A Kind of Magic
The scenario was designed for a party of 1st level adventurers. I wanted to keep it simple and show PJ what it was like to start from the start. Let’s face it, if you are going to start playing, you don’t get to start at 10th level, or 6th generation, or what-have-you. You start at the ground level and you build that character up.
The characters were all invited to a yearly, end of summer party at the baron’s manor house in the Village (read: outskirts of the Village and a mansion). They were friends with one of the baron’s daughters and she routinely invited them out early for a little pre-party…and kept them around for the after-party. Hey, a girl likes a party, you know?
Upon arriving at the manor house, all is dark and quiet, except for the servants’ quarters at the rear of the property. Investigating the manor house they find a set of specific clues in this order:
• Footprints belonging to a small, non-player character race in the grass leading up to the home and in through the front door (Goblins of Golarian sitting to the left of me on the table may have been a give away, but it was a good, fun read).
• Two dead bodies, one chair, and swirling patterns drawn in blood on the wall and floor. The bodies were of the baron’s daughter’s handmaiden and (gasp!) the baron’s daughter.
• The entire manor house had been tossed from 3 feet and down.
• Occasional spots of blood leading from the room of death out the back door, over the fence at the rear of the property (which the party noticed kept the perps mostly out of view from the servants’ quarters), to a stand of trees, where they appeared to mount giant rodents (goblin dogs).
The party took the time to do what I would consider light to medium investigation at the scene of the crime. They were afraid to mess with the blood on the wall and floor, even though those small footprints walked (ran amok?) through it. They, therefore, were not able to get as many details from the bodies as they could have otherwise. They went through all of the rooms of the manor house and then questioned the main servant. They figured out the two patterns in blood were for summoning and binding an unknown something.
Following the trail led them to a small farming community. The idea here was that I wanted to give them a chance to interact with the little people in the setting. The party had been on the road, by foot, for close to 12 hours. This would give them a chance to rest and recharge spells. It did not go so well, but that came out of role play, not roll play. The players latched on to a few details and would not let go of those details, even though the NPCs claimed no knowledge. It reminded me of the old computer/console rpgs where you could choose from a specific list of questions, ask every NPC in the game those same questions, and if you didn’t ask them all, you would not get all the answers you needed to complete the game. It is a little like beating a dead horse. I need to figure out how to get players to move on from those situations. (Note: Maybe more out of game knowledge from me about the NPCs or community?)
The party moved on to following the goblin dog tracks to a river crossing. Being close to dark by this time, they chose to head downriver to River Town and rest in a safer environment than an unknown wood where thar be goblins. The River Town sequence went quickly, which was good. It was not designed to test the players’ abilities. I threw in a few familiar-to-me faces which allowed for some easier role-play. It also gave the players a chance to stretch their legs with local law enforcement. They were told by the Sheriff’s sergeant to either keep their weapons in their room at the inn or in the Sheriff’s office. They opted for their rooms and then promptly to the tavern.
They caught on to their mistake 30 seconds before I was going to have the sergeant and a couple of the town watch walk in the door. I let them recover their situation and quickly spirit away their weapons to their room at the inn. It was nice to see the group do this. I was afraid I would need to drop a higher level NPC on them and relive nightmares of 2nd ed. PCs running amok killing everyone that disagreed with them in the setting.
The following day, they travelled back up river and continued their hunt for the murderers. They came across a temple in the Haunted Wood wherein goblins were chanting appropriate goblin songs about eating people and killing horses and dogs. The party did a little set up for the situation, but did not completely organize themselves for it. The lack of organization made them rethink their actions. I think you have to expect such things in one-shots, first time games, and low-level games. I know I play characters that way, at times, and build them as such for one-shots at cons.
The combat went well overall. I brought out the hex-map (your square maps are rubbish) and we did it up with figs and wet-erase markers. The fighter would eventually go down under the swords, arrows, and scimitar of the goblin warriors. The sorceress would eventually stop shooting things with her bow and stepped into combat with only a dagger. She managed to roll a critical hit on at least one of the goblins and nearly slice his head clean off (thank you critical and botch charts via Ars Magica 3rd ed.). The cleric was able to beat up on some of the goblins, collect the belongings of the baron’s dead daughter, and with the sorceress, get the fighter out of the collapsing from fire temple (thank you gnomish ranger!). The ranger and half-elf were able to handle their own in combat, providing good 2nd tier fighting abilities (aka not standing directly in the line of fire). By the end of the fight, the cleric was out of spells and had to use the Heal Skill to stabilize the fighter, who was bleeding out.
The party then escaped to an area where they could hopefully sleep and recover spells. That evening, they looked over the contents of their “loot.” Three items of note were within it: bloody dagger with the baron’s seal upon it, the baron’s daughter’s jewelry, and a scroll. The scroll was written in an unknown tongue (probably Abyssal or some such) and while the cleric and sorceress could not figure out what it said, the cleric failed a Willpower Saving Throw. They did see the blood patterns from the manor house on the scroll, as well as a third. The cleric decided to not burn the scroll, in case it would blow up, release a creature, or do something evil in general. She would take that to her order in Port City to see if they could help.
That was the end of the game. At that point, we were on hour 5.5 and anything else I would have thrown at them would have taken several more hours. I did have that material ready to go, though, in case the party made it through the scenario quicker than I expected.
• What, exactly, was going on in the room where the bodies were found?
• What was the third pattern for and why wasn’t it found?
• In what language was the scroll written?
• Did the goblins really kill the baron’s daughter?
o If not, what were they doing there?
While I did enjoy running the session, Pathfinder will not become my go-to game anytime soon. It runs well enough that if PJ or enough other people wanted me to run a game using the rules, I would not mind doing so for a short run (2 years or less playing every other week). I had much more fun with it than I did 3.0. I need to finish reading the books I have for it, including the GameMastery Guide, Beastiary, Goblins of Golarian, Curse of the Crimson Throne: Edge of Anarchy, and oh yeah, the Core Rulebook. All of the books have high value in their creation and I like that about them.
Would I continue the current group? Absolutely not. I may use the story as a seed for a future game, but I would not re-use all (any?) of the characters. I’m also not sure I would use my homebrew setting. The amount of work that goes in to the crunch of a Pathfinder game may be more than I’m willing to do. Several of the adventure paths look like they would work for my tastes, specifically Curse of the Crimson Throne and Carrion Crown.
I examined game play in this game versus my prior game. In my prior game, there was a lack of NPC interaction at times. I played this up to the players being young to my style of gaming. In watching the interaction in this one-shot, I think more of it has to do with me. My skills are rusty and need to be re-honed. I noticed that I glossed over or completely did not describe the NPCs. More details about what they looked like would lead to better understanding of their place in society to the players. Clothing often makes the wo/man in a fantasy setting. Another thing I think I need to do, and I will need to re-examine this in the future, is think more about how I speak for the NPCs. What would the NPC know/do versus what does Derek know and want the end result of the interaction with the NPC to be? If the NPC is seen as a boring computer, it’s going to be treated as such. There is some counter to this that experienced players already know or understand to be tropes that inexperienced players will simply not get. Those things also must be drawn out in game play. Otherwise, they do you no good.
I’m calling the game session a success. PJ got to play in her first rpg and as nearly as I can tell (“I loved kick’n goblin a$$.”) had fun. I found the system easy to use and was able to adapt personal material to it.