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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *