Well, I guess I did indeed make up Price-Hill being in the "You and your friends" section of Act 3. Oh well. I'll come up with something that's meaningfully different from Aodhan's Fighter and Amielle's Gunslinger.
Also, Diaspora complete! Wait, did we finish Schism in FEBRUARY?! It feels like yesterday. Oh no, it's going by too fast - this must be what it feels like to watch your children grow up. Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic, but a year and a half of Zeitgeist passed by in the blink of an eye...
Oh, you can tell my players are slowly becoming pro-Ob, anti-Nic? What tipped you off?
Once again, we did so much that I can only write about 1% of what happened. My players can stop by and yell at me over what I didn't include in a year or two.
Intermission - Crypta Hereticarum
Between adventures, Mona's player wanted to take a little break, so we ran Crypta Hereticarum with everyone else. The Eladrin Vekeshi mystic Alais from Cauldron Borne's B-team led the charge with two new player characters. Gatria's player wanted to bring Gatria along, but honestly, I was a little worried about her getting cursed and becoming unplayable, so I vetoed that. Also, I didn't feel like scaling everything up. Instead she played Prospero, a Family goon in the Clergy, and Cleone's player took Ermete, a sacrificial Deva in the Clergy working with Alais to bring down the religion.
I gave the players a mission that might save Isobel Travers. The idea was to kidnap Father Balthazar, who had purchased Isobel in Always on Time, and force him to take the seven trials of virtue to change his soul, goading him into releasing Isobel of his own free will. This was in line with Alais' mystic beliefs, which avoids killing for revenge. However, I gave Prospero a secret goal - the Family wanted Bathazar dead so they could claim his assets, including Isobel, who the Family wanted as a bargaining chip. She would still be "free" - at least, more free - but under Family control. I let the players go ahead and change Balthazar's soul to force him to be good, which they did without a hint of self-awareness. At the very end, before the last trial turned him into a saint, Prospero decided to sell him into slavery to the Legion of Belcamp with the explicit wish that he suffered as much as possible. Alais and Ermete agreed. Ice cold.
Ashima Shimtu called them out on the brainwashing thing (to set up what happens with her in Adventure 11), but I decided she probably wasn't too upset about them leaving a predator with the "other" devils, so her criticism stopped short of hatred. Ermete agreed to pardon her of all her sins in exchange for a way to escape the crypt. I set up a bit of Clergy lore that it is blasphemy to forgive a demon of its sins, for that would allow them to theoretically ascend to godhood according to Clergy beliefs (on a metatextual level we, reading this, know this isn't true, but…). It's a little thing, but I am hoping the players feel responsible for Ashima Shimtu taking on a human body in Cherage in Act 3 and trying to start her life over. At least until she gets a taste of what the world is like, now.
Adventure 6: Diaspora; Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines the Obscurati To Be; Or, the one where my players make statistically improbable rolls.
After speaking with Lauryn and Delft on the boat, the players pulled a favor with the Unseen Court to speak with Asrabey. They told him that he was being tracked, that Kasavarina was in great danger, and that they urgently needed to find her. Asrabey agreed, and told them that he had a plan to restore her memories. Because the party refused to take Asrabey along, they would, first, have to prove that they were capable of defending her. I had them fight the Guardian at Sentosa. I made the foolish mistake of letting them "prepare as much as they desired" before the battle began, expecting the nine-headed lion to be a bit out of their league, them being all support classes and all. Instead, Hoya used Haste, Gatria full-attacked at Initiative count 3, and the party killed it in less than one round.
There are eight floating heads, and a ninth attached to the body.
I target the head attached to the body with Explosion of Rot, for 75 points of damage.
Okay, it crumples in the face of the bloom of decay, dead - but the body remains standing.
I full attack the headless body. [Counts up her full attack damage and sneak attack dice] Okay, so that's 40-
40 damage, that's pretty good-
...So can I take the statistical average on that, or do I have to roll?
Never let your players full attack on round one under any
circumstances. Or take vigilante talents. They're both bad!
