[Spoilers] Jim G runs Age of Ashes! Campaign Journal


Age of Ashes

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

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This is a journal for my personal Age of Ashes game. I see other folks sharing journals and wanted to join the fun. It might also give people some insight on how I’m running the game and the decisions I made. There will be spoilers! My players stay out!

Let’s meet the PCs! All artwork was done my buddy Ben Bruck, a fellow freelancer. Ben took an art class and this was a fun exercise for him.

Eider Eider is a male, dwarf druid with a bear animal companion named Trudy. This is the player’s favorite class and I think his favorite ancestry, and I got a really nice, rich background for this character. He grew up in the Five King Mountains and was born into an affluent family. Eider’s father, only ever referred to as “the Profit” owns and manages a highly successful weapon manufacturing business, which affords the family five distinct homes, one assigned to each season. Eider spent most of his life near the autumn home near the Palakar Forest, developing relationships with foresters and dryads that dwelled nearby. This behavior was tolerated by the Profit in hopes that eventually he could turn it towards financial gain. During the Goblinblood War, his dryad friends appealed to him to act to defend their dryad and woodland friends in the Chitterwood which was eventually consumed in flames. Eider enlisted, but after the war arranged to fake his own death and send his armor and weapons back to his father. Eider is a disillusioned dwarf who sees the pursuit of gold and silver as a soulless endeavor, while alternately finding no solace or comfort in religion. He is loyal. He hates goblins, holding them ultimately responsible for the destruction in Chitterwood and bears a mark of every goblin, hobgoblin, and bugbear he’s ever killed on his shield. My personal take on him is that he’s someone who has lost his faith in people and institutions (other than his bear buddy, Truddy), but who would desperately like to find it again. While his anti-goblin attitude sounds problematic, I’ve talked to the player about it. This is a growing edge and the player intends to allow his character to see goblins in a different light when circumstances permit. Since all the players have played in Golarion for years, I felt this was a good approach. That is, allowing the change in some goblin communities to be treated as a new thing. As long as it isn’t used to derail the campaign, I’m fine with that. Change and growth is one reason we role play.

Eider’s Paper Mini Artwork

Truddy Animal Companion Paper Mini Artwork

First Light First Light is a gourd leshy monk. Like Eider, he too comes from the Five King Mountains. He was conjured into existence by a grove of druids, mostly dwarves, and is the same grove that Eider belonged to, giving them an in-character connection. First Light refers to his dwarven companion as ‘Papa Eider.’ His actual name is “The First Light of Dawn over the Five Kings Mountains as it Reflects on the Placid Waters of a Lake”, but goes by First Light for expediency. He is an old soul who views life and death as part of a natural cycle. His purpose in this life is to protect the wilderness and to acquire wisdom. Certain concepts of mortal life still allude him, like humanoid gender, social class, and is pragmatic about social niceties. For example, First Light believes change in behavior is the best form of apology. Despite being very tranquil, First Light has the Haunted Visions AP background, and therefore has come to Breachill out of fear of his prophetic dreams. This player has always wanted to play a leshy for years and years, and I’m pleased that it’s a fully supported ancestry.

First Light Gourd Leshy Monk

Garrett Greygallows Garrett is a male halfling bard and devotee of Cayden Cailean. He also possesses a very unique background and I’m excited to see how it plays out later in the campaign. Garrett was this player’s character in Hell’s Rebels, who he enjoyed very much. The campaign was completed to the very end, but the player wanted to play him again. I normally would discourage this, but the players came up with an intriguing and clever way to sell it to me. Garrett is like Conan the Barbarian. He’s on point when driven by goals and quests, but indolent and less worthy when left listless and without purpose. After the Silver Ravens liberated Kintargo, Garrett went to pot, overeating, drinking to excess, and spending his wealth on female companionship and excess- anything to stave off the emptiness. Finally Garrett sought redemption from his fellow Silver Raven, a cleric of Alseta. Through a miracle spell Garrett has been returned to a 1st level character and has set out to rediscover himself and this time maybe find a life he can be content with until the end of his days. Very much a redemption arc. The fact that the former PC companion worshipped Alseta was a delightful bit of coincidence. Plus that wonderful future chapter that returns to Kintargo! He’ll walk again in the steps of his previous heroic endeavors! This is going to be fun. In play, Garrett is a plucky little fellow, brave, eager to be a hero and ergo has come to present himself at Breachill’s Call for Heroes.

Garret Greygallows Halfling Bard Paper Mini

Galub Jameela is a female dwarf fighter. Yeah yeah, that’s a fun name of a dessert. It’s an in-joke because the player tried repeatedly to make Galub Jamun and always having it turn out bad. It turns out they didn’t realize that clarified butter and melted butter are different things. ANYWAY, we’re working on just calling the character Jameela, which is a nice name. This (very good) player doesn’t usually emphasize character over plot but is otherwise great fun. This time they’re trying to go deeper, but Jameela has a simpler background than the ones I’ve previous described. Her clan also comes from the Five King Mountains and is very patriarchal. While women are not consign to baking pies, men are traditionally the clan warriors and smiths. That’s not standard in Golarion, but this is an unnamed NPC clan that might not come up in play very much, and it gives this player a foil or something to use as motivation. Jameela has raised three children to adulthood by herself, is very family motivated, loyal, and ready to prove that she can do anything a man can do. As a quirk, she is fairly suspicious of magic, but like Eider she might come to outgrow it. She is a battle axe and board fighter, and the player is excited about how cool the fighter is now.
Jameela Female Dwarf Fighter Paper Mini

Oak is a male half-elf Rogue Wizard multiclass (rogue primary and wizard secondary), which is a class this player has wanted to play since D&D 2nd edition. Our group has not found that combo well supported since way back when. His full name is Okanos, and truth be told, this player didn’t have the time to create a detailed background. I don’t let that be a gate to playing however (we all have other lives to live), and we may flesh out his background during play. Oak is a Hellknight Historian who arrives at the Call for Heroes in hopes make connections in community that will allow him to research and gain access to Citadel Altaerein. Lucky coincidence! In terms of art, the player was hoping to wield a bladed scarf but we discovered late that those have not been brought over to PF 2, yet. We’re working on some temporary rules until something official comes out.

Oak Half-Elf Rogue Wizard Paper Mini

Example of finished mini

Example finished minis 2

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

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Here’s some of the rule questions I had to address, house rules, and modifications to the chapter I’ve made. A lot of them came through the ever valuable GM’s thread for Chapter One.

Starting Rule Decisions

Trudy the bear has an Intimidate special ability as an animal companion. The new Intimidate skill rules impose a -4 penalty if you don’t share a language or use a language. I thought imposing that on a PC’s animal companion was basically nerfing their companion’s ability right out of the gate. “It’s got a cool power that immediately sucks because it doesn’t work a lot of times.” I decided Roaring Bear is a universal language if you’re capable of being affected by Intimidation. No penalty. I reserved the right to change my mind.

First Light wants to be a Dexterity based monk, which makes sense for a 3-foot tall plant. Can grappling be Dex based? Well, grapple can be an unarmed attack (it’s not exclusively an unarmed attack, but it does require a free hand), and unarmed attacks in turn have the finesse trait. Plus grapple specifically has the attack keyword, which reinforces that weapon properties like finesse may be applicable. Finally, weapon properties like finesse feel like an example of a more specific rule compared to a general rule (that Athletics in general are Strength based). Plus First Light is a small creature with limits on the size of creature he can grapple without additional magic aid. This doesn’t feel game breaking. NOTE:Some comments are welcome, but I don’t want a protracted rules discussion in this thread which makes it hard to read the story. I encourage people who want to discuss this specifically to start a rule thread and add a link here if they feel they would like to share. I reserved the right to revisit this with the player, so I’m not stuck.

