Posted on August 22, 2014
Echo Wood: The Halls Under The HillThe Thornkeep supplement and the Emerald Spire Superdungeon were both released with the Goblinworks name attached to them. They’re kosher Paizo products, written by Paizo staffers and guests, but the two projects are attached to the MMORPGing wing of Paizo, Goblinworks. That’s because the area in which both take place is part of the sandbox of the River Kingdoms in which the Pathfinder MMO will be set. I’m not much into MMOs any more. I was, then I wasn’t. C’est la vie. There’s plenty now that I think back on that seems grueling – the grind to level, the crafting level accumulation, the hoarding and selling at the auction house. The plodding back and forth looking for x number of ys to spawn in a busy area. Oof. It seems now like a dreadful Dickensian workhouse grind, but I remember back then enjoying it, as though we were talking about some other David. Then it stopped being fun and knowing what I knew about the process, jumping on from the very beginning didn’t appeal. So that was it over. I tried LOTRO when it went free – some cool ideas, but basically, grind. I tried Star Wars when it came out – some cool ideas and a setting like a favourite sweater, but basically, grind. Goblinworks takes pain to point out that their Pathfinder Online will not be the same as the Theme Park-style of WoW. In WoW, there’s a big persistent world, which is maybe a bit too persistent. People live there and have houses there, but none of that applies to the character you play, who – as far as the outside world cares, may as well not exist. The setting is a ride – you go in, you are taken where you need to go, then you move to another area and start again. Goblinworks is determined to make their setting a true Sandbox, with tools to change the environment by building structures and the like. The quests will be more dynamic – there were a few of these input-changes-output quests in WoW and I liked them. It was somehow satisfying to see the environment permanently changed because of some quest you had completed. There’s a write up in the back of the Thornkeep book, if anyone is interested. Or you can go to the Goblinworks website – some of the things on there are totally foreign concepts to me, so that’s maybe a good thing, right? The graphics look okay – you forget what an asset it was for WoW to go for cartoonish graphics vs realistic graphics. The best models in Pathfinder Online look like the Goblins so far, and that maybe is because the little buggers are cartoonish. But I mention all of this because The Halls Under The Hill is one of the dungeons that will be featured in the game, so really the players are doing now with pen and paper what they may be able to do later on their computer. That’s not a bad way to drum up interest. Anyway, after arriving in Thornkeep last session, Verne , Bam and Cyrus woke the next morning with some business to attend to. They wanted to check out the Fraston girl’s disappearance, they needed to take on some addition man/woman/thing power and they had a perfectly good gently-used dungeon sitting practically on their door step. First things first, they added personnel. What transpired in the interviews at the Greenforest Inn, we must gloss over, since I assume that they talked to almost all the characters – first string and back up – that the players will ever run. Then, choosing those that were the best of the best, the cream of the crop, or just the ones who were available that day, they set out together. They had added: Tarkus, a Half-orc fighter, impressively attired in expensive gear. (Matt) Him, a Tiefling Rogue with a… cool streak. (Ben) Beth, a human Oracle who had been raised by Halflings. (Noe) Mort, a human Arcanist who had big dreams of buying a farm when all this was over and plucking up the courage to ask his childhood sweetheart to marry him. (Jim) Mart, a Half-orc Bloodrager, who had some things to attend to before he could join them and if he was late they should just start without him and he’d catch up. (Jim) These new additions had some interesting reasons for leading the life of an adventurer. Tarkus had been cut off from his family’s funds by his father and so was out here by necessity but also to prove himself. Him was out here because he wanted to test himself but also because he was on the run. Mort was enticed by the prospect of arcane research, while Beth was here for adventure and fun. Verne, Bam, Cyrus, Him, Tarkus, Beth and Mort headed out to the Fraston Orchard. The news of Adelind Fraston’s disappearance and the two old duffer’s conflicting theories had peaked their interest, so they thought they’d find out more about it.
Arriving at the Fraston’s house, knocking the door produced a weary looking Niles Fraston. The man was dishevelled and had obviously slept little in the past few days. Verne introduced the party and told Niles that they were interested in finding his daughter. Then he accidentally insinuated that the young slattern had disappeared into the woods with a bunch of randy men for some sort of arboreal orgy and could Fraston tell them where such a bacchanal was likely taking place, or should they simply follow the sound of his daughter being pleasured by a succession of filthy farmhands? I mean, not in so many words, but Verne is from Galt and they have some pretty expressive shrugs out that way. While he didn’t directly say that Adelind was off for some sylvan debauchery, that was the distinct impression he unintentionally gave. The other members of the party stepped in and bombarded Fraston with questions so that Verne’s – oh, if only there was a French term for faux pas – wasn’t so much unnoticed as noticed-then-quickly-buried. Adelind, they discovered was the apple of the cider maker’s eye (get it?), 15 years old, tall for her age with long dark hair. She was wearing a pale blue dress and a raincape when she went missing eight days ago. She had been picking mushrooms in the nearby forest and never returned. The forest can be dangerous, especially far from the town, but Adelind knew better than to stray too far and was a clever girl who knew when to turn for home. She had no particular friends in town as the town is… well, it’s a villainous shithole and a terrible place for impressionable young girls. That information gathered, they went back to their lodgings and geared up for their first foray into The Halls Under The Hill. They followed the road around Brokenhelm Hill, then through the copse that led to the stepping stone bridge, across the Echo Stream and down the narrow path that led to the door. The door itself was set back into the hill, flanked by carved pillars. Cyrus looked them over, but could see no religious significance to them, although snakes – the predominant motif of the carving – feature in a lot of occult mysteries. They entered a large dark hall from which one exit, directly ahead had been deliberately blocked with massive stone blocks. They gave it a check and it looked like the stone blocks had been brought here – presumably using heavy equipment – to block off whatever lay beyond. Whatever it was, it was inaccessible as they’d done a good job of the blocking. Not to worry though, because some enterprising soul had hauled up the flagstones from the center of the room and discovered a stairway leading down. Even from up here, their noses were assailed by the stench of rotting meat rising from that stairway. Descending, they found the stairs terminated in a small dark antechamber, from which led a passageway from which bright torchlight illuminated some larger area. In the center of the room was staked a pig carcass, quite far gone. Bam and Verne were the first forward to investigate the pig carcass and as they moved forward they saw it writhe there on the floor for a moment before two sinuous giant centipedes emerged from the fetid belly of the pig. Bam stepped forward and whacked the creature as hard as he could with his morning star, shattering the thing’s face and killing it instantly. Verne meanwhile stepped forward, ready for combat and badly strained a muscle in his lower back. Not an auspicious start for Verne’s adventuring career – a bungled Diplomacy and a fumbled Combat roll. Him and Beth drew up nearer the beasts, while Cyrus stayed back, unlimbering their weapons. Tarkus rushed forward, sweeping his blade from its scabbard or sheath… I don’t know how Tarkus hangs… and split the other critter in two. Mort and Bam tried to determine if their fight had been noticed but whatever, Verne rushed into the next room, working out the muscle-spasm in his back before it crippled him. He had hustled into a large, tall square chamber, from the passageway that connected to one of its corners. In the room, eight statue pillars, carved into demonic forms, supported a walkway 15′ above that circled the room with no obvious way to ascend to that balcony. An open archway in the southeast wall led to stairs heading upwards, while opposite Verne, in the southmost corner of the room, a magnificent stone door was set into the wall. All this was evident as the entire room was lit by braziers set into the wall at regular intervals. Also evident, goblins! Their wicked little heads popping up over the balcony as they shot off arrows at the Fetchling. One of them was true, sinking into Verne’s shoulder. With an evil chorus of titters, four more goblins appeared from behind the pillars. The rest of the party burst into the room, Tarkus, Him and Beth running for the open archway and the stairs that led up, Tarkus laughing with joy at the prospect of cutting up some goblins and Beth casting Protection from Evil on herself, which seemed like a good bet. Cyrus, Bam and Mort made their way into the room to join Verne who was engaging in melee with the lower level goblins while those on the balcony rained down more arrows, one catching Tarkus as he went by. Verne killed the goblin that assailed him while Bam had his leg cruelly carved with another goblin’s dogslicer. The Alchemist stepped back and tossed a fire bomb at the little bastard, blowing him up and injuring his buddy. Mort cast a Magic Missile, then moved out into the middle of the room and cast Arc of Flame at the balcony snipers as the last of the melee goblins was picked off by an arrow from Cyrus. This left the Arcanist in full view of the goblins and with no cover or closer targets, they poured arrows into him, one catching him in the throat, the other in the eye, and Mort was dead before he hit the floor. Meanwhile, Him, Tarkus and Beth had raced up the stairway, only to find that it didn’t lead to the balcony. In fact it led away from the balcony and Verne found an empty chamber down a crooked passageway. They raced back down again, and when she saw the rain of arrows continue, Beth slipped left from the archway, under the goblin’s position and cast Obscuring Mist. The mist billowing out from her, covering that corner of the room and rolling over the balcony above too. This caused confusion among the goblins who dithered and bumped into each other and blamed each other for the