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
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).
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
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.