2 - Songbird, Scion, Saboteur (GM Reference)


War for the Crown

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Did anyone else notice a fairy-tale feel to a lot of these characters? I caught it when my players started comparing Dame Crabbe to the Queen of Hearts while they were playing Trucco, and later, when they played Last Azlant together (I broke out real Harrow Cards during this part). Looking deeper (to stuff my players haven't seen yet), she's a bombastic gossip, wears pink, has a tangled hedge maze in her otherwise lush gardens, she pushes people around, and she even has a quiet Sespina in blue as her opposite, lost all the time (Alice). It's not an exact copy, but it pays out very well.

Looking more, we see robin hood (one of the rumors even mentions "robs from the rich and gives to the poor"), swan princess, and beauty and the beast (Baron Telus, with no beauty to save him). Baron Okerra also reminds me of the uncle from A Sword in the Stone (or really the book The Once and Future King), trying to find a tutor for his daughter. The depictions are a mix of modern and classic takes on these tales, always with a wonderful twist, and I like the Idea of playing some of these similarities up.

It helps all the more that the Tandak Plains and the county of Merat were once within the border of the Verduran Forest, AKA the Enchanted Forest, and there's plenty of opportunity for fey interactions (both as part of the main story and given in the encounters). Plus, this is a Princess story, trying to retake the palace (one player already compared it's description to snow whites summer palace, I've no idea why).

Now, my biggest problem is - I have no idea who Baroness Voinum might be...


The book has the palace's petty funds lockbox also including a "mummified pinky finger" with no description of the object's history or what it's doing in there. Which is fair except one of my players is playing a psychic who can do some psychometry and I suspect might be curious.

My go-to answer is the finger of the first servant who ever tried to steal from Gul Guisarne, that he kept as a reminder to trust no-one (and a warning to any other servants who actually get into the lockbox), but I'm curious if anybody else has come up with their own explanation, or if there's one in the book that I missed.


benhimself wrote:

The book has the palace's petty funds lockbox also including a "mummified pinky finger" with no description of the object's history or what it's doing in there. Which is fair except one of my players is playing a psychic who can do some psychometry and I suspect might be curious.

My go-to answer is the finger of the first servant who ever tried to steal from Gul Guisarne, that he kept as a reminder to trust no-one (and a warning to any other servants who actually get into the lockbox), but I'm curious if anybody else has come up with their own explanation, or if there's one in the book that I missed.

I was just pondering that yesterday, and I think it will go a long way towards reminding the party of how much they hate Gul Gusairne if they meet someone in Meratt (maybe the innkeeper at the Count's Cravat) who is missing a pinky and gets squirrely whenever Gusairne shows up, only to find that pinky later. If my players had object reading powers I'd make it more personal. The monk already used some psychic power to "see" Gusairne's defining traumas and descent into jaded LE, and the party is now scared s+&@less of him.


GM of Blinding Light wrote:

I'm thinking of letting them make appropriate profession and/or knowledge checks to reduce the cost of constructions. Nothing major, but maybe 2 x skill check in gp saved per day. Of course, this costs them the whole day.

The Pump House, Advanced gives this option already, although frustratingly does not provide a DC for the check. I'm making it a straight 20 for simplicity.

I'm also considering letting them take out a loan from the Bank of Abadar in Lotheedar. Once they do a favour for the High Priestess, they get a better deal on the loan interest or something.

Wondering about that Advanced Pump House Improvements DC myself... running this tonight! :P


Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I'm wondering, how long are these Stachys improvements supposed to take? What have others ruled?

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It was somewhat unrealistic for me but I gave them the ability to build two improvements a week and go ahead and invest money in any others they wanted to build later. Every week those two would be finish (even though that made little sense) and another two would start...

Actually it may have only been one per week... but ultimately an improvement only took one week to build.


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I'm allowing two improvements per week maximum (i.e. two concurrent projects at once), using their 'Facets of Persona' agents as the laborers and coordinators on these projects. The Basic Marketplace and Public House projects are now staffed/coordinated by 18 agents (out of a total of 25). The agents must have the sills necessary for each project as well: for this, I simplified and asked them to come up with the 'top 2 skills for each agent' (no stats: just a statement for each agent summarizing the top two specialties for each agent). Each project thus needs at least 8 agents of a skill related to the task. Any agent above the minimum 8 will bring savings similar to the 50gp x spell level equation in the book, except it will be 50gp x (agents working on project - 8)

Also, Part 2 has 8 persona phases at 1 phase per week, so 8 weeks to do all these improvements appear like a solid goal.


Also: anyone has a good idea for the campaign start date? if not the year, what month do you recommend? (spring or summer?)


I used beginning of Desnus (May) as campaign start...

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I believe I started mine in Gozran so not far off.


