I should have learned by now not to say "next, I'm going to..." because my plans are instantly upended. The new drop-in, large-party city game set in the City-State of the World Emperor has been put on hold, for obvious reasons. Instead we've been playing in Land's End with my roommates while my brother joins in over Google Hangouts. We are up to session 18 or so, and things are getting really interesting.
I have been reading various folks throughout the blogosphere mentioning how important actual play reports are. I find them very hard to write, but I do like a challenge! I will say that it's great to have comprehensive summaries I can look back on in the future. I'll endeavour to bring us up to speed on the last year (!!!) of gameplay, by touching on the main points:
Vuk Thuul - wild half-elf serpent oracle, in search of his mysterious origins
Nahash - lizardman barbarian, cast out from the Black Wings for a crime he didn't commit
Liliana Vess - sylph witch, on the run from Imperial witch-hunters
THE WHITE TOWERS
The party explored partially buried towers built by the ancient snake-men. One spiralled upwards, the other downwards (on the inside) in defiance of all physical laws. The observatory at the top of this tower faced subjectively "down" into the sky - none of the party were brave enough to jump out and see what happened, although they got a demonstration later.
Many clues were found. The snake-men had computers made of metal, plastic and crystal, powered by glass spirit-bottles. (See the Stygian Library for more details.) Only some lucky rolls by Vuk Thuul to recall his dreams at the standing stone allowed interpretation of the language and controls, and he managed to type in a few questions. They learned of the long-lost Bright Empire, which once covered the known world, and several names for Vuk Thuul's mysterious infernal patron, Abraxas - "Cruelty of the Heavens," "Master of the Final Incantation," "The Fourth Way Through Immeasurable Darkness," etc. The library of metallic scrolls in the tower was described as a shrine to this very entity, but none of the scrolls were deciphered.
Wisely bypassing two or three altars to strange & forgotten gods of chaos, they came to a room with seven great sarcophagi. Each the resting-place of a snake-man champion of old. Some held monsters, like the necrophidius that nearly killed them all on the bridge in a tense end-of-session fight: Vuk Thuul tried to grapple it and nearly fell off the bridge, then Leliana cast enlarge on Nahash and the raging barbarian bull-rushed it over the side.
Others had treasure of immense value: like a colossal snake-man greatsword too big for human use, or the False Eye of Abraxas, an artifact which grants insight into the nature of things by allowing the user to view a realm of pure information. Nobody had the stomach for removing their own eye to make room for it, and so it rests in their house in Land's End, nothing but a strange curio (for now).
One of the sarcophagi was packed completely full of tiny spiders, spilling out over Nahash in a flood! While the PCs ran away, the vermin scuttled down the stairwell to the observatory and 'fell' out of the top, flying into the sky and scattering all over the jungle! Will this deed haunt them in the future, or indeed change the ecology of the jungle?
The party killed the huge & hungry spider-women infesting the tower, but not without Vuk Thuul suffering immense CON damage from their acidic bites (this would become a theme in his life). This endeared them to the Caiman tribe, who could see his battle-scars with their own eyes. The caimans are their devoted friends now, and the party has been gifted some of the tarnished silver rings they wear.
Jeregosh, leader of the the Caimans told them about a great field of cairns & barrows to the south, and they travelled in that direction, completely missing it. Instead, they found a great silver tower on a hill, surrounded by a ruined curtain wall. It glowed and shone even under the clouded sky, flickering blue-green afterimages. They opened the grand doors and saw two great vulture-headed demons bearing polearms, who croaked "ahhhh... guests!" Immediately they slammed the doors shut and ran.
Wandering back to the broken stone road, they followed it west towards the cliffs. The land became grey and dead, even the dense jungle undergrowth thinning out. At the bottom of the cliff they found the great pit of bones, and entered the Tomb of Abysthor.
This didn't last long either, as the endless skeletons issuing from the Font of Bones inside eventually put them off exploring. They tried smashing, Mending, and casting any spell they could think of to shut it down, but wave after wave of skeletons drove them away.
To the north, they found a sacred cave inhabited by the hostile Wolf-totem tribesmen and slaughtered them all. Looted some nice gear, including a fossilized shark-jawbone mask which spews forth a black gas of confusion. What I wasn't expecting was for Vuk Thuul to go full fucking Colonel Kurtz and hang the Wolf shaman's corpse upside-down in front of the cave entrance, the mark of the demon Abraxas burnt into his chest!
What the PCs didn't know at this time was that this sacred cave was devoted to the demon of beasts, rage and hunting, called Droquatraxl. Is this the beginning of a new infernal power-struggle? We'll see...
They bought a house in town and dug a storage room out beneath it, using Mending to seal up the floorboards after placing their loot inside. After this they started spending more time in town, and I eventually realized the error of my ways in making this last-stop podunk town too conservative. I basically told the lizardman's player that I would start making the town weirder so that he would fit in a little better.
The first oddball NPC that showed up was Baridian, a scarred, taciturn monk devoted to a secret cult called the Postulants of the New Sun. He has gradually been attempting to recruit the PCs to his side, inviting them to the secret meetings he holds in town where he sits & preaches from inside a brazier full of hot coals! The players attended a few holiday festivals and met some of the Altanians who live a barbaric life in the hills and mountains. They recruited one named Bolgrim to come with them on their adventures, and let me tell you - Pathfinder is not set up to have classed & levelled henchmen following you around. The next one they hire is going to have stats of 11 across the board - I'm not rolling for them.
