Population Generator: A script for filling a fantasy town

One of my biggest issues with towns in TTRPGs is that they lack a certain amount of life… literally. I’ve played in huge metropolises and tiny hamlets, and outside of the goods and services available, they’ve felt the same. There’s that one merchant you talk to, that one tavern you know about, and a handful of NPCs that are fairly interchangeable.

As a GM, I’d love to have a town where everyone has a name and a personality. I don’t really have the time to put that together by hand, though. I’m also wary of dumping a huge amount of time into something that my players may simply ignore. I could just make it up as I go along, but I’m terrible about writing down improvised details while in the heat of the moment (this is how a certain shopkeeper in one game ended up with at least four different names).

Ideally, I’d want something to do the work for me, naming my NPCs, giving them personalities and businesses, naming said businesses, and then handing it off to me to use if needed.

Enter the town generator!

Generating random sets of things is something that code is perfect for, so I decided to put together a script that could do it for me. My goals for it:

  • Create a town of N size
  • Populate it with residents
  • Give those residents values to give them some character (age, traits, a wealth level, a job)
  • Give some of the residents a family
  • Pop residents and their family (if any) into a building of some sort
  • Name the taverns and shops
  • Print the whole shebang out to a CSV, so the user can open it in Excel / Google Sheets / whatever

I tinkered with it for a few days, putting in work during coffee breaks and when I had a fit of inspiration. I grabbed a few random data sources, like a list of traits from a researcher at MIT and a bunch of medieval names from an online database. I also spent a bit of a time refreshing random word generators to get some data for my building names.

The results

I ended up with a script that did just what I wanted: Creates and populates a town with residents and businesses! You can see the results of one of the towns I made here.

One of the things I’m enjoying the most are the emergent stories. I considered putting in certain requirements (like a town must always have at least one shop or at least one temple, or can’t be made of only children), but decided against it. For one, it started to feel like a bit of a rabbit hole (why not check the types of temples, or traits that don’t go together, or not having any middle class, or…). But it also created some interesting stories when outlier cases popped up.

For example, in one town I generated, there were a TON of temples. Out of some 300 buildings, 100 of them were a temple of some kind (the normal ratio would have been much lower). What’s going on in a town like this?! Maybe there’s a ton of factions. Maybe the residents follow some of the lesser known gods, or have their own totem spirits. Or heck, maybe they’re all charlatans! And what’s going to happen with that single noble lady who has five sons, all with traits that are at odds with each other…?

The traits also create some fun stories. Each resident is given three random traits. This can lead to a person having traits that are at odds (miserly and generous), or traits that seem at odds with their station (a field hand who’s fancy or a noble who’s rustic). Sometimes, you end up with a marriage where you wonder how in the world they make it work. These just make the people in the city feel a bit more unique and alive. Also, since I’m working with traits and not a block of text, it’s easier to take in during an active session and key off of.

Finally: The business names. I adore the business names. Some of my favorites so far:

  • The Actually Ass tavern
  • The Tripping Chicken
  • The Wishing Wyvern
  • The Half-Elf’s Half-Elf

And the not-safe-for-younger-players:

  • The Wet Wife tavern

Will I use it?

My current campaign takes place in a single city, and my players aren’t in the habit chatting with the locals, so not any time soon. That said, I may go ahead and  run it just in case.

My next planned campaign is a West Marches campaign on Roll20, however, so I’ll likely break it out then. It’s set in a small settlement, but there’s still going to be people bumming around.

What’s planned for it?

Some of the things I’d like to add:

  • Races. Right now, races aren’t a set thing. I’d like to add them in, though I’d like to only do this once I’ve found enough names to add that are actually easy to pronounce
  • A web interface. I’d love for this to not be limited to just people who can run Python.
  • A settings file, so people can tweak the percentages without changing the code.
  • More data!
  • A Python 3 version 😬

Where can I find it?

It’s part of my gamemaster-scripts repo, but if you’re just looking for the files for this script, you can find them here:

https://github.com/kcunning/gamemaster-scripts/tree/master/general/popgen

To run it, you’ll need Python 2.7 installed and the files on your computer, but that’s all. There are no external packages required. If you have an account on Github, feel free to send me a pull request!

Note: Lovely tavern sign created with http://apps.pathstoadventure.com/Tavern-Sign-Crafter/craft.asp

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Running a large(ish) combat

In my current Pathfinder game, the players have access to a crew of lower-level rebels. Normally, these rebels are doing their own thing, helping save the world in the background, only coming forward for bits of role play or when one of their areas of expertise are needed. Since they lag quite a bit behind the PCs, they’re rarely taken on missions.

That is, until the latest mission came up.

The PCs were asked to break a siege. They would take one side of the siege, while another group would take another, and those within would take out the last section. They were warned that each side of the siege consisted of somewhere between ten to fifteen people.

As soon as they heard those numbers, they told me that they were going to take the rebels.

“Which ones?”

“All of them.”

I nearly balked, because that would mean controlling not only 15 enemies, but thirteen friendly NPCs. I could see the logic in their demand, though: Of course they would bring more people to the fight. Sheer numbers and a bit of strategy would likely keep the lower level NPCs safe, whereas going on their own, they would be taking a much larger risk.

