November 9th Session

We picked up the campaign last night after a long hiatus. New player and character joined the group – Limka, a Varisian dancer & singer (Bard). The Sandpoint Cavaliers now consist of Hyanth (Cleric 5/Paladin 1), Valak (Monk 7), Dolgann (Ranger 6), Wertz (Rogue 6), Voldemon (Wizard 6) and Limka (Bard 6). Not a lot of heavy armor in that bunch, really. For this session, Wertz and Hyanth were both not present. The NPC Shalelu was accompanying them, as was Shayliss, the fiancee of Hyanth.

Most of the session was spent recapping the events of Burnt Offerings and The Skinsaw Murders, to bring the new player up to speed and refresh the memory of the other players. "We've done a lot," one of them observed. In game time, a little over 2 months have passed since the game started, so there was quite a bit to recap. The important part was reminding them that they were headed to Fort Rannick to find out what had happened to Orik, the fighter from Burnt Offerings who had left Nualia before the final fights and ended up being a Black Arrow. The last correspondence they'd had from him was a mention that he'd seen a sihedron rune tatoo on someone at Turtleback… and then no more letters had arrived.

We picked up events with the players arriving in Turtleback Ferry. I'd sent out emails describing the trip earlier, and had that printed off to refresh their memories. While the adventure says the trip should take 9 days on horseback, my estimation was closer to 14 days, considering the weather (the characters are travelling in the end of Neth (aka November)) being cold with lots of rain and some snow. I emphasized the rain, trying to set up the eventual flooding events to come.

This meant that Fort Rannick had been captured about 3 weeks ago, and the Paradise has been burned and sunk for about 10 days. I figured the last patrol of Black Arrows was captured by the Grauls around 12 days ago, and the Grauls have been killing them at a rate of about one every 3 or 4 days (takes a long time for them to die by the torture, and the Grauls wanna enjoy it).

In Turtleback, the party established that: Fort Rannick had been silent for weeks, a party sent to check on it had never returned, and that the people of the Ferry were afraid and had sent word to Magnimar for help. The party didn't disabuse them of the notion that they were that help (which I found interesting). They also flashed a sihedron symbol (the amulet recovered from Nualia) and got muted reactions from some of the townsfolk.

The next day they were off to Fort Rannick. The encounter with the bear was nearly passed over, but once Shalelu and Limka both mentioned that bears were unusual in the Kreegswood, someone made the connection that maybe it was a Ranger's animal companion and they opted to investigate.

They were able to free Kipp the bear just before the Graul hounds showed up (Valak having picked up some Disable Device skill). Voldemon tossed me a curveball, hitting the hounds with Hypnotic Pattern and basically taking them out of the fight for the first while. This let Valak go toe-to-toe with Rukus, while the rest of the party (and bear) dealt with the dogs one on one.

I had ruled that all the ground was difficult terrain and concealment terrain (so x2 movement costs and 20% miss chance). Also used the rule that trees provided +2AC and +1 Reflex cover. For the most part, the only effect was to prevent 5-ft steps and to have one or two hits miss. Rukus was quickly dropped to under 30 hit points, so tried to run… but when there's a Monk in the party, running never works (50ft of movement is awfully fast). Rukus ended up getting charged and hit with a Stunning Fist (DC 15 to save, +11 Fortitude save, roll on the d20 is a 2… priceless). And with the target being Stunned, the Monk unleashed a flurry of non-lethal blows on the half-ogre hillbilly mutant and knocked him out.

They tied Rukus up and were going to leave when they noticed his blanket and all the Black Arrow patches. Figuring he might have captured some, they decided to follow his trail and ended up at the Graul Homestead, which is where we left it for the night.

The big game changer for the fight was the Hypnotic Pattern, which took out 4 of the 5 hounds. It let the party focus on Rukus more than they otherwise could have, and thus he was stripped of hit points pretty quick. Still, they did end up using a number of charges off a wand of cure light wounds, and the wizard used up a couple spells, so the fight served its purpose.

Aside – I've really noticed that the monk is a game changer class, by which I mean that it has the ability to completely turn encounters on their head if it gets half-way lucky. Their special attacks (stuns, trips, grapples, etc.) can all shut down a monster completely on a good roll, and their speed makes it nearly impossible for anyone to just run away.


Skinsaw Murders

As always, plenty of spoilers for the Pathfinder Adventure Path: Rise of the Runelords follow.

Pathfinder #2: The Skinsaw Murders is presented in five parts, but in play I found it was structured more as three Acts. Act One is dealing with the Skinsaw Man, Act Two covered the Cult of Seven, and Act Three ended up being the Shadow Clock Tower. Of the three, Act One was probably the most fun to play, being a murder mystery mixed with a haunted house tale. Act Two is more or less a false victory, with Act Three ending up a little dissatisfying given the overwhelming nature of the opposition.

