemis and Ome decide to work together to figure out who was behind the attempt to burn down the Pixie’s Kitten. Their first visit is to the records room at town hall to see if attendance sheets were kept on when people arrived and left last night’s meeting; the line of inquiry fails, however, as a clerk says that people are allowed to come and go freely as long as they don’t create a distraction. A visit to the scene of the crime is far more rewarding: somehow, with a combination of incredible tengu eyesight and the investigative skills of a law enforcement professional, the two discern wet footprints made with lamp oil heading west. Despite the rain, Ome is able to follow them across the street to where they end at the backdoor of the Fatman’s Feedbag, Sandpoint’s most notorious tavern! Having prepared for his secondment to Sandpoint, Artemis knows that the Fatman’s Feedbag is a real dive and the site of several fistfights that have to be broken up by the town watch on a regular basis. Even worse, it’s reputed to be the informal meeting place of the town’s criminal element, including the loosely organized gang of Varisian highwaymen and thieves known as the Sczarni.

The tavern is closed in the morning, and, resisting Ome’s veiled suggestion of doing some breaking and entering, Artemis suggest they gather more clues and return when it’s open. Artemis examines the burn pattern at the Pixie’s Kitten and concludes that the job was done hastily and by an amateur: someone splashed a few flasks of lamp oil around the outer walls and lit them with a brand or torch. Had the job been done by a professional, the brothel would have been a lost cause before the volunteers could arrive to put out the blaze. The two investigators, one official and one unofficial, set out to discover if anyone purchased a large quantity of lamp oil recently. A visit to the Sandpoint Mercantile League shows major imports by the league itself, Deverin Manor, and the town’s general store. Following the lead, the two investigators walk to Ven Vinder’s establishment. Two signs are posted on the door: “No adventurers!” and “Closed tomorrow for funeral.” Ome wisely decides to wait outside while Artemis enters. Ven is obviously in a state of deep mourning and despair, but complies with the watchman’s request to learn who has been in to purchase lamp oil in recent days. The answer consists of only three individuals, and one of them is Gressel Tenniwar, owner of the Fatman's Feedbag!

At lunchtime, when the tavern is opened, Ome enters while Artemis waits outside, knowing his membership in the Town Watch would simply cause everyone inside to clam up. The Fatman’s Feedbag features sticky tables, sawdust-covered floors, and a bar gouged by years of knife- and broken bottle- fights. Gressel Tenniwar, an enormous man with muttonchops, stands behind the bar filling drinks. But Ome is savvy enough to know that the real power in the Feedbag is sitting at a table in the corner surrounded by his flunkies: Jubrayl Vhisky! Ome’s reputation as someone known to lurk occasionally in the seamier side of Sandpoint life is enough to gain her a private audience with the man. The two have a conversation filled with insinuation and innuendo, as Ome subtly hints that Jubrayl was involved in the recent arson. Jubrayl is too experienced to speak about such things with a virtual stranger, but he does make it clear that as the Pixie’s Kitten has an effectively monopoly on the sex trade in Sandpoint, “competition” could be “extremely lucrative” for a “businessman” like himself. He says that if Ome can persuade Kaye to take her operation elsewhere, he’d compensate the Tengu with a “finder’s fee.” Ome leaves, having learned much even if unable to prove any of it.

Titus Scarnetti’s efforts to impose his singular moralism on Sandpoint has been dealt a severe setback. Yet, the Pixie’s Kitten is closed. Who’s responsible for the arson? And has the true culprit behind the serial Sihedron-related murderers really been dealt with?

Director's Commentary:
Director's Commentary (August 2, 2017)

This is probably the longest recap in the campaign, because there was a ton of role-playing and plot development and very little combat. Two of the players (who ran Bey and Arnald) weren't available for the session, so I only had two players to work with--one forgets how much more quickly stories can advance when there are fewer people at the table! Still, this session did get me thinking seriously about adding a fifth player so that a couple of people could be absent and wouldn't necessarily imperil the whole AP.

The entire storyline with the Pixie's Kitten was something I made up myself, drawing upon Ome's relationship with Kaye Tessarani and the presence of a moralistic prat like Titus Scarnetti. It was also a great way to incorporate Jubrayl Vhiski into the campaign. The public hearing was run as a skills challenge, and I was really happy with how it turned out--the fact that most of the NPCs had already been established in the campaign meant that I had a good idea how to run them and give them different voices. The players did fantastic RP, so a scene that could have fallen flat (a town meeting!) was actually pretty exciting.

The encounter with the giant gars was my use of plot twist card; everyone gets one card per chapter, including the GM! In retrospect, that encounter was far too deadly for just two PCs, even if it was one the random encounters table for the AP. I was lucky not to have some PC deaths on my hands.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 23 Recap:
[5 Neth 4707 continued]

The rainclouds over Sandpoint have not abated when Bey finally emerges from her mystery, finding herself in her room at the Rusty Dragon, Sandpoint’s most popular inn and tavern. She remembers undergoing an intense apocalyptic vision of dozens, even hundreds of ghouls swarming over the town, all of them linked to, or even directed by, some malevolent intelligence housed in a decaying mansion of unspeakable evil somewhere high up on cliffs overlooking the ocean below. Bey hurries to the common room of the inn to find her allies and share with them her vision. The common room is packed with townsfolk bored by the inclement weather, and swelled beyond normal by dozens of farmers from the southern hinterlands who have fled to Sandpoint. Bey sees Arnald there, eating lunch and massaging his joints and muscles which are still sore from the paralysis which has finally worn off. The two don’t know where Ome and Artemis are, and Bey decides to trust in her patron deity Desna by embracing pure luck: she and Arnald start randomly knocking on doors all over Sandpoint!

Meanwhile, emerging from a far more disreputable tavern named the Fatman’s Feedbag, Ome talks to Artemis and summarizes his encounter with Jubrayl Vhiski. The tengu says Jubrayl is almost certainly implicated in the arson somehow, but that she wasn’t able to glean any hard evidence. The two decide to walk over to the Sandpoint Garrison, home of the Town Watch. When they arrive, they see a distressing sight: the small force that Sheriff Hemlock sent to the southern farmlands to sweep up any ghoul stragglers after the adventurers cleared the Hambley farm has returned, and its members are in poor shape. Many of the soldiers are wounded, and two are incapacitated, though alive. Ome and Artemis ask the group’s leader, Jodar Provolost, what happened. Jodar, who is far from his usual jolly self, explains that at first things went well: the expedition force found a ghoul here or there, often disguised as a scarecrow, and dealt with it, destroying a total of five. The fact that Sheriff Hemlock persuaded experienced former adventurers like Ilsoari Gandethus and Deverin Hosk to accompany the group was a real asset, Jodar explains. But then, he continues, the ghouls started appearing in bunches of twos and threes and the Sandpoint contingent risked being overwhelmed! They managed to withdraw with no fatalities, Jodar concludes, but it was a near thing. He says he plans to report to Sheriff Hemlock and suggest declaring that portion of the Lost Coast Road off-limit to travellers until the problem can be dealt with.

Artemis and Ome decide there’s one person who might just be able to help them understand why this ghoul infestation is growing: Caizarlu Zerren, the necromancer they subdued at Habe’s Sanatorium! The town jailer, a bald Shoanti named Vachedi, shrugs when the pair ask to interrogate his prisoner. Caizarlu is hostile and uncooperative at first, until Artemis promises to slip the old wizard’s spell component pouch through the bars if he talks. Caizarlu says he started noting the ghoul outbreaks in recent weeks and that he believes they originally started from a single location near the coast. Caizarlu says he’s willing to tell more once Artemis fulfils his end of the bargain, but the guardsman on detachment from Magnimar has tricked him! Artemis slips the *empty* spell component pouch through the bars, leading Caizarlu to fly into a rage. Vachedi happily unlocks the cell and subdues the prisoner with his cudgel.

Over near the Rusty Dragon, Bey’s decision to knock on random doors bears fruit, but not in the way she expected. She finds herself drenched from the rain and turned away from house after house, often with angry muttering, as she asks about her friends and shares the “news” about an impending apocalypse. When she comes across a tall woman wearing a mithral breastplate, carrying a greatsword, and bearing the distinctive facial tattoos of a Shoanti, Bey gets a glimmer of inspiration. She asks the stranger if she knows Ome and Artemis, and, indeed, the stranger does! The stout warrior, whose name is Briza, has spent recent months working as a bouncer at the Pixie’s Kitten and made Ome’s acquaintance through the tengu’s frequent visits there to sing or speak to the brothel’s owner, Kaye Tesarani. Briza admits she’s at her wit’s end as to what to do now, since the Pixie’s Kitten will be closed for a couple of weeks due to last night’s fire. When Bey invites her to come along to “stem the tide of apocalypse,” the Shoanti woman shrugs and agrees. They meet up with Arnald and after some more time spent talking to townspeople, they finally hear word that Ome and Artemis were spotted near the Garrison.

The adventurers are reunited in the rain-swept courtyard of the Garrison and Bey introduces Briza to Artemis. The sanguine seer shares with Ome and Artemis her vision of the foreboding mansion which she believes could be the source of the ghoul attacks, and the decision is made to see if anyone in Sandpoint recognizes the place from Bey’s description. As Sheriff Hemlock is quite busy with planning how to contain the ghouls, which now threaten to spill over to the northern farmlands, the group turn to Bosk Hartigan, the oldest member of the Town Watch who has served since Sandpoint’s founding over forty years ago. From Bey’s nightmarish account, Bosk says the place sounds a little like The Misgivings—the nickname given to the long-abandoned Foxglove Manor several miles southwest of Sandpoint. Bosk just shakes his head when asked for more information, saying the place is well-known to be haunted, and that even vandals and squatters know enough to stay away.

Artemis, who did a lot of research on the area around Sandpoint prior to his secondment there, says he remembers a little about Foxglove Manor. He says the building is over eighty years old, and confirms it certainly has a bad reputation: sightings of strange lights in the attic windows, muffled sounds of screaming from above and below, and even rumours of a huge, bat-winged devil living in the caves are just some of the stories passed around campfires by superstitious travellers who see “The Misgivings” from a distance. Artemis says that the house has been lived in only sporadically by members of the Foxglove family, with the most recent time about two decades ago when Traver Foxglove, his wife Cyralie, and their children Aldern, Sendeli, and Zeeva moved in for a few years. But after Cyralie was found dead, burnt and dashed on the rocks below the cliffs behind the house, Traver committed suicide and the children were sent away to be raised in Korvosa by distant relations.

Discussion turns to whether anyone else in Sandpoint might have more information, and the answer comes quickly: Ilsoari Gandethus, local historian, former adventurer, and Headmaster of Turandarok Academy. The group’s entry to this orphanage and school for local children is, at first, blocked by Head Mother Dorienne Vilch, a prim woman with grey hair wrapped into a tight bun. However, Ome has a way with words and manages to persuade her of the importance of the group’s visit by mentioning ghouls. Eventually, the group is led inside, past children playing, and into Ilsoari Gandethus’ study. Ilsoari, a stern-looking man in his mid-60s, welcomes the group in but quickly loses interest when he learns they’re not here about his planned expedition to track down the Sandpoint Devil. Still, he’s reluctantly persuaded to talk about The Misgivings and it turns out he knows an awful lot. He confirms most of what Artemis said, but explains that Foxglove Manor was actually lived in much more recently: about a year ago, Aldern Foxglove, newly returned to the Lost Coast from his time abroad, set about refurbishing the manor. Aldern had an extremely difficult time finding locals to work on the old building given its reputation. As work was slow and intermittent, Aldern had the place looked after by Rogors Craesby, a retired innkeeper. Once enough of the major rooms were inhabitable, Aldern moved in with his new Varisian bride.

Ilsoari shuffles through some old papers in a cabinet and says that Foxglove Manor was originally built in the year 4624 by Vorel Foxglove, a merchant prince from Magnimar. Vorel and his family lived in the place for about twenty years until the entire family perished from disease. The place was then deserted and shunned for almost forty years until Traver and Cyralie moved in. Ilsoari concludes by saying he’s heard rumors the Foxgloves were associated with a “semi-secret” society (really a gentlemen’s club) in Magnimar called the Brothers of the Seven. When asked about caverns under the manor, he says ancient Varisian legend (whose details are lost to history) say that the land may have been consecrated to a dark god or demon lord. Having finished his task, Ilsoari is anxious to get back to his plans for the Sandpoint Devil. He shares with Arnald his intention to set forth on an expedition to the Devil’s Platter and confirm the existence of the legendary creature once and for all.

The adventurers decide that the key to preventing Bey’s vision of ghouls overrunning Sandpoint is to set out towards Foxglove Manor that very night with plans to stop and rest at Habe’s Sanatorium. They spend the afternoon buying supplies for the trip and selling items both magical and mundane acquired from earlier adventures. The sun is starting to set behind grey rain clouds as the defenders of Sandpoint set out on foot south. The first few miles of their journey along the Lost Coast Road is uneventful, though they notice several travellers racing to get within the safety of the town by nightfall, while local farmers have almost barricaded themselves in their homes.

As the group leave the wide road and start to follow a narrow, winding trail between farms, over hills, and through patches of wild forest, they come to a place where a narrow stream is bridged by a wide log. Just as they’re about to cross, their vigilance against attack fails: ghouls emerge from the cover of twilight all around them! Caught flat-footed, the adventurers are sorely pressed by the first wave of attacks. Artemis is paralyzed by sharp claws and starts getting dragged into nearby bushes! Ome tries to fight back but is knocked unconscious in the fighting; fortunately, her giant wasp emerges from her backpack and hovers protectively over her. Just as the battle seems like it might be lost, however, the tide suddenly turns! Artemis receives the luckiest stroke of luck in his life, as a tentacled creature from the stream grabs the ghoul that was about to feast on him. Bey calls upon her divine gifts and bursts into flame to burn the ghouls surrounding her, while Briza and Arnald set to work with their greatsword and greataxe, respectively. Buoyed by the two professional warriors, the adventurers survive the harrowing encounter and the ghouls are destroyed.

Jodar Provolost’s report that there’s far more than occasional ghoul stragglers to deal with has been confirmed. Will the adventurers be able to survive the journey to Foxglove Manor? And if they do, what fresh horror will they find there?

Director's Commentary:
Bey, an oracle with the apocalypse mystery, had a trait that gave her a prophetic dream each night. I went all out this session with a description of a foreboding mansion. I intended my description to be quite figurative and more about setting up a mood of impending danger, but the PCs took the description quite literally and cleverly used it to figure out where to go next!

Speaking of apocalypse, I did increase the urgency of the PCs' mission by accelerating how quickly the ghouls spread through the farms. The AP left a lot of it to GM discretion, so I chose what sounded like the most exciting way of portraying the story.

Briza! The group expanded to five players this session, with the new PC taking the role of a Shoanti barbarian. Briza was a really fun, good-natured character who, in many ways, was the compassionate heart of an otherwise cynical group. She and Arnald made a great team as tough martial characters who could stand toe-to-toe with a lot of threats and buy time for their squishier allies in the back ranks to cast spells, etc.

Artemis came *very* close to meeting an untimely end in this session. Fortunately, Bey's player used her once per chapter plot twist card, which was "Tentacles". It was a fun and clever way to save a PC, and I don't begrudge it at all.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 24 Recap:
[5 Neth 4707 continued]
Having successfully fought off an ambush by several ghouls just as dusk falls, the adventurers pause to allow Bey’s healing magicks to take effect. From the light cast by Arnald’s and Briza’s everburning torches, the group continues on in the darkness towards Habe’s Sanatorium. The farm trail they follow branches off at points, leading them to get lost for about an hour, but soon they find their way again. Walking at night in a circle of light makes the group visible from some distance, however, and thus they become a beacon for anything lurking in the darkness. The first hint that the group is being followed comes when Ome, Artemis, and Briza hear something rustling in the cornfields around them. Artemis’ keen eyesight makes out a trio of figures spread out to surround the group. Ghouls, obviously hunters in their mortal lives, have been stalking the group and have crossbows at the ready!

Artemis whispers for Ome to follow him, and the two duck into the cornfield to sneak up on one of the accursed foes. The darkness, rain, and cornstalks blowing in the wind help conceal their presence. The ghouls realize they’ve been detected, however, and open fire on those still on the trail, bathed in light. Briza is grazed by a crossbow bolt in the first volley, and seconds later Arnald is struck. Fortunately, neither are seriously hurt. As the projectiles continue to rain down on Bey, Briza, and Arnald, they catch sight of one of their attackers and decide to charge in unison. Arnald lands a powerful blow with his greataxe, and he and his allies destroy the ghoul crossbowman easily.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the trail, Artemis’ and Ome’s stratagem appears to work at first. They emerge silently from the darkness on either side of the unwitting ghoul. Artemis buries his pick deep into the ghoul’s back, while Ome shreds the unliving creature’s belly with her claws! But the ghoul somehow withstands the surprise attacks and unleashes its own savagery. In seconds, both Artemis and Ome find themselves fixed in place, unable to move as their muscles are paralyzed by the supernatural touch of the ghoul! Ome’s giant wasp familiar emerges to protect its master, but is torn asunder by the ghoul who now has two victims at its complete mercy.

Arnald, Bey, and Briza begin to move south in search of the ghoul they know is still unaccounted for. It leaps out at Briza from the darkness, but she gets her sword up in time and its claws break against her blade. Bey employs her bardiche skilfully, and the creature is destroyed. Alas, their victory is a pyrrhic one in light of what happens next.

Artemis regains control of his body and manages throw off the ghoul that had been feasting on his flesh. Ome, however, is not so lucky. With one squeeze of its powerful claws, it crushes the tengu’s throat! Arnald arrives seconds later and cuts the cruel abomination in twain, but the damage has already been done: Ome is dead.

Briza bursts into tears to see her friend from the Pixie’s Kitten slain in such a heartless manner, while Bey utters several prayers to Desna. The decision is quickly made that, if at all possible, Ome will be brought back to life through powerful divine magicks. But first, the survivors have to make it through the night. Arnald picks up Ome’s lifeless corpse and Briza carries that of the valiant giant wasp, and the party turns back in the direction of Sandpoint. After about twenty minutes’ walk, Bey spots a farmhouse and the group decide to take shelter there.

Bey scouts ahead and sneaks up to a window. She can see the farmhouse is locked up tight, but she hears voices within and can tell it’s a family cleaning up after supper. She knocks, and Desna’s grace shines: when a curtain is pulled back ever so slightly, Bey is recognized by the family as one of Sandpoint’s famous local heroes! Bey and her new allies are allowed to enter the farmhouse and stay for the night, though they’re forced to leave Ome’s corpse outside for fear it will turn into a ghoul. And, despite their best efforts, Bey and Briza are unable to convince the family that they should seek refuge in Sandpoint as it’s no longer safe to dwell in their home. After being fed a hearty meal, the mournful adventurers plan watches and then bed down for the night.

[6 Neth 4707]

Having said their farewells to the good samaritans who took them in, the adventurers head for Sandpoint. The way back is much less foreboding in the morning sunlight, and they reach the town without incident.

The evils that have plagued Sandpoint in recent months have claimed another life, convincing those bound for Foxglove Manor to turn back, leaving many questions unanswered. Can Ome be brought back to life? Is her spirit willing? And, perhaps most importantly, have the horrific spate of serial murders and marauding ghouls been brought to an end or will the delay only make things worse?

Director's Commentary:

The PCs had fought a lot of ordinary ghouls lately, so I thought it might be fun to switch things up just a little. I took advantage of the fantastic Monster Codex, which has several stat-blocks for different types of ghouls, and used the "Ghoul Huntsman" to create a scary encounter of the PCs being stalked through cornfields at night. I really hate running ghouls though, as it's so easy for for a battle that the PCs are winning to suddenly turn tragic with some paralysis and a coup de grace, and that's what happened to Ome. Losing the character hit the player hard, but fortunately he rallied and created a very cool new PC we'll meet next session.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 25 Recap:
[6 Neth 4707 continued]

Having returned from the hinterlands with the body of their fallen friend, the adventurers head straight to the Sandpoint Cathedral. The brand new building of glass and stone has been turned into a makeshift hospital for the wounded and diseased victims of the ghoul menace that is spreading through the southern farmlands. Father Zantus and his acolytes look tired and haggard, and when he’s asked about restoring Ome to life, he says it simply can’t be done. He says he just managed to replace the scroll destroyed the last time he tried to help the adventurers, and he has to save the new one for a true emergency. Artemis mentions he’s been feeling ill since fighting the ghouls, and Father Zantus confirms he’s in the early stages of ghoul fever. The cleric of Desna tells the group that the Cathedral has expended its supply of magicks to remove disease at present, but that he sent one of his acolytes, Sister Erica, to Habe’s Sanatorium a couple of days prior when Sheriff Hemlock informed him that Dr. Habe was dead and that someone was needed to look after the patients still detained there. Sister Erica was given two such scrolls in case any of the patients contracted the disease, and she took with her a friend interested in herbalism and alchemy. He asks the adventurers if they’d be willing to check on Sister Erica, given the events of the past days and the isolated location of the sanatorium, and says that if she still has one of the scrolls left, they’d be welcome to it. They agree to head to the sanatorium once their other business in Sandpoint is concluded.

The adventurers discuss what to do with Ome’s body. Bey suggests the group strip the corpse of all possessions and divide the items amongst the survivors, withholding a small amount to donate to Kaye Tessarani for the rebuilding of the Pixie’s Kitten. The others agree and Ome’s body is taken to the morgue below the Sandpoint Garrison. All of the stone slabs are occupied by covered bodies, so the group find a dusty, out-of-the-way corner to go about their task. Item by item, Ome’s wordly goods are divided among the adventurers. Afterwards, (leaving the body where it lay), the group sell some of Ome’s possessions that nobody wanted. A portion of the resulting wealth is delivered to the Rusty Dragon and entrusted with Ameiko to make sure Kaye gets it. After Artemis prepares some correspondence to be sent to Magnimar, the adventurers requisition mounts from the garrison and leave Sandpoint at midday.

The mounted travellers make quick time and are unmolested on their journey. Barely an hour’s ride brings them to the Saintly Haven of Respite, better known as Habe’s Sanatorium. The squat, stone building is built into the lee of a limestone escarpment known as Ashen Rise. From the outside, the building looks secure: boards have been nailed over the ground-floor windows, and the front door is still shut. However, Artemis’ keen eyesight picks out a startling detail: in a shadowy alcove, a bestial creature is clinging to the wall and trying to wrench free one of the boards covering a window! Artemis drops from his horse with startling speed, nocks an arrow, sends it hurtling towards the creature, and strikes true. But the arrow shatters, leaving the creature completely unharmed! Artemis shares what he’s seen with his allies, and although they still can’t make the figure out, they begin to move toward the building.

Two figures inside the building know what is trying to break its way in, and they know they have only themselves to blame. Sister Erica, an elderly halfling worshipper of Erastil, and Kang, a haughty, strange-looking plane-touched man with a prehensile tail, arrived at Habe’s Sanatorium just two days previously. At first, all had gone well: Sister Erica checked on the two elderly patients still detained in the facility, as well as the wererat Pidget Tergelson. But later that night, it became clear that something had followed their scents through the farmlands and to the sanatorium: ghouls! Knowing there was no chance of fighting them off, Sister Erica and Kang had hatched a desperate plan: they set Pidget free to fight the ghouls, promising him they’d find a cure for his lycanthropy. The plan worked brilliantly at first: Pidget tore the ghouls apart and was barely scratched by their teeth and claws. He disappeared into the darkness and in the days since, the sanatorium has been safe. Until now! Pidget Torgelson had contracted ghoul fever in his first fight, and now he is more than a man, and more even than a wererat: he’s become a hideous and unthinkable ghoul lycanthrope! And for his first meal, he’s decided to feast upon those who set him free. Kang quickly hands Sister Erica a concoction and tells her to make a run for it after drinking it, for it will turn her invisible and hide her from the beast. The two of them head for the side-door.

The screech of nails being pulled from wood indicates that Pidget has yanked free the last obstacle barring his path into the interior of the building. Briza fires an arrow at the dangerous creature, but it too shatters. Even Bey’s new bardiche can’t penetrate the abomination’s skin! But just seconds before the creature can climb through the window, Arnald emerges from the treeline on his warhorse and buries his massive red axe into Pidget’s back. The blade bites deep into the creature’s spine, killing it instantly.

Realizing that Pidget has been dealt with, Sister Erica and Kang meet their rescuers outside. Kang is suspicious at first and threatens to blow the newcomers up with a bomb if they don’t explain themselves, but Sister Erica recognizes Artemis’ tabard and knows he’s a member of the Sandpoint Watch. Bey explains that they’ve come at the behest of Father Zantus to check on them. The decision is made that everyone, including the two elderly patients inside, should head directly for Sandpoint. But first, the matter of Artemis’ ghoul fever must be dealt with. Sister Erica confirms she still has two remove disease scrolls. As Bey is the more skilled spellcaster, she performs the rites. Her attempt with the first scroll fails to cure the tenacious disease, but her second try is successful. Putrescence drains from Artemis’ pores as the rotting disease leaves his body.

The journey north is uneventful, though the farm trails and Lost Coast Road seem deserted. The adventurers decide to leave Sister Erica and her two patients at the shack where Ome used to live, as several refugees from the damaged Pixie’s Kitten can look after them. Briza chats with her fellow bouncers and has to deliver the bad news of Ome’s death. She hears in turn that Sandpoint remains dangerous as well: another murder victim, the town butcher, has been discovered. Bey asks the group if they should investigate, but Artemis says they need to focus on the source of the problems: Foxglove Manor. Briza asks Kang if he’d like to go with them. The tiefling is intrigued by the prospect of learning how to synthesize the paralytic powers of ghouls, and, designating Briza as his “assistant”, he agrees. The adventurers, five strong once again, head back to Habe’s Sanatorium and reach it in the late afternoon. They spend the remaining daylight fortifying it against attack, and they even bring their mounts inside for safekeeping.

[7 Neth 4707]

Most of the night passes uneventfully, but in the early morning hours, the distressed whinnying of a horse can be heard outside in the distance. Arnald decides to investigate and goes outside. In the dwindling darkness, he can make out a horse laying on its side about a 150’ away being swarmed over by humanoid shapes. Arnald starts thumping loudly on the doorframe to wake his friends, but his action also alerts the creatures to his presence and they start rushing towards the building! Artemis and Briza react quickly and rush to the doorway to fire their bows. One of the shapes falls and lays motionless, but the other two reach the circle of light cast by Arnald’s everburning torch: ghouls! Artemis lets fly another arrow and fells a second one, while Arnald takes the fight to the last remaining ghoul and lops off its head with a single swing of his axe! With the excitement all over, a few members of the group venture out to check on the dead horse and conclude it must have been a plow-horse from a nearby farm.

Everyone manages to get a couple of more hours of sleep. Bey has a strange dream about a ferocious lion with a barbed tail, and, when she shares this dream with her allies, Kang says that she’s been dreaming about a manticore. Over breakfast, the others share with Kang what they know about Foxglove Manor. The day’s journey begins well, as they reach the Foxglove River with no impediments. Following the overgrown trail west along its northern banks, the group notice the brightly-painted carriage characteristic of Varisian nomads stationed near an ancient shrine to Desna. Bey is intrigued and rides over to the group to introduce herself. Upon hearing that there is a Harrower amongst them, she excitedly pays for a reading and convinces all of her allies, except for Kang, to do the same. Inside the back of the carriage, Bey receives a reading performed by an elderly-looking woman. Bey can tell that the woman has no real skill at divination, but the adventurer remains enthusiastic. After Briza has her turn, Arnald enters. He too receives a fairly generic reading, but for some baffling reason he reacts violently: he jumps on the table and raises his greataxe at the woman! With uncanny speed, a dagger appears in her hand as she calls out for help.

One adventurer has been laid to rest, but another has taken her place as the journey towards Foxglove Manor shows only intermittent progress. What will the outcome be of Arnald’s bizarre actions in the Varisian campsite?

Director's Commentary:
Director's Commentary (September 3, 2017)

Since Ome died last session, this session sees the PCs return her body to Sandpoint. They followed the classic adventurers' habit of stripping the corpse of all of its possessions, something which I've always found mildly distasteful (not to mention it slows the session down as everyone has to decide what to take, and then the remnant has to be valued and sold). And in a fitting twist, they were so busy splitting the loot they forgot they left the body sitting in a dark and dusty corner of the morgue!

It's always fun to have an exciting entrance for a new character, so I came up with the story of Pidget being released from the Sanatorium to fight off ghouls and then being turned himself. Fortunately, I had Classic Horrors Revisited which contained a ghoul lycanthrope template fitting exactly this situation!

Ome's player introduced his new PC, Kang the Magnificent, a tiefling alchemist. Kang is role-played extremely well as an egotistical self-proclaimed genius. He's also proven to be a beast in the adventure path, as throwing bombs against Touch AC means he practically never misses and often damages multiple opponents each round. Rise of the Runelords was written before the Advanced Player's Guide, and occasionally it shows.

The stuff with the fortune-tellers was a slightly-adjusted set-up for the encounter "Sczarni Wagon" from Volume 3 of the Pathfinder hardcover comic. I wasn't actually expecting any combat at all, as the PCs would essentially be conned out of a trivial amount of money for false predictions. I don't think anyone at the table, including Arnald's player, had any explanation for why the character suddenly decided to jump up on the table and threaten the woman with his greatsword. Truly, one of the bizarre moments in gaming history! Arnald was known for doing somewhat random things, but this one really took the cake.

And by dot, I mean keep up the good work ! Extremely enjoyable read.
PS What classes were/are Nedrin, Arnald and Artemis ?

Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Dr.OGM wrote:


And by dot, I mean keep up the good work ! Extremely enjoyable read.
PS What classes were/are Nedrin, Arnald and Artemis ?

Thanks! It's great to hear that people are reading these.

As for the PCs,
Nedrin: Bloodrager (Crossblooded & Spelleater archetypes)
Arnald: Fighter (Two-handed archetype)
Artemis: Multiclass Fighter (Drill Sergeant)/Rogue (Scout & Sniper)

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 26 Recap:
[7 Neth 4707 continued]

The Varisians instantly jump to their feet and draw weapons as they hear shouts of “Help, they’re crazy” coming from within the wagon. Seeing the commotion, the adventurers jump to their feet as well. Inside the wagon, Bey tries to calm things down by telling Arnald to put down his axe because he’s scaring the old woman. Artemis is the first to arrive on the scene and shouts at Arnald to stand down. The unpredictable sellsword pretends to fall off the table and strike his head. His attempt to feign unconsciousness fools no one but Bey, but it does serve to keep violence from erupting. Bey and Artemis drag Arnald to their waiting horses, and the adventurers set off west, leaving the Varisians behind them looking angry and disgusted at their behaviour.

The path west along the northern banks of the Foxglove River grows increasingly overgrown with brambles. A chill wind begins to whistle as the path slowly rises and winds around rocky promontories and cliff faces. With one last sharp turn of the path, the adventurers’ destination comes into view all of sudden: Foxglove Manor looms at the western edge of a narrow outcropping overlooking the cold sea below. The house is clearly in a state of decay as the roof sags in many places, mold and mildew cake the crumbling walls, and vines of diseased-looking grey wisteria clamber over its crooked gables. The path leading to the manor splits off and heads about ten feet south to an outbuilding that now exists solely as a collection of sooty, scorched foundation stones. Just to the side of the ruins is a wide stone well, also partially collapsed. A small flock of ravens sitting on the stones fly off as the adventurers approach; Kang gets a good look at them, and realizes from their unnatural grace and scent of death that they’re no ordinary birds. The adventurers scout the ruins, and Artemis drops stones into the well to determine it’s at least 75 feet deep, and maybe as much as 125. Bey notices scuff marks in the ground near the well, and Artemis is able to confirm that bipedal humanoids have walked around the area in recent days. Fearing that something might be able to claw its way out of the well, Bey persuades Arnald to chop down some of the withered, diseased trees nearby to block the top of the well.

Knowing that the source of the ghouls that plague Sandpoint may lay inside Foxglove Manor, the adventurers gather their courage and approach. They decide to enter through the most obvious route, the front door. It takes Artemis several minutes to unlock it, but at last the door slowly opens with a creak. The interior is dark and gloomy, as little of the waning sun’s rays penetrate the grimy curtains covering all of the windows. With the help of torches, the explorers realize they’re in an aged and decaying entrance hall covered in mold. The walls are decorated with rotting taxidermied trophies of various successful hunts, but the feature which dominates the room is a massive, twelve-foot long preserved manticore corpse! Artemis catches a momentary whiff of burning hair and flesh, but the others smell only the damp. The group’s mounts are brought inside for safekeeping, and Artemis contrives a makeshift alarm system that should ring loudly if the front door is opened again.

The adventurers advance further into the entrance hall, noticing a staircase to the south and several closed doors swelled stuck from the moisture. A ratty throw rug partially obscures a foul spiral of dark-coloured mold in one part of the room; to most it is a random stain, but to Kang and Artemis it seems reminiscent of a spiralling staircase descending downwards, with each step littered with human skulls. The adventurers continue on into a large dining room dominated by a dusty mahogany table. One wall is covered in windows that should provide a breathtaking view of the Lost Coast, but instead the windows are made from stained glass and each of the five depict a monstrous creature pouring from a strange, seven-sided box. Kang’s ability to see perfectly even in the dimmest of light offers him the clearest view of the design, and he realizes that the images have something to do with the foul art of necromancy.

The adventurers decide to head back towards the front door in order to ascend the staircase, but, when they do, Artemis suddenly cries out in alarm and ducks! No one else sees anything unusual, but to him the taxidermied manticore burst into flame and its tail lashed out at him. Whether a real phenomenon or just his imagination, everything seems to return to normal. But, to be on the safe side, Artemis persuades Briza to chop off the manticore’s tail with her greatsword.

The intrepid explorers continue to the second floor of the house. Arnald chops down a stuck door creating an enormous amount of noise in the process, much to the dismay of the others. He finds another, smaller staircase heading back down to the main floor but swears he heard footsteps going down it. Everyone returns to the main floor, and Arnald breaks down another of the stuck doors to reveal a library. There are two chairs in front of a stone fireplace, but one of the chairs is on its side and splashed with blood. A red and gold scarf is draped over the side of the fallen chair. A broken stone bookend is nearby, and, when examined, turns out to be covered in blood, clots of hair, and bits of bone. Kang, Artemis, and Arnald notice that the scarf seems to be gently writhing, but when Kang goes up to investigate, he jumps back clutching his throat and strangling himself! He collapses and nearly dies before Artemis is able to wrench the tiefling’s hands away and Bey casts healing magic. Kang can’t explain his strange behaviour, other than to say that for a moment he believed he was a young Varisian woman being strangled to death with the scarf by an enraged nobleman. From Kang’s description, Bey recognizes the nobleman as Aldern Foxglove, the visitor from Magnimar she and her now-deceased allies saved months ago at the Swallowtail Festival. This house clearly holds dangers the likes of which the adventurers have never encountered before.

Arnald chops down yet another door and the adventurers see a lounge on the other side, its couches coated with dust and its windows caked with grime. From the doorway, Artemis and Kang hear a strange sound that might just be a trick of the wind outside, but could be someone whispering a name: “Lorey.” Artemis knows a bit of lore about Foxglove Manor and remembers that Lorey was the name of the daughter of the house’s original builders, Vorel and Kasandra Foxglove. Kang shouts for everyone to watch out, but Arnald is unable to heed the warning in time. He’s suddenly overcome with the delusion that he is, in fact, Kasandra Foxglove and that he has to save his daughter from a terrible threat by getting her out of the house as soon as possible! He rushes towards Bey and swoops her off her feet and tries to run for the front door. Bey is willing to let the delusion play out, but the others intervene. Briza jumps on Arnald’s back and manages to skilfully pin him in a wrestling hold, and Artemis kicks the sellsword repeatedly in the face in the hopes of knocking him unconscious without killing him. The subdued Arnald is bound in manacles, but he continues to persist in his delusion. Finally, the decision is made to see if it will end by taking him outside. Yet, when Artemis opens the front door, a horrifying sight awaits him: thousands upon thousands of undead ravens take to the air and fly towards the door! Fortunately, the trained guardsman reacts quickly and slams the door before they can enter the house. The pounding of the ghastly creatures sounds like hail hitting a tin roof and continues for several minutes.

Just what have these would-be protectors of Sandpoint gotten themselves into, and will they ever manage to leave the horrors of The Misgivings?

Director's Commentary:
Arnald's bizarre action at the end of the last session was followed by an equally bizarre action at the beginning of this session: pretending to faint (and rolling really badly on a Bluff check).

The PCs reach Foxglove Manor ("The Misgivings") this session and begin one of the best (in my opinion) sections of Chapter II of the adventure path. Foxglove Manor is a classic haunted house, but the one that it's been translated into an RPG is fantastic. The most important innovation is the introduction of "haunts", which are a little bit like mind-affecting traps. Each haunt comes with a story-based hallucination and they're cleverly designed to affect only certain PCs based on those PCs' personality characteristics. They're a little bit hard to explain, but they're a really effective way to deliver the backstory of the house in a personal, engaging way that's far better than the traditional "find a diary" method.

Using carrionstorms was another great idea by author Richard Pett. They don't threaten the PCs on the way into the house, but if the PCs try to leave they swoop mercilessly which adds to the "we're trapped" feeling often necessary for horror. Bey's player has a real-life phobia of birds, so I had to reassure her this element was scripted. The PCs were certainly terrified of them.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 27 Recap:
[7 Neth 4707 continued]

Inside the ominous confines of Foxglove Manor, the adventurers pause to let a disturbing revelation sink in: with the sun setting and thousands of skeletal ravens outside, they may have to spend the night in the house! Artemis is especially concerned and even raises the idea of mounting the horses and making a run for it. Bey and Briza, however, are more inclined to risk staying. The discussion continues for some time, but an even more pressing concern exists: what to do about Arnald, now securely bound, who remains convinced he is Kasandra Foxglove! After raising and discarding various plans, the adventurers finally settle on trusting in a particular incantation revealed to Bey during her last mystery-trance: a spell to hide the group from undead. The plan is for Bey to mystically shield the adventurers from the gaze of the undead ravens so that she and Arnald can step outside to see if fulfilling the object of “Kasandra’s” desire ends the spiritual possession. The group decides, however, that the experiment shouldn’t be made at the front door but at the other entrance noticed on their approach to The Misgivings.

Briza shoulders open a door to a hallway and notices a pile of dead flies in a dusty corner. As she watches, some of them twitch and then their wings start to move, and they lazily wind their way into the air! The group is worried enough that Kang decides to deal with the problem in a startling way: he takes a small vial from his belt, shakes it, and hurls it into the hallway. Suddenly a large blast of green flame shakes the house! The flies are disintegrated, but the horses, still tethered nearby in the entrance hall, begin to buck and kick. Fortunately, no one is hurt and the horses are eventually calmed down.

A door on the opposite side of the hallway leads to an oak-panelled chamber that, once upon a time, must have been a beautiful oak-panelled parlour for entertaining guests. But the warped floorboards, mold-covered panelling, and long-dormant grand piano in the corner testify to how difficult it would be to restore Foxglove Manor to its former glories. The explorers feel a brief, gut-wrenching sensation of impending apocalypse as Bey draws upon her mysterious powers to shield them from the animate dead, and they put their plan into motion. It works perfectly: the creatures outside see the outer door being opened, but are unable to detect the presence of Arnald and Bey. Arnald immediately comes to his senses, and, once back safely inside, is set free of his restraints.

With at least that problem solved, the adventurers hurry to continue their explorations before night truly falls. They continue down the hallway and, behind Briza’s strong shoulder, burst into a simple washroom. Strange, furtive scratching sounds can be heard coming from an ancient metal washtub in the room, but no one is anxious to see what’s causing it. The adventurers shut the door and agree to head for the basement since “Kasandra”, while seemingly possessing Arnald, was worried about her husband Vorel’s activities there. As they cross the entrance hall and check on the mounts, the subject of past encounters with horrific sights arises. Without hesitation, Kang shares that he once turned someone inside out. From the looks the others give him, they’re not sure whether or not he’s joking. The fact that he continually refers to Briza as his “assistant” lends support to the notion that he’s certainly an unusual addition to the group. For his part, Artemis talks about once seeing someone trapped in a burning building, and how the memory continues to haunt him to this day.

The stairs to the basement lead to a large kitchen dominated by a massive oaken table, its surface covered with mold and rat droppings. An oversized fireplace, cupboards, and shelves line the walls, but Briza notices wide cracks in one wall near the floor. The adventurers discuss what could have caused the cracks and soon hear the swelling sound of squeaking getting louder and louder. Suddenly, from out of the cracks, hundreds of oily, diseased looking rats pour out! Kang reacts instantly, however, tossing another explosive vial that decimates most of the swarm! Artemis cleans up the few survivors with his archery skills. Although the air is pungent with the sickening smell of smouldering rat corpses, no one was hurt in the sudden eruption of violence.

The explorations continue. A room adjacent to the kitchen turns out to be servants’ quarters, while another doorway leads to a long hallway that winds around to stop at a strong, locked iron door. Artemis tries out a skeleton key he’d brought along for obstacles like this, and finds that it fits the lock perfectly! The door had barred access to what, in the eyes of anyone with a smattering of training in the area, was obviously once the personal workshop of a devotee of arcane spellcraft. A row of soggy books sits on one end of a long workbench, while, on the other end, are three iron birdcages each containing a dead, diseased-looking rat. Two stained-glass windows on one curved wall testify that the house was cleverly built to take advantage of being built on the edge of a cliff. One of the windows depicts a thin man with gaunt features drinking a foul-looking brew of green fluid, while the other shows the same man but in an advanced state of decay, as if dead for weeks, but also, somehow, simultaneously alive and exuberant in triumph.