So, I set about trying to figure out how I would deal with this combat without it becoming a slog, and without it breaking my brain.

A small large combat

Pathfinder does have rules for large scale combats, but those tend towards dealing with actual armies. The scale of this battle was way too small for that to work, so I decided to roll my own.

Organizing the players

I declared all of the “leaders” of the combat: The PCs, my GMPC, and an NPC that they had been fighting alongside recently. Each leader would be commanding a team. If someone wasn’t a leader, then they had to be on a team.

I made my life a bit easier by putting my GMPC in charge of the team of healers and the NPC in charge of just one person, and only so she could get flanking. That minimized the number of decisions I had to make during combat, since one had a set job, and the healers (hopefully) would have actions that were fairly obvious.

Once I had those lower level rebels claimed, I opened up the rest of them to the PCs. I set up a page on Roll20 with all of the tokens for the rebels and let them dole them out among themselves.

This relieved me of having to control a ton of rebels, but I was still worried that combat might take forever as each player looked over an unfamiliar character sheet and tried to sort out what they could do. This can sometimes be a problem in the interludes, when the players have complete control of a rebel (which is why they tend to keep picking the same ones and leaving the unfamiliar ones for me to control). The rebels are level four, so they’ve acquired more than a few tricks.

In the interest of time, I decided that the leaders wouldn’t have absolute control over their team. Instead, at the end of their turn, they could do one of two things: Give a general command to the team (“Take out the cleric!”) or a specific command to one team member (“Cast web over there!”). Otherwise, the characters would either keep on doing what they were last asked to do or do something that made sense to them.

On the last point, I tried to be clear: The rebels may not act in a way that was the most tactically advantageous. They have their own biases, including friendships, romantic leanings, rivalries, personal vendettas, and fears.  They won’t be complete idiots, but they may give up a flanking opportunity in order to protect a friend. They’ll follow orders, but they’re not trained soldiers. They’re used to acting in small groups and watching each others backs.

This simplified things much more for me: I didn’t have to worry about as many decisions, and I could give each rebel some basic strategies that relieved me from looking over their character sheet each turn. I did tell the players that the leaders could communicate freely (“I could use a heal / web over here!”), but at the end of the day, they decided what to do with their people on their turn.

Finally, I grouped the teams to always go after their leader rather than track a bunch of initiatives, because that way lies madness.

Organizing myself

Now that I had the players and rebels sorted, I moved my attention to the enemies.

Pulling back the curtain, the actual combatants weren’t as high level as the players probably expected. They consisted of some lower level fighters, rogues, and casters and a higher level skald and ranger, as well as three non-combatants (slaves who were brought with them in order to do basic scut work). Still, I needed to have my ducks in a row.

I decided to split them into three groups: On watch, at rest, and sleeping. Each group would share an initiative, with the on watch group having a +8, the resting group having a +4, and the sleeping group having a +0. On their turn, they’d act however it made sense, because I didn’t feel like keeping track of sub-initiatives.

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 9.49.53 AM
The field of battle

I also made a cheat sheet for myself, including their default strategies, gear, and attacks. I wanted to pull up their sheets as little as possible. As much as I love Hero Lab, the interface can be a bit much if you’re juggling more than a few characters.

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 11.17.35 AM
My cheat sheet from One Note

Organizing Roll20

Normally, I tracked hit points and conditions through Hero Lab, but for this combat, I decided that going to be too slow. Instead, I used the bar and icon features for tokens, letting me keep track much more easily. I also popped their AC on one of the bars so, once again, I didn’t have to look at sheets.

Rather than trying to remember who was on what team, I used the aura feature of Roll20 to make it clear who was answering to who. I set the aura radius to 0 and square, and gave each team a color that matched their leader. Because my tokens are round, this allowed the aura to show without overtaking any other squares.

I also tracked the initiative openly. Normally, I keep the initiative to myself, but in this case, I felt a bit of meta-gaming would make everything move along a bit faster.

How’d it go?

While I wouldn’t call the encounter short by any means (it ran for at least two hours), it was way more efficient than I’d expected, and there was less fatigue than there normally is in longer combats. The players stayed engaged, and at the end of it gave it a thumbs up.

The players adapted to controlling a team quickly, using them to control the field of battle and give themselves advantage. While the rebels had trouble hitting very hard, they were more than capable when it came to flanking, pinning down, or tossing out spells.

While the combat lasted a while, eventually the group completely wiped the board. They took down most of the enemies and got the last few to surrender once it became clear that they were not only going to lose, but that escape was impossible. None of the rebels were lost, or even significantly hurt. And, best of all, I didn’t feel like my mind was made of mush.

What would I do next time?

While I was largely satisfied with how the combat ran, there were a few tweaks I’d likely make to my prep.

The one thing that had me going back to my sheets were saves. A web was laid down, so I had to keep rolling to see if the mobs were able to free themselves, which meant a ton of going back and forth on their turns.

I’d also make sure players could see all of the health bars. I could see them, but I forgot until too late that the players couldn’t. While some might see this sort of information as meta-gamey, it might have sped up combat a bit rather than have players ask about the health of their team.

I would also have sorted out a macro to deal with bardic songs. Changing a bunch of AC / to hit bonuses at once is a pain and a half. I guess it’s time to do a deep dive into the Roll20 API!

 

 

 

 

Potions 11: An interlude for Council of Thieves

In-between CoT books, I like to run a lower-decks interlude for my group. I come up with a reason that the regular heroes aren’t available and have the players select four of the Children of Westcrown to fill in. The players are free to modify the NPCs’ sheets, with the only restriction being that they have to keep the base class, though they’re free to switch the archetype.

The first interlude was a fairly straightforward adventure, with the Children rescuing an artifact from some evil fey of the Hagwoods (Paizo’s Tide of Morning). For the second interlude, I decided to switch things up a bit, using a one-shot called Potions 11.

The premise

Originally, the premise was going to come from a rather complex set of events where Fiosa discovers that halflings are being sold watered down potions, leading to several deaths. She goes to Yakopulio for help, and the adventure kicks off from there.

The PCs, however, gave me an even better hook. During book three, after learning that there might be vampires in Westcrown, they asked around town to see if anyone had gone missing. They found out that several halfling families and households had disappeared. This wasn’t uncommon since sometimes a family or group would decide to leave town on their own, but the rate was higher than normal. They asked the lower-level Children of Westcrown to look into it while they focused their energy on Delvehaven.

Thanks, players!

What I changed

Originally, I was going to run the adventure as was, but once the missing halflings subplot was added in, I decided to modify it more to make it fit into the overall plot.

The mission runs parallel to the Delvehaven excursion, mostly to block access to the main PCs. The players, playing low-level CoW NPCs, start with only one lead: Halflings are disappearing, and it may or may not be attached to vampires being in town. Areal suggests a party of Fiosa, Amaya, Yakopulio, and Larko (all people who can seek information in a number of ways), but the players are free to choose who they want. They can also call on any of the other rebels, even opting to swap them out as their goals change. Doing so takes time, though, and the clock is always ticking.

I also connected Rugo to the plot of CoT in a more concrete way, making him not only a tool of House Drovange, but an illegitimate son of the head of the house. He’s been kept around all these years “just in case,” and because he’s proved extremely loyal and useful. He’s a treasure trove of useful information, which will help to kick off the next book (Book Five, since I’m doing them out of sequence).

The (new) overall plot

For this interlude, I set up several scenes:

  • Finding the location of the last disappearance
  • The achemist’s shop
  • A tiefling gang hideout

The missing halflings

After gathering enough information (however the party plans on doing it), they find a house in the Dead Sector where a family of halflings disappeared a few nights ago. Investigating, they find:

  • Signs of recent habitation
  • Several valuables left behind (at least, valuable for a family of poor halflings)
  • A strange canister of professional make
  • Signs of larger humanoids walking away, with no signs of halfling feet
  • No signs of blood or struggle

So, a rather obvious kidnapping of some kind. It’s not subtle, but I also don’t want spend two hours watching the players struggle to piece together what happened.

What did happen: A group of tieflings has been kidnapping houses of halfings using sleep grenades. They put all the halflings to sleep, then take them to a hideout. They send word to Rugo, an alchemist who has been supplying blood for Ilnerick and his crew. Lately, though, the tieflings have been getting cocky and have started demanding more money. At this point in time, they’re still holed up with the halflings, waiting to hear back from Rugo.

At this point, the players can choose to either find the hideout or try to figure out where the canister came from. Either approach works, since both parties are currently in a holding pattern.

The Alchemist

If the players decide to find the alchemist first, they’ll have to figure out who in Westcrown made the canister. In my game, I plan on offering a few options:

  • Rugo’s Potions in the Coin Sector
  • The Bee’s Sting in the Priest Sector
  • The Western Star in the Crown Sector
  • A shop owned by one of the main PCs.

Eventually, they should figure out that Rugo’s is the only realistic option. The Bee’s Sting is run by the Temple of Calistria, who is anti-slavery. The Western Star deals with imports only and has no equipment of its own. The shop workers at the PC’s shop check out (and don’t have the skill to make a grenade, anyway).

This is where I lean on Potions 11 again, though I replace some of the notes with communications with the tiefling thugs, as well as some letters to (as drafts) and from Thessing. By this time, the actor from the second book has been turned into a vampire and is unimpressed with the quality of the provided blood. I also changed out the eleven mysterious potions for vials of sleep toxin.

The best outcome for this encounter is leaving Rugo alive so that he can be questioned by the main PCs. If he is killed, however, then whatever information he has can be gleaned from the papers stored in his secret cellar.

The Tiefling Thugs

If the players choose to take on the thugs first, they can try tracking the footprints through the dead sector. The Survival DC for this is 14 (Firm ground +15, three in the party -1) if the players try to track during the day. Otherwise, it’s 17 (Moonlight +3). Because the DC is above 10, the party has to have someone trained in survival in order to find the hideout first.

The other way to find the thugs is to deal with Rugo’s shop first and either finding a note including the approximate location of the hideout, or getting the information from Rugo himself. He’d had been planning on hiring someone to take them out, so he’d already sorted out where they were staying.

