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I am glad people are still finding this useful! In hindsight, I was pretty scathing of "Thrice Damned Prince", but to be fair, I feel that being brutally honest helps sometimes to encourage growth. Hopefully no one took offense, my intention was to have the authors take a step back and examine why things didn't work the way they were (or weren't) written from a group's perspective.
I have not ran nor do I know of anyone who has ran the newer Occult classes in the AP. That said, the medium and occultist both look like they would shine in not just the first module, but parts of the other ones as well. Keep in mind that the AP is hard, so while being able to relate parts of the story is well and good, surviving it is another matter. Provided that such support classes had a compliment of other classes to keep them alive, I think it would work out really well.
That's high praise coming from you, sir! I am so psyched to run this module, to the point that I've done the entire upper floor area in Terra-Clix 3D terrain, made 3D furniture (like altars, pews, chairs), and crafted minis (like The Stone Golem Urgathoa statues and the Urgathoan Fly), as well as tweaking a number of encounters for four players with two mythic tiers (which I suppose would also work for 5). I feel that its important to develop expanded material for modules 5 and 6 more so than the others since 1)it encourages other DMs to get their groups to the final stages, 2) it gives DMs additional tools for the module, especially in regards to players that seem to be having an easy time orfor larger groups, and 3) It helps detail parts in the final cut of a module that might be edited out or only summarized since the higher the level of play, the harder it is to squeeze in big stat blocks or complex, word-consuming haunts.
I really love everything that is given for Renchurch in Shadows of Gallowspire, from its horrific soul haunting ability to its unique denizens. Since SoG is such a big module as far as what it has to detail in terms of grandness of locales and denizens (which at this level of play is unfortunately huge in terms of word count and what gets put in a 64 page adventure), I wanted to give my own spin on some of the haunts that fill primarily the upper reaches of the area while helping to give a history of the place. Since Renchurch is a former Pharasman Abbey that was taken over by the Whispering Tyrant's forces, I figured I could use some of the haunts presented and expand on them to detail what happened when the Abbey fell. I also wanted to use the haunts to help foreshadow some of the module's final villains, Lucimar, Marrowgarth, and General Sey'Lok. Here is what I am going to use:
Abbey Breaching Haunt:
E2 NarthexWhen this haunt manifests, the area suddenly appears to be restored:
"The rubble and broken bells littering the area seem to waver away, revealing a restored grand Narthex glowing with the rose light of the setting sun. As the last rays gleam off of the dozens of bells that adorn the walls, a great wind rises, chaotically clanging them as the night's darkness deepens quicker than it should. As screams rise to join the wailing wind, a voice seeps from beyond the now shut double door, one that speaks like a whisper scraped across shattered glass. 'The Last Stronghold of the Spiral.. Know this priests of a failing goddess; I defy you. My master defies you. Death will be cheated and the circle will be broken!' With that , there is a thunderous boom as the doors shatter open from a giant-sized fist made of shadow, as splinters and inky blackness fills the room."
Abbey Breaching Haunt CR 14
Cathedral Massacre Haunt:
E4 Nave This Haunt manifests whenever battle occurs within the Nave, echoing the last stand of the Pharasman priests against the Tyrant's forces. The haunt increases in power the longer it manifests, gaining strength from any conflict around it.
Cathedral Massacre HauntCR 14
Feast of the Fallen Haunt:
E5 Sancristy Substitute the following text for what's given in area E4, "The trail of blood leads to a pile of bodies that sits in the center of this bloodstained, rubble-filled chamber. What appears to be an altar covered with plates of food and cups of wine looks as if its contents have been left out to spoil for days judging by the amount of flies that buzz and clamor around it." Besides being a focal point of a desecrate effect, the breaking of the Grey Friar's spirit took place in this chamber. Over the years of bound imprisonment, his captors would bring him to this chamber to nourish him, giving him food and drink but eventually replacing some of his meals with rotten flesh and blood. This occurred several times until the truth was revealed to him, crushing his spirit and bringing him closer to Urgathoa's embrace.
Feast of the Fallen HauntCR 14
Failure of Faith Haunt:
E8 Apse This haunt represents the dwindling faith of the man who came to be the Grey Friar.
Failure of Faith Haunt CR 14
Collapsed Conflagration of Terror:
E15 Ruined Cloister This haunt results from the loss of life, terror, and loss of souls that occurred when the ravener Marrowgarth aided in the initial assault on the Pharasman abbey. As a result, the dead do not remain quiet in this ruined area.
Collapsed Conflagration Terror CR 14
NE Haunt (Area E15)
Caster Level 141th
Notice Perception DC 25 (to notice the temperature suddenly rise and the smell of burnt flesh)
hp 63 Trigger Proximity Reset 1 day
Effect When this haunt manifests, each PC hears a thunderous crash against the crumbled roof of the cloister. They must make a Will saving throw (DC 23) or suddenly drop prone and are treated as if pinned. Treat this effect as if being in the bury zone of a cave-in for purposes of actions allowed and escaping. To a PC experiencing effect, it appears as if massive chunks of rock are holding the character down. Characters trying to the aid a trapped PC can attempt to give a +2 bonus on the DC 25 Strength check needed to escape by succeeding on a DC 10 Strength check.
-On the haunt's second round, a wave of sweltering heat blankets the area, dealing 2d6 points of damage to all creatures within the haunt. Creatures buried underneath the phantom collapse take an additional 3d6 points of fire damage that bypasses any fire resistance or immunity they may possess. The smell of burnt flesh intensifies and phantom screams can be heard.
-On the haunt's third round, the necromantic energy unleashed causes the remains of those slain in the cloister to rise. Clawing their way from the ground are 16 Burning Skeletal Champions, which rise up at a rate of 2d4 per round. The skeletons are quite free to attack any PC restrained by the phantom debris.
Unhallowed Burning Skeletal Champions
Pathfinder RPG Bestiary p251-252, as entry with following changes
( AC 14, touch 12, flat 12, +2 deflection vs. good, +2 save vs good creatures, Speed 30, 2 Claws +6 1d4+3+1d6 fire, replace feats Cleave, Power attack and Weapon Focus: longsword with Dodge, Nimble Moves and Weapon Focus: Claws (lose breastplate and shield).
Destruction The Ravener Marrowgarth must be slain and the bodies of those buried in the rubble-filled dirt must be recovered and properly buried.
