Hidden Treasures: For the Animals

With so many items to choose from, scattered through the various Pathfinder RPG lines, it’s quite easy for a player to miss something useful. In a book the size of Ultimate Equipment, it is a daunting task to remember every item and the benefits they confer. This article is the first in a series, introducing Pathfinder Society players to hidden treasures, both magic and mundane, that might be worth a closer look. This week we focus on items dealing with Animal Companions, Mounts and Familiars.

A common problem in Pathfinder Society play is what to do with your mount or exotic creature in certain situations. Is it appropriate to take my Large-sized tiger to a dinner party celebrating the wedding of a prominent NPC? Where can I safely keep my horse while I’m exploring a cramped dungeon? Our first entry is an enhancement for armor from Ultimate Equipment (page 120). It is suited for paladins, cavaliers, or any heavy armor wearing class that wants to protect his companion and possibly keep them close without leaving them behind or creating a tactical hindrance by having them with you in tight confines. It can also be used by those classes with a smaller companion in order to keep them safe in a dangerous environment.

Hosteling Armor (Price +7,500 gp)
A suit of armor or shield with this special ability hides living animals within its iconography to keep it safe. The wearer can speak a command word to magically store an animal to which he is bonded, such as an animal companion, a familiar, or mount. The stored animal appears as a symbol emblazoned upon the armor or shield, either one that mimics the appearance of the animal or that is more symbolic and abstract.
While stored, the animal is sleeping and provides the wearer no benefit (such as a familiar’s skill bonus). The size of animal that can be stored depends on the type of armor or shield. A suit of light armor, medium armor, or a light shield or heavy shield can store one animal up to the wearer’s size. A suit of heavy armor or a tower shield can store one animal up to one size category larger than the wearer. A second command word releases the stored animal from the hosteling armor or shield. A released animal immediately awakens, appears in a space adjacent to the wearer, and can take actions on the round it appears.
Because the stored animal is sleeping rather than in suspended animation (or even hibernating), it ages and gets hungry at the normal rate while stored. A hosteling armor or shield automatically releases a stored animal 24 hours after it was stored inside.
This armor special ability still works on bonded magical beasts that were once animals, but not outsiders, oozes, or other exotic companion creatures.

The best part of this enhancement is the cost. Since it is a straight gold piece cost rather than an enhancement bonus cost, it can be added to any armor once it has been enchanted with a +1 or more bonus enhancement with minimal Prestige cost.

Next is a wondrous magic item especially designed with spell-casters in mind, allowing them to extend the range of their Share Spells ability. This item, called a Beast-Bond Brand, is also from Ultimate Equipment (page 282):

Beast-Bond Brand [1000 gp]
This sticky henna paste is used to stamp a rust-colored handprint onto the body of a familiar or animal companion, and a hoof, claw, or paw print from that creature onto its master. These brands demonstrate a bond of friendship and balance, not ownership and subservience. Applying the brand requires a full-round action each for master and companion. The brand enhances the share spells ability of druids, wizards, and other classes with animal companions or familiars, allowing these characters to cast spells with a range of personal or touch on the marked companion at a range of 30 feet, provided the character has line of effect to the creature. Each spell cast at range in this way drains one charge from the beast-bond brand for each spell level of the spell cast. A newly applied beast-bond brand has 10 charges. When all charges are consumed, the brand vanishes. For the purposes of teleportation spells and effects, the master may treat a marked companion as an object or a creature, whichever is more favorable (weight restrictions still apply).
A character may have only one creature marked in this way at any time. The brand lasts until all charges are expended or the master marks another companion in this way.

This item has limited charges and as such is considered a consumable item. Being able to cast spells with a range of Personal at range, even if only for an animal companion or familiar, is a great benefit. It allows the often squishy caster to cast personal spells while still staying at a safe distance.

Lastly, there is the mundane object Familiar Satchel from Ultimate Equipment (page 64). It is designed to protect the smallest companions by providing them with a safe haven.

Familiar Satchel [Price 25 gp]
This armored case provides total cover to any Tiny or smaller creature contained within it. It includes air holes (which can be plugged with cork stoppers if you need to go underwater) and two receptacles for food and water.

This gives a player a place to store a Tiny-sized creature while on missions, keeping it safe. The major limitation of this with size; since its maximum creature capacity of Tiny, it can only be used with the smallest of familiars or animal companions.

I hope this article encourages players to delve into Ultimate Equipment  in greater detail. Keep exploring!