Either way, I populated the hideout with four tieflings: Two level one fighters, one level two rogue, and one level two sorceress. There’s also a family of four halflings chained in the back, being guarded by the second fighter. If they assault the place by day, the sorceress will be up and about but if it’s during the night, she’ll be resting. Since the CoW PCs will be level three, I figured this should be a decent fight for them.

If the players hit up the thugs first, they can learn about Rugo by either interrogating one of them (they’ll flip easy) or talking to the halflings locked up in the back (they would have overheard quite a few conversations).

How’d it go?

Due to how Delvehaven panned out (the players rolled through it in one day), I opted to not do the events in parallel. Instead, the main PCs came up with some things they had to do, leaving them busy and the less experienced CoW NPCs on their own.

They did do one thing: A PC used Ears of the City to find out where the last disappearance was, tightening up the timeline of events. The players also opted to take Larko, Sclavo, Fiosa (as a GMPC), and Rizzardo. Eventually, when they realized they’d need to do some breaking and entering in a magical shop, they dropped Fiosa and grabbed Tarvi and Yakopulio.

The actual session went really well. They were able to follow the trail of clues and hit all of the locations, saving the halflings at both locations, collecting a bunch of loot, and finding out some interesting information, though they haven’t connected it quite yet to the rest of the AP.

It also forced the players to come face to face with the problems of halfings in Westcrown, which the AP doesn’t directly address. It also created a few situations where they have a foe at their mercy and they have to operate in morally grey areas. This lead to some interesting developments with the lower-level CoW, which will be interesting to play out as the AP progresses.

 

Council of Thieves: Book 3

One of the things that makes book 3 difficult is that the players are technically not fenced off from doing the objectives in any order. It’s even possible to jump straight to the end of the AP. If you’re an obsessive prepper like me, this means getting everything for all sessions (which, for me, is about five sessions worth).

What I changed

Chelish Crux

First, I decided to add to the challenge of the Chelish Crux. A puzzle box that does fire damage is an intriguing concept, but it loses some of the urgency if solving it is merely a series of skill checks.

Instead, I decided to make a lo-fi web-version of the crux (write-up here), forcing the group to choose who would be holding the crux during that attempt. I also changed the rules a bit, having the fire damage occur only on a reset, but doing more damage overall (1d10).

Shadow beasts

Also, I decided to add an encounter for the first session since the players can technically start any of the four objectives, but may want to take some time to consider which direction to go in. The group has been talking about going after a shadow beast for a while, so I decided that Janiven would propose going on a hunt after they figure out the Crux.

The Shadow Beasts are actually shadowgarms (CR 2), which are trivial for a group of optimized level five PCs. I considered switching them to another beast, but a player had previously sussed out what they were with some research. Since the AP has the bodies of the shadowgarms dissolving into a blue gem, I decided to tweak that. Rather than remain inert, when picked up, either physically or by magic, it summons a bearded devil the next round, with the spell causing whoever is in the same square with the gem 2d8 fire damage.

Nasty? A bit. But it’s a good idea not to pick up strange things off the ground, especially if they dropped from a demon’s gut.

The Blue Hood

In book one, The Blue Hood is offered as a side-quest of sorts: The players kill a shadow beast, and the Blue Hood will reward them. Little information beyond that is given, so I filled in some blanks.

I turned the Blue Hood into the head of another Thieves’ Guild, The Grey Ones. Rather than focusing on controlling the laws and politics of the city, The Grey Ones focus on the merchant areas, running rackets, black markets, heists, and the occasional assassination.

The head of The Grey Ones is an older thief named Lupa. Her main concern with the shadow beasts is keeping tabs on any escalation. She strongly supports getting rid of them because it makes running jobs more risky as well as more difficult to pull off. She strongly suspects that the Council of Thieves is behind the shadow beasts, however, so she won’t take any direct action when it comes to them.

In public, Lupo wears a hat of disguise. Rather than trying to be drastically different, she makes subtle changes to herself, like eye color, bone structure, and clothes. She affects a maternal demeanor, moving under the radar of most everyone who interacts with her.

Upon meeting with the heroes at a public house, she’ll note that previous ‘kills’ have lead to blue gems like they saw, but that was it. She muses that someone is ‘escalating quite quickly’ (a hint that things are starting to go awry in the royal sector).

She doesn’t let slip anything about her involvement with The Grey Ones at this point, but if pressed about her interest, she’ll simply say that she’s concerned for her family. A DC 25 perception check from whoever is at this meeting will reveal that there are a number of other patrons around that seem to be keeping an eye on their table.

The Massacre House

First, I leveled up the monks, bringing them to level five. Because the AP was written before all of the splat books, I’ve found that I’ve had to bump up encounter CR in order to challenge the players.

I also thought through the consequences of defeating the Sisters. In my game, I decided that the Sisters were not only responsible for the cremation of the enemies of Thrune, but also of those too poor to afford a regular burial. For health reasons, bodies that can’t be dealt with within three days are taken, cremated, and returned (though often mixed in with the cremains of the other dead). The poor resent the fact that their dead are treated like so much garbage, but don’t push back, since many churches in the city don’t maintain graveyards. Also, at least it’s better than a mass grave that might be plundered by a necromancer and that they couldn’t pay their respects to.