I started mine on 8th Sarenith, 4719. My party in Part 2 is currently on 8th Erastus. Figured that something like the Week of Exaltation or whatever it's called would be a midsummer type festival. Makes the Harvest event in Part 2 fit well into late summer.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

My players ended the Tanager Jubilee with Baron Okerra as a firm friend (winning the Dance of the Phalanx with him as a partner was a wonderful sequence of unlikely dice rolls), and they were exceptionally happy and public about it...

As such, The Night Swan is going to be starting her campain against them as Hostile rather than Indifferent. Any suggestions how this will change this please?


Darrell Impey UK wrote:

My players ended the Tanager Jubilee with Baron Okerra as a firm friend (winning the Dance of the Phalanx with him as a partner was a wonderful sequence of unlikely dice rolls), and they were exceptionally happy and public about it...

As such, The Night Swan is going to be starting her campain against them as Hostile rather than Indifferent. Any suggestions how this will change this please?

My game ran much the same way, and since the Night Swan is at the Jubilee her first awareness of the party is of them chumming around with Okerra. As a result, it was nigh impossible for my PCs to get on her good side - but since she is straight up hostile and antagonistic when they first meet her, the desire to try and get on her good side wasn't really there, either. Essentially, the Night Swan becomes more of a "stock villain," as the book describes. That said, it allowed my PCs to channel their hatred of Gul Gusairne with one less distraction.


Heh. They're assigned a jester to keep them company during the Tanager Jubilee. After the end of Crownfall, with not one but TWO creepy murder-clowns, this should go well...


I had the same outcome from the Jubilee--the party did really well with Baron Lotheed (moving him all the way to Friendly, teetering on Helpful). They unseated Okerra during the joust, but it was the same PC who had influenced him up to Helpful already, so he took it in stride. The PC playing the new "Lord" of the Betony estate completely flubbed an interaction with Lucretza (came off as in complete favor of the established order), so I'm pretty sure the Night Swan is going to burn their estate to the ground the first chance she gets...

Well, it'll save time on half the party wanting to rally behind the Night Swan and the other half being pro-Okerra.

The Baron, on the other hand, is rather taken with the party's elf alchemist. He may have a new boytoy before this chapter is over...


How is everyone handling all the different subsystems? At the moment, I've got:

1. Influence/NPCs
2. Town-building
3. Loyalty Points
4. Triumphs
5. Events
6. Social Rounds
7. Calendar

That's in addition to all the usual Pathfinder mayhem. It's a lot to coordinate. Any thoughts on how to manage it all smoothly?


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Hi Quibblemuch!

Yes, Book 2 of this six-part AP has a LOT of info to keep track of!

I'm right in the middle of it, and I've created the following spreadsheet to help manage it all.

Feel free to copy, borrow, adapt.

Regards,

GM PDK


Ooooo! Most excellent! Thank you!


Influence is no longer required after Part 1 (most NPCs will be helpful).

Triumphs I handle via PM or email as they happen rarely.

Social Rounds are somewhat irrelevant after Part 1 (again, most NPCs being Helpful). You don't need to track them anyhow: you just run them on the spot when you reach those points in the adventure.


I keep being surprised by how everyone's groups seem to get everyone to helpful so quickly, but then I remember the adjustments I made to balance the influence system, as recommended on the forum boards here.

First, I force them to make discovery checks to learn HOW they can influence a target, with successes giving one skill and subsequent successes/beating them by 5 giving them the next skill, always starting with the hardest and moving to the easiest method of influence. They can't just roll for diplomacy and assume they'll make it. This makes sense, because the point of the discovery checks is to learn more about the person, and no matter how charming you are, it's better to know what to talk about. This method has really helped stretch my group and make them spend time with the characters. This worked exceptionally well in crownfall (forcing them to need to choose whom to work with) and very well so far in this AP.

Second, I included the Faces of the Senate from the appendix of Crownfall in this campaign, both at the gala, and some of them were also at the tanager jubilee (the one's whose geography made sense, like Count Orlundo Zespire and Marquess Tanasha Starborne. These extra people made the PC's need to choose whom to work with and how.

Third, I ran Honors Echo as a day-zero pre-campaign, and several of the characters have become recurring characters throughout their campaign, adding more faces and lore to their world in much the same way as the Faces of the Senate.

My group got Baron Okerra and Count Zespire to helpful and count bartelby and dame crabbe to friendly. They had also managed to get the Marquess to helpful, but she left after the hafling race and was so appalled that the pc's participated that she dropped down to helpful again. They've since managed to move dame crabbe up to helpful and baroness voinum to neutral, but they've lost their relationship with the count and are creating problems themselves with Remaio Alcasti (from Honor's Echo) who is trying to figure out their secret.

Overall, the change and populating the world has made the influence system a really enjoyable part for my group.