Running Season Zero Scenarios (for GMs)

Season Zero was the playtest season for Paizo’s first organized play campaign. It used the 3.5 rules since the Pathfinder RPG had not been released yet, and scenarios were designed to be completed by four players in a four-hour time slot. This is so far from the reality of the campaign today that many GMs are tempted to ignore Season Zero altogether and stick with the more modern stuff. In this column I hope to show why that would be a mistake.

Season Zero has some gripping stories – world-shaking events, subtle conspiracies, betrayal, and straight-up fights that make great play sessions. Despite being designed for four weaker PCs instead of six stronger ones, because things were new there are still  some encounters that are quite challenging in there as well. The scenarios that are just too easy are still useful as training ground for new players, and to fill in some of the important lore and back-story of the Society. There are also some iconic NPCs that your players deserve to get to know.

Some Assembly Required: To run Season Zero scenarios, you need to do two things:

  • adjust the creatures and mechanics in the game;
  • deal with the “past-present-future” conflicts in the storyline.

The first of these tasks is very easy. You just have to remember the 3.5 “Spot” and “Listen” skills are now “Perception” in Pathfinder, and you will have to calculate the CMB and CMD for the 3.5 NPCs. Don’t bother going back to recreate the character – in fact, the Guide to Organized Play tells us NOT to update these NPCs to Pathfinder rules, so you have to play them as-is. Just assume that the higher of “Spot” or “Listen” is what their Perception is, figure the CMB if you need it, and go. For creatures without stat blocks in the scenario, you can find the old 3.5 stats here and use those (again, with changes for Perception and CMB/CMD). If the creature has the same CR (Challenge Rating) in both 3.5 and Pathfinder, you may use the Pathfinder version. As always, you should also check the GM Shared Prep resources, as someone may have already done all the work for you.

Mechanically, there are a few other things to watch for. The faction missions no longer grant Prestige, and the Out-of-Tier gold is not pre-calculated in the Chronicle sheet, so you’ll have to alter that. (Refer to the Guide to Organized Play for details.) All of these are very simple adjustments to make, and should in no way prevent you from choosing to run the scenario.

Actually, the biggest difficulty in running Season Zero scenarios today is the inconsistency of the story. When Season Zero was released in 4708-09 AR (2008-09 on Earth), a lot of things were different. Adril Hestram was the main Venture-Captain who sent agents out from the Grand Lodge; Grandmaster Torch was an independent information broker; the Blakros Museum wasn’t nearly as terrifying as its current reputation makes it. In the intervening years of game-time, we have a new group of V-C’s in Absalom, Grandmaster Torch’s story has become more complicated with each passing year, and we’ve gotten to know the Blakros family in great detail. How do you handle this when running Season Zero today?

One idea I have seen suggested is you just tell the players, “This happened in the past, so things are weird.” If your group is willing to go along with it, or isn’t really that into the backstory anyway, this is by far the simplest way to handle it. There’s no point in creating detail your players don’t want.  I think, though, there is a better way to handle it that increases verisimilitude without making the GM do a lot of extra prep.

First, figure out whether Grandmaster Torch appears in the scenario you’re running. (If not, your job gets much easier!) This is the single-most complicated issue to handle when running Season Zero. In Season  Zero through Two, Grandmaster Torch was an outside information broker. In Season Three, he became head of the new Shadow Lodge faction inside the Society. Later events have him leaving the Society on less-than-friendly terms. To really handle this elegantly, you should talk to any players who were ever members of the Shadow Lodge faction, either with this character or another. (While technically a player’s characters don’t share memories, in this case you’re trying to make things consistent for the player.) Ask her what she knows about Grandmaster Torch, and what she thinks of him, and then base your portrayal on that. This will avoid spoiling future scenarios for the player, while still taking into account whatever that player’s personal history with Torch may be. Whatever you do, DON’T tell them what has “happened” with Torch in the meantime – for that player, it hasn’t happened yet in their personal story!

Next, you need to see if Adril Hestram is the V-C in the scenario. If he is, DO NOT change him, even though technically he no longer works at the Grand Lodge in the current year. He is a key part of the Eyes of the Ten arc, and you want to give your players as much time with him as you can if they plan on playing that series. I go out of my way to run scenarios with Adril in them, just to ensure they know who he is when Eyes starts.

Handling the Blakros Museum is rather easier. Scenario 0-05 Mists of Mwangi takes place at the Museum, and it was written as the first time Pathfinders come into contact with the Museum’s curator, Nigel Aldain. Since then, some of your players may have been in scenarios inside the Museum a half-dozen times, may have befriended Aldain, and may have gotten to know members of the Blakros family personally. I always like to ask players who has been in the Museum before, and which scenarios they’ve played. This lets me play Aldain in a way that matches their previous encounters with him, again without spoiling “past” events which are still “future” events for the players.

Another thing you may want to consider is the use of faction missions. In Season Zero, faction missions were not just a McGuffin hunt, but were a way to give various players some insider information about the scenario. There are some scenarios which depend on that information being available to the players, so make sure you hand out the faction mission slips, even if the players don’t choose to do the mission (since there are no rewards for doing so).

Season Zero takes a little bit of work to run and integrate into a modern PFS group, but the results are worth it. A couple of my top-ten favorite scenarios are from Season Zero, and you really want to run them to give your players a real sense of accomplishment when they take on the Seeker arc at level 12. They tend to run short, so you can even squeeze them in to shorter time slots or spend more time on roleplaying and character development for players that want.

Next week, we`ll look at Season One scenarios, and how to deal with the emergence of those foes-friends-foes, the Shadow Lodge!

Pathfinder Society Season Summary – Season Zero

A Chronicle of the Pathfinder Society’s exploits during the season from the First of Arodus in the year 4708 (by Absalom Reckoning), through the Thirty-First of Erastus, 4709 A.R., prepared by Thaddeus Lamplighter, Chronicler of the Society, faithful servant of Shelyn, etc. etc. 

[This is a player-friendly, spoiler-free summary of the events which occurred during Season Zero, the first season of Pathfinder Society Organized Play Campaign. Blue text like this is out-of-character!]

In the summer of 4708 AR [that’s 2008 on Earth], the Pathfinder Society held its annual Grand Convocation at the Grand Lodge in Absalom, the City at the Center of the World. Hundreds of new agents had recently joined the Society, some graduating from the Grand Lodge’s training program, others earning field commissions through their previous exploits. This influx of new (and untried) agents gave the Society’s leadership, the anonymous Decemvirate, the opportunity to expand the Society’s activities in an unprecedented manner.  The Decemvirate expanded cautiously, not pushing the limits of these new agents too hard. [Season Zero uses the 3.5 rules, which basically means they are designed for PCs who are about one level less powerful than the equivalent Pathfinder characters; they were also designed for four-player parties. In general, Season Zero scenarios are easier for the typical 6-person Pathfinder party – although there are exceptions!]

From the Grand Lodge in Absalom, Pathfinders were sent all over the Inner Sea region. Some teams were sent to explore newly-discovered ruins or investigate strange items; others went in aid of members or allies of the Society. Through its actions, the Society gained several new allies, including Skelg the Ripper, an envoy from the Land of the Linnorm Kings, and Nigel Aldain, curator of the (now infamous) Blakros Museum in Absalom. Agents were sent to many of the nations in the Inner Sea, including Taldor, Andoren, Cheliax, and Qadira. Teams were dispatched to locations as far-flung at the lawless River Kingdoms, revolution-wracked Galt, and the jungles of the Mwangi Expanse.

Throughout the year, various national governments saw the Pathfinder Society as a tool to further their own goals, and quietly began to support individual agents within the Society. These national factions garnered much support, and began to co-opt Society missions for their own ends. Pathfinders who once worked as a team instead carried hidden agendas from one of five national factions: the Eagle Knights of Andoran; the nobility of devil-worshiping Cheliax; the Sapphire Sage of Osirion; the merchants of Qadira; or the nobles of Taldor. While not leading to outright conflict between members, these factions often distracted Pathfinders from the Society’s goals. [During Season Zero, faction missions awarded prestige; there were no prestige awards for actually doing the mission assigned by the Venture-Captain. This put an undue emphasis on faction missions which no longer exists today.]

By the end of the season, the Decemvirate had tested their crop of new agents, weeding out those unable to handle the duties of a Pathfinder. The Society’s masked leaders had also noted the increase in nationalism among the Society’s members. Rather than clamp down on the national influences, the Society embraced them, and Pathfinders began overtly assisting various nations as troubleshooters and investigators, alongside their normal duty of exploration. But there were some in the Society who saw this rise of nationalism as an ill omen, and yet others who saw it as an opportunity to strike.

[The companion to this article, “Season Zero for GMs”, describes ways for GMs to run these scenarios in the present, taking into account all of the history that has occurred between 4708 and the current year of 4714.]


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