Before the party began what they went on to call "Memoryquest", they had to negotiate with Athrylla to let Kasavarina leave in the first place. They used their diplomatic authority to make Sentosa an independent nation state, and a political ally of Risur, obligating both parties to assist each other when called upon. I think Sentosa is actually under a different jurisdiction than Risur (Danor? Crisillyir?), but it was such a good idea that I let it happen.
By the way, not to suggest that Zeitvice has been anything less than an extremely valuable resource that I used extensively before I ran out of chapters to draw from, and not to suggest that it doesn’t mean well here, but I do think that it is possible to handle Sentosa’s brothel culture sensitively as it is written. For what anecdotal evidence is worth, my players are all women and none of them had any problem with how Sentosa was handled. In fact, they thought it added a lot of texture to the crisis – while it was definitely wrong of Athrylla to manipulate her subjects towards what is essentially culturally enforced reproduction, if all she has done to "save" the Eladrin species is not justifiable, then it is at least understandable. The players found her to be one of the most complex characters in the campaign. Indeed, they even thought Kasavarina’s reaction to Sentosa went overboard.
After that, I ended up tweaking a bunch of stuff for this adventure, simply due to player preference. One my players actively dislikes combat encounters, two are neutral, and one loves them, so that leaves me with an average of "could take or leave it" with two opposed, strong opinions. This puts me in a little bit of a pickle when the game has scheduled combat encounters - I don't want to assume the party won't enjoy it, because the randomness of dice rolls under intense tension is often what makes tabletop great. And after the party ended up LOVING the carriage assassination fight from Cauldron Born, I didn't want to make assumptions as to what combat encounters people would and would not like... but I knew, here, that the players would appreciate some social consequences as opposed to combat encounters.
Anyway, I had Athrylla let them know the score about the were-tigers, and she also let them know that there was an ever-present Clergy occupation near them. This gave them the option of dialoguing with the factions, while also tipping them off that combat would be on the table if they failed. They decided to skirt the whole thing entirely and complete a stealth mission, with our signature skill (stealth) expert Gatria, holding an Invisibility-casting Hoya in her backpack.
Actual player session notes title. The year is wrong, guys!
Once they got to the temple, since it would just be the two of them, I scrapped most of the scripted Temple of Ignatan stuff. I ended up choosing which “distant past,” “near past”, “distant future”, and “near future” scenes would be most meaningful to Gatria and Hoya while also planting narrative seeds. I let Gatria experience her childhood just before she was abducted by the Cult of the Steel Lord to remind her how Pemberton ruined her life (she also learned that her parents obviously
didn't name her "Cat"). I then kept in Pemberton’s lava lair as scripted, but without the combat; instead, real-Pemberton in his fake-Duplicant demanded they tell him where they were and what they were up to, or else he would flay Tinker in front of them (Tinker might not be real, but the trauma certainly is!). They refused to cooperate, so he turned Tinker into a fine red mist. Hmmm, what was that I said about toning stuff down? I can't remember...
Next, I had the players witness a scene I am planning from Adventure 11 – I decided that when Morgan goes to trial on behalf of Triegenes, he will plan to hand off the Flint Family to his adult daughter Antonia, and encourage Antonia to marry Gatria to bring her into the Family. So instead of Donna Aneenya in the wedding dress worshipping the god of music, I decided I would have it be Gatria and Antonia’s wedding with the Donna officiating. Just before the wedding, Antonia told Gatria that she could tell something was wrong with her father, and asked Gatria to find out what it is. Gatria approached Morgan and had the opportunity to ask him one question – instead of figuring out what Morgan is hiding, she instead asked him the time and date. Morgan responded that there is no more time, and there are no more dates.
So yeah, the fact that they made this means the players loved it.
Finally, the players witnessed the Adventure 12 skyfall with Rock Rackus, where Hoya was simultaneously trying to evacuate her biological parents from the Dreaming. Once they finished the memories, the two of them had a big fight over whether to tell the party what they saw.
After they retrieved the arc, they found themselves surrounded on all sides by weretigers. Hoya used a potion of airbubble, stashed herself inside of a haversack, and cast Haste and Greater Invisibility on them both. Gatria then rolled Stealth to try and escape.
And rolled a 20, to make it 94 before penalties. Which, by the way, are halved with Signature Skill.
Dang it!!! Freaking Catfolk rogues.
The players made this meme to post whenever I get the upper hand on them, but please imagine that the Player's Guide is replaced by the DM guide, here.
Anyway, here are a few more things I arbitrarily changed for no strong reason, so things don't get confusing later:
- The check for mental stability is no longer a Wisdom Save (I think Kasavarina has like a +1 at the start of the journey and a 30% chance of success on checks, or something) but a Will Save. I did this because I decided I wanted whether Kasavarina returns to her former self, her Ob self, or becomes a mix of both, to be a social consequence rather than up to the law of averages (or what order the party stumbles across the memory of Sor Daeron).
- Sor Daeron is actually senile and venerable rather than mostly playing it up (don't get me wrong, he was still willing to feign ignorance, here), but the planar trait of Ostea will bring him back to fighting shape in Act 3, which might work to convince the party that what the Ob tried to do wasn't so bad, in spite of everything. By the way, Sor is going to be Damata’s daughter’s mentor, as a way to forgive himself for killing Launga.
- "Past" Kasavarina is disgusted by tech, which she perceives as a human creation. Past Kasavarina openly admits that she is inclined to hate humans and everything they have made, in spite of knowing it is not "right". This means she is inclined to hate Borne, rather than feeling pride whenever she tries to remember him, like is suggested. Future Kasavarina does love him. A mix between the two would come out willing to rebuild her relationship with Borne, slowly, over time. Depending on how the players nurtured Kasavarina's development, she would land somewhere between these extremes. The players fed into her past traits hard, so she ended up hating Borne, which I thought was a fun way to highlight her imperfection as a person - and to have consequences for not allowing her to truly reckon with who she was as the Ob founder.
- I let the players choose whether they wanted to keep Kasavarina or if they would have preferred to send her away to be a double agent. If they keep her, she will leave temporarily in Adventure 9 to evacuate Sentosa but can be called upon after that. They've already figured out where the ritual site is but know better than to mess with it yet, so whatever.
- Because the players had managed to avoid detection at Obcon, I gave them a little bit more flexibility with the timeline. I knew that they would want to collect every memory, and I didn't really want to make them crunch for it, so I secretly let them have until the end of Winter (King Aodhan dies the night before the end of the year, and the world ends on the March of Kings festival. I thought that was appropriate). Um, this might screw up a few things later that I haven't remembered, but oh well. Anyway, they already knew from Cauldron Born that the world was ending at the end of the year, so they knew better than to let the clock run out.
- Pemberton didn’t find his way into the Crypt. Instead, Mona encountered her brother there, who was the brainwashed right-hand-man for Grandis Komanov, and the party fought their simulacra.
Sure hope my arbitrary choices don't have big consequences! Anyway.
Simultaneously while restoring Kasavarina's memories, our resident Deva, Cleone, went about restoring her own. She’d chosen the Pathfinder Story Feat “Forgotten Past,” and I knew this would be a good place to arc that out. Cleone always wears thick, caked-on makeup and ugly, unfashionable goggles (Morgan Cippiano refuses to be seen in public with her) to avoid people noticing that she is a Deva, for she lives in fear of someone remembering what her former self had done. Here, though, she finally had to come to terms with her sins.
Yes, Cleone, a former jeweler, made matching friendship necklaces for herself and Kasavarina.
In this adventure, she discovered her previous self was taken in by Kasavarina after their former incarnation was killed in an anti-Deva act of violence by Eladrin near Ushanti (you can preach nonviolence in your religion and culture all you want, sure, but not everyone is going to practice it).
Kasavarina and past-Cleone, then named Alastor, formed a close bond which happened to mirror the current relationship they'd built throughout the adventure... completely by accident, because I drafted these memories back in "Digging for Lies". Eventually, Alastor remembered that he helped to kill Dala, and apologized to Kasavarina. Kasavarina was moved, as Alastor was the first Deva ever to admit to some culpability in Dala's death… though she admitted it wasn’t Alastor’s fault. Alastor insisted on making things right as much as he could, so Kasavarina invited him to the Obscurati, where he became her right-hand man. Unfortunately, all of the worst traits of both Kasavarina and Nicodemus rubbed off on him, which compelled Nicodemus to eliminate him and “reroll” for his next life – not only in hopes that the next incarnation would be a better person and easier to control, but also because he wanted firm control of Kasavarina’s relationships.
The latter went unsaid, but the party picked up on it. This helped the party to figure out that something similar may have happened with Launga, so while they missed the significance of Sor’s survival and Athrylla’s guilt, they searched for Sor Daeron anyway.
Since we have no one capable of doing any sort of divination, how they managed this ended up being another heck of a coincidence. Back in Cauldron Born, I asked the B-Team Eladrin player, Alais, to tell me where his home enclave was. She told me he was from an enclave in the Beran mountains. Interesting
So, the players thought to ask their resident Eladrin Alais if he knew any one-armed seniors. Alais wondered why they would be looking for a nice old man like Abuelo Juhu. Heheh.
"Obtained all of Kasavarina's Memories and Discovered the Truth about Launga"
So, anyway, the party found every memory and became very close with Kasavarina. The players said she completed the party dynamic, since our party, for the most part, tended towards hot-headed, inexperienced, immature young people. Everyone adored Kasavarina's chemistry with each character, and this adventure ended up being a huge hit as a result.
Along the way, the players met up with the Fists of Pala and discovered that Nicodemus was William Miller (which was a surprise they hadn't figured out ahead of time! Hallelujah!). They decided not to reveal the truth to the Fists. Hoya and Mona negotiated with the Fists to get copies of some of Miller's essays. Later, when the players met Nicodemus again, Mona asked Nic to sign her copy. Nic was rattled that the constables figured out who he was, but he also wasn’t actively hostile at the time. I told Mona’s player that it would still require an out-of-this-world Diplomacy check to get him to cooperate. Mona met the DC exactly. I wish the dice would stop embarrassing me. Nic signed it while quipping that he hoped the Constables use his work to finally learn something.
Also, I couldn't find a good place to fit this in, but flashing-sideways to the Crypt: after Morgan told Gatria to beware of anyone who spilled blood in Ashima Shimtu's chambers, Mona voluntarily spilled her blood in the holy water pool in hopes that she can someday have some role in helping Ashima Shimtu free herself. Morgan and Gatria met to discuss how to avoid killing Mona over this. They decided that her death would significantly disrupt the investigation, but if she committed further blasphemy, she has to die.
Eventually, my players used their prestige with the Family and the Dockers to get into Methia unnoticed. At the Lance, they just wanted to stealth-and-run from the various encounters, and successfully eluded the Tankmaster, but I forced them to fight one of Han Jierre’s spies who was waiting on the stairs. The spy happened to be an old friend of Cleone’s who was now working as an assassin, and warned them via Sending last adventure that if they ever returned to the continent, she would be forced to kill them. The party subdued her and carried her unconscious body up the tower.
The players continued to ascend. We ran into Ghost Kell, who just so happened to lose his eyes to Gatria in Cauldron Born, so he repaid the favor. I was a little worried about doing something like "gouge out the character's eyes and tongue" to the party face, so I pared it down to just "lose both eyes at worst," and cleared it with Gatria's player ahead of time with no context (she said yes, as long as she could pick up blindfighting feats later). When she realized what was coming and why, she privately messaged me that she was so impressed by the narrative parallel that she was going to voluntarily fail her saves. I told her she had until the roll came to decide for sure. And sure enough, she chose to roll 1s. Gatria lost her sight to Lorcan Kell, so he could get his final revenge on Morgan.
I added a few scenes between Alastor and Nicodemus, and I also added a scene with Catherine and her brother, to reveal the metaknowledge that the players knew about him to all characters. In my game, Irwin Romana was a History student at Mitchell University who was writing his dissertation about the Rites of Rulership (a dissertation that would remain sealed from the general public, but was still useful for the crown to learn where the limits of its powers are) and leaking it to the Ob. He never got much farther than figuring out the Bleak Gate Loopholes before faking his death, after which Lydia took over his niche in the Ob and spilled new information, but at a much slower pace.
By the way, during this cutscene, the party started yelling at each other so loudly that the memory nearly got disrupted, which I thought was hilarious.
Keep it down over there.
After these cutscenes, the party stopped to rest and got into an argument. The party NPC Marcel argued that Obscurati agents who were willing to kill deserved exactly the same – death. He was going to hunt down and kill Irwin Romana for endangering the King, and he had no interest in rescuing Han Jierre’s assassin. Cleone argued that this closed the door for redemption, and also implicated her, as well, as the incarnation after Alastor. If Nic had found her before the RHC recruited her, then would she have deserved death? Marcel said yes without hesitation. The party broke into a fight, which Kasavarina quickly shut down, and the party continued their ascent.
What I’m hoping to accomplish here is setting up the party NPC Marcel, future King of Risur, as the primary antagonist if the party jumps ship to Ob in Act 3. As the story progresses, the party seems to become more and more sympathetic with Obscurati ideas, but believe that Nicodemus’ mismanagement has ruined the conspiracy’s chance at accomplishing any good. They seem to think that if he were dethroned, the Ob might truly save the world – so I need a force to oppose them that will sting... a lot.
A present one of the players drew me of Marcel. This was based on a photograph set up by a cosplayer named "Hakken," who we don't know anything about, but we thought the base image looked cool. By the way, here's what we imagine the Risuri Knight dress uniform to look like, as opposed to the black-and-silver Flint Constabulary uniform. The Knight uniform also has a green sash across the body, not pictured here.
Anyway, the players managed to convince Borne to protect Kasavarina from Nic in the final fight. The party can roll Diplomacy checks into the fifties at this point, so I’m talking, like, some really good scores, here. As well, remember that they managed to stop Borne’s rampage without hurting him or causing a single fatality back in Cauldron Born, so I thought it was fine to let them convince Borne not to attack. If they hadn’t managed to succeed so cleanly back then, that’d be a different story.
Without Borne in the fray, they handily defeated Nicodemus - including three natural 20s consecutively from Cleone, which is a 1/8000 chance.
That was when Gatria's player had the epiphany that William Miller is being kept alive by the Fists of Pala's belief in him, which makes him a sort of God. This means he is killable with the Sacrament, and they can use Terakalir's corpse to kill him. Ummmmmmmm, I don't want to contort myself into pretzels making up a random reason why this wouldn't work, but I'm going to say 1) that's going to kill a WHOOOLE
LOT of Fists of Pala and Dockers, and Marcel, who is about to be the docker-King of Risur, will become actively hostile and will banish them from Risur. The party will have to contend with the fury of both major factions or else become the new leaders of the Obscurati if they actually go forward with it. Gatria pre-emptively thinks she can just use Rumourmonger to get around killing innocent people, but she's going to get a nasty surprise when the world gets brainwashed in Act 3 and people still die everywhere even if she manages to turn the people of Flint against Miller. 2) Maybe the weak Sacrament can't summon Gods that are already manifest in this world's planes? 3) Sure, they can order Terakalir's Blood from Ber, but good luck sourcing it, whale blood, eagle blood, and lion's blood (or whatever) with the supply lines in a pandemic- I mean, the apocalypse. Also the Beran country-wide brainwashing thing.
If the party really, really goes out of their way to try and use the Sacrament, well... I'll figure it out, I guess. Congratulations, everyone, on failing to learn your lesson twice. Welcome to the Ob, and I hope you enjoy the wrath of all of Risur AND Pemberton.
We'll see how it goes.
Thank you for reading!
I have enough adventures under my belt that we can start to see player preferences forming that don't have to do with my skill as a new Pathfinder DM, ahah.
So far the favourites so far are:
Hoya's player: Revelations from the Mouth of a Madman
Gatria's player: Also Revelations
Mona's player: Always On Time
Cleone's player: Diaspora
Me: Schism (Guess why. Guess. Yeah, it's Catherine)
What was your favourite adventure to play or DM?