What Do I Know about First Impressions? Fables: The Lost Constellation (5e OGL)
As we sail into September, it’s time to look at another installment of Ghostfire Gaming’s Pirates of the Aetherial Expanse campaign, Episode 3, The Lost Constellation. We’re halfway through this campaign with the publication of this adventure. Because I’m a mean wet blanket, I’ll be continuing to look at how adaptable this adventure is if you choose to run it without the new rules for sailing ships.
Pirates of the Aetherial Expanse Episode 3: The Lost Constellation
Written by: Sarah Madsen, Jess Ross, Jen Vaughn
Head of Fables: James J. Haeck, Joe Raso
Story Design: James J. Haeck
Art Directors: Marius Bota, Zoë Robinson
Pirates of the Aetherial Expanse Writers: H.H Carlan, Anne Gregersen, James J. Haeck, Gabe Hicks, Alison Huang, Anthony Joyce, Kat Kruger, Sadie Lowry, Sarah Madsen, Sam Mannell, Joe Raso, Jess Ross, Jen Vaughn
Managing Editor: James J. Haeck
Editors: Michele Carter, Matt Click, Ashley Lawson, Joe Raso
Graphic Design: Martin Hughes, Scott Fraser
Cover Design: Christine Fozler
End Page Design: Abby Zweifel
Interior Illustrators: Kristian Agerkvist, Ridell Apellanes, Carol Azevedo, Luke Beaber, George Bennett, Bethany Berg, Allie Briggs, Josiah Cameron, Stephanie Cost, Kent Davis, Nikki Dawes, Alex Drummond, Christine Foltzer, Tony Foti, Quintin Gleim, Doruk Golcu, Ashley Hankins, Matt Hubel, Andrei Iacob, Maggie Ivy, Josh Ketchen, Diana Khomutina, Kate Laird, Tatii Lange, Carson Lowmiller, Damien Mammoliti, Jake Murray, Brian Patterson, Karina Pavlova, Pixoloid Studios, Mihai Radu, Caio Santos, Elisa Serio, Janna Sophia, Katariina Sofia, Kai Stevens, Kelly Toki, Philipp Urlich, Brian Valenzuela, Jacob Walker, Sam White, Abby Zweifel
Cartographers: Luke Beaber, Damien Mammoliti, Brian Patterson
VTT Asset Design: Joshua Orchard
This entry into the Fables line is 90 pages long. This includes a title page, a credits page, a table of contents, two pages of handouts, four pages of games commonly played by the sailors of the region, the four page pronunciation guide to the proper nouns in the campaign, a full page OGL statement, and a page of endpapers.
The artwork, layout, and formatting of this line continues to be very well done. The chapter transitions have a two page spread of artwork with sidebars to introduce the chapter, with lots of half and quarter page artwork to display NPCs and creatures that appear in the adventure. There are also deck plans for various ships, maps of different islands, and various locations where the PCs might visit.
There is also an included file with all of the character and creature artwork turned into VTT friendly tokens for use online.
The adventure is divided into the following sections:
- Welcome to Fables
- Chapter 1: What Remains
- Chapter 2: Feathers in the Sea
- Chapter 3: Following the Stars
- Chapter 4: Enemies and Allies
- Appendix A: New Monsters
- Appendix B: New Items
- Appendix D: New Games
- Appendix E: Pronunciation Guide
The Welcome to Fables section is, like other volumes, largely the same from volume to volume, broadly sketching the campaign, outlining each adventure, and then dedicating the final of the six introductory pages to outlining the current adventure. This includes a guide to the milestones where the PCs should level up. The new monster’s appendix also repeats some of the material used in previous adventures, as well as new stat blocks for this volume.
This time around, the adventurers are assumed to have their ship in good order, and to be recovering from their previous adventures in a public location where they are available for hire. A member of the Sistren of the Isles receives notice that a fellow member of the Sistren and lover Beliene has died, and she receives a note telling her where she can retrieve the body, but she wants to go now.
The message is actually coded, trying to tell Nadia, the PCs employer, that her lover is still alive. This is the beginning of a few potential double-crosses and intrigues in this adventure. Beliene faked her death because she was a double agent, and doesn’t want Nadia to find her. Her organization, the Nth Degree, is infiltrating organizations in the region with spies while implementing their plans, meant to bolster the nation of Karelagne, one of the nautical powers that once colonized the region, although they don’t have official support.