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Quibblemuch

I think GM PDK's spreadsheet will be more useful to you, but I made a github webpage for my players that shows them the current state of their game, the people they know, and what they've learned about them so-far. Your welcome to use any resources from there in your own games if youd like, or if you happen to be a web-developer, your welcome to use my git code as a baseline.

The web page can be accessed here


As far as Influence goes, my party hasn't gotten everyone to helpful. The social combat has been challenging--not overwhelming, just not a cakewalk.

They started with Baron Okerra as friendly, since they really impressed him at the Exaltation Gala. So getting him to helpful didn't take much.

The only other NPC they managed to get to helpful was Dame Crabbe--the PC who was the new "Lord" of the Betony Estate saw a marriage-eligible noble and went out of his way to impress her mother.

They managed to get the Honorary Tribune to friendly, but only once the "Lord" of Betony Estate stopped talking to her (he flubbed a bunch of rolls and was trying to impress her, which is totally the wrong tack for someone who thinks all nobles are useless). It was enough to have her share some of the problems in Stachys, foreshadowing the next phase of the campaign.

The party's elf alchemist focused his attention on the Baron Lotheed, and has gotten him to friendly--the common interest in arcane matters helped. They might even have a burgeoning romance... we'll see how it plays out, but it'll probably end badly.

The Baroness Legate is unfriendly and, given the way they've been interacting with her, likely to stay that way for a while. The party is young and brash--exactly the sort of people guaranteed to rub her the wrong way.

The other NPCs didn't have specific influence stuff. For both Yander Merkonus and Lucreza/White Swan, I ran the social combat rounds emphasizing the combat--that is, the PCs tried to influence them, only to find themselves the targets of "discovery" checks. One PC verbally sparred with Yander to a draw. When Yander left before breakfast the next morning, their collective PC hackles went up. So that's fun foreshadowing.

The new "Lord" of Betony estate made a big point about how great it was to be a noble while talking to the White Swan's social persona... so, yeah. She's gonna burn their estate to the ground when she gets the chance.

The new Lord also challenged Titus Cassava-Lotheed to a duel over the jester slight. It was supposed to be to first blood. He won initiative and charged and hit. Titus then sucker-stabbed him before being dragged off by his friends. That gave Gul Gusairne a chance to use his healing magic and interact with the party for the first time. The party is in agreement that Titus is going to get shanked hard the first chance they get.

So far, tracking it has been manageable. One player doesn't really get the concept of social combat and keeps trying to use Diplomacy for specific information instead of to influence, but we're just all kind of playing around that.


GamerM13 wrote:

I keep being surprised by how everyone's groups seem to get everyone to helpful so quickly, but then I remember the adjustments I made to balance the influence system, as recommended on the forum boards here.

In our group's case, it's because all characters were built with knowledge and social skills. Down to the most tanky fighter. I made a point to warn the group that those built only for combat would yawn for hours during this AP. They listened. Plus, they coordinated very well with discovery checks and spreading their findings to the rest of the party so that they could identify the best PC to influence each NPC.

On another note, it's almost vital to Stachy's recovery that the PCs hit the 'helpful' status with most NPCs... otherwise they'll have to cannibalize their own magic items to fund things. So, I wouldn't recommend other GMs to go out of their way to make the exercise more challenging. If they don't succeed with the town recovery, it could mean game over by the end of book 2 (see the part about Loyalty towards the end of the adventure). And game over here is no doubt game over for the AP.


quibblemuch wrote:
The new Lord also challenged Titus Cassava-Lotheed...

LOL! During my game, Titus threw an insult to one of the PCs during dinner (to one of the two non-nobles of the party). The non-noble PC replied something very clever yet very insulting to Titus. Titus looked at the Count and said, "You're gonna let that stand, cousin?" The Count looked at the non-noble PC and told him to bend the knee right then and there, to prove his loyalty as a new subject of his County, adding something along the lines of 'you may not answer to my cousin Titus, but ultimately, through your Lord, you serve ME... show allegiance and this insult to a peer of the Taldor kingdom will be forgotten... after all, your Lord is a guest of mine here tonight...'

The PC grumbled. The Count called the guards to take him away. The PC yelled 'STOP! forgive my impertinence!' and bent the knee/kissed his ring.

It was pretty GoT-like! :)


quibblemuch wrote: wrote:
The new Lord also challenged Titus Cassava-Lotheed...

In mine, they briefly met Titus at the Exaltation Galla during crownfall while he was drunk and hitting on one of the players, following her around until she was able to shake him off. When they spotted him again during the tanager jubilee when a player faced off against him during the joust, both parties rolled a natural 1 on their attack roll, so I had them accidentally closeline each other with their lances, knocking both of them off their horses. They then dueled with swords to "yield or unconscious" to see who won the bout, following the rules of etiquette to go for non-lethal strikes only. After the player was disarmed repeatedly, it turned into a grapple-brawl, wherein Titus was eventually beaten unconscious.

