Behind the Screens – Hell’s Rebels, Session 1: After Action Report

Last Saturday marked my group’s first session of the Hell’s Rebels AP as well as the end of my year-long GMing hiatus. In a similar vein as my Prep With Me’s, figured I might jot down my post-session impressions for those of you following along at home.

This article and those of it’s kind will – of course – be heavily laden with spoilers about the Adventure Path. So if you’re hoping to play this AP one day, read no further…

However I’m going on the general assumption that most of you readers are GMs. So read on!

Dramatis Personae

Starting off, we have our cast of characters. We’ve got Banderlay, a Halfling Rogue (Pathfinder Unchained), Ferron, a Dwarven Terrakineticist (Advanced Class Guide), an Petronicus, an Aasimar Cleric of Cayden Cailean, and Callie, a Tiefling Haunted Oracle.

At first glance the party is long on Charisma and spell casting but short on raw damage output. But it’s a bit too early to get a good sense of their strengths and weaknesses because level 1 is always sort of a derp-fest. It’ll be interesting to see how they grow.

Pre-Game Set Up

The adventure doesn’t assume that any of the characters know each other to begin with.The player’s guide for the AP does a pretty good job of trying to get the players to develop the necessary motivations to tie them into the opening encounter. I decided to hedge my bets here and worked with my players one-on-one to make sure that their characters felt like opposing the rule of Barzallai Thrune was their only logical option.

Each character lost something important on the Night of Ashes. A couple of people close to the PCs vanished. Banderlay’s mentor and father-figure – a booksmith with ties to the Sacred Order of Archivists, and Callie’s mother both went missing. And two properties integrated into the other PCs’ lives burned down. The small-time opera house where Ferron worked as a stagehand and the grimy tavern where Petronicus lived and kept bar both met fiery fates.

I’ve got some more notes on Callie, her fiendish heritage, and how that will tie into the rest of the campaign. But that’s for another post, I think.

The end result of the pre-game planning was that every player had a strong piece of motivation to hook them into the opening encounter. I even got Banderlay to throw the first stone at Barzallai Thrune and start the riot.

First Encounter – the Riot

This was an interesting bit to manage. It’s broken up into rounds with a few descriptive notes for each round after the riot starts. It’s assumed that the PCs are somewhat grouped together and that the crowd is getting in people’s way. Written as it is, it’s difficult to directly represent what’s going on using miniatures. I managed by getting all my medium humanoid mini’s out to form the “mob” and had my PCs disperse themselves with in it. The has the unfortunate result of losing track of each person’s miniature as the encounter went on.

If I were to run this again I’d probably fall back to the Theater of the Mind and rely on descriptive language rather than 3D representation.

The encounter itself isn’t really that difficult. It can be, if the PCs aren’t willing to cut and run. At it should become fairly obvious early on that they’re outnumbered and outmatched. Fortunately, there’s instructions for the GM on what to do if the PCs all get taken out. But you should strive to hint heavily that running is a good idea.

Meeting Rexus Vitocora

As far as I’ve been able to tell, Rexus is a very important NPC in Hell’s Rebels. In addition to serving as the introductory quest-giver, he’s can also provide a significant amount of aid to the low-level PCs. He also stands out as one first transgendered NPCs put into print – which is delightful.

It’s essential to cast Rexus in a sympathetic light because it’s important the the PCs want to help him. Although I should also note that he’s no slouch in combat. He’s just as good as a first level fighter in melee and he’s got Color Spray to help him with crowds. So in a pinch he can help out the party a great deal, especially if the party elects to take him along into the Wasp’s Nest (last encounter area of Part 1).

Fair Fortune Livery

This is a pretty straightforward introductory adventure area. CR appropriate critters with some low-to-mid-level DCs. The only difficult part for my group was the pair of Lemures in the basement. As I mentioned earlier, the PCs aren’t really spec’d for DPR at this point. So they were really struggling with the Lemures’ DR. If not for the healing that Petronicus was putting out, this could easily have been a TPK.