Defeating the Sisters (either by eradicating them or reducing them to one or two survivors) would remove this service from the city. Rather than start up a new crematorium, the leaders of Westcrown would opt to go with mass graves from this point on, even if it means dark mages would have more materials at hand.

The Wave Door

The original encounter for the Wave Door felt like it was a bit light for my group, especially since they’re all playing archetypes from later books and the AP was written with the core classes in mind. I thought about upping the number of creatures, but instead, I opted to make the terrain a bit more interesting.

The AP implies that the encounter takes place on land, but I decided to make the wave door inside a cave completely filled with water. The water is, at the time they get there, ten feet deep, forcing the players to use a small boat (in this case, a rowboat) or spell to allow them to navigate through it.

Once the fight breaks out, players must make an Acrobatics check every time they engage in melee or move.

  • If both hands are being used with a non-ranged weapon (a two-handed sword or someone wielding a sword and a shield), the DC is 20
  • If one hand is being used with a non-ranged weapon or the ranged weapon has kickback (like a gun), the DC is 15
  • If a ranged weapon is being used, the DC is 10
  • Magic has no required check as long as the magic user is sitting down (DC 10 otherwise)
  • Moving around on the boat (which will be limited anyway) has a DC of 10
  • Moving from one boat to the other via jumping will be a DC 20. If they’re next to each other, it’s a DC 15

As for the failures and successes:

  • On a success, the PC can then make an attack roll
  • On a critical success, they don’t have to roll a check the next turn
  • If the roll fails, the PC stumbles and doesn’t connect with the creature
  • If the roll fails by more than five, the PC drops into the water and must spend their next turn getting back into a boat
    • If they make a DC 15 climb check, they only use up their movement
  • If the roll is a critical fail, the boat capsizes, sending both players over the side. The next two turns must be spent getting back into the boat (one to right the boat, the next to climb in). For that first turn, however, they have 75% cover
    • On the second turn, if they make a DC 15 climb check, they only lose their movement

Delvehaven

Honestly, not much needed to be changed with regards to Delvehaven. The only thing I had to do was fill in the blanks where flavor was concerned.

One of the bits of flavor involved a set of potions that were tweaked to be more palatable (think a craft brew that also heals you). The book refers to them and about how clever the labels are… and then doesn’t give you what’s on the labels. I asked the punmasters of Reddit for help and eventually came up with the following names:

  • Good for what ales you (Cure moderate)
  • Hair of the dog (Lesser restoration)
  • Levitate (Kilt Lifter)
  • Milquetoast pale ale (Mage armor)
  • IPA (in small print: Instant Protection from Arrows) (Protection from arrows)
  • Formerly Lager (Reduce person)

Also, I decided to leave a note in a room full of burned scrolls and books. According to the AP, while Delvehaven was under attack, a Pathfinder took everything of importance and escaped the lodge via magic. I opted to leave a note explaining his actions, leaving out his final destination.

To whomever finds this:

Enemies to the Pathfinders are at the gates, and we cannot allow this wealth of knowledge fall into their hands. At Venture-Captain Ghaelfin’s orders, I have taken everything that is of import with me for when we take back Delvehaven. May the gods let me see that day.

Pathfinder Leonito Corvus, Master of Scrolls

While the note doesn’t say where he escaped to, Ailyn will know that he eventually settled in Kintago, where he set up an underground lodge to ready for the day that the Pathfinder Society could return to Cheliax. He died some years later, an old man, never having returned to Westcrown. His two children (Iola and Marto) have continued his work, and have worked with Ailyn during previous missions.

There’s also a room where the AP suggests adding an extra piece of loot from the book’s supplemental content. I ended opting for the Clasp of the Mind Scream because I felt it was the most interesting given the make-up of the party and how they tend to operate.

A parting gift

According to the AP, Ailyn’s parting gift to the PCs is some cash for each Pathfinder found. This felt a bit empty, especially since the party (due to some canny betting) has more than enough money. Instead, I opted to have her gift the party with some ioun stones. This is doubly fitting, since all of the PCs took the trait “The Pathfinder’s Exile,” which gives them all a free wayfinder, and the party finds two more wayfinders in Delvehaven, as well as an ioun stone.

How’d it go?

Session one: The Crux, Shadow Beasts, and the Blue Hood

I was most nervous about using the Crux with my players, since it held the chance of becoming tedious (the solution, after all, is purely random). It ended up working perfectly, though. You can read the whole write-up here.

After solving the Crux, the players decided to track down a Shadow Beast. Due to where the beasts were, they killed one before the second one had shown up. A PC picked up the blue stone, triggering the appearance of the bearded devil just as the second Shadow Beast attacked the back-row PCs. There was a beautiful moment of dawning horror when they realized the easy fight they’d been expecting had suddenly gotten much more difficult.

The players, after discovering that this was a new development, wondered if they had a mole, with a significant amount of the suspicion falling on Ailyn, the visiting Pathfinder.

The next day, the players tracked down the Blue Hood. They picked up on her possibly being the head of a thieves’ guild of some kind. One was frustrated with her, while the other is considering contacting her again, which might lead to some interesting end-game situations.

Session Two: The Devildrome

Though I changed nothing about this encounter leading up to it, I did make a change mid-fight. According to the AP, Thraxx will fight to the death. Our Archanist, though, used the message spell to taunt him, and with a few extremely high rolls, caused Thraxx to abandon his strategy early. He was moved into a position where defeat was obvious, so he surrendered. Thraxx was banned from the Devildrome and is now in the GM stables as a future foe (once he finishes drowning his sorrows).

Session Three: The Massacre House

Leveling up the monks worked perfectly for balancing the encounter. It was a challenge for the heroes, though not so much that it became a death spiral.

Also, the heroes managed to leave all of the Sisters alive and still unaware of who they were. The end result of this is that the Sisters don’t leave the city, but do shut down any access to their monastery. Bodies must be left outside and anyone who lingers is shot. Even supply runs have stopped, instead being delivered by the city guard. They have also sent word to a fellow temple that they are in need of recruits.

Session Four: The Wave Door

After starting the encounter with the Shadows, I ended up chickening out on forcing everyone to roll acrobatics rolls with every swing. In the moment, it felt like it would have slowed down combat and made what was a fairly deadly encounter even more deadly (possibly to a TPK level).

I did stick to requiring an acrobatics roll for movement, which worked quite well, forcing everyone to carefully consider their moves and look through their bag of acquired tricks to come up with new game plans.

Leveling up the mobs to three regular shadows and one plague shadow also worked quite well. They had just enough longevity to be a challenge and hit just hard enough to be a real threat. Pretty much everyone in the group was two strong rolls away from death.

Even with with the planning to get there, this encounter was quite short, with everyone back in town with the loot two hours before our sessions normally ended. They used the time to level up, plan the Delvehaven expedition, and at least start exploring the abandoned lodge.

Session Four through Six: Delvehaven

To my surprise, the players opted to invite Ailyn along, so I was glad that I’d actually written up a character sheet for her. I had decided to make her a Chronicler, since that gives her a cover (being a bard) as well as the background knowledge she’d need to undertake the mission.

The players enjoyed the ‘craft’ potions quite a bit. The investigator of the group (who runs an alchemy shop) voiced an interest in making his own. I had him roll a perception check, and since he blew it out of the water (of course), I let him find some notes left by the brewer to get him started.

A quick aside about the skill checks: If you have a skill monkey in your party, the group truly can bypass 80% of the AP and go straight to Delvehaven. If you don’t want this to happen, make sure to build in a few firm blockers.

If I did it again…

I would go ahead and merge books three and five. The players were a bit put out that Ilnerick, the big bad they’ve been chasing, wasn’t in the basement and that they’re going to have to do a lot more to get to him. Looking back, I can see how this was telegraphed by the AP (you find lots of clues about him as you explore), so I’m sympathetic to their reaction.

Other than that, I was pretty happy with my changes. The encounters were actually challenging for the players, and overall, the book is a pretty fun romp through Westcrown.

 

Westcrown and Resurrection

As my Council of Thieves game has progressed, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about what it would be like to try to get someone resurrected in the middle of a town full of literal demon worshipers. The players have had a few close calls, and the AP doesn’t get any kinder the further you go, so this will likely come up before the big finale.

I tend to stick to the official rules when it comes to raising the dead: You have to have someone who can cast it, the body in the correct state, and the material component required (no raiding the piggy bank or hand waving). The stickler during CoT is the first item: Finding someone who can cast it.

If you follow the recommended level progression, the players don’t get someone in their party who can cast any of the raise dead spells until book four unless they do a significant amount of side quests or the GM keeps the NPC cleric Areal a few levels ahead of the players. Westcrown is a huge town though, so surely there’s someone around who can cast it for a price, right?

The problem with paying

Paying for healing and disease / curse removal probably isn’t a big deal for most churches. After all, most people would naturally heal on their own, so why not make a bit of cash / spread a bit of good will / possibly covert someone for the cost of a low-level spell slot?

Raising the dead, however, is a completely different matter. First, it’s not a self-rectifying situation. Without intervention, the dead stay dead. Secondly, it’s expensive, and the materials (diamonds worth 5k / 10k) may not be readily available or kept on hand. Finally, what sort of person are you willing to bring back into the world?

A prominent follower is an easy sell. Most churches would want that high level person to come back. But what about someone who isn’t a follower? A ‘good’ church would likely want to make sure that this person they’re bringing back isn’t evil. In fact, they may want to limit their resurrections to those who are actively doing good in the world, or they’d be overrun with the corpses of good-yet-ambitionless people.

And what if the church isn’t good? What if the only church you have available is neutral and doesn’t necessarily care about some do-gooder adventurer challenging the status quo? This is what we run into with Westcrown.

The problem with Westcrown

The funny thing about Chelliax is that they technically haven’t banned other religions (save for Aroden), but they’ve let it be known that this is at their pleasure. They have no problem bringing down the hammer, especially if other churches are growing too powerful. I felt the fallout of this would be that most churches in Chelliax that are ‘good’ tend to be small. They know that appearing to be a threat would only lead to their followers being imperiled, and a powerful cleric is extremely threatening.

So, back to Westcrown during CoT: It’s very likely that Areal and any PC clerics are the most powerful good clerics in town by the end of book two, and that’s with them being around level five. So, who could they go to if they need someone to raise one of their party?

Making deals

Looking over the standard deities, I felt that one church would not only be likely to have a significant presence in Westcrown, but to also be game for talking to a group of do-gooders: Calistria.

Calistria is a Chaotic Neutral deity with a bent towards trickery, deceit, and lust. This slots in perfectly with the powerful people in Westcrown and isn’t completely offensive to the tenets of Asmodeus. They would probably be the only other church who could grow enough to have a high enough level cleric. While the temple wouldn’t be likely to raise the dead out of the goodness of it’s own heart, it would be happy to make a deal.

Some might assume this means becoming a temple prostitute, but it turns out that the temple is adamantly against forced sex work. Not only would they not suggest it, but they would probably turn down the offer since it wouldn’t be a ‘true calling’ for the person in their debt.

The temple is, however, interested in politics, from the collecting and spreading of rumors to the humiliation of those who cross them. While their sacred prostitutes do much of that work for them, there are surely situations where a third-party group work better. For example, if a certain sector didn’t partake of their services, having a few canny insiders could be beneficial. A group of outsiders would also be a good way to take an opponent down a peg or two without publicly implicating themselves.

So, those are my thoughts on Westcrown and raising the dead. I have to admit, I like the potential plot hooks so much I almost want my players to have a reason to use them…

 

 

Council of Thieves: A virtual Chelish Crux

At the end of Book Two of The Council of Thieves, the players find a strange artifact called the Chelish Crux. Book three opens with the players trying to open it. From the AP:

This strange and baffling object appears as a wooden and metal dodecahedron that measures about 6 inches in diameter— each face of the crux is carved with a different rune, and when one looks upon the thing, the observer has the unsettling sensation that he can see too many or too few sides at once.

To open the box, the players must trace the symbols on the outside of the crux in the correct order. If the correct symbol is traced, it lights up. If an incorrect symbol is traced, all of the lit symbols go out and the player must start from the beginning. After a certain number of unsuccessful tries, the box erupts into flame, causing fire damage to whoever was holding it and resetting the combination.

Basically, it’s Hell’s Simon.

In the book, the players open the box via a series of skill checks, but being a code monkey, I figured I could do one better: Make a virtual one!

puzzle
The Crux with two correct guesses

Using a bit of Javascript, I created a basic Chelish Crux. How it works:

  • When first loaded up, all squares are black. “The crux’s sides are all dark, save for the occasional flares of red light dancing at the edges.”
  • If a player touches a correct square, it turns red. “When you finish tracing that rune, the metal under your fingers begins to glow red from within, as if being heated in a forge, even though the metal is cool to the touch.”
  • If a player touches an incorrect square, the squares briefly go grey, and all lit squares go out. “For a moment, all lights fade on the crux, even those that appeared at the edges. All of the lit sides go dark once more”
  • If the player runs out of chances, the squares flash madly and then go to black. “As you finish tracing the rune, flames erupt from the edges, bathing the crux in flame and scorching your skin.” The player then takes fire damage. I did 1d8, but this can be adjusted to match the level of the campaign (theoretically, this could be made stronger if someone was willing to pay more).
  • After the explosion of flames, the players are allowed to make a roll to see if they see a pattern in the racing red lights at the edges.
    • A success means the hint level goes up by one. At the end of the URL, I add (or update) “?hl=” and then the number of the new hint level. So, for example, the URL might be https://therealkatie.net/gaming/puzzle-box.html?hl=4 if they’ve gotten four successes.
    • If they don’t make the roll, there’s no penalty. They simply need to go through the process again to trigger another failure
    • If the person holding the crux managed to get at least three more squares correct on that round, then that is considered an assist on the next disable device check.
  • The first time the players go up a hint level, they’ll see that one square is already red. “After studying the lights for a few minutes, you’re positive that this rune is the first rune you should trace. After that, you don’t know.”
  • If they’ve gone up multiple levels, “Studying the lights, you figure out the first few runes to trace, but after that, you’ll have to guess.”
  • If the players manage to get the combination, all of the squares go green, and I describe the box opening. “The box unfolds into a flat square made of metal and wood, about two feet by two feet.”

In game, I described the box as above, but said nothing else, allowing a player to toy around with the web page on my tablet. I only interjected the first time, explaining what it meant when the squares turned grey, red, or flashed. They figured out for themselves that they had to input a combination, and that the combination was twelve runes long, and that it reset. After each attempt, I’d have them make their disable device check, and if successful, I changed the URL to match their hint level and handed it back.

I believe it took about 15 minutes for the players to solve (I don’t think they ever failed a check), and they managed to get it open at the sixth hint level. I feel like it was much more engaging than just a series of skill checks, and making the puzzle physical forced everyone to stay engaged with who was holding the crux (and therefore who was taking the damage).

Feel free to play with the crux yourself, or if you want to, change the code to suit your needs! And apologies in advance for the extremely rough code. Since it was a single use project, the level of love that went into it was rather low.

Tide of Morning: An interlude for Council of Thieves

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do since I started Council of Thieves is a one-shot with the lower level Children of Westcrown. I wanted something that would fit the plot, but that was still something appropriate for them: Not too central, not too heroic, but still meaningful.

Because I didn’t feel like plunking down cash on a bunch of scenarios, I looked in my library for one that could work. Tide of Morning was about the right level, so I started reworking that.

From Paizo’s site:

Venture-Captain Dennel Hamshanks sends you to convince an Andoren druid named Hemzel to allow the Pathfinder Society to study his recently discovered lorestone, a minor magical item that unlocks some of the mysteries of the ancient Andoren druid circles. When you arrive and find Hemzel murdered and the lorestone missing, you must race against time to recover the lorestone and stop Hemzel’s murderers from using it against the druids of Andoran.

What I changed

The names, premise, and location, of course, had to be changed. Instead of Hamshanks, I had the request come from the visiting Pathfinder, Ailyn.

The new premise:

After returning from the Asmodean Knot, the Children of Westcrown are approached by Ailyn Ghontasavos (a visiting Pathfinder) about a delicate issue regarding a druid and an item of great power.

Years ago, a druid named Hezmel came into possession of a lorestone. Lorestones are vast magical repositories of druidic knowledge embedded in small stones. Studying lorestones provides information on natural phenomena such as weather patterns and seasonal changes, but can also unlock a deeper truth. Those who unlock these truths gain access to the lorestone’s true powers hidden within.

A group of Pathfinders caught wind of the lorestone and overstepped their bounds in trying to acquire it. According to them, they simply had a conversation with Hezmel that went poorly. Whatever actually happened, Hezmel fled to Chelliax, where the Pathfinders would hesitate to follow.

Ailyn has gotten word that Hezmel has settled disturbingly close to Westcrown, and she worries that the powers that be might take an interest in this lorestone. Hezmel has likely assumed that his proximity to the Hagwood will keep the city’s forces at bay, but he is woefully ignorant of what the city will risk for an interesting artifact.

Because the more experienced members of the group are unavailable, she has asked if some of less tried members can attempt to quietly warn Hezmel away. While she wouldn’t turn down a chance to add the lorestone to one of the Pathfinder lodges, all she asks is that the Children of Westcrown convince Hezmel to move his new circle further away from the prying eyes of Westcrown.

I also tweaked the motivations of the main villain, Cyflymder, to work with the AP cannon. Before the Council of Thieves AP begins, the hags of Hagwoods were involved with the Council of Thieves. Two of them were killed in a cover-up, and one fled. While the AP has her going back to the Hagwood, I’m opting to place her elsewhere. Since their murders / disappearance, there have been a number of fights due to the power vacuum, with Cyflymder being the latest pretender.

The ending is also slightly different, with Ailyn giving Vitti a month to study the artifact, allowing him to re-class as a druid. After Book Three is complete, she’ll be taking her leave of Westcrown and (theoretically) taking the lorestone with her.

The mains goal of this session are to get Vitti converted to a druid and to plant the seed that the remaining hag of the Hagwoods may have some information that could benefit the rebels (which will come up in the book, The Mother of Flies).

Getting started

I laid out the premise for this session right after the PCs returned from The Asmodean Knot. Due to their new fame, they’re being watched carefully, so it would be best if they spent a month being as boring as possible (this also allowed the players to use the downtime rules to re-class, start a business, and build a temple). They were asked to pick four of the rebels to go, with Jeniven and Areal suggesting Vitti, Sclavo, and Rizzardo. The PCs chose to send Amaya as a diplomat.

I made sure to suggest Sclavo, since one of the most important puzzles includes using the linguistics skill, and he’s the only rebel who’s trained in that. The puzzle could also be solved with comprehend languages or by someone who can speak Druidic, but that didn’t apply to any of the rebels they were likely to send (one of the PCs already had plans for Tarvi).

I sent the Hero Lab portfolios to the players, telling them that they could change the characters’ archetype, but not their base class. They could also outfit the characters with whatever was in the rebels’ armory, but if they bought something, they’d need to tell me where the cash came from (the rebels, outside of Tarvi and Yakopulio, live pretty much hand-to-mouth).

How’d it go?

It went really well! It offered a nice break from the characters everyone had been playing for so long, and everyone was able to give the character they were controlling their own spin.

One thing I didn’t expect: The characters left through the sewers, and I had zero maps / encounter tables at the ready for that. I ended up hand-waving that portion since the meat of the adventure was to be had outside of the city.

What would I change?

I would absolutely have sewers maps ready! In fact, this is something I’m going to have on hand from now on, just in case. I would also find another way to keep track of time. Most of our sessions take place in areas where time isn’t really an issue, but for this encounter, it could potentially change the final encounter quite a bit.

Overall, I feel like it was a solid scenario that I could see inserting into many a campaign, changing the lorestone as needed.