Titus has neither forgiven nor forgotten them, and the two sides have a deep cold enmity brewing between them.


Any of you has a 3D version or artistic rendition of the Betony Estate? i.e. viewed from outdoors i.e. what it looks like when PCs see it from the outside?


Q: Baron Okerra's benefit, if made helpful, is to send supplies and artisans to Stachys to help repair the hamlet. However a monetary value of this aid is not mentioned, unlike Baroness Voinum or Count Lotheed's entries... What was this amount supposed to be?


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It isn't listed that I could find. I made it 5,000 gp (which was probably overly generous, but Okerra's just that kind of guy).


Thanks! used 5K as well.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Does anybody have any suggestions of things that I can add to a Stachys harvest festival? (Yes, my group went there too.) I feel acutely aware that even though they have made a point of inviting Okerra and a couple of others, this is mainly going to be populated by the locals, so things that require more that coppers or silvers to be involved in are going to need to be in the minority.

If course, in the middle of typing this I've realised that I can have Titus crash the event... }:)


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Ooo! Having Titus show up is a great idea.

I'm going to have the Night Swan burn a swan outline into a field, once dark falls and the party really gets going. A kind of "Zorro" image.

(At the end of last session, she stole the bust of Dame Crabbe, with the +2 amulet of natural armor. She then left her note in a dagger between the eyes of the taxidermied Iron Lash of Meratt County that the PCs had displayed in the entry hall of Betony Manor. There's no ambiguity about whether or not she's an antagonist.)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Like the Night Swan idea, very Batman/Crow. :)

They're Iron Lash head is currently on the wall of the Wolf's Whisker. Along with part of the Lurker (not sure how exactly but...) and the Goldpeddle is lined up to join them when the new improved tavern opens in a couple of weeks. :)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

"Their Iron Lash..." Stupid phone. :(


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Darrell Impey UK wrote:

Does anybody have any suggestions of things that I can add to a Stachys harvest festival? (Yes, my group went there too.) I feel acutely aware that even though they have made a point of inviting Okerra and a couple of others, this is mainly going to be populated by the locals, so things that require more that coppers or silvers to be involved in are going to need to be in the minority.

If course, in the middle of typing this I've realised that I can have Titus crash the event... }:)

After establishing a House alliance with Baron Okerra, my PCs got him to lend them horses for a horse race as the headline event of their festival. They invited all the nobles from around the county, and both Okerra and Voinum decided to compete (as retired members of the Taldan Horse).

The rub came when the Lotheed coach rolled up to the party...and Count Lotheed turned down their invitation but "sent Titus in his stead," an obvious insult. So Titus, his toadies, and Gul Gusairne rocked up to the festival and tensions immediately spiked (my PCs hated Gusairne more than anyone). Titus decided to compete in the race, and the PC face rogue beat him (narrowly). Titus refused to admit defeat, and challenged the rogue to a duel. Chaos ensued, and after an absolute clusterf~+& of a combat Titus, Gusairne, and both toadies were dead, the PCs had declared open rebellion against the Lotheeds, and they hit 51 loyalty points so they roused the town and are marching on the Palace of Birdsong with a peasant army.

So...Titus crashing the party is one of the best things to happen to my campaign.


Another Titus-related anecdote: My players used a persona phase to Sabotage Opponent, directed at Titus. Their agents followed him to a tavern/brothel in Lotheedar, got him pass-out drunk and then shaved his head. He's trying to pretend it's the Oppara latest style, but no one's buying it.

It's good to have a campaign whipping-boy for the PCs to take out some of their wickedness on.

He's definitely crashing the festival. And then I'm going to arrange for him to be absent during the Night Swan's shenanigans... the players might put it together (wrongly), they might not. Either way, it should be fun.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Speaking of jabs at Titus, my players seem to have a fondness for absolutely destroying the reputation of anyone that messes with them at a party. In the Senate they spread all sorts of salacious rumours about Dame Trant (or Dame Fergie, as she's not so affectionately called at my table).

Titus though (or Tit-us, as they've started calling him)... They've made a point to openly taunt and harass him at every opportunity, including dedicating entire social rounds to sass him.

One adjustment I made was to give him a girlfriend in the form of Lady Marthane (the Night Swan is more or less pretending to be a dumb bimbo and using Titus as cover to divert suspicion). My cavalier (playing the role of the new Lord of the estate) won the joust, and decided to give his wreath to her, right in front of him! Later that night the summoner also won a bunch of money off of him by bluffing at cards, and the next day the cavalier very publicly thanked Lord Titus for his "warning" about the Iron Lash.

Lord Titus now wants nothing more than to absolutely end the PCs. The only reason he hasn't dueled them already is because he knows Count Lotheed would be mad if he did so at the jubilee. The party has also made the Night Swan highly suspicious of them as a result of their shenanigans. Meanwhile Gusairne is fairly convinced that the new Lord's seneschal is the Night Swan (that PC is conveniently also a vigilante), and while Count Lotheed has become quite fond of the new neighbours, he too has suspicions about their loyalty to their lord (the vigilante more or less openly insulted the cavalier's intelligence to him following a blunder). The players for their part are largely aware of the suspicions and are actively playing into some of them to lead their investigators. I'm so proud...


I wonder how much the hateability of Lord Titus has to do with the artwork. If you handed Leonardo Da Vinci a sheet of paper and said "Draw me the world's most puncheable d-bro," I'm pretty sure you'd get exactly what's in the book.

Shout-out to the artist, is where I'm going with this.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
quibblemuch wrote:

I wonder how much the hateability of Lord Titus has to do with the artwork. If you handed Leonardo Da Vinci a sheet of paper and said "Draw me the world's most puncheable d-bro," I'm pretty sure you'd get exactly what's in the book.

Shout-out to the artist, is where I'm going with this.

Definitely agree, the art for this book is among my favourites of all the APs.

I know my players have been pointing out that a lot of the characters this time around feel as though they reference real people. Some of the comparisons made so far include:

Dame Trant - Fergie
Count Lotheed - Tom Cruise (specifically the full body image)
Baron Okerra - Idris Elba
Lord Titus - Tim Curry (one of my players literally shouted "What's Tim Curry doing here!?" when he showed up)
Earl Merkondus - Currently a debate between Aidan Gillen and Tom Hardy (specifically the full body image; to be fair I gave him Littlefinger's voice so the Aidan Gillen side is biased)

I'm definitely anticipating a few more before this book is done, and several more after that.


Darrell Impey UK wrote:

Does anybody have any suggestions of things that I can add to a Stachys harvest festival? (Yes, my group went there too.) I feel acutely aware that even though they have made a point of inviting Okerra and a couple of others, this is mainly going to be populated by the locals, so things that require more that coppers or silvers to be involved in are going to need to be in the minority.

If course, in the middle of typing this I've realized that I can have Titus crash the event... }:)

I don't know if its too late, but I made a different thread about a harvest festival. I'm also happy to share the word document (which may have some notes written on it) which can be viewed here in my google drive. The festival went fanominaly well, though if I were to do it again, I would've added a guide-booth station to each area, where a map of the fairgrounds might be purchased for either everything or just that section for a small amount, like 5gp. The silent auction items I just rolled a percentile and a d20 to figure out what percentage of the items value the highest bidder would bid and ended up with some good results. My players loved the festival overall and felt like it was a real lived-in festival and experience, where there was something for everyone, but too many things for them to do everything (or win at almost anything. They ended up winning a few games and prizes, but nothing game breaking).

If you don't want to view my drive document, you can check out the other, slightly older, thread.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Just read through your thread, and it has quite a few nice ideas, thank you. But it doesn't work for the story as I see it.

The Stachys festival is for the people of Stachys, all 60-odd of them. They are, basically peasants, they won't have 5, 10, gp to spend on things at the festival. And I don't see them walking 22 miles to Lotheedar to hold it.


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I hope some of the ideas seemed useful at least. Most of the activities under the "Side" category are already cheap or free. You could also use some of them as jumping off points. Mine was a county fair, not just a stachys festival, so I wanted it to feel lived in, too big to do everything, and filled with rewarding activities. One of my players actually refuses to track anything less than gp, feeling it's below his station and a waste of weight, so when things cost less than 1gp, he just tells them to keep the change.

While your absolutely right that peasants won't have gp to throw around at a festival, the stuff I included were aimed at the wealthier merchantile, adventurous, and noble class in an effort to earn money, especially since that's what the economy of Meratt was originally built on back when it was a luxurious stop on the road from Cassomir to Oppara. Mechanically, this was just an excuse to put in high enough costing things that I could offer potential rewards good enough to entice my players. If the prizes were all worth approximately or less than 1gp, then they would have quickly been bored by the festival, which I'd intended to take one full session.

That being said, we both have different goals. If I had 1 hour only to design a festival and had already done this legwork, and I wanted the festival to be primarily for people of Stachys, I would probably just divide the entry costs by 100 (turning 1gp to 1cp) and lower the prizes by a proportionate amount (a golden horseshoe becomes a set of new horseshoes, a warhorse becomes a mule or a toy horse, a set of ornately designed arrows becomes a set of durable arrows, etc.). Or many of the games could become free with no prizes, just fun, though I don't know why peasants would work booths at a festival if they weren't earning money. Still, a lot of the activities can be quick-and-dirtied into solid filler, if that's all your looking for.

