A few condensed thoughts on last Thursday’s action:
Sandboxes aren’t my thing, sorry.
The Viper Berry quest is this party’s Kitty Genovese murder.
Floki had a truly remarkable escape.
If you want the longer version of these thoughts, read on. If you want to skip straight to the recap, find it on the other side of the break.
Easily the weakest part of the Rise of The Runelords for me was Xin Shalast. It wasn’t that it was a bad setting – abandoned mystically hidden former paradise in the high mountains is a cool setting. Even the parts they described were cool – the arena floored with the ground bones of millennia dead fighters, the former pleasure houses subsumed by the approaching glaciers, the warren of the forgotten residents made from the basements and cisterns of the fallen towers above, the impossible golden road curving beyond the height of human endurance. That’s all good stuff.
Look at all the stuff… I can’t be bothered looking at all the wonderful stuff.
It’s just not planned at the same level as everything else. D&D, especially at the 3.x vintage is a game that provides rules for almost everything. It isn’t a philosophical over-arching approach to how you might play, it is a fairly comprehensive ruleset. That means that if you are going to set your players loose on a sandbox like Xin Shalast or Smuggler’s Shiv, you have to know the rules well enough to be flexible and fair. I’m not one of those GMs/DMs, and I chose Pathfinder specifically because I knew I wasn’t one of those GMs. In Rise of the Runelords, Pathfinder presented adventures the way I like them: in detail, so that the GM’s job is to make all the moving parts of an existing machine work, rather than design a machine and build it myself. I’m not going to sell myself excessively short here, I think that type of GMing isn’t lesser than the rules-at-the-fingertips free-spirit GM that loves the Sandbox. Managing a scripted adventure takes its own skill set, specifically: managing pace; making sure the parts of the machine can be bent by the players, but not broken; allowing freedom so that the course of events are neither too confining, nor railroad-y. Plot is important – of supreme importance – in these games, with the players providing vital aspects of the plot. Less so with the sandbox – consider the consequences if every castaway on Smuggler’s Shiv right now dropped dead… nothing, really. On the other hand if Lonny, Dagfinn and Kerplak had dropped dead shortly after the attack on the glassworks in Sandpoint, the plot to destroy Sandpoint would have been successful. They were embroiled, to small extent.
I’m not knocking Sandboxes or people who like them. They’re like naturism, or wine, or baseball: I know it isn’t my idea of fun, but I don’t hold it against you if you like those things. I don’t think less of you because your thing doesn’t appeal to me; unlike the many things I don’t like that serve as notice that people are fundamentally flawed; like Jazz, Cricket or collecting things labelled “collectibles”. Video games do sandboxes marvelously and I do like them, to a point.
This plot train is moving too fast, wheeee!
The Sandbox vs On-rails debate spilled into the Paizo forums and into their design philosophy, although I’m not sure which happened first. Rise of the Runelords was criticized for being too On-Rails. Subsequent adventure paths were designed as Sandboxes (Kingmaker was very open, with an entire small country to found). With this current adventure path, they did a bit of sandbox, then a bunch of on-rails stuff, then back to sandbox. We draw close now to the beginning of the end of the first sandbox… I don’t think i’m giving too much away there. I’ll be happy to get back to the on-rails stuff, for comfort’s sake as much as anything else, but I think people will enjoy it a bit more. The sandbox part of this adventure has been erring on the side of aimlessness and confusion at times and that’s largely not the players fault; I brought that on myself.
What is the players fault is forgetting what the fuck they’ve been doing. Forgetting isn’t even right, I don’t think they need to remember everything. But they’ve neglected to even write things down. And that has more to do with how many of us there always are around the table and that I do this this blog. So I guess it is a tiny bit my fault. With 8 players someone always seems to think someone else will do it. Healer is down, so someone else will heal everyone else, right? Need to dig a hole, someone else will have a shovel, right? Digging for treasure, someone remembered to get the map, right? We found the book that nets us bunch of xp/kudos/a NPC boon, someone else will turn it in, right? The party doesn’t need a leader – in social situations so far Victor, Orny and Uun have been at the forefront: Victor because he is suave and diplomatic, Orny because JIM tends to remember what you guys are doing and Uun because either Uun or Mike likes the sound of his own voice. I’m honestly ever sure when Mike is being Uun or just being Mike which I think is why I love Uun’s crazier ideas; it’s pretty much the Sean/Kerplak thing from the last campaign. Rolland has taken on the role of quartermaster; it wouldn’t be dreadful idea if someone else wrote down clues about the party’s objectives. That would at least stop the party from acting like it has fucking Alzheimers.
