Borrowing from Video Games: Spider-Man’s Sinister Morality

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This article contains fairly shallow SPOILERS for the main plot of the new Spider-Man game for the PS4, but that nonetheless cover topics up to the game’s ending. A lot of these are things that are likely immediately obvious outcomes to fans of the comics from much earlier in the game, but proceed at your own risk if you haven’t played the game and intend to.

The motivations for the antagonists in Spider-Man are a little muddled throughout the game. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me until the game finally stated its theme in one of the final cutscenes. I spent most of the game not buying the “he’s just gone crazy” excuse for why so many characters introduced as humanitarian philanthropists with deep ties to the community would suddenly start murdering civilians haphazardly in pursuit of their goals.

But then it all made sense to me when Octavius explained his point of view:

That’s because men like us have a duty. A responsibility. To use our talents in the service of others. Even if they don’t appreciate it. …we have to do what’s best for those beneath us. Whether they understand it or not.

(Emphasis added.) At the beginning of his value statement, Otto is quoting back to Peter what seems to be essentially, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And then he reveals that he has it precisely wrong. His morality is actually much closer to noblesse oblige: his humanitarian actions are because that’s how he demonstrates his greatness to those lesser than himself. Does he actually give a damn about innocents, or is he just in a competition with Osborn over who can be the bigger philanthropist/genius?

And from that point of view, the other major antagonists are the same: Mr. Negative pursues philanthropy in a very visible way but never even worries about putting those under his protection in danger, Silver Sable talks a big game about protecting the city but turns a blind eye to the corruption of her mercenaries, and Osborn never hesitates to endanger civilians as long as he can do it off-the-record. They’re all actually different shades of selfish and awful, but realize that their self aggrandizement means looking like benefactors to the public.

Which is, of course, the opposite of Spider-Man.

For Parker, responsibility trumps power. He’s never been rich, and, in fact, misses plenty of opportunities to do more than scrape by. He is not like the antagonists, who would never neglect their own desires to help others (but are willing to give some of their excess to the public). His morality is not that of a superior tending to his flock, but of a servant ceaselessly giving of himself to help others, even when they’re seemingly beyond redemption and at great risk to himself. In his constant need to offer second chances to villains he barely seems to understand revenge, much less consider harming others in pursuit of it. And where they are all lauded by the city for their philanthropy, Spider-Man has to win the hearts and minds of citizens he saves one-by-one, constantly labeled a menace by the press.

But, on paper, All five characters would happily agree that with great power comes great responsibility.

I wish this had been made clearer earlier in the script, because it creates an interesting resonance throughout the game. Otto doesn’t understand why Peter is willing to work for him for free. Mr. Negative doesn’t understand why Spider-Man keeps trying to save him. Sable doesn’t understand why Spider-Man won’t sit back and let her men handle the problem that they’re being paid for. Osborn just assumes that Peter will be working for him as soon as Harry’s back. None of them really understand the idea of casual sacrifice in pursuit of the greater good. But for lack of the object lesson that was Uncle Ben’s death, thus, too, could have gone Spider-Man.

So obviously this was mostly several hundred words of me pointing out how the use of theme in a video game was cool, but…

You can do the same thing in your own heroic games (superhero or otherwise). The important thing is to get a core, thematic value for your protagonists. Figure out a short statement that encapsulates what each hero believes, and which way they’ll go even at the moment of utmost crisis.

You can obviously then use this for a lot of cool stuff, but one use is hanging your major antagonists on it. Villains and foils the heroes encounter should agree with them, in principle, but oppose them in fact. Something about their morality is broken, even though they think they follow the same creed.

If you do it right, rather than obstacles to be overcome, your players will see their opponents as misguided potential allies, needing to be won over. They’ll see their enemies as mirrors/object lessons for what could happen to them if they misstep, and will hold out hope that, if they could just get through to the villains, they could become friends.

And, even if your players still murder hobo their way through your carefully designed villains, you can at least justify one of my other favorite villain-design strategies: the villain grudgingly respects or even outright likes the heroes, and that explains why the PCs aren’t murdered more efficiently as soon as they begin to interfere with villainous plans. Just as the heroes hopefully think they can win the villain to their way of thinking, the villains see themselves reflected in the heroes. Either they think they can win the heroes over, or they just like having people they agree with out doing heroic things (and don’t actually even understand why the heroes think they’re at odds).

The real trick is, of course, actually getting your players to come up with a core value statement. I tend to find that players that aren’t Fate fans or otherwise used to dealing in aspect-like traits have a hard time coming up with that kind of thing.

Star Wars: The Force Meddles

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This article contains spoilers for The Last Jedi (and likely other Star Wars films).

A significant difference, in my mind, between Star Wars and Star Trek is how many story-moving coincidences I’m willing to accept. If, in the course of Star Trek, a main character transports to a random planet and happens to land a brief foot chase away from other significant characters, I’ll be pulled out of the film. I reject narratives where things happen because they’re convenient to the narrative, even though they’d be extremely unlikely if the world operated on its own consistent internal logic. I don’t require much explanation for events, but a lampshade at minimum on the audacity of the coincidence is appreciated. Things that just occur for no reason other than they’re needed to advance the plot feel lazy.

Except, that is, in Star Wars. Both BB-8 and Finn happen to stumble on Rey within a foot chase from the Millennium Falcon? Sure. The Force did it. The Force meddles. It binds us and penetrates us. It wants interesting things to happen, and interesting people to get together. The Force is an extremely useful bit of universe physics for keeping your narrative lean. In general, the language of most of the films goes even further: the Force loves a hero*. If you try to do the right thing, even when things look bleak, it will turn out alright if you just stick it out. The Force is a great explanation for player narrative currency like Fate Points, Bennies, etc.

So it took me a while to pin down why The Last Jedi felt jarring to me. It ultimately came down to feeling like the film had suddenly forgotten the meddling Force. Poe and Finn were doing the right thing as hard and righteously as possible, and things were not turning out well for them. In fact, DJ showing up in Finn and Rose’s cell right when they needed one of the best slicers in the galaxy seemed like even more of an unexplained coincidence than the films have ever tried before, and it was not in their favor. Leia and Holdo berated Poe for his heroism as if he was not aware that he was living in a pulp universe where making the safe play was usually unnecessary. Why had the Force forsaken them? Why had Leia and Holdo missed that Poe, like the audience, was aware of his place in a universe running on pulp story logic?

And the way I came up with to explain it is meaningful for Star Wars tabletop games if it also makes sense to you.

What was different about The Last Jedi, as opposed to most other media in the series where we’ve seen strange coincidences abound in the support of our heroes was one simple fact: when everything was going wrong for Finn, Rose, and Poe, no Force sensitives were conscious and focused on their efforts.

Most previous film sequences of pulp derring-do feature at least one Force sensitive on the team, being rescued by the team, or both. Poe has experienced years of missions where reckless actions get supported by last-second coincidences in his favor, and he’s never once thought about the fact that Leia was on the comms willing his success. The Force is basically the Secret: Force sensitives put their needs as silent prayers out into the universe, and the Force does what it can to help out. During The Last Jedi, when everything is going wrong, the only Force sensitives paying a lick of attention to our heroes are on the First Order team. No wonder the one big coincidence isn’t in their favor. Leia would really like Poe to realize that the vast majority of people don’t see their heroism constantly rewarded, and he can’t count on her always being around letting him skirt the rules of causality. (Plus, things more or less turning out okay also doesn’t mean a bunch of people won’t die in the attempt.)