Artemis examines the books and can tell they’re all on the forbidden art of necromancy. Arnald enters and scoops up one of the birdcages. Out of the corner of their eyes, Artemis and Briza notice that the figures in the glass seem to almost be moving and sneering at them. Artemis fires an arrow, shattering one of the windows. Briza runs for the hallway, but suddenly receives an overwhelming urge to examine the books on the workbench and rushes back into the room. She then freezes in place as visions pour through her mind. She experiences Vorel Foxglove’s quest to become immortal by existing beyond death in the blasphemous form of a lich. She witnesses him researching for years before finding a way; hiding his own soul away in a seven-sided box; and finally consuming a final concoction before double over in agony as his body begins to rot away. But then she experiences his burning rage that he’s been stopped before the ritual could be fully completed! And then she’s no longer Vorel, but someone who thought she loved him, filled with shame that someone she’s committed herself to could do something so unthinkable to himself. Briza starts to race out of the room, fully convinced she has to find her child and get out of the house before her husband can stop her!

The others rush out of the room and shut the door behind them, aware that the flapping of thousands of wings means the ghastly ravens have taken flight and are headed towards the broken window. Kang steps in front of Briza on the staircase to the main floor, intending to try to calm her down, but she thinks he’s Vorel Foxglove and lashes out with her greatsword! Kang staggers out of her way, bleeding. Someone shouts to stop Briza before she can hurt herself, so Artemis tries to trip her but fails and narrowly avoids losing his head from the return strike. Briza is by far the fastest member of the group, and she takes the stairs two at a time until she reaches the main floor, and then she races up to the second floor. She rounds a corner and chops down the door to a mold-infested bedroom none of the adventurers have been in before.

For a brief moment, Briza is herself again—she realizes there is no child here, and that she’s been under the effect of some kind of delusion. But then she hears a child’s voice, quivering with fear, asking her “What’s on your face, mommy?” Briza can feel her face erupt in a tangled mass of tumours and boils and can’t help but claw at herself. When the others arrive, they see only the damage that Briza is doing by literally clawing the skin off her own face! Kang instantly sets to work formulating an alchemical extract to partially repair the damage, while Arnald tries to pin Briza’s arms but is violently repulsed. Bey and Artemis try to reason with her, and Artemis seems to be getting through, when another sudden fit of hysteria leads to Briza collapsing entirely. Her face is in utter, disfiguring shambles and her hands are covered in her own blood and bits of flesh. Kang pours his special concoction down Briza’s throat, and she stirs. Between his and Bey’s spellcasting, much of the damage Briza has done to herself is repaired and she realizes just how strange she’d been acting.

Just a scant few hours within the walls of Foxglove Manor has brought terror and madness to the would-be saviours of Sandpoint. Although yet another crisis is over, night has truly fallen. Will the evils within The Misgivings become even stronger in the darkness?

Director's Commentary:
Another great session inside the very-haunted Foxglove Manor. I think the bit with the clouds of dead flies reanimating was something I added just for background effect, but seeing them blown up with an alchemist's bomb was fun. The use of hide from undead in order to get Arnald outside safely was quite clever, and worked perfectly.

The big sequence to end the session, with Briza getting possessed, racing (and fighting) past her allies to run upstairs, and then clawing her face off because it was "covered with mold" was fantastic. I couldn't have scripted it better, and I think it added to the memorable ghastliness of Foxglove Manor. Once again, the idea of "haunts" as a game concept were a great way to impart backstory without slowing the session to a crawl of exposition.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 28 Recap:
[7 Neth 4707 continued]

In the aftermath of Briza’s attempted self-mutilation, the adventurers take stock of their dire situation. Exhausted and hurt, they need rest but the prospect of spending the night within Foxglove Manor is far from appealing. Yet, if they venture outside, they must face the menace of thousands of undead ravens. After much back and forth, Bey convinces a reluctant Artemis that the group should hole up in a “safe” room and wait out the night. The adventurers return to the first floor of the house, check on the horses, and then barricade themselves within the mold-covered drawing room. The brave (or foolish) explorers alternate watches through the night, but when they can sleep, their rest is disturbed by terrifying dreams of being trapped within a crumbling house that gets smaller and smaller or of being stalked by a shapeless monster. Still, despite the nightmares, their inner mental fortitude prevails and they wake in the morning better off for having rested.

[8 Neth 4707]

Artemis and Briza go to the front entrance hall to check on their horses. Although their mounts are fine, Briza catches a whiff of burning hair. Artemis suddenly cries out in agony. In his mind, the stuffed manticore has once again burst into flame and lashed out at him with a fiery tail. Briza sees red welts erupt on Artemis’ arms, and the two make a hasty withdrawal back to the drawing room where the others are finishing their preparations for another day in Foxglove Manor. Hearing about what happened leads Bey to conclude that it would be extremely dangerous to revisit any of the areas where strange phenomena occurred the day before. The adventurers settle on a new plan: to strike at what they hope is the heart of the evil that permeates The Misgivings by venturing into its depths.

As the walls start to bleed and more sobbing can be heard from somewhere above, the adventurers hurry down the staircase to the basement kitchen. They argue about where to go next, since several closed doors line the hallway. They eventually decide to start with the two doors directly off of the kitchen: one leads to a pantry that reeks of rat droppings, while the other is a dusty, empty wine cellar. Briza’s keen eyes notice a seam in the back wall, and she pushes on it to reveal a hidden alcove. Inside are several valuable bottles of what Kang identifies as fine wine from the Vigardeis vineyard in distant Cheliax. Having discovered little of monetary worth in Foxglove Manor up to this point, the adventurers carefully add the bottles to their packs.

A dilemma now faces the party: the only unopened door they know about in the basement lays in the observatory that they fled from the day previously when Briza was possessed and a veritable storm of animated carrion flew through a broken window. Artemis persuades Arnald, who has remained almost completely quiet since entering the house, to use his adamantine axe to literally chop through a wall so that the adventurers can bypass the observatory. The sellsword quietly complies, and within seconds access is gained to a narrow corridor. Briza takes point and leads the group to a chamber whose floor has been broken apart to reveal an ancient set of stone stairs spiralling down into the darkness below. A foul stink, like that of rotten meat, wafts up from the hole, the bottom of which is so far down it can’t be seen until Artemis lowers an everburning torch on a rope to reveal a natural cavern floor covered in mold.

Briza starts to descend carefully, but as soon as Bey sets foot on the steps, she begins shaking and thrashing as deep red claw and bite wounds appear on her flesh. In her mind she watches as Aldern Foxglove, filthy and wild-eyed, digs away at the stone floor of the chamber with a pickaxe—and with each swing, he grunts “for you” while looking directly at her. As the vision ends, Aldern breaks through the room beyond and a horde of shrieking ghouls pull him into the darkness—and then launch themselves at Bey! The terrifying vision ends, but the physical wounds are very real and remain.

The stairs finally end in a limestone cavern, the walls of which drip with moisture and the floors of which are covered with rubble and broken bones. Tunnels branch off to the west. Although the spelunkers have masked themselves with Bey’s Hide from Undead abjuration, the light of their torches stands out like a beacon in the darkness around them. In mere seconds, shuffling sounds can be heard approaching. The adventurers take up defensive positions.

Two waves of ghouls rush out of the tunnels, but the defenders are ready for them: Kang hurls devastating alchemical bombs, Artemis fires pinpoint arrows, Bey slashes with her bardiche, and Arnald and Briza cut wide swathes through the attackers with their greataxe and greatsword respectively. In a few furious seconds, several ghouls are destroyed in the fighting and none of the adventurers are seriously hurt. A search of the corpses reveals that one of them has a partially smashed-in skull (made prior to the fight) from which a broken chunk of stone protrudes—and it matches the missing wing from the statuette found in the first floor’s library.

Having met with success so far, the adventurers decide to press their advantage. They pick one of the western tunnels to explore and find a cavern covered in a particularly thick yellow mold. Spores from the mold sicken Kang, but he’s able to quickly prepare a concoction to cure himself and decides to take a sample for future testing. Bey discerns, through the use of her magicks, that a discarded mining pick is actually enchanted for strength, and Artemis promises he can put it to good use.

A different tunnel leads to a long cave that stinks of rotten meat; the source of the horrific smell is readily apparent as several half-eaten animal and humanoid carcasses are strewn about! Eyes glowing with unearthly green energy suddenly swoop down from the darkness near the ceiling of the cavern as an ear-splitting screech fills the air. Kang is disoriented by the sound but the others keep their wits about them as a monstrously-sized bat with decayed flesh attacks. Arnald is paralyzed by its bite, but Artemis knocks it out of the air with two well-placed arrows and Kang blows it to pieces with another alchemical grenade. A search of the carcasses reveals that one of them wears a black top hat which Bey identifies as a hat of disguise, while another wears a pearl ring and has an adamantine longsword: Kang takes possession of the latter two items.

The time for ghostly apparitions and nightmares has passed, as the adventurers find very real enemies to sink their steel into. But by having descended so far below the surface of Foxglove Manor, have they gotten closer or further away from the answers they seek?

Director's Commentary:
Here we see the PCs, not for the first time, doing something that the AP considers "suicidal": spending the night in Foxglove Manor. Yet, they all made their Will saves and got away with it!

There's a reference to Arnald being extremely quiet in the session. Usually that's code for the player being away and the character lurking in the background, but this time the player was there and the character was just really, really quiet for a span of sessions.

I like the caverns underneath Foxglove Manor. They're what one would expect in terms of creepiness, but sometimes the classics are just right. The downside to the PCs going below first (and may have talked about this elsewhere) is that they'll end up completely missing everything upstairs, and especially what's in the attic. Those of you familiar with the AP know that means a major plot element of this section and several haunts are missed. But different groups are going to do things in different ways, so that's inevitable.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 29 Recap:
[8 Neth 4707 continued]
The exploration of the caverns under Foxglove Manor continues. After navigating some twisting passageways, a choice of directions presents itself. The adventurers proceed down one branch in single-file and emerge into a foul-smelling cavern heaped with bones. But Arnald, in the rear of the marching order, doesn’t hear that the adventurers are being stalked. From out of the darkness behind him, a ghoul-tainted goblin emerges and attacks! The creature carries with it such an overpowering stench that both Arnald and Kang become physically ill, and the merest touch of the creature’s claw paralyzes Arnald! Kang hurls a makeshift firebomb at the creature, but his throw goes awry and both he, Arnald, and the creature are burned by the resulting blast. But the situation escalates from bad to worse when the adventurers realize that the creature, known to Kang as a goblin ghast, is not alone: three others emerge from the shadows with saliva dripping from their mouths.

Briza heroically runs to stand in front of the paralyzed Arnald and, although trying to trip the ghast, she ends up crushing its legs and destroying it. Artemis lets loose with an arrow and destroys one of the ghasts attacking the front of their formation. Briza, after dropping another one, charges back to the front to deal with the final ghast—but she ends up paralyzed and several yards away from her allies! Kang shouts “death from above!” as he drinks from a vial and flies into the air to protect his “assistant” from having her throat ripped out. Kang is clawed multiple times for his troubles, but he still has the strength to drop a bomb on the creature and destroy it.

The adventurers rest for several minutes before continuing their explorations. They find their way to a massive chamber with a cathedral-like vaulted ceiling and a spiralling stone ledge that leads down into a surging pool of water below. Discussion is had about investigating the pool, but Artemis is intent on picking the sophisticated lock barring passage through a stout stone door nearby. When, after some minutes, he hears the tell-tale click of success, he summons his allies to take up formation and ready themselves for danger. Arnald takes point this time, with Bey close behind him. Arnald throws the door open and is treated to a sight he never would have imagined.

Inside a damp cave reeking with a horrific stench is a small oak table and a large leather chair stained by smears of rotten meat and blood; and sitting in the chair is Aldern Foxglove, his stylish and expensive clothes now torn and covered in the putrescence of death. Aldern is busy clumsily using bits of blood and runny, rotten flesh to cover over a painting with a face that looks like a ghastly image of Bey! Aldern expresses his delight in having visitors, and welcomes Arnald in for tea or punch. Bey utters an incantation to bless her friends and, upon hearing her voice, Aldern realizes the object of his twisted love is present. He rushes over to Bey, drops to his knees and proclaims that from the moment she saved his life at the Swallowtail Festival he knew they were meant to be together, and that when their eyes met as he bandaged her wound at the boar hunt he knew she felt the same way. He finishes his declaration of love by saying that once the others are dead, they can be together for eternity!

Bey, nonplussed, tells Aldern that she’s here to assist him in finding a true end to his life. Artemis fires an arrow that grazes Aldern’s arm, and suddenly Aldern starts to sob. “I’m sorry Bey, I tried to resist. But I can’t keep him from coming. He’s here . . . THE HURTER!” Aldern suddenly jumps to his feet and draws a wicked-looking war razor from his belt. Bey moves past him to make room for the others to enter the room and Aldern seems to be fighting with himself to resist slashing at her, with the result that he slashes himself instead. Bey spirals into her apocalyptic mystery and suddenly bursts into flames. As his flesh turns red and starts to crackle, Aldern drops to his knees again. He begs for Bey to save him as he sobs. “They made me do it! The Brothers of the Seven! I had borrowed money to rebuild the manor. And collecting the rats and the fungus. I didn’t mean to kill Iesha—I saw her with that tradesman and just got so angry! Please understand, our love is pure. No . . . . no . . . . he’s coming! Worse than the Hurter. The Skinsaw Man! Run!”

Aldern raises his arms over his head and pulls down a mask made from overlapping layers of human skin. It transforms into a hideous visage of Bey as he bows and quiet calmly explains that he will murder Bey and all of her friends, one by one, but that he’ll take his time as they plead for an end to the pain. The battle is well and truly-joined as the adventurers crowd into the room to surround Aldern. The fighting is bloody and brutal but ends when Artemis shoots an arrow through the back of Aldern’s throat. The burning, blood-soaked corpse falls forward onto Bey as a last whisper leaves its throat: “All . . . For . . . You.”

Briza rushes up next to Bey to offer her support, but she brushes up against something that, in the heat of battle, no one had time to observe: the western wall of the cave has been overtaken by a horrific growth of dark green mold and dripping fungi, and in the center a patch of black tumescent fungus grows in a shape that appears almost humanoid in outline. On the floor near the patch are the broken pieces of some kind of puzzle box. Briza is overcome by a feeling of vertigo as the others notice the pieces of the box start to rattle, and then she feels a powerful compulsion to turn towards the wall and begin devouring the fungus! But somehow, her willpower is strong enough that she manages to resist the compulsion and she pulls herself away.

Kang moves up to examine the fungus and realizes that it’s extremely rare, extremely deadly, and only recently discovered. It’s been given the name “Vorel’s Phage” and certain nefarious organizations have been known to covet it. As the patch on the wall has been infused with necromantic energy, Kang speculates that it will grow back unless powerful divine magicks are used to cleanse it. Artemis speculates that the strange shape is the outcome of Vorel Foxglove’s failed attempt to become a lich, and that his soul could still be trapped within the house. He also surmises that Aldern’s reference to the Brothers of the Seven could refer to a “secret” society of foppish aristocrats in Magnimar. A search of Aldern’s body leads to the discovery of several valuable magical items, such as an enchanted signet ring. Meanwhile, a search of a nearby table reveals a disturbing collection of items related to Aldern’s obsession with Bey. Mixed in with a stack of erotic drawings is a letter written in a graceful hand addressed to Aldern’s townhouse in the Grand Arch District in Magnimar. The letter thanks Aldern for a mysterious delivery “harvested from the caverns” and says his debt to the Brothers is paid. It continues on that, after Aldern’s “rebirth”, he should begin to carry out something called the “Sihedron ritual” on a particular list of victims so that “the greed in their souls will not go to waste.” Finally, it notes that agents will be waiting at his townhouse to contact him should he need assistance. The letter is signed “Xanesha, Mistress of the Seven.”

The revelation that Aldern was operating on orders from someone else leads the adventurers to agree that a trip to Magnimar is in order. Artemis notes he’ll need to get special permission from Sheriff Hemlock in order to leave his post. Kang, operating on a hunch that something might be hidden within the humanoid-shaped fungus on the wall, clears the room and hurls a firebomb at it. A mithral tube about a foot-long, covered in the fungus, falls to the ground. Bey identifies it as a chime of opening, but, after much back and forth, it’s determined to be too dangerous to use given the toxicity of the fungus. The adventurers make a cursory search of the pool in the adjoining room before deciding it’s time to leave the cavern, and Foxglove Manor, behind for good.

Director's Commentary:
This session was all about the Skinsaw Man. Since this was the big climax of of the murder "mystery" and the Foxglove Manor chapter, I really wanted it to be good. Prepping it was a real challenge, because you have to to RP three different personalities (that trigger at specific times) and make sure each conveys the exposition necessary to make for a satisfying story, while keeping up the pace and horror of the moment. I did some practice runs alone in my living room--I shudder to think what the neighbors thought! Still, I was really happy with how it all came together. He wasn't a huge threat in a combat-sense (which I could predict from the forums), but he at least lasted a few rounds. All in all, a really good session that I was proud of running.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 30 Recap:
[8 Neth 4707 continued]

In the caverns below Foxglove Manor, the adventurers who successfully vanquished The Skinsaw Man discuss the safest way to leave the house. Artemis notes that there must be another way in and out since the front doors were locked yet goblin ghasts were found inside. Kang says it is possible they swam in through a submerged passage from the large, deep pool nearby. Briza is happy to continue exploring, but is also willing to leave. With Arnald remaining terse and Bey swallowed up in her mystery after the rigors of confronting a killer with a twisted obsession, the others make the decision to risk the swarms of undead ravens outside.

The climb up the long spiral staircase to the basement is uneventful, as is the much shorter ascent to the main floor. The horses, although hungry, are still in good shape. Edging the curtains aside carefully, Artemis looks out several windows and sees no sign of the foul necrotic manifestations of undeath known as carrionstorms. He carefully opens the front door and then everyone mounts up. Briza goes out first into the chill wind and sees no sign of danger until she looks back at the house—and there, on the roof, are the carrionstorms! Their cold, dead eyes swivel towards her in unison as they launch into soundless flight towards her.

The others rush out on their mounts at full speed. Kang hurls a bomb over his head, and the resulting flames engulf hundreds of the swooping attackers! Artemis spurs his steed to escape, but Briza finds herself unable to control her bucking horse and is swarmed. Her armor mostly protects her from the hundreds of beaks trying to peck at her, but the sheer stench of rotting flesh nearly overcomes her. Arnald bravely enters the fray and knocks several of the birds out of the air with his greataxe. Seeing how well it worked, Briza does the same with her greatsword and soon the attackers are dispersed. Although frightening, the fighting results in only minor wounds, though Briza’s horse is in great agony.

The adventurers journey east along the northern banks of the Foxglove River. As they start to put some miles behind them and the accursed mansion, the wind dies down, the overgrown path starts to clear up, and a beautiful, crisp autumn day hangs before them. Nothing troubles them as they skirt the southern edge of Bleaklow Moor and then reach the Lost Coast Road and turn north. Traffic along the road makes it clear that its recent closure due to ghoul activity has been lifted. Once the adventurers reach the long stretch of the road between the overgrown swampland of Brinestump Marsh to the west and the limestone escarpment of Ashen Rise to the east, horns can be heard in the distance. Artemis identifies them as hunting horns of some kind and, seconds later, four large boars emerge from the underbrush, running frantically straight towards the adventurers! Kang spurs his horse to run away, but Arnald and Briza dismount to fight. The boars seem more interested in getting away from whatever is chasing them than fighting, but the adventurers have the bad luck of blocking the boars’ escape route. Briza’s sword, Arnald’s axe, and Artemis’ arrows are enough to kill three of the four boars while the last one squeezes through a gap to run east. The horns continue to sound closer and closer, and the adventurers are worried about what could be chasing the boars. Briza’s horse, severely wounded during the attack, is partially healed by an extract force-fed it by Kang. The adventurers make speed north leaving a trail of blood behind them as Artemis brings one of the dead boars with him.

Farmers, happy to be returning home after having fled to Sandpoint, wave at the adventurers as the group crosses Cougar Creek. After a brief rest along its banks, a strange, floating orb of light appears, hovering several yards away. Kang instantly identifies it as a Will o’ Wisp, and says they’re utterly alien, malevolent creatures known to lure travellers into traps. He strongly urges the others to ignore it. As they pass by, Briza notices a shovel stuck into the ground near where the Wisp is bobbing. Artemis fires an arrow at the ground near the shovel and hears the clang of metal on metal. The travellers hear a strange voice call out, “foolish, foolish, why do you leave? Treasure!” But Kang remains steadfast in his determination that no one approach and even Arnald, who would usually be lured by such an opportunity, remains silent with his eyes downcast.

The adventurers reach Sandpoint in the late afternoon. Arnald takes Bey directly to the Rusty Dragon. Artemis reports to Sheriff Hemlock at the Garrison that the source of the ghoul infestation has likely been found and dealt with, and that a ghast was behind the murders in town. Artemis notes that clues were found indicating that the ghast may have been directed or controlled by a mysterious “Xanesha” in Magnimar. Sheriff Hemlock authorizes Artemis to follow up, stating that he doesn’t want anyone responsible for what happened to Banny Harker and Katliss Vender, not to mention the many other recent murders, to go unpunished. Meanwhile, Kang and his “assistant” Briza take the mounts in the direction of the Goblin Squash Stables. Kang receives some strange looks on the way, but it’s actually Briza who is accosted. Gorvi, the town’s half-orc dungsweeper and junk-hauler, is pitching shovelfuls of dung at passerby and laughing heartily. Briza confronts him about it, and has to narrowly jump out of the way when a pile of dung is flung towards her. She calls him a fat, out-of-shape slob, and when Gorvi angrily runs towards her, he halts after just a few steps, out-of-breath. Briza and Kang laugh and continue on their way. Daviren Hosk isn’t pleased at seeing Briza’s injured horse, but she pays for the damage and Daviren is satisfied.

That evening, at the Rusty Dragon, Artemis finds Briza and Kang and reports that he’s received permission to continue the investigation in Magnimar. The watchman then returns to the Garrison for a night’s rest. While Briza walks to the Sandpoint Mercantile League hoping to book passage on a charter for the next day (only to find it closed for the night), Kang is brought almost to tears by the stunning performance of a stranger playing the lute on the Rusty Dragon’s small stage. By the time the bard’s performance is over, word of mouth has spread and the inn is packed.

[9 Neth 4707]

A new day dawns with the sun hidden behind dark storm clouds. As cold rain pours from the sky and bolts of jagged lightning flash, the adventurers decide the group’s planned departure for Magnimar will have to be postponed for a day. Instead, that morning, Artemis skins the boar he collected the previous day, while Kang enlists Briza’s help in preparing a pungent chemical concoction that she doesn’t realize is actually a formidable poison! When she heads downstairs to collect some breakfast, she notices Arnald devouring an entire buffet table’s worth of food. When Arnald moans that he’s still hungry, Briza suggests he head toward the Hagfish for some fresh seafood. Meanwhile, in his chambers on the second floor, Kang receives a visit from a fellow alchemist: Nisk Tander, proprietor of Sandpoint’s local store, Bottled Solutions. Tander is obviously angry at Kang’s presence in the town, and threatens to reveal to the authorities that the tiefling has “visited places that would bring the authorities down” upon him. When Kang is not cowed, Tander notes that “alchemists are known for having accidents” and storms out. Briza notices the angry figure stomping down the stairs, and asks Kang what happened—he explains that he’s just had a run-in with a sub-par, lonely chemist who is envious of Kang’s genius.

That afternoon, Artemis risks venturing out into the storm to sell the boar’s hide to the local tannery, and the meat itself to the kitchens at the Rusty Dragon—making a tidy profit on both transactions. Kang goes to the Fatman’s Feedbag and gets a lead on where he might be able to sell his morning’s work. Tucked between several old tenements across from the Town Hall, Kang finds a small building with a painting of a pillbug perched on a mushroom: “The Pillbug’s Pantry.” Inside, a small rotund man named Aliver ‘Pillbug’ Podiker seems quite impressed at what Kang has concocted. However, he carefully hints that he can’t do any business with a stranger like Kang unless Jubrayl Vhiski approves. When Kang returns to the Rusty Dragon, soaked and disappointed, he talks with Briza in the common room before each start to smell smoke. When they investigate, they realize that flames have engulfed Kang’s bed! Worse, buckets of water don’t extinguish the flame, and Kang is forced to throw the burning bedclothes out the window. When the inn’s staff arrive and see the alchemical implements scattered around the room, Ameiko kindly suggests that Kang might find better accommodation at the White Deer. After they’re gone, Kang whispers to Briza that the fire was no accident: it was surely sabotage!

Artemis has a very different, but no less eventful afternoon. After planting seeds in the shape of an arrow as a prayer to Erastil to protect Sandpoint, Artemis notices a young, thin watchman determinedly trying to advance through the wind and rain towards the docks. When Artemis asks the lad, Benmo, what he’s doing out in such foul weather, the nervous recruit explains that there’s word of a disturbance at the Hagfish. Artemis takes the burden of investigating upon himself, and arrives to find that Arnald is there, grabbing food off of other people’s plates and greedily devouring it! The patrons are reacting with a mixture of incredulity, hilarity, and hostility, and the establishment’s owner, Jargie Quinn, tells Artemis that he better get Arnald out of there before violence erupts over the axeman’s strange behaviour. Artemis persuades Arnald that they’ll be plenty of food he can eat at the Garrison. The watchman leads him to the Garrison’s basement and tries to lure him into a cell, but Arnald doesn’t fall for the trick and starts to grow angry. Artemis does manage to lock him in the morgue, however, and then he runs to get help since Arnald is clearly not in his right mind. With Father Zantus unavailable and Bey still lost in her mystery, Artemis is forced to run across town and ask for help from local healer Hannah Velerin. She says the symptoms sound like ghoul fever, and need to be treated soon before the disease is irreversible!

Although the adventurers have defeated the source of the ghoul infestation, they have not escaped “The Misgivings” unscathed. Will help arrive for Arnald in time?

Director's Commentary:
As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, the carrionstorms were fantastic atmosphere and the PCs were terrified of them. It was rather anticlimactic when they actually attacked, however, since they were so easily dispatched! Still, the rush to escape the grounds made for a cinematic end to the Foxglove Manor section of the chapter.

There wasn't really anything awful chasing the boars--just hunters on horseback. It's hard to think of good stuff for random encounters, but the element actually added more drama to the encounter than I expected.

A lot of great interaction with Sandpoint's local colour. I was happy to get a chance to introduce some of the town's inhabitants that had thus far remained invisible, including Gorvi, Nisk Tander, Pillbug Podiker, and Hannah Velerin.

Arnald's ghoul fever was a fun subplot--I got the inspiration for his behavior from something in Classic Horrors Revisited.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 31 Recap:
[9 Neth 4707 continued]

The race to cure Arnald Swiss of ghoul fever before it’s too late continues. At the Sandpoint Garrison, Artemis asks local healer Hannah Valerin to wait until he can return with an armed escort before she tries to help the potentially dangerous disease victim. Artemis then runs through the storm to the Rusty Dragon, where he finds Kang obnoxiously reading over Briza’s shoulder. Artemis tells the two that they need to hurry to the Garrison, and they depart immediately. Artemis then manages to pull Bey out of her mystery, only to learn that the prophetess is unable to magically cure diseases. As Hannah Valerin earlier explained that the best she could do was temporarily delay the progression of the disease, Artemis runs across town to try one last hope: The Feathered Serpent, Sandpoint’s boutique store for magical scrolls and other paraphernalia. The shop is open, despite the storm, but proprietor Vorvashali Voon explains he’s long been sold out of the scroll that Artemis is asking for. The enthusiastic storekeeper tries to sell Artemis various other magical devices, but Artemis knows he needs to hurry back to the Garrison. Meanwhile, Bey takes her time walking over to the Garrison and is lightly wounded when a nearby tree explodes from a bolt of lightning.

When all of the adventurers have assembled outside of the locked door to the morgue where Arnald is being detained, Briza volunteers to take the risk of escorting Hannah in. When the door is unlocked, they can see Arnald looks terrible and is pacing frantically back and forth. They distract him by throwing him rations, but although Hannah gets close enough to cast her spell, it has no effect. She and Briza retreat and shut the door behind them. Artemis talks to Sheriff Hemlock about the predicament, and is told that Arnald may have to be “put down” if he can’t be cured, as it’s too dangerous to wait for a full transformation into a ghoul. Artemis learns, however, that a fast clipper ship is scheduled to leave Sandpoint in the morning for Magnimar, and the watchman decides it’s worth the risk of taking Arnald aboard in the hopes that he’ll fight off the disease long enough to be cured in the larger city. While Artemis and Hemlock are speaking, Briza tries shouting through the heavy stone door and is rewarded with an answer—Arnald has retained enough sanity to realize he’s a threat to the others, and is willing to turn over the biggest danger he poses: his adamantine greataxe! With Arnald safely confined, and being fed copious amounts of food from the Garrison’s stores, the adventurers take up vigil through the night.

[10 Neth 4707]

The thunderstorms of the previous night have given way to a beautiful late-Autumn day, but Arnald continues to get worse: “I don’t know how much longer I can hold this off for!” he shouts through the locked morgue door. Fortunately, Kang has perfected a formula to stave off the worst physical effects of the disease, and they improve Arnald’s condition considerably. Well enough, in fact, that he’s trusted to leave his makeshift detention and join the others as they journey to the Sandpoint Cathedral to speak with Father Zantus. The kind priest regretfully explains that he’s unable to assist, having used the last of his resources to stem the tide of the disease that almost overwhelmed the farming community around the town. After Bey continues talking about the apocalypse, Father Zantus warns her that such heresy will not be tolerated in a place of worship devoted to Desna. The adventurers leave for the docks, hoping to book passage to Magnimar. There, they soon learn that Sheriff Hemlock’s information was correct: a clipper named the Vexing Dodger has just arrived from Riddleport, and after unloading some cargo and taking on more, will set sail for Magnimar at midday.

The curious thing about the ship, however, is that it is crewed entirely by ratfolk! The captain, who gives his name as Dodger (explaining that it’s easier than his real name for humans to pronounce), is happy to take on passengers. Kang books a private cabin, while the others are relegated to steerage. Bey is unable to negotiate a reduction in price, but she cleverly gets Dodger to agree that the latter half of “room and board”should be on an “all you can eat basis,” something that will surely benefit Arnald. Dodger warns everyone, however, to stay away from the ship’s hold, as it could be dangerous.

The adventurers have a last few hours in Sandpoint before the Vexing Dodger is scheduled to depart, and they choose different ways to pass the time. Briza goes fishing and has some good luck, while Kang brews some powerful antitoxins and sells them to Arnald. Artemis tours the ship and is treated quite deferentially in his Magnimar City Guard tabard. Bey makes a speech at the Farmer’s Market, instructing everyone to continue to prepare for the imminent apocalypse but offering hope that some of the residents of Sandpoint could survive. Her words are met with fear in some quarters, and a belief that she’s insane in others.

At midday, the Vexing Dodger raises anchor and sets sail for Magnimar with all of the adventurers on board. The ship’s captain begins to spin tales for the passengers as the vessel passes by Lost Coast landmarks. He points out a high promontory called the Pyre and said it was used by Varisians in decades past for mysterious rituals. A small island, dimly seen in the distance, is named as Grubber’s Hermitage and Dodger says that in recent months no one’s heard from the villagers who live there—he suspects ghosts or lepers! Bey pays him to sail the ship a little closer, and, through a spyglass, Artemis sees large numbers of carrion birds circling around. Next, Dodger points out the cliffs at Hag’s Plummet and relates an old yarn about a beautiful young Varisian woman who treated with a witch to gain eternal life, but only on the condition that she never fall in love; the tale ends, of course, with the woman falling in love, aging instantly, being spurned by her beau, and throwing herself off the cliff. When Dodger starts to tell the adventurers about Foxglove Manor, however, they quickly and in unison tell him they’re not interested.

Despite the ship’s speed, Briza shows surprising proficiency with fishing and catches a small shark! She lets Arnald eat most of it. Apart from Kang secretly selling Dodger a couple of vials of drow poison for help in subduing what Dodger explains are beasts confined in the hold for the Serpent’s Run gladiatorial rings, the evening passes without incident. The adventurers decide to sleep out on deck under the stars.

[11 Neth 4707]

Another beautiful day greets the adventurers as the last weeks of Autumn are warmer than in years past. The adventurers wake aboard the Vexing Dodger to the captain’s words that they’ve made good speed and should reach Magnimar before lunchtime. Bey, however, is disturbed by the fact that her usual dreams of disaster and apocalypse were instead replaced by dreams of peace and optimism.

The adventurers’ first sight of Magnimar is the massive Irespan, an ancient bridge standing over 300 feet above sea level but mysteriously broken part of the way out to the Varisian Gulf. The harbor is full of hundreds of ships, large and small, and the noise and bustle of a real city make a clear distinction between Magnimar and Sandpoint. The travellers learn that the city is divided into three major sections: the Summit, a wealthy section of the city looming on a high cliff that cuts right through the city; the Shore, a more diverse section of the city abutting the Varisian Gulf and the Yondakabari River; and the Shadow, a regrettable slum existing, quite literally, under the enormous reach of the Irespan above. In addition, they learn that residents of Magnimar further divide the city into nine different districts. Bey explains to Briza that the Irespan is one of the most famous existing remnants of Thassilon, a mighty empire that existed thousands of years ago and that was ruled by seven mighty wizards who had somehow perverted magic to extend their might before a sudden cataclysm brought about their downfall.

The adventurers bid farewell to Captain Dodger and are led by Artemis into Dockway district, full of markets and warehouses and then into the heart of the city and Keystone district, a middle-class section of the city containing safe, clean, wide thoroughfares and impressive buildings. Keystone is also the religious heart of Magnimar, and Artemis has no difficulty finding the Cynosure, the ring-shaped shrine dedicated to Desna. Artemis leaves the adventurers in the good hands of a beautiful Varisian cleric named Bevaluu Zimantiu. When Bey explains that they’ve come to have one of their number healed of ghoul fever, Bevaluu is happy to oblige and successfully invokes the Song of the Spheres to cure Arnald’s infliction. She welcomes the adventurers to Magnimar and tells them that the city is called variously the City of Monuments and the City of Secrets, as great powers reside in the ancient structures that dot the city. She tells them to visit a monument called Founder’s Honour along the eastern side of Keystone and leave a gift of flowers and fruit to experience the miracles of Magnimar firsthand. When the adventurers do so, Bey and Arnald do feel a surprising degree of contentment.

The adventurers have followed a trail of clues from Foxglove Manor all the way to Magnimar. After the small-town charms of Sandpoint, are they prepared for the dangers and opportunities presented by a bustling city?

Director's Commentary:

With his access to lesser restoration, Kang effectively solved Arnald's ghoul fever problem (even the disease wouldn't be formally cured until the PCs reached Magnimar). A bit anti-climactic from a story-telling perspective, but I can't begrudge the smart use of a resource to save a PC's life.

I came up with the Vexing Dodger, a ship crewed entirely by ratfolk, because I thought it might be fun for the PCs to encounter a non-Core rulebook race. The bit with the monsters in the hold destined for Serpent's Run was my preparation in case I rolled for any random encounters on the voyage. I even had a ship flip-mat. Alas, the dice said no random encounters, so it was a peaceful journey.

I spent a lot of time preparing Magnimar: the AP has a small gazetteer, of course, but I made a lot of use of the campaign setting book and even tried to get some flavour from a novel set there. I wanted the city to make a big impression on the PCs, but in the actual session I found it really hard to describe the "feel" of the city as they moved quickly from place to place. As cool and impressive as the Thassilonian monuments would be in real life, they didn't get much a reaction from the jaded adventurers (or players). It's hard for a GM to translate cool stuff from paper into the players' imagination sometimes.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I've been away for the holidays, but now will be back to posting these more regularly!

Session # 32 Recap:
[11 Neth 4707 continued]

Artemis reports in at the Arvensoar, an enormous tower that looms over Magnimar and serves as home both to the city’s military garrison and the City Watch. Captain Gibble Fank, Artemis’ immediate superior, is surprised to see him, as he sent orders via courier to Sandpoint just yesterday to recall him! Artemis reports his progress in investigating the murders in Sandpoint: how the immediate culprit (Aldern Foxglove) was killed while resisting arrest, and how clues point to the involvement of co-conspirators here in the city. Fank shuts the door to his office and tells Artemis surprising news: murder victims marked with seven-pointed stars on their chests have also been discovered several times in recent months in Magnimar, but the authorities are keeping any connection to the murders from the public in order to prevent a panic! Fank explains that there’s enormous pressure from “above” (the Council of Ushers, Lord-Mayor Grobaras Haldemeer, and the Justice Council) for the City Watch to put a stop to the murders. To that end, he authorizes Artemis to retrieve the sealed crime scene files from the records room and to make use of his “irregulars” (allies from Sandpoint) in continuing the investigation. But, when Artemis requests the files from a clerk in the record room, it turns out that the records are missing!

Meanwhile, Artemis’ “irregulars,” having just visited Founder’s Honor, are unsure what to do next or how to find him. Bey suggests trusting in fate, picking a direction randomly, and seeing where they end up. The others go along with her and eventually find themselves in Dockway District at the foot of a monument depicting twin wizards destroying monstrous spider-like aberrations. Bey’s interest in all things Thassilonian allows her to explain that, almost a century ago, the pilings of the massive bridge known as the Irespan were quarried for stone—but doing so revealed ancient chambers inside the pilings, and from out of them hundreds and hundreds of creatures called Shriezyx poured forth and nearly overwhelmed the city until an adventuring party known as the Eyes of the Hawk stemmed the tide and saved the city! Kang studies the intricate carvings on the monument for several minutes and realizes they provide clues on how to fight such creatures and their ilk.

The newcomers to Magnimar decide to ask a passer-by how to get to the City Watch’s headquarters, but Bey’s off-putting manner is taken the wrong way and the surly sailor tells a bald-faced lie: he sends them all the way to the summit of the massive cliffs looming over the city, into Alabaster District. The scruffy-looking adventurers are clearly not welcome in Magnimar’s most exclusive and wealthy neighbourhood, and are turned away by private security guards who, when asked, point out the Arvensoar down below. After another long walk, the weary adventurers are told by one of Artemis’ Watch friends where he lives.

For his part, Artemis checks in at Deadeye Lodge, the city’s temple to Erastil, and learns from Father Orgell Fendus that Artemis' wife (a priestess of Erastil) is at home, as she’s a little under the weather. Artemis’ subsequent reunion with Miryana Lahs is a joyful one, especially since she wasn’t expecting him back so soon. Artemis explains that he’s back in Magnimar investigating a series of murders that hold links to both the city and Sandpoint, and that he’s been accompanied by a handful of locals who have been assisting him. Miryana says they’ll have to host “Artie’s” “friends” for dinner, and says that little of interest has happened since he’s been away, apart from news that Artemis’ cousin Fillias has gotten himself into legal trouble in Turtleback Ferry and will be serving a stint at a nearby fortress in lieu of a jail sentence.

When the others arrive at the Lahs home, they make quite an impression, but not necessarily a good one! Kang simply strides in and makes himself at home, Bey talks incessantly about the apocalypse, and Arnald is silent as a stone as he clips his toenails at the dinner table! Only Briza, despite her Shoanti background, seems able to observe the common courtesies. Artemis is clearly embarrassed by his allies’ behaviour, but Miryana takes it all in stride and welcomes everyone in. “Any friend of Artie is a friend of mine,” she says. After dinner, the adventurers talk about the next steps in their investigation. Artemis tells them about the files being missing, and Bey speculates that if a cult is behind the murders, they may have agents in the Watch. Artemis says that he’ll see what he can dig up about Aldern Foxglove in the morning. He directs the others to a nearby inn named The Green Lobster. The common room smells as awful as the inn’s name would imply and the food is disgusting, but the prices are quite reasonable and the adventurers settle in for the night.

[12 Neth 4707]

A chilly morning greets the adventurers, and they make a special stop to buy warmer winter clothing before beginning the day’s tasks. From the letter found in the caverns under Foxglove Manor, the adventurers know the rough location of Aldern Foxglove’s townhouse, and Artemis uses land records to narrow it down further. When they arrive at the address in the “new money” Naos District, they notice that the windows and back door have been boarded over. Although the place looks like it could be abandoned, a knock on the front door leads to a startling sight: Aldern Foxglove and his wife, Iesha, look to be alive and well! The couple ask the adventurers to come in as Artemis explains that they’ve come to investigate some macabre happenings in Sandpoint. Iesha prepares tea in the kitchen as Aldern leads the visitors to a dining room. He disclaims having any knowledge of the unusual events the adventurers have encountered, but as the questioning persists, Iesha enters with a kettle of boiling water and suddenly hurls it right at Arnald! Luckily, the sellsword manages to duck in time. “Aldern” and “Iesha” suddenly transform into hairless, leathery bipeds with featureless, grotesque heads! Artemis, having fought them before shortly after his arrival in Sandpoint, knows they’re so-called “faceless stalkers”. One of the creatures lashes out and cuffs him in the head, but Briza adroitly leaps onto the table and cleaves the other with her greatsword. Kang expertly shoots the other one with a crossbow bolt (drawing upon the insight he gained from his study of the Eyes of the Hawk) and Arnald easily finishes it off. Although taken by surprise, the adventurers make short work of their attackers and are mostly unharmed.

The adventurers discuss what to do next and decide to search the rest of the rooms on the first floor, until they hear an angry shout from above: “My patience grows thin! Face me if you dare!” Briza challenges the speaker to come face them instead, and the adventurers take up battle positions as they hear footsteps charging down the stairs. The figure comes around a corner, and Arnald recognizes the person responsible for killing Felix and Nedrin: the silver-haired devotee of Lamashtu named Nualia! The mastermind behind the goblin attack on Sandpoint just months prior has grown even more demonic in appearance and growls a profane curse as she charges Briza—but this time, fate has decreed a far different outcome to the battle. Nualia’s wild swing, which Briza ducks, knocks her off balance and she hits the ground hard! Before she can get to her feet again, Briza, Arnald, and Bey launch their attacks simultaneously. With Nualia’s death, the culprit behind the Swallowtail Festival raids is finally brought to justice.

The victorious combatants take the time to carefully search the remainder of the townhouse, and Kang’s careful attention to detail is rewarded when he notices a small keyhole on an upstairs fireplace mantle. Artemis manages to pick the lock, and a secret panel slides open to reveal a safe. Inside are hundreds of platinum pieces, but perhaps more valuable are two documents. The first is a ledger, the close inspection of which reveals several suspicious payments over the past months labelled as “Iesha’s Trip to Absalom,” each indicating that Aldern was paying someone or something named “B-7” over 200 gold pieces a week, with payment delivered every Oathday at midnight to a place called The Seven’s Sawmill. The second document is the deed to Foxglove Manor, written in 4624 A.R., intriguingly indicating that Vorel Foxglove financed construction of the mansion with loans from the “Brothers of the Seven” on the condition that the building and its grounds would transfer to the Brothers of the Seven after a period of 100 years.

Discussion turns to whether the authorities should be notified about what just happened and the discovery of the documents. Bey asks if Artemis could delay informing his superiors since the Brothers of the Seven could have influence with them; she cites the missing crime scene records as evidence that the City Watch may not be secure. Artemis says he’ll discuss the matter with someone he knows he can trust, his immediate superior, and give a recommendation that the results of the investigation to this point be a closely held secret. Unfortunately, when Artemis later raises the suggestion with Captain Fank (while the latter is on an inspection in the Lowcleft District) Fank says it’s too risky: if either he or Artemis are suspected of some sort of cover-up, it could mean their jobs, if not worse. He says he has no choice but to pass the results up the chain of command.

After some early stumbles, the adventurers are making steady progress in their investigation into Aldern Foxglove and his connection with a mysterious organization in Magnimar. But are they moving fast enough to stop more killings? And what if Bey’s fears that the City Watch has been compromised proves true?

Director's Commentary:
In a world without cell phones, it's a bad idea for a group of adventurers to split up in the city without making plans for where and when they'll meet up again! Fortunately, after some juggling, it all worked out okay in the end.

The reference to Artemis' cousin, Fillias, having been sent to Turtleback Ferry killed two birds with one stone: Fillias was Artemis' Contact (we used the Contact rules from Ultimate Campaign) and planted a seed for a storyline that would develop in Chapter Three of the AP. Speaking of Artemis, I was really happy with how the role-playing for his wife, Miryana, went; it's stressful to run an NPC that is so integral to a character's background but the RP rapport seemed immediately natural.

We all had great fun with the disgusting, spoiled seafood restaurant/inn called the Green Lobster. I was proud of myself for making the concept up on the spot after using the Gamemastery Guide's random tavern name generator.

After Nualia's victory at the end of Chapter One of the AP, I thought her reappearance at the Foxglove Townhouse would be an exciting surprise. But even though I bumped her levels, she went down like a chump and it was almost humorously anticlimactic. The best laid plans of GMs . . .

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 33 Recap:
[12 Neth 4707 continued]

Artemis returns to the others and reports the gist of his conversation with Captain Fank. The adventurers decide to continue their investigation into the mysterious “Brothers of the Seven” by staking out a lumber mill owned by the organization on Kyver’s Islet. The island, at the mouth of the Yondakabari River connected to the rest of the city by bridges, contains several lumber mills, and the Seven’s Sawmill outwardly appears to be no different than the others. After a couple of hours in the cold pretending to fish, the adventurers decide to forge a message purportedly from Aldern Foxglove asking for the normal Oathday drop-off of funds to be moved up to tomorrow at midnight. As they warm up in a tavern in Keystone District called the Burnt Nightcap, Kang does his best on the forgery and the group has a messenger boy deliver it to the mill.

In the early evening, the adventurers are just finishing a meal at the tavern when a pair of City Watch constables arrive and summon Staff Sergeant Lahs and his “irregulars” to meet with Captain Fank in Beacon’s Point. When the adventurers’ arrive, they see that Fank and several members of the Watch have taken up positions near sewer grates in what is perhaps the city’s poorest neighbourhood, Rag’s End. Fank tells Artemis he’s received orders stating that the persons responsible for the “Star Murders” are holing up in the sewers and that Artemis and his irregulars are specifically instructed to apprehend them. Fank acknowledges it’s an unusual situation and that he has no independent way to verify the lead, but that “orders are orders.” After Kang tries and fails to extract some payment from Fank, the adventurers follow through with the request.

The pitch black sewer tunnels are lit by Arnald’s and Briza’s everburning torches, and the Shoanti warrior takes point as the adventurers trudge through tunnels slippery with muck. After some minutes of walking punctuated only by the occasional splashes of rats, a junction can be seen up ahead. Briza stops suddenly, having almost walked right into a thick, glistening spiral of webbing stretched across the corridor. The decision is made to burn the webbing, and instants later, strange shrieking and scuttling sounds can be heard nearby. Arnald pulls Briza back and raises his greataxe high as a quartet of oversized spiders with beady eyes and maws dripping green venom appear! “Shriezyx!” shouts Kang, remembering his visit to the Eyes of the Hawk monument the previous day. In the fighting and confusion, Bey finds herself at the front of the formation and draws upon her visions of the apocalypse to burst into flames! The creatures are shaken but overcome their fears to wrap her up in envenomed webbing. Arnald starts to put into effect a plan involving soaking his zebra-skin rug with wine, but before he can implement it Kang hurls a bomb that devastates the creatures and Artemis finishes the job with his arrows. Bey, having been poisoned and suffering from a head wound in the battle, manages to recover thanks to her divinely-inspired magicks.

The adventurers discuss whether to proceed further, as the presence of Shriezyx combined with the strange way the mission has fallen into their hands leads them speculate they could be on a wild goose chase or even walking into a trap. Kang offers to scout ahead after he quaffs an alchemical extract to turn invisible. After some twists and turns, he hears splashing and sees a woman in a black bodysuit running down a tunnel. She climbs a ladder and tries to lift off the grate cover, but is startled by a member of the City Watch maintaining the promised cordon of the area. She jumps back down and runs away, disappearing into the darkness. Kang returns to the others, and the adventurers decide the sighting is worth investigating. As they pass by otherwise unremarkable tunnels, Bey suddenly stops and points to one side—she’s noticed that part of the fungus-covered wall is actually a fabric flap! The adventurers are quick to investigate and find a large chamber cut out of the bedrock. Inside are what appear to be two members of the City Watch sifting through a pile of garbage “looking for leads,” but the canny adventurers don’t fall for the trick for a single instant: they know they’re dealing with faceless stalkers! Instead of being caught off-guard, the adventurers strike first, with Kang’s powerful explosives disintegrating the aberrations.

Thinking the combat over, the adventurers begin exploring for clues or treasure, little realizing that the stalkers’ leader was lurking, invisibly, the whole time! She suddenly appears, extending her arms almost 15 feet to touch Kang with a spell that turns him from a genius to someone of but average intelligence. “I’ve been expecting you!” the creature shouts. Briza draws her greatsword and charges, but the sorcerer lashes out another limb and trips her! Fortunately, even an explosives expert of average intelligence is still a formidable foe, and once again Kang’s bombs finish the fight. The unconscious stalker is slain by Artemis. A search of the caverns reveals thousands of gold pieces’ worth of stolen goods, which everyone except Kang votes to turn over to the authorities. After leaving the sewers and reporting to Fank that it was a false lead, Artemis returns home for the night and the others get rooms at the Burnt Nightcap.

[13 Neth 4707]

In the morning, Bey closely questions the messenger boy about the previous night’s task, and he reports having dropped off the message successfully with laborers at the Seven’s Sawmill. When the adventurers reunite after breakfast, Briza asks about hiring back-up for the planned midnight raid, but Arnald scoffs at the notion that they might need help. The adventurers decide to set about on various errands in the morning with the intention to reunite at Artemis’ house at midday.

Director's Commentary:
The PCs are entering the last third of Chapter Two in this session, but there was still time for a little twist. To further represent the fact that Justice Ironbriar was in a position of authority and knew the Skinsaw Cult was being hunted by the adventurers, I had him arrange an ambush in the sewers under Magnimar. The sewer trap comes from the "Ugothol Ambush" encounter in Volume 3 of the Pathfinder comic hardcover, while the shriezyx and the mysterious woman (a gang member or assassin, if I recall) were both random encounters. The battles against the ugothols weren't much of a challenge against the canny PCs, as this was a period in the campaign when they were taking on all comers and winning handily. Still, I liked how naturally it integrated in, story-wise speaking. Next session, cultists galore!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 34 Recap:
[13 Neth 4707 continued]

With a plan to reunite at Artemis’ house at midday, the adventurers find different ways to occupy themselves in the morning.

Kang crafts a new batch of drow poison and then walks to Naos District with a particular destination in mind: a mediocre-looking wine shop named Boria’s. Inside the store, stocked with a mundane selection of wines and decorated with a silver statuette of Cayden Cailean, Kang is subtly warned by the shop’s proprietor, an old acquaintance, that the two are being scried. In a conversation ostensibly about samples of rare wines, Kang makes a very lucrative sale of the drow poison. After leaving the shop, Kang is walking down the street when he sees something he never expected: himself! A figure who looks exactly like Kang is walking on the other side of the crowded street near an open air cantina where the waiters dress like vagrants to the delight of visiting aristocrats. The real Kang follows the duplicate Kang, but the latter realizes he’s being tailed and tries to make a run for it. Kang chases his doppelganger into an alleyway and then gets jumped, as his double grows claws! The fake Kang repeats, with minor alterations, everything that the real Kang says until the real Kang blows him to smithereens with a cascade of bombs! The strange altercation has not gone unnoticed, however, and some good samaritans try to detain Kang until the City Watch can arrive, but the nimble tiefling manages to get away and disappear into another neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Artemis walks to Underbridge District, commonly known by locals as the Shadow due to the area literally receiving only a few hours of sunlight a day. Amidst the enormous pilings of the Irespan that looms above, the Shadow is home to seedy dives, flophouses, and “streets” that are nothing more than muddy, trash-strewn gaps between dilapidated buildings that look like they could collapse at any time. Artemis makes his way carefully into an abandoned building, the floor of which has collapsed to reveal basements below. There, he reunites with a band of kobolds he befriended years previously as a teenager when they recognized his mixed human/draconic ancestry. The kobolds say there have been encroachments on their territory by gangs of humans and mysterious kidnappers from below. When Artemis asks if they know anything about the recent murders on the streets of Magnimar, he’s told of two different sightings of mysterious flying creatures in the Shadow occasionally plucking someone from the streets and disappearing into the darkness. Although interesting, the information isn’t quite was Artemis was looking for and he bids the tribe farewell.

For their part, Bey, Briza, and Arnald go together to Alabaster District to see the city’s most popular public venue: Serpent’s Run, the largest arena in Varisia. Capable of seating over 5,000 people, the hippodrome is well-named from the huge carving of a snake winding around its upper rim. As they walk down Champion’s Walk, Briza sees the newest statue is that of her friend (and current arena champion) “Bonecrusher” Harkam. She excitedly points this out to her companions, and the three head into the arena and pay for middle-rank seats to watch a massive mock naval battle. Arnald is keen to enter one of the events frequently open to adventurers such as fighting monsters, other adventuring parties, or even the arena champion, and the promise of gold or magic items by the arena’s Master of Ceremonies certainly makes the proposition attractive. However, Bey talks Arnald into waiting until after the night’s planned raid on the Seven’s Sawmill so they don’t draw undue attention to themselves.

At midday, the adventurers reunite at Artemis’ house. Somewhat bedraggled from the battle against his double, Kang explains that everyone should be on the lookout for potential impostors. The adventurers decide on a code word to identify themselves, just in case. Various plans are discussed for how to approach the sojourn to the Seven’s Sawmill, but eventually the group settles on simply pretending they’re friends of Aldern Foxglove and seeing what happens. After realizing just how evil the mask worn by Aldern in his guise as the Skinsaw Man is, the adventurers take it to Father Fendus at Deadeye Lodge and he destroys it after offering the group a bounty for it. The rest of the afternoon is spent buying and selling various goods in Magnimar's markets.

When darkness falls, the adventurers walk to Kyver’s Isle and again stake out the Seven’s Sawmill. Seeing nothing unusual, they approach and knock on the door. A mill worker answers the door but looks confused when the adventurers mention a meeting, but he says they can ask the manager in his office upstairs. The worker leads the group up several flights of stairs to the fourth floor. Artemis can tell that there’s something not quite right about the man’s behaviour, and both he and Kang hear the creaking of the stairs below them. When the adventurers are led into a workshop with a thick layer of sawdust, a trap is sprung! Over a dozen masked cultists armed with war razors and hand crossbows emerge from the shadows, but the adventurers (either through luck or tactical acumen) are in the perfect defensive formation and are ready for battle.

Lacking both the element of surprise and the ability to surround and overwhelm their prey, the cultists are on the verge of being routed despite their numerical advantage. Arnald and Bey keep the attackers from the front at bay, while Briza single-handedly holds the rear from four assassins trying to sneak up after her! In the middle, Artemis and Kang put their devastating ranged attacks to good use. But the cultists have one last trick up their sleeves. From the veil of invisibility, a figure suddenly appears wearing a mask made from a single long strip of pliant human skin stitched into a widening spiral by black thread. The mask glows, and suddenly Arnald is unable to tell friend from foe! The axe-man begin wreaking havoc in his own ranks, cutting Kang deeply before the alchemist escapes, and laying into Briza when she tries to talk him down. Artemis’ arrows inflict deadly wounds on the spellcaster, creating an opening for Bey to charge and decapitate him with her bardiche. After several seconds of mayhem, Arnald comes to his senses to see the battle is won, with all of the cultists either dead or dying (save one, who wisely surrendered).

After a stunning victory over the Skinsaw Cult, have the masterminds behind the Sihedron murders finally been brought to justice?

Director's Commentary:
I've probably mentioned before that one of the few optional rules sub-systems I've used for this campaign is the Contacts system from Ultimate Campaign. This session is a good example of the pros and cons. What I like about the system is that it gives each PC one NPC they already have a connection with in a place they're likely to vist, and sets up the potential for some excellent role-playing opportunities. Kang's encounter with the poison-seller Boria was really fun, and probably wouldn't have turned out nearly as well if Boria hadn't already been developed as Kang's Contact. On the other hand, prepping a Contact can be a lot of work, and sometimes players don't use them at all--I expected Briza to use (or even recruit for the raid on the cult) her contact "Bonecrusher" Harkam, and thus prepped a full stat-block. Instead, the players went in a different direction and he never set foot "on-screen."

The battle of Kang vs. Kang was a fun little random encounter that occurred when the result was "doppelganger." The Magnimar sourcebook was excellent on having different degrees of dangerousness for different neighbourhoods.

Artemis' encounter with the kobolds stemmed from his backstory.

The battle against the Skinsaw Cult at the sawmill was written to be a series of encounters against small groups of foes. However, because of the forged note, the Cult knew to prep a trap. This wouldn't be the last time that the PCs ended up doing things the hard way and fighting every available enemy simultaneously! However, it often inexplicably works in their favour, as the result here showed.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 35 Recap:
[13 Neth 4707 continued]

With the surrender of the last cultist fighting on the fourth floor of the Seven’s Sawmill, a scene previously filled with the sounds of clanging blades, mystical incantations, and explosions suddenly becomes silent. Arnald collapses into unconsciousness from his wounds, while Bey begins to stare off into nothingness, seeing only images of the impending apocalypse. Artemis starts to pull the hideous masks off the cultists, and is startled to realize that the cult’s leader was none other than Justice Ironbriar, the judge who sent him to Sandpoint with orders to report on Sheriff Hemlock’s investigation! Artemis starts to pace nervously, unsure of how to handle the dramatic revelation.

Kang explores an office adjacent to the main workshop where the battle took place, and sees that the walls of the room bear macabre decorations: human faces stretched flat over wooden frames by strips of black twine, each face grimacing in slightly different expression of pain. Behind a desk and rocking chair, a wooden ladder leads to a trapdoor in the ceiling. Kang opens the footlocker next to a low-slung cot and learns that it contains a variety of knickknacks and oddities probably collected from the cult’s victims over the years, but more valuable items are inside as well, such as an arcane spellbook marked with snakes, an old and beautifully filigreed tome titled The Syrpents Tane: Fairy Tales of the Eldest, and, perhaps most intriguing of all, a slim handwritten journal whose meaning is hidden beneath a complex code made of Draconic, Elven, and Infernal characters. Fortunately, Kang reads all three languages and knows that with some days’ work, he should be able to decipher the code.

As he tries to make sense of the journal, Kang hears the creaking of footsteps above. He alerts his companions and they take up defensive positions, waiting for the intruder to attack. Seconds pass, and then they hear a loud thump on the side of the building! Artemis bravely ascends the ladder and finds himself in a rookery. A timber cabinet contains two ravens, while a nearby table holds a bucket of bird feed, a quill, a vial of ink, and several thin parchments weighted down by a polished rock. But what gets the watchman’s attention is the rope tied to a support beam whose far end dangles off the side of the building. Artemis hoists the rope up and discovers that someone, presumably a member of the cult, has hanged himself! The adventurers place the newly-discovered body with the others and search the lot. Artemis tries to get the cultist who surrendered to talk by threatening him with violence, but the sneering man laughs in his face, knowing that by reputation the watchman is too law-abiding to torture a prisoner.

The adventurers load the bodies, the prisoner, and the unconscious Arnald onto a nearby cart and take it to the Arvensoar. The officer on duty almost panicks when told that a member of the Watch was involved in an altercation that has led to the decapitation of a member of the Justice Council. He orders the adventurers detained in separate interrogation rooms and sends a messenger to wake up High Captain Acacia Uriana, the overall commander of the City Watch, and Lord-Mayor Haldemeer Grobaras. With his notable tiefling features, Kang is treated with extreme suspicion by the guards, who openly speculate he could be a spy or assassin from Korvosa. When the fiery Uriana arrives to question him, Kang raises her hackles by refusing to talk unless he has a chance to confer with Artemis first. Uriana moves on to question Briza, and the Shoanti does a fair job of explaining the unusual sequence of events that led to a band of adventurers from Sandpoint getting wrapped up in a murder investigation in Magnimar. Still, Uriana remains sceptical. Artemis’ forthright manner, unblemished record for integrity, and corroboration of Briza’s tale is enough to temporarily mollify Uriana.

[14 Neth 4707]

In the morning, Uriana gives orders to let Artemis and Briza go while the investigation continues, but Artemis’ superior office, Gibble Fank, has to tell him the unpleasant news that he’s been suspended from active duty until the full truth of what happened in the sawmill can be determined. Kang remains in custody for several more hours and is interrogated again about both the sawmill and his visit to Boria’s wine shop, as the venue has long been under surveillance on suspicions of criminal activity. Kang sticks to his story that he was only there to sell wine, and the fortunate presence in his backpack of a bottle of ancient vintage (obtained from Foxglove Manor) and the lack of any other incriminating evidence on his person is enough to mollify his interrogator. Kang is released with a warning to watch his step.

The adventurers walk back to Artemis’ house and notice a surprising sight outside: a massive, opulent carriage attended by several footmen is parked on the street in front of the house. Guards dressed in matching uniforms have cordoned off the house, while a trio of mages have erected a silver arch in front of the doorway. Artemis recognizes the scene as standard protocol for when Lord-Mayor Grobaras ventures out into the public! Artemis tells Briza and Kang to meet him later at Deadeye Lodge, as he needs to learn why the city’s executive has come to his house. After passing through an elaborate security screening, Artemis is admitted into his own home to see his wife serving the Lord-Mayor tea. Grobaras is all smiles and compliments, and once he and Artemis are alone he expresses his gratitude for “removing a thorn from my heel” in exposing Ironbriar’s crimes. Grobaras goes on to say that Uriana has confirmed Artemis’ story, and that the watchman has earned a promotion for his service to the city. He tells Artemis that he and his “Irregulars” are invited to a party at his residence, Defiant’s Garden, at the end of the month, and that he hopes the two can continue to be of mutual assistance to one another.