Broken Faith on the Brink of Death Haunt:
F14 Scriptorium The final stages of the Black Friar's transformation occurred here where priests in service to The Whispering Tyrant used their magic to continually bring the former abbot back and forth from the edge of death, eventually driving him to renounce his old faith. Since Lucimar is responsible for this psychic trauma, he takes pleasure in using this chamber as a residence to unnerve any living guests that might visit him.
Broken Faith on the Brink of Death Haunt CR 14
NE Haunt (Area F14)
Caster Level 14th
Notice Perception DC 25 (To hear whispers coming from the four glass tanks)
hp 63 Trigger Proximity Reset 1 day
Effect When the haunt manifests, the Whispers coalesce into hundreds of horrible truths. Each living creature in the room must make a Will saving throw (DC 23) or become fascinated. This effect persists for long as there are creatures in the room, expiring after 14 rounds. Fascinated creatures can defend themselves but take no actions while subjected to the duration of the haunt. Fascinated creatures see the following, "Each lectern suddenly seems to hold ancient blasphemous tomes, their pages open and baring their secrets. They surround the form of a bound man in a chair, the stricken form of an abbot. Pacing about him is the shadow of a half-man, half-wolf creature.
On the haunt's second turn, fascinated creatures hear a voice among the whispers (recognizable as Lucimar's if they have faced him) that speaks, "Do you hear their secrets priest? They speak truth from beyond your Lady's grasp! See for yourself!" All fascinated creatures are subject to an empowered inflict critical wounds (DC 23), as the ghostly abbot is stricken by a cloaked figure that strides into view. The abbot seems to die.
On the haunt's third turn, fascinated creatures are subjected to a breath of life spell (DC 23). Creatures subjected to this effect feel a certain wrongness to the effect; creatures that fail to save against this effect take 2 points of Wisdom damage echoing the madness felt from the abbot's moving back and forth between life and death so quickly. The voice speaks, "You're never going to her eternal embrace. You'll always get just within sight but never reach her, I promise you!Then you will realize her falseness!"
On the haunt's fourth turn, the events of the second round repeat themselves, cycling on the fifth round into the haunt's third round events. This repeats itself every other round until the haunt ends. Creatures that were affected by the haunt's effects must make a Will Save (DC 23) 1d6 rounds after leaving the haunt's area or act as if under the effects of a confusion spell for 1 minute, as half remembered truths spoken within the haunt take dangerous root in the PCs mind.
Destruction Both the Grey Friar and Lucimar the Lich Wolf must be destroyed and laid to rest.
Hope this helps anyone running Shadows at Gallowspire inspire their own ideas for haunts. I really want to do something similar for detailing the Whispering Tyrant as my PCs get closer and closer to Adorak, so we'll see what else crops up in these forums!
Its really a shame we can't sell you on Age of Worms; IMO as far as difficulty and story, its still one of the best. Don't get me w wrong, the newer APs have all been creative and clever in what they've put out there, its just that Age of Worms just had so many "Oh-crap!" moments in it per module yet it never felt stale, it just felt like the stakes kept escalating. Also, while the APs have had some decent book 6s, its hard to compare to AoW (or Savage Tide for that matter) in terms of epic-ness or how they addressed high level play (accounting for Wind Walk, Death Ward, and so many other blanket immunities common at that point). The final modules of AoW expect you to have multiple artifacts and wishes to get through to the end.
For extra treasure for your cleric, the one item I saw that struck me were Ghostsight Gloves from Ultimate Equipment. They're four grand but do a number of cool effects that could be useful all the way to the end of the campaign. Besides that, the aforementioned Rods, 1st and 2nd level wands (with weird spells he normally wouldn't want to devote a slot to) or even a 1/4 charged 3rd level wand (like Searing Light) would be good treasure.
Which links didn't work for you? The Expanding The Harrowstone Prisoners link works when I link on it. Besides that, the other alterations I have listed are in the review. With everything mentioned above, I ran it without random encounters and everyone had enough experience to level to 4 at the module's conclusion.
As for the road from Ravengro to Lepistatd, what I did is detailed near the bottom of this thread. Hope that helps and good luck putting the fear into your players!
Speaking as someone who has played a 20th level wizard who abused the heck out of Clone, Astral Projection, and Eternalness, there were about four spells which no matter what contingencies I had in place, always gave me pause. These are all spells that don't necessarily kill outright (which there are dozens of contingencies against) but disable permanently. Short of Spell Turning (which you should expect) or someone casting Greater Spell Immunity (possibly via Wish), these spells will take a wizard out.
1)Trap the Soul: As mentioned, this circumvents the defensive measures of clones and Astral Projection by going straight to the source. There is very little defense against this spell.
2)Stone to Flesh: Again, this circumvents the mechanics of Clone and what-not since the soul is still stuck in the petrified body.
3)Temporal Stasis: Its a shame it has a save now, but even still, this will stop someone forever and again circumvents Clone and Astral Projection.
4)Imprisonment: Same idea as above, if their held in stasis, there's no reforming.
So yeah, the best way to take out a 20th level wizard is not to kill them (which they should have dozens of contingencies against) but to stop them with magic. Oh, Insanity and Feeblemind are also kind of scary.
-Rings of Spell Knowledge are a really good sorcerer item, especially if the spell that it gives is one that you select to foreshadow an upcoming portion of the module. I also recommend on the lower end of rods lesser versions of extend spell and reach spell. Both are fairly useful and don't really break the game as well as being in line closer to a +1 sword than a lot of other comparable items. A wand with a 2nd level spell would skirt the upper end of that limit but would also be useful for a sorcerer.
-For the Wizard, I recommend scrolls, confiscated items from the Splatter Man. These should be cherry-picked by you and merge the line between the Splatterman's spells and your PC's interests. The aforementioned rods or a few useful but slot-consuming spells stored in wands, like Mount, Floating Disk, Alarm, and what-not would also prove valuable.
-Keep in mind that for the Rogue, he's not going to be able to do much to the number of incorporeal opponents, the ooze, the rat swarm, and a number of other opponents in the next module. Encourage him to raise his UMD so he has options other than trying to Sneak Attack. In my opinion, the damage output that a bard provides across multiple characters in all combat encounters outweighs the situational damage that a Rogue provides. To be fair, a Rogue with the right support can be brutal, and he'll really have a chance to shine in parts if the second module and lots of the third and fourth ones. He's going to hate the sixth module unless he eventually invests in ghost-touch weapons.
- I didn't use random encounters at all, and instead used the following, which got my players to 4th level after defeating the Splatterman, which included the extra experience received from the research performed and restoring Vesorianna's power.