There are a few branching points in the adventure. For example, the PCs could end up drugged and in the brig of Beliene’s ship, or they might be too wary for this to happen. The PCs run across another double agent, investigating the Nth Degree, who sends the note to help thwart Beliene’s plan.
The Nth Degree is performing experiments on Astral Emergents, people born in the Aetherial Expanse as an offshoot of the dreams that naturally manifest in the Astral Plane. In addition to these experiments, they are also looking for a lost artifact hidden by Captain Aloysius Dumas. Throughout the adventure, the PCs may gain access to journal pages from the captain that hint at how to recover his treasure.
PCs may end up chasing down Beliene for Nadia, or they may end up recruiting Nadia to travel with them to resolve Terrol’s (the Ayrissian spy working against the Nth Degree), which leads back to Beliene. Unlike the previous two adventures, this isn’t a “hub and spokes” adventure so much as a linear adventure that can branch out to some side quests that may help resolve the main quest.
The PCs can find a wrecked ship where a passage medallion is located, which will allow them to bypass the wards outside the Nth Degree’s fortress. They might also find the item that the Nth Degree is looking for, the Blinking Wheel, which grants a ship teleportation ability. The PCs have to brave a merrow guarded wreck for one, and find an island that fades away and returns on a regular basis for the Blinking Wheel. There is a timing mechanic that determines what phase the island is in and how much the inhabitants can communicate that I enjoyed in this section of the adventure.
The PCs can also gather some allies in their assault on the Nth Degree’s island fortress, but one of these potential allies introduces another potential double-cross. The adventure gives the group the option to deal with the ships guarding the island by assuming the allies challenge those ships while the PCs make landfall, or using the ship combat rules introduced in the campaign.
Inside the fortress, they find the Nth Degree torturing Astral Emergents with experiments that cause them to grow magical crystals for resale. At the climax of the adventure, if they picked the “wrong” ally to bring with them, the double-cross happens, making the fight harder. In the end, the PCs, under the best possible set of circumstances, may end up with a new island fortress, a ship’s wheel that lets them teleport, and most importantly, a ship cat (a sapient magical cat that can act a spy, but which also has a random mishap table associated with it, which I love). There is something really amusing about seeing a ship’s cat classified as a “tiny monstrosity,” because I’m pretty sure I’ve heard cats called that before.
To Ship or not to Ship?
While this adventure has several places where it mentions the reputation rules and what can add to the different types of reputation, a potential ship battle, and a reference to the navigation rules, for the most part it isn’t heavily engaging with the optional rules introduced for the campaign. This one would be an easy adventure to run if you only wanted to play things straight out of the DMG, or use the ship rules from Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
I am really enjoying this campaign and the adventures presented so far. There have been a few moments where I felt the DM may need to patch things if they don’t go exactly how the adventure assumes, but not many, and this adventure has fewer than the previous adventures. I like the range of NPCs and organizations to which the PCs are introduced.
The trickiest part of this adventure involves the double crosses. You don’t want your PCs to mistrust every NPC on a meta-level, even if their PCs are paranoid privateers. I think it will be important to make sure that the NPCs that aren’t spies with ulterior motives to be super above board when dealing with the PCs, and you may want to cut the potentially double-crossing ally from the later section of the adventure if the players react negatively to the first two plot points that revolve around spies and subterfuge. That said, it is definitely an element of pirate fiction, so if handled well, it’s a great use of genre trope.
Because of the adventure summaries at the beginning of the book, I know that we’re moving towards the PCs recruiting other pirate crews to oppose one of the two colonizing powers of the region, and allying with the other to make sure that the more aggressive nation doesn’t solidify its hold on the region.
I think this can work fine as a climax, I also think that with the strong streak of freedom and anti-tyrannical bent that NPCs have shown so far, it may be harder to get them on board with allying with one of the two colonizing nations, even for the greater good. I’m wondering if there is a way to play them off against one another without a full allegiance.
Because the reputation system includes an “evil” reputation, various sections include notes on what the PCs could do in order to gain points in that reputation, and honestly, it’s not doing much to convince me to adopt the system. For example, one way you can gain points towards an evil reputation is to murder everyone that lives on the disappearing island, which causes it to stop disappearing. I’m just going to say that if my players were entertaining that as an option, we would be having a content discussion right then and there, and I probably wouldn’t be running that game if it was important for them to have that option available to them.
I like the worst of my evil pirate options to be along the lines of Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean. WWBD?