Floki should almost certainly have died – I’m amazed he didn’t, but that mostly comes down to some solid ideas and a dash of luck for Rolland. No seriously. How often do I get to write that? My grammar checker came on when I typed it and offered me countless alternatives to that particular combination of words… Nobody’s plan, to lure the shark away with blood wouldn’t have worked if the shark had been able to wound Floki even a little, so there was a very brief window when it would have worked. It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but it was a clever idea and it was the right idea for the moment, but if it hadn’t worked and Floki had been stuck in combat with the shark, 380′ from everyone else, I’m not confident he would have made it. Almost certainly not. A good embellishment on Uun’s part too to manipulate the shark into a kill zone.
Okay, here’s the rest…
The party woke just before the dawn on the festeringly revolting island of decomposing mushroom matter. After an entire night, the grey fungal growths that covered the island had been reduced to a gloopy grey oil. Their first order of business, other than Uun naming his Longspear (Orny named it Shroomskewer, but Uun called it something else which wasn’t as catchy) was for Percy to dole out some healing.
Worst affected by the Fiendish Violet Fungus was Floki, who wasn’t doing so hot. He looked – in the opinion of Orny who is kind of a medicine man, or at least a medicine enthusiast – like he had a case of Dragon AIDS. So Percy cast Lesser Restoration on Floki to try to mend some of the wounds that had been inflicted, while Orny cast Mending on the log of the Night Voice, which had been water damaged and badly riddled with mould. Some of them pondered why a Violet Fungus might have contained the bones of a man, but they didn’t know. That was not normal mushroom behaviour.
Just say NO to Dragon AIDS, kids.
They trudged through the oily grey mud to get to the causeway , which was just now becoming navigable, although barely. Uun insisted that everyone tie themselves to a rope, but no-one was too into that. Everyone instead held on to the rope that was attached to Uun, with the exception of Rolifson – who rode Uun, and Floki who decided to make his own way over. Uun actually made good progress across the wave-washed causeway, but those on the rope did not, hindering the barbarian to the extent that he was unable to keep his footing on the rock and so was unable to anchor anyone else and they all ended up in the drink. Floki failed all by himself. Getting back onto the causeway didn’t look to be too easy either, so Orny made his concentration check and summoned a celestial dolphin. The dolphin took the rope as a bit and dragged the party to safety – except Floki.
Floki was left bobbing perilously at the sea’s mercy as he tried to get back to the causeway. As they were being led away by the dolphin, a few of the party spotted fins slicing through the surf on their way towards Floki. Floki was also not blind to this new menace. he started swimming back towards the island, some 40′ away. The shark, a 10′ long, 300lb brute made a pass across Floki’s legs and then another, as though not quite sure how best to start tearing bits off him. And it is just as well that neither of these exploratory attacks worked – first it gave Floki some time to swim towards the island although that was rough going and second, it gave everyone on the beach of the second island time to start thinking of way to attract the shark. Several party members got in the shallow water and began slapping around, attempting to attract its attention, but Nobody had the idea of adding some Tiefling blood to the water, slicing open a vein and letting the waves carry the scent to the shark. The shark monster description specifically states that within 180′ sharks have great perception, but that they can scent blood from fucking space (okay, it doesn’t say that, but something close). So the shark picked up the piquant tang of partially-infernal blood in the water and after having had – somewhat miraculously, a 1 in 4 chance of hitting, repeated four or five times with no successes – no luck against Floki, it made a beeline for the source of the blood.
The fish nearly leapt out of the water at Nobody, but it failed to Samuel Jackson him in half (aww, I’ve already used that gif) and instead was set upon by the party who were waiting like a bunch of Japanese guys at Dolphin-Murder-Bay, i.e. with erections. The erectionless Malicia struck first though, which meant Nobody didn’t have to signal the start of the fight and so instead used his gun to shoot the shark. Victor struck it as it passed and Rolifson started the shark-ceviche going with an on-target Acid Splash. At that point, Orny, glad to be up against something that at least had a rudimentary brain, slung a Slumber Hex (I can’t get the Deadlands idea of slinging hexes out of my head) at the shark, reprioritizing Sleep ahead of Eat Everything on the shark’s to-do list for today… and every day. The shark fell asleep, its spinal cord took over and kept propelling it lazily through the water while its tiny brain took a disco nap.
Uun, doing well on a Handle Animal roll, used his Longspear as an obstacle for the shark, causing it to move to avoid the stave, forcing it towards the shore where it was set upon by Malicia, who sent the end of her short sword through the creature’s spine, then hauling the flapping corpse on land so they could all cut chunks off of it for a packed lunch tomorrow.
The first causeway was all like… sploosh, drown everyone!
Floki, meanwhile, had finally made it back to the island and decided at that point to take his armour off while the roped up Uun came back as a rescue swimmer. the party was reunited on the smaller grey island and force marched across it to get to the second causeway, this time a much easier affair, since the causeway was exposed above the waves. Arriving back on the blighted tip of the main island, they saw that the decomposing sludge had already been pierced by some bright green fern buds as the jungle moved to reclaim the land.
They arrived back in camp and decided what to do next. Orny prioritized going to find Viper Berries, while others wanted to rest the remainder of the day in camp. Nobody has been itching to put the mother of pearl inlay into the new rainforest-hardwood stock of his gun. The others at the camp had been busy getting their new digs set up. Jask has been tending to the cleanliness of the camp (something Pezock was never too concerned about) and seems happy to do so. Ishiro has been doing most of the heavy lifting, but seems content to do so, ignoring Gelik’s constant digs and jokes at his expense. Gelik himself has continued to immortalize the group’s struggles in witty little rhymes carved on a log and has done most of the cooking; he was also waiting patiently to find out if anyone had ever located the wreck of the Night Voice. Aerys has been minimally useful, given that she is wracked by withdrawal symptoms. Sasha is still providing food for the castaways but pickings are slimmer than they once were, since she has killed almost everything edible that wanders anywhere near the camp. She is super fucking bored and her time would be made immeasurably better if she had a little hunting buddy-pet to train. Pezock is weirded out by having so many people around to talk to now.
At some point it occurred to someone in the group – I don’t know who because I had to remind them to do it – to give Gelik the log of the Night Voice. Gelik was naturally delighted; this log detailed all of the crew lost (and also why they were lost, but whatever, right?) on the Pathfinder vessel Night Voice and will allow the Society to enter the names of the lost agents on the Wall of Names in the Grand Lodge of the Pathfinder Society in Absalom. Since he is the one bringing this information to the society he hopes it will ease his passage back into their good graces. Gelik was unnaturally good humoured and open that evening, sharing his wit and thoughts on comedic timing.
Uun and Floki spent the rest of the day searching the surrounding area for Viper Berries, but found none. After they had returned to camp, Rolifson spotted unusual lights among the trees. As he looked closer, glowing white flowers blossomed among the palms and vines in one small area near the eastern edge of their camp. Looking into the jungle they could see the flowers bloom into being, illuminating a pathway further into the jungle. They took this as the sign that their dryad patroness knew about their success and they took off down the flowered pathway. The path cleverly cut into a surprisingly yielding jungle route and they very quickly found themselves at the base of a steep rounded hill. Climbing it, the jungle petered out a respectful distance away from a huge banyan tree that the drug-monkeys recall from their trip.
Sure enough, the dryad appeared, smiling and relaxed. She congratulated them on their success and agreed to provide the aid she had hinted at earlier. She pointed to the sky and as they watched the sun shot back into the sky, reaching its blindingly bright midday position, then began to descend, more deliberately. She indicated to the huge red mountain in the south east and as the sun began to set behind it they watched its shadow creep across the canopy of the jungle along the south coast. The sun slowed to a crawl as the shadow crept across the southwestern point of the island at which point the faint lights of torches became visible. There, Aycenia said, they would find the lighthouse and the cannibal tribe.
The sun returned behind the horizon and the torchlight faded, what with it being kind of the middle of the night. Aycenia motioned into the shadows and several flitting creatures brought forth wooden items for the party. Arrows and bows, as well as a Darkwood Shield and a set of Leaf Armour. Aycenia also presented them with a very old leather satchel. she told them it had been hidden in the bole of a tree by one of the Chelish engineers who built the lighthouse long ago, after his fellows went murderously mad. Inside, they found three clay pots which Floki recognised as very expensive smoke flares, carried by Chelish naval vessels for use in dire emergencies. The other item in the satchel was an almost cylindrical red glass rod, about two feet long and 3 inches in diameter. The facets that ran the length of the rod seemed uniformly small, except for four facets cut into the glass on the same side. These were of different angles and dimensions, but had no apparent function. The glass itself was exceptionally heavy, so much so that they thought it was crystal when they first held it.
Hell yeah, I look good.
These things in tow (or at least written into the collective property of the party, to be forgotten about until they need it and realise no-one has it on their sheet) the party climbed back down the hill to their camp, ready to go seek the Viper Berries that upon questioning (again) Aycenia told them only grow in very wet, swampy areas. You fucking guys.