Separately, my current group consists of American Military members stationed overseas, and when I wrote the festival we were all missing the summertime county-fairs from home. This was a way to have a great big, fun, county-fair, that felt appropriate for the time period but also had fun things from home. Through role-playing, it was a great way to bring joy to a bunch of semi-homesick airmen, and I think it turned out phenomenally on our end.


My players keep bringing up a good point (they're using it to sow discontent against Bartleby Lotheed so I'm not discouraging them):

Why has no one done anything about County Meratt being such a wretched hive of scum and villainy? Gul Guisarne is supposed to be an inquisitor of Abadar who strikes fear into the hearts of men and can magically sense lies... yet...

1. Wanted criminals with LARGE prices on their heads manage to exist for years under his nose in the Beggarwood

2. A local Baron is transformed into an arachnid monstrosity who feeds on human beings for A DECADE and nothing is done

3. The servants of said Baron ply their trade as outlaws to sate his lust for tribute and flesh for A DECADE and nothing is done

4. A local pilgrimage site to GUL GUISARNE'S OWN DEITY is a lethal death-pit with a shattered bridge and a massive beast and... you get where I'm going.

The point is, it's hard to sell the Seneschal (and chief of secret police) or the Count Lotheed as threats to the players (or anyone) when neither of those men seem to have the power to deal with even a handful of low-level bandits whom the PCs cowed in six seconds of combat. I get that for Story Reasons, the PCs need to be the ones to solve Meratt's problems, but some of those problems have been going on for so long it strains plausibility that no one in the County (let alone the party's supposedly fearsome and powerful adversaries) has done anything about it.

Anyone else run into this problem? Suggestions? Thoughts?


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quibblemuch wrote:

My players keep bringing up a good point (they're using it to sow discontent against Bartleby Lotheed so I'm not discouraging them):

Why has no one done anything about County Meratt being such a wretched hive of scum and villainy? Gul Guisarne is supposed to be an inquisitor of Abadar who strikes fear into the hearts of men and can magically sense lies... yet...

1. Wanted criminals with LARGE prices on their heads manage to exist for years under his nose in the Beggarwood

2. A local Baron is transformed into an arachnid monstrosity who feeds on human beings for A DECADE and nothing is done

3. The servants of said Baron ply their trade as outlaws to sate his lust for tribute and flesh for A DECADE and nothing is done

4. A local pilgrimage site to GUL GUISARNE'S OWN DEITY is a lethal death-pit with a shattered bridge and a massive beast and... you get where I'm going.

The point is, it's hard to sell the Seneschal (and chief of secret police) or the Count Lotheed as threats to the players (or anyone) when neither of those men seem to have the power to deal with even a handful of low-level bandits whom the PCs cowed in six seconds of combat. I get that for Story Reasons, the PCs need to be the ones to solve Meratt's problems, but some of those problems have been going on for so long it strains plausibility that no one in the County (let alone the party's supposedly fearsome and powerful adversaries) has done anything about it.

Anyone else run into this problem? Suggestions? Thoughts?

Good points. I don't explicitly have answers for all of them, though in my case I tried to frame it as Gul being primarily concerned with holding down his local area and being unconcerned with how the other Baronies take care of their infrastructure. It's his job to keep people in line, not safe from their own poor choices.

1. I set this up to be Okerra's problem. Up until now he's been trying to deal with it himself, but his more traditional military soldiers are poorly equipped to deal with guerrilla bandits. He's also more hesitant about using lethal force, which hinders his soldier's efforts. My Count Lotheed during the Jubilee actively proposed sending Gul in to solve the problem for him as a way of working towards their military alliance (Bartelby's secret goal). Okerra was hesitant but getting desperate so he's close to agreeing. The players had an opportunity to interject and prevent him from accepting the aid by offering to deal with it themselves or suggesting another solution.

2. 3. 4. In my campaign the Betonys (the Dalsines in my game) actually used to be the stewards of Songbird Hall but when their family died it shifted to the Lotheeds. Telus took over the Dalsine lands and then the unpleasantness happened. Out of spite and cost cutting measures, the Lotheeds have actively avoided doing anything for that area as a way of spitting on the graves of the late Betonys and shirking that responsibility by "leaving it to Telus". Gul is more than happy to completely ignore that territory since they're too far from their own lands to be relevant and they've received no requests from anyone of high enough stature to care. The other nobles have their own problems and so long as the problems don't bleed too much into their own territories, they assume Telus is incompetent and ignore the entire area.

4. On top of it being in the Telus region, Gul is noted as having something of a weird philosophy when it comes to being an Abadaran. By my logic, he leaves the canyon be because it's not an official pilgrimage site, and the fact that it's noted to be somewhat dangerous should be enough to indicate to anyone with sense that if they can't handle themselves, they shouldn't bother. He takes care of him and his, and if others do stupid things and suffer the consequences, well that's on them.


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quibblemuch wrote:

My players keep bringing up a good point (they're using it to sow discontent against Bartleby Lotheed so I'm not discouraging them):

Why has no one done anything about County Meratt being such a wretched hive of scum and villainy? Gul Guisarne is supposed to be an inquisitor of Abadar who strikes fear into the hearts of men and can magically sense lies... yet...

1. Wanted criminals with LARGE prices on their heads manage to exist for years under his nose in the Beggarwood

2. A local Baron is transformed into an arachnid monstrosity who feeds on human beings for A DECADE and nothing is done

3. The servants of said Baron ply their trade as outlaws to sate his lust for tribute and flesh for A DECADE and nothing is done

4. A local pilgrimage site to GUL GUISARNE'S OWN DEITY is a lethal death-pit with a shattered bridge and a massive beast and... you get where I'm going.

The point is, it's hard to sell the Seneschal (and chief of secret police) or the Count Lotheed as threats to the players (or anyone) when neither of those men seem to have the power to deal with even a handful of low-level bandits whom the PCs cowed in six seconds of combat. I get that for Story Reasons, the PCs need to be the ones to solve Meratt's problems, but some of those problems have been going on for so long it strains plausibility that no one in the County (let alone the party's supposedly fearsome and powerful adversaries) has done anything about it.

Anyone else run into this problem? Suggestions? Thoughts?

- Sorry for the long post. I ended up writting more than I thought I would, mostly because writting helped me think out my answers. -

I also think these are some great points, that I haven't poured a terrible amount of thought into until you brought these up. My thoughts loop back to Martella's mention in her initial briefing to the players (should they think to ask about the county) "the county is perhaps not as well maintained as the locals would prefer, but Father was a competent administrator if nothing else.” This line always made me think that the county used to be better but is still relatively nice, especially considering this is a world of monsters and magic. We know that many other "safe" areas, counties, ect. have monsters also, though most people don't go traipsing through the wilderness looking for adventure.

That said, in my game, I put it down to money and resources. We already know that Gul stays on as senechal out of a strange loyalty to the family and to Bartelby's father. I just assume that Bartelby has been much less prudent with county funds, diverting much of it to reinforcing the palace of birdsong, throwing parties, and conducting magical research. One example of this is his solution to the Swan Maiden - he stops funding offerings (though some citizens still leave their own) and instead leaves an ooze behind to take care of things, despite that short-sided "solution" threatening to cause its own batch of problems. This leads to my direct answers.

1) Bartelby is probably the person who put these bounties on the criminal's heads, as he is the one to whom the bounty is redeemed. My guess is that with all the people in beggarwood (that they can't lawfully just murder), whenever Gul and his men come to the forest, the people hide the four hoods. We even see mention of Gul conducting raids. Also, since their stat-blocks are based on the merry-men, their robin-hood like mystic put Bartelby/Gul in the fairy-tale role of the Sherrif of Nottingham in my game (giving me plenty to draw on). Bartelby just isn't willing to try to commit the resources to purge the woods or to fund the rebuilding of Jambis or a humanitarian building project for new towne, stachys, and pensaris to be able to take in all these homeless/refugee's. His hope instead is that some of the poor in beggarwood will instead turn them in for the comparatively-low price on their heads, though this hasn't happened because they love the hoods. In my game, I actually added the night swan as the leader of the four hoods, mechanically to make the encounter more level-appropriate, and thematically to make her seem more like a hero of the people (whom my players tried to capture alive and delivered to Martella after taking the Palace. Now, she's in prison constantly spouting Galtean rhetoric and anti-monarchy sentiments. What happens to her in the future is left mostly to the PC's efforts or lack thereof to develop her).

2,3,4) With the above being about costs, it's easy to extend that further. Jambis is too expensive to reclaim, and with no noble clamoring for it to be done, Bartelby sees no reason to spend the time, money, and risk to his resources to solve the issue. Similarly, the bridge is very, very expensive to rebuild, and traffic through Lotheedar is unimpeded. If anything, it improves traffic through Lotheedar, as it is now the only highway route through the county from Cassomir to Oppara, with a canal and full facilities there. It makes little financial sense to spend hard-earned county money on a public works project that doesn't directly improve the lives of most of the county, with the only people truly affected being stachys, new towne, and jambis, all of whom have very little value or political clout (with Onora Piscum attending things like the Tanager Jubilee to make sure Stachys isn't completely forgotten about). Also, the canyon is an unofficial pilgrimage site, and the bridge doesn't aid in the pilgrimage, as pilgrims still climb down into the ravine.

