Investigating The Spires of Xin-Shalast

Last modified date

I’m currently prepping for the last instalment of our Rise Of The Runelords campaign, which means writing up my own notes on the adventure rather than just blindly following what’s written in the adventure path book.

It’s not just that I want to add a bit more detail to the adventure as written, but I find my thought processes work differently to that of the authors, and writing the notes in the way that is best for prompting my own memory helps a lot. Often with pre-written adventures I find that the sort of information that I need to have on hand at a particular point is included in a completely different section, or not at all.

I generally use Google Docs for this, detailing different topics and sections in their own documents to make it as easy as possible to find the necessary information.

For example, the initial part of the adventure concerns trying to find the lost city of Xin-Shalast by following up clues from a previous expedition. However, there isn’t a clearly defined timeline for that expedition, and what information there is isn’t where I’d expect to find it. Writing my own notes in the order I’d expect to use that information makes running the game a lot easier.

There’s also major challenges in the adventure which are actually pretty trivial for a group of level 15+ characters. What happens when the entire party is flying? Or has access to certain divination spells? These sort of questions often seem to be ignored in adventure paths.

I’ve also found that listening to some actual play recordings of the game have helped in figuring out what to expect. The d100 Pathfinders channel on YouTube has been good for this, and they seem to have recorded sessions for a lot of different adventure paths.

Using Investigation Skills

One thing that I started doing for my City of Monuments adventures was putting more effort into defining the difficulty of investigation checks ahead of time, and proving a choice of different investigatory skills which may be easier or harder, and which provide different types of clues and information.
Since there are clues which players have to find in order to progress, it’s important that they get these clues pretty automatically. There are other clues which can be really beneficial, and some which aren’t necessary but either help to make sense of things, or which make things easier at a later point. Writing down this information before hand reduces the chance of me forgetting to give the information, or having a single failed knowledge check derail the whole adventure.
For the main encounters, I’ve pre-defined results for investigation checks. These can be for the usual skill checks such as Knowledge or Perception skills, but can also be for Profession or Craft skills. This provides a reason to take some of the less common skills (especially since I use the Background Skills option from Pathfinder Unchained, allowing even low-Intelligence fighters to contribute with relevant skills), and allows multiple characters to get involved rather than just the one Ranger or Rogue with the highest Perception skill.In Xin-Shalast itself there are a lot of different factions and areas to explore, and very little detail on them. It feels like it could be a bit like the city of Saventh-Yhi in Serpent’s Skull, but with a lot less detail on encounters.

Military Encampment Example

As an example of the sort of thing that I’m doing, the players might come across a military camp on their travels through the wilderness. There’s an initial description, then a followup set of investigation checks which could be made to find out more. Further investigation could be done after sneaking into the place, so this would be initial checks that could be made after a few minutes of watching from a distance.
You see a large military encampment here of hundreds of people, made up of tents, camp fires and a few watchtowers. Many of the people are wearing armour, and there are a number of horses here as well.
  • DC 10: There’s about three hundred people here, built around a central cluster of large tents.
  • DC 15: There are a few patrols around the outside of the encampment, covering the surrounding woods. Maybe a third of the soldiers are cavalry.
  • DC 20: The watch towers are manned with archers. There may be two or three different groups of soldiers here.
Profession (Soldier)
  • DC 8: There is an encampment here of around a couple of hundred soldiers, plus about half that again of camp followers. About a third of the soldiers are cavalry.
  • DC 12: There seem to be three different factions amongst the soldiers, the largest of which is in the middle of the camp and has the nicest tents belonging to Baron Feldston. The watch towers are manned, and suggest that the camp is semi-permanent. Most of the patrols will be for hunting and foraging.
  • DC 16: One of the factions seems to be the Blue Falcon mercenary company, known for being loyal to whomever is paying them the most. They are mostly infantry and archers. The third and smallest faction is of Baron Gordright. The soldiers seem to be alert, but comfortable and not expecting trouble.
  • DC 20: There is definitely some tension between the groups following the two Barons.
Knowledge (Nobility)
  • DC 15: The banners of Baron Feldston fly at the centre of the camp. He is known to difficult to work with, and driven by passion rather than logical thinking.
  • DC 20: Towards one side of the encampment are the banners of Baron Gordright, who has had disagreements with Baron Feldston previously. There must be something going on which is causing the two lords to be working together.
  • DC 25: You heard recently that the sister of Baron Gordright had gone missing about a month ago, and he had vowed to find those responsible and enact severe punishment.
Doing this means that different characters can find out different bits of information about the encounter, rather than simply having the character with the highest roll find out everything. A more complete example might include Survival or Knowledge (Nature) checks to determine how long the camp has been here, or where patrols are likely to go to forage for food.

Samuel Penn