my AoW campaign is about to come to an end after 18 months of play. Unfortunatly it seems that the ending will be not as fortunate as it should be and I feel that an unfortunate mishap will ruin the experience of the campaign to both players and DM.
Here is what happend:
My group just killed Dragotha (man, what a fight!). Then they scryed Lashonna. Spontanelously I decided that they spot Lashonna together with some blessed angels and some Kyuss knights on top of the Alhaster spire doing some praying to the Kyuss monolith. The group so should get an impression on the thuner storm above Alhaster, the chaos going around in the streets and so on...
Unfortunalty they spontaneously decided to power themselves up and teleport to the spire right away to confront Lashonna! According to the information given in the module, going directly to the top of the spire without killing Kyuss minions first and doing several other things will really make the task impossible to kill Kyuss. Well, Lyashonna goes down in a single round as she spoiled 2 saves (I rolled a 2 and a 4!): The psion made 340 HP using a maximized augmented Disintegrate followed by a lucky sunburst from the wizard for another 60 HP.
The group then has some trouble fighting the Kyuss knights and the angels as they lack melee power.
We finished that evening play with Kyuss starting to emerge from its prision leaving the players with still several angels and knighs and some other minions coming from lower levels of the spire to aid their master.
What I do not want is to get the PCs defeated next evening. I want to come to a heroic ending, but how to help them without spoiling the game? Divine interaction is not the right way :)
One idea is to let Manzorian emerge using a timestop or something to bring them the Sphere of Anhiliation. I also might rule to deprive Kyuss of some of his divine powers as if the PCs has managed to fullfill all the other tasks of the module.
Kyuss draws on his divine energy and zaps himself off into his divine realm (let's call it "the Squirming"), leaving behind a tough (advanced Pit Fiend-level, about CR 22) aspect so they get to vanquish that, making them heroes to the people of Alhaster. From there, the PCs can't scry on him, can't affect him, and they get left to clean up Alhaster, which means they get to go through the rest of 'Dawn of a New Age'.
Then, after a week or so, while they're still calming things down, settling in, and so on, Manzorian shows up, asking what they've done, and why the Age of Worms is still dawning. They get some information-gathering done, find out about The Squirming, and get some Greater Power (of some alignment appropriate for your game) to 'bust them in' to Kyuss' divine realm while the other Powers batter at the borders, meaning your PCs still get to storm the 'castle', beat up some more Wormfiends, Overworms, throw in some extra Kaiju worms, and then get to beat down Kyuss on the steps of his throne and make a break for it while the reality of the plane crumbles (I'm thinking maybe it vanishes in chunks, like it's getting eaten by worms...).
...Then they scryed Lashonna. Spontanelously I decided that they spot Lashonna together with some blessed angels and some Kyuss knights on top of the Alhaster spire doing some praying to the Kyuss monolith. The group so should get an impression on the thuner storm above Alhaster, the chaos going around in the streets and so on...Unfortunalty they spontaneously decided to power themselves up and teleport to the spire right away...
I haven't started running yet, and haven't got to reading this chapter yet, so take everything I say with a grain of salt, but...
When the PCs scried Lashonna, did you give them the impression (however slight) that they were summoning Kyuss right now?
If you did, then you can't blame them for jumping in to stop her. It's not a matter of gung-ho players, since they probably felt 'damned if they do, damned if they don't'.
If the scenario assumes that there is some down-time between the two events, and the PCs are at full strength, all is not lost. There are enough allied high-level NPCs to justify them arriving with aid (note; I said 'aid', not 'do the adventure for them'). This is not cheesy, nor is it deus ex machina, if it's done with respect for the events in the campaign so far.
A choir of clerics turn up and heal the PCs, wizards teleport any absent PCs, henchmen and cohorts to the scene, armies of warriors clash with the Worm-God's minions in the streets, healers calm the panicking citizens and lead them to safety, etc.
Don't remove enemies from the battle, add allies to divert the enemies' efforts and attention.
One of the most frustrating parts of being a PC is being constantly pestered by needy NPCs who can't seem to do up their own shoelaces without the PC's help, and refuse to give you the tools to perform the missions, despite dripping with wealth and having vast networks of minions. You're tempted to shout at them "What do you people DO all day?". I found this aspect soured quite a few campaigns in the past (Fate of Istus and RttTOEE especially, I felt we were working on the behalf of culpably-negligent incompetents).
It might actually be a breath of fresh air for the PCs to see an NPC who is actually good to his word, and competent at his job.
Why shouldn't Tenser or Allustan show up? It's their world at stake, too. Did the PCs show Allustan the talisman of the sphere (or leave it in trust with him)? Why not have him turn up with a sphere; grinning "You'll never guess where I've been! If Acecerak the Demi-lich calls, you haven't seen me, right?".
Why shouldn't the churches throw open their doors and send their forces into battle (yes, even the Neutral and Evil ones)? They'll have no worshippers left alive if Kyuss has his way; why not have them go out in a blaze of glory?
If the PCs have shown mercy to villains before, this would be the perfect time for them to have a change of heart, maybe even redeeming themselves in response to the PCs example?
It would bring a tear to my eye, to see paladins of Heironeous and blackguards of Hextor fighting side-by-side, healing, buffing and giving a helping hand to each other.
<cue sound of Rolf Harris, singing 'Two Little Boys'...>
<"Do you think that I'd leave you dy-i-ing, when there's room on my horse for twoooo....>
Further to the above, I'm sorely tempted to have the final battle be set up as a full-day session, on a fully-dressed wargames table (or 4), with the proper scenery, figures, handouts, and invite as many players as possible to cover the NPCs, and a couple of co-DMs.
Let the PCs take responsibility for stopping Kyuss, but give out secondary missions, proportional to the power level of the NPCs (even if it's only 'Stay alive'!).
'Deliver Magic Item to PC1'
'Take down Monster X'
'Prevent destruction of your temple'
'Escort these citizens to safety off western board edge', etc.
There's lots of players in town who I'd love to play with, but can't commit to a regular game, and I think it could be a real 'event', as well as break some of the artificial barriers that seem to exist between various groups.
Here's what I would do - the goal is to maximize the drama and excitement of the final battle. If you're a stickler for the rules, read no more (I tend to cheat a lot - ha!)
Make sure you have a good poker face - if the PCs know your cheating, it ruins everything.
Second - make sure you know exactly how many hitpoints each PC has.
So, conduct the battle normally, but give Kyuss an arbitray number of hit points. No matter how much damage the PCs do to him, he keeps fighting. Try to do just enough damage to the PCs to knock a bout half of them unconscious (to do this, roll a bunch of dice behind the DM screen, look at how many hps a PC has, and announce enough damage bring them to -1 or -2. After they're all getting nervous about failing, let the next major hit a PC deals be just enough finish Kyuss off. As long as you throw in lots of vivid description of the battle as you go, the PCs will (hopefully) believe that they barely managed to avoid a TPK, and finish off Kyuss "just in time".
Even better, if they start thinking "outside the box", and do strange things to fight Kyss, let one of their oddball ideas actually work! But time it so that they don't kill him off in the first round...
Alternatively, you can really kill a few PCs (it is the end of the campaign, after all), and/or have a good-aligned diety reward them with a "true ressurection" or two, as necessary.
This guarantees that the battle is long and exciting, Kyuss isn't "too easy", and it isn't a TPK.
The group then has some trouble fighting the Kyuss knights and the angels as they lack melee power.We finished that evening play with Kyuss starting to emerge from its prision leaving the players with still several angels and knighs and some other minions coming from lower levels of the spire to aid their master.
Well, the PCs don't know (or have you told them?) how long it will take Kyuss to emerge. Perhaps every time an Angel or Knight goes down, the worms shudder/flinch as if rebuked or slowed by the death of the minion. You can adjudicate it so that the PCs don't know how long he has left to emerge, until there's only zero to two? minions left.
I suggest (strongly) depriving him of his spontaneous clerical casting, and using the provided clerical spell list. It's hard enough on them that he has ~12 Time Stops. Letting him Time Stop -> Harm, Harm, Harm will hurt them a lot.
Rather than Manzorian show up with the Sphere, you could have Celeste show up. He's locking the area down with Dimension Lock, but noticed / foresaw them having trouble (he's an epic wizard, after all) and was able to spare Celeste to aid them.
As a few others have mentioned, having clerics of the temples show up and help doesn't seem too Deus Ex Machina. Perhaps if they are sufficiently lower than the PCs, they'll be useless in the actual fight, but enough to keep Kyuss from fully pressing his attack on the PCs? Or, just providing Heals, Mass Cures, etc and summoned monsters to slow Kyuss down?
How is Aurics band doing, did the PCs kill them or even leave them in friendly terms, When the PCs think they get mangled between Kyuss and his minions (let them sweat, in the end they took the risk to go directly to the center of it), one of the minions gets skewered by a sword and the widely smiling face of Auric appears, the Elf rogue (forgot her name) stepping from the shadows and a cantancerous wizard blasting undead to pieces. And Auric says something like: Hey guys, are we late for the party, I heard you guys have an appointment to kick some god's ass. Don't worry, we will take care of the other guests. Sure if Auric is dead, you could still have Celeste and some celestials appear and free the PCs backs.
They could even bring some equipment or you could decide, or roll, which tasks in Alhaster they could perform before.
Yep, having some "expendibles" help clear out the chaffe and let the PC's focus on Kyuss is a good idea, but it really depends though on how much trouble the rest of the opponents will be (Lashonna's by far the biggest threat, outside Mialle if you throw her in the mix, although even then my group's tank killed her very quickly). With Lashonna dead already, the rest are probably not a big deal, just maybe add extras in "off screen" to stop anyone else appearing during the fight...
In my game, my PC's didn't go in quite so quickly, but they did purposely by-pass the tower and teleport from the entrance directly to the top. Basically, they figured they didn't want to turn up at the top all out of spell power, so best to just get it all over with in one hit. They did summon some help before hand, so it wasn't totally random, but I think they didn't expect a vampire silver dragon (she's very tough, especially for her CR), a totally cheesed out kyuss knight (she appeared on about round 3), as well as other fluff (the blessed angels were useless, especially as I couldn't roll any 20's for them or Kyuss). They had managed to destroy the unlife vortex, which actually crippled Kyuss a bit too much (e.g. his melee ability now really sucks, too much IMO), but they hadn't actually fought off the despair, and that's probably the bigger issue. But they still won through...
I'd say that yes, you did kind of muck it up a little by making it look like it was "do or die" time prematurely, so giving the PC's a bit of a break isn't a bad idea. But it should be a really long and tough fight regardless, so don't underestimate your players ability to pull a victory out of the hat. I know in my game the players spent a whole week thinking about all the things they should (and should not) do to win - it was long and tough, and I had to pull back on some potentially unfair tactics from Kyuss, but in the end the players won and it was all good.
So yeah, drop his ability to spontaneously cast any cleric spell (or at least don't abuse it), and don't just use imprison on the PC's one by one (touch attack = gone, no save). Take a note of how many Wish spells the PC's have (mine had quite a few), and try to get the PC's to use them all before it's done (Kyuss can also use his Miracles to get himself out of a bind - I did that twice (e.g. when he got pushed over the edge), petitioning Nerul himself, we found that one funny). Expect your players to lift their game, after all this is the climax, if they don't work hard for victory now, they don't deserve it.
Above all, have fun with it (and leave some time for the post-battle bits - dealing with Zeech and who, if anyone, wants to rule Alhaster is a good ending).
Oh yeah, if your PC's don't pull in any summoned creatures themselves, you could easily help them achieve the same effect with NPC's i.e. help tie down minor baddies and/or soak up actions getting killed off (hence allow the PC's some breathing space).
But really, at epic level, your players should have enough playing skill, and PC's with enough resources, to pull off a victory even though the odds are stacked against them (in my opinion, if they have fought despair and destroyed the unlife vortex, Kyuss is actually not strong enough - a bit like all the help they get against Dragotha makes him a bit weak too).
Well... that's the great thing about D&D: there is no "right" way to play. If that's what you want to do, fine. And if you have players that are basically idiots, then I guess they deserve whatever they get. But in the game I'm running (which has been going on two years now, and as far as I can tell we're about half way through), I think it would be a great tragedy if they all died at the end. I mean, as DM, I could, in theory, kill them all any time I wish. Any major battle in any adventure could be a TPK if I were so inclined. I think a good DM should (secretly) want the players to succeed, and do everything possible to nudge them along as necessary. Am I too soft? Maybe. But after 4 years, a PC deserves some kind of pay-off. If you kick them to the curb, I doubt they'll ever want to play again (at least not with you).
|Luz RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32|
|Aubrey the Malformed|
I think a lot of players would be upset by getting killed at the end after playing through the campaign. Yeah, the dice might say so, but there are considerations of story and drama as the OP points out. I hate killing PCs, unless there is a good reason and/or it looks heroic. I like to tell a story and "Whoops, the whole party has been annihilated by its own overeagerness/incompetence" is not a great story to tell.
As an expedient, you might decide that Kyuss' emergence has been delayed by the offing of his chief acolytes, giving the PCs time to regroup and recover.
I guess what you have to be prepared for, should you allow your PCs to fail, is a world that has fallen to Kyuss. Imagine what it would be like and then decide if you really want that. Can you imagine continueing in the same world with Kyuss at the helm? I am prepared for the PCs to fail. It will definately make life, for the next bunch of PCs, more interesting.