First Light also wonders about Flurry of Blows and his Seed Pod ability. Seed Pod is specifically a ranged unarmed attack. In fact, it’s the only one that I can find, which does make me a little concerned that this might be an unintended loophole/rule interaction, but….. Flurry of blows mandates that the monk use unarmed attacks but doesn’t mention that they have to be melee unarmed attacks. I decided to allow it, for the sake of looking and being cool. That does mean opening to Stunning Fist to Seed Pod at 2nd level. I am going to monitor this one and I reserved the right to change my mind to the player. On the balancing side, Seed Pods have a short range increment. Again, I’d rather any long rules discussion go in the rules forums and just add a link in this thread.

House Rules I wasn’t going to have any (because I wanted to see how the game runs with limited modification), but I was asked about Bulk. We all hated weight based encumbrance in 1st edition. It wasn’t fun and it only served to detract from feeling heroic. On the other hand, there are special situations (survival scenarios, or situations where being isolated are actual story elements) where I could see weight based encumbrance being worthy of consideration, but those were rare. The group universally agreed that Bulk was nowhere as bad as weight based encumbrance, but I elected not to enforce Bulk. No one in our group is a rule abuser, so I said to keep what their characters are carrying within reason. It’s never been a problem before or even super-unrealistic. Note, I use the term “weight based encumbrance” because I differentiate that between armor based Speed adjustments. Those aren’t a problem. Finally my players have always sought magical solutions to keep weight limits in the realm of the justifiable.

Story Element Changes When the fire is resolved, the town guard will NOT be able to identify Calmont on sight. What they can do is inform the PCs and Greta where they saw a hooded figure standing and a vague suggestion of which direction they were headed. They also can report that the individual was too short to be a “human person”, but was definitely humanoid. When the PCs go to that spot, I made it an easy or very easy Survival tracking check to find the trail, which leads to Citadel Altaerein. On a really decent roll, they can verify that the footprints are barefoot and likely a halfling. (I guess I could have made that information the result of a critical success on an easy roll, but I really wanted to make sure they get that information). This eliminates the “investigate Voz before going to the Citadel problem”, while likely narrowing down who they’re looking for, i.e. a halfling. Knowing it is a halfling is really ideal, because it steers them away from looking for a goblin suspect. Incidentally this worked like a charm.

Because I think the shadow of the Goblinblood War works against the concept of peaceful goblins, I decided that over the two year history before the start of the campaign, the Bumblebrashers sought permission from the town to live in a 5 mile vicinity of town. They maintained good behavior for one year, whereupon they were granted permission to occupy Citadel Altaerein at their own risk. Likewise, it’s been fine with the goblins living in the castle for the last year. This smooths out the changes between first and second edition with players who have a really predetermined biased against goblins. Trust was granted, but it was further developed by goodwill that was earned over time.

The red smoke signals and missed appointments with Helba had only been since yesterday evening. Long enough to get Warble’s attention but not seem like Warble and Breachill were being neglectful of their allies’s welfare.

I was really, really tempted to move the Citadel from town. In my mind, if the Bumblebrashers are only one mile away, why are these two communities not fully integrated? Yeah, I know that if they were integrated there would be no need for the smoke signals, but that’s not my point. But…against my better judgment I left it alone. That said, I’m nothing if not fair. It ended up being no big deal and the players didn’t even bat an eye. I was the only one bothered by it and I kept my own counsel, so I concede the point. And hey, I didn’t need to worry about the escape tunnel now.

Special Technique: I have an iOS App that lets me annotate or edit PDFs, and by virtue of that I can extract artwork out cleanly into a jpg. By cleanly, I mean without text around a face portrait. I save these graphics to a photo album on my iPad. We all use Facebook and Facebook Messenger (but if you hate FB I’m sure you could do this with another message program). I created a dedicated Age of Ashes Artwork thread with the rule of no chatting, and during the game I attach artwork images to messages and shoot them to all of their phones and iPads. It only takes a few seconds, so I do it live during the game. It gives them a lasting visual record of creatures and locations they come across between sessions while I don’t have to clumsily fumble with the book to show them art, all while trying to cover the text with my hands. We also have a dedicated Age of Ashes miscellaneous chat thread to talk about the game, joke about it, talk about rules, and confirm next sessions and locales.

