|Charlie Bell RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 9|
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Spoilers abound below.
I have GMed Shadows of Gallowspire and played in Crown of Fangs and The Empty Throne, though the last was highly modified from the original so I feel I can't accurately judge it.
Of those, I would rank them: 1) Shadows of Gallowspire, 2) Crown of Fangs, and 3) The Empty Throne.
Shadows of Gallowspire is a textbook high-level adventure. IMO, the key to high level design is not to negate the PCs crazy abilities that would break lower level adventures, but rather, to make those crazy abilities the entry requirement for the high level adventure. In other words, without the PCs and their superheroic powers, the plot doesn't advance. It makes those abilities meaningful, and therefore rewarding. Gallowspire hits this pitch perfect. The witchgate networks don't let the PCs bypass all the travel encounters by teleporting; oh no, they ensure the PCs hit the encounters (unless they use wind walk or some other clever PC trick). Renchurch is a great high-level dungeon, with plenty of atmospherics, lich widgets, effective and thematic haunts and traps, and hard encounters that make sense given the "dungeon ecology." Gallowspire and its environs, particularly the Marrowgarth fight in the ruins in the mortuary tempest, is one of the best encounters in the AP. My only beef with Gallowspire is that the published Adivion is, relatively speaking, a chump--nowhere near as difficult as some of the encounters leading up to him. And he should be stupid hard--which he is in Brandon's unpublished encounter notes, which he has courteously posted here in the forums.
Crown of Fangs was good--I liked the sandboxy approach to Castle Korvosa. I liked the Sorshen tie-in of the Sunken Queen--Ileosa drawing on the power of her spiritual predecessor--but the location itself seemed to fall flat.
I'd have to say, however, that my favorite "Chapter 6" is actually Chapters 11 and 12 of the Savage Tide AP. Ch 11, Enemies of My Enemy, brings together some of the most iconic NPCs in Greyhawk/Planescape lore, and the PCs have broad options as to how they accomplish their overall goal. And they really need all the resources at their 20th-level disposal to pull it off. Ch 12 pulls out all the stops with a full out invasion of the Abyss and a boss fight against, literally, the BAMFinest BAMF in the Fiend Folio.
I will say that dungeon crawls are super hard to design for high level characters without negating their abilities by some unbelievable contrivance. Bad design: you can't teleport because it breaks the dungeon. Better design: you can't teleport because plot reasons. Great design: you need to teleport (or burn some other high level resource) to beat this adventure. For instance, in Renchurch, you have no hope of resting there and no hope of finishing it without rest. There's just too many encounters. So the ability to use magic to bug out to a safe resting place somehow effectively says, you can't play here unless you are this tall. Even when Brandon negates some PC abilities by fiat, e.g. the ability to just fly to the top of Gallowspire, he does in in an amazing way (a storm of waves of incorporeal undead? yeah I buy that and it's AWESOME). Similarly, STAP Chs 11/12 just give you an epic problem, some external resources, and step back and say "you're 20th level, figure it out."
About your specific points: trap CR does not scale well past around 8 or 9. Most high level traps are a couple of wand of CLW charges and that's it. Traps that inflict other status effects are good, particularly if they're guarded by something hungry. Haunts seem to scale better, but if you're not in Renchurch they can be overdone. Monsters with class levels are harder to run, but I feel they're a good way to breathe new life into old critters... although if you're 16th level fighting ogres, it's not quite as awesome as fighting actual CR 16 monsters with no class levels, because you could kill ogres at level 2. It doesn't matter so much that these are SUPER ogres. They make good mooks, but what's more memorable, a fight with 6 ogre fighter 8s or a single nightwalker?
Sorry, Jim, you did get an essay. I passionately enjoy high level play but it is harder to design for, and I've done a lot of thinking about how to make high level play more tenable. Hope this is useful if you've waded through it.