Sargava is a land on the verge, simultaneously pushing on the edge of the map of the Inner Sea and facing an uncertain political future. The nigh impassable jungles of the Mwangi Expanse and the permanent hurricane known as the Eye of Abendego isolate Sargava from the rest of Garund, and its closest neighbors are only nominally nations themselves. The former Chelish colony also stands at the threshold of a new future free from colonial rule, making all things possible. Yet the citizens of Sargava were not the first to attempt to carve civilization out of the wild region—since the dawn of history, humanity has strived to form great kingdoms amid the dangers of the Mwangi Expanse. Crumbled ruins are all that remain of these vanished empires, and even their names have been forgotten by history. Some scholars even whisper that lost ruins of the ancient Azlanti empire may be found in the unexplored jungles, but these crackpot theories are dismissed by more reputable sages. But whatever their origins, these ruins may provide incredible wealth and power to those who rediscover them. This dangerous land and the wilderness beyond serve as the setting of the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path.
This guide seeks to aid players preparing to take part in the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path, to arm them with spoiler-free details and rules elements useful in the forthcoming challenges, and to help create backgrounds that easily mesh with the campaign. Along with advice for players of every race and character class in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game—including those in the newly released Advanced Player’s Guide—details on Sargava, the country in closest proximity to the campaign’s events, and of the Jenivere, the ship conveying the PCs to adventure, should help ground players in the circumstances and events of this new Adventure Path. Those looking for even more details and options for exotic adventures should take a look at Pathfinder Player’s Companion: Sargava.
Founded over 500 years ago by Prince Haliad I as part of Cheliax’s expansionist Everwar, Sargava stood as the jewel of the empire for centuries. But when Aroden died, the empire was thrown into chaos, and Sargava’s ruler backed the wrong house in the Chelish Civil War. House Thrune took control of Cheliax and sent a flotilla of warships to retake the colony that had supported their enemy in the bloody conflict. Grand Custodian Baron Grallus anticipated the onslaught, however, and made a fateful alliance with the Free Captains of the Shackles. Swooping out of Desperation Bay to pounce on the unsuspecting Chelish Navy, the pirates’ superior fleet swiftly ended the threat to their southern neighbor, and extracted a mighty price from Sargava for their efforts. To this day, vast portions of Sargava’s wealth flow into the Free Captains’ coffers for past assistance and assurance of continued naval protection.
Financially weakened by the Free Captains’ high demands and cut off from many of their former trade partners to the north, Sargava faces an even larger threat from within. The native Mwangi people, inspired by the teachings of a mysterious, undead child-god in the nearby city-state of Mzali, move ever closer to open rebellion to free themselves from colonial rule. While Cheliax no longer has an official stake in Sargava’s government, the colonial Sargavan minority maintains control of the vastly larger native population. But the natives know that they have the resources of the entire Mwangi Expanse at their backs, and that Grand Custodian Baron Utilinus’s government is in a poor position to quell a rebellion.
Serpent’s Skull PCs
Your band of characters begins the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path as passengers on a cargo ship called the Jenivere, headed south to Sargava. The voyage promises not only to bring your characters together as you face adversity, but also to set you on a path into the very heart of one of Golarion’s most feared regions in search of wealth, fame, and ancient secrets. PCs in the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path are not limited to origins in Sargava itself. In fact, characters in this campaign may be from just about anywhere. Countless motivations draw the daring, curious, and downright foolhardy to Sargava with the hope of attaining personal fame and fortune, and your PCs likely boast a variety of backgrounds and decidedly different reasons for traveling to Sargava’s capital city.
The Serpent’s Skull Player’s Guide is intended to provide characters with a reason to be on the Jenivere, whether they are from a distant part of the Inner Sea journeying to a new land or natives of Sargava returning home. The following suggestions provide basic information on potential PC origins, but focus on motivations to bring characters of all races and classes to Sargava. Use this guide as a starting point to give your PCs a reason to be aboard the fateful voyage that launches the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path.
The following pages outline qualities of typical members of all seven core races, all 11 core classes, and the six classes found in the Advanced Player’s Guide. Characters of all alignments, religions, and homelands can play a vital role in this campaign, and the following suggestions should serve to spark a concept or background for your PC. You’ll also find several new traits specific to the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path to better customize your characters and link them to the campaign’s setting and plot.