Enough introduction, let’s move on to the first session!

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

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FIRST SESSION

I was nervous. I drew all the maps out for the Citadel in advance, but I felt shaky with a new rule system. We got a late start because one player, Oak, didn’t get the message that we were playing at a different house that was more centrally located to the recent of the group. He got caught in a traffic jam doubling back and it set us back on our time to play by about an hour and a half. This is significant because I like to do an intro to the starting town and have the PCs meet a bunch of NPCs and get to know the locals. Goodness knows I’ve done the Swallowtail Festival in Sandpoint often enough. The delay prompted me to get right to adventure with minimal set-up. This…actually worked just fine. The players said they enjoyed that things started relatively quickly.

Humorous side note: Eider, the Druid, mentioned that he had a Druid ability called Wild Empathy and explained how it worked to me. “Players never get to use it though, because Paizo adventures never have animals that are in a situation where it would do any good to actually try it.” Thinking of the goblin dogs, I kept my silence. I nodded absently as I got my dice out and maintained a poker face.

My personal spin on the beginning: The meeting starts at noon, so I indicated that the Wizard’s Grace opens early with a boar and lentil brunch with one free drink for adventurers who intend to respond to the Heroes Call. I mentioned important townsfolk being present, but with the late start I didn’t try to push a social encounter. Afterwards, they headed over to town hall. I distributed the image of town hall and the Monument Circle from page 62. I casually mentioned that the circle is where the town gets a lot of it’s fresh water, except for wells on private property. I kept any mention of the town’s history very low-key. The Player’s Guide covers that topic, but I causally mentioned that Breachill was founded by the “Good Wizard Breachton” and that was the reason Breachill was very community oriented and adventurer friendly. I’m not withholding the background, but rather letting them find it or pursue it. “I even got a picture of the guy,” I said and shared the statue picture on page 65. The players didn’t interpret these facts as anything but background and took the information in stride. Which is good, they’ll have fun stuff to learn about after the fact. Voz’s journal will be fascinating for them, but it would be a distraction right now.

Once at town hall, I had the townsfolk express curiosity about them. The Players/PCs were a little surprised at the turnout, but I mentioned a very slight festival atmosphere, and that most of the town showed up just to hear the latest news and other people’s problems that could become their own. Many townsfolk had never seen a leshy and were oooh and aahing over First Light. Garrett the bard used the opportunity to perform for free.

The PCs did meet Warble. Eider the goblin-disliking dwarf pointed at her and called out, “Excuse me! Excuse me! There is a goblin standing here among us!” Townies explained her role, and one of them called over to Warble. “Miss Warble! Come on over here, this dwarven fellah would like to meet you!” Eider steadfastly refused to appear mortified, but was mortified. Warble glanced at his shield and immediately understood the kill marks (see his description in the first post) and that he was likely a war veteran. Her ears drooped like a J.K. Rowling house elf, and I indulged Eider giving her a cool, warning stare without reprisal from the community. (It worked out as you’ll see).

Children were delighted with the leshy monk and a little girl asked the other PCs if she could hug him, because “he’s so cute.” Eider replied she would have to ask First Light herself, which she did. First Light (whose voice echoes in his empty gourd head like Alphonse in Full Metal Alchemist) acquiesced saying, “You may hug me, but I will not hug you.” I remarked that all subtlety was wasted on this 6 year old girl and she hugged him like a doll.

Everyone proceeded into the meeting. I distributed pictures of Greta and Councilman Posandi and got them on my pre-drawn town council map. The start of the meeting went by the the adventure’s text. Because I had five players, I added the elite array (or whatever ever it’s called) to the mephit, to give it a little ooomph. I was worried it would proof too tough, but not at all. I shared the image on page 4, because it’s exciting and is a good look at a mephit. They clobbered it in short order anyway.

What both the players and I learned from that encounter is the mephit is not the big challenge. It’s the fire! They focused their efforts singularly on the mephit for the first two rounds before they realized the fire was spreading half again every turn. Then the tension started and the players started to really focus.

