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Spoiler for what I'm doing here. tl;dr - running part 6 like I would a non-playtest module.
* The sections are dry. They lack character. The story overall is disconnected and not that interesting as presented.
* The sections are short. There is no character progression, loot has lost meaning when you have so short to use it. People don't get used to their abilities, and don't even bother developing character personalities as they move on so quickly.
* The maths is off. Monster maths is confirmed as wrong in skills, and probably saves too. DCs are frequently absurdly high for what they represent. The maths is almost universally wrong towards players failing more often, this is not fun.
* Focusing on playing RAW is great for data, not for fun. When players come up with creative enough ideas, I've felt pressure to turn them down on occasion, as it twisted data and didn't fit into any good survey results.
I know there are reasons for these things. But I wanted to win my players over to 2E, and recharge our batteries for the last section (after part 5 put us all near burnout). So! I decided to submit no feedback for part 6, and instead re-wrote the entire module, more than doubling its page count, swapping out every monster, and so on. This thread is not pretending this is the 'right' way to play Red Flags, or that Paizo wrote the adventure wrong. This is exploring how PF2 changes when not played in a Playtest format, and hopefully giving something some people enjoy reading.
With the Night Heralds making progress, and the White-Axiom-saving-party out of commission, the Order of the Palatine Eye calls in some of its best covert operatives for a top priority missions. Elite agents, each of which was fundamental in dismantling at least one cult during their service. One by one, these four heroes are teleported to a secret HQ of the Order, on a tropical island from which no other land can be seen. It's exact location a mystery, and its vaults holding many evil treasures of defeated cults. Who teleports in?
Miller. Half-orc. Acquisition Expert. Osirion native. Gained notoriety after infiltrating and dismantling a cult of Dawnflower heretics. He's become a top travelling agent versed in just about every skill set required by the Order. A jack-of-all-trades. And by this point, master-of-many.
Rurtug the Shadowflame. Goblin. Puppetmaster. Varisian native, Rurtug is an ex-pathfinder who turned a cult controlling monstrous races inside-out, unleashing the races against the controlling cult. A love of fire, powers over the mind, and a master of sneaking and shadows.
"Ol' Koot". Goblin. Insane. An alchemist with a love of explosions and good booze. Very elderly. A bit dotty in the head. Koot is a genius in his own way, a mad inventor, and able to plan like no other, as long as someone else supplies the common sense. Retired after defeating a group of blood cultists, but here for one last job.
Beetmul. Goblin. Infiltrator. Necerion's nemesis. Beetmul has spent many years fighting the sorcerer, racing him to old items, assassinating his lackies, and has built up quite the rapport with the evil leader as he is instrumental in keeping the Night Heralds slow.
Yes. Three goblins. My players know I hate goblins and decided to troll me. Thanks guys. At least it's not four.
They meet Kelari on a small hill that overlooks a sandy beach, surrounded by coconut trees, with the bright sun bouncing off perfectly blue waves. She informs them of the mission, reveres their experience, and shows them the intercepted missive. They bandy about questions, get some answers, make some plans, brew up Salamander Elixers because volcano, and teleport to the Smoker.
This was a nice intro. Characters had personality, especially Koot carving notes into the table, because they knew I'd make this long enough to enjoy the characters and really get into them. No rolls needed, but I think there was a decent sense of the power of the PCs and the scale of the event/situation.
They've just over two days to learn about their mission and explore. They split up. Ol' Koot goes to a gambling den, speaking to the bartender, Miller goes to the shops, asking about in public-facing establishments, and Beetmul asks about the streets. They turn up a lot of information:
* There's three oracles in a cave to the west. They could be a source of information.
* There's a bar to the east, out of town, called Lavatap, which was recently damaged by an explosion from the side of the volcano. It's run by a Fire Giant named Sissidhie.
* There's a ship graveyard to the north of the island, definitely haunted by pirate ghosts
* The gala's been held in honour of the sunken Blackguard's Revenge.
* Someone called Ellysaganor is attending, and definitely important.
* The gala will include most important people being part of processions out of the fort to throw valuables into the sea. Great time to be sneaky buggers.
Miller moves on to question those near the docks, and gets a whole bunch of information!
* Khadabit is happy where he is, and extorting his father.
* There's a devil named Kasabeel under Whark.
* Tarqin Sorrinash, son of Avimar Sorrinash, is the highest ranking pirate attending besides Whark, and a slight rival to her.
* There's a dragon on the island, in the volcano
The others gather some more information, and Ol' Koot goes to a table in the den with a large crowd. A weird fish person, who he learns is called Dagruth, is playing against a pirate captain in a complicated and strategic card game. Koot picks up a large amount in only minutes of watching, being a genius, but annoys Dagruth in the process, especially when he points out a suboptimal play. He will later learn Dagruth is Whark's right-hand man/man-fish. Whoops.
The information gathering here was great fun. The DCs were frequently 15+ points below those recommended, and the game benefited hugely from it. These are top agents, if they look for specific information, they get it, and frequently crit succeed, surpassing expectations in basic tasks like rumour recon. Interestingly, they didn't ask about Necerion, but they certainly ended up with a variety of leads to go on. Miller's feat to gather twice as much information definitely was nice.
