Considering that I spent nearly a month with this sorry attempt for an introductory adventure sitting in my drafts, it should be better than it is. It was intended to be crap, true enough, but I became so bogged down with structure and description instead of content that the adventure itself felt about as satisfying as a piñata filled with packing peanuts. The result was that I avoided it, while it stared sullenly from my to-do list: not a healthy relationship. So, to get the bastard off my back, I’m posting it, in the sincere hope that no one ever actually bothers to read it. I’ll be trying a different tack for adventure 2.
Since this is the first the first adventure of the year, let’s take that seriously, and make it a first adventure in every sense. We’re going to build an introductory adventure: one intended for first-level characters, played by first-time players who need an introduction to the basics of our system of choice for this round: Pathfinder. And we’re going to do this by calling on a trope that’s more than a little worn around the edges: there’s an infestation of giant rats/spiders/wasps in this kitchen/tavern/picnic site.
This adventure is designed to be an introductory adventure: one which introduces the PCs to one another, and, more importantly, introduces the players to the mechanics of Pathfinder. It should introduce new players to roleplaying, teach them the basics of the game, and perhaps introduce a few more complex rules. For the purposes of this adventure, this is what I’m trying to get across:
Checks: The “check” is the most basic part of Pathfinder. To perform a task with an uncertain outcome, you roll 1d20, add character bonuses and external modifiers, and if the total meets or exceeds a target DC, or exceeds an opposed roll, the task succeeds. This is easy enough, but it is also fundamental — and essential for players to get a hold of. This adventure should include a lot of checks of various kinds: opposed and unopposed, skill checks, ability checks, saving throws, attack rolls, etc.
Combat: Pathfinder and D&D, since they grew out of tactical wargames, are built almost entirely for tactical combat. It does other things well enough, but combat is at the heart of the game. Getting across the basics of combat structure early is important. Initiative, surprise rounds, flat-footed AC, rounds, turns, actions, should all be communicated here.
Actions: Different kinds of actions should be encouraged, whether full round actions, standard actions (other than attacks), move actions (other than moving), or instantaneous, free, or quick actions. Combat Maneuvers could also make an appearance, whether the players are encouraged to attempt them, or are on the receiving end.
Tactical Modifiers: Modifiers are bound to show up, but it might be useful to show off a couple of the modifiers that players can use to their advantage in combat. It’s easy enough for GMs to throw the appropriate modifiers at players, but teaching players to seek higher ground and cover can be helpful — it’s not always obvious to new players.
The PCs are enlisted by the Reverend Ive of the Geldloam Monastery to exterminate the giant centipedes which have infested the brewery’s fermentation cellar, halting production. Having dealt with the centipedes in the cellar itself, they travel into a system of tunnels, uncovered during a recent attempt to expand the cellar. Here, they find the origins of the infestation: having been bred for their poison by a small group of goblins, they have overrun their pen, taken over the tribe’s lair, and all but wiped out its inhabitants. The PCs encounter the last of the goblins, holed up and driven to desperation in a corner of the tunnels. Finally, they must destroy the last of the centipedes in these tunnels, and the unhatched eggs which could soon overrun the monastery.
Adventure Background: Mama Gobface and the Geldloam Goblins
The region surrounding the Geldloam Monastery has never had too much of a goblin problem. Larger tribes exist to the North and East, which only occasionally cause trouble this close to the Riftriver. One month ago, however, Woogush Snubbs, a young, accident-prone goblin from the Mudstomper tribe, finally had one accident too many and was thrown out. She and a band of twenty-three other exiled goblins travelled South, eventually finding their way to a system of caves which winds beneath the Monastery.
It was there that Snubbs found what she believed would be their salvation: a formidable giant centipede which she named, affectionately, Mama Gobface. After some difficulty, Snubbs’ band managed to pen Gobface, and two smaller adult males, into one of the deeper sections of their home. Believing that the centipedes’ poison would give them the edge over the tribe that cast them out, they set to work breeding the horrible beasts.
The genre of overlarge pest-control adventures is pretty large, but it tends to be pretty focused on two pests in particular; giant spiders and giant rats. I didn’t want to go with either of them here, for different reasons.
I have some problems with the way that giant spiders tend to be used, at least in video games, if not so much in the tabletop realm. They are ubiquitous (mendacious; polyglottal), and not in a good way. This is understandable: arachnophobia is an easy fear to draw on, and when you’re writing games, you need as many things to be easy as possible. I’ve seen them done well on occasion: Limbo did a good job (Limbo did a good job of everything) by giving you an eight-legged nightmare that felt like a natural part of its nightmarish world (not to mention a satisfyingly humorous way of defeating it), while Skyrim, which commits some of the worst lazy spider use I’ve ever seen, gave me a well-orchestrated scare in Darkfall Cave. But most of the time, spiders are thrown in as a cheap scare in games that are only halfheartedly trying to be scary.
Giant rats are the real staple of this genre, and I have never seen them done with any panache. (Maybe they have been. If you know any good examples, let me know.) Somewhere between Room 101 and The Roly-Poly Pudding, though, there is some real potential for some rat horror, and maybe I’ll try to dive into that later. But for the most part, they are used in ways that are, at worst, boring as hell, and at best, a tongue in cheek parody of themselves.
Long story short (and I could go on a while longer about how insects are creepy as hell and why giant creepy-crawlies can make for really good enemies in games), I’m going for centipedes. Which is just as lazy as giant spiders, but with the added pretentiousness of being able to pretend I’m being original.
The scheme ended — as all of Snubbs’ schemes did — in disaster. The centipedes initially seemed content with their diminished living space, and with the horseflesh provided, when the goblins attempted at last to extract the poison, Mama Gobface and her children swarmed out and began feasting on their captors. Only three goblins, including Snubbs herself, were able to survive, barricading themselves in the foulest part of their warren: the refuse pit. There they wait for the courage to make a break for it, slowly starving all the while.
By coincidence, this subterranean drama was to be interrupted, when a team of builders, set to the task of expanding the fermentation cellar of the Geldloam Monastery’s brewery, broke through into Mama Gobface’s pen and were driven back by her children. The now-infested cellar has been abandoned, and the monastery’s brewing operation — a vital part of its existence — has been shut down. Now, the monks desperately seek someone to help them clear the cellar, little knowing of the monster beyond its walls.
The Geldloam Monastery
Fields of golden barley sweep their way North from the Rivenroad, rising steadily until the land drops into the Riftriver gorge. There, nearly at the precipice itself, stands the monastery, far less impressive than the view: a round wall surrounds four squat, square towers, which rise from the four corners of the rectangular stone building.
Like all monasteries of the Order of the Golden Wheel, Geldloam Monastery is a working monastery, making a living through the production of beer — in this case, through the production of the best beer in the land (four out of five barkeeps recommend). The infestation began just three days ago, and the Reverend Ives is still waiting to hear from the militia, but if a couple of competent warriors should happen by… Getting the PCs to the monastery in the first place is going to be a matter of the GM’s choice. At the risk of terrible stereotyping, the promise of good fictional beer is usually enough to motivate gamers, but characters in need of different motives could have been sent by the militia, have come on some kind of religious pilgrimage to Geldloam, or have been waylaid by bad weather on the Rivenroad.
Geldloam and Its God
I was going to set this in a tavern, if only because it’s traditional, but I got to thinking about the Westvleteren Brewery — a world-renowned brewery in Belgium, managed by a Trappist abbey. With the exception of the Eldvin Monastery in Guild Wars 2 — which I always liked, even though, as MMORPG worlds always do, it always felt a little soulless — I haven’t seen much use of working monasteries in fantasy games, and that seems like a pity. I feel like there’s something there. Perhaps it’s just a different way to encourage players to engage with the religion(s) of their world. I’m not sure yet. But, for no other reason that that I think it’s cool, that’s the location of this little jaunt.
A monastery requires a little world-building to function, however. Because to figure out what’s up with this monastery I need to figure out at least the basics of what kind of religion goes on in this part of the crappy-verse (yes, that is the official title). Personally, I am a little bored with the polytheism that tends to show up in fantasy RPGs. Pathfinder makes up for it with some really fascinating deities, but for the most part the system itself has grown a little stale. After years of the vague, but somehow also overblown metaphysics of the DnD-esque worlds, I remember how Dragon Age’s Joan-of-Arc Jesus and godly silent treatment impressed me. There was something refreshing about the familiarity of its monotheism that drew me in, in a way that pantheons rarely do.
Pathfinder is pretty reliant on polytheism, however — or at least, on the division of the divine in some way into domains. The solution that most people seem to come to (going by a brief Google) is the same one I thought of: dividing clerics not by their god, but by some kind of order or patron saint, which makes sense if we want to drive things in a Trappist direction. So for now, we’re going with the Church of An (an ungendered deity), of which this Monastery is part of the Order of the Golden Wheel, whatever the hell that actually turns out to mean. If we wanted to replace it with something from Golarion, a temple to Erastil would probably do the trick. Basically, insert your favourite agriculturally-minded deity here.
The Order of the Golden Wheel
Alignment: Neutral Good
Domains: Artifice, Community, Good, Plant, Sun
Favored Weapon: Sickle
Ives (adult human cleric 2) asks help of any PCs who appear competent in battle, offering 500 gold as a reward, and volunteers all the information that she knows: that the builders accidentally dug into a cave system, and were attacked by six centipedes, about three feet in length. Of the five builders, four were poisoned, though they received healing quickly, and the group decided to make their way home. Only Benjamin Wilmot (middle-aged human commoner 1) remains, insisting that he is still sick. He’s not, but ever since his husband left him, there hasn’t been much to go home to, and being cared for is surprisingly pleasant. Ives is sympathetic and prepared to tolerate his self-pity. If asked about the centipedes, he wildly exaggerates their size, number, and deadliness, but Ives will assure them that he should not be taken seriously on this point.
The Fermentation Cellar (CR ½)
As the heavy wooden doors are swung open, the smell of hops and yeast pours through in a sudden cloud. Beyond, the cellar stretches 200 feet into darkness, lit here and there by torches between the huge barrels, casting monstrous shadows onto the arched ceiling. An echoing, insectoid clicking is audible just ahead of you.
There are three small giant centipedes (sewer centipede) interspersed throughout the cellar, for the most part hunting the few rats that have made a home beneath the monastery. Because of the distance between them, they should be easy for the PCs to pick them off one by one, giving them an opportunity for a fairly easy first fight. GMs should keep in mind rules for vision and light (there are only three torches in the room, so there will be a great deal of opportunity to show off concealment rules), as well as cover and squeezing through spaces (the barrels — about five feet in diameter — provide some cover, and a centipede might well crawl into the space beneath them).
This adventure is sorely in need of a dungeon map. I didn’t make one. I don’t intend to. Hopefully I’ll get that right for Adventure No. 2.
At the back of the cellar, the PCs will find the construction site that started all the trouble: a few picks and shovels abandoned where the diggers have been pushing through into the surrounding rock. At the far right corner, the diggers have broken through into the cave system beyond — Small and Medium characters can squeeze through with relative ease, though Large characters will need to widen the gap.
The Broken Pen
Through the hole in the cellar wall, you emerge into a semi-circular cave, about thirty feet wide. Your torchlight flickers against the sickly mucus-coloured limestone, and reaches out beyond, where the cave stretches out into a long, black tunnel. There, where this cave meets the tunnel, is the remnants of a wooden lattice across the entrance. Scattered across the uneven floor are numerous bones, large and small, and the air is pungeant with the smell of decay.
Mama Gobface’s pen has been abandoned for some time, and the food left for her by the goblins has long been picked clean. Any PC who makes a DC 10 Heal check can identify the collection of bones as being primarily horse bones, butchered in an amateur fashion, but there are two goblin skeletons closer to the entrance which show no sign of butchery, though they have been scattered.
Exploring the Tunnels (CR ¼)
As the PCs explore the tunnels, they might see some signs of goblin life. A DC 10 Knowledge (engineering) might reveal slapdash, half-hearted attempts to smooth out particularly rough sections of the cave floor; there might be an abandoned pick, a few broken arrows, or a lost, dull-bladed short sword; there are three more goblin skeletons to be found here — all picked clean. There are three branches to the tunnels. PCs might encounter up to two isolated centipedes (sewer centipede) while exploring.
Branch One: The Barracks (CR 1)
The first branch of the tunnel leads to the barracks, where one of the larger male centipedes has taken up residence.
Here the tunnel widens suddenly into a small room, clearly widened deliberately. Rotting straw litters the floor here, matted with dried blood and foul ichors, and interspersed bones, including seven small, humanoid skulls. Against the far wall, an enormous centipede is curled around a small, mangled corpse.
PCs that succeed at an opposed Stealth check might be able to get the drop on the large male centipede (hissing centipede), but it will attack more aggressively than the smaller variety: if it spots the PCs, it will attack the nearest one immediately, and pursue the nearest fleeing PC until they leave the tunnels, or it is reduced to half its’ hit points.
Treasure: A DC 12 Perception check reveals the property of six goblins who hid their shinies beneath their beds: all totalling 53 gold coins, 32 silver coins, 14 copper coins, a freshwater pearl worth 9gp, four pieces of tiger’s eye worth 30gp together, and four small, shiny, but virtually worthless river stones.
Branch Two: The Goblins Behind the Barricade (CR 1)
Down the second branch of the cave, Snubbs and her two companions have been holed up for four days. As the PCs approach, signs of their flight should be apparent: a small, lost helmet; a fallen sack filled with turnips; an overturned, broken crate. About 100 ft. down the tunnel, the goblins’ defences appear: a half-built wooden barricade, constructed in some haste (Strength DC 13; Hardness 5; 10 HP), which has nevertheless deterred the centipedes so far; an extremely inept pit trap; and finally, a single wooden door.
Getting to grips with Challenge Ratings — particularly at low levels, when you have fractional CRs (which are pretty half-heartedly handled in the rules) — definitely needs to be one of my goals for becoming a less crappy GM. In the meantime, I’d better be perfectly honest: I’m mostly making this up as I go.
