Now that the Sihedron’s been reassembled and the party’s on the island, I can finally reveal the changes I made to the events leading up to this point. The way it was written up in the module, the party would recover all the shards, reassemble them atop the Irespan, and this would awaken the King, triggering the rising of the island and the attack on Magnimar. I really didn’t like this for two reasons: First, it requires some fairly heavy railroading. The party absolutely has to agree to reassemble the Sihedron or the AP is over. Distasteful as it is, I could probably work with the railroading, except that it becomes extra problematic when combined with my second objection; namely, the prescribed sequence of events makes the players look like idiots. Sure, they’ll eventually defeat the risen king and save the city, but they’re saving it from a problem they themselves created. It’s like poisoning someone and then giving them the antidote: hardly big-time hero stuff. And if I had to railroad the PCs into reassembling the Sihedron, then they look like idiots because of something I made them do, and that’s a level of dickishness that I’m not willing to descend to.
So I looked for another away to reassemble the artifact and get the island to rise. My first idea came from a criticism of this AP on the Paizo forums: there’s no rival group looking for the shards. I thought that if there were a rival group of adventurers, they could clash repeatedly with the PCs, then at the end steal the shards and then they’d reassemble the Sihedron, they’d cause the island to rise, they’d get all the blame and the PCs would be the ones that heroically stepped in and saved the city from these other guys’ idiocy. To this end I invented Alphonse Baghrata and his little crew from the Aspis Consortium, but once I’d introduced him I realized that this approach would require far more railroading than the adventure as originally written. This is because Pathfinder combat is extremely lethal: combats don’t typically end with the participants returning home to lick their wounds, they end with one side or the other dead. Even if the NPCs didn’t go for kills, I’m certain the players would’ve, so I would’ve had to manipulate events constantly to make sure both the PCs and Alphonse survive every fight, then do some more railroading at the end to make sure the shards all end up in the Aspis Consortium’s hands. I could have done it, but it would have been extremely clumsy and unsatisfying.
So I left Alphonse as a vague background threat to fuel the PC’s paranoia and looked for another solution. Once again inspired by the forums, I settled on the idea of reversing the causality: instead of the Sihedron’s reassembly causing the island to rise, I made it so that after 10,000 years, the dead king Xin is finally ready to return to the land of the living and revive his fallen empire, so of course he’s going to want his crown. His spirit calls to the pieces of the Sihedron, and like Tolkien’s One Ring, they subtly manipulate events around them so that they will be found. The great advantage of this is that I don’t have to force the players into any particular course of action. Even if they abandon the quest completely, the shards want to be found, and they will be, if not by the PCs then by someone else far less savory. I brought in the ghost of Xin to try to retrieve the shards once they’d all been collected, and when the PCs defeated him, the angry king raised his city without the crown, then sent his army to collect it in his stead. In this scenario, the party doesn’t even have to reassemble the Sihedron. If they leave it in pieces the island still rises and the reborn army of Thassilon still attacks; not reassembling the crown just deprives the PCs of a powerful magic item.