mist, giving those below time to consider what to do next. With the news that the balcony was inaccessible from the stairway, they began climbing the statues. Cyrus picking a sniper off as he provided covering fire and the climbed too. This wasn’t as easy as it seemed, although the statue carvings provided adequate handholds, they were trying to do it in a hurry and had never done this sort of thing before. There were a couple of falls and false starts. At this point Mart arrived, bloodbellowing his bloodrage, because he is a bloodrager and all their bloodactivities must be blood-prefixed. He bloodjoined them in bloodclimbing. I’d remiss at this point if I didn’t point out the obvious physical change that had come over Bam. Having quaffed a mutagen… or two… his muscles had fairly rippled into unsightly great bulges and his mouth widened horribly, revealing elongated teeth. Monstro-Bam and Tarkus were the first up and over the balcony, with the goblins having left the Obscuring Mist and resumed their now-ineffective firing. Bam lobbed a bomb at a goblin that was distracted by barfing all over the place for some reason, (Obscuring Mist allergies acting up again) but then the hulking Mr Hyde to Bam’s Dr Jekyll got himself tangled up in his own gear. So maybe there’s a touch of the Nutty Professor to the Alchemist. But by then it didn’t matter so much – Beth crushed one goblin with her morning star, emerging from the mist like a vision, her Protection From Evil protecting her against one blow. With Tarkus and Verne arriving too, Mart sliced the last of them down with his scimitar before the vicious little bastard could run. They took stock of their situation with Him being helped up to the balcony by Verne. The mist continued to cover the southern corner of the balcony, but not to much height and they could see no exits over the mist. The balcony had one open archway leading southwest, close to where the fight had ended and stairs visibly leading downwards, but not to the hall below. There were also two stone doors set into the center of the northeast and northwestern wall. They listened carefully at the doors and then Verne and Him checked them for traps. Declaring them all clear, they prepared to enter the northeastern door… House Rule: I’m almost regretting instituting this one, but nah, I don’t. Players can opt (and everyone has always opted) to expand their crit range by one if they accept the possibility of a fumble on a roll of a natural 1. So far, it’s given us some great moments and I wouldn’t change that house rule. But in seeking to give Paizo’s iconic goblins a more memorable flavour, I ruled that they were also subject to the fumble/crit range expansion. This ties into the comically lethal nature of the little psychopaths, who are as likely to accidentally kill each other than their foes. No other race is so gleefully and ineptly violent as the goblins so this seemed fitting. Sure enough, they scored some fumbles – one archer overcome by the sight of so much blood fountaining out of Mort that he made himself sick and another flatfooting himself for the duration of the combat which didn’t help him when Bam threw a bomb in his face. But they also scored three crits, one carving a dick into Bam’s leg and the other two happening to Mort right before his end. That’s a bummer to go down SO early in the game, although it made way for Mart. But there’s more goblin fights to come in the next few sessions, I suspect and I think I’m going to keep the house rule. They’re pathetic little bastards that you still shouldn’t underestimate and blundering success is more their style than protracted attrition or clever strategy. Trivia: As wildly disparate as they all are, the various petty fiefdoms and states of the River Kingdoms do have some things in common. They all tend to have been founded by previously oppressed people – slaves, abused servants, refugees and the like. So they tend to take their freedoms quite seriously. These freedoms have been unofficially codified as the River Freedoms, an informal code that almost all River Kingdoms folk live by. Consequences for contravening the Freedoms can be harsh, and many settlements who have turned away from these ideals have fallen or come to a bad end. All those with Knowledge Local will know the various ins and outs, while others will quickly pick them up spending time among the Riverfolk. In ascending order of importance: 1) Say What You Will, I Live Free – The right to say what you want without being punished by the various rulers of the River Kingdoms. It engenders an atmosphere that permits people to express themselves freely, but shouldn’t be mistaken as a freedom from consequence of one’s speech. 2) Oathbreakers Die – Oaths are very important to the Riverfolk and when someone makes an oath and then breaks it, their life is forfeit. There will be no shortage of people willing to kill an oathbreaker and take their stuff if it can be verified that an oath was broken. For this reason, it is difficult to extract oaths from Riverfolk. 3) Walk Any Road, Float Any River – travel across land and river cannot be impeded, nor can tolls be raised simply for travelling. Most people are sensible about this and won’t trample a farmer’s crop or invade a mine – but unused and unheld land is always open and free. 4) Courts Are For Kings – Simply holds that the laws of an area apply to all who enter it. 5) Slavery Is An Abomination – That one is pretty self explanatory. Several neighbouring nations practice slavery, but in accordance with the fourth River Freedom, they become free when they enter the River Kingdoms, making this a popular destination for runaway slaves. 6) You Have What You Hold – Gives precedence to the holder of an object’s claim to ownership. It dissuades the near slave-state of serfdom, where a peasant owns nothing and their lord owns everything: If the lord gives a serf a shovel, that shovel is now the property of the serf. The side-effect of this is that it fuels a great deal of robbery and larceny and makes it hard for the wealthy to retain property that is left unattended for a long time. It also has created a higher than normal regard for the robber who takes what they want by force, since they give the victim a chance to hold on to their belongings while a burglar does not. Also makes it bloody difficult to borrow anything from the Riverfolk unless they can extract an Oath from you.