I have some experience from writing encounters and running ones written by other authors. In this case, the players have 7 rounds before people start dying (which is not a particularly heroic feeling). They don’t have time for trial and error to figure out the special fire mechanics. They have just enough time to perform those mechanics. Plus, in cases like this, I have found myself or other players explaining all the mechanics over and over again at the start of every player’s turn. It’s not that the players are not paying attention but it’s a lot of choices unique to the encounter to take in all at once. I could have written these on 3 x 5 index cards, but I distributed little option sets to their phones and iPads. They help explain what their options are. That way, they could really focus on strategy without being confused by me. The whole encounter ran really well and didn’t bog down. I did not share the encounter timeline. They knew the clock was ticking but not how long they had to evacuate and/or put out the fire. Here are some examples of what I used.
Extinguishing Fire
Saving Spectators
Town Councilors
Bucket Brigade

Those two rounds of focusing solely on the mephit let the fire get out of control and despite heroic efforts, they never regained control of the situation. Councilors were evacuating spectators and helping to form the bucket brigade. I allowed two buckets to pile up on the southern entrance. They split their effort to make sure spectators got out. Garrett the halfling bard fell unconscious and I fudged and had Warble heal him (as a cleric) on her way out of the building. Eider had to run out and to get some healing and sent Truddy out. Oak bailed out the north door because they put that fire out. First Light passed out and Oak ran back in to save him. Garrett passed out for a second time and Eider pulled him out. They lost half of town hall and two spectators died. Hero points were being spent. The group was disappointed that two innocents died, but I affirmed that they had saved 38 people and kept the fire from becoming worse.

I accidentally awarded them the 50 sp each (which had a higher success criteria), but I have no regrets. They all almost died fighting the fire valiantly and the death mechanics and hero points were used for the very first time. On the upshot, their friendship (albeit grudgingly in the case of Eider) was cemented with Warble after her efforts to help. The group was also thirsty to bring someone to justice. First Light has the Haunting Vision trait, and I shared this with his player / PC and the whole group got to see it out-of-character. First Light’s Latest Haunting Vision
Inspiration Follow-up Image

Greta hired them and I made sure that the instructions to bring the arsonist back alive was explicitly clear. As I mentioned in a previous post, the guards could not identify Calmont, but did see a hooded figure who was shorter than a human. A successful Survival check by Oak verified the tracks led to the Citadel, and because of his high roll the group knew they were looking for a halfling.

When they arrived at the Citadel I shared the image on page 2, but also shared an altered image that I (sloppily) edited. Citadel Altaerein External Walls and Breaches
This to show the general shape of the Citadel and the three wings and external entrances. They elected to go in through the traditional front entrance. Oak noticed the doors could be noisy and snuck in to scout, ducking back out after not being noticed by the goblin dogs. I added a 4th to balance the encounter for 5 players. Note: I don’t universally boost all the encounters for a fifth player (it’s not easy at 1st level!), but I do to a select few encounters that I think need it. Most of the group immediately wanted to find another entrance, but Eider whose player was saying Paizo never gives an opportunity to use wild empathy, decided to try it. I also confirmed that while they’re nasty, they’re just animals. Eider took it nice and slow and offered food which was accepted. Wild empathy didn’t work because he bombed the roll and truthfully lowballed Charisma, but the dogs remained indifferent. The party nervously walked past them. They bee-lined through to A6 and ignored the room (for now) to look through the iron gate. One player remarked in wonder, “I didn’t think we’d be facing a dragon this soon!”

So ends the first session. The players said they loved it, especially the burning fire “skill challenge.” One player reported that they were super dubious about hero points but now thinks they’re great and that they add to the game.

Second Session is in the can but I need to write it up first.

Scarab Sages

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This is very well written. And it sounds like you're doing a really great job. I particularly liked how you went over your rule decisions and the rationale at the start. I've been running Age of Ashes myself, and I'll be watching this thread with great interest.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4

Wonderful stuff, Jim! I plan to run this AP as well, so I'll definitely keep reading.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I keep checking back in on this thread — I can’t wait for the next update.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Wooot Jim Groves has the groove!

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