While Sargava is primarily a human land—its population consisting of mainly Mwangi natives and Chelaxiandescended colonials—members of all races have reason to travel aboard the Jenivere, seeking fame, fortune, or in some cases, anonymity and escape. All of Golarion’s core races exist in Sargava and members of any could be natives returning home from journeys abroad. Likewise, members of all races have numerous motivations to travel to the region from distant homelands throughout the Inner Sea and Golarion at large. Regardless of your PC’s race, the passage south will set him on a straight course for adventure.
That said, several races are prohibited for use as player characters. No aquatic ones (merfolk and gillmen in particular); strix are out as well; drow, hobgoblins, full-blood orcs, duergar, and svirfneblin are also not permitted. Some of the others, like fetchlings and wayangs, are on the fence, but they are not out and out banned.
If you have any other exceptionally rare, or strange, race that you’d like to play as, please email for confirmation before you begin the creation process.
While Sargava and the Mwangi Expanse play host to some classes more easily than others, members of all types have reason to journey to the region on the Jenivere. Be they natives to the land returning home from travels abroad or foreigners venturing into uncharted territory for the first time, characters of nearly any class can play an important role in the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path.
All the classes except the gunslinger will be allowed (for obvious reasons), though some classes that have mounts at low levels (i.e. the cavalier) will have difficultly utilizing that class feature.
While many of the background hooks described below involve seafaring and nautical adventuring, the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path takes place on land, amid treacherous jungles, ruined cities, and vast underground vaults. Players who create PCs optimized for adventures at sea will be disappointed; use these suggestions to get PCs on the Jenivere, but don’t expect them to stay there. If you want to play a “fish-out-of-water” character, thrown into adventures where his sea legs won’t help him, consider making your PC a member of the Jenivere’s crew, but keep in mind that aquatic animal companions or skills such as Profession (sailor) won’t benefit him for most of the Adventure Path.
Serpent’s Skull Campaign Traits
Character traits are essentially half-feats that help customize a PC’s background and tie her to the themes and events of a particular adventure. Each character should begin play with two traits, one of which may be selected from the Serpent’s Skull campaign traits below. For general traits, see the Advanced Player’s Guide or the Character Traits Web Enhancement, a free pdf download available at paizo. com/traits. Additionally, most Pathfinder Companion supplements contain racial, regional, and faith traits unique to Golarion and suitable for use by many new PCs.
Campaign traits are tailored to a specific Adventure Path and give your character a built-in reason to begin the first adventure in a new campaign. Campaign traits assume a lot more about your character’s backstory than do normal traits, but they are meant to help serve as inspiration for a player working to create a detailed and interesting history for her character. You have a certain amount of leeway in adjusting a campaign trait’s expected backstory once you’ve selected which trait is right for you; just be sure to get your GM’s approval before you run with a modified history.
All of the following traits revolve around characters with a reason to travel to Sargava on the Jenivere, a trading vessel whose fateful journey south through the Arcadian Ocean launches the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path. You can take a look at these traits to get a general, spoiler-free idea of the types of foes and challenges your character might encounter over the course of the Adventure Path. Knowing that there are going to be elements of jungle exploration, the discovery of ruined lost cities, secret alliances, ancient magic, and the like should help you build a character that fits more organically into the campaign you’re about to join. Each trait also suggests options for the port in which your character might have boarded the Jenivere, though with the exception of the various “boarded in” traits, players shouldn’t feel like the have to match a trait with a specific port.
Boarded in Cheliax: While you aren’t necessarily a native of Cheliax, you boarded the Jenivere at one of that country’s port cities. As the people of Cheliax generally know the Mwangi Expanse as a near legendary land home to strange beasts and exotic treasures, your views of the region have a distinctly romantic tinge, and the desire for fame, wealth, and adventure likely motivate your travels. You begin the campaign with a detailed map of the Mwangi Expanse (this grants +2 competence bonus on all Knowledge [geography] checks made regarding this region) and 200 gp worth of mundane equipment to aid your exploration of the jungle.
Boarded in Mediogalti: Your travels have brought you to the Jenivere through the dangerous port of Ilizmagorti, home to both pirates and assassins. Perhaps you’re fleeing a price on your head, perhaps you’ve jumped ship from another vessel, or perhaps you’re merely looking for a new start in a land where the dangers make themselves more obvious. Your familiarity with subtle slayings and toxins grants you a +2 trait bonus on all saves against poison. In addition, you can pick one type of poison listed below to be immune to, having undergone a long and painful process of building up an immunity to its effects: blue whinnis, giant wasp poison, medium spider venom, small centipede poison, or spider vine poison (a poison derived from a toxic plant native to the Mwangi Expanse).
Boarded in the Mwangi Expanse: You boarded the Jenivere in the Mwangi Expanse, where you’ve lived or recently traveled through. You harbor no illusions regarding the deadliness of the jungles, the creatures that inhabit it, or the peoples that make their home therein. You gain Polyglot as a bonus language and receive a +1 trait bonus on all Knowledge (nature) checks regarding the jungle.
Boarded in the Shackles: Your last home was in the Shackles, a dangerous land of pirates and treachery, but also of fantastic opportunity. A life of weal and woe on the sea and amid the pirate controlled lands has toughened you to a variety of hardships. Pick one of the three categories of saving throws—you gain a +1 trait bonus on all saving throws of that type.
Boarded in Varisia: Traveling from lands far to the north, you likely have little experience with the jungle, its denizens, or its strange forces. Just as the lands of Garund are wild and exotic to you, so are you to them. This unusualness manifests in one of two ways. Choose to gain either a +2 trait bonus on all Bluff checks made against inhabitants of the jungle, or treat your spells with the mind-affecting descriptor as being +1 caster level higher when cast against creatures and natives of the jungle.
Colonial: You come from a long line of Sargavan colonists, stretching back to Cheliax’s original expansion into the land during the Everwar. While your people’s control of Sargava wanes every day, and Eleder has functioned independently from Cheliax since House Thrune brought diabolism to the political forefront, you nevertheless maintain a hardy Chelish constitution and natural sense of survival. What took you away from home is up to you, but you return to the land of your birth on the Jenivere in the hope of putting Sargava back on the map. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Knowledge (local) checks relating to Sargavan settlements and politics and a +1 trait bonus on saving throws against disease.
Characters with this trait are Sargavan natives and might be returning via any city, but especially from the Chelish ports of Kintargo, Pezzack, or Corentyn.
Get the Cargo Through: Sea trade is never safe, even on the highly trafficked waters of the Inner Sea, but the way to Eleder is more perilous still. The ever-present hurricane known as the Eye of Abendego blows hundreds of ships each year off course, into jagged rocks, or directly to the sea floor. Pirates operating out of the Shackles Isles wait on the other side to take cargo from ships lucky enough to traverse or bypass the storm. Your job is to ensure a precious cargo aboard the Jenivere arrives safely in Eleder—what form this cargo takes and the nature of your relationship to it are up to you and your GM. Your character’s history as a merchant or mercenary has earned her a respectable living, and you begin the campaign with an additional 300 gp in starting wealth.
Characters with this trait likely boarded in Magnimar, Corentyn, Ilizmagorti, Port Peril, or Bloodcove.
Jenivere Crew: This trip to Eleder is just one of many in a long career as a sailor aboard the Jenivere and other cargo vessels. Whether you joined the crew with the hope of one day captaining your own ship, as the means of paying your way to a foreign port with sweat and blood, or as a slave or indentured servant, you now call the ship home. Pick one of the following skills: Acrobatics, Climb, Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (geography), Swim, or Survival. You gain a +1 trait bonus on that skill, and that skill is always treated as a class skill for you.
Characters with this trait have likely been on the Jenivere since it departed Magnimar.
Mwangi Scholar: The Mwangi Expanse is one of the richest regions in all of Golarion, and also one of the most mysterious. Despite its history of countless years and its fostering of nameless empires, very little is known of the Mwangi Expanse by outsiders or even natives of the primeval, jungle-covered land. You have long studied the region and its lore, and count yourself among a small handful of genuine experts throughout the Inner Sea. The Jenivere promises to take you to the very subject of your fascination, and you eagerly await firsthand investigation of the deep jungles and cyclopean ruins of Garund’s interior. You gain Polyglot as a bonus language and receive a +1 trait bonus on all Knowledge (history) checks regarding the Mwangi Expanse.
Characters with this trait likely boarded the Jenivere in Ilizmagorti or one of the cities of the Shackles or the Mwangi Expanse.
Stowaway: Not all passengers on seafaring vessels are legal or even known to the captain and crew, and the Jenivere is no exception. Whether too poor to book legal passage on the ship or fearing discovery by customs officials in your home port, you or an ally stowed away on the ship in secret. This may mean that the crew doesn’t know you’re on board, or perhaps they do now but didn’t when the ship set sail. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Stealth checks and Survival checks to find food.