And this has obvious ramifications for Star Wars games:

  • In the strong form, you might limit narrative currency spends to only be available when fulfilling the goals of your team’s Force sensitives. If your Jedi doesn’t care, you can’t spend points to make it happen. This obviously makes Jedi even more powerful and more central, so I don’t necessarily recommend it, but list it for completeness.
  • In the moderate form, Force sensitives on the team increase everyone’s narrative resource refresh rate. This could be a good enough benefit that my previous advice to make Force Sensitive a 0-point trait is too cheap, and it should be priced higher. A Force sensitive on your team, even if she isn’t a Jedi, improves everyone’s access to convenient coincidences.
  • In the weakest form, the GM can simply consider the array of Force sensitive intentions surrounding an issue to affect the chance of favorable or unfavorable coincidences. When a lot of Force users are concentrating on something from multiple sides, things can get weird.


* To steal and paraphrase from a popular local LARP where it was Death who loved heroes

GMing Tricks from the Defenders


One of the first things I noticed about the new Defenders show on Netflix was that, by virtue of making an ensemble out of a bunch of established solo characters, it wound up feeling more like an RPG than many TV shows do. And that makes it an excellent example for some GMing techniques that I think it highlights. This post, obviously, may contain SPOILERS for the Defenders (though I’ll try to keep them to minor structural ones), so proceed at your own risk if you didn’t binge it over the weekend.

Splitting the Party

The first thing I noticed about Defenders was that it was using a technique I’ve really only seen in World of Darkness games (and mostly in a subset of WoD games where the GMs all learned it from one another). The group starts out split, doesn’t know one another, and gradually their solo experience compounds into winding up as a team. Importantly, this isn’t just a series of preludes that were all run individually and then the first full session has everyone meet up. Instead, like in Defenders, scenes alternate between PCs (often cutting on a cliffhanger), sometimes two PCs will briefly meet and then continue on separately, and only once the plot is well and truly laid out do they realize they need to work together. Sometimes, it can take multiple sessions. And the other players are all there while this is happening, waiting their turns for the spotlight.

This has several useful effects:

  • The other players get a better sense of your character by watching without being able to interfere when you have spotlight time. Though it’s an entirely metagame experience, it gives everyone a better sense of what you and the GM have agreed is cool about your character.
  • The metagame aspect is also important: it gets the players used to the idea of firewalling what they’ve experienced in and out of play. Inevitably, there’s some slippage as you eventually can’t remember whether you were there for a scene where a crucial detail happened, but the important thing is that you’re trying.
  • It also gets you used to allowing other players to have spotlight time without being disruptive. The social contract is that you’ll get a similar amount of spotlight time where the other players will also keep quiet and let you have your moment.
  • Finally, it establishes that splitting up is a thing that is safe to do.

The adage to never split the party often comes from the idea that you could, at any moment, run into a party-scaled encounter by yourself and lose. Letting the players run around solo for a while gets them used to going off solo or in pairs to do things when the situation demands it, and makes it apparent that this isn’t likely to get anyone killed. Sometimes you’ll run into something that you don’t want to tackle without the whole party, and rarely you’ll get in over your head and have to escape a threat that the party would trounce, but you’re not terrified of being alone.

This technique probably works best in a city-based game, rather than one spread out or in hostile territory.

Recurring Villains

One of the things a lot of games suffer from is insufficiently involved villains. Sure, you might have heard of the guy from his minions and former victims, but you don’t actually meet him until you get to the final room of the final dungeon in the module. Then it’s a fight, maybe after a brief monologue. Boring.

In order for your players to really feel connected to your villains—whether that be total hatred or conflicted aggravation—they need to meet them multiple times. The villains need to do things on screen that drive the players mad, take thing from them, or fail to do things and narrowly escape. The problem is that your players are likely to go nuclear if they’re allowed at all: if they identify the main villain, especially if it’s a combat encounter, all available resources go into putting her down quickly and completely.

The Defenders answer to this is that the bad guys are mostly very experienced ninjas. They go into every fight with the heroes with a cheater’s escape route planned (there are numerous scenes where the “taken out” result for the bad guy becomes “and you knock him offscreen and he’s just gone“). This is a trick you can use for ninjas and teleporting wizards, but it only works so long before the players start planning countermeasures. Other techniques from the Defenders prelude shows are that the bad guy is legally clean, and the law would take a dim view of assaulting him in public, so there can be confrontations in public spaces without either side feeling like it’s a kill-or-be-killed situation. Finally, never underestimate the villain having a conversation, the PCs thinking they have her right where they want her, and then she wanders out after summoning a horde of minions or environmental disaster that keeps the PCs away from her.

Ultimately, the real trick is making sure you’ve designed the villains’ motivations so they don’t necessarily want to commit themselves fully to a fight until the end game. Come up with reasons why they feel their goals can be met without endangering themselves. They should be willing to walk away several times rather than fighting to the death, even if they outclass the PCs.

Constrained Villains

One of the things that’s always in the back of my head as a player is whether it feels like the opposition’s resources are infinite until they’re suddenly not. Will taking out these minions have a measurable impact on the villains’ ability to operate? Is it worth it to strike at a target, or will they just have a similar resource later if we capture this one? Do the villains have to play by the same rules I do, even if they start with more resources?

Defenders does a really good job of constraining the villains (though it’s unclear if those constraints would be totally clear to the PCs if they weren’t seeing the internal bad guy discussion scenes that we’re privy to as the audience). They’ve gambled their most precious resource on obtaining a big payoff, and the time is running out for them to get that payoff.

This gives you a number of really useful plot levers to use as a GM:

  • There’s a natural time pressure: the villains need to do things soon, and aren’t going to wait on the PCs to be ready.
  • There are a number of things that the villains can do that are mistakes to give the PCs an advantage, because they’re out of options.
  • The PCs can capitalize on information to put the villains on the defensive, giving the players an enhanced sense of agency.
  • The PCs can ultimately realize that they have several methods of victory, including taking away a key villain resource and/or just running out the clock on their scheme.

Fighting a group of stressed, worried, and grasping bad guys is ultimately going to make your players feel a lot better about their own options and place in the game world than if every set of bad guys is powerful and secure until the PCs can finally work out a fait accompli to cut off the head.

Supporting Cast

Like a lot of GMs, I’m bad at remembering to use supporting cast. When you’ve got a short session, it can feel like a waste of time to take a minute to have a brief roleplay scene with one PC’s family and friends. But if your player gave you those NPCs in the first place, it was out of hopes that they’d get used for more than damselling or other pathos. Sometimes, you just have to do the groundwork to have them recur enough to feel like part of the fabric of the world, and to give the player an opportunity to express elements of her character that aren’t seen when in full adventurer mode.

This is certainly easier if you’ve started off with a split party, so it’s more usual that there are scenes with one PC off alone dealing with NPCs, playing out what she’s doing when not with the rest of the group.

Defenders does a good job of providing a use for most of the supporting cast. It helps if your system has rules for mental stress that your loved ones can help you remove. Even if it doesn’t, they can be hooked into resources that the PCs don’t have: reporters to get you information you’d missed, cops and lawyers to get you out of legal trouble, doctors and nurses to handle physical ailments, and even less-skilled adventurers that can take some minor threats off your plate so you can focus on the bigger problems.

Also, remember to have the players add their useful NPCs to their character sheets. NPCs immediately become more real to players when tracked as a resource.

Protagonist Plot Glue

The downside of several of these techniques is that it can sometimes be hard to hit the ground running with fully committed protagonists. When you do group character generation, it’s much easier to motivate everyone to follow the plot as a team, as their characters are intimately connected to one another and, usually, the story as a whole. But when the players have made independent, fully realized characters, they may have trouble finding proper motivation to engage. You’ll need to devise the plot to glue the PCs together and to the story.

Some of your players may be like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones: despite their outward complaining about being wrapped up in something that doesn’t truly concern them, they’re at the game to play and will figure out a motivation to dive in. At worst, the GM will need to have an aside with the player and ask what kind of thing would flip the PC from on-the-fence to fully-committed. It may just take a minor incident to convey that the bigger problem will have follow-on problems to things the PC cares about.

Some may be like Matt Murdock: he’s created a deep and robust character, and talked himself into doing less fun things because they’re more true to the character. Without the right motivations, he’ll sit on the sidelines playing lawyer, because he’s convinced himself that the character doesn’t want to risk his mundane life and supporting cast. At best, there are a number of contrived scenes where he gets to play legal counsel to the rest of the team, and maybe secretly help out a little. At worst, you’re spinning your wheels running repeated side scenes where he agonizes over not being able to help while going through the motions of his mundane life. For this type of character, you need to make sure that the plot leaves no escape: the things he cares about are in direct danger, the plot is directly relevant to his backstory, and, what the hell, his ex-girlfriend is back from the dead and deeply enmeshed. The player will thank you for making the decision to engage as easy in character as it is out of character.

Some may be the opposite problem, like Danny Rand: they’re gung ho to go after the plot, but the other players are going to have a really hard time justifying hanging out with this guy. There’s often a Danny Rand in the group, who made a character that just doesn’t fit. Maybe he didn’t understand the memo about, “we’re making down-on-their-luck, street-level heroes,” or maybe there was less direction and everyone else just settled on a theme by happenstance. Maybe he’s a new player who just doesn’t get the social norms of the group. Honestly, modern occult and superheroes games often make “one of us is super wealthy, and the rest of us are broke” an issue with how they price wealth in character creation, and nobody can figure out why they’d hang out with the rich guy as peers, and don’t want to be his de facto minions. This last problem can often be the toughest, and you pretty much have to do what Defenders does: make the odd PC out key to the whole plot, until the party settles into being used to having that guy around.

If you’re lucky, after the first major storyline, the PCs will have gelled well enough that you can be less heavy-handed for the second. But be prepared to keep tabs on where the players are at with their PCs’ emotional lives (possibly through supporting cast), and be ready to keep tuning the game until they’re ready to stick as a group to your satisfaction.

Straight-Up Premise Theft: Sense8


The Elevator Pitch

Eight unrelated individuals from around the world share a dream one night: a woman commits suicide to keep herself and her friends from a creepy old man and his conspiracy. Each in the midst of his or her own problems, they begin to see and feel strange things. They find people they don’t know watching them in moments of crisis, and find themselves seeing others from across the world in their own troubling moments. Soon, they haltingly learn to do more than project as “holograms” that only the others can see, and to actually share sensory impressions and skills with one another when one member is more suited to dealing with problems. And problems they have, for these new tendencies to space out and see things begin to exacerbate their own issues, as well as putting them on the radar of the conspiracy that killed their “mother” to these strange gifts.

(This show is currently available for streaming on Netflix.)

The Premise

The reason for the powers, the setting, and the nature of problems and conspiracies can vary vastly, but the powerset is specific:

  • Player characters can project at will to experience what any other member of the group can experience (manifesting as an observer that only the others can see).
  • While projected, the character is vulnerable, but not unconscious: when you’re visiting someone else, your body continues on in an autopilot that can handle most things that don’t require a skill check (you’ll continue walking, even driving if it’s not too complicated, and space out but not immediately obviously abandon a conversation, etc.). If you’re just having a conversation with another PC, you can flip back and forth between locations, each taking turns being the one projected, with minimal loss of concentration toward what you’re doing.
  • With permission of another member, you can take over that member’s body, using your traits to handle his or her problems (you basically take over the PC using your PC’s skills; it’s up to the GM and system in question whether it makes sense to also give him or her your attributes). Any negative effects suffered while puppeting another character are suffered by the puppet.

Essentially, any PC can be present in any scene with another PC as an observer that only the other PCs can detect. If a PC doesn’t have the right skills for a problem, he or she can temporarily cede control of his or her body to another PC that does. The only limitation to the ability of a diversely skilled group is that they’re often only bringing one person to bear on a problem (albeit a person with any skills necessary for the task).

The Rationale

I’m not sure how common it is at other tables, but groups I’ve played in have never followed the “don’t split the party” mandate. A common way to run games is, in fact, for the GM to introduce everyone as unrelated characters, cut between scenes where one player character is active and the other players just watch and wait their turns, and slowly create a situation that naturally draws the characters together (but it might take several sessions). Even after meeting, the PCs might have built up unrelated sidequests and problems that don’t really demand that the group tackle them as a unit.

The Sense8 powerset fully enables this type of play. PCs start out unrelated, and can be distributed across the world if the GM’s got enough locations prepared, but they can each be present in one anothers’ scenes. There’s no time spent having to catch the others up when you do happen to synch back, explaining how much of what their players witnessed that you actually remember to tell them (one of the worst things in this style of play is when you, as a player, spot something that your character would want the other PC to notice or drill down on, but you can’t actually do anything about it until you get back together and hope the other player considers it relevant to mention passing on; with these powers, you can just tell the other PC to ask about it or look at it). And you can participate fully in a scene that you’re not in, even beyond being the peanut gallery: when the active PC needs to make a check that he or she isn’t great at, you can lend your skills.

Essentially, this powerset means that the party cannot be split, and the GM is free to run lots of simultaneous scenes where nobody feels like they need to sit, be quiet, and observe but not metagame.

Straight-Up Premise Theft: The Almighty Johnsons

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So you know how video game designers who blog tend to have blogs that go dark suddenly and for extensive periods when their game is about to come out? Yeah, sorry about that. It’s been a pretty attention-distracting year. But I come out of it with a bunch of new games played and media consumed that should hopefully serve as posting fodder for a while. And if you don’t notice the year tick up mysteriously on the side, going back through the archives it might only look like I missed two weeks! I’ll try to keep posting weekly, but until I get a big buffer built up I’ll play it by ear, such that missing a week won’t necessarily be a precursor to another long hiatus.

This week starts a companion series to Serial Numbers Filed Off. Instead of coming up with a setting/genre shift but keeping the plot structure intact (as with SNFO), these will be more about highlighting media that you might not have seen that I think contains a  premise that is readily translated to a campaign of your own, whether or not you keep any of the plot structure. Each of these may contain mild spoilers for the media property in question, but I’ll try to keep it to only what you learn in the first episode and/or from the promotional material unless there’s something really key to making the premise into a game that isn’t obvious until later.

The Elevator Pitch

Axl Johnson is just your average Kiwi college kid about to turn 21, the youngest of four brothers. After an ominous series of events strike Auckland on the evening before his birthday, his brothers take him out to the woods to clue him in to the family secret: the Norse gods traveled to New Zealand centuries ago as their powers started to wane and Scandinavia was no longer safe for them, they died but their mantle passed on to individuals within the family tree, and when one of those individuals turns 21, he or she comes into a godly identity and (much diminished) powers. His brothers are actually Ullr, god of games (with the ability to win any game of chance every time, and to track unerringly), Bragi, god of poetry (who can convince any mortal of pretty much anything, if given enough time to speak), and Hodr, god of the dark and cold (who hates his power to manifest and resist cold, because of the crimp it puts in his love life). His “Cousin” is actually the brothers’ grandfather, whose powers as Baldr mean he doesn’t age. And who is Axl? He is Odin, and his reappearance means the beginning of a quest to find the new incarnation of Frigg. If Odin and Frigg are reunited, the much-weakened powers of the gods will be restored, but if he dies before completing the quest, a calamity will befall New Zealand, likely killing all the currently incarnated gods.

And there’s a secretive cabal doing everything they can to prevent this from coming to pass and the gods’ powers from being restored. No pressure.

(The show is currently available for streaming on Netflix.)

