The Argenhall Apostasy - Matt Roth

edited July 23 in DesignFinder Chat

The Argenhall Apostasy

The forsaken mission at Argenhall has lain silent for nearly a year, but the dangerous incubus that has claimed lordship of it has done anything but lay idle. As signs of his incursion creep across the land, the next step of his invasion nears completion. As war builds across the land, the local baronies search for outside aid. The PCs must negotiate the dangers of Argenhall to find allies among its demoralized survivors before the incubus can rally his forces and bring the region beneath his foul banner of corruption forever.

The Argenhall Apostasy is a Pathfinder RPG adventure designed for four 7th-level characters. PCs should reach 8th level by the adventure's conclusion.

Adventure Background

Missionaries constructed the grand mission of Argenhall to be a bastion of peace, but the continued support of military-minded powers saw the holy site transformed into a military outpost. The local denizens of the forest opposed this incursion, and in spite of missionary efforts to bring a mutually beneficial peace, balked at all offers of hospitality. In time, the incubus Rakaz'greh took notice of the burgeoning conflict and stoked the fires of war.

The once-opulent mission became a war-battered fortress. Desperate forces on either side of the conflict sought an advantage wherever they could—and Rakaz'greh was there to offer one. Bolstered with supplicants from both sides, the weakened forces fell before the warlord. The survivors scattered, hateful and despairing. The regional powers blamed one another for the fall of the fortress, As the mission remained silent, however, the baronies grew complacent and resigned the incubus to being one of any number of distant threats to their power.

The Lord of Argenhall, however, did not rest quietly. With demonic support and obedient supplicants, Rakaz'greh began rituals to terraform the forest to his liking. This spread through the soil, turning the the season's harvest to rotten, vermin-infested refuse. Unable to ignore the demonic incursion, the regional baronies assembled a small contingent of soldiers to investigate the source of the curse.

Only one returned, bearing a missive from Rakaz'greh. Within he demanded that all lands surrounding his new seat of power swear fealty to him. The obedient would enjoy prosperity beneath his banner, while others would quickly perish amidst the hostile landscape.

Still, the predatory warlord prepares to take what he desires by force. Seeing the potential of the two surviving commanders of his former enemies, Rakaz'greh sows the seeds of sin within. The deeper their hatred for one another grows, the closer they come to accepting Rakaz'greh's banner as their own. Without the aid of the PCs, it is only a matter of time before Rakaz'greh's forces storm through the blighted soil in conquest.


Adventure Hooks

Players traveling through the region will quickly notice the heightened tension between neighboring baronies, as well as the results of the poor harvest. Blighted creatures that rove outward from Argenhall might happen across their path, alerting them to the threats within the forest, or one of the barons could directly approach the PCs with offers of titles and land in exchange for their aid.


Adventure Summary

PCs may decide to investigate the Argenhall mission at the behest of a patron, an adventurous curiosity, or a noble desire to cleanse the mission of its evil overlord. PCs of 7th level will face little threat from most mundane wildlife, and will instead only be slowed by fiendish animals or a scouting party loyal to Rakaz'greh, consisting of redcap and his two hunting hounds.

Laying siege to the mission and its overlord are the focus of the adventure, which takes place in two parts. The first allows the PCs to experience the war-weariness and the sinful attitudes that attracted Rakaz'greh's attention. In the final part, the PCs will take the battle to Rakaz'greh and contest his lordship of the mission directly. Although designed to offer the PCs the most advantages against the incubus warlord, PCs may choose to tackle the mission's challenges in any order.

Part 1 : Forgiveness of the Forsaken

Flame and conflict have scourged the the mission's ivory-white walls, offering a dismal glimpse of what lies within. The public gatehouse, service entrance, and collapsing walls near the catacombs offer obvious entrances to those who do not choose to scale the walls directly. These entrances place the group close to one of Argenhall's factions and their individual defenses.

Rakaz'greh's forces control the majority of the mission, protecting the gatehouse with a schir (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 3) and guards (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game NPC Codex). Elsewhere, enslaved sprites (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 3) labor to maintain the grounds and serve as eyes and ears to muster troops to a hasty defense. Among his most numerous defenders are the nezlibogs (new creature) that were spawned in the wake of his victory over the mission. These twisted demons are forcibly forged from fey souls, rather than those of evil mortals, and appear as shadowy mockeries of nature that can mold plants into blighted, living weapons.