With this, I mentally paint the poor-maintenance in the county as a result of bartelby's apathy and unwillingness to dedicate funds he could use personally for things he doesn't see as cost-effective, which does kinda go in line with some of abadar's teachings. Perhaps Gul vies this as some measure of prudence, and while he may disagree with some of his patron's decisions, it is not his place or station to raise his voice in protest. Also, with all of the Lotheed family secrets being kept at the palace, in my game, I made it Gul's top priority to guard the tower and keep all the secrets from wandering out into town. He oversees this personally as much as possible, though he places guards there when he leaves, guards that occasionally fail (and possibly die) which explains how the duchess veleto lotheed escapes both during the jubilee and later in the book. If you manage a secret police and guard monsters locked in the tower, rumors of one of the reclusive barons turning into a monster or some of his men turned bandits seem like relatively-low priorities, especially on a budget, and that easily seems like the thing most in demand of attention.


quibblemuch wrote:

Gul Guisarne is supposed to be an inquisitor of Abadar who strikes fear into the hearts of men and can magically sense lies... yet...

[...]

...the Seneschal (and chief of secret police) or the Count Lotheed as threats to the players (or anyone)

The Count is the absolute ruler of the County.

Gul Gusairne is his main man.

Let's stop thinking that religion is the overruling factor in all things in Golarion. In this case, the Count is the leader, and maintaining his nobility, wealth, influence is his main goal. Gul Gusairne is therefore putting all of his efforts towards this endeavor, as he has done for the Count's father before (and even for the Count's grandfather I believe). Economy is not his main passion: order is. To him, order is to keep the Lotheeds in power.

Maybe a lawful evil worshiper of one of the infernal dukes would have worked better, but maybe it would have been cliché as well. I for one am happy that a nobility-oriented nation like Taldor depict true and blindly loyal servants like Gul Gusairne. It makes sense in the context of this nation, who has been falling apart for centuries. Nobles and their servants maneuver and position themselves first, before thinking of the population or infrastructure.

In this adventure, we have a veritable coup d'état by the PCs, who swoop in, make massive infrastructure changes, kill all kinds of long-standing / long-abandoned evils, right wrongs that have festered for decades, etc. It's tantamount to revolutionary behavior in the eye of any proper Taldan. But it's required by the Princess as she wants Meratt to become an efficient money-making breadbasket to fund her operations. Count Lotheed is CORRECT to be worried. Gul Gusairne, as a loyal henchman, is also justifiably suspicious. If the PCs don't 'cover up' certain deeds, and act all hero-like, then certain NPCs in the County will take offense to what they do. Read each NPC entry carefully. In my campaign the PCs have cozied up to Okerra, and thus a certain vigilante operating in the county will now hate their guts no matter what... etc. etc. etc. This adventure is best served cold, in slow mode.. :)

Edit: about Gul or the Count posing a threat to the PCs. Once more, in the context of the adventure, these are not high CR creatures that pose a simple 'combat type of threat'. The subtle threat here is that the PCs will be dumb and walk up to the Count and simply kill him. Should this happen, another Baron in the County will simply assume the mantle of Count, and the Princess will not gain back her estate... in fact, the front-running baron's barristers will probably reach out to Maximus and use that as an excuse to legally take the land from her family. This is Taldor. Things must be done slowly, and behind the scenes, and all appearances of legality must be preserved.


GM PDK wrote:
Let's stop thinking that religion is the overruling factor in all things in Golarion.

I wasn't.

But when the head of secret police for an autocrat has the supernatural ability to detect lies... it begs the question of how so many shenanigans go on under his nose, seemingly unchecked.

Regardless, the responses thus far from everyone have been good food for thought. Thank you all.

Another way to reframe my concern (via the valid point my players make) is that letting all this go on is difficult to spin as in Bartleby Lotheed's best interest.

Worg terrorizing peasants? Sure, the Count's got no real skin in the game, especially if the rumor about Baroness Legate Voinum covering their tax bill is true.

Betony Estate falling into ruin? She was crazy anyway, doesn't really impact Bartleby's bottom line any more than it already would have.

And, of course, his solution to the Lake Lauchlein problem is perfect for a self-interested autocrat.

Plenty of the problems of Meratt County can be written off as not directly affecting the Lotheed family's evil self-interest.

But an entire barony becoming a net tax zero? Wanted bandits living pretty much in the open under another of his barons? A vigilante bold enough to attempt to assassinate him at his own party, with impunity?

Those are a bit harder to spin as the result of an intelligent and powerful man making choices in his own self-interest.

That said, the responses above have given me food for thought on how to reveal the why of Count Lotheed and Guisarne's long-running neglect without impugning their potential competence.

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