The Ship Graveyard
They rested, then woke up with a full free day between them and the gala. They planned for a bit, and with disguises and stealth headed north to the Ship Graveyard as it had piqued their interest. Their scout found signs of supernatural activity, and decided to approach confidently, as a group. The ghosts haunting a shipwreck here tried to scare them! They all passed the DC 14 Will Save, including one person passing on a 2. That felt awesome. They're top agents, and this is just your average pirate ghost. Realising they're not easily scared, the ghost talked to them, laughed, got on, and invited them all in. Ol' Koot used his Inventor Feat and Alchemy Reagents to make Ghost Touch Booze. There's no rules for this... but of course I allowed that? What a cool use of class features. With this, the ghosts were extremely open with information and chatting. They're actually not from here or bound here at all - they're visiting too! They're rare passengers aboard the Kelpie's Wrath, on the island while it circles about, until the Gala is ended and the Kelpie goes elsewhere, and then eventually has enough of them and they find a different ship to haunt. The pirate ghosts in the ship here mention two ghosts that aren't present: Rotten Gokkle, a no-good scoundrel who's trying to steal Whark's loot by floating through the volcano, and his opposite, Sir Reginald, a ghost who believes things like hiding form sunlight, floating, and passing through walls are unseemly, and considers himself a perfect gentleman to the extent he's inviting himself to the Gala - where fancy people belong. After much fun roleplay, the group leaves to find Reginald who they were told is nearby, practising running through patches of sunlight.
Tons of good stuff happened here. The players felt strong, they used class features in interesting ways, the RP was good, and it advanced things. Also, lots of puns and wordplay.
They find Reginald. He's dressed as fancily as can be. Twirly moustache, tricorne, big old naval officer coat covered in medals and ribbons. He speaks in the most absurd attempt at being dignified, and sounds a prat for it. The group sees through the fact he's not a natural noble, but respect he's putting effort into it. They talk to him for... a long time. They get information about Gokkle, and about Reginald's plans for the gala. Eventually, they convince Reginald to go to Whark and get her to stop Gokkle sneaking in and stealing anything. Reginald is mercilessly mocked without ever noticing it, and at one point begins pulling out his poorly written, entirely falsified, and incorporeal memoirs out of hammerspace. These can be interacted with thanks to Mage Hand existing, which I found amusing. After deciding to meet back later, so someone could make a novel of his fantastic life, the group leaves Reginald for the day, and heads towards the oracles.
At this point, just over 4 hours IRL have passed, and we call the session. Reginald was fun to play.
It's super fun, people are looking forward to the next game rather than dreading having to push through more Doomsday Dawn. People were excited to roll dice because they knew they were playing really competent characters, and could do they thing they wanted to do most of the time, sometimes do it super well with a crit. This is compared to before, where dice felt like they usually served to show how incompetent your expert in ranks and backstory character really was. No combat happened, which felt fine for this section, and I've added at least 5 combats that still might happen. PF2 definitely benefits a lot from leaving playtest land.
This was really fun to read, I was bummed when I reached the end. XD
This is certainly more extensive than what I'm doing for my group for Red Flags. I agreed that the scenario was a bit dry so I slipped in one character of each player from PF1 games I have run or am running as NPCs at the gale, not for anything mechanical but just to interact with. We got there in our last session and it was hilarious. XD
Of course, my group isn't burnt out like it seems yours is, we've been rather enjoying things and making the best of it despite limitations (Not saying you and yours haven't, just that it's working out for us), surprisingly while Heroes of Undarin was a slog in the end it actually invigorated us as my group actually WON, due in part to multiple minor miracles. I expected them to do really well but I HONESTLY expected them to bite it in battle 6, 7, or 9 (6 and 7 were very close to tipping down the slippery slope but 9 was almost a joke because our Wizard won init, saw the boss via magic, used True Strike to crit with Enervation, which the boss got a success-turned-failure resulting in Enervated 2 IMMEDIATELY) Even that aside they really enjoyed the combat challenges and went in hard on it. So less drastic measures were required for me.
Anyhow I'm glad your group is having fun! Good to know PF2 plays well in a more loose fashion, I had little doubt it would but confirmation is nice.
I may be excited for When The Stars Go Dark wrapping the story up for my friends and I but I'm even more looking forward to afterwards. I'm re-writing my first PF1 campaign I ever ran to convert to PF2 and apply the couple of years of GMing experience I've accrued since then to make it better while keeping the soul of the campaign. And also to fill the holes where my memory has faded and my notes have been mislaid. XD
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Thank you, definitely looking forward to more whenever you have your next session to report.
I've been having a lot of fun playing with world building using pf2 rules and think it has a lot of potentials for the stories I want to tell. I would have loved to have seen a non-playtest sample adventure from Paizo during the playtest -- showing how they think the current system excels (rather than shining a spotlight on what needs to be tested).
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The Three Oracles
The nearest geographical location was the cave of the three oracles. They wanted to visit here for a few questions, since it was an info-spot and that led to better decisions with the rest of their day (in theory). It's a reasonably tough climb up to the Oracles, with strange smoke rolling down the hill. For 14th level characters, probably pretty trivial DCs. The PCs decided to make it doubly trivial by all using fly, either the boots or the spell, and making it to the entrance which was covered by a wall of smoke. Yup. All had casual fly. High levels are awesome like that.
Miller took the lead, walked through the smoke, and called back that there was no immediate danger. The fumes were a bit heady, and Beetmul nat-1'd a fort save, being the only one to fail and get a -4 to Will saves for the day. They met the oracles, asked some basic questions, learned there was definitely a dragon, and it was a she. Learned there were primal druids on this island a long, long time ago that worshiped the volcano. Ol' Koot agreed to go on a vision challenge, dispite warnings he might die. The oracles throw magical powder into the bonfire they're sitting around and Koot's mind went elsewhere to have a vision.
He saw glimpses of the island, and of the fortress, and of the fortress' interior! He recieved many hints about what was to come, and eventually saw their goal: The Last Theorem, now finally knowing exactly what it should look like. But from the vision of this, a horrible creature made of pure thought, a type of Mindform called a Dream Devil broke loose, and Koot had a 1-on-1 battle in thoughtspace. Koot had few offensive spells, and at one point it looked like he might run out and die here, but a critical failure by the Mindform against Fireball had him defeated. It was probably more power level of a level 12 monster than the level 11 I had it down as. He got a reroll to use in the next week, decided after seeing the dice roll.
Finally, Miller asked what gift Whark would like, but managed to word it like a lawyer. He learned that besides gems, gaudy things, and Besmara's forgiveness, she would want revenge against the person who slighted her tomorrow. (there's going to be at least three chances at this). They left some food and good booze, and moved on.
The Three Oracles was the only bit of information about the smoker really given in Doomsday Dawn... and utterly failed to be fleshed out there! I set it as an easy answer to any question that wouldn't break the module, plus the dream fight and free reroll as a bonus for their exploration. Koot was the only one who saught a vision, and the least up for a 1-on-1 fight, so I figure I judged correctly with the stats of the opponent.
They headed right to the recently-burried-by-lava-burst tavern, Lavatap, and met Sissidhie, its owner, a nice fire giant lady. She gave them the basic rundown about an explosion from the rockface spewing out lava and revealing a very small cave with lava elementals that no one's scoped out yet. Rurtug used Stone Tell and got some background information from the hardened lava: They learned there was a staff on an altar generatin the lava. Playing talking lava was fun, it had an interesting view of the world, it liked other lava, didn't like having cooled down.
They planned a raid on the cave to steal the staff. Koot used Clairvoyance and learned the shape of the cave, and that the altar had old primal nature runes all over it. He gave Beetmul a Quicksilver elixer, someone Hasted Beetmul, Beetmul went invisible, and went to get the staff. It was secured in place by a runed, trapped, metal clasp. He nat-1'd his first attempt, causing a firey explosion he ducked out of the way of (Evasion for the crit succcess), but attracted the surrounding lava elementals. With his Quick Unlock feat, he managed to turn things around and finish getting the clasp undone with a single crit success! He grabbed the staff and, with his final action for the turn, began to bolt out of the room. The lava elementals sent waves of heat vaguely in his direction, but the whole group had taken Salamander Exlixers, because volcanic island, so they were fine. As Beetmul got out, Koot and Rurtug each threw up Wall of Stone spells to blockade the way and seal the lava elementals in.
Since Beetmul had been unable to pass nature checks to understand the primal magic of the runes, and didn't have any society feats for interpreting lost languages, some secrets were missed, but they got a Greater Staff of Fire with no combat, which was neato. Discussing it, they decided it would make a better gift for Whark than their leftover funds could otherwise buy.
Perhaps I put too much description into the staff over the altar. Still, their ability to Blitz an item-retrival task was great to see, and a fun warmup for the vault raid ahead.
The group got back to town. Koot and Rurtug went to the brothel, Beetmul studied images drawn from Koot's vision and aced a few checks to gain some insight into what lay ahead, Miller purchased some rubies to bling up the staff to be more attractive to Whark, which he aced the crafting check on. The brothel-goes spent extra gold for a great time and some information on gala guests's brothel habits, however they plan to use that.
That night, Rurtug and Koot get home at 5am. Rurtug curls up with the newly decorated Greater Staff of Bling Fire since goblins like fire things.
Beetmul wakes up early, gathers the atmosphere of the day, learns a few anti-curse charms are circulating due to rumours of cursed gambling tables at the gala, and curses from sea hags or Besmara. Miller has a very greasy breakfast, during which he sees an adult red dragon heading in the direction of the fort. Eventually Koot and Rurtug get up, Koot makes drawings of all the flags for ships that have arrived, and sees what he knows about them. The group goes to the gala!
And we cut for the week.
Final prep maybe gave them too much time, they didn't do a ton here, but I'd rather give them too much time and have them feel at fault for preparations not made, than not enough and feel screwed over. Another fun session with good RP, Rurtug came more into his own this time and Beetmul was the star of the staff-snatching mission.