The End of a Dream
We were expecting this to be our last session of Pathfinder Strange Aeons, and for once our estimates were correct. It’s been almost 5 years since we started the campaign – a period which seems about average for a Pathfinder adventure path for us. We don’t play it continuously, mostly since most of us don’t want a steady diet of Pathfinder for too long a period of time. This particular stretch took us about a year to finish, taking us from the end of chapter 4, up until the end of chapter 6.
The Journal of Costian Raduva
We awoke the following morning ready to meet the final challenge. After chasing Count Haserton Lowls IV across multiple dimensions to have found out that he had been consumed by Xhamen-Dhor had been a bit of a disappointment, but we still needed to face Xhamen-Dhor and prevent the destruction of our own homeworld of Golarion.
Once we were ready, Cassilda teleported us to our destination – all the way back to Thrushmoor, not far from the fish market. Things were different this time though – everything was hazy and indistinct, and two black suns ‘shone’ in the sky whilst storm clouds rolled in. It was like the world had become an animated water painting.
Cassilda gave a scream, and she was replaced by the Pallid Mask, who we thought we had killed. Indeed, he quickly confirmed that fact, though didn’t seem too happy about it.
Something bothered me during our last encounter. You were supposed to be dead, and I have since learned that you died in the Dreamlands. You were the victims of Lowls, yet, here you were in Carcosa and you were the death of me—a distressing paradox, one that the King has now acted to correct.— The Pallid Mask
Carcosa haunts the dreams of mortals throughout the universe and transcends time, everything you are and have done has been but the dreams of dying minds. A timeline where you woke from our amnesia. Even now though, the Briarstone Witch sends her minions to put an end to this alternate reality.
As the Pallid Mask faded, so Cassilda returned and told us that we had the power to make our own truth, that his version of it was but one possibility. Across the water from Thrushmoor the asylum at Briarstone seemed to draw us, and we flew across to it, seeing it as it once when we first woke all those months ago.
Down in its dungeons, a tall thin figure in the garb of a doctor stood over a person strapped to a table. “The tatterman says that you must all die, the witch commands it. Naughty! Naughty!” They were words which we had heard before. There was a flash of light from behind us, and Ash stepped in, telling us that we needed to wake up.
We could see ourselves in the prisons, our bodies there beginning to wake. The man on the table cried out “Wake Up!”, a command we hadn’t understood when we’d heard it the first time. Before, we had grabbed the keys from the gaoler, but this time the Pallid Mask turned up and tried to stop us. But Ash was also there, and he stepped in and aided us. We grabbed the keys as we did before, and woke up from the dream.
We stood back in Thrushmoor, and this time the world was in sync – and we were in sync with it. Rising over the houses was a yellow tower that arose from the Mansion of Lowls, and a strange yellow light shone upwards from it, seemingly the eye of the storm.
Feeling that there was no time to lose, we flew up to the tower, spotting that on the ground around it had been marked the Yellow Sign. Sight of it nauseated and sickened Catiana, and she stopped to try and recover her senses.
On the top of the tower stood a couple of figures – the Briarstone Witch Ariadnah, and also a star seed – the twisted fusion of Count Lowls and Xhamen-Dhor. As it turned out, we would get to kill him after all.
And so began the final battle for the survival of Golarion. Sheena swooped in towards the witch, whilst I cast an Ectoplasmic Eruption to try and slow the two beings and stop them doing anything annoying – like going incorporeal or running away. Ray threw a dazing fireball, which stunned Lowls long enough to take him out of the fight.
The witch though dropped Erasmus into a Maze, from which he was unable to escape until it was all over. However, her victory was short lived, and Gregor killed her by filling her full of arrows. A tiny rat with a human-like face run up from the stairs at the top of the tower, armed with a scroll, and tried to bring the spirit of the witch back into Sheena’s body, but Sheena fortunately resisted.
I tried to stop more from coming up the stairs with an etheric shards, but it was quickly dispelled and a group of cultists armed with swords ran out onto the top, quickly surrounding Sheena. They were followed by a cleric who started to use her magic against us.
The rat was quickly dispatched by Gregor, who then turned his attention to the still dazed Lowls, whilst Catiana, now recovered from her nausea, ran at the cleric, trying to club her into submission. She was aided by Ray, who whilst in dragon form, was able to tear her to pieces.
Eventually Lowls/Xhamen-Dhor is slain by Gregor, and Sheena finishes off the rest of the cultists, aided a little by Catiana and Ray. And so we were triumphant.
There was a blinding pillar of light which shone down from above, and then we are back in Thrushmoor, outside the pub. Everything looks real again, and there is no sign of the black suns or yellow tower. The problem with saving the world it appears is that nobody is aware that we did it.
I bought a round of drinks for everyone in the pub, and even Sheena was allowed back in after having been banned the last time we were here.
Where to next? We have enough money to live well for a while, but I plan to head back home to Varno on the shores of Redleaf Lake, and deal with the things that had caused us terror there.
Strange Aeons was an attempt to do Call of Cthulhu in Pathfinder, and I’m not entirely certain that it really worked. Cthulhu isn’t generally about killing the big evil monsters – but Pathfinder is, so there’s an immediate discrepancy in story styles. The early chapters worked reasonably well, but after we left Thrushmoor the authors seemed to run out of good ideas.
The middle part consisted of an easter egg hunt, which was a set of disjointed missions, and the final part was a number of disjointed missions at each Star Stelae (the vampire’s house was the most interesting). There wasn’t really any interesting story there that connected things together. They both felt very much like XP farming to get our levels up to a suitable point before the final battle.
I know that our GM did a lot of work to try and pull things together to make a bit more sense, and cut out some of the unnecessary fights. Which was good, because I’ve come to really dislike high level fights. They take a long time and aren’t very interesting. It doesn’t help that different character builds really vary quite greatly in effectiveness by the time you’ve reached double digit levels. My Spiritualist had some interesting aspects, but was definitely outclassed by most of the other characters.
So overall I don’t think the adventure path worked as well as I hoped. The first couple of chapters were good, and there were some good bits later on, but the Cthulhu vibe definitely faded quite quickly as our levels increased, and our GM is planning on going back to running actual Call of Cthulhu for her next game.
For the group’s next game though, the current plan is to try some horror of a different type – Alien, using FoundryVTT instead of Roll20. This will probably be a short scenario rather than a long campaign, and we have someone else prepping for running some Ars Magica for our next major campaign.