The Skinsaw Man portion of the adventure was my favorite part, likely because it built on events in Burnt Offerings and was set around Sandpoint. After all the work making Sandpoint feel like a real community in Pathfinder #1, it was good to continue in the same setting and with the same characters. The Foxglove Manor haunted house is a great environment, with minimal combats, but plenty of atmosphere. I screwed up running the Carrion Crows, missing the fact that they did 1d6 damage … as a result, they were a little less threatening than expected. The hauntis made up for it, though – my players never clued in that these things might be turnable undead, and instead just accepted them as some supernatural quality of the home.

Another good point I found while running this first part was how the players really are paying attention to Sandpoint. It was quickly realized that with the Glassworks down (thanks to Tsuto's attack in Pathfinder #1) and the Sawmill shut down (due to the murder), plus all the dead farmers (with the ghoulings), the economy of the town was going to be in trouble over the winter. The players stepped up in the later section, with the Cleric of Abadar trying to drum up support for more business going to Sandpoint and the other heroes contributing some of their treasure to help out.

This need to help Sandpoint was a good way to smooth into Magnimar, as the heroes had reasons to be in the city other than just tracking down Foxglove's co-conspirators. It made things feel a little more organic, possibly helped along by tying the background of one of the characters into the Justices. This part of the adventure felt pretty standard. The heroes tracked down our cultists, engaged them in battle, and were victorious. This is where it felt a bit like a false ending… with Justice Ironbriar defeated, surely the trouble had past?

Of course, it hadn't. Xanesha remained. What a monster … fully buffed, she can single-handedly destroy a party, I think. She has the advantage of position (180' up, flying), is buffed to the gills (AC 34?!), has pretty much an automatic hit with her melee attack (+20?!), is backed up by spells and over 100 hit points. Truly deadly, and I think a bit overwhelming for a party that's just fought through a flesh golem and a bunch of faceless stalkers.

To deal with this, I had decided Xanesha was basically going to take off once her lair was discovered and she'd managed to tell the heroes that they were wasting their time and the end of days was coming. Even then, the monk nearly killed himself with a desperate gamble on a grapple attempt after leaping off the tower… thankfully the cleric was flying and able to pull a Superman-like rescue.

We're on a break right now, as sailing schedules and re-life intrudes, but will pick up the game in November with the Hooksaw Mountain Massacre.


Reflections on Burnt Offerings

It took us a long time to get through Burnt Offerings, for the usual reasons. Scheduling issues, mostly, with some long breaks as players were sent out of town for various reasons.

I found the adventure ran very smoothly, with minimal railroading. The actual structure of the adventure helped a lot. The first half has the PCs in reaction mode, and the second half does a good job helping to transition them into being active without being too obvious about it.

The PCs I ended up with:

Valak of the Sun Clan - a Shoanti "monk", cast out from his tribe and working as a bouncer of the brothel when we start. I put "monk" in quotes, because the character class is Monk, but the character is not. He ends up in a fledgling relationship with Ameiko.

Hyanth, Cleric of Abbadar - the charismatic travelling priest. This is the target of Shayliss affections, which turned into a nice running subplot.

Voldeman the Necromancer - a wizard from Magnimar, who has come to Sandpoint to follow up on clues surrounding his master's brutal assassination. His master was found with a sihedron rune carved into his chest (I was laying the groundwork for Skinsaw Murders here)

Dolgan the Musketeer - a dwarven ranger from the far, far south. He's armed with a musket and revolver and hates goblins. Naturally, when he hears about Sandpoint's goblin problem, he comes calling.

Vaxielle, ex-Soldier - mustered out of the Magnimar military, Vaxielle has retired to Sandpoint but finds himself drawn out by the danger to the town. He's a long spear user.

I've never had all 5 present for a session yet, as at least one player's been unavailable.

First Half

The attack on Sandpoint and the subsequent minor events were really fun to play. The town really does feel alive and it doesn't feel too forced when the PCs become the focus of the townspeoples attention and support. I didn't push things too much, letting the players spend the days after the attack doing what they wanted to do.

The Tsuto attack on the Glassworks plus the information Dolgan was gathering while patrolling the local farms for goblins, pointed the PCs towards Thistletop in a way that felt like it was rewarding them for their initiative, rather than just handing them the next set of clues.

They also had fun with the Catacombs of Wrath, and join what appears to be a long list of parties who defeat Erylium using grapple.

Second Half

The assault on Thistletop ended up being a series of at least 4 distinct attacks. The fight in the thornbushes was very brutal... an entangle spell in the thorns became a frightening and deadly encounter (since the thorns would do damage every turn someone was entangled). The team pulled back and rested up after this.

There then followed a botched assault on the fort proper that turned into showcase for Valak (him being the only one to actually make it across to the fort - everyone else ended up in the drink and swimming to stay alive). Once everyone was not drowned, they once more pulled back - but destroyed the bridge.

At this point, I had Orik, the fighter on the bad guy team, bail on his fellows and come warn the PCs about what they were going to face. I did this for two reasons - one, because it seemed to fit the character of Orik, based on his write up. And two, because I got the distinct impression the players didn't feel any sense of urgency. Orik was able to give them a "ticking clock". The PCs sent him on his way (with a horse), which I'm going to use as a hook into the Hooksaw Mountain stuff.

It was also at this point I realized that Nualia's party and the PCs party had a strange mirror-mirror quality: Nualia had assembled a ranger, cleric, monk, wizard and fighter. The PCs were a ranger, cleric, monk, wizard and fighter. Kismet!

Another assault was made on Thistletop, which cleared out Chief Ripnugget and the gobbos upstairs. The party pulled back again. At this point, Nualia was a day or to away from freeing the barghest, and I had word reach the PCs that the goblin tribes were marching towards Thistletop.

The final assault was made and Nualia defeated soon after. I don't know that the PCs had a hard time of it - the yeth hounds put a hurt on them, it's true, but otherwise the fights seemed fair and balanced.


Wow, someone read this

I've been poked out of silence by the discovery (thanks to a comment) that someone actually read my posts. Not surprisingly, the realization that I have an audience greater than one (me) is a motivator to continue where I left off.

Just a quick update – I did finally get the Rise of the Runelords campaign underway and we have finished #1 Burnt Offerings. Thus, I can talk about my experiences in play with the story and will. We've taken a break, due to scheduling conflicts, but should be starting #2 The Skinsaw Murders this month.

Burnt Offerings Structure

The adventure is structured around 5 set pieces: the initial attack on Sandpoint, the rescue at the Glassworks, fighting Gogmurt in the thorny approach to Thistletop, defeating the Warchief Ripnugget in the Thistletop Fort, and last, confronting Nualia. These set pieces feel very much like they're the result of the NPCs motivations and characters, rather than just being arbitrary encounters, which is definitely a function of the work done creating so many antagonists for the PCs.

The raid on Sandpoint and the rescue at the Glassworks function as Act I – we're introduced to the town, the PCs are established, and after the events at the Glassworks, they should realize that they're up in the proverbial tree. Act II is the fight with Gogmurt and Warchief Ripnugget (and possibly Erylium), both of which should be challenging and tough for the PCs. Act III is the confrontation with Nualia, which should be a climax for the heroes.

In between, there's quite a bit of other stuff going on, such as Erylium and Malfeshnekor, plus a number of roleplaying opportunities in and out of Sandpoint. However, these are more subplots and branches off the core spine of the story.

Act I

The role of the attack on Sandpoint is three-fold. First, it establishes the goblins as characters and antagonists for the PC. Since the bulk of the adventure is spent fighting them, it is very important to get them set-up as a dangerous comedy relief early. Second, it gives the PCs a chance to become tied to the village of Sandpoint. While later adventures move away from the setting, in this first adventure the village and its safety need to be a motivator to get the PCs involved in subsequent events. By having the PCs save the village early on, and then interact with various NPCs in town, they're more easily motivated to help later. Third, it introduces the mystery and threat of what Nualia is doing, which should helpfully direct the PCs towards proactively going after her in Thistletop.

Act II

Usually this would just be the section of the adventure where the PCs level up to face the climactic encounter. In Burnt Offerings, they don't stray too much off course here. The fights with Gogmurt and the Warchief don't really advance solving the mystery of Nualia very much, unless you have PCs who (a) speak goblin, and (b) are much more willing to talk than shoot first. The possible throwdown with Erylium also doesn't do much for the mystery of Nualia, but does lay some groundwork for the overall plot of the adventure path by introducing some of the Runelord lore that the PCs will encounter in the back half of the story.

That said, all the set pieces here have interesting wrinkles. Gogmurt has the advantage of being a small druid, fighting in a cramped and thorny area where most PCs will be at a very big disadvantage. The Warchief also gets some interesting use out of a mount that can run up walls and across ceilings, which allows Ripnugget to make good use of his feats. And Erylium is a nasty mix of size, inherent magics, and spells which is sure to give the PCs fits.


The final encounter with Nualia and her adventuring is more classic, relying less on providing her with terrain or positional advantages, and more on using tough monsters and NPCs as allies. One hopes that, by whatever method, the PCs have some understanding of Nualia's background so that her turning herself into a monster has a bit of emotional resonance… but more likely, she'll just be seen as a final monster to defeat.

Next, I'll start discussing my experiences running the campaign and my thoughts on how things went.