If you replace treasure for the first module, make sure its stuff that everyone can use who can't effect haunts. The haunts in the first module are really awesome, but you want the players to be able to affect them so they feel like they are playing interactively rather than being side-lined for choosing the wrong class. If every party member just waits for the cleric to channel, it limits their agency and makes haunts a little boring.
1) Carrion Hill is really good, but you'll need to rewrite a couple things geographically if you are using it at 5th level. If you use at it at 9th level along with the conversion notes on this board, it fits better story wise (and makes more sense based on the map of Ustalav.
2)I did very little treasure adjustment, even for 5 players. I think I added 20% more to any charged item, pile of gold, and what not. I've seen a lot of DMs swap out the treasure in the modules to fit their party composition. I feel that a low treasure scenario helps really reinforce the horror aspect of the game, especially in the first two modules. As others have done in Trial of the Beast, I added a significant reward from the count, but beyond that did little else. It should be noted that my party dropped to four players halfway through the third book, so that ceased to be an issue for me. IIRC, the total wealth sum of the treasure of Harrowstone is about 10-12K, so adding another +1 weapon to the pile wouldn't be that big of a deal. If you add in Carrion Hill, it should balance out nicely. The wealth problem really only persists in the first three modules; after the fourth one, you're getting staves, Mi-Go technology, and the like. I wouldn't give a blanket discount on magic items for the entire AP; this will come back to bite you in modules 5 and 6.
3)With a couple of extremely brutal exceptions in Module 2, trapfinding is not essential in the AP at all. (I think besides the second module, there's an average of one trap per module) In fact, the bard would probably be more useful to the party due to the sheer amount of Knowledge rolls throughout the modules, specifically the first one. Our party had a rogue who died in the second module, to be replaced by a bard. The player has had way more fun playing a bard and feels that they contribute a lot better (She is playing the Dirgesinger and Soun- striker archetypes.)
4)As far as random encounters... Don't. Let the atmosphere and environment of the module evolve naturally. The fact that the first floor is so deserted makes it that much more creepy, making the haunts and few creatures on the ground floor that much scarier. You're probably gonna find that there's no need to throw them at your PCs anyways; Harrowstone is paced well enough that the storytelling and action is pretty continuous. Furthermore, combining a random wandering monster with some of the harder fights could be quite lethal (Old Ember Maw, The Lopper, and what-not). Only do this if your PCS are foolish enough to rest in the place. Let random encounters happen on the road for the most part where they belong.
5) As for the rest of the AP, let it evolve naturally. The best time to compensate for missing XP or treasure are the long journeys that occur between modules and the big one during module 3. Myself and others have written detailed sidequests, and you can easily insert whatever thematically to help flush out backstory of characters, history of Ustalav, or the machinations of the WW.
Sorry it took a bit to respond (Busy writing up high-level haunts detailing the Fall of the Grey Friar and the Rise of Renchurch.)
He probably either fudged the dice or got really lucky with the summoning. A Gladbrezu is pretty smart and knows its own chance of being able to get another of its kind is pretty low (20%) versus the 1 in 2 chance of getting 1-2 more allies. My group of four had one mythic tier, and I still didn't feel mean enough to include that second Glabrezu, two beat-sticks with mirror image and true seeing seems kind of mean, especially when you know that your PCs best 6th level spells are going to be Heal, Disintegrate, and other anti-vampire/witch spells.
Agree on this %100. Carrion Crown is pretty hard at points, but giving already difficult enemies +4 to their AC and everything else that comes with an Advanced template can be.. a little bit over the top. It is especially devastating if a DM is using experience points and is dividing them among a higher number of PCs, resulting in encounters where the math of more PCs doesn't keep up with the CR's of the module, especially when augmented. This becomes especially true when fighting against some of the enemies in the final module; in fact, the very nature of Renchurch's defenses ensures that a greater number of less experienced people will be at greater risk than a smaller group of more powerful people. Once you start playing the high level game, that next level of spell choices that a dedicated, single class caster gets can make all the difference between an encounter being easy or deadly.
-Ancient Osirion (Esoteric Order of the Palantine Eye)
Hope that helps! As mentioned, none of the above are essential but help in expanding dialogue and some story details.
If what you are saying is true, then the only counter for Mirror Image is True Seeing, a 6th level spell. So, a second level spell provides near blanket immunity from all melee and ranged attacks and can only be defeated by someone who is 8 levels higher (talking Caster Level). Doesn't that seem to be really far-fetched when you look at some of the other blanket immunity spells (Pro. Evil, Shield, Freedom of Movement) and the limited situational protections they provide, versus "The next 4 attacks against are automatic misses"?
You could go with the following:
1)Said BBEG replaces Radvir Giovanni somehow and serves as his role in Ashes at Dawn. While this directly transposes the plan to actively wreck havoc on the vampires, it does create a problem in that once he's defeated, you still have another half of a module.
2) Have said BBEG serve as the catalyst for the development of the Bloodbrew elixer (instead of the Whispering Way), and have him among the Barstoi witches at the abbey. (I like this the best even if it increases the difficulty of the fight.
3)Have him as his own plot, replacing the witches with him. In this way, you can customize the abbey with your own encounters more thematically in line with this villain (maybe replace a couple of the wood golems for an alchemical golem).
There is a lot of material available about the module itself on this board, most notably the DM thread (which explains a couple problems with the module, like Radvir's unlikeliness as written to be able to capture vampires). The writer, Neil Spicer, has been quite pro-active in responding and giving feedback about the module, so there's a lot of good stuff in there. Beyond that, I did a few things for the module here. Here is a review I did for the module, and here is a thread I wrote about expanding Caliphas. Hope that helps!
Seconded for the following:
Except for the Azata and merfolk (which look like elves miniature-wise), none off the above have ever had any representation in plastic form.
I wish Huge wasn't such a tricky spot to get into a set. I would almost always take two readily usable miniatures (like Elementals, Aboleth, Froghemoth) over one awesome gargantuan miniature (which as awesome as they are, rarely see play except maybe once an AP.)