Pit Trap (CR 1/3)
Type mechanical; Perception DC 12; Disable Device DC 15
Effect 10-ft.-deep pit (1d6 falling damage); DC 20 Reflex avoids; multiple targets (all targets in a 10-ft.-square area)
The door (in fact, the scavenged floor of a waggon that Snubbs’ band raided, which has been jammed into the cave in a way that somewhat resembles a door) will swing open without any difficulty, but if the PCs succeed at an opposed Stealth check, they will hear Snubbs and her companions engaged in the argument which has distracted them from guarding the barricade. The goblins have spent four days hiding, and by now their voracious hunger has taken hold. Since none of them is brave enough to venture out, they have reached the inevitable (if ridiculous) conclusion: two of them are going to eat the other. All that remains to be seen is who is going to fall, so to speak, on their sword — a fierce argument, which will end in blood if the PCs don’t intervene.
Confronted with the players, Snubbs and her fellows (who are, in fact, holed up in the outhouse) will flee rather than fight: they are dehydrated and starving (4hp nonlethal damage), and if they see a way out, they will make a break for it. A DC 18 Diplomacy check (an offer of food grants a +4 bonus) could convince the goblins to help the PCs clear the rest of the tunnels (and could offer some dubious tactical information), but they will contribute only minimally, and turn tail at the first sign of things turning against them.
If the PCs force them into a fight, they will defend themselves, but not each other, and will run as soon as it becomes possible to do so. Given their state, they will lose, and lose badly.
Branch Three: Mama Gobface (CR 2)
The fug of dust and decay becomes almost choking as the tunnel widens again. To the right, the hollow exoskeleton of a centipede, split open and devoured, lies discared against the left wall. Scattered across the floor are several small corpses at various stages of corruption, and here and there are bulbous patches of sticky webbing adhering to the floor.
To the right, nestled among barrels, crates, sacks and detritus is a centipede of prodigious size — thirty feet long, her mandibles clicking in front of a squat, mucus-yellow face. She sees you and stirs…
There’s a slight discrepancy with the Giant Whiptail Centipede in Pathfinder. The Bestiary lists the adjusted, larger centipede (called the Giant Whiptail) as a CR 2, whereas the Bestiary 2 has the Giant Whiptail Centipede, with almost the same stats, as a CR 3. I suspect that the original, adjusted version (the one I’d use here) would be a pretty tough CR 2, but I’d need to do a bit more digging around than I’m willing to for this purpose.
Unlike her mate and her children, Mama Gobface (a Giant Whiptail Centipede) will attack any living thing that comes too close to her — sometimes even other centipedes, as evidenced by the one in the corner. She attacks the nearest character and will not switch targets until they are incapacitated, nor will she retreat until reduced to one fifth of her hit points.
The sticky patches on the floor are the last contribution of the male in the corner: the sticky spermatophores he left behind, which players can identify with a DC 12 Nature check. I would strongly advise GMs to emphasise their grossness — that is more-or-less the point of any giant vermin encounter.
Treasure: The piles of crates, sacks, barrels, furniture, and other katundu — remnants of several opportunistic raids on caravans — amount to about 400-gp worth of goods — a crate of wine, three sacks of pepper, a box of fox furs, tobacco, pitch, wheat, silk thread, coffee, and a box full of uniforms for the royal guard. Additionally, PCs willing to take the risk could probably find a buyer for the thirty centipede eggs Mama Gobface has left among this detritus — about 20 gp each — although if they wait too long, they could be in for a nasty surprise, since they’ll start hatching in 5d6 days. The hatchlings (house centipedes) should be no trouble to the PCs unless several hatch at once.
The Reverend will be grateful to the PCs for their service — though probably a little surprised by the extent of the problem. Along with their payment, she will throw in a cask of Geldloam’s finest for the players.
Though Ives will express the intention to seal the tunnels, the Order will, in fact, keep them open, disguise the entrance, and use it for some future purpose — perhaps the tunnels will show up later as an escape route, or a smuggling tunnel (should our priests turn out to be less than honest). Should Snubbs have survived the encounter, she’ll be sure to show up again too: undoubtedly causing trouble for someone, probably unintentionally.
Apart from the general awfulness of this first attempt — lackluster, repetitive encounters being the biggest one I can see, but also a disregard for pacing and length, and a total failure to keep tabs on the Adventure Goals — this was a lesson in how to plan adventures the wrong way.
I got caught up in thinking about Geldloam and Snubbs — and most of that thinking didn’t go into this adventure. I wasted my energy on extraneous detail, instead of making the adventure better — apart from occasionally smushing things, there’s not much here for the players to do. And — a mistake I should have had beaten out of me at NaNoWriMo — I got all caught up in my head instead of just writing.
So, in short, this one’s a failure. Hopefully, the second will be a little better — and will show up here a little sooner.
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