This thread contains spoilers for RotRL (obviously), but also some stuff from the Cult of the Ebon Destroyers module and the Sandpoint setting guide. The lead-up to this situation, and some of my ramblings about it prior to my last session, can be found In This Thread
Super-TL;DR: I'm hoping for commentary/suggestions on how I intend to proceed with RotRL following a highly disruptive Shadowclock.
TL;DR version of the context: Party went to Shadowclock, got in a huge 3-way melee against Xanesha's minions and Ironbriar (free of charm) and his Skinsaw cult. By end of the fight 2 PCs went up the clock seeking enemies, 2 PCs remained on the first floor looting and 1 pc was dead. The two first PCs found + fought Xanesha, and were both mind controlled and deep slumbered (leading to a mindcontrol). The second two PCs waited fifteen minutes (session break) and then went up the tower to find their friends, accompanied by Mistress Aymyra of the Dome of the Savoured Sting (Calistria temple, piloted by dead PC as a fresh lvl 7 cleric).
Despite being handed Mistress Aymyra (with some cherry-picked spells prepared to help counter the charms on their allies), the encounter did not go in the PCs favour. The wizard made a good attempt (enlarge person on Xanesha while she was climbing the rafters of her room, which could have led to the roof collapsing and *might* have led to her falling through the two floors and into a freefall inside the tower) but she resisted the spell. The swashbuckler also put out a nasty amount of damage, enough to make Xanesha flee and heal outside on the roof, but she was the only person doing damage.
In the end, one of the mindcontrolled PCs died through self-damage after Mistress Aymyra cast Confusion on all the enemies but only affecting the mc'd PCs (1hp - 10 self-damage to go to -9 hp, bleed out at -10 on next turn). Xanesha retained control throughout the fight of the other mc'd PC, and took both the 'alive' PCs with charm as well. Mistress Aymyra fled, taking the body of the dead PC on the ground floor of the tower with her.
At this point we called the session, and I gave my players some choices - 3/5 were alive, but now served Xanesha and we could continue the campaign like that until they were eventually freed. We could also start a new party put together by Mistress Aymyra to hunt the monster that is loose in Magnimar, and this *could* include a Raised version of the original dead PC.
They blind voted and resoundingly went with a new party, and the player with the dead PC decided to go with their Raised version (details found in that original thread, but in short they are now a Yamah Azata Kineticist 3, while the rest of the party is rolling at level 8).
All of this leads to the main topic of this thread: how I am planning to continue the campaign, and try and eventually bring it back around onto the AP tracks.
- Xanesha is still alive, but does not have her Skinsaw network
- A new party of high level adventurers has no connection to Sandpoint
- A new party do not have the narrative impetus to solve the long term mysteries of the campaign.
One option would certainly be to take the fast way out - Xanesha cuts her losses and goes to find her sister in Turtleback Ferry, and the new PCs are a party hired by the Lord-Mayor to go investigate the goings on up there. I find this option to be lacklustre - it doesn't solve the problem of low connection to Sandpoint, which the ongoing AP requires, and sort of says 'the actions of the previous PCs have no impact on the story'.
Instead, I have decided to break from the AP and move into a heavily modifed version of the Cult of the Ebon Destroyers module (note: the rest of this discussion has spoilers for that module). In CotED, the core plot is a murder mystery in a city while tracing the agents of a cult, followed by a treck to a small town and out to a location where a more powerful set of cult agents are.
Step 1 to integrating this module into the campaign is making a core assumption that Xanesha had managed to put together more than one cell of charmed agents in Magnimar. This isn't a difficult leap to make, and gives her a better reason to stick around in the city and keep Magnimar as the prime location for the early side of the module. So who are the cells?
In the module the first group of cultists are led by three monster-like creatures - a bat raskshasa, a dark naga and an evil garuda (birdperson). Of these three, the bat-shasa and the garuda immediately made me think of the Red Bishop and Pazuzu. All I need to do is replace the naga with another winged creature, and this first new cell can easily have been the Red Bishop's servants in the city, found and coopted by Xanesha just as she had done to the Skinsaw Cult. Beyond providing this cell a backstory, this also lends to building out the Red Bishop and the Empyreal Lords - one of the PCs has already spoken to Soralyon, one of the patrons of Magnimar, and Ylimancha is another who could become relevant as the campaign continues.
The second group of cultists in the module are master monks (monk-wizard, shadow monk, monk-oracle) who are supposed to be in a hidden temple, directing the cult. The three monks can stay as they are stats-wise, I think they make a good trio of thematic enemies. Instead of leading a cult in a hidden temple, however, I think they and their acolytes have lived in the Gecko (piling of the Irespan, the bridge in Magnimar) for some time, and are a Thasilonian cult of some sort - this gives them reason to ally with Xanesha, as the direct representative of a Runelord, and act as one of her cells.
Now that we have our two core enemy groups, I need to set up their placement.
Step 2 is swapping the setting over to Varisia. The early elements of the module are already laid out - the 'recruiter' is Mistress Aymyra, who together with the Justice Court (who got involved with the death of Justice Ironbriar and revelation of his Skinsaw cult) and most of the other Magnimar temples, put together a bounty on Xanesha. The other cells (this time the Pazuzu cell) have continued the seven-pointed star murders. The Clue NPCs in the module can easily be adopted as different folks in Magnimar, which gives me a chance to show off locations in the city the players haven't seen yet. The primary location swap will likely be the Hells instead of a palace when investigating a rumour aobut guards leaking info.
The location of the Pazuzu cell, instead of being a silk shop run by their cult, is instead a Dye and Sail shop near Washer's Row in Beacon's Point. Instead of overhearing the naga (still need to replace that) speaking to Monk acolytes with a message for their collective masters, she is relating a message from Xanesha to them; this, combined with papers from the Garuda, lead the PCs to the knowledge that another cell has gone to Sandpoint to finish the work of the Skinsaw man, but she needs them to hurry and finish as she is recalling them to the city for her strike on the mayor.
So now instead of heading into wild jungles on elephants, the raised PC can instil urgency in the others to reach Sandpoint to stop the next cell. The weretiger and the evil villagers can be cut from the module - instead, the PCs arrive in Sandpoint and can get caught up on events they've missed*. There have been a number of murders (depending on how long they took) but no big 'reaping' as Xanesha seemed to have wanted. The Monks, which the town don't know about, have set up in Thistletop - the last PCs cleaned it out in preperation to make it their stronghold, even going so far as to fix the bridge properly, but didn't have a chance to go back and really start setting it up. This will give the raised PC more impetus to also invest their upcoming downtime on that project so as to deny it to other evils that might move in.
Now we have the location of the two cells (and I can reuse Thistletop maps!), but...
Step 3 is placing Xanesha. She hasn't left the city, so by the end of the new party killing the monks, they need a way to chase down Xanesha's location. I'm thinking this is a two-stage process. 1) The monks lived in the Gecko piling, and still have some acolytes there. Going there and investigating can reveal to interested PCs some lore elements of Thassilon, other remaining megastructures of the time (Kaer Maga, Skull's Crossing, others). They can also discover that Xanesha is close by. 2) Xanesha has, since losing the Shadowclock, been living in the Rat, another of the Irespan pilings, where the last of her Faceless Stalkers have taken over the sczarni gang 'Doolun's Lads'. This is her final cell.
The final fight with Xanesha will feature some Facless Stalkers in the outer hideout, including a Faceless Stalker tribal leader of some sort. In her inner sanctum Xanesha is protected by four bodyguards - one is my Revenant Nualia (detailed in the previous thread linked above), and the other three are the former PCs: a Wizard magic-item creator, a Swashbuckler Swordswoman and an archer Slayers. Xanesha will have a few new magic items, as will the Faceless Stalker tribe leader, created by the Wizard, and she will have gained a level in Rogue (she did defeat a party of PCs after all.) Oh, and she'll have her Will O' Wisp minion buddy for flanking.
To even out these odds, the new party have more than enough time to find a way to break charms on the old PCs. If they do, they free them from Xanesha's influence at which point their players can start piloting them again, giving a 1 body swing in the parties favour.
Step 4, which is admittedly not totally necessary, is adding external pressure and complications. While the Magnimar temples, headed by the Dome, are working solely with the PCs, the Justice Court (who put out 2/3 of the bounty) have also spoken to the Order of the Nail Hellknights. Throughout their investigating the PCs will run into the Order of the Nail party doing the same - they will likely also be followed to Sandpoint by them, providing a reason for the Order to start showing up more there as a foil to the PCs.
Well, that's what I've got cooking. If anyone has thoughts on lore I'm missing that I could tap into, any of the changes/additions to the AP or Module, or anything else in this post they would be greatly appreciated. At the moment I've flagged for reading the Night Scales from Inner Sea Combat, the Harrowed Society from Inner Sea Magic, and updating my prep for Desna and Calistria (deities I know new PCs will worship) from Inner Sea Gods. I'll also need to delve a bit more into Pazuzu and Lamashtu if I want to bring her back around (since Nualia is still around, but undead and bound to serve the return of Karzoug). I also know one new PC will be a dwarf, so I need to do some more delving into Janderhoff to look for threads top pull in there.
So much to do, so little time to do it before my next session. If you made it this far, thanks for reading. As I said, any and all comments on this whole mess would be delightful.
* - While the last PCs have been away the remaining ghouls in the wilds became a problem and the necromancer Caizarlu came to town claiming to be able to get rid of them but needed protection to do so. Shalelu, Ameiko and Hemlock went with him, Caizarlu ended up trying to take over the ghouls, and they fought. The npcs barely won. Also, Father Zantus and some of his acolytes went out to Misgivings following the warnings of the PCs to try and cleanse the place of 'evil, possibly a lich.' They were quickly rebuffed, and sent to Windsong Abbey to the north for aid. Their messenger will have arrived at the start of the module, and depending on how long the new party takes to get to Sandpoint, Zantus and the representatives from Windsong may have already gone to try again (and failed), or gone back a third time and succeeded, but at the cost of Father Zantus's life.