The biggest change is made to one of the monsters in the early books that was responsible for more TPKs than all the other hard encounters in all the APs combined. (excluding Age of Worms). A few of the other encounters in Anniversary Edition are easier as well
Mokmurian, and High Lady Athroxis (who has a Glabrezu minion instead of a Shemhazian)
You know what kills just about anything in the game (including the Tarrasque) without taking a scratch itself? A quartet of ghosts from the Bestiary. While the Tarrasque's weapons function as the height of power for the purpose of overcoming DR, they are not magic with regards to incorporeal. The Tarrasque (and really most creatures with a few exceptions) have no way to deal with an incorporeal creature. So the ghosts keep hitting him over and over, bypassing its DR and eventually surpassing the regeneration. The Tarrasque can... run away, maybe? And these are just aristocrats, not PC class leveled ghosts. The only thing saving Cthulu from the same thing is his immortality.
I also am wondering if anyone did anything creative with this, especially with groups that attempted Renchurch in multiple trips. I don't spoil stuff often with my players, but I have teased them that in the final module they themselves could become haunts, which they found fascinating. It'd be neat for the living bad guys who have died have their haunts echo the manner in which the PCs killed them. (So cultists killed by Flamestrikes produce a Flamestrike haunt and so forth..)
Okay, a few things:
1) Should gain Blindsense due to Protean form and 12th level. Flight should also be changed to perfect for same reason. This will alter its fly skill slightly
Large evolution wrote: If the eidolon has the biped base form, it also gains a reach of 10 feet. Any reach evolutions the eidolon possesses are added to this total.
So while its bite benefits from the reach increase, none of its other attacks will.
Hope that helps!
This came up in our Kingmaker game the other night and wanted to get clarification. Our druid has the Planar Wild Shape feat, which reads like this:
Planar Wild Shape:
You can infuse your wild shape with planar strength.
Prerequisites: Wild shape class feature, Knowledge (planes) 5 ranks.
The celestial template gained from this ability gives the following:
1/day as a swift action (adds Cha bonus to attack rolls and damage bonus equal to HD against evil foes; smite persists until target is dead or the celestial creature rests).
During a fight against assassins, our druid wild-shaped into a Celestial Dire Tiger and declared Smite against their leader. While the leader was still alive, the druid shifted back into humanoid form and attacked him again. After shifting back, does the Smite persist (since it says until the target is dead, etc.) or is it an ability that is only inclusive to being Celestial that disappears once that form is gone? We ruled the former, but I'd like other thoughts on it since its bound to come up again.
So, if you have a celestial/fiendish template, smite something, then change back, does the smite ability persist?
If you want to break it down into individual clans, I would have them each headed by the various NPCs presented within the module itself. This would be as follows:
Ludvick: The leader of all vampire kind within Caliphas, possibly one of the oldest things still existing within the Inner Sea Region. His rivals are few except those that want to either revive the Whispering Tyrant (Malyas, see Shadows of Gallowspire) or break free from Ludvick's control (Radvir). His servants include his stand-in Florian, and a number of sorcerers, and fighters, and anything else powerful you feel is appropriate. He probably has the most actual vampires and the fewest spawn. Probable vampire number: 31
Merrick: Her ties to nature present almost a hunter-like aspect to her and her minions. In this regard, some of her minions would probably be classed vampires with Ranger, Slayer, or Druid levels beyond her spawn. Her spawn lost their energy drain attack, instead gaining two claw attacks and a +2 bonus to natural armor. Her clan is responsible for occasionally culling undesirables from society and guarding the way to the Vampire Court. Probable Vampire number: 18
Lady Engenya: From her description, it seems that she favors the most charismatic members of society, stealing away some with simple Aristocrat levels, but also some with Bard and Sorcerer levels. I had her spawn lose their natural armor but gain Ability Focus: Dominate as a bonus feat. She and her clan would be those responsible for influencing mortal affairs within Caliphas.
Desmond Kote: This would be the religious sect of your vampires, with the majority of the vampires allied with Kote possessing cleric, warpriest, and inquisitor levels. While fewest in number due to the non-dominance of religion among vampires, the power of their followers insures that their house is one to be feared. His few spawn possessed the Advanced template. He and his followers are responsible for maintaining order within vampire society. (This is different from my game) Probable Vampire Number: 12
Radvir Giovani This would be your commercial interest for the vampires, with Radvir and his associates using their power and wealth to operate or front numerous businesses throughout the city. I imagaine a lot of this wealth makes its way back to Ludvick, but a good chunk is probably used by Radvir to eventually help try and stage his plan. His vampire minions besides those written would be rogues and bards. Additionally, I'd check the Ashes at Dawn GM thread for some excellent additional minions. Probable Vampire Number 22
Slain Vampire Mother of Quinley (an others) This could have been someone responsible for delivering messages throughout Caliphas, diplomatic liasons with other supernatural entities, or travel to and from the city. Quinley's mother (and any others) could have had fighters, rogues, wizards, oracles, or anything else that seems appropriate for the deceased. Probale vampire number: 14 and 30 various vampires between two other slain leaders.
Hope that helps!
8 bit for me: I love MM2. I think its one of the best soundtracks. However, for the sake of variety, I'm gonna pick the first Castlevania. I've used metal-ized versions of all the tracks in that game to highlight my Carrion Crown campaign. Nothing like a heavy metal rendition of 'Wicked Child' or 'Vampire Killer' to get the blood pumping.
There are no actual vampire clans as printed in the module and supporting material. What you have are two factions within the entirety of Ustalavic vampire culture that either support the Whispering Tyrant's return or oppose it. Of the two, the supporters are more rare since the Tyrant's return would usher in a world where the vampires would have no food supply (since the endgame is everyone alive being dead). That being said, in my game I utilized the old World of Darkness type of clans to parallel some of the unique personalities that are presented within the module. I don't know if you played Vampire (I assume you have since you're referring to vampire clans), but I broke it down as follows:
I had Desmond Kote be a villain and had a nest of Urgathoan worshipping vampires (Sabbat) lurk in the darkest catacombs as a red herring for the true vampire murderer. Some of the changes I used can be found in my Expanding Caliphas thread and my review of Ashes at Dawn here. Hope some of that helps.
These are the stats I used for the Blood Knight, Konas Esprillon. While the Champion path is more in flavor with his abilities, I gave him 5 tiers of Guardian for its defensive abilities. At this level, the more I can mitigate rocket tag, the better.
Konas Esprillon CR 15
Male human blood knight fighter 12 guardian 5
LE Medium Undead (augmented humanoid)
Init +9; Senses darkvison 60 ft. Perception +10
AC 32, touch 17, flat 28 (+12 armor +3 deflection, +4 dex, + 3 shield)
hp 286 (12d10 +220)
Fort +24 Ref +18 Will +13; +3 vs. Fear, mythic saving throws
Defensive Abilities , bravery +3 DR 10/mythic and bludgeoning,; Immune undead traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee: +3 adamantium bastard sword +27/+22/+17 (1d10+14 17/20 plus bleed) or +3 adamantium bastard sword+23/+18/+13 (1d10 +14 17/20 plus bleed) and +1 bastard sword +21 (1d10+10) or slam +19 (1d4+10 plus blood drinking plus grab)
Special Attacks: bleed 1d8 and 1 con, blood drinking, fountain of blood (DC 22), weapon training (heavy blades +2, natural +1)
Str 22, Dex 18, Con -, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 23
Base Atk +12; CMB +18 (+22 grapple); CMD 33
Feats Bleeding Critical (Mythic), Combat Reflexes, Critical Focus, Disruptive, Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Bastard Sword), Greater Weapon Focus: Bastard Sword, Greater Weapon Specialization: Bastard Sword, Improved Critical: Bastard Sword, Lightning Reflexes, Toughness, Two Weapon Defense (Mythic), Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Focus: Bastard Sword (Mythic), Weapon Focus: Bastard Sword
Skills Escape Artist +12, Intimidate +21, Knowledge (engineering) +5, Perception +10,Racial Modifiers +10 Escape Artist
SQ amazing initiative (mythic), armor training 3, blood body, bonded armor, clean blade (mythic),martial supremacy, mythic power 13/day (surge +1d8), mythic saving throws, parry spell (mythic) retributive reach (mythic),sudden block (mythic)
Gear +3 full plate, +3 adamantium bastard sword, +1 bastard sword, brooch of shielding cloak of resistance +2, ring of protection +3
Blood Body (Ex) A blood knight can store items within its liquefied form. It can retrieve any item stored in its body as a move action or as a free action that is part of a move. An item to be stored must be of a size and shape that fits within whatever portion of the blood knight's armor it is placed.
Blood Drinking (Ex) Any living creature damaged by a blood knight's slam attack takes 1 point of Constitution damage in addition to the normal damage. If the blood knight grapples an opponent, it deals 1d4 points of Constitution damage each round that the grapple is maintained. The blood knight gains 5 temporary hit points for 1 hour each round it drains blood.
Blood Slick (Ex) A blood knight constantly drips slippery blood in a 10-foot-radius spread around itself. The blood slick functions as a grease spell with a save DC of 22. Blood knights are immune to any blood kngiht's blood slick.
Bonded Armor (Ex) A blood knight always wears the armor in which it died. It cannot remove this armor or exchange it for another suit. If the armor is destroyed, the blood knight is destroyed as well. The blood knight has a +5 bonus on saving throws made on behalf of its armor.
Fountain of Blood (Ex) As a full-round action, a blood knight can spray blood from its armor in a great cascade. Each creature within a 15-foot radius is covered in blood and must succeed on a DC 22 Fortitude save as though it had ingested the blood knight's poisonous blood. The blood fills the area until the blood knight's next turn. Creatures entering the spray while it persists are subject to its effects, but a creature can only be affected only once per round. The area covered by the blood spray becomes coated as though by a blood slick and remains slippery for 6 rounds, or until the blood is washed away by at least 5 gallons of water or other liquid, or burned away by normal or magical fire as a full-round actions. Creatures and objects within the area that do not have total cover are coated with the blood, which functions as a grease spell for the purpose of using and handling items (DC 22 Reflex save negates). Failure means the item is immediately dropped. A creature coated in blood gains a +10 bonus on Escape Artist checks. Once a blood knight has used its fountain of blood attack, it must wait 1d4 rounds before it can do so again. Blood Knights are immune to this ability.
Poisonous Blood (Ex) Fountain of Blood- contact or ingested; save]/i] Fort DC 22;[i]frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; initial effect 1 Con damage; secondary effect nauseated for 1 minute; cure 2 consecutive saves.
MYTHIC SPECIAL ABILITIES
Clean Blade (Ex): Whenever you score a critical hit, as a free action you can make a ranged touch attack to fling the blood and gore at another opponent within 30 feet. If the touch attack hits, the foe is sickened for a number of rounds equal to your tier. If the touch attack is a critical hit, the foe is also blinded for the same duration. A blinded foe can spend a full-round action to remove the gore and end the blindness.
Martial Supremacy (Su) Konas Esprillon has fought countless battles gains a profane bonus on all saving throws equal to ihis strength modifier. Additionally, he gains bonus hit points equal to its strength modifier times his hit die. (+78 hp).
Mythic Saving Throws (Ex): Whenever you succeed at a saving throw against a spell or special ability, you suffer no effects as long as that ability didn't come from a mythic source (such as a creature with a mythic tier or mythic ranks). If you fail a saving throw that results from a mythic source, you take the full effects as normal.
Parry Spell (Su): As an immediate action, you can expend one use of mythic power to block a spell targeting you or an ally adjacent to you. The spell must be a ray, a single-target spell, or a spell that creates an effect targeting one creature (such as acid arrow, and the level of the spell's spell slot must be equal to or lower than your tier. Make an attack roll as if making an attack of opportunity. If the result of the attack roll is greater than the spell's attack roll or save DC, the spell has no effect on the intended target (though other targets from the same spell, such as multiple targets of, are affected normally). A spell that has neither a DC nor an attack roll (such as magic missle) can't be affected by this ability. You must declare using spell parry after the spellcaster's target is announced, but before the target's saving throw or attack roll is made.
Retributive Reach (Ex): Treat your reach as 5 feet greater than normal for the purpose of determining whether or not you can make an attack of opportunity. If a creature provokes an attack of opportunity within this area of increased reach, you can expend one use of mythic power to gain a bonus equal to your tier on the attack roll and damage roll of the attack of opportunity.
Sudden Block (Su): As an immediate action, you can expend one use of mythic power to hinder a melee attack made against you or an adjacent ally. Add your tier to your AC or the ally's AC against this attack. The creature making the attack must make two attack rolls and take the lower result. Once the attack is resolved, you or your ally (your choice) can make one melee attack against the creature. The damage from this attack bypasses all damage reduction.
Here's my conversion for the witch Aisa Dublesse, given four levels of Archmage with her spell selection slightly altered. Additionally, I changed her staff into a number of smaller items that give her more options with her abilities.
Aisa Dublese CR 16
Female human vampire witch 12 archmage 4
CE Medium Undead (augmented humanoidl)
Init +12; Senses darkvison 60 ft., see invisibility; Perception +18
AC 33, touch 21, flat 26 (+4 armor, +4 deflection, +6 dex, + 1 dodge +8 natural)
hp 190 (12d6 +148) Fast Healing 5
Fort +15 Ref +14 Will +16
Defensive Abilities , channel resistance +4; DR 10/mythic and silver; Immune undead traits Resist cold 10, electriciity 10; Weakness vampire weaknesses
Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee slam +11 (1d4+7 and energy drain)
Special Attacks: blood drain, children of the night, create spawn, dominate (DC 23), hexes (DC 24,agony [12 rounds], cackle, cauldron, coven, evil eye [-4, 9 rounds], flight [feather fall at will, levitate 1/day, fly 12 minutes/day], retribution [6 rounds], slumber [12 rounds]
Witch Spells Prepared (CL 12th, Concentration +24, spellguard bracers)
6th-- flesh to stone (DC 24), mass fester (DC 25), slay living (DC 25)
5th- cloudkill (DC 23), mythic inflict serious wounds(DC 24), suffocation (DC 24), waves of fatigue
4th- debilitating portent (DC 24), dimension door, mythic enervation , fear (DC 23), mythic severance (DC 23)
3rd- bestow curse (DC 22), mythic dispel magic, lightning bolt DC 21, ray of exhaunstion (DC 22), stinking cloud (DC 21), mythic vampiric touch
2nd- command undead (2, DC 21), glitterdust (DC 20), inflict moderate wounds (DC 21), spectral hand, touch of idiocy
1st- command (DC 19), chill touch (DC 20), inflict light wounds (DC 20), mage armor, ray of enfeeblement (DC 20), unseen servant
0 (at will) bleed (DC 18), message, read magic, touch of fatigue (DC 18)
Str 20, Dex 22, Con -, Int 27, Wis 14, Cha 24
Base Atk +6; CMB +11; CMD 36
Feats Alertness, Brew Potion, Combat Casting, Combat Reflexes, Craft Wand, Craft Wondrous Item, Defesnive Combat Training, Dodge, Extra Hex, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Mythic Spell Lore, Spell Focus: Necromancy (Mythic), Toughness,
Skills Bluff +25, Craft (Alchemy) +27, Diplomacy +20, Disguise +10 (+20 with witching gown), Fly +16, Intimidate +23, Knowledge (arcana) +23, Knowledge (religion) +20, Perception +18, Sense Motive +15, Spellcraft +23, Stealth +20, Swim +9, Use Magic Device +22
Languages Auran, Abyssal, Aklo, Common, Draconic, Elven, Infernal, Necril, Varisian
SQ change shape (dire bat or wolf, beast shape II), exceptional resources, gaseous form, mythic power (11/day, surge +1d8), permanant spells, shadowless, spider climb, wild arcana, witch's familiar (cat named Nightfang)
Combat Gear bloodbrew elixir (4 doses), elemental gems (air, earth, fire) potion of bull's strength, potion of cat's grace, potion of eagle's splendor (2), rod of grasping hexes, scroll of planar ally, wand of enervation (16 charges), wamd of ray of exhaustion (22 charges) Other Gear amulet of natural armor +2, gloves of storing, headband of vast intelligence +4 (Knowledge [history] and [relgion]), lesser extend metamagic rod, ring of protection +4, spellguard bracers, witching gown (contains vampiric touch) spell component pouch, 715 gp
MYTHIC SPECIAL ABILITIES
Coupled Arcana (Ex): Whenever you spend a standard action, move action, or swift action to activate ahex, you can also activate an ability that uses mythic power as a free action. The mythic ability you activate must require the same action type as the other ability you activated or faster (a swift action is faster than a move action, and a move action is faster than a standard action)
Flexible Counterspell (Su): Your mythic power enhances your ability to counter others' spells. As an immediate action, you can expend one use of mythic power to attempt to counter a spell. This ability otherwise works like readying an action to counter a spell, except instead of using the exact spell of dispel magic, you can instead expend a spell or spell slot of a level equal to or higher than the targe spell
Mirror Dodge (Su): When hit by a melee or ranged attack, you can expend one use of mythic power as an immediate action to replace yourself with an illusory duplicate and teleport to any open square within 30 feet of your current position. You take no damage from this attack, which instead destroys your illusory duplicate (similar tomirror image). Using this ability requires a line of effect to the square into which you teleport.
Mythic Hexes (Su): Your hexes are more effective against non-mythic targets. When you use a hex that requires a saving throw against a non-mythic target, that target is automatically affected for 1 round (which doesn't count toward the hex's duration) and can't attempt a saving throw to resist the hex. On your turn the next round, the creature attempts its saving throw as normal. If it succeeds at this saving throw, it breaks free of the hex; otherwise, it's affected as normal.
Wild Arcana (Su) As a swift action, you can expend one use of mythic power to cast any one arcane spell without expending a prepared spell or spell slot. The spell must be on one of your arcane class spell lists and must be of a level that you can cast with that arcane spellcasting class. You don't need to have the spell prepared, nor does it need to be on your list of spells known. When casting a spell in this way, you treat your caster level as 2 levels higher for the purpose of any effect dependent on level. You can apply any metamagic feats you know to this spell, but its total adjusted level can't be greater than that of the highest-level arcane spell you can cast from that spellcasting class.
The Trust Mechanic is one that ultimately can't be resolved as written, so its extremely important to have a way to offset this imbalance by giving your own opportunities for your PCs to earn more trust (I had additional side-quests in mine to do this), which you seem to be doing. A few things:
1)I would choose the second option. It gives the PCs a chance to gain more trust by saving an NPC. The three encounters I would consider to use would be A) The Skeletons in the Lake (might be too brutal for NPC), B) The Rat Swarm in the tower, or C) the Haunted Scythe. The Scythe is probably your best bet since it needs to still roll moderately well to hit a moving target, giving your PCs time to deal with it; the swarm could be as bad as the Burning Skeletons for the same reasons (auto-damage).
2)Be careful with possession before your players have access to magic that can directly force some things out. While possession is an important theme in a horror game, without a means to deal with it, it might make your players mad if they lose control of their character for an extended period. I would allow protection from evil to allow a re-roll against the effect of the Rage Spirit. If you are treating it as a haunt or a spirit tied to Harrowstone (which in my opinion would give them even further reason to go there), I suggest tying it somehow either to the Splatterman or the Lopper.
3)There's a lot of resources for running it for 5 players or adding extended content to the first module in the Carrion Crown sub-forum. Its fascinating if nothing else to see the many different takes on the first module of the AP (which in my opinion is the strongest).
My group and I just completed Neil Spicer's Ashes at Dawn. Here is what was liked, what we (or I) didn't like, what I added and why. It should be noted that I made a few additions due to my PCs attaining a mythic tier at the end of the previous module's climax. This didn't really effect encounter balance too much, and I was even able to use the themes in Mythic to expand upon some of the aims and motives of the prime antagonists of the module. This was due to the excellent structuring of the fights, allowing a GM to escalate an encounter with the addition of enemies in proximity to the fight. Even those that don't escalate have excellent flavor
WHAT WE LIKED
You Can Play it both ways
Vampiric Powers defeated by spells common in horror campaigns
Don't let them fight alone
ADDITIONS (STORYWISE FOR MYTHIC AND A DHAMPIR):
Curing Madness with Conte Ristomir:
Spoilered for Length: On Curing Madness, Dracula, and Shortening a Trip to Caliphas:
Our Dhampir player previously had interactions with Ramoska Arkminos in Trial of the Beast (I had introduced him as a supplier who could procure expensive inflict potions for him in trade for his blood), so I wanted to follow up on that interaction by introducing his employer. I had an agent of the Count contact the PCs after the events of the previous module, arriving in a black carriage and explaining that they were being hunted by the Whispering Way and that their master would provide solace in return for a favor. I then triggered the fight with Barliss Rask (Dullahan), having him reinforced by three other riders (Lich, Graveknight, Wight Lord) to overwehelm the PCs. This resulted in a running fight, with the Dullahan defeated but the other PCs having difficulty due to their madness. Since two of the four PCs had permanent insanity resulting from the previous module, accepting the Count's offer seemed the wiser course rather than trekking overland to Caliphas while being hunted and half the party insane. (The fighter had Multiple Personality Disorder, emulating the personalities of slain PCs while the Dhampir had Schizophrenia, believing that the human members of the party wanted him dead.) They escaped the other three riders via the carriage Shadow-walking then met with the Count. I used this encounter to gauge my PCs reactions to working with vampires, then used the backdrop of the castle to run a 'madness-curing-session' that as best as I can describe was a combination of Dracula and Flatliners. I had two afflicted PCs enter dream-like trances induced by alchemical regents where they relived events that composed the essence of their afflictions. In both cases, a few skill checks and Will saves were made during the course of the visions to represent their coming to understanding and overcoming the madness. The other two PCs were allowed to aid these skill checks with Heal and Diplomacy. They also had to defend the camatose PCs against the deprivations of some of the castle's less obedient servants (vampire spawn, and the like). This made for an awesome, off-the-rails session and helped setup some additional motivation for the next module. In exchange for the help they received, the Count tasked the PCs with finding Arkminos, who had gone missing on a contract in Caliphas. I then had an old teleportation gate provide a quick means of arriving in Caliphas, specifically in a basement attached to the Quarterfaux Archives, where lurked...
Nightskitter in Quartterfaux Basement
Vampire The Masquerade Tropes I played this up to a large degree as far as each main vampire encountered (Marrick Sais=Gangrel,Luvick Sievrage=Ventrue, Lady Evgenya Zunaida=Toreador, Radvir=Brujah), going even so far as to altering some of the powers of the Advanced Spawn so that removing the bonus in one stat resulting in an additonal power (like giving Merrick's spawn no bonus to intelligence but additonal armor in the form of barkskin. In this way, it made it more memorable when each set of spawn and their master were encountered. I omitted Desmond Kote from the vampires above because I knew his presence might start a fight, so I instead used him as an enemy in a later part.
A Player's PC Dhampir Backstory As I've written here, there's a lot to consider if you have
Involving the Churches and (pre-)Killing a Paladin:As written the Church of Pharasma seems kind of ineffectual in not only dealing with the vampire murders but also helping against the Whispering Way as a whole. I try to explain the reasoning for this in the aforementioned “Expanding Caliphas” thread I wrote, yet still had a hard time telling my players that one of the most powerful clerics of a religion dedicated to destroying the undead wouldn't help them in wiping out a group of vampires. Fortunately the Pharasmans aren't the only gang in town; there's also the Church of Iomedae. In this regard, I had relations between the two churches on good terms, further deciding that it would be awesome for the fallen vampire paladin (Halloran Indriss) encountered in the Abbey's basement to accompany my PCs as a living Paladin before his demise. In this regard I had favors exchanged between the two churches that allowed the Paladin to accompany them into what would be a glorious battle. In the big fight described beneath, I was able to have the Paladin die to Energy Dtain and then have his body retrieved by the plot's antagonists. A tricky act to pull off, but ultimately one that worked well.
The Urgathoan Vampires (The Biggest Plot Deviation)
This is long but involves the use of Mythic in the back-story:
Since I am utilizing Mythic, I wanted to add that element to the story aspects of the module. I did this mainly by making the primary characters (Ludvick, Aisa, and Radvir) Mythic, yet I needed reasons for this power to exist within them. With Ludvick, I decided his very nature and age afforded him unquestionable access to such abilities. I decided that his heightened power afforded him jealousy from his main four children. These were Radvir, Merrick, Evgenya, and a fourth vampire I introduced who wasn't part of the vampire underground, Averith. I decided that she exuded the most willfulness of his children, and thus took to traveling the most among them. It is she that wanders the mountains of Virlych, discovering the Blood Knight Konas Esprillon, who is Mythic by nature of his service to The Whispering Tyrant. She comes to worship Urgothoa and seeks her way to free herself from Ludvicks's control, using the Blood Knight and her clerical powers to augment herself with Mythic Tiers. She begins discovering a crude way to transfer this power to other vampires though the results often end in screams and ashen remains. Radvir discovers this and attempts to bargain for the secret to her power, but she refuses. He contacts the Whispering Way, who set about an elaborate plan. They kill the Dhampir PC's mother, framing the murders upon the Urgathoan vampires. The Dhampir's father, a powerful vampire noble, wants revenge but knows that Ludvick won't take it on his own daughter over a human. He confides in Radvir to go after the vampires, who agrees with the aid of his new allies. The Whispering Way's more powerful monsters and the two vampires assault the Urgathoans but while some are reduced to ashes, it is clear that the Blood Knight is the primary goal of the entirety of the group except the PC's father. The group of necromancers easily take control of the Blood Knight, and Alverith, bereft of her most powerful guardian, flees to the deepest depths of the catacombs with her surviving followers. This sets up the disappearance and reappearance of the PC's father in the module's context.
