“For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak” – Sun Tzu
We start our Adventure in an office at The Pathfinder Society, Absalom.
John, Hal and Hax have just graduated top of their respective classes. Sword, Spell and Scrolls.
John – six and a half foot tall human. Former laborer, then caravan guard. A pure fighter, seeking to master his discipline and his inner anger. He guides the group in combat with his knowledge of warfare and guides them in exploration with his tracking skills.
Hal – a young man, human, seeking adventure in the name of Sarenrae. A cloistered cleric, with access to both fire and sun domains. He serves as the party medic, religious expert and secondary fighter, with scimitar and added light armour proficiency.
Hax – an elven male. Educated, charismatic and musical. He purports to be upper class (but is actually upper-middle). He uses a variety of occult magics to inspire and confound. His broad knowledge of academic subjects and his familiarity with mechanisms help solve problems the team encounters.
[GM: In this adventure, in a homebrewed tweak, the Pathfinder Society favours elite teams of three – one member from each of the schools. This matches our three players and explains the small group. The Sword’s role is to keep his squad alive, the Spell’s role is one of a spellslinging back up fighter, field medic and religious guidance. The Scroll’s job will be to act as the expert in knowledge, whilst inspiring their comrades, recording the team’s discoveries and heroics and, ultimately, adding to the archives of the Pathfinder Society.]
[GM: We used this small rookie adventure to check that everyone was happy with their character builds and that the team worked well together, whilst keeping it part of the story. Taking a character from level 1 to 20 over a several year-long campaign is a huge commitment. This was a great way to check the players were happy with the initial choices, whilst keeping it part of the whole story arc, especially as each player had picked a character that was a little different from what they previously played. We could easily do this again for another trio of graduates if character rerolls were needed.]
The three rookies are told by their local venture-captain that they are to be sent on a final test, to see how well they work together as a team. A merchant’s goods have been stolen from his newly docked ship by a local band of thieves operating from the sewers, here in Absalom.
The Pathfinder Society have located the sewer entrance that the criminals have been using and the task will be to go underground tonight, kill or capture the thieves and retrieve the goods.
The merchant has promised a small reward for a successful mission and it is implicit that he will know whether all of the goods will be returned, due to his meticulous sales ledgers. However, it is also feasible that the thieves have already offloaded some of the goods.
There are scant details on the criminals – several are known drunkards and should be easy enough to disarm. One is an accomplished knife thrower. A young woman is known to be skilled in stealth and deception. The ring leader is charismatic and ruthless, trained in traps but no fighter and prefers to keep enemies at a distance.
[GM: There is an ever-increasing role of an evil guild in Age of Ashes and also our Pathfinder 2e adaptation of the Saltmarsh collection of old DND modules. It would therefore be possible, later, to include this early gang of thieves as a sign that the fundraising activities have reached even the doorstep of the Pathfinder Society itself.
Was there something important within the merchant’s hoard? – the thieves taking everything in order to disguise the actual target object? Maybe the thieves do not know the real purpose but their ultimate paymasters do.]
[GM: We used the Sewer Flipcards to recreate a sewer loop with deadends and false walls. Pathfinder pawns were used for the enemies.]
The team lower themselves down to find narrow walkways either side of a channel, which is ankle-deep in fetid water. There are signs of a recent fight. To the east, blood is smeared up the walls as if someone, near death, dragged themselves out of sight into the distance. A short way to the west is a junction where the tunnel turns north and south. The route to the south though quickly reaches a dead-end.
John keeping watch to the north, suggests that it is an unusual place for a sudden stop. Hax investigates and finds the outline of a false wall. More so, Hax concludes that there is pipework within the secret door that is likely part of a trap. Before he can complete his investigation, there is a sound of someone approaching from the north.
[GM: I had pre-planned that if the players were smart enough to investigate the dead-end in detail, the NPC would approach, to prevent them getting too close to the treasure too soon.]
A drunkard staggers down towards them from the north, swigging back the last of his rum and throwing his empty bottle in the party’s direction, though he does not seem to have noticed them yet. John makes a sudden charge, bringing his bastard sword down across the man’s chest. Hax completes the kill by telekinetically throwing the ale bottle back at him.
Hal retreats a little, to watch the west and spots something slowly floating towards him. [GM rolls perception for Hal.] It is a corpse, face down in the water. Hal rightly assumes this is the body linked to the initial blood marks. [The roll was not enough though for Hal to see more.]
A second drunk, brother to the first, runs towards John demanding revenge and is despatched with ease.
[GM: I like my NPCs to be more than thug 1 thug 2 etc and I usually have a sketch of their interrelationships, as well as backgrounds and motivations, in case of capture.]
The body floats closer and a woman (who has been manoeuvring the corpse from underwater, using a straw to breath) leaps out from under it and knifes Hal in the shoulder. Hearing Hal’s call, John rushes back, with just enough distance to still launch a critical hit power attack, killing her instantly in a shower of blood and gore. “No!”, a voice cries from further east – it is her lover, the knife thrower, his sudden shock giving away the hidden position of himself and his co-conspirator.
[GM: A favourite motif of mine is an object creeping closer that is more than it seems. I have to be careful not to use it too often …]
The party engage and finish off these two… these final two? As the lapping of fetid water settles, the sewers echo faintly with the slow grinding of gears. John, Hax and Hal correctly assume the secret door has been opened. Returning to the junction, there is no clear sign; the sewer water disguising any tracks.
[GM: The gang leader, hearing the fighting move away from his location, has exited through the secret door, closed it, and run across to a second hidden door in the northern wall space just to the east of the junction. He knows from practise that the clunking of the gears as the gas trap resets will disguise any splashing unless someone is within 30 foot.]
The players’ team retrace their steps and head northwards; the direction the drunkards came from.
A short way ahead there is another junction. Dead-end to the west, the corridor continues to the east. The dead-end yields no signs of a hidden entrance. Heading east now, Hax, slowly moving and checking, finds, beneath the water, a slab standing less than an inch higher than the surrounding floor. He holds up a hand to signal they should halt a moment to investigate further. As he crouches though…
…Hal is hit in the neck by a crossbow bolt. The three turn, weapons raised, but there is no one there.
[GM: The trigger for the crossbow was the team looking at the pressure plate, meaning that a squishy level 1 would get a neck injury and not a killer head shot.]
Despite the pain, Hal quickly looks to his right (the south) and spots a small spy hole. They all duck down below and scan further down the corridor. More small holes are dotted along the wall in a regular three foot spacing. All at head shot height. The team work out that the walls conceal a false walkway. Someone is stalking them, aiming to pick them off one by one.
Crouching a little to stay out of view they round a corner heading south again. Hal’s sharp ears pick out the sound of movement within the wall. A little way along Hax identifies a hidden door and switch. Readying themselves, Hal casts light on a stone chip and gives it to John. Hax pulls open the door revealing the corridor within the walls. John [rolling a 20 to great cheers around the table] skims the stone at an angle off the wall, sending it ricocheting out of view. Panicking the gang leader launches his loaded crossbow bolt down the corridor, with no one there to hit. John charges in and pins the thief to the wall with his blade. Pragmatic, the ringleader relents and surrenders.
In exchange for his life, the boss leads them to the trapped door, opens it without triggering the gas. Beyond is a small empty chamber. His bravado jokes of “oh well, it must be gone” fall on deaf ears. The whole team immediately guess that the room is trapped, and Hax gets everyone to stand back. Inspecting the area, he finds a swing-door pit trap just ahead of them that allows the gang to place their treasure on the floor slab, which tips it into a well below, before closing again to safely hide the loot.
The Pathfinder venture-captain declares the mission a success. The merchant has been particularly impressed by the team giving over the entire haul, without removing a single item. The gang leader is imprisoned.
[GM: In my stories, imprisoned NPCs don’t vanish … I mark the time until they would be released, possibly with a chip on their shoulder. Or maybe they escape? Or relatives exact revenge?]
The team take the armour and weapons of the defeated enemies. Pooled together with the small amount of reward money and the sale of John’s armour, they are able to buy their frontline Sword a set of full plate.
John, Hal and Hax are now full members of the Pathfinder Society and will receive their first graduate mission briefing letter within days. They are told to settle their accounts and to write their wills (which will be placed in sealed envelopes and held at the Society).
[GM: Meanwhile, an urgent message has made its way from Breachill. An elite team have lost their medic and an underground explosion has forced a retreat from a planned Pathfinder Society survey of Citadel Altarean on Hellknight Hill. Backup is required.
The aim of this mini dungeon was to attack each aspect of their skillset, from traps and perception to battle tactics and terrain.
The narrow corridors with frequent turns, encouraged the team to bunch up on rounding corners so that the rear of the party could make ranged attacks, rather than being out of sight around the corner. This put them at risk of area-of-effect damage from traps.
Where the party, however, had initially spread out, it put the less-defended characters in danger of attacks from the rear. This required John, the front line fighter, to run back and despatch the assassin and constantly make choices of who to defend.
The main change from this encounter was that John, the frontline fighter, changed from sword and shield to polearm and swapped his starting feats to match, thus accepting a weakened defence as a trade-off for better battlefield control]