As I said: Verisimilitude matters to me. I'm happy to do all the things you've mentioned and have done them. But it has to make sense in the context of the AP. And I seriously don't feel like re-writing the last two or three modules every time completely so that all those factions which should not have an advance warning suddenly have one.
I think the limited buff slots rule is a good starting point here. I will definitely implement it in my game. IMO, this eliminates half the problem.
Regarding a six-member party: while this does require the GM to adjust encounters, I try to avoid boosting the number of opponents to throw at the party. Occasionally, this is a sound tactic. More frequently it turns encounters into overly long, drawn out slug-fests. Sure, the GM has succeeded in making it more challenging, but in doing so has sacrificed progress for a two or three encounter game session. And probably bored the crap out of everyone including himself (or herself).
Like magnuskn, verisimilitude matters to me. In order to maintain it, monsters/enemies should act or react according to their nature and not tailor-fitted to respond to invading PCs (unless, as mentioned, they are already aware of the PCs). The only way to handle this is to play monsters to their strengths. I prefer to exploit a bad guy's immunities: if it is immune to fire then there will typically be a fire hazard/trap in its vicinity. Undead are great opponents for this tactic. Toxic gases and airborne diseases all make good, debilitating defenses. My personal favorite is to give an undead boss a pinch of dust of sneezing and choking to use against the party. Terrain altering abilities like control water or control weather also do wonders to make encounters more challenging without necessarily increasing the number of enemies. Swarms are also a good alternative, against any character class.
Its trial and error, not all carefully prepared monster lairs work out at high level and hours of prep work gets crushed in two rounds by the seemingly unstoppable party. In contrast, however, some have worked too well and sent the party fleeing for their lives or TPK'd. Regardless, the encounters are more natural (and enjoyable) when run this way, rather than sending wave after wave of enemies at the party.
You know, I've been giving it some serious thought, and while I love how deadly the Dragon Disciple Ileosa is, the Caster version has a lot on her side. Between her spells and minions, she can cover a lot of basis. Damage, status effects, control, etc, while the DD Ileosa focuses a lot more on just straight damage. I'm definitely going to have to keep the Bard/DD combo in mind for a PC or Villain in the future though, that combo is fantastic.
Yeah, the more we discuss it I think the caster Ileosa is a better opponent to throw at the party. While the DD is extremely cool, there's just more versatility to the caster.
That's an excellent idea and I'm totally stealing that for my group. To take it a bit further, you could even run the battle like, as you put it, a video game boss in stages. The first stage is dealing with Ileosa in the Everdawn pool: this is mostly sending her minions at the party and Ileosa's face in the pool tossing a few buffs or battlefield control spells/bardic performance. The second stage she emerges as the caster Ileosa to confront the party. The third and final stage has her retreat into the Everdawn Pool to recover, where she undergoes a transformation and the Kazavon part of her becomes much more prominent. She then emerges from the pool as the DD Ileosa for her last stand. That might be a little too radical for what you had in mind and the DD would probably need to be bumped down a notch in power, but it does let you have the best of both worlds.
I'm glad you brought the party makeup to my attention, I didn't realize there were eight (and possibly nine?) characters in the group. Even if they're primarily a melee group, they should be around 15th-16th level by the time they reach Ileosa and will probably make short work of either build. Action economy demands it. Most of her mooks will be taken out in a round or two with a party that size and, if they've had the heads up display of her power prior to this encounter, then chances are good they will have some silence spells and earplugs handy.
To mitigate this, rather than throwing in more monsters, some battlefield control is needed to slow them down. One suggestion is have her summon a shadow demon (or three with the DD) to spam deeper darkness each round and give Ileosa and her simulacri echolocation as a 4th level spell. This should even the playing field without reaching beyond her limits. Not trying to engineer a TPK here, just a challenging fight. A 15th or 16th-level party of eight will win this battle unless they have a horrible run of bad luck with dice rolls, so make them work for it. Back when I ran Age of Worms, the group had a mystic theurge and once he hit 15th level he really hit his stride and became a dominant power on the battlefield.
As for touch attacks, my only concern was touch of idiocy on the caster Ileosa and ray of enfeeblement on the DD.
Hope that helps.
As far as a more exciting opponent goes, I agree with Lord Snow that the Dragon Disciple is the better way to go. It also seems more thematic to me, given she wears the crown and is effectively inhabited by Kazavon. The greater bladed dash/metamagic quicken rod is a great combo, sure to drop a few characters (and jaws to the table). The down side, of course, is she is primarily a physical opponent and her offensive spells are sub par. She is painfully susceptible to touch attacks, might I suggest trading her ring of spell storing in for a ring of spell turning or counterspell (loaded with greater dispel magic)? I'd then swap her cure critical wounds (contigency) for stoneskin instead (triggered when physically attacked), and maybe carry a scroll of heal on hand.
IMO, however, the devilbound bard build is the more dangerous of the two. Her spell DCs are through the roof and will give the party a lot of trouble, especially song of discord and overwhelming presence. I think waves of ecstasy is a more effective (and more suitable) spell than dirge of the victorious knights for Ileosa - just seems to go with the whole seductress idea for her better. With her AC, saves and hp being considerably better than the DD, I'd say she is overall a much bigger threat.
Which brings me to the minions. The simulacrums with weird words are her physical offence, she just needs to focus on keeping a safe distance and crippling the party with spells and bardic performance. If you think she might need a few more bodyguards, have you considered a few ashmede devils? Multiple chain lightnings or horrid wiltings...ouch!
Fantastic job with the two builds, Tels, I will definately borrow one of them for my own group when they get there.
Don't be afraid to change things up if they are not to your liking. For instance:
I was not a fan of the Blackjack subplot at all, so I scrapped it entirely and went ahead with the execution. This had way more dramatic impact on my group than the contrived cutscene.
On the other hand, I really liked the turf war potential between the Arkonas and the Emperor of Old Korvosa. This wasn't really fleshed out enough for me so I modified some city encounters to build up some tension between the two. So far it has worked out really well.
Just some examples of what worked in my campaign. Its an excellent AP and flexible enough to accommodate changes without interfering with the overall plot.
I've been running my group through Maure Castle using PF rules, converting on the fly for the most part. I anticipate they will encounter Yug-Anark in our next game so I decided to give her a complete conversion to make her a more formidable melee-style cleric for a party of six. This is not an optimized build and I also made some changes to her weapon of choice, feats, spells, and magic items. As much as I love a rod of flailing, I went with a heavy flail as her god's favored weapon - I just couldn't justify the feat investment, price, and attack penalties to keep it. I also used Lamashtu's domain selection for Yeenoghu, since they are both the patron of gnolls. Finally, our group uses only the core and APG (although I snuck the Guided Hand feat from UC for this).
She turned out quite tough, although I suspect a party of six will bring her down eventually. Note that I included a lot of her buffs into her statblock, I can provide a breakdown of all her buffs if needed. Still, another opinion is always helpful so please feel free to offer any feedback.
YUG-ANARK CR 16
Dungeon #112 39
Female advanced gnoll cleric 15
CE Medium humanoid (gnoll)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft. true seeing; Perception +22
Aura chaotic evil
AC 33, touch 15, flat-footed 32 (+11 armor, +4 shield, +1 Dex, +3 natural, +4 deflection from shield of faith)
hp 208 (17d8+117 plus 11 temporary hit points from aid spell)
Fort +22 Ref +11 Will +19 (+3 resistance bonus from wrathful mantle included)
DR 10/good (with righteous might) and 10/adamantine (with stoneskin); SR 27 (with spell resistance)
Immune ray of enfeeblement, lightning bolt, touch of idiocy (from spell immunity)
Spd 30 ft. (air walk)
Melee +1 conductive spell storing heavy flail +21/+16/+11 (1d10+17/19-20)
With righteous might and divine power: +1 conductive spell storing heavy flail +25/+20/+15/+25 (2d8+25/19-20)
Space 5ft. (10 ft. with righteous might) Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with righteous might)
Special Attacks channel negative energy 8/day (10d6, Will DC20), chaos blade (grant weapon anarchic weapon quality for 7 rounds, 2/day), ferocious strike (add +7 damage to melee attacks 10/day), touch of chaos (10/day)
Spells Prepared / Known (CL 15th; concentration +22)
8th – crushing hand*, greater planar ally
7th –clenched fist*, destruction (DC24), word of chaos (DC24)
6th – blade barrier (DC23), heal, stoneskin*, word of recall
5th – [i]dispel law (DC22), flame strike (DC22), righteous might*, slay living (DC22), spell resistance, true seeing
4th – air walk, chaos hammer (DC21), divine power, freedom of movement, spell immunity*, spiritual ally
3rd – bestow curse (DC20), create food and water, dispel magic, rage*, wind wall, wrathful mantle
2nd – aid, bull’s strength*, eagle’s splendor, grace, silence (DC19), weapon of awe
1st – command (DC18), cure light wounds x2, divine favor, enlarge person*, protection from good, shield of faith
0 – bleed (DC17), detect magic, read magic, resistance
*domain spell; Domains: Chaos, Ferocity
Before Combat Whenever the alarm is sounded, Yug-Anark will cast stoneskin, freedom of movement, aid, shield of faith, weapon of awe, wrathful mantle, and true seeing. These spells are included in her stats. She then gathers whatever guards she can that remain to hunt down the intruders.
During Combat Yug-Anark lives for the carnage and bloodlust of battle, especially hand-to-hand combat and will cast divine power and righteous might just before she enters melee (these are also included in her stats). However, she is smart enough to use her most powerful ranged spells to weaken opponents first, starting with word of chaos and followed with blade barrier and destruction as she sees fit. She saves crushing hand for enemy spellcasters who give her trouble. When in melee, Yug-Anark employs her Channel Smite with her full attack. If limited to a single attack, she utilizes the conductive and spell storing qualities of her weapon to use touch of chaos/bestow curse on foes (as well as a Channel Smite).
Morale If she is forced to retreat, Yug-Anark will regroup and cast the same spells as before, as well as eagle’s splendor, divine favor, spell immunity, protection from good, spell resistance, and air walk before confronting the PCs a second time. If necessary, she will cast greater planar ally for reinforcements.
There is a chapter in the Dungeons of Golarion campaign book called "The Pyramid of Kamaria". It oulines a megadungeon that was once run by a cult of Rovagug dedicated to his release, and mentions a Great Machine on the lowest dungeon level that could possibly free him if it is ever activated. Its got some pretty cool info on building a campaign with this theme, in case you're still interested in destroying the world. :D