I had both the PC's father and the Urgathoan vampires serve as Red Herrings for the vampire murderer. The Urgathoan cabal consisted of the Death Priest given the vampire template and Five Tiers of Mythic Vampire, the sample Mythic Vampire in Mythic Adventures, Desmond Kote (re-skinned as an Urgathoan Inquisitor), three vampires swiped from the Council of Thieves AP (again re-skinned Urgathoan), and the other four vampires presented on the DM thread and in the bestiary. Wish I'd had the Monster Codex when I ran this, but in total, 10 unique vampires and 16 Advanced Spawn. They lurked in the deepest catacombs beneath the city in the remains of an abandoned theater and required the Dhampir's vampire rival (home-brewed Duelist, Feisty Hotspur re-skinned as human and given vampire template.) to guide them to it. This is the fight where the PCs lose their paladin ally to the vampires before Radvir (who follows them) shows up, kills the Dhampir's Rival (who he had just reconciled with), grabs the Paladin's body, then flees to let his allies prepare an ambush for the returning PCs. This helped me to set up the fact that Mythic power was being used among some the of the vampires and involve the Dhampir personally against Radvir.
Mythic Wight Lord
Vampire Freedom, Mythic, and Elixirs A big theme I continually highlighted throughout the module was freedom versus blood-bound slavery that the vampires represented. In various dialogues, I reinforced the fact that vampirism was a form of slavery; one would constantly be enslaved to their hunger as well as the will of their creator. In this way, I gave Radvir a real, almost human reason for rebelling against Ludvick and setting so many other spawn “free”, though in a way, the drug that frees them represents a form of slavery all its own. To further up the ante, I decided that what truly made the Bloodbrew Elixir insidious was that it bestowed real power on its user temporarily, in this case Mythic. I felt that a small army of Mythic Vampire Spawn would constitute a real threat that would have to be dealt with whether by the PCs or by proxy. With the Blood Knight being Mythic, I had his blood be the catalyst for the creation of not only that elixir, but also a second kind, a potion that Aisa used to fuel her ascent into vampirism. This got me thinking about the overall plot of the module with regards to the AP itself: What if the endgame here was a potion that could turn a mortal into a vampire simply by drinking it? What if such a thing was to be used as a backup plan in case the Carrion Crown failed, what if they simply needed any sentient undead related to Tar Baphon to be present atop Gallowspire and accept his soul? It made sense to me to have the organization possess contingencies in case their main plot failed, and further helped cement the goals of the Whispering Way beyond “lets mess with the vampires because they might be enemies when our plan comes to fruition”. Finally, it let me give my PCs an ever-present physical temptation that could give them unspeakable power at great cost. This was not the only temptation of vampirism I presented, and the role-playing between my players discussing such things was utterly fantastic.
Encounters that I would have changed
-Bone Devil Trap:
-Barliss Rask (Dullahan):
-Greenhouse of Doom:
-The Nobleman's Stitch: A fun, dynamic fight to run. Remember about the lighting effects of daylight similar to the Greenhouse encounter, utilizing tapestries and heavy curtains to block sunlight where necessary. For my part, I changed the guards for a group of adventurers who had been charmed by Radvir and substituted some of the vampire sorcerers for alchemists, adding a Vetala Vampire contracted by Radvir to serve as the shop's face. (These additions are in the GM thread). Again, enough tools here for a GM to craft a good fight.
-The Nabassu:: I didn't really have high hopes for these guys, especially since I knew my PCs would likely be buffed with death ward and protection from evil, rendering most of the creatures' spell-like abilites useless, if not their powers. Surprisingly, despite the presence of the aforementioned spells, it was still kind of an interesting fight; some fai;ed saves against paralysis occurred through the combination of the ghouls and mass hold monster, while the creature's sneak attacks and silence kept the healing from not being quite-so-automatic from the Life Oracle. There is the slight chance that your entire party could have an unlucky round against paralysis, which makes this worth running.
-The Basement Vampires:
Konas Esprillon (Blood Knight) As written, a very effective bruiser who should buy time and actions for Aisa to buff herself and eventually join the fight. What can I say, I know he's a templated 12th level fighter, but the artwork, flavor, and special abilities won me over. This was before I even added five mythic tiers, which made him an absolute beast. I will post his Mythic stats as well as Aisa's in my mythic additions for Carrion Crown thread.
Wood Golems While this was an 'after-fight' (a term I use for battles that take place after the biggest fight of the module), I kept it intact due to the awesome flavor of the golems (stakes for arms). My PCs chewed right through them, but again, as long as a speedbump encounter is well detailed (which the room where you encounter them is), I like keeping it. Great flavor here.
Halloran Indriss I recommend pairing him with any vampiric survivors show he can spend the first few rounds trying to fight his vampire nature before it or Aisa's commands take over. Even still, since my PCs were completely depleted at this point, it made for a dicey fight when the ex-paladin actually decided to defend himself. Eventually, he was defeated, Aisa was killed, and Atonement was cast on him. Now to figure out what fight he will suicidally give his life to in the next module to repay his debt to my PCs… A great role-playing opportunity, good enough that I foreshadowed him earlier in the module.
In my opinion, this module was one of the stronger ones of the AP. This was due to the excellent writing, encounter diversity, and the ability to come at the story from multiple angles. I really want to thank Neil Spicer for being present on these boards to answer questions about what was printed, left out, and the backstory of some of the different elements within. Now, to take a slight break to play my Half Orc Inquisitor in War of the River Kings, then its onto the final part… Shadows at Gallowspire!
No there is a big difference. Hydraulic Push, Awesome Blow, and Bull Rush all require CMB checks to perform. Force Punch does not. It surpasses that mechanic because that's how the spell is implicitly worded. There are lots of effects that break a grapple without a roll: Freedom of Movement, Gaseous Form, and the aforementioned dimensional effects. There's no reason why a 4th level spell can't for one turn do the exact same thing. Absurd is a subjective word that doesn't quantify into a rules discussion.
Not at all. These are both magical effects that cause someone to be in a different position from where they started. In neither spell description for Force Punch nor Dimension Door does it state anything to the effect of what you're implying, nor does it in the grapple rules. The PC isn't using his CMD to move away, a magical effect is bypassing the need to make the check.
Sorry, but I really disagree with the logic here. A force Punch spell would physically move someone away from the space where they initiatited it, causing the grapple to end. Here's why: