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Not sure if I ever will run it, depends on what the RL group wants, we're still a fair bit away from finishing Savage Tide, but I like to ponder.
Having read through the campaign, I want to cut away Adimarchus completely, Thirteen cages is to be the Climax.
Plan is to pick up on some of the hints about making Valanthru a patron, the premise is that the PC's are from Sasserine and hired as caravan guards, making a stop at the lucky monkey (also picking up a few hints here and there about that), where the PC's are introduced to a few of the rumours about what's going on in Cauldron, also going to have the "Cauldron breeds adventurers" motivation. The cargo they are guarding could be anything from standard goods to a nobleman's bride (liking the last idea, could be fun), maybe an encounter, maybe not.
They meet Valanthru who redirects them towards the temple of St. Cuthbert and they stumble across the mugging scene.
For the rest of Life's Bazaar, I don't plan to change much, maybe make Valanthru helpful in finding the orphan, he's not going to appear to grab the boy at the end, prefering to use other tools (like the PC's, and having some nondescript backup-plan if that fails), remaining hidden.
Also, I don't want him to be a beholder, but rather a Rakshasha using the spell in the Stormreach supplement to fool even true seeing. Tacking on sorcerer levels to get the CR right. Having him be the mastermind of the whole plot to open up a portal to Carceri. And the one they have to defeat at the end of thirteen cages. This is mostly me adding a personal touch based on the fact that a Beholder is generally raving mad, while a Rakshasha is a manupulative behind the scenes bon vivant with eternal life, and therefore having the neccesary long range perspective to have pulled off the entire Shackleborn thing.
Not sure how to play their earlier combat with him, they might defeat him only to see him teleport away (and should they kill him, he has contingencies for that, so pop away anyways). Embryl could be added to the final battle to increase the ECL without making him more powerful, or she could replace one of the other villains that just seems to be there as a high level NPCs for the PC's to kill.
Might also be appropriate to simply replace several of those NPCs with other Raksasha's and perhaps bound outsiders/Demodand allies. I'd prefer to replace NPC's with backstories that only the DM knows about with NPC's/monsters without such backstories but more obvious connections to Orbius/Carceri.
Test of the smoking eye would obviously have to be thrown out of the window, but what of demonskar legacy? Any ideas on how to tie things back on track for secrets of the soul pillars?
Also would like to figure out a good motivation for Embryl and the rest of the Church of Wee Jas, one idea is that Embryl simply is madly in love with Orbius and Wee Jas tolerates her actions because of this. Perhaps Demonskar Legacy sets the PC's on the trail to Sasserine where suspicion and concern about the events of Cauldron puts them on the path of confrontation of the church, and Iverson&co is merely defending the Temple from what he believes to be evil enemies, unaware of what Embryl really is up to.
On expansion on that, the rivalry between the stormblades and the PC's (which should be a lot more present than the campaign makes it out to be), in no small part engineered by Valanthru, is a direct cause to the hostility shown towards the PC's. Perhaps one of them gets to be a Wee Jas cleric.
For the PC-stormblade rivalry, I was thinking that the stormblades show up after the boss-fight in Life's Bazaar (or as deus ex machina) and starts claiming their "fair share" of the loot, and tries to squeese as much credit for putting an end to the kidnappings as they can.
That's the ideas I have currently. Thoughts? Comments?
Sounds like a very workable idea. I don't think the party will be able to defeat Vhalantru in their first encounter thanks to rakshasha DR. So no worries there.
While it might dilute the 'our patron is really our enemy' some, you may include other Cagewrights in Cauldron's populace.
I had Fetor working as a professor at Bluecrater Academy. His secret was that the assassination attempt on him had caused a new, ruthless persona to awaken. (If you watch Bleach, imagine Ichigo's Hollow side.) Thus the 'good' Fetor knows nothing of the Cagewrights and can be a mentor to the PCs, while the 'evil' Fetor watches and plots. I've had a lot of fun roleplaying both sides of the character, switching from one to the other midconversation with the PCs. It freaked my players out nicely.
Using Shebelth Regidin as the bishop sent from Sasserine to take Sarcem's place is another great idea delvesdeep had. Having him subtly turn the Cuthbert and Kord churches against each other is a nice twist, and easily foreshadowed. My players have begun to suspect him after he refused to spend church funds to raise a 'failed paladin' after they brought Alek's body back.
Hope these help.
From what you have described it sounds to me like your planning on running the whole thing in eberron.
If you just replaced the portal to wherever with being able to free the rakshasa superpowered this premise would work great for eberron.
In so far as the whole Stromblades if your group is like mine and somebody starts encrouching on our loot they die, noble birth reguardless they are totaly destroyed.
The nice thing about eberron is the church factor is a non issue, preists can act as they wish so whatever embryl does would be a none issue.
You can set the story in Xendrick and everything else should translate.
Either way good luck and keep us posted.
Far too many high level characters involved for this to work in Eberron, but I see where you're coming from there.
Do not like the idea of Shebeleth coming in as Sarcem's replacement doesn't work methinks.
What I am thinking is to replace test of the smoking eye with an adventure or two elsewhere, Alek putting the PC's on the way, decent possibility to introduce some of the other villains. Do the siege of redgorge, then have Valanthru send them off on a mission where the idea is that his cagewright assosciates are to kill them?
Well, to each their own on the Shebeleth thing. I figure someone had to come replace the high priest, so why wouldn't the Cagewrights make sure it was someone who would be helpful to them?
You can also cut some high level characters, such as Nidrama. If you're not going past Thirteen Cages, she only shows up to hint the party about Alakast. Which they probably don't need as they will find it by ripping the place apart anyway.
I think Vhalantru would just send the assassins from Secrets of the Soulpillars in after the seige fails, because he has already sent them on a mission they weren't expected to come back from. (Zenith Trajectory) So why would he waste time on another one when the first failed? Have Ike hit them when they're inside the town, thinking their safe, and their guard is lowered, instead of when they're out on mission, prepared to take on any and every foe.
Just my thoughts, take them as you will.
My understanding was that Valanthru used the PC's to get Zenith back, not merely sending them on a suicide mission.
It doesn't look like he views them as a threat at that point, after redgorge, yes, very much so.
Although I think my preference is that they are set on a path by Alek's last words that leads to them stumbling across a cagewright plot and face to face with one of the villains.
As a player in Shackled City, seeing a beholder show up and grab the boy and then teleport away freaked us out- 1st I think we were like 2nd level, so it was "Holy Crap! A Beholder!" then a few knowledge/spellcraft checks later we gained the knowledge that beholder's aren't known to be able to teleport without caster levels and it was "Holy Crap! A beholder with Class levels". And, it made us way more wary/afraid of running into the beholder aka Valentru (after we learned who he was). I think a teleporting Rakshasha would be equally scary.
One thing of note, the Oblivion doors in the dungeon under V's house would be a bit more difficult to explain with out having the spells available as "at will" eye rays, but that would also be a good place to have Embryl show up if I remember correctly... then there are the statues of "lost" adventurers in V's garden.
One way to deal with things is to make Thifirane and Fetor pop away after their defeats, those two can then replace Freija and Thearyn in Thirteen cages to cut down on things.
Could possibly have Shebeleth appear as the main villain of the plot set between demonskar legacy and secrets of the soul pillars, and have him do the same. That battle might be more than they could handle, so would have to force the PC's to be smart about it. CR17 at LvL12 is kinda harsh, espescially a cleric with blasphemy prepared.
I like the idea of introducing several of the cagewrights early, only to piss off the PC's by having them all escape, then they get to kill them one by one as the three prevents teleportation magic. Ike could go that way, too, trimming the list further. Don't know if there's anyone else potent enough?
Something else I did was have the Lady Celeste be part of the caravan from Sasserine the PCs were guarding. She stayed in her carriage for the entire journey, so the party knew of her and wondered what her deal was. Just a nice little bit of foreshadowing.
She might even lead them to Vhalantru's doorstep and mention to him how they fended off bandits along the way. Which would get him going on his 'love of adventurers' and give him the chance to direct them to the temple.
Not a bad idea.
Also, I was thinking to go back on the Shebeleth as new High Priest of St. Cuthbert. Need to brush up on the Alek plotline, may have to change it.
Idea is that at the end of demonskar legacy, Alek puts them, possibly accompanies them, to Sasserine to follow up on some clues, eventually leading them to the hidden temple of Nerull that is briefly mentioned, the PC's gets to shut down an evil Temple and defeat Khyron Bloodsworn (who tries to escape using word of recall when things go bad). They'll find notes and correspondance foreshadowing later events, among which a letter dated at the same time Shebeleth arrived to take control stating that "The meddling of the Church of St. Cuthbert is now taken care of". Adding up to suspicion would be to have Shebeleth be the one to send Alek on a suicide mission on Valanthru's bidding, which is the meddling refered to.
Shebeleth should probably cut off the PC's in a "Now that the strength of the Church is fully restored, outside agents are no longer required" Having a couple of lower level clerics and another holy warrior with him to complete.
Agree that if you're cutting out Adimarchus, the players should have more opportunity to interact with at least SOME of the Cagewrights, and they should hear that name more often. There was so much going on, and the players didn't know what info would be important down the road and what wouldn't, that they barely remember the term.
If I had it to run again, I would do what you're doing. The Occipitus and Adimarchus plot could make a great second, post-Cagewrights story arc for the same group or another higher level group. Kind of a "and here's what REALLY was the influence behind the Cagewrights!" follow up campaign.
Thinking further ahead, I find it more Rakhsasha like to actually have Vhalantru being behind the slavery operation in Life's Bazaar, and an agent of his (another Rakhsasha) is the one behind the whole thing. He allows the adventurers to shut it down because it's stirs up too much attention, and he cannot allow people to start doubting him and his "adventurer program" to keep Cauldron safe.
This Rakhsasha could make for an interesting recurring villain in the early game.
The scene I am envisioning is that he lies on a couch, with some of the more attractive slaves captured scratching behind his ears and stuff, then orders them to put a knife across the throat (A unique sort of dominate that is useless in combat, 10 min casting time, gives target +4 on the save, 4th level slot.) and kill themselves if the PC's comes closer, for Life's Bazaar, he's just going to play with the PC's for his amusement, like cat and mice, as he's under orders to "loose" to adventurers intent on crashing the party.
Unknown where he might pop up again though, chapter 5 maybe.
So, I give this a 50% chance of happening. Anyways, giving this more thought.
So I'm thinking to play around with red herrings, I mean dragons.
Taking a cue from scourge of the howling horde adventure, where there's a wyrmling running a slaver operation, having some Hookface offspring instead of Kazmojen there, then a slightly older one behind the wand theft in flood season. There's yet another dragon (though black) in Zenith Trajectory, not including the one attacking at Crazy Jared. It might fit better with hookface being green or black due to LE, or I just declare that only outsiders can have fixed alignments in my game, should I desire to keep the pun, greens and blacks are easier on the CR, too. I sort of like the idea of an enterprising draconic mafia family. Ties the earlier events together. Having PC's finding cryptic notes, ledgers documenting "tithing" to the last laugh or something.
I am leaning towards presenting Valanthru as an "armchair adventurer" a philanthropic noble sponsoring all sorts of cultural events, ranging from lavish parties for the nobles to hosting "bread and circus" stuff for the masses. For the PC's, he'll first appear as the sponsor of the adventurer's guild. With Celeste as the day to day manager, making her into a fairly ordinary Aasimar socialite (expert), her primary use for Valanthru is to use her to deliver lies to adventurers. She has no chance against his bluff skill, and PC's doesn't get the chance to pit their sense motive against it.
Of course, he's got fingers in every pie, the last laugh simply being his way to control vice in Cauldron. The idea I have with him is to wait with the big reveal until after secrets of the Soul Pillars. Essentially turning Embril from villain to a$&%!#!. The idea of mine is that Embril suspects something is fishy about Valanthru, and therefore acts unfriendly towards the PC's because she views them as his pawns. Valanthru uses this to set things up so the PC's can raid the temple.
Would that be possible to pull off? For the first three chapters, a lid can be kept on Valanthru's identity. Though it looks difficult to not spread the seed of doubt in chapter four. Shebeleth taking over as bishop of St. Cuthbert might provide a nice distraction and backdrop for chapter five though.
That could potentially give the PC's Embril as an ally for the remainder of the adventure. Or maybe she'll pull a "Help stop the ritual or I'll have your souls destroyed" dick move in retribution. I'm thinking Ike throwing out a scroll of sending, or having telepathic bond, screams "help", followed by Embril popping in, Bead of Karma Blasphemies the party (they'll not like that much) into paralysis for the "oh s@~+"-effect.
I really like your original post (just read it) and the latest ideas.
1) I don't like the Adimarchus part of SCAP either, and the high level bits in general. And I think the plot is overcomplicated, too many minor villain threads that don't come together all that well. I need to re-read it a few more times and figure out an alternative, or just stop with the Siege of Redgorge, perhaps.
2) Like the Rakshasha. I like more "mythological" monsters, as opposed to gonzo stuff (like in my campaign, Kazmojen is a Duergar, not a half-Dwarf/half-Troll -- that combo might as well be a robot vampire ninja in my taste of where the "too gonzo" line is crossed).
3) I like "Scourge of the Howling Horde" a lot. I ran it (after "Sunless Citadel" and before "Forge of Fury") for my party that's hopefully going to gate into the Malachite Fortress next game. In my campaign, there's a connection. The goblins in the Sunless Citadel and in the Scourge of the Howling Horde are advance parties for the Red Hand of Doom. The black dragon in the Howling Horde (Neak) is the younger sister of the black dragon in the Forge of Fury (Nightscale) -- both are leaders in the Red Hand. The hobgoblins in the Malachite Fortress? They are Red Hand mercenaries, from a "working relationship" (not quite alliance) between the Duergar of the Malachite Fortress/Forge of Fury (connected via a gate that only works for Dwarves) and dragons and goblins of the Red Hand.
I haven't figure out beyond that point, but I know the Kuo-Toans and Illithid have "working relationships" with the Duergar too -- all part of an Underdark war between the True Ghouls (White Kingdom) and Cloakers on one side, Illithid and Kou-Toans on the other, with the Drow neutral, and the Duergar, Troglodytes, and Sniverneblin already defeated and on the run from the Ghouls.
Yeah, not sure if I even NEED the Cagewrights, but I will need to fit in some of official SCAP, I think, besides just my "Life's Bazaar" variant, the "Zenith Trajectory", and "Flood Season" -- the latter is so awesome, it just HAS to be run!
Interesting. I must have missed this thread when it was new.
Some of the changes suggested match with the way I rewrote Shackled City the second time I started running it (Vhalantru as a rakshasa, Fetor working at the Bluecrater Academy).
I drastically cut down on the number and power level of the antagonists in general, though; I made Vhalantru the head of the church of Wee Jas (Abadar in my Golarion-ized version), for instance. And I changed the plot so that the Cagewrights were cultists trying to break open Adimarchus's dimensional prison located under Cauldron.
In my version, Adimarchus into a fallen planetar who led an army of human slaves and their devil allies in revolt against an empire of intellect devourers (used instead of spellweavers) and their demodand allies; he lost and was imprisoned by the demodands in a pocket dimension under Cauldron.
Okay, so this is happening. Basic outline as far as I'm thinking:
"Chapter 0" starts in Sasserine, where the PC's are hired as caravan guards to escort Avner Merravachi*, he's stand in for his uncle who's away founding the colony on the isle of dread and is escorting his cousin to her wedding, the PC's are substitutes for the house guards that his uncle took with him and that the Merravachi family has not yet recruited replacements for. Besides barraging the PC's with Avner's usual self-centered banter, they'll be visiting the lucky monkey, meet shensen, that plays the part of the mysterious half-drow bard. Do a little bit of foreshadowing on what's going on in Cauldron, kidnappings, banditry on the road, tariff's and taxes being increased. Notably though, I'll play up the weather, specifically having Avner's grandmother note that the rainy season never had started this early in her lifetime. PC's are going to be soaked to the bone when they arrive at Cauldron.
*Group has done Savage Tide, so they're familiar with all that stuff.
On the way, I am tempted to have a goblinoid raid on the caravan, to get the blood pumping. Tie it into the "dragon syndicate". Arriving at Cauldron, there'll be a very heated argument between Avner and the guards at the gate that's charging an insulting (in his mind) toll on entry. PC's will be directed towards the adventurer's guild, where they'll meet Celeste, who's the manager, she has them see the guild's sponsor, Valanthru, though a brief introduction of the stormblades as they leave his office and make a comment about "wet rats", looking at the PC's with contempt (the stormblades have particularly shiny and fashionable gear, them being noble and such). Valanthru will happily greet the PC's, and plays the role of the armchair adventurer, the elderly elf claiming to have done a little bit of dungeon delving in his young and wild days, implying that a little bit means lots. He is very interested in the PC's exploits, and kindly informs them of the bounty placed on the kidnapping case. Though regrettably had to give what small resources the city provides to his guild to the stormblades due to their parents. He suggests that the PC's go to the church of St. Cuthbert, as Jenya has been looking into the matter and the Stormblades are much too proud to ever consider to consult her about any findings.
Skipping the encounter with Ruphus Laro in the streets, Chapter 1 picks up at the church of St. Cuthbert, and proceeds as written, except that Kazmojen is now a dragon, one of Hookface's offspring in league with his siblings and, through intermediaries, Valanthru. The Rakshasha's plans are simple: Get a spike in crime so that hiring additional city guards becomes a public demand, and get an extra source of income. Also, as added feature is the Stormblades rushing in after the PC's win and starts talking about dividing loot (and knowing the players, they're not going to react kindly to that).
Chapter 2 is played more or less as written, except that there's an older (or perhaps two from the same clutch of eggs) dragon sibling behind this plot, which basically accounts for the same.
With Chapter 3, I am tempted to re-write it. I don't see why Valanthru would send the PC's to retrieve Zenith. Given the importance of him, the cagewrights would send someone a little more reliable to do the job, like scry, teleport, grab and teleport back. Although, given that teleportation could be tricky business in the underdark, maybe I can get away with it anyway. They can use expendable PC's as plan A, then risky teleportation as plan B. Gottrod assaulting them at Crazy Jared's might simply be revenge for killing his siblings. The dragon in the underdark could be of same color of the rest to make the PC's believe that the dragons are important to the story.
Chapter 4, up and until the demonskar part, I like it, from there on though, I'm not sure how to play it. Could be a good idea to introduce Shebeleth as new high priest of St. Cuthbert. How to play it with Alek, I don't know, the duel backdrop is too good to throw away, might in fact have Terson (buffed to the max by his friends) kill Alek in the duel for shock value, though having Alek in charge of the town watch might make things interesting.
Chapter 5, I'm thinking that the sudden shift with Shebeleth in charge makes Alek/Chisel worried about him and sends the PC's back to Sasserine to look into various matters, eventually unearthing evidence of the fact that Shebeleth is an impostor. Main question is how PC's can deal with Shebeleth without getting wiped out, given that he's supposed to return for Thirteen cages.
Chapter 6 is where the raid on the church of Wee Jas occurs, I'm leaning towards Embril to be the main enemy of Orbius at this point, and given the fact that she's the only spellcaster to rival him, the only one he fears. So his play is to use the PC's to throw St. Cuthbert and Wee Jas at each other's throats, taking advantage of Embril being absent.
chapter 7, 8 and 9 play out more or less as written, with most of the big reveals coming in chapter 7.
That's the plan so far, anyway.
I've been pondering the last part of Life's Bazaar. Should Orbius remain a beholder, or be a rakshasha sorcerer, which seems more fun and fits the jungle setting so nicely?
My answer: He's an 11th level sorcerer with Crystal Ball, who knows Teleport and Polymorph, and likes to Polymorph into a Beholder when scaring people/not using his Vhalantru identity. No need for anyone else to be involved, and it's a "wheel within wheels" that the Beholder Boss isn't a Beholder at all (a secret you won't know unless you fight him).
Then I reread the last scene in Life's Bazaar, and thought: "Wait, why does "Orbius" go there at all?"
His only reason to intervene is if Terrem is in trouble. The way the original scene is written, he can just wait for the PC's to kill Kazmojen and Pyllrak, or buy the boy's freedom, and either way Terrem would be saved if he stays out of it. He only needs to interfere if Pyllrak buys Terrem and the PC's are defeated. So I don't think he should show up unless that happens.
How does that change things? Well, it doesn't give the PC's a clear hint of "bigger forces at work". It also doesn't rub their faces in "haha, here's a monster you can't defeat" and force them to chose between abandoning the boy to his fate or losing. So, I'm feeling good about my re-write: "Orbius" only shows if Terrem is in trouble.
So here's what I'm thinking for main plot alterations.
Instead of Adimarchus, there's the demigod Ravannah, the Rakshasha overlord. He was defeated and slain by thirteen heroes long ago, their epic magics ensured that he was imprisoned on Carceri, forced to abide by the rules of that plane: In order to leave, you must become stronger than whatever imprisoned you there.
An attempt was made 500 years ago to free him. As it happened, the descendants of the thirteen were still community leaders in Redgorge, the straightforward idea was to get a re-match with them, by winning, it was believed that Ravannah's chains would be broken. Surabar Spellmason (one of the descendants of the thirteen) defeated the army of fiends though, but several of the family branches in Redgorge were wiped out completely, making further attempts of this strategy require that distant relatives had to relocate to the area and enter the nobility. The split between Redgorge and Cauldron as where the surviving families choose to settle complicates matters further.
By the rules deities must abide by, Ravannah can only have one servant on the material plane to see to his release, Orbius is that agent. The new plan is more insidious than a direct assault. The soul cages. Orbius has devised a ritual where he will drain the lifeforce of the true heirs of the thirteen directly below their city. By doing so, he will break the bonds of his master.
To qualify as "true heirs" Orbius needs one direct descendant of each of the thirteen, and each must have at least 10 class levels.
The one's I have in mind as candidates are:
The entire flood is all about securing Sarcem, Valanthru covering up his kidnapping by making it look like an extortion attempt with the wands of control water sounds intriguing. The disappearance of the body might tick PC's off to that things are going on in the background. If questioning tongueeater or any of the trio (or their replacements, which likely will happen, see red herring dragons comment earlier), which is unlikely that they get to do in other ways than speak with dead. They'll learn that a cleric of Nerull paid them 3000GP for the live body, presumably for live sacrifice. That gives a hook into Sasserine quest later.
I'm thinking smoking eye is replaced with taking out the hidden temple of Nerull, which is where the PC's truly throw a wrench in Valanthru's plan, and discover lots of hints.
Nice work, Maevis.
2) Replacing Adimarchus with Ravannah. (I'm planning to drop Adimarchus altogether in my version, which will end at lower levels.)
3) Tying your plot to the ancient battle of Redgorge, and by implication the demon in the Demonskar chapter.
4) "Conservation of characters". As the saying goes, a play should never have a loaded gun on the stage, unless it's going to be used. This goes for characters too -- if Sarcem exists, he should probably matter more than he does in the current plot.
5) Stormblades as unwitting future victims. That's a beautiful twist, and a good use of the "conservation of characters" approach.
Gaps I see:
2) The 10 levels rule for 13 Cages Victims somewhat invalidates Orbius' interest in the boy Terrem in Life's Bazaar. Though of course Rakshasa can take a long view, I think your plot works better if it's something like: 1 soul cage for a victim from each of the 13 families, and kill all direct male-line descendents (the destruction of Cauldron and Redgorge are convenient ways to do most of that very quickly). This could also be a reason to for Orbius to summon the PC's to Cauldron -- he's summoning all direct-line male descendents to get them where they can be killed.
At least the way I read things, they did not so much intend to blow up the city as harvest the power of the Volcano to fuel the ritual.
I am aware that Terrem doesn't qualify, so I don't plan on having him be one of the shackleborn.
I think I'll insert an attack on Pelor's temple by some evil group (Nerull?) that burned it down and only Kristof survives, in the backstory, except that whoever V wanted wasn't killed, only captured. Reportedly, blasphemy was being used, and then magical fire to incinerate everything quite thoroughly. What people don't know is that the blasphemy was meant to paralyse him for easy extraction, while people believes the intention was to kill everyone quickly. Reasoning there is that V wants to secure a few of the targets ahead of time. He also considers the church of Pelor as the bigger threat, given that there's three high level clerics there, so he wants them out of the picture before his plans starts to unfold in full.
Stormblades is Orbius creation entirely, and the reason as to why he has been running the adventurer's guild in the first place. He needed the descendants of the thirteen to rise in power, and luring some of them to the life of an adventurer is one way to do that. Probably going to have used trap the soul on a few shackleborn adventurer's earlier. Todd was adopted by the Vanderborens on V's machinations, he also helped raise them to high enough status for Todd to hook up with the other three stormblades.
Any thoughts on last laugh? They seem to be good candidates as early antagonists.
Other candidates for the thirteen could include Jill and Thifirane.
I think I'll have the PC's meet Jill on their way to Kazmojen, she's been collecting tithes and isn't going to stick around for a fight. If necessary, she'll demonstrate that she's way out of their league.
Alternative event is if PC's takes days to explore the place, they stumble upon the Stormblades that had their asses handed to them by her hand,using sap because she doesn't want their parents breathing down her neck for killing them.
Also thinking of replacing the striders with Pelor's Shadow Guard, the striders motivation is tied to the now non-existant cage-wrights, while the Shadow Guard would have every motivation to investigate what's behind the attack on Pelor's temple.
So I'm changing hookface into a very old black dragon now, CR stays the same, but built in fluff with him being the offspring of the black dragon Zelkarune which is mentioned in Sasserine background for Savage Tide (I'll be using Sasserine as a starting point for the PC's, and I'll actively encourage that PC's are attached to Sasserine for some reason, they'll be back there for chapter 5, trashing a temple of Nerull). Valanthru has allied with the dragon with promises of vengeance against the murderers of his mother.
Also expanding on the background. Writing up a summary of myths and legends about the founders of Cauldron. From the PC's perspective:
Enter the machinations of Valanthru, tracking down each clan, infiltrating each in turn and planting subtle alterations into their collective storytelling. It takes him thousands of years, but in the end he manages to replace the most important part of their legends, the one about why they scattered to the winds. The stories only speak just enough of the Rakshasha to avoid any suspicion as to why they are not mentioned at all, while all other fiends are included. The stories speak of the curse spoken by the dying breath of the emperor that made the land inhospitable and forced the clans to go separate ways. Valanthru introduced the idea to Lord Taskerhill that the curse had been broken, and gave him the means to contact Surabar, who in turn built Redgorge by his magics and summoned the other eleven.
As a little sidestep, the Taskerhills have their own version of the entire myth which pretty much put themselves as the leaders all the time. I'll make an attempt of putting Lord Ankhin in the evil, yet not bad guy, category. Putting PC suspicion his way. Playing that house up as the evil rich nobles that wants to rule everything. This was deliberately introduced by Valanthru more than a thousand years ago in order to create friction in Redgorge, making the Taskerhills hungry for power. As it happens, he'll use it once more in his end game to divert PC attention away from himself. Making a strong connection between the church of Wee Jas and the Taskerhills goes a long way to get the PC on that track.
Fast forward from there and we have Valanthru first attempting throwing hordes of demons at Redgorge, and would have succeeded if it was not for Surabar sacrificing himself to save what remained of the city and it's people. Then overall migration into the caldera to build Cauldron, since the demonic invasion pretty much ruined the arable land around Redgorge. And Valanthru hatched his new scheme to release his master.
Most of the story is going to be handed to the players as background material. With the part about Rakshasha's and Ravannah taken out (because Valanthru did that on purpose, and that would be spoiling the big reveal). And twisted around to represent the fact that details gets a little muddled over the years.
Maybe some sort of demonic mini-invasion of redgorge can happen to replace some of the events of the demonskar legacy? Might have to decide that these demons has lost some SLA's, because all of them besides quasits and dretches has g. teleport at will...nah scratch that, Surabar's wards prevents them from just teleporting in.
So idea being that nabthataron knows that V betrayed them, he knows the name he used when dealing with Adimarchus, he knows that V is a master of disguise, and he knows that V is somewhere in Cauldron. His plan is to open a portal to the Abyss, with some help, and then destroy the entire city, kill absolutely everyone there. Hopefully, one of the causalities will be V. If not? Destroying the cities of mortals is still good sport.
Need to make it believable that he would order an assault on redgorge, diversion? Finish off what he failed to do 500 years ago? Simply being a demon, and therefore prone to do it just because he feels like it?
All, if not most of the encounters in this chapter happen during the demonic invasion of Redgorge, so the PC's should be rested for Nab. Then have Maavu/chisel send them on Alek's trail. Let them catch up to him having dispatching a Vrock or two, but getting thrown into negatives by Vrock spores, gives PC's a little time to save him, and maybe patch him up to be of help against the Glabrezu.
Then they win the prize of information dump as above. Maybe have Nab cooperate with some Nerull cultists, which should hopefully put the PC's in the mood for a trip to Sasserine. Though given that at least one PC is going to have family members, I might be nasty and kidnap one.
So for chapter 5, I have this framework:
They also are supposed to find out that Shebeleth is an impostor, I have a fairly decent idea on how to make that fight survivable for the PC's.
Anyway, does someone have a suggestion for an already written adventure that might be adapted to fit the part? I have access to most Dungeon Magazines.
So we're steadily getting into it. Most of the above has been weaved in, though I make modifications on the fly as it suits me.
Done with Zenith Trajectory now. Things I'm contemplating:
PC's met Jill two times, first after defeating Kazmojen, where she swooped in to collect "guild taxes" (=stealing PC loot), second and time during flood season, where she tipped off the PC's of Triel's location, claiming that it would be bad for business if Cauldron drowned, in return she demanded to be invited as the bard's date to the demonskar ball. The PC's noticed that she disappeared and then re-appeared during one of the main events.
Conceptually, I'm picturing Jill as a mix of being amused by the PC's drive to do stuff, though mostly looking out for herself, potentially making a play to see if she can learn who holds the strings. The Wee Jas "Law and Order" PC wants to parade her in front of judge and jury, so heh, and I'm a great fan of making repetitive use of the same NPC's where I can. So ideas on how to continue to make use of her would be welcome. As are ideas on why she wanted to get inside the Demonskar Ball.
More pressing perhaps would be Red Herrings for Zenith to blurt out in his fit of madness. If it can somehow make the PC's find it in their heart to suspect Lord Taskerhill or the Church of Wee Jas for foul play. I made a long list of things that are not truly red herrings, too long list, to be honest.
With Demonskar Legacy, the idea is to replace most of the opponents after they've left Redgorge with demons, the climax will be them facing the aspect of Adimarchus, intent on destroying Alek's soul so that Valanthru can't use it to summon forth Ravannah.
After this, I am replacing the test of the smoking eye with a trip to Sasserine where they are to track down the hidden temple to Hextor that is there, and was involved in the kidnapping of Sarcem (so that he can be sacrificed, the wands of control water was simply a cover up).
From there, I'm bridging it back on track for Secrets of the Soul Pillars, except that Embril Aroustinai is actually a good gal (in an evil sort of way, but on Valanthru's trail, and the only one he fears more than the ever victorious PC's). Though I'm wondering how to make the PC's want to smash through the Cathedral of Wee Jas. Make Ike an agent of Valanthru? Or leave a lot of hints about them being involved? Like Adimarchus being misguided about Wee Jas, or simply not above a little bringing down a Lawful church? (Generally, I expect them to believe all that Adimarchus will tell them, and he'll tell them the truth, as far as he knows it, yet ferociously disagree with his plan of action to destroy Alek's soul).
But I'm a bit short on ideas to bring all of that together. Though one way might be to put Alek in to round out the team, as they're down to three players now, and they *might* want to keep Alek close after a certain reveal.