The Premise

The specifics of the pantheon in question, the location, the nature of the quest and antagonists, and how things got to how they are now are fully up to the group’s own interests. But the operative premise is simple: you are thrust into being a modern incarnation of a god with a small suite of abilities based on your former portfolio. They’re enough to give you a sizable advantage over mortals, but not enough to really be what most would consider “godlike.” So you’re still going to have to work at achieving your objectives. And these diminished powers come with a whole list of godly responsibilities and enemies that are very likely to fall upon you at the worst possible moments.

This is probably best handled with a game engine where PCs are expected to be threatened by the mundane (i.e., something not level based or too high-action pulpy). The Storyteller system, Unknown Armies, Unisystem, BRP, or Savage Worlds are probably good choices for modern games, and A Song of Ice and Fire, Pendragon, The One Ring, or even Ars Magica might be good choices if you want to go fantasy. The godly powers work less like superpowers than like a mechanic where you automatically succeed at certain things if uncontested, and gain a substantial (but not insurmountable) bonus in a contest. The trick during gameplay is to figure out how to move seemingly insurmountable problems into a realm where your portfolio lets you win: when all you have is a hammer…

The Rationale

There are a number of games that have tackled the idea of modern gods, either specifically like Nobilis or Scion or indirectly like Aberrant, Godlike, and really any supers system. But those generally focus on giving you a whole raft of powers that quickly boost you above mundane problems. The Almighty Johnsons suggests a potentially new avenue where getting to that level of power is actually the central goal of the game: most of the gameplay focuses on using the remnants of your godly heritage to try to bring about a transcendence into greater power.

As a mythology wonk, it also provides a fun ability to recontextualize the pantheistic religion of your choice into a new setting, translating the characters and drama of myths and epics into a game where characters relate as individuals but also as gods. American Gods is also a good inspiration for this kind of thing.

“Gozreh’s Oath” the Trident of Azlant

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(Minor SPOILERS for Curse of the Crimson Throne)

Early on in my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign, the random treasure generator spit up a +3 Holy, Axiomatic, Icy Burst, Cleaving, Keen Trident. It was treasure in the lair of a cult of undeath worshippers. What would a passel of Chaotic Evil Urgathoans be doing carrying a weapon that is terribly deadly to them while they infiltrated a city? What were they doing with a weapon that had so many carrier effects as to render it off the scale of costs for magic items? Clearly, it must be a paladin’s weapon. And why did they also find a Rod of Cancellation in the same hoard?

This gave me a chance to do some really fun meta world building.

The party eventually learned its name and spoke to some druids of Gozreh, who indicated that, of course, their True Neutral deity would never call paladins… well… there were some ancient rumors that he had called a few back in Azlant to fight against the aboleths.

And, meanwhile, the intellect within the trident was waking up, and sharing dreams with the wielder…

Gozreh’s Oath, Dream 1

A very attractive woman (in a gothy, evil way), dressed in well-made but nondescript traveling clothes, gestures toward you with the rod of cancellation, using it as a prop to accent her conversation. You see her against the walls of what you know to be her (and then Rolth’s) bedroom, talking to several of the Urgathoan priests that were tending the disease pit. Her voice is cultured and pleasantly forceful, breathy but with an undercurrent of menace. You expect she spent years practicing to get the sexy evil death cultist tones just right.

“The ritual is working. It’s quiescent. But I’m not convinced that it’s completely asleep yet, and I doubt this rod will actually work while it wakes. I can’t risk taking it with me by ship, obviously. So I’m trusting you to keep enacting the ritual until it’s finally completely suppressed. Get Rolth to check it every few days. As soon as it’s asleep, use this on it. Whether or not it works, find the deepest part of the undercity you can reach and bury the foul thing deep enough that no one will ever find it.”

Once the cultists indicate that they’ve understood the instructions, she sets the Rod on the dresser, gives you one last, wary glance, and then heads out of the room, the cultists picking up several bags and trunks and wandering out behind her.

Gozreh’s Oath, Dream 2

Light spills upon you. It’s been forever since even this simple caress of torchlight. You have no idea how long you’ve been in darkness.

The torch is wielded by a cruel-looking man, followed by a small and mean-looking one. They wear black adorned with sigils of undeath.

“It’s probably high time this thing was out of here,” the torchbearer explains. “See if we can finally destroy it, or at least put it to rest somewhere much further away. It’s still dangerous, but it’s not got any divine eye upon it any longer. Hasn’t in some time.”

“What about Gozreh?” asks the other.

“Best to keep it away from the sea and out of storms, you’re right, keep the temptation away from Him to meddle. But He can’t take any direct actions regarding it outside His domain, if the histories are correct. After all, He made an oath…”

A different place. Light. Memories of bright colors. The sound of the sea.

“You’ve taken your oaths and put your soul in the hands of Gozreh, today. But I’d be honored to put this in your own hands,” says the handsome, dark haired and bronze-skinned man, offering you a silk-swathed bundle. Long, thin, and bulky at one end. You stifle a remark about phallic gifts and another about forced metaphors. He’s always been much better at battlefield speeches than at talking to family.

And as you unwrap the magnificently worked trident, all thoughts of sibling rivalry evaporate. This will truly make you the envy of the other novitiates. On first touching it you feel a bond begin to form between you and the foundational spells on the weapon. This isn’t just a work of art, but an enchanter’s masterpiece. You can already tell that it will grow as your own power does, working in harmony with your training.

With no words, you simply embrace your big brother in thanks for the princely gift…

And feel hands muffled by cloth tight around you, not silks this time but spellwoven corpse blankets.

“I think we’ll drop it off with the Urgathoans. Destroying this thing would be something to crow about for them, most like, so they’ll be keen to do it. I expect they’ll set it up as a challenge for their up and comers. You might not be able to trust their motives, but you can certainly trust their power lust.

“Let’s get a trunk. I don’t like it this close to me. I can feel it thinking…

“But we’ll soon put a stop to that.”

Gozreh’s Oath, Dream 3

“It’s not a star… it’s a weapon.” Your brother’s face is lined with the days of work it took him to discover this horrifying fact. “They pulled it from the outer realms. Possibly beyond even this reality. It’s aimed at the heart of Azlant.”

“Do they hate us that much?” you ask, spinning your trident in a years-old nervous tic.

“Hate us and fear us. It was inevitable, but they’ve never had much in the way of foresight. For all their great powers and intelligence, they just don’t see the possibilities the way we do. Case in point… as far as I can tell, the coming cataclysm will be almost as bad for them as for us. They’ll shatter our land with enough force to drive it under the sea, and the force will warp the rest of the world under water and above.”

“Can we stop it?”

He gives you a look you’ve seen only a few times, but enough to know what it means: he’s thinking about giving you a comforting lie. But it’s not in his nature. “Not even the gods can stop it. I think they’ll be using all their powers to protect the Vault. To keep the impact from freeing the great beast.”

“And how sure are you that the aboleths will fall with us?”

“They’ve at least tried to protect themselves, as much as planning makes sense to them. They’ve made a few places that might be safe, to let them hide and rebuild.”

“Then I know what I’m doing with my last days. The Church has been preparing to take the fight to them for years, we just didn’t expect such an overwhelming attack. But, if we’re already doomed, there’s no reason not to give everything we have. If we can destroy these sanctuaries, maybe we can keep them from working their evil on whatever comes next.” The fear is big, but vague. Your resolve is a plan right in front of you, and that keeps the fear at bay. You stop spinning the trident and grip it firmly.

He thinks about trying to stop you. You can see it passing across his face. But you’ve also learned to tell when he already knew what you were going to do, and has resigned himself. You’ve always enjoyed making your own decisions, even if your big brother is enough of a genius that he could tell you what they’ll be. Instead, he just nods and holds out his hand in farewell.

And you surprise him, for the first time in your life, when you give him the trident instead of your hand. “Keep this. I’ve had it long enough, imprinted it well enough, that I think it’s on the verge of waking up. If anyone can survive this, it’ll be you. And it’s enough of me to keep you honest.”

Your biggest regret is always not getting to see your own raids on the aboleth sanctuaries.

Instead, you spend the last days of Azlant as an inanimate weapon in the lab, your brother working furiously, racing against time. Literally. You remember snippets of research, curses at the Runelords of Thassilon for their foolishness, and a simple-looking boat hiding equations meaningful only to the greatest scientist of the empire. If he’d had a young child or other loved one, he might have given his seat away. And the world would have been much poorer for it.

On the last day of Azlant, the Starstone brighter than the sun, he places you and a few other useful and cherished possessions in his ark and climbs aboard. He activates the device and you simply…

…skip the cataclysm. He cries a little the first few days, drifting on the roiling sea above his home. But then he gets down to business.

They’ll come to regard him as an immortal, but that’s not technically true. While he does manage much more than the brief human span common after the fall of the empire, for he is a master of many arts, few suspect that he is simply spending his days where they will do the most good. He sees a plan in the future, and uses his ark to save his mortal span for eras where he can make the best use of his time.

You’re never privy to the whole plan, but you never were in life either. Suffice it to say that five thousand years actually amount to a few busy decades. And then you get a front-row seat to the Starstone, the death of Azlant, being raised from the ocean floor. He makes it seem inevitable, almost effortless. Though it’s covered with the rocky remains of its impact, you can easily sense the powerful, otherworldly crystal hidden within. He wastes no time cutting a hole big enough to enter.

You float on the ark for hours until he walks out a god.

His first act with his newfound power surprises you. It’s been decades of time for him and millennia for Golarion. He has just made himself a god with the weapon that destroyed his race. Surely, there is a time-sensitive next step in a grand plan to fix everything that will be pivotal for the world.

So you’re shocked to find yourself, after a quick planar jaunt, standing in the halls of Gozreh’s fallen. It’s exactly like you were taught in seminary, presumably due to good descriptions from the resurrected.

Here, Gozreh needs no avatar, and exists in a state that you can barely perceive, much less comprehend. But you can make sense of your brother’s side of the conversation.

“You know who I’ve come for. I’m prepared to bargain.”

“Yes, a resurrection could have been obtained previously. It’s not enough. I want the rights to the soul, free and clear.”

“Of course. I’m well aware of the ‘glorious provenance.’ I’m also aware that paladins aren’t your usual style, and it was only to put the aboleths in their place that you called any. Look how well that turned out. Surely, a crusader in these halls is upsetting to the rest of your druids, fishermen, and pirates?”

“Just this: My patron cities shall all be built on the sea within your easy reach, and I pledge to never work specifically against you, or encourage my church to war with yours. All this for one soul. Do we have a bargain?”

“Excellent. Then I want your oath. You are ceding all rights to this soul to me. You are no longer the patron nor have any rights of destiny. You will trust that all events that proceed are according to my plan, and you will not interfere. Agreed?”

“So be it, and so witnessed by the item of power I carry.”

Strange though his requests are, you let them pass as you finally feel the arrival of yourself. Your soul, of which you have long been only a faint resonance in a magical weapon, is returning. With a negligent expenditure of power, you and he travel to what you can tell is the new core of his own divine realm, a perfect match to your childhood home. And when your soul returns, it appears as it did the day you took your oaths and were given the trident.

He smiles as he hands you back. “The trident was enough to keep me honest as a mortal, but I’m going to need a lot more help as a god. Will you let me share my powers with you, so you can serve as my herald?”

The shock of return is strange. You share what you can of the past aeons, and in turn get a sense of what that time was like for the rest of your soul. It only takes moments for you to understand what he is asking you. To understand what he has done for you. You hug your big brother for the first time in over five thousand years and whisper, “Of course.”

You can feel aeons of pain easing a little as he speaks the power of a god into you. “Then rise, Arazni, herald of Aroden.”

Gozreh’s Oath, Dream 4

The weight of your armor pulls against you, even here, the best that mortal smiths could forge suffused with divine essence. Your brother sits before you, his library overflowing with pages of figurings and charts, working methodically to trace the events of the world. To another he would seem engrossed, even dismissive, but you recognize that he is listening.

“I wish you’d reconsider. Tomorrow my knights will summon me forth to fight the Whispering Tyrant, and, on the surface, I could easily convince them to perform a similar summons for you. I’ve never understood the deal that prevents you from working directly at your whim, but surely that would satisfy it?”

He spares you a glance while he talks, “It’s not a deal with the other gods that prevents me from acting, though some of them may think it is such. What I do from here is like a chisel, sculpting a statue with care. Manifesting is like a sledgehammer: faster, but impossible to do detailed work.”

“Then should I refuse the summons?”

He stops writing and gives you his full attention, “You might choose not to, but not for the reason you think. Things are in motion. This crusade may require you to sacrifice yourself for a victory. But, if you do, your knights will triumph. Without you, they will certainly fail.”

“Are you expending me like a piece on your board? Shouldn’t this be more reason for you to help defeat this great evil yet again?”

He shakes his head sadly, “You are not a pawn. And it is your choice. It will be a terrible trial, but it may not be forever. And I will not be long behind you, in the grand scheme of things.”

“Wait… what?”

“There will come a time where I, too, must sacrifice myself. The statue, you see, is being sculpted in ways I cannot control whenever I am not looking. The others think they’re being clever, twisting the civilization that I have cultivated toward their own ends. When I am gone, they will cease to fear my involvement and their machinations will become more obvious. And then the rot can be flensed from the soul of humanity. If I’ve done this correctly, you will be put back into play after my enemies have long discounted us both.”

“How long?”

He stands up and just hugs you, the rare sign of brotherly affection the only answer you need.

“I’ll do it. But I’d better find that you’ve left an escape for yourself in this as well. I can’t save the world without you.”

Alternate History Song of Ice and Fire


This text potentially contains MAJOR SPOILERS for ASoIaF/Game of Thrones. Read at your own risk if you’re not up to date on the books.

This is an alternate take on the history of the books to set up an unpredictable starting point for a player party in the RPG. It assumes a few truths that haven’t been 100% proven in the books yet, but mostly proceeds from revealed canon.

It all starts with Jaime Lannister.

Who knows why he finds his backbone so many months earlier? Maybe Selmy reveals a distaste for what Aerys has become, giving Jaime tacit approval. Maybe Aerys goes on a rant about Tywin, remembers Jaime is his son, and heaps an unusual amount of problems upon him. Maybe Jaime just remembers Brandon from a tourney, kind of liked the guy, and figures that killing him because Rhaegar was in the wrong is beyond the rights of the king. Or maybe he just had a bad day.

Regardless, the night before Brandon and Rickard Stark are to be tried by fire, King Aerys dies to Jaime Lannister’s sword. That, of course, is never conclusively proven, but Jaime is the Kingsguard on duty and flees King’s Landing before the body is found. By the time they begin to track him down, he and his sister have fled across the Narrow Sea.

Rhaegar, let it be said, is a smart and competent guy when he’s not totally wrapped up in his drive to FULFILL THE PROPHECY. He’s called back from the Tower of Joy within days and realizes that his kingdom is on the knife’s edge of rebellion now that his own impulsive actions have upset an already dangerous regime caused by his father. He cannot produce Lyanna, claiming she has sadly caught some sickness during their travels, but that she left willingly. Concessions are made to House Stark, and, as Ned has just arrived with her angry fiancé, Robert, both are allowed to visit her at the Tower of Joy to confirm this fact.

Rickard and Brandon return to Winterfell upon word from Ned that Lyanna is, indeed, ill but a victim of her own impetuousness rather than having been kidnapped against her will. Robert returns to Storm’s End with no clear person to blame, and it is uncertain what Lyanna told him or what he deduced at the Tower of Joy. He has, however, lost his ability to treat Lyanna as the martyred love of his life.

A few months later, the story is that Lyanna died from her illness despite the help of the best maesters. Ned returns to Winterfell and will not speak of it, and none are sure whether he is simply broken by his sister’s death or unwilling to lie for the King.

Meanwhile, Tywin has expended most of his political capital on distancing himself from the actions of his eldest son, and Casterly Rock sits quiet, still rich but largely friendless in the current regime. He plots…

Present Day (Time of Game of Thrones)

King’s Landing

King Rhaegar still sits the Iron Throne. His son, Prince Aegon, is soon to become a squire, and his daughter Rhaenys is a beauty grown. It is a running question whether the King plans to wed the two to one another, or split them up to further stabilize his kingdom. The King’s brother and sister, Viserys and Daenerys, and his steward, Sir Willem Darry, hold Dragonstone until the Prince is old enough to hold it himself. As with his own children, it is uncertain what the King plans to do with his siblings, as they are both nearly marriageable age… though rumors suggest that Viserys has something of his father’s madness and may be far less than a prize.

A few years ago, Queen Elia finally succumbed to her lifelong poor health. It is worried that the health of the heirs is similarly fragile. The King has not, as yet, seemed to have any interest in remarrying. Instead, he appears to be quietly planning for something much larger and more important.

The Hand of the King, Jon Connington, is married to Lysa Tully. They have a formal, loveless marriage, and no children.

The rest of the small council consists of:

  • Lord Commander Arthur Dayne, who was appointed to the position after Lord Gerold Hightower retired due to age
  • Grand Maester Pycelle, who many believe owes more loyalty to the disgraced House Lannister than to his office
  • Petyr Baelish, who was given a chance due to the Hand’s wife and has proven to be adept at monetary matters
  • Varys, the spider, who continues to weave his webs as he has done since the previous administration
  • Stannis Baratheon, who holds his position as Master of Ships as one of the King’s concessions to Storm’s End many years ago
  • Eddard Stark, who is much more than the Master of Laws, but unofficially serves as the King’s general in matters of dire import, such as putting down the Greyjoy Rebellion several years ago

Though he is on the small council, Ned is rarely at court. When he is not putting down small rebellions for the king, he spends as much time as possible with his family at Winterfell. He is married to Ashara Dayne, sister of the Lord Commander, but their marriage has been childless. He has a bastard son, Jon Snow, that he acquired prior to his marriage, and seems to treat his ward, Theon Greyjoy, more as a son than a prisoner. For her part, Ashara seems to be tolerant of this behavior, as she genuinely loves Ned and cannot produce sons of her own. Fortunately, Jon Snow clearly takes after Ned, or there might be more rumors about the keen interest the King takes in him when he is at court…

Another frequent guest at court is Tyrion Lannister, the imp. It seems to amuse Tywin to make the mild insult of sending his dwarf son as his representative to the King. And none can gainsay him, for Tyrion technically is the Lannister heir. However, rumors continue to persist of the other Lannister children trying to find allies among the Free Cities and Dothraki, always one step ahead of the assassins sent by the throne.

The North

Brandon Stark and his wife, Catelyn Tully, govern the north. Lord Rickard died a few years ago; he had never truly recovered from his imprisonment in Aerys’ dungeons. Fortunately, counter to Ned’s problems producing heirs for the family, Brandon and Catelyn have produced several: Robb is the eldest, and his young brothers Bran and Rickon follow, as well as two daughters, Sansa and Arya. All of the children but Arya take after their mother’s Tully coloration, and all worship their heroic Uncle Ned. His visits are the high point of their lives.

For his part, Brandon is a decent but unexceptional leader. He retains the loyalty of the North, but is not well loved. There is a running rumor that the Boltons and Karstarks may have gained far more popular support than ever before, and were it not for the wealth of heirs, Winterfell might be in danger of a revolution.

The South

Robert Baratheon remains an amazing fighter in good health, and he has planted many bastards while never taking a wife. He’s never completely given up his anger at the King, but neither has he been openly disloyal. He frequently leaves Storm’s End to his brother, Renly, while traveling across the world to fight in tournaments. When he is at home, he has distinguished himself in many small wars and rebellions, and is frequently called upon for aid by his friend Ned Stark. He has become so popular, in fact, that there is some worry he could be a danger to the throne itself if he should decide to rebel. Some suggest that the King should marry Rhaenys or Daenerys to Robert to ensure this does not happen.

Part of this worry has to do with the Tyrells. Their dashing son Loras is the best friend of Renly Baratheon, and there are rumors that they might further cement the alliance by offering Margaery as wife to either Robert or Renly. The alliance of these two great houses, coupled with their friendship with the Starks and potential alliance with the Lannisters, could prove disastrous for the throne.

Meanwhile, Dorne remains enigmatic. It is believed that the King broke his vows to Elia of Dorne with the daughter of the Starks. Though she was never mistreated, her death has left the Martells with limited power in King’s Landing. There is no telling what they might be planning in the deserts to reclaim some of this power, but it is rumored that Quentyn at the very least desires a seat on the small council.

Winter is Coming

In the North, increasing Wildling raids have made it more and more likely that the King’s general will need to return to help defend his homeland. The crown’s armies would be much more vulnerable to a rebellion without Ned Stark in the lead.

Rumors come from across the Narrow Sea that Jaime Lannister is the first Westerosi to so impress the Dothraki as to be admitted into their ranks, becoming a blood rider for Khal Drogo. Many wonder what this could mean for the Kingslayer and the designs of Casterly Rock.

For his part, the King becomes increasingly distant, cloistering himself and periodically sending out strange orders, escalating years of odd preparations. His recent obsession has sent numerous agents scouring Essos for dragon eggs.

Governance is left to the Hand of the King, but Jon Connington seems to have come down with a wasting malady. Every day, he fades a little more, and none can determine the source, or what will happen to the stability of the realm should he die and the King remain distracted.

Rise of the Runelords, Final PC Sheets Part 2

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Balekh Scrollseeker

Male Human Cleric 3 / Diviner 3 / Mystic Theurge 10

NG Medium humanoid (human)

Init +2; Senses Perception +9


AC 25, touch 13, flat-footed 24    ( +1 Dex, +10 Mithral Breastplate +4, +2 Ring of Force Shield, +2 Ring of Protection)

hp 134 (3d8)+(3d6)+(10d6)+32

Fort +10, Ref +7, Will +18


Speed 30 ft.