Meanwhile, Kang and Briza head to Deadeye Lodge, Magnimar’s temple to Erastil. Father Fendus is pleased to offer the pair a reward for bringing him the evil-infused masks of the Skinsaw Cult to destroy, and explains that the cult must be affiliated with the god of murder, Norgorber. While Fendus sets about destroying the masks, Kang whispers to Briza that he’s on the verge of a breakthrough in his quest to achieve eternal life! He tells her he could use her assistance later that evening, but that the whole matter must be kept quiet lest others try to steal the secret from him. Having finished their tasks, the two adventurers meet up with Artemis and, after some errands, return with him home to find that his wife, Miryana, is planning a party to celebrate “Artie’s” promotion. Briza volunteers to help with the preparations, while an unconscious Arnald takes up space on the chaise and Bey continues to be lost in her mystery. Kang decamps to the Green Lobster to have some peace and quiet to work on his alchemical research and on deciphering the coded book obtained from the Seven’s Sawmill; he obtains a sizable discount from the establishment since a bad case of food poisoning has cleared the inn of customers.

Artemis continues his investigation into the mysterious name “Xanesha” and gets a lead from one of his street contacts that a pesh dealer in the Shadow named Zivix has mentioned the name before. On his way there, Artemis takes time to give instructions on stealth to the members of the Watch who are supposed to be secretly tailing him. Artemis finds Zivix disguising himself as a flute-playing busker and sees through the man’s firm avowal that Zivix is dead. Although Artemis can’t persuade the man to talk, he does notice that whenever he invokes the name “Xanesha,” the man looks frightened and glances over at a rundown clock tower in the distance. Although it’s not much of a lead, it’s the best the adventurers have found so far.

Artemis hurries back home to find his house crowded with guests: the party has begun! Kang draws Briza aside to tell her that he’s made an important advance in his research: a way for his body to regenerate itself when wounded! Kang tells her a story about a mortal who became so perfect he ascended into godhood, and Artemis overhears this tale and connects it to Irori. But before the conversation can become too serious, Artemis and his companions are drawn into the garden for dancing where, out of everyone, Kang shows a surprising amount of natural rhythm.

Director's Commentary:
The revelation about Justice Ironbriar went about as well as it could have, considering most of the PCs didn't have any interaction with him (Artemis being the exception). The group continued their trend at being better at battle than investigation, as I don't think Kang ever did get that journal decoded and the idea that the messenger-ravens could be used to track down Ironbriar's mysterious boss never occurred to them. As for the hanged fellow, I assumed the PCs would rush in when they heard the noise and have a chance to save him--it was Tsuto (whose release was arranged by Ironbriar). Another example (along with Nualia) of how I wasn't particularly successful at having old villains return for an impactful performance.

The interrogations by the City Watch was some spontaneous role-playing fun, and it was interesting to see how everyone stood up under pressure. In retrospect, it might have been even more fun if I had made the other players leave the room during each "interrogation" so discrepancies would be more likely, but that's an idea for another day.

The scene with Grobaras was great. I think Artemis was the most well-rounded and best fleshed out of the PCs because his backstory and connections to other NPCs (like his wife) were easy to tie into the plot. I'm happy because I think I did a good job portraying a politician who is enormously popular with "the common man" but also manages to achieve his own ends.

The stuff with Kang and Irori near the end arose out of the player wanting to take a spell that was reserved to worshippers of that deity. Since the PC had never before shown any interest, I ruled it out unless the player started weaving a growing interest into his character arc. I think it turned out pretty well and fleshed out Kang's motivations a little more.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 36 Recap:
[15 Neth 4707]

A light drizzle falls over Magnimar on the morning after the celebration of Artemis’ promotion to Lieutenant. At breakfast, Artemis tells the other adventurers about what he found in Underbridge the previous day: clues that the mysterious “Xanesha” can fly and might be frequenting an abandoned clock tower. Although Briza, Bey, and Arnald are enthusiastic about visiting the clock tower immediately, Artemis says cautious investigation is the order of the day, given the group knows almost nothing about Xanesha’s abilities or the clock tower itself. The party agrees to do some research and then come up with a plan before approaching the tower directly.

But first, Artemis follows through on a promise to lead Kang to a nearby martial arts dojo consecrated to the god of bodily purification and self-perfection, Irori. Kang’s request that the dojo’s master provide him with the most sacred scriptures of the faith is rebuffed, but instead the tiefling receives an invitation to meditate and train. Kang is somewhat reluctant, but perseveres and is invited to visit again. Meanwhile, Artemis persuades one of the city watchman still trailing him while “undercover” to ask locals some questions about the old Underbridge clock tower.

After a brief visit to the Arvensoar, the adventurers are directed to a nearby museum to find historical records on the clock tower. Perhaps the premiere repository of historical information in western Varisia, the publicly-funded Founder’s Archive contains the output of generations of scholars along with city records and personal journals of preeminent Magnimarians. With help from his allies, Artemis has little difficulty finding out that the Underbridge clock tower has been abandoned for decades, that the crumbling wooden steps inside led to several deaths and the nickname “The Terrible Stairs,” and that the 180’ high tower is topped by the onyx statue of an angel whose crown nearly touches the bottom of the Irespan above. When the guard that Artemis sent to gather gossip about the tower returns, he reports that locals in the area report seeing a shadowy bulk almost twice as big as a human lurking near the base of the tower!

The adventurers begin discussing possible assault plans, and the consensus is for Kang to drink an alchemical concoction to turn himself invisible and provide him with the ability to lift Arnald to the top of the tower armed with nets covered in alchemical glue to drop on Xanesha before she escapes. The group travels to Dockway District in order to buy some nets and, while looking for a place where Kang can spend a couple of hours working with his flasks and beakers, stumble into an establishment Arnald has been in before. Although the sellsword only barely remembers, he once did a great service to Ol’ Mam Grottle, proprietor of a barnacle-covered harborside tavern named The Old Fang, by returning the body of her husband and the corpse of the giant barracuda that killed him. Grottle gives Arnald a warm welcome and provides him and his friends with a private table and drinks on the house. As someone who hears almost all of the rumors going around Magnimar at one point or another, she’s even able to relate what some former patrons said about a serpentine shape seen slithering around the roof of the so-called “Shadow Clock” some nights ago. Briza ingeniously puts two and two together and reaches a startling conclusion: Xanesha is a lamia matriarch, a snake-bodied queen of a hate-filled race cursed to display both human and animal characteristics!

The adventurers walk back to Deadeye Lodge, having decided that it would be too dangerous to assault the tower in the rain. Although no one there has heard of lamias, Arnald manages to persuade two of the Erastil faithful (archers and members of a private street patrol) to accompany the group on the morrow’s planned mission.

[16 Neth 4707]

In the morning, the adventurers gather their two new archer allies and proceed towards Underbridge District. As they pass along the piers of Dockway, however, Briza, Kang, and one of the new recruits suddenly stop and turn towards the water. Briza shouts “a child—he’s drowning!” and takes a flying leap off the dock only to land on what looks like a barely submerged mass of seaweed. Kang, believing he’s seen a master alchemist known for concocting incredible formulae, rushes to the edge of the pier to speak with him. And the new recruit, believing his wife is calling for him, runs in the same direction. But all have been fooled by the hallucinogenic pheromones of a so-called sargassum fiend, a semi-intelligent aquatic plant creature known for luring entire ship’s crews to their deaths! Before the others can react, the plant monster wraps tentacles around Briza and starts to crush her to death. Briza struggles vainly as her ribs shatter and death seems certain, but Arnald’s greataxe is her salvation: with a mighty swing, he cleaves the writhing creature nearly in two! It releases Briza and dives to the bottom of the harbor, barely alive itself. Still, it was a close call and perhaps the nearest Briza has been to death since joining the adventurers in Sandpoint. Bey’s healing conjurations and Kang’s revitalizing elixirs are enough to bring her back to fighting shape and, after some discussion, the group decides to press forward towards Underbridge.

There, among the slums and blackened pilings supporting the massive Irespan above, the adventures cautiously survey the Shadow Clock from a distance. The teetering, decrepit structure of weathered stone, wood, and rusted metal appears deserted. The adventurers decide that Kang should scout first while flying and invisible. Kang downs his magical elixirs and heads toward the structure and then ascends along its outer water. Peeking through gaps in the worn façade, his innate ability to see in the dark reveals mounds of rubble and plaster on the ground floor along with several rooms obstructed by barely-hanging doors. A rickety-looking wooden stairway climbs along the walls. When Kang gets several dozen feet above ground level, he sees through another gap in the wall that the stairs lead to an area where a timber framework supports four massive bronze bells affixed to the timbers by rope. But lurking near the bells are a trio of something Kang has become quite familiar with: faceless stalkers. Kang continues flying upwards, past ancient scaffolding, exterior stairs, and the frozen clock face until he reaches the top. There, under the grimy features of the angel statue, he sees a nest of cushions, silk sheets, and several small chests. But what most catches his attention is the creature reclining in the nest: a lamia matriarch that could be none other than the mysterious mastermind behind the Skinsaw Cult: Xanesha!

Kang silently flies back to his allies and tells them everything he’s seen. Bey suggests collapsing the frail tower, but Artemis says that then Xanesha could just fly away and escape. Another suggestion is to start the tower on fire (perhaps pinning Xanesha to the roof with an alchemical-glue soaked net), but Briza points out that such a fire could easily spread through the slums and claim innocent lives. A third proposal is to try to knock the statue over on her, though it’s not clear how well-affixed it is to the roof. The adventurers decide their original plan is best, with Kang to lift Artemis and Arnald to the top (one by one) so they can confront the lamia matriarch directly.

The murders of Banny Harker and Katrine Vinder in a Sandpoint lumber mill started the adventurers on a trail that led through Foxglove Manor, the sewers of Magnimar, a murderous cult’s headquarters, and now to an abandoned clock tower in the foreboding slums of the Shadow. Will the adventurers triumph or falter in this climactic moment?

Director's Commentary:
This was very much a research and planning session, as the players figured out the location of the Shadow Clock and talked about how to launch their assault. Sending Kang to scout, flying and invisibly, was pretty smart and, as we'll see next time, helped them avoid a lot of the obstacles that the Shadow Clock poses.

Arnald persuading some of the NPC archers of the church of Erastil to join them on the raid was pretty smart--players rarely take advantage of the opportunities they have to bolster their numbers (perhaps because they think they'll automatically get shut down)

The sargassum fiend was a random encounter that turned out quite well. It was definitely something different (with the illusion angle) and quite exciting.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 37 Recap:
[16 Neth 4707 continued]

The adventurers go over their plan for assaulting the Shadow Clock one last time, and settle on the idea of Kang ferrying his companions, one by one, onto exterior scaffolding one story below the roof, hoping that they can then advance en masse upwards to take Xanesha by surprise. The plan goes surprisingly well at first, as a loud flock of birds masks the sounds of Kang setting his companions onto the creaking wooden scaffolding. But Arnald, the last to ascend (as the two archers of Erastil he recruited have been instructed to wait below and secure the exit), lands with a heavy thud that alerts Xanesha that someone is nearby. “I don’t know why you’ve come,” she hisses, peering down at the adventurers, “but you’ll rue the day you trespassed on my domain!”

Kang reacts to Xanesha’s appearance with lightning speed, hurling a pair of explosive concoctions onto the roof. The first strikes to devastating effect, but the second is a dud, and the alchemist realizes some of his preparations have gone awry. Bey and Arnald advance up the scaffolding to do battle with Xanesha, but the lamia matriarch’s wicked longspear jabs repeatedly into the axeman before he can close, and his attempt to entangle her in a net fails miserably. The group’s other hardened warrior, Briza, is pinned down at the scaffolding by the appearance of a trio of Faceless Stalkers who emerge from the bell tower and climb up after her. Artemis takes shelter just inside a room a level below the roof, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. It comes when a section of the roof collapses under Xanesha’s weight, and she falls through into the hole, plugging it like a cork in a bottle! Artemis begins releasing arrow after arrow into her lower half, with one such volley striking an artery!

But despite this early momentum, things quickly turn against the adventurers. After cleaving one of the Faceless Stalkers in twain, Briza is knocked off the scaffolding by a lucky blow from another one and plummets 160’ to the muddy alleyway below! Somehow, the hardy Shoanti warrior survives the fall, and even manages to stand up with the aid of the newly-recruited archers. Back on the roof, Arnald is impaled again by Xanesha’s longspear and barely manages to stand upright. All seems lost. Believing that her long-prophesied fiery doom has come, Bey bursts into flame and tries to tackle Xanesha—as the two struggle, the ancient, partially wooden clock tower starts to burn! Xanesha moans in outrage about being unable to free herself from the hole and promises a swift death to her enemies.

Salvation arrives from above. Kang lands on the roof just in time to drag Arnald out of the flames and then successfully mixes together another bomb to throw at Xanesha. Although the throw misses his intended target and explodes on Bey’s chest (injuring her severely), the resulting concussive burst is large enough to finish off the burned and bleeding Xanesha! The northwest section of the roof gives way, dropping her, Bey, and one of the Faceless Stalkers to the level below, where Artemis is standing. The adventurers above still face the difficult task of escaping before the entire clock tower becomes a raging inferno!

Down at the base of the tower, unaware of her allies’ success or the fire above, Briza throws open the doors to the ground floor and charges in with the archers at her heels. She reaches the staircase and starts climbing, but from out of one of the back rooms a hideous abomination sallies forth: a veritable giant of a “man” made from stitched together human, horse, and cow parts armed with a massive scythe and drooling obscenely. With one mighty sweep of the scythe, one of the archers is killed outright. Briza knows she can’t defeat such a beast in her severely injured condition and continues running up the stairs, with the surviving archer following.

Back on the roof, Kang flies the grievously wounded Arnald down to street level, and, soon after, Bey appears having bent lent a magic ring of slow falling by Artemis. For his part, Artemis is determined to recover at least some of the enormous wealth that Xanesha could have stashed away. He pushes her body off the scaffolding so it drops to the ground far below, and then adroitly climbs up to the roof. With only seconds to spare before the lamia matriarch’s nest of silk sheets and pillows begin to burn, he manages to knock three of the seven chests off the roof and then escape himself. Kang acts as a one-man rescue operation, flying his allies safely to the ground below.

For the space of a few seconds, complete victory seems at hand. But Arnald, ever unpredictable, can’t refrain from trying to sneak a peek at the scythe-wielding monstrosity that is still on the ground floor of the tower. As he sees it, it sees him! Arnald tries to run from it, but it catches up to him and with another single sweep of its flashing blade turns life into death. The creature then searches for more prey and spots Briza, who is hurriedly gathering up the contents of the three chests that broke when they were pushed off the roof. She also wisely makes a run for it, but, despite her greater speed, the creature knows the twisting alleyways of Underbridge better and manages to get her cornered. Still, the swordswoman is resourceful and climbs up and out of the dead end, shouting for help. Once again, Kang swoops in and lifts her to safety. The surviving heroes of the dramatic battle on the burning Shadow Clock flee and manage to escape the relentless creature.

Thus ends the second chapter of an epic tale. Although not without cost, a murderous cult and its leaders have been soundly defeated. Yet there are machinations at play in Varisia, and the tell-tale seven-pointed Sihedron of ancient Thassilon continues to manifest, bringing with it portents of doom . . .

Director's Commentary:
This was the epic end of Chapter Two, and it really was epic, lasting the entire evening and with memorable twists throughout. The PCs' excellent plan of flying to the top of the tower to surprise Xanesha was (partially) foiled by Arnald's terrible Stealth check--it seems like there's always one bad roll in a party when it comes to Stealth. The battle on top of the tower was exciting and could definitely have gone either way. Xanesha falling partially through a hole in the roof was caused by a deft use of a plot twist card (I gave the players each one to use per chapter of the AP). We were all amazed that Briza not only survived the 16d6 fall, but was able to get up and try to rejoin the fight! I knew, going into the session, that it would be the last one for Bey's and Arnald's players, so I wasn't completely surprised when Arnald did something dumb and got himself killed. Still, it was a fantastic session, and the best ending of the three chapters of the AP we've completed thus far.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 38 Recap:
[17 Neth 4707 to 29 Neth 4707]

In the days after the battle at the Shadow Clock, the adventurers find that their reputations with the authorities of Magnimar have improved significantly. Although the blaze that started during the fight soon destroyed the clock tower and spread to engulf much of the nearby shantytown of Underbridge, the recovery of Xanesha’s body and the complete cessation of Sihedron-marked murders have proven to everyone that the Skinsaw Cult is well and truly destroyed. With everyone having earned some rest and relaxation, the adventurers take some time to pursue their own interests. Kang prepares several potions (selling some to Briza for a modest profit) and scours the city’s library for information on Irori. Briza works out to stay in fighting trim while sparing time to research the mysterious seven-pointed Sihedron rune and the vanquished Skinsaw Cult that made use of it. Unfortunately, nothing is known of the cult, and little information is available on the rune: it’s clearly a symbol of power from ancient Thassilon and may have symbolized the empire itself, while simultaneously denoting the seven schools of magic recognized by its arcanists, the seven virtues of rule (wealth, fertility, honesty, pride, abundance, eager striving, righteous anger, and rest), and the seven failings of mortals (greed, lust, pride, gluttony, envy, wrath, and sloth). Artemis continues fulfilling his duties as a member of the Magnimar City Watch and commissions a new bow. Bey tells her companions that her immediate future is in Sandpoint, and that she’ll take Arnald’s body with her in an attempt to have it raised from the dead or put to rest.

Unbeknownst to the adventurers, two figures destined to play important parts in their epic tale are a step closer to meeting them for the first time. A Gorumite Battle-cleric named Goragar has come to Magnimar from Sandpoint in the company of Shalelu Andosana in the hopes of meeting a warband or hunting party willing to assist him in quenching his thirst for vengeance against the giants of central Varisia responsible for levelling his original hometown. Goragar and Shalelu travelled to Magnimar in the company of Sandpoint’s leader, Mayor Kendra Deverin, and its most famous resident, skilled actor and singer Cyrdak Drokkus, each of whom was invited to take part in a special celebration at the Lord-Mayor’s residence. When Cyrdak arrives in Magnimar, he asks Kozen, a young dancer whom he’s worked with in the past, to add a visual flair to his planned musical performance at the party. The dancer, a member of the rare shadow-touched species colloquially known as “fletchings”, agrees.

[30 Neth 4707]

The morning of the Lord-Mayor’s party sees the adventurers getting ready for the evening’s formal dress requirements. Artemis is fortunate enough to have recourse to his parade uniform, but Briza receives bad advice from someone on the street and almost buys a wrinkled frock from a rag shop in Dockway! Artemis’ wife, Miryana, takes her out for an afternoon of shopping and primping for the festivities to come. Kang decides to simply have his everyday wear cleaned, considering it quite sufficient for any occasion. Across town, Goragar is the victim of a cruel prank that sends him to Alabaster District to shop, and he’s turned away by a City Watch patrol suspicious of the heavily-armed half-orc. He manages to find something at a clothing shop so he won’t stick out too much at the party, but he and Shalelu commiserate about how much they hate aristocrats and their fancy dress balls. Kozen leaves his dog, Tatters, with a friend while he procures some comfortable performing clothes and then visits Cyrdak as the inn where he’s staying. Cyrdak seems quite nervous to be performing in front of the Lord-Mayor and his elite, wealthy guests, and is sipping gin somewhat too freely. He makes constant reference to wanting to show up “that hack,” Bodowen.

At dusk, the time comes for everyone to leave for the party. Artemis, Miryana, Kang, and Briza travel in an elegant carriage that Artemis hired for the night. Briza is quite disconcerted not to have a weapon at hand, but Kang consoles her slightly by handing her a potion of invisibility she can slip into her handbag. The line of carriages slowly moves along the oval in front of Defiant’s Garden, the Lord-Mayor’s residence, with each carriage stopping in front of a red carpet leading to the front door so that servants can announce each visitor. Goragar, walking to the residence in his plain tunic and breeches, is mistaken for a liveried footman! Over an archway into the main ballroom, a banner is hung with the awkwardly-worded theme of the celebration: “Magnimar Appreciates Its Holdings!” Artemis explains to his companions that around tax time, the city makes a token effort to show it hasn’t forgotten about the various far-flung towns, villages, and fortresses that allow it to aspire to someday becoming a true nation in Varisia rather than simply a city-state.

Canapes, cocktails, and cliques are in abundance as the evening goes on. Briza confronts a pair of merchants making racist comments about her Shoanti kin, Kozen joins Cyrdak in a room set aside for performers to make their preparations, Artemis tries (unsuccessfully) to avoid the adventurers he arrived with, and Kang ends up in conversation with Goragar (as his companion, Shalelu, has slipped into the shadows to avoid her fellow guests with a plan to leave as soon as decorum allows). Goragar expresses his hope of finding skilled warriors to accompany him into battle against giants, and Kang (noting to himself that the group’s resident “warrior psycho” just died), enthusiastically invites Goragar to join the group on the promise that they will surely find battle for him, even if not against giants.

A stirring in the crowd indicates that the Lord-Mayor himself has finally made an appearance. Haldemeer Grobaras shakes hands, pats shoulders, and makes his way to the front of the ballroom where a stage has been set up. The crowd hushes as he reiterates the theme of the celebration. As proof of how Magnimar takes care of its dependencies, he beckons for Artemis and his “irregulars” to come on stage and receive a (quite lucrative!) reward for their service in stopping the cult that was preying on the residents of Sandpoint and Magnimar alike. Next, Grobaras explains that representatives of three of Magnimar’s holdings have come to the city to bring “some of the frontier” to the city. First, a schoolteacher named Tillia Henkenson from Turtleback Ferry in central Varisia reads poetry written by the village’s children. Next, a gnome from the town of Whistledown demonstrates the settlement’s unique form of haunting music made from wind chimes. Last, Cyrdak comes on stage as a representative of Sandpoint and sings an aria, with Kozen’s delicate ballet as accompaniment. The two work together masterfully and are a hit, receiving several offers and invitations afterwards from the aristocrats and wealthy merchants in attendance. Kozen slinks into the shadows (and lets Cyrdak handle the attention) so he can find and personally thank the most enthusiastic member of the audience: Briza! The two strike up a conversation and become fast friends. During the aftermath of the performances, Grobaras’ personal assistant seeks out Artemis to convey a message: the Lord-Mayor would like to see him and his “irregulars” after the party on a matter of some urgency.

The partygoers gradually move from the ballroom into the extensive and beautiful gardens that are accompanied by elaborate topiaries, bubbling fountains, and priceless statuary. Not long after some guests begin to make their goodbyes, a commotion can suddenly be seen coming from the far edge of the gardens. Shouts, shoving, a tree cut down, a huge scythe whistling through the air, blood! Briza’s worst nightmare locks eyes with her and advances, the relentless and indefatigable flesh golem from the Shadow Clock having finally tracked down its prey. Realizing his companions are unarmed and unarmoured, Kang shouts for everyone to run. Briza knocks back the potion of invisibility and races away, one of dozens fleeing the scene. Kozen takes cover behind a nearby tree, but Goragar gets in the golem’s way as it tries to follow Briza, and the half-orc receives a deep cut from the creature’s scythe. Artemis dashes into the undergrowth and tries to draw a bead with his bow, while Kang takes to the air and prepares to hurl explosives at the golem from a safe distance. The alchemist’s unerring accuracy with hurled bombs damages the creature severely, but it dispassionately chooses the only other target it can reach from the night when its mistress was slain: Artemis! One cut leaves a deep gash in the archer’s chest, and as Artemis tries to escape, a second gash opens up in his back. Artemis collapses, mere instants away from death! A final explosive from Kang reduces the golem to a burning, sickening pile of flesh. Luckily, Goragar is close enough that, with a whispered prayer to Gorum, sacred light emanates from his hands and closes up the worst of Artemis’ wounds. The watchman will live, battered but alive.

Before the smoke fully clears, other members of the Watch arrive along with the Lord-Mayor’s bodyguard constructs. Soon after, Briza appears, fully armed and ready for battle. Artemis is helped inside after receiving additional healing from Goragar, and, ever true to his duty, reminds Kang and Briza that the Lord-Mayor would like to see them. The three meet with Grobaras in his private chamber, and the tired politico explains that the Council of Ushers is pushing for him to take action on a call for help from Turtleback Ferry delivered by the schoolmarm they saw read poetry earlier. Grobaras explains that Turtleback Ferry, a remote village perched on the northern edge of Claybottom Lake in central Varisia, is guarded by a company of rangers based out of Fort Rannick. Apparently, the rangers have failed to make any contact with the village for weeks now, and a messenger sent to the fort from the village never returned. Grobaras says the trip is probably pointless, but that if Artemis and his Irregulars are willing to go, they’ll be well-compensated. The trio agree and later make arrangements with Grobaras’ assistant for travel expenses and the name of the location where the schoolmarm from Turtleback Ferry is staying (an inn in Naos called the Glowing Embers). When the three adventurers leave the mansion, they see that Kozen and Goragar have been waiting for them. Explanations are made and invitations are accepted.

With a journey of days, if not weeks, ahead of them, the adventurers must prepare to venture forth from civilization into the untamed wilds of Varisia. The only thing certain is that the journey will not be a sedate one . . .

Director's Commentary:
One of the things I've liked about each chapter of the AP (so far) is that there's been a natural break to allow the PCs some Downtime (using the rules from Ultimate Campaign). It's good to give the PCs a chance to retrain, craft, earn some coin, etc., and the passage of time quickly in-game helps solve the "Level 1 to Level 18 in three weeks" problem that some campaigns have.

With Arnald's and Bey's players moving on due to work and childcare commitments, this session was the first for two new players who would run Goragar (Half-Orc Warpriest) and Kozen (Fletchling Bard/Shadowdancer), respectively. Goragar would prove just how awesome a self-buffing Warpriest could be in battle (as long as the buffs hold out), while Kozen was a bit harder to get a handle on (he had a lot of focus on stealth and rarely used the special bardic abilities) but I liked his relationship with his dog.

This session was the kick-off of Chapter 3, and I fleshed it out a lot more from how it was in the AP (which basically amounts to "Grobaras offers the PCs money to investigate Fort Rannick"). I really liked the idea of an encounter at a fancy garden party, something inspired by an encounter ("The Garden") in Volume 3 of the Pathfinder collected comics; that encounter gave options for various creatures that could attack, but I decided to make use of the dangling hook of the Scarecrow from the end of Chapter 2. I thought the encounter, and the entire session, was a great success and started things off quite well.

As I write this, we're well into Chapter 4. All I'll say now about Chapter 3 is that it was a brutal one for the PCs!

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 39 Recap:
[1 Kuthona 4707]

The first day of winter sees the adventurers make preparations for their planned trip to Turtleback Ferry. Knowing that there won’t be any cities nearly as large as Magnimar on the voyage, the adventures brave the chill air and take advantage of the opportunity to source items of arcane power and purchase supplies. While shopping in Dockway, Kozen and Briza are accosted by a gang of disgruntled sailors, but Briza’s glare and greatsword are enough to scare them away. Just a few blocks away, Goragar is trotting along on his warhorse at the harbor front when he glances at the shadows underneath the boardwalk and notices eyes following his every movement. Suddenly, two aberrant crustaceans about the size of large dogs scuttle out and slither towards him, clicking their large pincers threateningly. Reefclaws! Goragar’s finely-honed battle instincts kick in, and he slices one of the aberrant aquatic predators nearly in half with his sword, but, in its death throes, the reefclaw grazes his leg with a poisonous pincer. Gorgar is weakened as the poison runs its course, and for a few moments it addles his brain to the point where he slams the pommel of his sword into his own forehead! But his trained mount keeps the second reefclaw at bay until he can regain his senses and finish it off.

Meanwhile, Artemis walks to the Glowing Embers Inn in Naos District, finding that many pedestrians have taken advantage of its huge hearth to warm themselves before continuing on. There, sitting in a comfortable chair and knitting, Artemis finds Tillia Henkenson. He explains that he and his allies have been tasked with travelling to Fort Rannick and finding out why the Order of the Black Arrow rangers have cut off contact with Turtleback Ferry. He offers to accompany Tillia on her return voyage and, after verifying his identity through documents, she agrees. She explains that she’s booked passage on a keelboat called Pinkeye’s Comeuppance and that it’s set to depart sometime in the morning. Although rather shy, Tillia seems friendly enough.

Artemis then follows the directions he’s been given and talks to Captain Othlo, the halfling master of Pinkeye’s Comeuppance. Othlo continually puffs on a long-stemmed pipe as he explains that Artemis and his companions can come aboard as either passengers or crew, but that either way they have to sleep on the deck amidst crates and barrels, and that the boat won’t be stopping at Whistledown no matter what may come. Artemis can see that the ship is crewed by (and sized for) halflings, but he agrees to sign on as a crew member for the voyage and promises to return in the morning. Afterwards, Artemis seeks out his friend and superior, Gibble Fank, and explains that he’ll be departing on orders from the Lord-Mayor.

Later that afternoon, Goragar returns to the Green Lobster to find that his companion from Sandpoint, Shalelu Andosana, has tracked him down. When she hears that the half-orc is planning to head into central Varisia, she insists, without explanation, on accompanying him to Fort Rannick. As plates of undercooked, unfresh seafood are put in front of them, Artemis shows up to tell Goragar about the plan to depart the next morning. Shalelu greets him, remembering Artemis as one of the band that rescued her from the Bloodfangs in Mosswood.

That night, a farewell party is held at the Lahs house for Artemis and his friends. There’s food, dancing, and a firm statement by Goragar that all giants, sentient or not, deserve to die. Miryana grows sadder as the evening wears on, but she maintains a brave face.

[2 Kuthona 4707]

Having stayed at the Green Lobster overnight after the party, Briza makes the mistake of eating the inn’s seafood special for breakfast. Despite having grown up on a diet of coarse Shoanti food and having prepared for months as one of Sandpoint’s “Hagfish Hopefuls”, even Briza’s intestinal fortitude can’t fight off food poisoning from the Green Lobster. With her allies, she trudges down to the docks, rather the worse for wear. Arrangements are made with Captain Othlo to take on several passengers, though he charges Goragar a pretty penny to transport the warrior’s steed aboard the already-cramped vessel. When the last of the cargo and passengers are loaded, Pinkeye’s Comeuppance sets off upstream along the meandering Yondabakari River.

The keelboat makes slow but steady progress thanks to the oxen that pull it from either side of the river bank and the halflings who take turns pushing it with long, sturdy barge-poles. The outskirts of Magnimar quickly give way to flat, lightly forested land along the north bank (along which the rutted wagon trail known as the Dry Way runs), while foreboding stretches of boggy marshes (called the Mushfens) expand as far as the eye can see to the south. About ten miles east of Magnimar, the crew and passengers of Pinkeye’s Comeuppance face a common risk of travel along this part of the Yondabakari: boggard raiders! The human-sized swamp dwellers with frog-like features try to conceal themselves behind rocks and stunted trees on the south bank, but the alert adventurers have no trouble spotting them. Artemis, standing aloft the rear cabin, lets loose with a volley of arrows as Briza jumps on shore, sword in hand! An ear-shaking croak fills the air and Kozen begins to tremble from fear, but Artemis quickly silences the responsible boggard with an arrow through the throat! Goragar awkwardly jumps off the boat as well (landing on his back!), while Kang jumps to the far shore but hurls bombs with pinpoint accuracy across the width of the river. Meanwhile, the captain and crew of the vessel haven’t slowed in the least, instead following their standard protocol of trying to outrun the raiders. The boggards, having come to snatch loose cargo from the deck of the ship with their long, sticky tongues, seem surprised to find heavily-armed warriors trying to kill them! Most try to run for it, but the merciless adventurers slay all but a couple, and the ship loses only one small crate from the incident.

[3 Kuthona 4707]

The journey east continues with only the loss of Briza’s fishing pole (due to a surprise snag on a rock) the only incident of note. That evening, as the keelboat is tied up along the shore, the Shoanti warrior is keeping watch while her friends sleep when she notices some of the food crates on deck shift slightly as if something was moving behind them. She calls out for the others to be wary but pays for her vigilance when the fanged mouth of a goblin snake suddenly lunges towards her and bites into her abdomen! Kozen reacts quickly and tries to impale the creature with his scythe, but the wriggling creature keeps darting in and out of the maze of containers on the ship. Hearing the commotion, Artemis casually reaches for his bow and lets a shot fly without even standing up—the arrow pins the goblin snake to a barrel and kills it instantly! The rest of the night passes uneventfully.

Director's Commentary:
The journey from Magnimar to Turtleback Ferry isn't detailed at all in the AP, leaving it up to the GM on how to handle it. I went with the traditional "day-by-day" approach. Before this session, I wasn't sure how the PCs would travel--just walking, trying to join a caravan, trying to find (and pay) a wizard to teleport them, or (the option they chose) taking a riverboat. I had prepped some stuff for the last option, drawing the NPC of Captain Othlo and his halfling crew from a story in the back of one of the individual volumes of the AP. I added Othlo's backstory that we'll see featured in later sessions. For the river travel, I had a nice keelboat from the Vehicles map pack set, configurable river tiles from the River System map pack set, and various flip-mats of different terrain to layer everything over. It worked out pretty well I think for the various random encounters I had prepped along the way. I didn't expect this part of the chapter to take so long though--at the time, it seemed like ages before the PCs actually reached Turtleback Ferry.

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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 40 Recap:
[4 Kuthona 4707]

The crew and passengers of Pinkeye’s Comeuppance settle in for another day’s journey east up the Yondabakari. Little seems to distinguish one hour from the next, except for incidents that seem minor at the time but that hold greater meaning in retrospect. Kang notices that one of the halfling shipmates, a man with a pitted and scarred face named Skivolo, keeps glaring at him when he thinks the tiefling isn’t looking. Kang tells Briza that the fellow is probably jealous of his skills at alchemy and may turn to theft out of anger, and that she should keep her eyes open. Meanwhile, Kozen returns from a walk on shore to find fellow passenger Tillia Henkenson, the schoolmarm of Turtleback Ferry, petting her dog, Taz. Tillia shyly explains that she misses her dog back home, and that this journey upriver is already turning out to be far different than when she accompanied a caravan on the way to Magnimar. As it starts to get dark, Shalelu draws Artemis aside and gives him a cryptic warning that once they’ve passed Ilsurian, they’ve left the reaches of civilization behind and have to be ready to make some hard choices in the field. Once the boat lays in for the night, Captain Othlo explains to Briza, in a roundabout way, that he recognizes what she and the others did to fend off the boggards. He hands her a new fishing pole hand-crafted by the crew. She’s jubilant over the gift.

That night, Kozen and Briza maintain watch while their fellows slumber. But as they watch for any dangers approaching the boat, they don’t realize that the true danger is already aboard! Skivolo, the halfling shipmate who aroused Kang’s suspicions earlier, silently treads over to where Kang is sleeping, unwraps a dagger wrapped in a cloak, and cuts the tiefling’s throat! But in the darkness, Skivolo failed to realize the slightly different anatomy of the tiefling and missed the jugular—Kang’s wound is serious, but not fatal, and he cries out in alarm as he wakes in great pain to discover his would-be assassin lurking over him. Kang rolls to his feet, downs a vial, and suddenly disappears from view. The whole ship is awakened to see Skivolo with the blood-stained knife. “He was there! He saw what they did to me! They’re tortured me and he didn’t even care!” the halfling shouts over and over, stabbing uselessly at the spot where Kang disappeared. Kozen dodges various crates and supplies on deck and lashes out with the flat of her scythe to knock Skivolo to the ground, and Briza does a flying leap to body slam him to the deck. Artemis supplies the manacles to ensure the halfling will prove no further threat. Captain Othlo has him locked in the ship’s small cargo hold and tells Kang that an affidavit against Skivolo can be sworn out once they reach the next town. Afterwards, Kozen and Briza asks Kang what the halfling was raving about. Kang says he’s never been in a situation where someone was tortured and that likely the halfling mistook him for another tiefling.

[5 Kuthona 4707]

The vessel continues east. Save for an occasional barge coming downriver or a wagon passing along the Dry Way, the long stretch between Magnimar and Wartle seems rarely used in winter.

During the voyage, Kozen slips into the cluttered hold and manages to speak with Skivolo. The halfling grudgingly explains that he was abducted from his home one night years ago and taken some place far underground, where there were strange, dusky purple-skinned elves. They experimented on him, he says, for untold months, and during one such torture session he saw a figure that could only be Kang walk right by! Weeks later, his captors let him go, Skivolo says, and he wandered through tunnels lit only by phosphorescent moss for days until finally finding a way back to the surface. Kozen is sympathetic to the obviously emotionally-scarred man, but says that his plight still doesn’t justify murder.

Kang spends some hours deep in thought and reaches a decision: he needs to speak with his assailant firsthand. The master alchemist swallows a new concoction that shrinks his physical form and then enters the hold to confront Skivolo. Kang endures the halfling’s verbal tirades before admitting the essential truth of what happened. But, Kang confides, he was as much a prisoner to the legendary “drow” as Skivolo was, and there was nothing he could do to help. In a show of humanity that his allies have perhaps never glimpsed, Kang tells Skivolo that he’ll ask Othlo to let him go. Skivolo says nothing will make up for Kang’s callousness those years ago, but that he’ll leave the boat and never return.

As Kang emerges from the shadowy hold into the crisp daylight, a general shout of alarm goes up on deck. Goblins have been spotted on the north shore, trying to set fire to a trapper’s cabin while the trapper himself is perched on the top of it! Captain Othlo orders his crew to maintain current speed and course, but the adventurers spring into action. Kozen, Shalelu, and Goragar (while mounted on his warhorse!) all try to jump to shore only to land in the water. Artemis sinks an arrow into the nearest goblin from almost a 140’ away. Finally realizing they’re being attacked, some of the goblins charge towards the boat singing “Goblins turn and Goblins fight, goblins sink a boat tonight!” The ox that pulls the vessel on the port side is the first target of the goblins’ wrath and suffers several stab wounds. Other goblins continue dancing and setting fire to the trapper’s cabin, leading Briza to call out to Kang to rescue the poor man. Kang knocks back another elixir and soars into the sky just seconds before a fusillade of goblin arrows injure several of the halfling crewmembers. Flying swiftly through the air, Kang manages to grab the now-unconscious trapper. Meanwhile, Kozen realizes the fast-moving boat is leaving her behind and runs to catch up, and Shalelu does the same thing while firing arrows on the run. Goragar and his steed reach shore and charge into the advancing goblins, sending several fleeing in terror. The goblins are routed and scatter, with all but a couple perishing from the overwhelming firepower of the adventurers.

That night, Goragar channels holy energies to close the wounds suffered by the halflings, the ox, and the rescued trapper, who gives his name as Shiggogan. Shiggogan says he doesn’t have any way to repay the adventurers, but that he’s forever in their debt. Briza feeds Goragar’s horse a carrot as a partial apology for a stray arrow during the fight, while Kozen offers some comforting words to Tillia after yet another brush with danger.

[6 Kuthona 4707]

The last stretch of water before Wartle is travelled without incident, and as dusk falls, Pinkeye’s Comeuppance reaches the docks of the small hamlet. A handful of muck-encrusted cabins and shacks built on the edge of the Mushfens, Wartle offers little in the way of amenities. Artemis, Kang, and Goragar follow some of the deckhands and find themselves in a dimly-lit, cramped, and filthy watering hole named the Lean-To. The locals (bearded, husky men who have obviously lived a hard life) are friendly enough to most of the visitors, but Kang is mocked for his haughty manner and addressed as “Your Majesty.” The only drink available, served in communal bottles, is called “Bog Grog” and tastes as good as its name implies. Time passes in idle drinking and conversation until suddenly the omnipresent sound of dogs barking and insects chirping stops. A look of panic passes over the locals’ faces, and in unison they slap a copper piece on the table, douse the lanterns, and slip under the nearest table. “The Dark Lady!” one whispers. “She’s coming!”

Director's Commentary:
Kang's backstory is a really interesting one that I hadn't yet managed to do anything with. It took me a bit to come up with the idea of a survivor of his time in the Darklands seeking revenge. I didn't actually expect the coup de grace attempt to come off, but the assassin rolled a natural 20 (an automatic success under our house rules) on his Stealth check. Fortunately, the damage roll was low and Kang rolled high on his Fortitude save to survive (matching the number exactly). It's interesting to think about how much sometimes hinges in a campaign on a single die roll, as Kang has become the "oldest" member of the group as I write this now. I also quite liked the aftermath to the assassination attempt, as we got to see another side of Kang's personality.

The goblins were what turned up on a random encounter roll. I knew they'd be a complete pushover, but the encounter was kind of fun anyway, with the biggest challenge for the PCs consisting on saving the trapper but not getting left behind by the boat!

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 41 Recap::
[6 Kuthona 4707 continued]

In a small dingy tavern in the riverside hamlet of Wartle, three members of the adventuring party that set out from Magnimar suddenly face a nightmare come true. A spectral apparition in the form of a solemn woman wearing a water-drenched gown appears, and holds out her palm as if expecting payment. Goragar and Kang realize that the “Dark Lady” is a bodiless incarnation of dark spiritual energy known as a spectre, the remnant of a murdered or evil creature bound to the material plane out of hatred of those that remain. Goragar enchants a coin with magical light and drops it on the ground so that, even with the lanterns snuffed, everyone can see the creature. Kang puts a coin on the table and crouches down, but Artemis bolts out of the tavern and starts applying a rare alchemical blanch to his arrows. The Dark Lady nods to everyone in the tavern who has paid her obeisance by leaving a coin, and then glides after Artemis. He fires a modified arrow that tears away part of the Dark Lady’s spectral form, causing her to shriek in anguish. Artemis runs to the far side of the tavern, but the spectre follows by passing straight through walls! Her soul-draining touch ages the Magnimarian years in mere instants.

Goragar runs out after the two, draws his blade from an enchanted scabbard, and shouts for Artemis to bring it back in his direction. Kang begins preparing a blanch similar to Artemis’ for his crossbow bolts and whispers to Goragar that perhaps they can talk to the Dark Lady and discover a way to cure her state of spiritual limbo. “We’ll cure it by killing it!” growls the half-orc, ready for battle. Meanwhile, at the water’s edge aboard the Pinkeye’s Comeuppance, Briza and Kozen hear the sounds of a disturbance coming from the center of Wartle. They advance cautiously and see Artemis menaced by the ghostlike figure of the Dark Lady. Briza runs to stand next to Goragar as Artemis leads it back in their direction. The Dark Lady stops before Briza, holds out her hand, and moans the words “all must pay.” Briza nervously takes out a coin and drops it through the spectre’s intangible hand, and it nods at her. But Goragar has determined that the Dark Lady must be destroyed and he launches an attack on the creature, trusting that his greatsword can vanquish her. Although he too is aged some years by the spectre’s touch, his magic-infused blade tears through the Dark Lady again and again until, with the coming of a strong wind, she vanishes with a long, low moan of agony.

Artemis has picked up enough knowledge of spell lore during his time on the streets of Magnimar to know that a powerful spell of restoration will be needed to heal him and Goragar of the effects of the spectre’s touch if the premature aging doesn’t wear off by itself. He tells the others that the town of Ilsurian, further downriver, contains a priestess of Erastil who may be able to help. The residents of Wartle slowly emerge from hiding and return to their previous activities, mostly pretending that nothing has happened. When questioned, the bartender of the Lean-To grudgingly reveals that the Dark Lady was a beggar whom tavern patrons mocked with hurled copper coins. Kang suspects there’s more to the story, but decides not to press the matter since the Dark Lady has been destroyed forever. Later that night, back at the ship, Tillia is aghast at word of the spectre’s attack. Captain Othlo passes word to Kang that his would-be assassin Skivolo has been told to leave his crew and never return.

[7 Kuthona 4707]

Dawn arrives and preparations are made for departure. Briza has excellent luck fishing, Goragar is the victim of a veritable snipe hunt when he asks a local if a magical scroll of restoration is available, and Kozen uses a handy transmutation spell to clean the rust off a back-up sword purchased by his friend Briza. The sudden appearance of a black widow spider the size of a horse skittering out of the swamp startles the crew and passengers of the vessel, but Artemis sinks an arrow into it, Kozen magically manipulates the spider’s own shadow to fix it in place, and Kang’s hurled bomb reduces it to a smoking husk. The ship soon leaves Wartle behind and the day’s journey upriver is unremarkable.

[8 Kuthona 4707]

The first day of Winter Week, a time for feasting and exchanging gifts with friends and families, is punctuated by the appearance of nearly a dozen stirges dive-bombing the boat. One of the oxen, Tillia, Kozen, and her dog Taz are victims of the mosquito-like creatures’ blood-draining bites before the attackers are dispatched. Fortunately, no one is seriously hurt.

[9 Kuthona 4707]

Another clear, cold morning greets the adventurers.

Director's Commentary::
This will be a terrible Director's Commentary because I can't remember where the inspiration for the Dark Lady came from--I don't know if I adopted it from a Pathfinder product or just made it up. I think the motivation behind it was to add a little something of substance to the night's stay in Wartle and something more deadly than the random encounters that the PCs had been tromping over. Anyway, it was interesting to see their varied reactions to it and I thought the encounter was successfully creepy.

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 42 Recap:
[9 Kuthona 4707]

Pinkeye’s Comeuppance once again gets underway on a cold, clear morning. While she fishes, Briza expresses her concern to the other adventurers about whether Bey will have been successful in getting Arnald raised from the dead in Sandpoint. Artemis says he thinks it’s unlikely. Conversation turns to Sandpoint in general, with Kozen stating that she was only there for about a week but liked how it was far safer than Magnimar, with Kang agreeing that the added peace and quiet (and fewer guards) made Sandpoint a more suitable place to conduct his research. Goragar says he plans to return to Sandpoint once he’s investigated the rumours of giants gathering in central Varisia. Briza seems intrigued by Goragar’s talk of Gorum, even to the point where she borrows a holy text to read in her spare moments.

[10 Kuthona 4707]

Over breakfast, Briza reminds everyone that it’s Winter Week, and says she plans to get everyone gifts. The appearance of a Varisian wagon on the north bank some hours later seems fortuitous, as the nomadic folk are known for carrying trinkets to sell. However, Captain Othlo refuses to stop and Briza is forced to shout for one of the wanderers to throw her a random trinket in exchange for a hurled gold piece as the keelboat passes by. She ends up with a pretty scrimshaw dolphin, and is quite pleased with the result.

At dusk, as the ship nears Whistledown, the crew begin loudly grumbling about Othlo’s adamant refusal to stop despite the fact that it will mean tomorrow’s Ascendance Day will be spent without any opportunity to celebrate. Things start to get heated until Artemis brokers peace by noting that the ship would normally tie up at the banks at sunset, just an hour’s journey beyond Whistledown (which would be time enough for the shipmates and passengers to enjoy in evening in the town and return by morning). Othlo begrudgingly gives permission, but notes that the ship will be leaving at dawn whether everyone is aboard or not.

Seen at night, Whistledown is quite beautiful. Coloured globes surround everburning torches to give the predominantly gnome town a festive air, the white-thatched cottages look cozy and well-maintained, and the unusual wind chimes hanging from many eaves produce ever-changing melodies. The streets are busy as the adventurers approach, with many residents attending parties or doing last-minute shopping. The halfling shipmates head for a tavern sized perfectly to their race, while the adventurers stand in the center of town and discuss what to do. Before their discussions go far, the group is approached by a disreputable gnome who is dressed much less colourfully than his peers. The gnome boldly introduces himself as Simmy Dams and says he’s a sort of “welcoming committee” for newcomers to Whistledown. It doesn’t take him long at all to essentially offer to escort Goragar to some sort of underground fight ring and to offer Kozen and Briza illicit narcotics. Kang confidently proclaims that whatever “product” the locals are cooking up in Whistledown is doubtlessly far inferior to what he himself could make. Simmy instantly forgets any promises made to the others and instead invites Kang to try his hand at manufacturing. Artemis, far outside of his jurisdiction, can only shake his head and roll his eyes in disgust.

The adventurers split up. Goragar has a couple of drinks in the Azure Cup, one of the few human-sized establishments in Whistledown. Artemis purchases thoughtful gifts for his companions, while Briza and Kozen pair up to do the same thing. Kang is led to Simmy Dams’ pesh lab and is quite vocal about how crude it is. The master alchemist spends a couple of hours whipping up a virtually pure batch that Simmy knows will be a market sensation. Kang leaves the lab with a hefty purse of gold coins for his trouble, having resisted Simmy’s entreaties for him to stay in Whistledown to launch a joint enterprise. Soon it’s time for everyone to head back to the boat, even if the halfling shipmates are miffed that their time in Whistledown was shorter than they would have liked.

The moonlit walk along the banks of the Yondabakari is quite relaxing until Kang and Artemis hear unusual sloshing coming from the river. Kang realizes something big is about to emerge and shouts a warning while Artemis draws his bow, instants before a muck-encrusted mass of tangled vines and dripping slime crawls onto the bank. A wave of dense, rotting plant matter knocks one of the halflings to the ground before the adventurers spring into action. “Shambling mound!” Artemis’ arrow tears a part of the creature’s chest loose, while Kang’s hurled bomb sets the creature ablaze. But the explosion accidentally singes Kozen’s dog and nearly kills the wounded halfling. Briza’s greatsword finishes off the plant-monster, and Kozen manages to save the halfling’s life mere seconds before it would have slipped away forever.

The rest of the walk back to the boat is less idyllic, but uneventful. Near morning, while on watch, Briza and Kang see floating lights, small rainbows, and trails of stairs suddenly appear just above a copse of trees in the distance. They wake Artemis, but he realizes the conjured images are merely rituals common to worshippers of Desna, and that a traveller’s shrine is likely nearby.

[11 Kuthona 4707]

As the ship gets underway, the adventurers exchange gifts in honour of Ascendance Day, the highlights of which include Briza receiving two new sets of fishing tackle, Artemis receiving a voucher so he can send a messenger to his wife for free, and Goragar receiving a battle-stained war banner to Gorum that Artemis somehow managed to find in Whistledown. Even Tillia and Shalelu receive gifts, and the crew and passengers are in good spirits as Pinkeye’s Comeuppance leaves the Yondabakari for the wide, open vista of Lake Syrantula. The hundred-mile long lake is a major part of the trade route between Magnimar and Korvosa, and even in the winter, fleets of fishing boats can be seen plying their trade.

[12 Kuthona 4707]

The keelboat hugs the northern shore of Lake Syrantula until dusk, when a small city built into the side of a hill becomes visible: Ilsurian, one of the few predominantly human settlements in Varisia that isn’t controlled by any of the major city-states in the region. Ilsurians are known for their independence and vigilance in defence of their liberty, with a famous law stating that every adult must own a sword and be available in time of need. The ship ties up at Braeton Docks, with Captain Othlo announcing that the crew and passengers should plan for departure on the 14th. Artemis, still feeling the effects of his brush against death at the hands of the Dark Lady in Wartle, decides to travel directly to the local temple of Erastil. He finds a lodge-like building covered in moss and decorated with wooden sculptures of various forest beasts; unfortunately, a note nailed to the door states that Sister Woodmere is out at the Felton farm. His allies, conscious of the dangers that often befall adventurers, decide to accompany him, but they needn’t have worried: Sister Woodmere is there assisting with a difficult birth by one of the farm’s horses.

When she’s finished, she welcomes the visitors to Ilsurian, and explains that they’ve come to a city with an excellent tavern, one of the best weaponsmiths in Varisia, and (for the past few days) host to an exciting carnival. She says she’ll see what she can do to help Artemis with his problem, and invites everyone to stay at the Temple. However, all but Artemis decide word of a tavern sounds more entertaining, and they set off through the darkened streets. By the dim light cast by lamp poles, the friendly city of Ilsurian takes on a more ominous aspect, as several of the closed businesses spot “No Varisians!” signs. Briza expresses dismay, but Kang and Goragar seem supportive of “decent” folk keeping distance between themselves and “thieves and conmen.”

The Two Waters Tavern turns out to be a welcoming, jocular place, with several locals celebrating Winter Week. The proprietor, a middle-aged woman named Noria Arephion, finds rooms for the travellers and tells them about the “Wheel of Freedom” upstairs. In this makeshift shrine to Cayden Cailean, local fisherfolk have laid out a multi-colored ship’s wheel horizontally and pay homage to the God of Drink by spinning the wheel and imbibing beverages that match a particular colour. Kozen notes that the trip downstairs to get a drink and back up to spin the wheel again (“paying Cayden his due”) seems dangerous for the drinkers, but Briza throws herself into the idea with full force, spinning the wheel long into the night until she eventually collapses, quite drunk, and is carried safely into her room.

[13 Kuthona 4707]

The adventurers wake in Ilsurian, with the prospect of a full day to explore the city before starting on the final push to their destination, Turtleback Ferry, the next morning.

Director's Commentary:
The journey along the river towards Turtleback Ferry continues in a fun, light-hearted session. There were times I was worried the surprisingly number of sessions spent chronicling the journey might be a problem (since it's all summed up in a few paragraphs in the AP), but I think everyone had fun with it. Little things like the Winter Week holidays (keeping a calendar works wonders for making the setting feel like a real place), Kang's side-trek to show a drug-dealer how to really make product (in true Breaking Bad fashion), and Briza's turn at the "Wheel of Freedom" kept the session going.

I didn't have a lot of material to work with for Whistledown--essentially, a paragraph's description in one of the gazetteers. For Ilsurian, on the other hand, I had a map and nice overview in the Towns of the Inner Sea sourcebook. I also had a module, Murder's Mark, that takes place there, and I was thinking about trying to fit it in but it was for Level 1 PCs and I thought it would take way too much work to try to adjust everything (plus, I didn't want to derail the story from the AP).

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Session # 43 Recap:
[13 Kuthona 4707]

The adventurers gather at Ilsurian’s Temple of Erastil early in the morning and watch as Sister Woodmere successfully recites a magical scroll to remove the debilitating effects of Artemis’ brush with the Dark Lady. When Sister Woodmere mentions that she’s on her way to the Ashwood to collect firewood for some of the poorer families in town, the adventurers volunteer to help her out. The morning passes uneventfully as the travellers try their hands at logging for the first time. Goragar is bored by the lack of foes near Ilsurian to test his mettle against, but Sister Woodmere warns the group that the interior of the Ashwood is notoriously dangerous (especially at night time) as ghosts, werewolves, and mischievous fey have all been known to lurk within. She suggests instead that Goragar visit the town’s arena, as all able-bodied adults are required to train with weapons once a week to ensure Ilsurian remains forever free and vigilant against invaders.

That afternoon, Goragar, Kang, and Briza walk to the arena and see several groups training under master instructors on archery, polearms, and swordplay. Kang evaluates the combatants and picks out the one person he believes is the toughest combatant: a short, wiry man named Solohei who is instructing some of the townspeople in unarmed combat. Kang tries to persuade Goragar to challenge the man to a duel, but the half-orc says it would be too easy. Briza, however, is willing to try, and Solohei accepts the opportunity to demonstrate to his students how size and strength are not determinative of victory in battle. In mere seconds, Briza finds herself on her back and barely able to move. As the two shake hands after the bout, a trio of the halflings from Pinkeye’s Comeuppance can be seen running at full speed towards the docks. When the adventurers catch up to them, they shout something about Captain Othlo promising five platinum apiece if they’re on the boat within an hour. Unwilling to see their means of transport leave without them, the trio of adventurers decide to alert Artemis and Kozen, who have futilely spent the afternoon trying to sell some of the fish Briza caught the previous day at a local market. With much frantic running and shouting, everyone makes it to the docks in time except Goragar, who decided to return to the stables of the Two Waters tavern to collect his mount and then got lost!

As the crew of Pinkeye’s Comeuppance untie the mooring lines, it becomes clear that it’s not continuing the journey toward Turtleback Ferry: for one thing, no cargo has been loaded, and for another, passengers like Shalelu and Tillia are missing. Instead, reports of a giant sea creature smashing a boat in the middle of Lake Syrantula has triggered Captain Othlo’s obsession: hunting down the giant albino gar known as Pinkeye that destroyed his previous vessel! The adventurers on board have a fast, furious debate about whether to accompany Othlo on his mad quest before concluding that if the boat gets destroyed because they didn’t help him, they’ll have to walk the rest of the way north. Just as the ship shoves off, Goragar and his warhorse can be seen galloping along the pier. Kang swallows a magical extract and flies over to try to lift the warrior into the air, but the warrior’s massive frame and heavy armor makes the task impossible! However, Goragar murmurs a prayer to Gorum, and suddenly Kang is as strong as a bull and able to easily fly them both to the deck of the ship.

Hours pass as the boat is rowed towards the spot where the fishing vessel was reported to have been attacked, and then bits of debris and flotsam can be seen. Othlo, gripping a specially-made adamantine harpoon, orders the rowers to stop their work and for everyone to remain still and keep their ears and eyes open. When Goragar starts reciting verses from a holy book of war prayers, Othlo orders him to be quiet—but the half-orc persists until the single-minded halfling grabs the book and tosses it into the lake. “On this ship, I’m your god!” Othlo shouts. He turns away, only to find that Goragar has slashed him deeply in the back with this sword! Othlo turns back and tells Goragar to stand down or he’ll plant his harpoon straight through the warrior’s heart. The other adventurers are stunned by the sudden outbreak of violence and the tense stand-off. Goragar says that any further insults to his god will be met with death, and Othlo replies that he doesn’t care a whit about the gods as long as he gets his hands on Pinkeye. Further violence is averted. Briza adroitly uses a net to fish Goragar’s book out of the water, and Kozen is able to use some minor cantrips to remove the water damage.

Evening turns into night, and there’s still no sign of a sea monster. Kang tries to talk Othlo into returning to shore, but the ship’s captain refuses to even consider it. The adventurers decide they had better get some rest and designate watches. Barely an hour later, Artemis is on duty when he realizes the boat is shifting and rising higher; Kang’s preternatural senses alert him to the danger even while sound asleep, and he bolts upright to sound the alarm. The terrifying truth suddenly becomes clear: Pinkeye’s Conundrum is resting precariously on the back of a giant snapping turtle the size of a house, and the ship is about to slide off! The skilled combatants spring into action. Kang drinks an extract and flies into the air, Kozen draws upon his connection to the shadow plane to entangle the creature in its own moonlit shadow, and Artemis leans over the ship’s railing and fires an arrow straight down into the shell. Everything is upside down in an instant, however, as the boat slides and then flips over, capsizing! Some of the crew and passengers manage to hang on and dangle from the deck in an air pocket, while others are thrown clear. Briza and Goragar try to jump onto the turtle’s back, but only Briza makes it—the half-orc starts to sink below the waves as the angry creature catches one of the halflings in its jaws and snaps the poor sailor in two!

Kang hurls bombs with his trademark unerring accuracy and blasts off large chunks of the giant turtle’s carapace, while Briza stabs the creature with a hilt-down grip on her greatsword. But the creature defends itself by catching her up in its jaws, crushing her abdomen as a prelude to starting to swallow her whole! Artemis’ quick-thinking and amazing climbing ability saves her life, however, as he scrambles to the top of the overturned ship, plants his feet, and fires an arrow into the creature’s neck, killing it instantly! Kang swoops down to help those still floundering in the water. Two halflings perished in the attack, and despite everyone’s best efforts, attempts to salvage the boat or at least the turtle’s shell fail. Clinging to bits of driftwood, everyone is forced to paddle their way back towards shore in the dark, freezing cold water. Miserable hours later, as dawn streaks the sky, a shivering and bedraggled group pull themselves onto the beach and stumble back to Ilsurian, where they collapse at an inn.

[14 Kuthona 4707]

The adventurers rest throughout most of the morning and into the afternoon. Briza explains to Tillia what happened, and the schoolteacher is shocked (especially when Goragar adds in additional details that, although true, are rather gruesome). Tillia immediately says she’ll arrange a memorial service for the slain halflings. Artemis spends the day looking into other boats or caravans headed north, but finds that the cold weather and reports of danger have suppressed travel to Turtleback Ferry in recent weeks. He purchases horses instead. That evening, Ilsurian’s local sheriff, Kyra Feldane, comes to the inn and asks for statements from everyone about what happened. Curiously, neither Captain Othlo nor the other surviving crewmembers are anywhere to be found. The adventurers tell Feldane that the disaster was a clear case of reckless negligence on the part of Othlo, and they agree to come to the town hall in the morning to swear out affidavits against him.

[15 Kuthona 4707]

After everyone visits the town hall, Artemis composes a letter to his wife and arranges for it to be delivered by courier to Magnimar. The watchman has arranged for the mounts to be ready for departure early in the day, but it takes Goragar and Briza several hours to track down Shalelu at her campsite outside of the town limits. She reports seeing Othlo and two halflings riding small ponies along the road north, and, when told of what happened, says that she’s the best bounty hunter in Varisia if they need to be apprehended. The midday sun is at its height as the adventurers, along with Tillia, get underway. They make good time following the road north on the east bank of the Skull River, with the outer borders of the Ashwood visible to their right. The day passes without further incident, and the group sets up camp.

Several days’ journey aboard Pinkeye’s Comeuppance has ended suddenly with the ship sinking, part of its crew dead, and Captain Othlo fleeing like a fugitive in the night. Now, back on foot, the adventurers begin the last stretch of their voyage to Turtleback Ferry in order to determine just what happened to Fort Rannick . . .

Director's Commentary:
The centrepiece of this session, of course, was the battle against the giant snapping turtle. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity, and it was a great way to bring Othlo's secret motivation to the forefront. The PCs did surprisingly well, as things could easily have gone very, very badly when faced with a creature that swallows enemies whole. I wasn't actually expecting the "reckless negligence" tack the PCs took with Othlo, but they were quite irked about his actions! It also made for an expected change in their mode of travel towards Turtleback Ferry.

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