Groundbreaking – The Secrets of the Stairs

I told you there was nothing to worry about in these ruins. Even this fog is not any different than every other fog created by this valley. The rumors about stairs appearing … there are stairs behind me, aren’t there?

Today’s Groundbreaking is going to take a look at one of the stranger mysteries that we have hinted at. Previously, while discussing the ruined city found in the rainforest’s swamp, we mentioned sightings of stairs appearing and disappearing in the fog. Rumor has it that they are a special type of illusion that is caused by believing that the phenomenon is real, or paranoia about all of the sights and sounds that ebb and flow in the thick fogs of the swamp. Let’s dive into some rumors, reports, and possible evidence for and against their existence.

Finding the Stairs. With only a handful of settlements are truly inside the rainforest, there are simply very few humanoids that have enough experience with the swamp to be considered credible. Those that do have the experience rarely venture beyond the valley and tend to stay near their homes, thus there aren’t a lot of people that spend enough time with them to properly validate their stories. Combine this with the occasional hermit that purposely tells tall tales to scare outsiders and you have a region filled with amazing stories both fantastical and frightening. Speaking with residents of the villages near the mouth of the valley (Easy Check; once per day) provides rumors that are likely difficult to verify (Hard Check; once per day, critical failure requires another resident). Finding people that live closer to the swamp and the fogs takes time and a seasoned tracker (Hard Check; once per day) but they are more likely to have more useful information (Medium Check; once per day, critical failure requires another resident). Succeeding at all of these checks at 4 different settlements provides enough information to be able to encounter stairs in the fog by finding an appropriate location to look or camp (Incredible Check; once per day).

Finding the Guardian. If you happen to speak to the right villager that leads you to the right swamper (a critical success with residents of two separate villages) you can learn where to find a hermit that claims to have spoken with what he calls the “Guardian of the Stairs.” After finding him (Incredible Check), this hermit requires that the party perform some task before giving the information on how to meet the guardian, such as improving his home (Easy Checks; time/money), collecting rare materials from the swamp (Hard Checks + Medium Encounter), or taking care or a particular troublesome creature (Medium Checks + Hard Encounter). If the party isn’t able to befriend this hermit, it might be possible to intimidate or threaten him (Ultimate Check), but at this point the party will be seen as outsiders not much will convince him to part with any information at all. If his information is obtained willfully, the party can encounter stairs easier (Medium Check; once per day) than if coerced (Hard Check; once per week) and they will have the opportunity to encounter the “Guardian” (Hard Check; once per day).

Encountering the Stairs. Just as the rumors say, the stairs seem to appear out of nowhere. One minute you are looking at empty space, the next minute fog blows through and as it leaves you see stairs. The stairs can be any size or material that is generally found in a human civilization, from the simple brick steps of a stoop to the wooden stairs leading to a second floor and even wrought iron spiral stairs of more wealthy homes. Once they appear, there is no proven way to know how long they will last, but their unnatural presence seems to suppress the normal sounds of the area providing what might be the only possible countdown timer. While the rumors say that touching the stairs will be the death of you, nobody has any evidence of what might happen. Doing so requires a Will save (Hard) to avoid some form of mental damage or drain. Roughly half of the stairs that appear lead to a door of some sort. If you are able to make it up the stairs to the door, you will find the door to be locked and requiring either a master locksmith or a master caster. Should you overcome that, opening the door requires a Fortitude save (Hard) to avoid some form of physical damage or drain. Where the doors lead is completely unknowable until you pass through.

Encountering the Guardian. Usually found meditating, this grey-skinned creature looks to a cross between a humanoid and a toad. Accustomed to meditating in complete solitude, it is always surprised and suspicious when encountering others, requiring a gesture of good will before beginning any meaningful conversation (Medium Check). Should violence ensue, the party will not like the results (Ultimate Encounter), otherwise it is happy to discuss what it knows about the swamp (can provide locations of many safe paths and creature nests/homes), the fog (how to avoid getting lost in the rumored sentient fog), and the stairs and doors (how to avoid the mental and physical onslaught that comes with trying to navigate them). The creature is, in fact, a duskwalker void mystic (Oracle with Void mystery) named Theone (previously a boggard druid of the swamp) that has been using the stairs and their otherworldly nature to commune with the Void. Interest in the Void, and study under Theone’s tutelage can enable one to learn the secret of navigating the stairs to other planes. Doing so requires increasing difficult mastery (3 consecutive checks, one check a week; Medium, Hard, Incredible).

The Stairs. The creation and purpose of these stairs is truly unknowable. Their existence throughout Golarion (and the other planes for that matter) is essentially unknown. Theone’s best guess is that they are some sort of passage between the planes that was created when planes, dimensions and interdimensional/interplanar travel was first conceived. They were likely forgotten as other, easier, forms of travel came about. Mastering the stairs enables access to locations that magic is likely not able to reach.

Encounters and Checks
In the spirit of 2e (Playtest) compatibility, I have provided Encounters and Checks that have the following ratings: Easy, Medium, Hard, Incredible, Ultimate.
Checks are of a skill that the GM decides is appropriate. Encounters really implies a series of activities or encounters, but a single encounter can suffice for a short side quest. If not using DCs scaled to the party, then assume an average party level of 5. For first edition, use the following numbers:
Easy – Check DC 10, APL -1
Medium – Check DC 15, APL +0
Hard – Check DC 20, APL +1
Incredible – Check DC 25, APL +2
Ultimate – Check DC 30, APL +3

Please continue to join us at our Discord server

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him endless ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, gaming, or playing with his kids, Randal is likely working on improving Sage (his Discord bot for immersive play-by-post gaming that you can see in action on Know Direction's Discord in the Know Direction Societous PFS channels) over at!