Meeting Laria Longroad

Laria Longroad is another interesting NPC. Like Rexus, she’s got a deep backstory that isn’t critical to her role as a friendly NPC. But you’ll probably find your game enriched if you work bits of her story into her interactions with the PCs. The crucial element for the PCs’ meeting with her is to get them to trust her. She’s got loose connections to Rexus, the only other NPCs the players trust at this point. My group was half convinced she was a Thrune spy at first. I allayed their fears by having Laria openly share her ties to the Bellflower Network.

The Wasp’s Nest

Another straightforward, if brief, dungeon crawl. The albino alligator is a beast. I mean really. It’s Stealth bonus in the water is absurd. It got a surprise round on Ferron as he was checking out the body at the edge of the pier. The alligator’s successful Bite triggers an immediate Grab attempt, which is a Grapple. The successful Grapple triggers a Death Roll. So poor Ferron ended up taking 2d8+10 points of damage before he even got to act.

I ruled that a creative use of Petronicus’ Daylight spell-like ability scared the alligator off for long enough for the PCs to retrieve Ferron. The party fled deeper into the Wasps Nest and away from the alligator only to be ambushed by Chough, the Dire Corby Rogue. They easily dealt with her and were able to parlay with the surviving Fushi Sisters. Together the two groups managed to subdue the alligator when it returned.

I was fortunate enough that my group was so diplomacy-minded. I could easily see different group, or even my group with differently realized characters, try and muscle their way through the Wasp’s Nest and getting mauled. At low levels, everything is scary. And this albino alligator was the scariest thing that my players have seen yet at level 1.

Rebelmaker (aka The Rebellion Subsystem)

I’ll be honest. Going into Hell’s Rebels I was not excited about having another campaign management-style subsystem. My groups have tried Kingdom Building, they’ve tried Business management, and the Caravan System. And, for us at least, they’ve been too cumbersome to be worth it.

But the Rebellion Subsystem is nice. It’s simple and streamlined. There are only three types of rolls you need to make: Loyalty, Secrecy, and Security. Pick a focus for your rebel group and get a bonus to those types of rolls. PCs or NPCs can sit as Officers and grant situational bonuses to these rolls based on a specific Ability Score.

In addition, a limited number of thematic actions can be taken each week to aid the rebellion in Kintargo. These actions will usually require teams of NPCs and one of the types of rolls mentioned above at a set DC. Overall there’s very little accounting beyond managing the number of teams you have and which officer is in charge of what team.

Wrap Up

So far I’ve got a positive response from my players. And there’s lots of discussion on our private thread about what to do next – which is always a good sign. Part 2 is more of an open-ended exploration of Kintargo with some opening gambits on the part of the Silver Ravens. If there’s interest, it’ll likely be the subject of my next Prep With Me.

 

Anthony Li

Anthony Li has been pretending to be someone or something else for about as long as he can remember, which some people might consider a problem. He cut his teeth on 2nd Edition AD&D when he was 14 years old and his only regret is that he didn’t start rolling dice sooner. Due to an unhealthy addiction to Magic: the Gathering he missed the entire cultural phenomenon that was the 3.X era of D&D. After a brief stint with 4E, he was dragged kicking and screaming into the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game where he has since acclimated, adapted, and thrived. Most of his roleplaying experience has been behind in the GM screen where he has trained his dice to confirm crits on command. He always roots for the bad guys.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent write up Anthony. I’d love to hear from your experience running this adventure path. Maybe you could focus on two to three instances during a session that you found very interesting from a GM’s perspective. Be it using a new mechanic, players doing the unexpected, how things could have been handled differently. I especially like the way you look at balancing flavor and crunch, I find that to be an important skill for a GM.

  2. Sean Izaakse Reply to Sean

    It’s probably the AP I can’t wait to play the most at the moment.

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