Characters with this trait might have boarded the Jenivere at any port, but especially in the cities of the Shackles.
Traveling Aboard the Jenivere
The Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path begins with the PCs all aboard the same vessel, the Jenivere, a ship making the journey from Magnimar to Eleder. After days or weeks of time aboard the comfortable vessel (see the Journey of the Jenevire sidebar to determine how long) all the PCs know at least the following about their ship and shipmates.
The Jenivere is a large merchant ship, a Wyvern-class vessel commonly used by the Inner Sea nations for trade, exploration, and even war, valued for its combination of seaworthiness and capacity for carrying numerous passengers. Wyvern-class ships have made the dangerous journey to Azlant, Arcadia, and even around the southern tip of Garund, but the Jenivere and her crew run less perilous voyages. For the past several years, Captain Alizandru Kovack has made the western run between Magnimar to the north and Eleder to the south and then back with few complications, despite the fact that his route carries him through waters controlled by the piratical Free Captains of the Shackles, brushes with the eternal winds of the Eye of Abendego, and into periodic conflicts with the Nidalese navy. Although Captain Kovack’s crew appreciate this record, the baseless fear that the Jenivere has robbed luck’s coffers one too many times lies heavy on the hearts of many.
While the Jenivere is a merchant ship, primarily concerned with delivering goods to and from Sargava, she’s traditionally kept several compartments open to take on paying passengers. This trip is no exception. At the start of the campaign, the PCs probably number among these passengers, along with six other travelers aboard the vessel. As the characters have spent some time aboard the Jenivere, they have at least passing familiarity with these others making the passage to Sargava, and a few notable members of the Jenivere’s crew.
Journey of the Jenivere
|The Jenivere makes numerous stops on its nearly 4-month journey from Magnimar in Varisia to Eleder in Sargava. It has thus far taken the following course and is nearing its final destination. This itinerary should help characters determine where they boarded the Jenivere, potentially influencing their backgrounds or character traits.|
|Port of Call||Days in Port|
|Ilizmagorti, Mediogalti Island||2|
|Ollo, The Shackles||7|
|Quent, The Shackles||2|
|Port Peril, The Shackles||3|
|Bloodcove, Mwangi Expanse||4|
|Senghor, Mwangi Expanse||3|
|Days at Sea||71|
Aerys Mavato: This severe half-elven woman boarded in Port Peril, where she immediately got into a scrape with a crude sailor. She spends most of her time in her bunk, seeming to purposefully avoid fraternizing with the ship’s other passengers.
Alizandru Kovack: A Chelish man whose family has made the Magnimar to Eleder run for generations, Captain Kovack is pleasant enough with his passengers, but a strict disciplinarian when dealing with his crew.
Alton Devers: The Jenivere’s first mate is friendly with both passengers and crew, but he sometimes seems to chafe under the strong discipline of Captain Kovack.
Gelik Aberwhinge: A sharply dressed gnome from Magnimar, Gelik spends much of his time writing in the ships’ common areas, and takes every opportunity to tell long-winded stories, boast of past journeys, or quip about anything in his field of view.
Ieana: A bookish Varisian scholar who tends to keep to herself, Ieana is traveling to Sargava to explore the ancient ruins there. Rumors aboard the ship alternately suggest that she’s the Jenivere’s owner, a Chelish agent, or Captain Kovack’s secret lover. Ieana keeps mostly to herself, and grows more intent on her studies with each mile the ship travels closer to Eleder.
Ishirou: A scruffy human of Tian heritage, Ishirou boarded at Bloodcove and waits to reach Sargava with a quiet eagerness. Aloof but not rude, he gives the impression of one who has had a hard life but find himself currently without direction.
Jask Derindi: A prisoner loaded aboard in Corentyn, Captain Kovack sees to this taciturn human’s needs with curt courtesy, but insists he be left alone, sequestered in the ship’s brig.
Rambar Terillo: A taciturn man from Senghor, Ship’s Cook Terillo has served in that capacity aboard several ships, though apparently not on account of his culinary skills, which seem to be limited to watery soups.
Sasha Nevah: This red-haired human boarded the Jenivere in Ilizmagorti. Since leaving Mediogalti Island, the woman’s somber demeanor has gradually faded, revealing a boisterous and optimistic personality. None have yet questioned her about her missing left pinky finger.