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My players were scared of the T-rex skeleton, and were sure it was going to be a TPK, until they noticed a quirk in how I drew the map and darted into a small niche in the wall of the cavern. The T-rex was too big to fit through, and as a skeleton, too stupid to get away, so they just chipped away at it with ranged attacks.
Glad the portfolios are helping out.
Will definitely create a Winter Witch, as I'm very familiar with Reign of Winter and I love the flavor of the area. It'll take awhile to go through all those houserules, but here's my rolls for stats.
4d6 ⇒ (3, 2, 5, 5) = 15 = 13
The last leap second was in June 2012, and it caused reddit to crash, Gawker to go down, and Australian airline Qantas had enough computer problems that 50 flights were delayed. Changing a computer's assumption about time can cause all sorts of problems (hence the whole Y2K scare).
For instance, say somebody submitted a post at exactly the moment the leap second happened. The Paizo messageboard database might expect the time stamp for that post to be 00:00:00 (exactly midnight), but instead the time stamp reads 23:59:60. If the software isn't designed to handle that time stamp, any reference to that post could very likely crash the program.
I skipped this chapter as well. My party had to flee from Kazmojen their first encounter, as he defeated them very easily. As they were fleeing, Lord Orbius made his appearance and took Terem, but I had Kazmojen go ahead and sell the other children to Pyllrak. The party was quite distraught when they finally defeated Kazmojen and found a receipt on him indicating that "Pyllrak of the Darklands" had purchased them. They found a discarded journal in Pyllrak's room that indicated his plans for reselling the children in the Darklands, and so the second chapter of Shackled City turned into a chase through the Darklands as the party tried their best to catch up to Pyllrak. It turned into one of the best parts of the entire campaign.
GM MG wrote:
My HP calculations are:
12 (HD) - 1 (CON) + 3 (Toughness) + 1 (Favored class) = 15
Like so many posting here, I love the Dark Souls games.
Grim, brutal setting for a grim, brutal game...sounds like rolling 3d6 in order is a great way to determine my character...
Str: 3d6 ⇒ (6, 6, 5) = 17
That...is a very fragile front line combatant. Maybe a barbarian to help offset the lack of Con? I'll post a character later tonight.
I ran it with 4 players ranging from very new to very experienced, using a stat array of 15 14 14 13 12 10. We also used hero points. Overall, the campaign was difficult for the players, mostly due to some encounters that are just not balanced at all. Going chapter by chapter:
Life's Bazaar - The grell is stupid. I made it far less powerful than the 3.5 version, and it's still overpowered. I'd just take it out. I'd also drop at least one level from Kazmojen, as he's ridiculously powerful.
Drakthar's Way - Since the party had to retreat from Kazmojen the first time they fought, I had Lord Orbius rescue Terem as they fled, and Pyllrak bought the other 3 children and took them into the Darklands. I completely replaced this chapter with their desperate attempts to track Pyllrak down and return the children.
Flood Season - A very easy chapter for the party.
Zenith Trajectory - Gotrrod very nearly TPK'd the party, but they just barely managed to drive him off. They were routed at the hands of Aushanna (the advanced template has no business being on her), of course, but nothing else was really a challenge; even Dhorlot the Dragon-Father went down easily.
The Demonskar Legacy - Dugobras, the fire giant smith, was amazingly effective. That was an epic battle. The hags were just a complete joke, though. Nabthatoron nearly TPK'd the party (improved trip + combat reflexes was obscene).
Test of the Smoking Eye - I cut out the random dragon, as there's frankly too many dragons in this path. This was a fun chapter. Myaruk's (the lich) tactics are lousy, though, as the summons he can cast were no threat to the party.
Secrets of the Soul Pillars - The assassin party is way too nasty. The pre-buffs they get just make them too good, especially since the AP wants you to have them attack when the party is likely not in their adventuring gear. Fetor's opening round tactics (quickened lightning bolt + lightning bolt) were devastating. Vittriss Bale was a good, hard fight that would have been a whole lot worse if the party hadn't had multiple death wards.
Lords of the Oblivion - The battle with Thifirane was fun. I ended up completely changing the dungeon leading to Lord Orbius, as I wanted the party completely surprised about his true identity, and the original dungeon makes that impossible. That fight was very epic, as well.
Foundations of Flame - I was looking forward to this chapter, as it's so different, and it fell flat. Most of the encounters were very easy, and magic makes most of the events simple to overcome. Instead of Kravijack, I used Thifirane (who had escaped their first encounter) plus some mercenaries. I also ended up skipping on the Hookface battle, as again, too many dragons.
Thirteen Cages - Most of the Cagewrights were unimpressive. Moltenwing was a very difficult encounter. The encounter with Ardeth Webb and Nulin Wiejeron was a complete joke - they were amazingly ineffective. I added the spellweaver from chapter 11 into the battle with Dyr'ryd, and that made the encounter a blast that ranged over the entire Tree room and pushed the party to their limits.
Strike on Shatterhorn & Asylum - I combined these two chapters, as Strke on Shatterhorn is so out of place and dull. Due to the way the party interacted with NPCs, I used Lord Aslaxin as a worm-that-walks Cagewright magus who lead a counterstrike against the party along with several Cagewrights from Shatterhorn. On Carceri, Dark Myrakul was a joke, and I had Adimarchus immediately plane shift to Occipitus and fight the party there. It was a suitably epic end to the campaign.
If I had to make one change to the way things played out, I would have completely rebuilt the Stormblades. The one time they fought my players, the Stormblades were beat down so heavily that the concept of them as a successful rival adventuring party was kind of ridiculous. Luckily, the players did hate them, except for Zachary Aslaxin II, who came off as reasonable.
It was a blast of a campagin, but it needs heavy work to make it the best it can be. I ended up changing more and more of the encounters the farther into the campaign we got, to make sure things stayed interesting, effective, and not overpowered, but that's something I end up doing in every campaign.
You know every possible Legend about it. Which should just about cover it.
Please show where legend lore says you know every legend about the target. The idea that the plural of a word (legends) means the entirety of that word is...odd.
Also, legends are by their very nature full of inaccuracies. So even if you know every single legend ever told about Cthulhu, you'd get plenty of disinformation.
If you want exotic and new places, I don't think anything is going to beat Reign of Winter. The players start in Taldor and end up traveling to:
Reign of Winter spoilers:
Irrisen (land of eternal winter)
Iobaria (largely "uncivilized" country not in the Inner Sea)
Triaxus (another planet in Golarion's solar system)
Multiple demiplanes within Baba Yaga's hut
Changing martial techniques to fighter-only feats would be kind of difficult, as most of the techniques are dependent on expertise. I guess you could change the bonus to something like "1/4 fighter level (rounded up)," but that would be awkward.
I also think the fighter needs more than just combat feats, hence the various abilities I gave it - versatility, indomitable, etc. And of course, they flat out need 4 + Int skills.
Expertise scales up to 3 times per day, and the on-use ability bonus grows to be pretty extreme (eventually turning into +20 to attack and damage). The main point of the Expertise bonus is to give a static bonus to attack and damage representing the fighter's skill. The on-use ability is to represent the fighter going all out on one attack, which tires him briefly, hence the Expertise bonus resetting to 0 until his next turn.
There's not really a whole lot of per day abilities: Expertise, Aim for the Heart, Parry, Deflect Rays, and Mastery. That doesn't seem excessive to me. A stamina pool is an interesting idea though; I might see what that would do to the ideas.
Inspired by this thread, how about something like this:
Those who dedicate their lives to the art of fighting are unmatched in the ways of combat. Legends of great heroes abound – slaying a dragon single-handedly, deflecting magic back on those who cast it with a swipe of his sword, the ancient warrior able to turn anything he held into a deadly weapon – these are the tales of an age’s greatest fighters. From the humble farmer who picks up a plowshare and ends up saving the kingdom to the weapon master dedicated from childhood, being a true fighter is more than simple training. It is a passion, a calling, and the stuff from which legends are born.
Role: Fighters are the masters of the battlefield. Their incredible martial techniques and sheer versatility allow them to shape combat to best benefit them and their allies. Through nothing more than perfection in combat, they are capable of truly astounding deeds that seem mystical and can confound even the greatest shapers of magic.
Bonus Feats: At 1st level, and every 3 levels thereafter, a fighter gains a bonus feat in addition to those gained from normal advancement. These bonus feats must be selected from those listed as combat feats, sometimes also called “fighter bonus feats.”
Upon reaching 6th level, and every 3 levels thereafter (9th, 12th, 15th, 18th), a fighter can choose to learn a new bonus feat in place of a bonus feat he has already learned. In effect, the fighter loses the bonus feat in exchange for the new one. The old feat cannot be one that was used as a prerequisite for another feat, prestige class, or other ability. A fighter can only change one feat at any given level and must choose whether or not to swap the feat at the time he gains a new bonus feat for the level.
Expertise: Fighters are experts in combat, capable of handling any weapon with a great deal of skill. When making an attack, a fighter adds a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls. This bonus increases by 1 at 5th level, and every 4 levels thereafter. This bonus is also added to the fighter’s CMB and CMD.
Once per day, a fighter can focus his expertise into one devastating attack. As a standard action, he can make one attack and double his expertise bonus for that attack. After the attack is resolved, the fighter’s expertise bonus is reduced to 0 until his next turn.
Martial Technique: As a fighter gains levels, he becomes more versed in the ways of combat. Starting at 2nd level, and every 3 levels thereafter, a fighter gains a martial technique. Unless otherwise noted, a fighter cannot select an individual power more than once.
Aim for the Heart – As a full round action, make one attack. If the attack hits, it deals normal damage and the target must make a Fortitude save (the DC is 10 + the fighter’s BAB) or die. This ability may be used once per day. A fighter must be at least 7th level to select this technique.
Alert – Add the fighter’s expertise bonus to his Initiative.
Armor Training – Increase the maximum Dex bonus allowed by the fighter’s armor and decrease the armor check penalty by an amount equal to the fighter’s expertise bonus. If this reduces the armor’s ACP to 0, the fighter may move at full speed while wearing the armor.
Battle Commander – As a full-round action, a fighter can lend his expertise to his allies by issuing commands and providing insight into combat. Allies within 30 ft. who can hear or see the fighter gain a competence bonus on their attack and damage rolls equal to the fighter’s expertise bonus for 1 round. The fighter can extend the duration of this effect with a standard action each subsequent round. The maximum duration of this ability is a number of rounds equal to the fighter’s Charisma modifier (minimum 1).
Counter – When a fighter successfully parries an attack, he may use the attack roll used to parry to make an attack on the opponent he parried. A fighter must have the Parry martial technique to select this martial technique.
Defensive Expertise – The fighter gains a dodge bonus to his AC equal to his expertise bonus.
Deflect Rays – A fighter can attempt to deflect any ray that targets him. As an immediate action, make an attack roll and compare it to the attack roll of the ray. If the fighter’s attack roll is higher, the ray is deflected harmlessly away. If the attack roll of the fighter exceeds that of the ray by 5 or more, the ray is reflected back at the caster, who becomes the new target. A ray cannot be deflected in this manner if the original attack roll was a natural 20. This ability can be used a number of times per day equal to the fighter’s expertise bonus. This ability can be chosen more than once. Each time it is chosen, increase the number of times per day it can be used by an amount equal to the fighter’s expertise bonus (these extra uses go up in value when the expertise value goes up).
Forge Master –The Fighter is not only a master of wielding weapons and armor, but also a master at their fabrication. He gains Craft Magic arms and Armor as a bonus feat, even if he does not meet the prerequisites. For the purposes of this feat, treat the Fighter's BAB as his caster level. Choose Craft (weaponsmith), Craft (bowyer), or Craft (armorsmith). The fighter gains a bonus on this skill equal to his expertise bonus.
Graceful Steps – Fighters can assess the flow of combat and move through it with effortless grace. A fighter that selects this maneuver can make a number of additional 5-foot-steps per round equal to his expertise bonus.
Improved Defensive Expertise – The fighter gains DR/- equal to his expertise bonus. This damage reduction stacks with other sources of DR/-. A fighter must have the Defensive Expertise martial technique to select this martial technique.
Fearful Reputation – The fighter gains a bonus to Intimidate equal to his expertise modifier. In addition, he can attempt to demoralize an enemy as a swift action.
Mental Focus – Some fighters focus their training on strengthening the power of their mind. A fighter who selects this martial technique adds his expertise bonus on all Will saves.
Parry - As a swift action, a fighter may prepare to counter an attack made against him. The next time before the fighter’s next turn a creature he threatens attacks him, he may make an opposed attack roll. If the fighter’s attack roll is higher, the original attack misses. A natural 20 on the attack roll of the opponent can only be parried by a natural 20 by the fighter. Regardless of the success of the parry, it uses an attack of opportunity. This ability can be used a number of times per day equal to his expertise bonus. This ability can be chosen more than once. Each time it is chosen, increase the number of times per day it can be used by an amount equal to the fighter’s expertise bonus (these extra uses go up in value when the expertise value goes up).
Powerful Jump – When making a long jump, a fighter may add his level to the distance he jumps. When making a high jump, he may add his expertise bonus to the height he jumps.
Quick Reflexes – Fighters who select this martial technique have honed their reflexes to a razor edge, and gain a bonus to Reflex saves equal to their expertise bonus.
Skillful Manuever – Choose a combat maneuver from the following list: bull rush, dirty trick, disarm, grapple, overrun, reposition. The fighter gains the related Improved feat as a bonus feat. At 7th level, the fighter gains the related Greater feat as a bonus feat. The fighter does not need to meet the pre-requisites for these feats to receive them. This ability can be chosen more than once. Each time it is chosen, it applies to a new maneuver.
Skilled – Not all fighters focus their training exclusively on combat. A fighter who selects this martial technique gains a bonus to one skill equal to his expertise bonus. This ability can be chosen more than once. Each it is chosen, it applies to a different skill.
Spell Resistance – A fighter gains Spell Resistance equal to 10 + the fighter’s level. A fighter must be at least 11th level to select this ability.
Tactical Assessment – A fighter can use Sense Motive in place of a Knowledge skill to ascertain the abilities of a creature. The fighter must have witnessed the creature in combat for at least 2 rounds before he can use this ability.
Weapon Training – Some fighters focus their training on one type of weapon. Choose one weapon group. The fighter gains a +1 bonus to hit and +2 to damage with all weapons from that group and gains proficiency with every weapon in that group. This ability can be chosen more than once. Each time it is chosen, it applies to a new weapon group.
Bravery: Starting at 3rd level, a fighter gains a bonus on Will saves against mind-affecting effects equal to his Expertise bonus.
Versatility: At 6th level, a fighter learns to be more adaptable in combat. As a move action, he can gain the use of one combat feat for which he qualifies for a number of rounds equal to his Expertise bonus. At 12th level, a fighter can activate this ability as a swift action, and at 18th as an immediate action.
Indomitable: At 9th level, a fighter’s toughness allows him to shrug off many attacks. If he makes a Fortitude saving throw against an attack that has a reduced effect on a successful save, he instead avoids the effect entirely. A helpless fighter does not gain the benefit of the indomitable ability.
Improved Expertise: At 12th level, a fighter can expend his expertise one additional time per day, and the expertise bonus is tripled rather than doubled.
Tireless: At 15th level, fighters become immune to fatigue and exhaustion.
Greater Expertise: At 18th level, a fighter can expend his expertise one additional time per day, and the expertise bonus is quadrupled rather than tripled.
Mastery: At 20th level, a fighter becomes a true master of combat. Once per day, he may gain the use of any Martial Technique for which he qualifies for 5 rounds as an immediate action. In addition, he may select one weapon group to master. When wielding any weapon from that group, the critical multiplier of the weapon increases by 1 (x2 becomes x3, for example), and he cannot be disarmed.
I have this idea for a campaign that I've been toying with that involves Lamashtu. The background being that at one point, Aroden did something to anger Calistria (haven't figured out what yet). Calistria, furious, plots her revenge and finds an ally in Lamashtu. With Calistria's aid, Lamashtu seduces Aroden and at the height of their union, Calsitria appears and the two goddesses kill Aroden. His power flows out of him and into Lamashtu's new pregnancy.
The result of the union is a mythic demon/human hybrid named Nazael that seeks to supplant his mother. He finds an artifact empowered by Azathoth while searching for ways to increase his power and it drives him insane. His insanity drives him to believe freeing Rovagug will grant him the desired power.
Nazael, through years of research, finds a ritual that will free Rovagug. The clues to it are hidden in the following verse:
The lifeblood of a virgin
Each pair of lines refers to a requirement for the ritual:
The lifeblood of a virgin
- A virgin’s lifeblood is not terribly difficult to come by. The best that defiled her refers to a horrific coupling after the virgin is already dead. Not immediately apparent is that the lifeblood of the beast is required, not the beast itself.
The get of their union,
- The dead virgin becomes pregnant by the beast that defiled her, and an undead creature is born from her. This creature (some kind of unique ghoul?) must be anointed by Pharasma. The creature must be at the ritual, willingly taking part.
The irredeemable priest of the Dawn,
- A priest of Sarenrae fallen so far as to be irredeemable – he must now worship Rovagug.
The Last Azlant’s last,
- This refers to Nazael himself.
Ninshabur calls thee,
- The ritual must take place at a specific location at the Pit of Gormuz.
The party would get different bits of the ritual at different times and not in order, so they'd only slowly begin to get an idea of what was going on. Since Nazael is seeking to supplant Lamashtu, at one point, they'd be all but required to ally with Lamashtu's worshippers for a time. There'd be an NPC cleric of Calistria that seems like an ally would eventually turn on them when it became clear they were getting close to discovering Calistria's role in Aroden's death.
That's about all I've worked up on it.
"Weak" encounters drain resources
Others have touched on ways to make sure the PCs aren't able to do one encounter per rest, so I won't go into that. What I've found is when you have multiple encounters, you don't need all of them to be hard. Encounters that are APL+0 often see PCs use higher level spell slots and resources to finish quickly. APL-1 or even -2 can be great for expending AoE spells. Several of these encounters can quickly drain some of the over-the-top power of the PCs in preparation for the big fights.
If your players are really smart and conserve their precious resources, then have a "pre-BBEG." Something that can definitely be considered a threat that will make the PCs want to use their big guns. A powerful demon, or dragon, or similar creature is a good way to do this. Then, after that fight, the BBEG can make his presence known.
More is more
Instead of one big enemy that is APL+3, why not a pair that are each APL+1? A pair of CR 19 dragons is a much more interesting battle than a single CR 21.
Oh, the memories...
Remember that one monster that was a horrifically difficult fight for your party earlier in their career? The one they only managed to kill by the wizard desperately firing off his crossbow and rolling a nat 20? Now that the PCs are several levels higher than that monster, have them encounter 2-3 of those guys. The memory of how hard the monster was will likely cause them to take the battle much more seriously, even if individually the monsters pose little threat to them now.
Slumbering Tsar is nothing like a traditional AP. It's divided into 3 parts:
1) Sandbox wilderness exploration.
There is very little story in it (although it does have extensive background). It's mostly a setting and hundreds of encounters. GMs have a lot of work to do to really change it into a campaign.
Take a look at the Great Old One Bokrug. Notice he is a large magical beast, which covered by Beast Shape 4.
Wild Shape never functions as beast shape iv - it caps at beats shape iii for animals. Druids can never wild shape into a magical beast.
If you cast beast shape iv, however, I agree with Pupsocket - why would you say the damage dice shrink?
Kobold Cleaver wrote:
Point out to him that making every enemy tactically skilled, even the stupid ones, cheapens the danger posed by smart villains. Hobgoblins and devils should be smart and careful. Goblins, orcs and demons should fight like morons.
Why should demons fight like morons? Of the 19 demons in Bestiaries 1-3, only 2 have an Intelligence score less than 10 (Dretch and Schir). Most of them have 14+.
Core Rulebook, page 403 wrote:
One handy rule to keep under your belt is the Fiat Rule - simply grant a player a +2 or a -2 bonus or penalty to a die roll if no one at the table is precisely sure how a situation might be handled by the rules.
This is a guideline only, and not a hard and fast rule. There's nothing in the CRB that says a GM is limited in giving out bonuses or penalties depending on the circumstances. I'm only passingly familiar with PFS, so I have no idea if there's something specific in there about limits to situational modifiers.
Update: the party has just completed Flood Season. I decided to move the Demonskar Ball to after this chapter. Vhalantru is going to reward them by persuading Lord Aslaxin to invite them. I'll probably have the Demonskar Ball itself take place on the Winter Solstice.
The party has a (now ex-)member of the town guard, so he's gone to Terseon Skellerang multiple times, and I've managed to portray him with just the right amount of arrogance, desire to do his duty, laziness, and corruption. I imagine the player will be quite happy to see how Skellerang's story goes as the AP progresses.
Lord Aslaxin has already played more of a role than I expected, and since he's the father of one of the Stormblades (not to mention they sussed out that it was Lord Aslaxin that hired the Stormblades to collapse the tunnel to the Darklands), they don't really trust him. I think I'm going to replace one of the Cagewrights with him.
One of the party is a wizard who persistently attempted to acquire an audience with Thifirane Rhiavadi, to no success. He was very interested in her magical prowess, having seen her teleport way back in the first session. The player is moving out of state, so in his last session, I had her offer him a job creating magic items (soulcages, eventually), but he countered by wanting to be her apprentice. Perfect! Now that character can come back as a NPC. I haven't yet decided if he'll be a villain or a valuable source of information for the party.
Loving the campaign so far.
After spending way too many hours converting Shackled City to Golarion and PF, I've finally been able to run it. So far, it's going great, although it's taken some unexpected turns.
First off, I decided I wanted Vhalantru and Thifirane Rhiavadi to play bigger roles in the adventure. I made Lord Vhalantru in charge of Cauldron's adventuring licenses. No license means no adventuring, and to get a license requires the sponsorship of a noble house. Vhalantru was able to get Thifirane to agree to sponsor them (after the party took care of a nasty rat problem for her). The party didn't much like the arrogant Thifirane, but they seemed to like Vhalantru. Exactly the result for which I was hoping.
The party wisely explored all of Jzadirune before heading down to the Malachite Fortress, but unfortunately for them, they quickly found Kazmojen while still level 2. They started running when Kazmojen knocked Fario and Fellian unconscious with one attack each. The last person out saw Orbius teleport in, claim Terrem, and teleport back out.
After that mess, they decided to prepare more carefully, and perhaps explore the Malachite Fortress first. Seeing as how Kazmojen stomped them so thoroughly, I figured he wouldn't bother increasing the guard - the clearly incompetent adventurers were no threat to him.
The party found Fario and Fellian in the prison cells and rescued them, as well as the other slaves, and with careful preparation, stomped Kazmojen as easily as he did them the first time. Unfortunately, however, the remaining three children - Deakon, Lucinda, and Evelyn - were no where to be found, since after driving off the party the first time, Kazmojen finished the sale to the durzagon. I left a receipt on Kazmojen, however, stating the children were sold to "Pyllrak Shyraat, denizen of the Darklands."
My players weren't exactly keen on the idea of venturing into the Darklands until Jenya told them the reward was for rescuing the children. Still, they detoured off to Kingfisher Hollow to investigate Kingfisher Sendings. That didn't turn out to be very useful for them (although they did meet Lord Aslaxin there, and informed him about the slavery ring and the entrance to the Darklands).
So with a rather timid attitude, they decided they needed to venture into the Darklands. At this point, I decided the rescue of the children was going to completely replace Drakthar's Way. Pyllrak would end up taking his new slaves to various Darklands residents and attempt to resell them.
The party has had to cope with numerous Darklands hazards, and rescued Evelyn from a rather insane derro vivisectionist alchemist, managing to sneak into and back out of the small derro village without attracting notice.
Next up was a duergar city, where Pyllrak sold the dwarf child Deakon to a wealthy merchant, who also happened to be a wizard hoping to sacrifice his new purchase to convince an imp to become his familiar. That fight was particularly brutal, but they just barely managed to save Deakon. Oh, and they hired away the wizard's slave kobold chef, Jean-Pierre (complete with outrageous French accent and attitude).
They found Pyllrak's discarded journal in a guest room in the wizard's house, in which he states he was planning on selling the last child, Lucinda, to the drow, though he hates to deal with them. They used the wizard's library to research the drow city and found that to get there, they'll have to pass through a dangerous fungal forest.
Our next session is tomorrow, in which they'll find the fungal forest and eventually discover that Pyllrak succumbed to the many spores floating in the air, and turned into a weird fungal version of himself (Fungal Creature template from Bestiary 4). Lucinda managed to sneak away and is hiding just past the forest.
Once they find Lucinda, they'll have to trek back. They've already been in the Darklands for around 2 weeks, and it'll probably take about the same amount of time to get back. But, unfortunately for them, the duergar have discovered they killed the merchant, and when the party passes by the city, the guards alert their superiors, who will send out several squads to apprehend the murderers.
Even worse, when the party returns to the entrance to the Malachite Fortress, they'll find it collapsed. Lord Aslaxin, upon hearing about such a potentially dangerous tunnel, had the Stormblades collapse it. Now the party will have to turn around (back towards the duergar squads they don't know about yet) and find another exit.
The plan is for them to just barely escape the vengeful duergar by the skin of their teeth through a narrow tunnel that leads to the surface. Just before they're gone, a duergar wizard will cast a fireball at them, which ends up collapsing the tunnel behind them.
I think when the party miraculously returns to Cauldron with the three missing children, I'll have Vhalantru reward them somehow; maybe a piece of treasure tailored to them, or perhaps a piece of property in the city. Just something to help them remember him as a good guy.
I'd strongly argue that since transmute elf to orc affects the target's personality, it needs two saves: Fort for the physical transmutation, and Will for the mental. The analogue is, obviously, baleful polymorph. It just doesn't make sense that a failed Fort save changes the target's alignment and personality.
Something I threw at my players awhile back:
Darth Maul CR 19