Between the restless dead of the catacombs and the ruined walls of the mission, the overgrown gardens hide the fey's sole survivors. As the last defender of the forest, Eloise (ranger swan maiden [Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Monster CodexPathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 4]) is inflamed by the losses of her family and consumed by a drive for vengeance. A born warrior, she boasts stark black feathers, an ironclad resolve, and fierce temper. Save for her sole ally, a stubborn fey giant toad (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 3), she trusts no one and treats all as intruders. But as she finds the taste of vengeance delightfully palatable, Eloise treads steadily down the path of wrath and, unless shown the light, will be consumed by sin.

In the mission's service quarters, Garrick Erlston (spell hunter; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game NPC Codex) leads the surviving missionaries. Once acting warmaster, he was among the first to fall when conflict erupted. A hasty raise dead scroll saw his return, but he saw fit to favor caution over valor. In cowardice, he failed to repel Rakaz'greh and brought his surviving troops into the cellars beneath the mission for safety. Isolation and death have made him paranoid to a fault, and he sees demonic corruption creeping in from all sides. He has begun to distrust his own soldiers (1 noble crusader and 2 vigilant bodyguards; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game NPC Codex) and is more hard-pressed to trust new faces. They assemble crude traps from cold iron caltrops, flasks of lantern oil, and hastily crafted spears to deter intrusion, while their supplies run perilously low. As Garrick lingers in inaction, the sinful nature of sloth creeps into the back of his mind, tempting him to give in to the inevitable.

Although Eloise and Garrick are initially hostile, neither is irredeemable from their self-destructive path. Through their explorations of the mission, the PCs can prove themselves to one or both factions, overcoming the weight of their sins and finding common ground with which to confront the ultimate threat to them all—the warlord Rakaz'greh.


Part 2 : Uprooting Evil

Rakaz'greh concentrates his power in the largest section of the Argenhall mission, and this is where he and his closest advisers can be found. Within the protective walls of his fortress, Rakaz'greh focuses his efforts on two powerful, but separate, rituals that will cement his control over the region (see occult rituals; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Occult Adventures).

The fallen fiendish nymph Lishura tends the transformative ritual beneath the chapel, using the souls of a half-dozen dryads as fuel. Meanwhile, Dyslin (court poet; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game NPC Codex) works to wear down Eloise's and Garrick's resolve, hoping to turn both into servants of sin. Misguided fey creatures and desperate humanoids serve as guards throughout the fortress and aid in the completion of these two occult rituals. Yet casters involved in the ritual are fatigued and unprepared for combat, offering PCs a tactical advantage. Likewise, if the PCs have allied with one or both of the other factions within Argenhall, they can attack elsewhere simultaneously to prevent both the ritual's completion and the arrival of reinforcements.

Conversely, failing to interrupt the rituals can turn the tide in favor of Rakaz'greh. The demonic blight bolsters the strength of his troops with planar attributes, while letting either Eloise or Garrick fall into the depravity of their sinful desires earns the warlord a powerful new general.

Rakaz'greh himself (incubus swashbuckler 4; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Class GuidePathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 3) alters his tactics based upon observations of his attackers, potentially aiding in the hasty completion of one of the rituals or drawing them away in a direct confrontation.


Conclusion

Slaying Rakaz'greh puts an immediate end to his plans, but the blight and misery surrounding Argenhall and its legacy will remain for years. PCs might wish to further explore the conflict between the forest's fey and the neighboring civilization, particularly if one or both factions survive.

Comments

  • Hi Matt; congrats on getting to the final round of DesignFinder. I'm excited to check out your adventure pitch and see what we think.

    The Title: Apostasy is a great gaming word that gives us the sense this adventure will likely have some religious connotations. That's good. I don't know that Argenhall does a lot for the name, though, as readers aren't going to know what that is. While adventure names often focus on the location or the villain, for the former it has to mean something to readers. Some names are somewhat self-evident (think Steve Helt's Tears at Bitter Manor, where we know it's a manor from the name), but I'm not sure Argenhall is. I do think the sound of it rolls off the proverbial tongue, though, as the alliteration isn't overdone here.

    The Plot: I think there's a straightforward plot here -- going to defeat the incubus -- but I feel like it wants to be larger than that, and it suffers a bit for hinting at options that really excite me but then are ignored. I love the idea of the heightened tension between the two barons and thought this might feature some neat court intrigue, but that appears to be limited pretty much to the background with little direct role in the adventure. Similarly, in the adventure summary, it talks about laying siege to the mansion, but that doesn't really seem to happen. Which is a shame, as that sounded really fun to me.

    The Details: I'm going to go through the adventure and give some running commentary as I go, things I like and things that may be problematic.

    * I'm intrigued by the idea of the new monster, which sounds like a neat demon. I'm not sure it quite makes sense -- do fey have souls? -- but I think I'm willing to handwave that or assume it can be tweaked a bit in production to make the concept (demons forged from fey) work. That said, this first section feels like it's straight attack, without some of the fun diplomatic/ally-gather aspects here. I think in fact the adventure would want to pretty heavily discourage PCs from entering this way, which means a chunk of this is going to be irrelevant (some of the monsters may be called away for later fights).

    * I like the two main NPCs in this section, but it feels a bit incongruous. I'll assume given free mapping rein, the mission will be bigger than what was presented in Round 2, but it still doesn't feel like it's going to be SO big that these two groups -- one that's just two creatures, the other just four creatures -- are able to hold out inside against an incubus that's otherwise looking to expand to be a regional power. I wish you had also given us some better idea here of what kind of mission(s) you have in mind to win their favor. I think you probably used a little too many words on the background, considering we already knew a good chunk of that from the Round 2 entry.

    * As I noted in another competitor's entry, I'm a big fan of using newer rules, so I like the inclusion of the occult rituals.

    * I'm a little concerned that some PCs will just try to bull through everything -- not bothering with recruiting allies at all -- and head straight for the big bad. That could mean a lot of the adventure never gets used, but also mean the PCs might have to retreat. It feels like the rituals put a bit of a timer on the adventure, which can be troublesome should that happen (there are ways around that, but I did want to raise that concern)

    --

    All in all, I think you tried to make this a little too much of a mega dungeon type of adventure, hinting at other options that you didn't quite follow through on. If this were to win, I think I'd want to see more played up with the barons/siege/recruitment section, all of which I would recommend happen outside Argenhall, with the PCs able to get various information, treasure, and other advantages for when they finally do venture in. I think those changes could be accomplished, but they're fairly different than what this pitch includes. Because of this, I do not recommend this be the inaugural DesignFinder contest winner.





  • Note for readers: I added links to the contestants' work in previous rounds in each of the pitches.

  • Hi Matt, and welcome to the final round of DesignFinder! My comments will be briefer than Neil's and Jacob's and will hit the highlights and my overall recommendation.

    I picked up a through-line of desperation and melancholy as I read this as various factions that try to turn back the incubus begin to succumb to sins their enemy would embrace. The overlay sets a nice tone for GMs who have to present a number of NPCs to the players. I also admit you piqued my interest with your new monster. A fey remade into a demon sounds like an interesting concept. Finally, I like that you're using the ritual rules from Occult Adventures, and I think a region-changing ritual, if enacted, is a compelling plot point and could lead to further adventures (for other PCs presumably)

    I thought there were some organizational issues in the pitch. The adventure summary's first line repeats the adventure hooks, which needed a little more oomph (and, as Jacob mentioned above, could play more directly into the tension between the baronies, rather than the PCs acting as passers-by and noticing something amiss). I was unclear if the fiendish animals or the redcap/hunting hounds were meant to be encounters in the adventure, because they're pretty much dismissed after you mention them. Finally, it's fairly obvious what happens if the PCs succeed at redeeming the two factions in the mission, but it's not clear what happens if they fail. Will one or both of the factions work against the PCs? Is it possible to convince some of the subordinate NPCs to help the party?

    There are some great elements in this pitch, but there are a few things that would require a lot of development work. I do not recommend this be considered as the overall winner. However, there are plenty of great ideas to play with here to make the extra development work worthwhile.
  • Hello Matt, 
    I had a hard time connecting with this adventure. Here are a few things I would like to see differently from a publisher standpoint. A title that is easier to recognize or rolls off the tongue well. The adventure summary and hooks need to draw the reader in more. Why are they interested in this area or what makes it unique from any other religious war type adventure. Basically why should I buy this book. I felt although the description was a good summation it wasn't a good sales pitch. If the pitch isn't sensational enough neither will sales. The plot is straight forward but perhaps a little too much creating what feels like a consent battle scene with little choice for the player. I do like that you listed the books the monsters came from as that is required. I also liked the Occult Rituals being used. For these reasons I am not recommending this for the win. 
  • Hey, Matt! Welcome to Design Finder…the spiritual successor to RPG Superstar, a competition that’s always been near and dear to my heart. I haven’t been able to follow along with every round of the competition so far, so my feedback on your adventure proposal will be as succinct as I can make it (i.e., without a lot of looking back at what you did in prior rounds…though, I am aware the rules required you to reuse some elements of your other submissions). So, without any further ado, let’s get down to brass tax, shall we?

     

    The Argenhall Apostasy

    Title: Hmmmm. You know, I’m not super-thrilled by the proposed name for the adventure. Individually, I like the fantasy name of Argenhall…and I also like the use of the word Apostasy…but put together, it just doesn’t roll off the tongue all that well, or evoke any particular imagery to get the imagination going. If I’m walking through a game store and checking out the titles of adventures on the bookshelf, this one wouldn’t scream “pick me up and buy me” based on the name alone. Of course, if you got some killer cover art to give some greater context to the Apostasy situation, that might change things. So, it’s not wowing me, but I’m not completely thumbs down on it either.

     

    Villain: Okay. A super-villainous demonic incubus invader. Yep, that ticks off all kinds of useful elements for a meaningful antagonist. And, he’d come with a set of powers and combat effectiveness to be a real threat…maybe even too potent of a threat, both for your backstory situation (involving the other NPCs) and for the heroes themselves. But the apostasy angle practically begs for a villain like this…and it’s a solid note to strike.

     

    Locale(s): So, most of the meaningful action is going to take place at Argenhall Manor…a holy site that got transformed into a military outpost. I’m not sure I got a true sense of scale for this place, but I’m imagining it would have to be pretty big to have varying contingents inside it trying to hold off the incubus while also dealing with rival factions. If that’s the only adventuring location to map out, you should have plenty of map space to do it justice. That said, it might limit some of the variation you can achieve in terms of tactical/terrain choices. So, you’ll want to keep a close eye on that should you win the final round and get an opportunity to publish this adventure. Personally, I think you'd benefit from widening the adventure to include some initial encounters outside of Argenhall where the PCs can get a sense of the incubus' influence on the surrounding area (i.e., surely he's got spies beyond the manor doing his bidding?).

     

    Plot: The plot is a little less inspired than I expected. There are different factions the PCs can influence (and will probably need to if they’re going to defeat the incubus before he corrupts them). I like the occult ritual rules seeing some use. But, the adventure is still primarily an assault on the manor…attacking and retreating until the PCs wear down the opposition. And, they learn a few bits of backstory as they proceed. But, I don’t think your proposal did this section enough justice to showcase your creativity in defining (and even showcasing) unique encounter setups…both in terms of skill challenges, roleplaying encounters, and memorable combats. Instead, a lot of your “plot” is tied up in the words you spent on explaining your backstory…and that’s kind of a miss when you’re doing an adventure pitch. The goal isn’t to write out your exact adventure background as you’d imagine it in the final published adventure. Instead, an adventure pitch just needs to provide enough clarity as to the villain’s origin/motivations, his current activities, his helpers, and how the PCs are ultimately going to be moved to act against him (as well as any rewards they’ll receive for doing so).

     

    Minions: This was so-so for me. You’ve got some nice design elements at work in presenting potential allies/adversaries depending on how well the PCs are able to influence the factions trying to oppose the incubus. And, the demonic villain himself has a handful of helpers at his side, including some fiendish fey. But, all in all, I didn’t find any particular element in your pitch that promises to be super memorable at the gaming table. Solid, just not a home run on anything. The NPC characterization is on point, though…and they seem to have solid motivations for playing their role in the plot. I just wish you’d spent less words on your backstory (via a summarized version of the situation) and you’d spent more on describing the encounters themselves and what makes each one unique and memorable.

     

    Rewards: I didn’t see anything that felt super-inspired here either. Are there any special rewards awaiting them in Argenhall Manor? Lost magic items regained? Special boons granted by redeeming a fallen fey creature? Or something retrieved from a corrupted faction member? I think this needed a bit more attention to give a better idea of what the PCs can gain from the adventure.

     

    Recommendation: Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. Generally, I like some of the bits and pieces of your adventure proposal, but I’m just not sure it all comes together as solidly as some of the others. As such, I DO NOT RECOMMEND this adventure for consideration as the winning proposal for the final round, but I'd encourage you to keep refining your skills. You’ve got an eye for detail, but you need a bit more focus and a bit more polish. Good luck in the voting!

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