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Don't do BBEG. Do BBBEG -- Big Bad BUNCHES of Evil Guys.
Action economy kills anyone who doesn't insta-gib the PCs. So don't even try to have one single titanic figure they must bring down -- have a bunch of people on a level with the PCs, or slightly below. Have an Evil Opposite Party. Have a bunch of buffed minions running around. Have two guardian shield golems with the wizard. Definitely have terrain and environment help the enemy instead of the PCs (bad weather against archers, a lot of pillars and chasms against a rage-charge-pounce-lance monster, some kind of LOS or anti-magic barriers against casters, whatever.) Have five or six DIFFERENT bad guys hanging around doing things.
A bag of holding usually works, though a portable hole has a much larger volume.
Using illusions (e.g., disguise other) to hide your undead minions in plain sight as not-un-dead minions might also work. Invisibility also works, but you might need to develop long-term invisibility spells.
"Don't bring your bones to town, son." Keep them away from public sight (move them at night, or in rain/fog, or underwater/underground.)
Teleport with them from point to point instead of entering constable-viewed space.
Talk with the local law enforcement about licenses for transporting undead.
Tell the undead not to move and tell observers that you're just taking all these coffins to a proper burial ground. (Or, if they're animal bones, that you've got a bunch of industrial raw material you're talking to the grinders.)
As a GM, I'd probably rule that just studying the lich's possessions doesn't make you "familiar" with te lch -- that's something that requires long-term interaction. The body part watching would work, though.
Also, the lich isn't "there" until it finishes reforming. So you'd have a window between the time it finished reforming and the time it cast its anti-scrying spells -- assuming its phylactery wasn't in, say, a lead-lined vault in a graveyard or something. Admittedly, not all liches are that paranoid, but there are countermeasures to a lot of divination magic, which is why you might need to pull out the big guns.
Any noir film will give you this -- the person who tracks down the Guy Who Done Her Wrong (or the Gal What Dumped Him) is an inquisitor of Calistria.
She's about revenge, and sex, and other passions -- and while an "inquisitor" as part of a formal church structure doesn't work for a deity that doesn't have a formal church structure (hello, chaotic neutral? fiercely individualistic? ELVEN?) -- an investigator helping others in need of revenge, or wronged in love, or those who abuse some other passion, seems to me to be firmly in the cards.
Any other passion... I have just thought of an inquistor of Calistria whose job it is to hunt down, and revenge himself upon, those who falsely claim to be great gourmet chefs, and serve up horrid pap in exchange. The Hamburgler strikes again!
It would help to know what level of party you're dealing with -- some things will be deadly (and appropriate) for a level 1-5 party but a level 11-15 party will stomp them flat (not to mention the question of how any of the regular occupants of City Hall survived anything...)
There's probably a general anti-teleport and anti-scrying shield over the whole building. A number of doors are probably arcane locked -- the evacuaees MAY be able to give the PCs the password to some ("sure, every janitor's closet opens to 'Broom Hilda'"), but maybe not to others ("no, nobody knows the password to the Mayor's washroom! Or the evidence vault!")
Animated objects may be very plausible (desk, chairs, tables, tapestries, candelabrae...) some as guards put in place by City Hall, others as part of the ongoing attack.
Mayor's Office -- a succubus and a hound archon are weaving back and forth around the desk (respectively tempting and supporting the mayor, and usually invisible, but right now they're too focused on each other.)
City Council Office -- the table, animated by WAY too many coffee spills over the years, doesn't want ANYONE to sit around it droning ON AND ON AND ON about sewage cleanup financing details. It might try to bargain with the PCs (after it, it knows ALL the passwords). Or maybe it just wants to run away back to the hills and be a tree again, and is trying to escape...
Public Works -- a delegation of otyugh sewer workers are there to talk about the pay increase. They got there via their regular secret tunnel to the sewers just after the evacuation, and will assume that the PCs are the new negotiation team ... if they're not attacked on sight. They'll spend the first round waving union cards at the PCs. One might inquire if the PCs want to join the union (after all if they're not management, they must be labor, right?)
A random mephit (or other CR-appropriate mischeveous monster) of some sort may be skipping around the place writing "HASTUR WAS HERE!" on the furniture. Do the PCs read the graffiti?
The horses weren't evacuated from the stable. Pity about that, since the nightmare the Big Bad rode in on is also in the stable... and in heat. (Or maybe it's just killed them all, if you'd prefer, and then animated their corpses. Yeah, it's got a few special powers, and the master's pet familiar got into its sack of wands and is waving things around. Did I mention one of them is a wand of wonder?)
Waiting Room -- the ghost of someone who died here a few hundred years ago and is STILL waiting for someone to talk to about the foundation inspection so they can get busy building.... PCs can exorcise the ghost by finding the permits on-file in the City Clerk's office and giving them to the ghost. Of course, that means facing the animated incinerator with its three minion flying knives.
There will probably be quite a few magic mouths yelling about intruders.
Look up the guards and wards spell covering the attic and all the pigeon coops up there. Did I mention that the gargoyles are getting free?
And whatever you do, DON'T look in the Mayor's breakroom... the illusions there are horrificly bad....
Another suitor shows up and challenges the groom for possession of the bride. Maybe this is an armed challenge, maybe this is a legal challenge... ("she was betrothed to me first! I have a betrothal contract!")
An infestation of mephits gets into the kitchen. Can the PCs drive them out without blowing up the place?
An old witch shows up, angry at not being invited -- can the PCs deal with or distract her before she curses the wedding rings?
A bunch of beggars show up and pester everyone for largesse. (Give them food and they go away...). Or maybe the King of the Beggars shows up and says this will happen unless the PCs pay him something...
An angel, or other servant of the PCs' patron gods, shows up to bless the ceremony -- but one of the guests thinks the angel is after him and starts a fight.
An angel shows up disguised as a beggar and sees what the PCs will do. Secret Test of Character, anyone?
A devil shows up to deliver a message to the Pcs. Nasty hijacks MIGHT ensue, particularly if the PCs are anything less than strictly polite. (The devil shows up with a copy of Emily Cross's book on famous etiquette blunders under its arm -- verbum sap.!)
A belligerent champion of Goum shows up and wants to start a wild wrestling match in honor of the wedding. Does anyone take up his challenge?
A delegation of peasants shows up to beg for the customary lightening of feudal dues for a year in honor of the wedding.... Is there such a custom? Well, they think there is.
A gnome subtler shows up with a whole pile of gifts to sell to the other wedding participants. Including a really POTENT bottle of ale that somehow gets into the punch.
Someone casts animate object on the wedding cake. Can the PCs defeat the monster without destroying the cake? (The cake has AC 5 and vulnerability to bite attacks, but its hits also do Charisma damage.)
The caterer's entire staff came down wth food poisoning the morning of the baking... What do the PCs do?
Further recommended reading: Barbara Hambly, Stranger at the Wedding
Kingmaker is a really good AP if you like to swing your own adventures and design your own stuff -- much of it is modular, so you can swap various encounters and dungeons out or in, you can add (or subtract) whole threads as to what's going on. You can do a LOT if it strikes your fancy.
1) figure out what kind of campaign your players like. Emphasize elements that swing that way, de-emphasize elements that don't. We ended up having a lot more interaction with the Swordlords than the AP envisions, which made for a much better campaign. For instance, the part where the Swordlords tried to use Vordakai's phylactery to enslave the lich to help them against the rest of Brevoy... still quite memorable.
2) Treat the kingdom-building rules as rough guidelines and encounter generators, not a system to try and game for maximum advantage. I got a lot of work out of that, mostly by looking at what the locals might want and what they weren't getting. Some players will love the idea of building and influencing their own kingdom and towns, but not everyone will. (Try getting one town per player -- suddenly a lot more interpersonal politics comes into effect if it's "my town" instead of "random village #4".)
3) You can change the ending if you want -- but whatever you do, foreshadow where you're going more heavily. If Nyrissa is involved, play up the fey element. If you want to turn this into a game of political warfare with Brevoy, you can do that too (whether or not Choral the Conqueror shows up at all). Or you could end it after book 5 if the players are happy at that point.
4) You can have additional elements -- for instance, one of my players wanted a Hellknight cohort. I had SO much fun with the interplay between the Hellknights trying to establish Law and (Terrified) Order, led by the cohort, and the priesthood of Erastil trying to get together a written lawcode for Law and (Traditional Village) Order. Work with what the players do, add themes, etc. -- this is an AP that really allows for this sort of thing to happen. (The PC who tried to establish an order of tiger-riding knights did not fare nearly so well, mostly because the other players were Not Happy with the idea...) I did a lot with Candlemere (a site just crying out for more use!) and it eventually became the Hellknight base.
5) Tie things together. If the PCs had a good interaction with an NPC in the previous books, let them live, and use them as a quest hook as much as possible. The mad alchemist in book 1 can be the guy delivering the "odd ingredient" quest hooks in book 3 or 4, and maybe he knows someone in Irovetti's court in book 5... Keep the number of NPCs under control that way.
6) If they're running with the kingdom rules, USE THOSE NPCS! Have the players roleplay recruiting them. Have them speak up for different goals (e.g., army vs. exploration vs. other stuff; locals vs. outlanders; etc.) Don't be afraid to have the particular appointee come to them with a quest hook that falls under their area of expertise, either!
7) Foreshadow the other Stolen Lands groups from the beginning -- Magnus Varn's fate means more if the PCs have previously met him, knowing that Baron Drelev is building stuff up in the West means the PCs are more aware of what it might mean when he attacks, etc., etc., etc.
8) Stop hex-by-hex exploration somewhere around level 10. By then the thrill is over (and PCs of that level should be having minions do this sort of thing anyway). Save your gaming time for fun additional dungeons suggested by the PCs' actions and choices during previous games.
Well, Nualia will want the PCs to sacrifice to Lamashtu.
Given the nature of Lamashtu, this may involve keeping them alive for a long time for various unpleasant experiments in impregnation. (Do NOT do this if your players wouldn't be comfortable with it -- or at least don't tell them what Nualia has in mind.)
Then have Shalelu sneak in and set them free somehow. (Look at Thistletop, consider where Nualia might keep prisoners to keep them out of range of the goblins -- maybe in a big cage dangling over the crab pool? PCs might have to make some climb/acrobatics checks to get out of there even with Shalelu's help -- always make the escape dangerous and snazzy and dependent on the PC's achieving things, instead of having an NPC do all the stuff -- the NPC will just make it _possible_.)
Try and have some of the more aware NPCs target PCs with particular sins.
Theme it off the adventures as well -- book 3 is a good one for Lust to come up, for instance, as book 4 is good for Wrath. Have some of the more aware evil guys (Nualia, Xanesha, Lucrecia, Mokmurian) comment on this with the PCs, or make suggestions.
The pit fiend in the dam would certainly be able to notice that -- perhaps offer the most sinful PC a wish fulfilling his desires? Do some temptations... play up that element as you notice the PCs being more or more sinful.
Yes. You can't see the mirror images so you're not affected so you only get the 50% miss chance for total concealment. Easier to hit if you're not distracted by the flashy visuals. (Taking the Blindfight feat helps a lot here! It's very helpful for high-level martials with lots of tricksy foes.)
However, (a) a 50% miss chance is still pretty ugly, (b) you never hit and take out one of the mirror images so it never gets any better, (c) if you've got your eyes shut, everyone else trying to whack on you gets ugly bonuses (you get no dex, they get +2 to hit on op of that), and (d) you're effectively blind so you may not be able to see or perceive other enemies doing stuff, sneaking up on you, etc., etc.
Aboleths are mastermind-type characters; they're not really designed so much for a fight, but for ruthless manipulation behind the scenes. It's hard to have them be a memorable encounter in themselves -- either their illusions, misdirections, and pawns work like a charm and the PCs never even know they were dealing with an aboleth, or they don't work and the thing gets slaughtered. Plus you can mostly do the same thing with a non-aboleth character (anyone with good enchantment and illusion spells, basically).
Also you have to have a GM who is really adept with illusions and keeping track of what _is_ the case, and what the aboleth is making the case _appear to be_ -- not an easy task, especially if your players aren't used to thinking and doublethinking situations.
Hobgoblins really work nicely as an army enemy -- which is hard for Paizo's CR system to handle. But I would like to see an adventure path where they're a major chunk of the villain's army, though I suppose one could just always play Red Hand of Doom instead.
Evil druids are a real hoot; I've used them a few times.
Animated objects don't get enough love; neither do minotaurs, unicorns, or giant insects of one type or another.
A summoning room, with altered gravity so walls and ceiling are also floors than can be walked on. (Reflex save to avoid "falling" prone onto the wall if you're adjacent to it; the wizard is immune to this as he's had decades of practice). All six sides of the room have summoning circles on them. This allows him to summon a bunch of different creatures at once and negotiate with them all simultaneously. Or possibly have intraplanar tea parties, given the hovering coffeepot in the middle of the room.
Lots of unseen servants tidying up. Anything dropped is instantly whisked away to a storage shelf; PCs who stand still for too long find invisible hands brushing their clothes, combing their hair, and possibly providing shaves, haircuts, and sponge baths. (The wizard didn't want to waste good research time on personal grooming, and was a little loose in his instructions to the servants).
75. A cute child shows up and begs for the PCs' help. Mommy is being taken off to jail and there's no money to pay the rent. Do they want to buy her younger sibling? (Mommy actually died four years ago and the kids have been running this scam ever since. The younger sibling will escape as soon as the PCs' back is turned -- they're all rogues of moderately useful levels.)
76. Two dwarves are arguing in the middle of the street, in an obscure dialect of Dwarven (-5 to Linguistics checks). As the PCs watch, one of them pulls out a hammer and swings it at the other. (They're brothers, and this is their usual spring bet about who has the harder skull. PCs that attack one will face two infuriated dwarven berserker brothers with teamwork feats.)
77. A small mob is chasing a white-robed woman down the street, throwing stones, dung, wine bottles, et cetera. (The woman is a social worker who is trying to better the lot of the poor, who don't want to be interfered with or have their tipple taken away.)
78. A beggar approaches the PCs and gives them a sealed letter, then waits for an answer. (He has mistaken the PCs for someone else; the invitation is to an exclusive party in a highly decadent nightclub -- just entering the door is probably an alignment violation for a paladin). All the beggar knows is that he is supposed to take the reply back. Oh, and that the PCs are supposed to tip him 10 gp for safe delivery.
79. A random street preacher wanders by, shouting about the end of the world in three days when the dragons attack.
80. A wagon comes rolling down a steep local street and crashes against the wall. A bunch of cages spring open, and a number of very angry animals emerge. They're all very hungry and start attacking if no one offers them food in two rounds.. Three rounds later, the wagon driver comes running down, tearing his hair, and hoping that nobody has killed the very rare, expensive, and ferocious trained animals that were supposed to be performing at a very decadent nightclub tonight.
81. Same as above, but instead of animals, a hatchling dragon emerges and starts attacking local street preachers.
82. A street magician offers to perform a conjuring trick for the PCs' amusement. He asks to hold one of their items, then casts vanish and takes off around the corner, where he casts disguise self.
83. A wagon rolls by with the dolorous chant of "Bring out your dead!" eachoing. It's followed by quite a few children carrying dead dogs, cats, etc. Apparently there's a market for the fur...
I tend to use Rule of Cool a lot for lich's phylacteries (like the one who had as his phylactery a Really Nifty undead-slaying sword, which all the songs said was the one weapon he was vulnerable to -- of course, he'd written all those songs way back when...). Naturally he had several fake phylacteries hidden around, including one on his person with a magic mouth that screamed most despairingly when the object was destroyed.
From a GM's point of view, the important thing is that it make sense story-wise where the lich hides his soul, and that the players have some way to figure out where it is, preferably not too easily.
I agree that temporarily suppressing the phylactery will not destroy the lich.
Pretty much all APs assume that the GM will do a certain amount of adjusting, random encounters, sidequests, on-the-fly additions, etc.
The notes about "PCs should be level X at point Y" are general guidelines, I think, not intended as absolute commands. It's more "the PCs should be this powerful before running into these encounters."
The only time I had a GM try to run an AP exactly as written it was not particularly successful. This may have been more of a GMing issue than a adventure design one, however.
There are historical examples of churches cheering on wars (e.g., the First Crusade, or the Muslim jihads, or Japanese state Shinto in the 1930s), as well as of religions slowing them down (e.g.,the Byzabtine reluctance to war on the Bulgurs after they converted to Othodox Christianity, or the Truce of God in medieval France, or some modern anti-war movements), as well as of states submitting war questions to the judgment of a religion (e.g., the Romans asking the priests of Mars to judge the legitimacy of a war before starting it, or Henry I of England asking the Pope's sanction for his invasion of Ireland).
So you have a wide range of historical examples to support whichever story you're trying to tell. You may even have different churches being of different opinions about a particular war, which gives the GM a great tool for drama, employers, support, and so on.
Also note that some professional soldiers did exist in this period -- the Byzantine army, the condioterrri like Hawkiwing and the White Company, and a number of others. S any long-lasting state with a good bureaucracy and budget could probably do stuff like this.
In Golarion, for instance, the knights of Lastwall, the Taldor and Chelaxian andj Andoran armies, probably Geb and some other areas, at least have the capacity for a budget to keep trained professional armies available,
Also note that in a world with fireballs, countermeasures will be taken. And bards and clerics will have quite a few interesting spells, probably some that don't show up onthe standard adventurers list very much, for group protection. A cleric with channel energy can heal a lot of fireball effects, or boost saving throws.
You probably won't see too many walls of pikemen or low-level spear levies, but maybe testudo formations taking cover behind tower shields, or looser skirmishes/archer formations, will be more common.
I suspect that there's a variety of options even among the Hellknights. They're probably all agreed that Shoanti banditry (as in, raids on areas protected by the Hellknights/claimed by Korvosa/etc) must stop, but they probably have different ideas in mind on how to do it.
Some of them will be "civilize the savages" variety. It's the Shoanti culture that's the problem, individuals who adopt civilized ways are fine. (I could even imagine a Shoanti-background Hellknight thinking this.) The Shoanti are likely to have their own opinion on the issue...
Some of them will be "defend the borders" variety: Shoanti are fine as long as they stay on the Storval Plateau, but must be stopped (or counter-raided) if they come down into Korvosan lands. Any alignment could handle this. Wide variety of tactics. Might even be friends with individual Shoanti, and fine with them coming to trade, not raid.
Some of them will be the "happy happy joy joy murder murder murder" variety: all Shoanti must be exterminated. Whether this is because they like killing more, or hate the Shoanti more, is up to the GM (or the player). Probably evil in alignment, though.
Some of them will be "the Shoanti aren't dangerous themselves, but we can use the threat of Shoanti raids to gain power." (Actually, you can combine this with any of the above.)
Historical analogues: US treatment of American Indians, British policy on the Northwest Frontier in India -- or, well, any agricultural civilization encountering hunter-gatherers anywhere...
As part of the backstory in my campaigns floating around that area, I have a Hellknight order that was in Mendev -- the Order of the Scalding Cauldron, known for its ruthless interrogation of conspirators and betrayers, led by a very charismatic knight of Iomedae...
...except she was actually a succubus anti-paladin, infiltrating and controlling the Order for reasons of her own. (Let's just say that combining a succubus' tastes with a Hellknight dungeon leaves way, way, way too much room for abuse of prisoners.) The Order was destroyed, and execrated, and its castle sown with salt, and...
...all-in-all, Mendev isn't real eager to see another Hellknight order anytime soon. Oh, and Polly got away. ;)
Foreshadow Nyrissa a lot. Otherwise Book 6 comes out of left field. Play up the fey element a lot, all through. Take the Stag Lord's ring and give each of the major BBEGs something similar (well, maybe not Vordakai -- but maybe she sent an agent to wake him up?) Have some fey talk about the coming Queen, always in vague terms (they don't know very much either). Plant the Picnic book somewhere (maybe with the Dancing Lady, or in Svetlana's little library of Grimm Tales.)
Have the PCs run into Magnar Varn and Baron Drelev early on (maybe at Rostov, maybe with trade emissaries, maybe foreshadow the Rushlight Tournament a bit more and have the PCs show up to an earlier one a few years later, or at least hear about it.)
Definitely agree on dropping hexcrawls as you get past the midpoint of the campaign. PCs got minions to do that sort of thing. Sometimes they will lose them... try and make that meaningful, or worrisome, or something.
Figure out if your players want to run armies or not. (Mine did, and had bucketloads of fun doing it. I ramped up the system slightly.) If they don't, then come up with something else to do in place of army combat (maybe sabotage missions, maybe getting the PCs up against some portion of the army -- the 3.5 Heroes of Battle book had a lot of possibilities there).
Have some additional stuff prepared. This is a sandbox. PCs will go somewhere else than you expected and do something else. Be prepared for them to take a left turn at any time.
Think of some recurring NPCs who can be antagonists/allies depending on how the PCs react. Kesten Garess, maybe. Gregori, definitely. Add some others, maybe younger sons from Brevoy coming down and throwing their weight around. The Old Beldame has possibilities. A recurring fey villain who always reincarnates back until the PCs figure out how to keep him tied up... see if you can develop foils for one or more of the PCs.