Melee quarterstaff (two handed) +10/+5 ((two handed) 1d6+3)

Special Attacks Channel Positive Energy, Hand of the Acolyte, Spell Synthesis

Deity: Nethys. Domains: Knowledge Magic


Str 14, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 22, Wis 22, Cha 16

Base Atk +8/+3; Combat Manuever Bonus +10; Combat Maneuver Defense 23

Feats Arcane Armor Mastery, Arcane Armor Training, Armor Proficiency, Light, Armor Proficiency, Medium, Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell, Extend Spell, Leadership, Quicken Spell, Scribe Scroll, Shield Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Spell Penetration

Skills Acrobatics +1, Appraise +4, Bluff +12, Climb +2, Craft (Armor +10, Stone +10), Diplomacy +8, Disguise +3, Escape Artist +3, Fly +6, Heal +11, Intimidate +3, Knowledge (Arcana +25, Dungeoneering +11, Engineering +11, Geography +11, History +25, Local +11, Nature +11, Nobility +11, Planes +12, Religion +25), Linguistics +12, Perception +9, Perform (Untrained) +3, Profession (Librarian) +12, Ride +1, Sense Motive +6, Spellcraft +25, Stealth +1, Survival +6, Swim +2,

Languages Abyssal, Celestial, Common, Draconic, Giant, Infernal, Thassilonian

Special Qualities Arcane Bond, Bonded Object (Staff), Cantrips, Channel Energy (6/day, 2d6, DC 14), Combined Spells (1st-5th level), Divination School, Diviner’s Fortune (9/day, +1), Enchantment Opposition School, Forwarned, Hand of the Acolyte (9/day), Necromancy Opposition School, Orisons, Spell Synthesis, Spontaneous Casting

Possessions Amulet of Wisdom +2; Boots of the Mire; Cloak of Resistance +1; Dagger (alchemical silver); Robe of Runes (+4 int), Mithral Breastplate +4, Explorer’s Outfit; Staff of Heaven and Earth; Sihedron Ring of Force Shield; Scroll Case (several scrolls); Crossbow, Heavy ; Handy Haversack (many wands and potions); Ring of Evasion; Rod of Extend Metamagic; Rod of Quicken Metamagic; Robes of Xin-Shalast; Sihedron Tome

Haggor “Da Crusha” Irongrip

Male Half-Orc Monk 16

LN Medium humanoid (orc, human)

Init +3; Senses Darkvision (60 ft.), Perception +18


AC 32, touch 28, flat-footed 29, Improved Evasion, Combat Expertise ( +3 Dex, +5 Deflection, +4 Bracers of Armor, +10 Monk AC)

hp 176 (16d8)+48

Fort +16, Ref +16, Will +18


Speed 80 ft., Abundant Step, High Jump, Slow Fall

Melee unarmed strike +23/+18/+13 (4d8+10+1d6/19-20; Necromancer Bane)

Melee flurry of blows +25/+25/+20/+20/+15/+15/+10 (4d8+10+1d6/19-20; Necromancer Bane)

Special Attacks Flurry of Blows, Ki Pool, Ki Strike (Magic, Lawful, Adamantine) (13), Stunning Fist (17/day, DC 23), Quivering Palm (DC 23)


Str 30, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 13, Wis 20, Cha 11

Base Atk +12/+7/+2; Combat Manuever Bonus +27 (Improved Grapple, Improved Disarm, Greater Trip); Combat Maneuver Defense 54

Feats Blind Fighting, Combat Expertise (-4 attack/+4 AC), Combat Reflexes, Greater Trip, Improved Critical (Unarmed Strike), Improved Disarm, Improved Grapple, Improved Trip, Improved Natural Attack, Improved Unarmed Strike, Lunge, Medusa’s Wrath, Spring Attack, Stunning Fist, Weapon Focus (Unarmed Strike)

Skills Acrobatics +16, Acrobatics (Jump) +52, Appraise +1, Climb +21, Craft (Untrained) +1, Escape Artist +9, Fly +3, Handle Animal +5, Heal +5, Intimidate +9, Knowledge (History +5, Religion +5), Perception +18, Perform (Act) +6, Profession (Cook +11, Fisherman +11, Gardener +11, Sailor +11), Linguistics +7, Ride +7, Sense Motive +17, Stealth +8, Survival +15, Swim +18, Use Magic Device +14

Languages Common, Giant, Orc, Thassilonian, 5 unselected

Special Qualities Abundant Step, AC Bonus, AC Bonus, Diamond Body, Diamond Soul (SR 26), Fast Movement, High Jump, Improved Evasion, Intimidating, Maneuver Training, Orc Blood, Orc Ferocity, Purity of Body, Slow Fall, Still Mind, Therassic Runes (Heroism, Fireball, Fire Shield), Weapon Familiarity, Wholeness of Body

Possessions Amulet of Mighty Fists (shocking, jealous); Belt of Giant Strength +6; Bracers of Armor +4; Cloak of Minor Displacement; Gloves of Dexterity +2; Headband of Inspired Wisdom +2; Explorer’s Outfit; Ring of Resistance +3; Sihedron Ring of Protection +5; Robe, Monk’s; Bag of Holding (type IV), Portable Hole; Ring of Freedom of Movement

Rise of the Runelords, Final PC Sheets Part 1

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Taeva Nix

Female Gnome Rogue 15 / Barbarian 1

TN Small humanoid (gnome)

Init +15; Senses Darkvision (60 ft.), Low-light, Perception +22


AC 33, touch 23, flat-footed 25, Evasion, Improved Uncanny Dodge, Two-Weapon Defense ( +1 size, +8 Dex, +9 Celestial Armor (Small), +1 Shield, +3 Ring of Protection, +1 Mark of Wrath)

hp 212 (15d8)+(1d12)+90

Fort +16, Ref +26, Will +11


Speed 30 ft.

Ranged crossbow (light/small) +25 (1d6/19-20)

Melee sword +1 (short/small/adamantine/shock) +26/+21/+16 (1d4+4+1d6/19-20)

Melee two weapon fighting +23/+23/+19/+19/+14 (one sword is Abjurer Bane)

Special Attacks Bleeding Attack, Opportunist, Sneak Attack +8d6, Slow Reactions, Surprise Attack

Innate Spell-Like Abilities: dancing lights ( 1/Day) ghost sound ( DC 12, 1/Day), message (3/day), prestidigitation ( DC 12, 1/Day) speak with animals ( DC , 1/Day)

Magic Item Spell-Like Abilities: fly ( DC 14, 1/Day)


Str 16, Dex 32, Con 20, Int 14, Wis 12, Cha 14

Base Atk +12/+7/+2; Combat Manuever Bonus +15; Combat Maneuver Defense 38

Feats Armor Proficiency, Light, Armor Proficiency, Medium, Combat Expertise (-4 attack/+4 AC), Combat Reflexes, Double Slice, Improved Feint, Improved Initiative, Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Martial Weapon Proficiency, Shield Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Two-Weapon Defense, Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Finesse

Skills Acrobatics +27, Appraise +9, Bluff +21, Climb +6, Craft (Locks +14, Traps +8), Diplomacy +10, Disable Device +37, Disguise +12, Escape Artist +15, Fly +11, Heal +1, Intimidate +17, Knowledge (Dungeoneering +6, Local +8), Perception +22, Perception (Trapfinding) +29, Perform (Untrained) +2, Ride +11, Sense Motive +21, Sleight of Hand +20, Stealth +32, Survival +14, Swim +8, Use Magic Device +7

Languages Common, Giant, Gnome, Orc, Sylvan

Special Qualities Defensive Training, Evasion, Fast Movement, Fast Stealth, Gnome Magic, Hatred, Illusion Resistance, Improved Uncanny Dodge, Minor Magic (Message), Keen Senses, Obsessive, Rage (7 rounds/day), Slow Reactions, Surprise Attack, Trapfinding, Trap Sense +5, Uncanny Dodge, Weapon Familiarity

Possessions Amulet of Health +4, Boots of Dexterity +6; Belt of Strength +4; Celestial Armor (small); Goggles of Night; Hat of Disguise; Masterwork Thieves’ Tools; Outfit (traveler’s/small); Sihedron Ring of Protection +3; Cloak of Resistance +5; Slippers of Spider Climbing (not worn); Sword +1 (short/small/adamantine/shock); Sword +1 (short/small/adamantine/shock/Sadistic); Bag of Tricks (Tan)

Veshenga Smythe

(Veshega Quida Tranger Marime Loweben Dolce Rhode Smythe)

Female Half-Elf Ranger 16

NG Medium humanoid (elf, human)

Init +11; Senses Low-light, Perception +15


AC 33, touch 24, flat-footed 22, Evasion ( +11 Dex, +3 Bracers of Armor, +6 Buckler +5, +3 Ring of Protection)

hp 224 (16d10)+64

Fort +17, Ref +24, Will +9


Speed 40 ft.

Melee koruvus’ prize +21/+23/+18/+13 (1d8+5/19-20; Evil Outsider Bane)

Ranged longbow +1 (composite/holy/shock/strength rating+4/Dominant) +28/+23/+18/+13 (1d8+5+1d6/19-20/x3; Holy; Transmuter Bane)

Special Attacks Favored Enemy (Aberration +4, Evil Outsider +4, Giant +4, Undead +2), Rapid Shot, Point Blank Shot, Manyshot, Deadly Aim, Vital Strike, Pinpoint Targeting


Str 18, Dex 32, Con 18, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 14

Base Atk +16/+11/+6/+1; Combat Manuever Bonus +27; Combat Maneuver Defense 43

Feats Agile Maneuvers, Armor Proficiency, Light, Armor Proficiency, Medium, Deadly Aim (-5 attack/+10 damage), Endurance, Improved Critical (Longbow), Improved Precise Shot, Manyshot, Martial Weapon Proficiency, Pinpoint Targeting, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Quick Draw, Rapid Shot, Shield Proficiency, Shot on the Run, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Skill Focus (Stealth), Vital Strike

Skills Acrobatics +14, Appraise +1, Bluff +10, Climb +12, Craft (Untrained) +1, Diplomacy +10, Disguise +4, Escape Artist +16, Fly +7, Handle Animal +12, Heal +7, Intimidate +12, Knowledge (Dungeoneering +10, Geography +10, Nature +14), Linguistics +4, Perception +15, Perform (Dance) +9, Ride +18, Sense Motive +11, Sleight of Hand +17, Spellcraft +5, Stealth +21, Survival +16, Survival (Follow or identify tracks) +24, Swim +10

Languages Abyssal, Common, Dwarven, Elven, Thassilonian, Varisian

Special Qualities Adaptability, Camouflage, Elf Blood, Elven Immunities, Evasion, Favored Terrain (Forest +4, Mountain +2, Underground +4), Hunting Companions, Improved Evasion, Keen Senses, Multitalented, Quarry, Swift Tracker, Track, Wild Empathy, Woodland Stride

Possessions Amulet of Health +4; Belt of Giant Strength +4, Buckler +5, Cloak of Resistance +4; Gloves of Dexterity +4, Koruvus’ Prize; Bracers of Armor +3; Explorer’s Outfit; Sihedron Ring of Protection +3; Ring of Freedom of Movement; Snakeskin Tunic; Handy Haversack; Efficient Quiver; Longbow +1 (Composite/Holy/Shock/Strength Rating+4/Dominant); Ring of Greater Cold Resistance; Boots of Striding and Springing

Shayliss Vinder

Female Human Infernal Sorcerer 13

LN Medium humanoid (human)

Init +2; Senses Perception -1


AC 19, touch 15, flat-footed 17 (+2 Dex, +2 Bracers of Armor, +3 Ring of Protection, +2 Amulet of Natural Armor); Arrow Snaring

hp 91 (13d6)+13

Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +7; Resist Fire 10, +4 vs. Poison


Speed 30 ft.

Melee dominant staff of mithral might +9/+4 (1d6+3; Transmuter Bane)

Special Attacks Corrupting Touch (8/day, 6 rounds), Hellfire (1/day, 13d6, DC 21, 13 rounds)

Spells (CL 13th, Ranged Touch +8, DC = Level + 5, +2 for Charm or Evocation)
6th (4/day)—Chain Lightning, Planar Binding (Devils only), Suggestion, Mass
5th (7/day)—Dismissal, Dominate Person, Elemental Body, Mind Fog
4th (7/day)—Charm Monster, Dimensional Anchor, Fire Shield, Phantasmal Killer, Wall of Fire
3rd (7/day)—Fireball, Flame Arrow, Protection from Energy, Suggestion, Tongues
2nd (7/day)—Detect Thoughts, Eagle’s Splendor, Flaming Sphere, Pyrotechnics, Resist Energy, Scorching Ray
1st (8/day)—Burning Hands, Charm Person, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Protection from Evil, Protection from Good
0—Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Flare, Light, Mending, Message, Prestidigitation, Ray of Frost, Read Magic


Str 12, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 20

Base Atk +6/+1; Combat Manuever Bonus +7; Combat Maneuver Defense 21

Feats Blind Fight, Deceitful, Eschew Materials, Greater Spell Focus (Evocation), Greater Spell Penetration, Improved Counterspell, Quicken Spell, Silent Spell, Spell Focus (Evocation), Spell Penetration, Still Spell

Skills Acrobatics +1, Appraise +17, Bluff +24, Climb +1, Craft (Untrained) +1, Diplomacy +10, Disguise +8, Escape Artist +1, Fly +9, Handle Animal +5, Heal -1, Intimidate +8, Knowledge (Arcana) +7, Perception -1, Profession (Shopkeeper) +6, Ride +1, Sense Motive -1, Sleight of Hand +1, Spellcraft +8, Stealth +1, Survival -1, Swim +1, Use Magic Device +8

Languages Common

Special Qualities Corrupting Touch, Infernal Resistances, Hellfire

Possessions Amulet of Natural Armor +2; Circlet of Charisma +2; Bracers of Armor +2; Gloves of Arrow Snaring; Ring of Counterspells; Sihedron Ring of Protection +3, Staff of Mithral Might

Rise of the Runelords, Epilogue


Turtleback Ferry, Midwinter

Great bonfires burn away the afternoon chill, visible for miles across the frozen lake. The townsfolk were initially suspicious of a “the Dam’s Still Standing” party, but gave in to the fun once the Varisian music began to spread across the village just ahead of the smell of festival food. They started arriving the night before on boats, with a dozen more that couldn’t make the trip on their own spilling out of the very air this morning on the wings of the theurge’s teleports. The half-orc has been wandering across the ice to check the food every hour and add a new winter fish to the dinner, then racing back out to keep trying to ice fish through a surprisingly large hole.

But now the party is in full swing. Over half the movers and shakers of Sandpoint mingle with their counterparts in the village, in between helping a Tianish girl unload new kegs of Rusty Dragon Stout. A gaggle of middle-aged Varisian women fuss over the commander of Fort Rannick, who is smiling in a way that the locals have never seen while talking animatedly with a Varisian hunter of her own age who only has eyes for her… and, occasionally, for a probing glance at the Shoanti warrior tearing up the dance floor with his daughter. A redheaded gnome also watches them, trying to decide whether to join in the fun. She, in turn, is watched by a young gnomish man, trying to decide if it’s safe for him to ask her to dance.

Daylight quickly fades, but the party rages on into the night. Faeries from the nearby marsh glitter through the air, curious what the fuss is all about. A Black Arrow dances for the first time in thirty years. The Sheriff and Mayor of Sandpoint have a very frank discussion about what it means to have heroes as full-time residents. An ancient Varisian seer pontificates to her distant cousins, a cup of tea in one hand and a mug of ale in the other. And a Shoanti mage and his beautiful bride watch the moon rise across the frozen lake, holding each other as if for warmth despite their potent protections against the elements.

In a moment not far away, this will be over. Perhaps only to the true elation of one of them, a dangerous ally has sent word that she is coming with answers. Again, they’ll have to worry about what is to come: missing gods, tainted bloodlines, a mysterious key, and a sinister pogrom against the last true lords of Cheliax.

But, now, there are food and friends, music and family, and great fires to ward off the cold and darkness. It is enough. Their problems will keep for tomorrow.

In the distance, a voice shouts in triumph from across the ice, followed by a faint but unearthly howl. “Guys! I think I caught it!”


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