Later on they heard a rumour that a strange foreigner from up north wearing a holy symbol of Mitra was asking about Leliana, the witch. They concluded that he is a spy sent by Imperial witch-hunters. (That's exactly right.) They added a spiked pit trap just inside the front door of their house, and paid a boy in town to water their plants while they're away on adventures. Oh boy...
THE BLACK PYRAMID
Recently, the action has come fast & furious. Their alliance with the goblins dissolved after the greenskins' leader Guzboch found out who really raided his adamantine treasure-vault (the PCs did it of course). Who told him? It was Absalom Glop, the sinister & manipulative abhorrer the party released from a magical circle in one of the goblins' underground bases.
Pushing northeast along the river, they found a hermit named Idokan living in a cabin on stilts above the swamp. He seemed friendly enough for a half-crazed weirdo. He told them of the lizardfolk, the fearsome witches and other rumours of the swamp. He directed them to a black pyramid in the jungle to the north, having sighted black-robed fellows poking around it. This piqued the party's interest.
Many adventures were had in the black pyramid and mighty treasures gained. They defeated the fearsome death worm which lurked inside and looted some treasures of the old priests: The Sword of Eyes and a mysterious & magical black spear with unknown properties. When Leliana cast Identify on it she learned nothing, only hearing a phrase in her mind: "Our voices are open graves, through which the never-dead escape!"
A major clue concerned Vuk Thuul's mysterious patron Abraxas: as it turned out, those black-robed fellows were the cult of Yredelemnul, the bloated & hircine demon-lord of the dead otherwise known as Orcus. All initiates into this cult are taught elementary demonology, including the names of the greatest Chaos Lords: Yredelemnul, Jubilex, Tsathoggua and Abraxas! Now knowing his spells are granted by an entity unambiguously low in the infernal hierarchy, will Vuk Thuul start behaving even worse? We'll see.
The group learned this by interrogating a captured cultist on their second visit to the pyramid, but failed to pursue his co-religionists inside. This was a bit of a mistake. The remaining cultists have recovered all the loot the PCs missed on their first visit, and are now in possession of some good magic items and the Bone Key.
THE DROWNED LANDS
From the rickety cabin of the hermit Idokan, the party built a log raft and set out into the dark and mysterious swamps. The first strange location they found was a brass tower, 100' high, rising out of a patch of dry ground. Covered in alien scripts that proved unreadable but induced fainting & blackouts when the spellcasters tried read magic.
The party had a few fights here, including one against zombie lizardfolk that emerged sodden and rotting from the swamp water. These foes precipitated a full-scale retreat when the tiny white crabs inside one scuttled all over Bolgrim and almost devoured him right away!
They met some friendly lizardfolk and managed to parley, learning much of the situation in the swamps. Long ago, they were one unified society. About a generation ago, the last time human outsiders visited , they brought such strange ideas that the lizardfolk were divided politically and have never recovered. Since then they have formed into four tribes: Yellow Eyes, Black Wings, Purple Claw and Red Fangs. The Red Fangs have not been heard from in a year or more, rumoured to have been destroyed entire by the hateful, toadlike Tsathar. Paralyzed by factional differences, the tribes have not mustered a unified response to this threat.
THE GREAT CITY
Iron-Heel, the leader of the lizardfolk hunting party, urged Nahash to give up adventuring and join his people but the barbarian was having none of that. Nevertheless he brought the group to the Great City of the Yellow Eyes to meet their leader and see the tribe's power. Built on the edge of a great central lake in the swamps, this cyclopean stone city was not made by the lizardfolk. Its walls were raised in the ancient days of the snake-men and thousands of years later their former servants still live inside.
The gang were introduced to the aged warchief Far-Walker who seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts and his witch-doctor Murk-Watcher, whose magic can discern truth from falsehood. Murk-Watcher tested the tale of Nahash's origins, and he was careful enough to pass without revealing the entirety of his exile, imprisonment and escape.
Things seemed to be going well in the city until one more player revealed itself: Absalom Glop stepped from the shadows of Far-Walker's throne room, grinning its hateful grin! What designs does it have with the Yellow Eyes? It wasn't telling - only making cryptic remarks that incensed the players.
When they left the great city shaking their fists at Absalom's mysterious return, Iron-Heel entreated them to find the Red Fangs rumoured to still survive in the swamps, and introduce his ideas of pan-lizardfolk unification to them. This they are now attempting as they wander the desolate Drowned Lands, getting lost and looking for trouble!
 - This was the original Land's End game, back in... 2012? Oh lord have mercy.
My group LOVES the swamps, and I do too. It's starting to get actually dangerous out there for them (which I like), and they really seem to like faction play and making alliances. I have a huge spreadsheet of factions and NPCs in this campaign, and most of them are based in the swamps.
As of this writing there are at least eleven factions of varying strength around the swamp, plus lone NPCs like the witches who basically are factions of their own. It's an interconnected web of relationships that I am still developing. Every time I don't know what to work on, I open up my spreadsheet and add a few things. This article on faction play has been a fantastic guideline for simple and gameable prep.
Also, these guys level up REALLY slowly! They are almost at 4th level. Maybe I am not including enough treasure, but that's easily remedied in upcoming dungeons.
This is my main jam when I need to get into the zome for Land's End: