We did it. It's over.
Naraga + Gallowdead - The archer won initiative and shot 200 health off Naraga on the way in, prompting the dragon to invis and shake the gallowdead off for hope of doing something worthwhile. The other PCs then put invis on the archer and we played "who has better range on detection and who attacks first?" The answer to the first question is the dragon, the answer to the second is "Naraga casts wall of force every time an invisible creature is sensed with Blindsense."
Eventually, Naraga moved back, cast invis on the gallowdead, and headed in to double-whammy a target. I managed to connect both vital strikes + power attack on the paladin, which resulted in the paladin going down to not-quite-unconscious before he healed himself and obliterated Naraga. The gallowdead was not a threat against PCs with communal air walk.
The final showdown:
Round 1: TB drops Horrid Wilting, Quickened Fireball, and aura rolls a 1 for paralysis duration. Archer shakes off the paralysis, TB sees the paladin/swashbuckler is not affected and throws an Energy Drain for 5 negative levels. Paladin/swashbuckler moves in to threaten TB before the daemon acts. Daemon sees multiple targets no longer paralyzed, casts Mass Hold Person. Erga moves over to cleric/fighter/mortal usher and uses Lay on Hands to clear paralysis, who then moves in on TB as well. Source Severence (arcane) countered with Immediate Counterspell + Greater Dispel Magic.
Round 2: Mythic Time Stop, bonus targets = daemon, cohort, cohort's nosoi, Erga, and Yesel. 5 rounds. Cohort is completely worthless due to unremovable shaken condition and being a psychic caster. Handwaive all NPCs as dead with an arbitrary amount of damage on the daemon and some spells taken off TB. TB is repositioned to a better location. Slayer/hunter repositions out of the hole, gets ready to fire. TB disintegrates Gildais. Paladin/swash smites, hits, and triggers the banishment on daemon, daemon is defeated. Cleric/fighter/MU buffs up and moves up to close the gap.
Round 3: TB uses Forcecage on archer, archer saves. Archer fires, misses every shot due to 52 AC. TB uses Mythic Maze on archer, paladin/swash moves in, smites, and hits for substantial damage. Cleric/fighter/MU moves in and swings, but misses.
Round 4: TB Cone of Cold, kills last animal companion and we're officially down to PCs only. TB Finger of Death + Quickened Magic Missile on paladin/swash, who saves. Realize I'm getting down to some dregs on the remaining spells just in time for paladin and cleric/fighter/MU to come in and swing for the morale condition.
Resolution: Only remaining PC on the plane with an obol is paladin/swashbuckler. Cleric/fighter/MU was nowhere near an explosion to have similar situation and archer is still in the maze. Cinematic explodey, Cleric/fighter/MU uses Miracle to retrieve the archer from the maze.
Keepin' this short and to the point. My players have added alchemical defiled paladins based on helping Moluom. Roughly half the party has evasion.
Cairn King - this encounter does not functionally exist against competent archers and parties with any amount of flight. Specifically, Clustered Shots solves for a lot of problems. There seems to have been an assumption that you engage the Cairn King on a standard map. It's 120' tall. Standing on its head, a composite longbow still has a range increment penalty to shoot his toe. No party in their right mind is going to do that. Because of that fact, I did this encounter as theatre of the mind.
Ecorche + Nightwalker + Troop - I put this one on Hill Country as a map. My players just dunked on this, but a big part of it was that the Nightwalker didn't get a turn. YMMV. The ecorche's tactics are understandable but not functional - he ends up just wasting a lot time closing distance for very little payoff.
Frustration 6 event - TB targeted the PC who waved the shard of the shield for the bonus. They failed the save, but another player cast Miracle. I ruled that it was sufficient for the targeted PC to make the save instead because I didn't want to exclude one of my three players entirely from the end-game and Miracle does that sort of thing with a 25k diamond involved.
Another double session report thanks to *gestures vaguely at everything.*
Session 1: We spent a fair bit of time just catching things back up. We had scheduling conflicts for nearly 3 months, so it was unavoidable. Eventually, they headed north. They negotiated with Moluom because I really talked up the elixir and never engaged the hand swarm. As a result, that wing was very easy.
One of my group's PCs is a Mortal Usher and therefore has at will invisibility. He effectively solo'd the southern wing by reanimating things for the smashings. I was a bit lenient here, but I want high level characters to do awesome things and not just grind their faces into combats for the sake of combat.
The PCs briefly met with Gildais before moving to the east wing. Demiliches are scary, but paladins are scarier. Ceto basically fell over. I was not surprised by either of these things.
Session 2: The shinigami got 1 action and it was completely blocked by Death Ward. Iuphasti similarly saw very little screen time due to aggressive PCs. I think she also got all of 1 turn, as well.
Lyanthari is scary, however. She ate a full round from the archer, then decided it was time for Greater Invisibility and vital strike games. I nearly 2-rounded one of the melee, who had Righteous Might and rage going for bonus HP. An area Greater Dispel Magic stripped off the GI and she proceeded to get wrecked.
We did plot clean-up (Gildais stuff, Tsomar's ghost stuff, etc.) and intro'd the end-game to wrap up a relatively short session.
I've made no secret as to when and where I've killed PCs - they're all posted as campaign logs in the GM spoiler posts, though it's probably faster to read through my posting history directly as that's all I post in, really. Thankfully, your players appear to be Fort save heavy, so there will likely be fewer opportunities to extend that streak before the dry spell truly begins. Gallowspire is not particularly kind.
Honestly, that party looks pretty balanced. I'm not sure why they'd be struggling so much. They're basically missing just the magic trap disabling, which I don't recall coming up much. There could be some spell selection issues for the inquisitor in particular. The PCs should be able to stabilize in the not-too-distant future, though.
Double session report:
The PCs finished clearing out Hammer Rock proper, taking care of the death chariot and getting the Tsomar info dump. Using Insect Spies to scout, the parties learned the full layout of the cellar area and locations of the encounters, then chose to quietly head toward the nemhain. I've never had a party so easily dispatch a nemhain. Usually, they're rough encounters. This one went down in 1.5 rounds.
End session 1, it was relatively short because we had a very tired player and I needed to figure out what I was doing on the cohort front to replace the deceased Dondun. I spent a couple weeks pondering this off-and-on, but ended up with an acceptable replacement cohort.
Meet Aikio Wayminder. She's a follower of The Passage who took a vow of silence. Umble, the nosoi from book 1, is her familiar now and Umble does all the talking. She is built currently as 20 point buy and roughly half a level 16 PC's wealth. Since Umble does the talking, she's not particularly able to clearly explain what Aikio can do, nor does Aikio have a particular interest in demonstrating until necessary. Her goal in most combats is to stay back and provide support, observing the battlefield and making adjustments as necessary. With appropriate adjustments, she can serve as a ready-to-go replacement character or cohort under the premise that Barzahk notices a particular "marked soul" in the Dead Roads and sends his follower to where it came from.
Session 2 started with the PCs meeting Aikio with only half an introduction as mentioned above. The PCs then did the fabulous chain-encounter of the cellar. Tomb Giants were not particularly significant threats against my party, who has an established front-line with sufficient defenses. Even having the encounter split between C1 and C5 while the enemies streamed in through both northern doors of C13, the party was able to effectively split their attention and manage the battlefield well.
We ended session 2 with this, having fully cleared the floor at this point. I've got 3 weeks to pull together the Fallowdeep dungeon, which is obnoxiously large.
Wyrmwraiths are dangerous, even when the party is overleveled. The short version of the fight is that breath weapon + quickened Finger of Death is incredibly threatening if you don't have Evasion to avoid the first half of that.
The main thing I did with the initial Hammer Rock section was to say that the sun was setting, so the buildings were casting some shadows. For initial scouting, the PCs sent the hunter's bird scouting, which was spotted by the wyrmwraith. The PCs were investigating the chapel area toward the barracks, ran into the dreadwraith, and the wyrmwraith joined the party a few rounds in, penning the PCs into the northeast side area of the chapel. The PCs had a better fight than expected because of the level bump because of Mass Heal, but still a significant threat nonetheless.
End result: cohort Dondun Daradun has died...and became a dreadwraith...and is not easily returned to life. The dreadwraith has died because the players camped the body, but that whole "dying to a death effect" thing is an issue for them.
Next session is in the new year. We'll see how that goes.
Sooo...weird circumstance: the adventure says that the PCs are given a chance to convince the Children of Kumaru to abandon the Blue Gardens of Tlil, but...there doesn't seem to be a single mention of how they go about doing that. All of the encounters basically go straight into combat when the Children see people without masks. So...how exactly are the PCs meant to convince them?
PCs could theoretically find masks before interacting with any of the Children of Kumaru or use spells like Calm Emotions on first contact. Other tactics include what happened with my players, which is about 3 posts above yours.
First session of the book tonight. I'm glad I was prepared for the problems because man...there were problems. My players had a bit of an off night due to varieties of exhaustion IRL, so the session felt a bit flat. Special note: per request of the players, we agreed to upscale the AP to character level 20 by the end. This resulted in them being level 17 for this session.
The transition from book 5 to book 6 is not particularly well established. The PCs have been gone from Avistan for 3-4 weeks according to the timeline. The only discussion of the transition is an assumption on page 4 that says "The PCs have at last managed to return to Avistan, arriving in Lastwall weeks after their departure." There's no indication from any NPC or discovery as to why the PCs would want to go back to Lastwall specifically. It's been 3-4 weeks, after all, and there's no particular reason to believe that the PCs should believe that they could find survivors if they went there. The instinct from the most experienced player was this:
"Let me prep Eyes and Ears of the City a couple times, we'll teleport to Absalom and figure out what the situation is real quick."
One very pregnant pause later, I asked the player if that's what he's sure he wants to do. Some hemming and hawing later, with the very reasonable justification gone over again, he decides to instead prep Commune and do that instead, getting the necessary information to get on the rails and not immediately get dumped in part 3. Some very short info-dump later, they're on their way to Keirodera.
Let's talk about maps real quick. There aren't any in part 1. I get it - there was a lot better stuff to spend word count and layout space on in this adventure. I grabbed a couple from various PFS scenarios - specifically, Mysteries Under Moonlight part 2 (encounters 1 and 2, for blight and WH respectively) and The Sealed Gate (the final encounter, intended for rusalkas).
Upon arriving outside the wood, the PCs decided to use spells to scout and avoided the Barometz entirely. The Wild Hunt, however, came over and started their thing. One of my PCs is a Mortal Usher, however, and Calm Emotions hit 5 out of 6 members of the Wild Hunt. The PCs then engaged in combat in such a way that there was literally no chance of the WH critters doing anything, then gracefully allowed their surrender and departure. It was...honestly kind of sad.
I forgot the rusalkas entirely. Whoops. I purposefully skipped the viper vines because it's kind of a non-encounter at this point. The PCs killed 2 of them in Jolizpan. Adding a 3rd does nothing.
The forest blight was entertaining, but I had no interest in doing anything except brute force. It slapped the hell out of the archer and got absolutely obliterated. In hindsight, I probably should have removed the degenerate template to be more appropriate for my party.
The funny haunt got noticed by the cleric who resolved it with Mass Heal.
We wrapped up for the night there, with Hammer Rock in sight. Per that acceleration, I had them level to 18.
As written, players should be level 3 when doing Salishara's Scriptorium, Nine-Eaves, and the Palace of Teeth. Level 4 is as they go to Deathbower. You have discretion on that, of course.
I re-read the rooms and encounter for Mrs. Pedipalp. Doesn't look like you did anything particularly wrong here. Was just a messy fight that went sideways. Book 1 is just really hard compared to many other APs.
I discussed a bit of the merchant concern on page 3. Encumbrance is a significant concern, as are things like arrow count. Book 2 covers the idea of wandering merchants, but I'd really strongly recommend against that for book 1. The Boneyard is supposed to be very foreign and the whole book is designed to usher in the theme of survival horror. The first merchants written into the adventure don't show up until book 3 start, but are no longer available by act 2. The next merchants are in book 5 and are available throughout. That's literally it.
I solved the 3 player problem by upping their relative power level - my players have 25 pt buy gestalt characters. When they got into book 3, one of them took Leadership to recruit a specific NPC. That said, book 2 in particular was a bit brutal, with one character dying twice. Reedreaper could theoretically be introduced early if you think your party can interact with him peacefully. It's a significant rewrite to the adventure to recruit him early and he is VERY strong compared to the PCs.
For needed items, certainly consider swapping weapon or consumable types. My players built an archer, a rapier-wielding swashbuckler, and a 2h weapon ranger. Some loot swaps allowed these characters to actually function. I also instituted a rule that magic items could be "melted down" to crafting materials at 1/4 market value if a character had the relevant crafting feat. This allowed them to adjust their gear early, when they could reasonably spend days doing things.
It's been a crazy couple weeks, but we finally got to have a session again tonight, which meant finally starting Tumbaja Mountain. The party reasonably prepared for a hot engagement, but were not quite prepared for the happy-fun-entry.
Tzitzimitl: The "cast haste and get closer" part of the tactics got invalidated pretty quick by getting engaged in melee before initiative came up. I opted to open with a deeper darkness to trigger the Eclipse ability and stagger the entire PC team. This was almost completely undone in the next two actions via Dispel Magic and Remove Paralysis, but I followed it up with a full team Wail on turn 2, killing the animal companion and cohort Dondun while knocking out the archer. Light and Dark was used to counteract a massive swing from the cleric/fighter/Mortal Usher. His heart sank a bit, but then the paladin/swashbuckler got a full attack and (surprise surprise) killed the thing. Between Ultimate Mercy and Raise Animal Companion, the party was back in fighting shape and able to move forward with the entry, albeit with bruised egos and LOTS of lost spell slots on Dondun. He started with 6 Dispels prepped, spent 1 in the combat, and lost the remaining 5 to the Ultimate Mercy raise.
Upper Tumbaja: The party started clockwise from NW, so they dealt with the haunt (multiple divine casters = EZ), salvaged the NE room, and got to the ghost. Some delicate conversation later, they decide to bash the mirrors. Numoz floated over to the tree and down, immediately engaging Cover Art the Dragon. The party, understanding that there's a dragon, decides to spend some time buffing while somehow believing that Numoz will accomplish anything while they do this. I rolled some attacks, but uhhhh...spoiler alert: the ghost basically can't do anything against Cover Art.
Dragon Time: As it turns out, an ounce of preparation turns high level encounters to paste pretty quick. Istravek got one action and it was a failed attempt at a spell. The relatively high AC was still "hit on a 2" territory for the paladin/swashbuckler due to buffs and Istravek died to smite hit-crit-hit-crit as a full round attack.
Next session in 2 weeks, 'rona willing.
Whether loot is undamaged or recoverable are reasonable questions to ask. The Radiant Fire does a lot of structural damage in areas with rampant growth. In the case of Roslar's Coffer, there's not a lot to be snagged because it's a smaller-ish town. I let my players scrounge some interesting gear that ended up being used as a crafting base for quite some time.
Regarding shopping at established stores, the PCs really only have 2 sections of the game where it's an option: early book 3 and the entirety of book 5. You can use the traveling merchants section from book 2 if things are particularly dire, or just allow the PCs to scrounge for some things. Carrying capacity is a major concern for a long time - with no market in sight, it's hard to justify lugging around a spare full plate.
How 'bout that underground area, eh?
Sakhil: The real threat of the adventure. I messed up tactics on it (softballed badly) and it was still a significant threat due to reasonable damage output per swing, reach, combat reflexes, the disease, and such. Things I forgot: gaze attack (first PC was the paladin, so he didn't roll due to immunity, just forgot afterward), quickened displacement.
Run right (that is, as tactics indicate unless the party hits the knowledge check), this thing is very threatening.
Umbarno: Ended up being a bit of a threat based on positioning. The golem went first and blocked the hallway after "I'm invisibly scouting" got seen by True Seeing. Said player engaged in conversation, reached the reasonable end of the convo, then said "please don't say 'roll a diplomacy check.'" I responded with "I mean, I'll take intimidate too...?"
The hardest part of this encounter was that the PCs lost initiative, which meant that engaging Umbarno was very difficult. Cannon golems hit like a truck and this guy was positioned with a clear shot down the hallway and completely blocking the entrance to the room, making it very difficult for the PCs to engage. The map is definitely anti-player in design (and anti-GM to draw) for this encounter and probably the actual hardest enemy.
Umbarno's tactics are badly written - the golem should not be a valid target for Unholy Aura due to the spell resistance: yes (harmless) for the spell. Also, he wastes the swift action for an extra +1 deflection bonus to AC. On the plus side, we at least all should know the proper verbal components for Death Clutch. Paladin made the save...barely.
Because the party was still wearing the Tlil Masks, I figured the wyrwoods wouldn't bother them. The party them went on the grand search for the notes and promptly teleported out upon finding them. They skipped several encounters and the majority of interesting loot due to this, but I think they'll be mostly fine.
Tonight's session was really fun for everybody as it went a bit off the rails.
Rolling back into the combat, the PCs were in B6 with wardens coming down the hallway and had cast a Wall of Force on the doorway. One warden ran for help from the dormitory and the other stood by the door to watch the PCs. They then proceeded to go to Juke City by Disintegrating the eastern wall for an exit, waiting for the warden at the door to run down the hallway, then dismissed the Wall of Force and went around the other way. This led to a combat in the northern hall in front of the labs, where I had the warden who ran for help grab a botanist and warden from the dormitory as reinforcements.
About 3 rounds later, that entire encounter is nonlethally subdued and dragged into B7. The PCs donned the Tlil Masks and wandered around, ending up at the dormitory themselves. Nobody prepared or casted Tongues and nobody spoke Razatlani. In the PCs own words, "this was a poorly thought-out infiltration." The PCs started interacting with a botanist who had asked a question in Razatlani ("What's with the alarm?") and the halfling PC, not understanding a word of it, just shook his head no. I gave the PCs a Sense Motive to realize that this was not an expected response and was raising suspicion.
The upshot, though, was an incredible failed Knowledge: Local check on the part of the botanist to identify a halfling. Given the relatively low numbers in Jolizpan, I figured they'd be DC 10 instead of DC 5. A natural 1 later, the botanist assumed that he was a gnome and addressed the party in gnome, which two characters understood. Some clever bluffing later, the alarm was removed and the PCs were on their way.
The PCs then decided to disregard the rest of the facility, Disintegrated one of the doors to the Arcane Nexus, and took the elevator down. Their hope was that the unconscious Children of Kumaru and the hole in B6 won't be discovered until they're well on their way.
And that's a fair point, but I would counter that she's not trusting the PCs with the full extent of her intent or plans. She's revealing what she deems to be enough to secure their cooperation.
From a narrative perspective, this is important for several reasons, not least of which is the "lesser of two evils" trope. The PCs are constantly fighting the undead, but are suddenly working for a lich with broad name recognition. It should be, at least in part, something that troubles many PCs. The more important piece, though, is that the end of book 4 can't work without the PCs foreknowledge of who she is. The entire final scene becomes incoherent if the PCs can't figure it out.
Blue Gardens of Tlil part 1:
Finissario: I skipped it. I've run base alraunes before and found them to be incredibly boring/frustrating encounters for PCs that can take hours to resolve. Tacking 4 levels of Mesmerist to that seemed agonizing.
Into the Gardens: The PCs now include a Mortal Usher, so an invisible scout is sort of the order of the day here. Most of the party stayed away while the scout scouted. They made their initial entry into B4 and proceeded to B5 undetected, then proceeded to B6.
The PCs made a valiant effort at following the intent of nonlethal engagement. Both botanists were knocked unconcious and the PCs engaged the Blood Brambles more aggressively while the warden patrol hustled to the room. The Fighter/Mortal Usher//Cleric was a bit confused when one Blood Bramble ran right past him. My interpretation there was that it was a lot less interested in him because he doesn't have an obol (he's a replacement PC). We had to cut the session right as the wardens arrived at the door to B6, but the PCs successfully took out the stock part of the room.
B6 is a problematic room. I can understand the wandering patrols being hostile, but the botanists here are also auto-hostile if you aren't wearing a mask, so it's kind of a case of "this is definitely the wrong door to open." It's also positioned in a very likely place for the PCs to go immediately. I recommend revising their behavior triggers as follows:
*When the door opens, the botanists do not immediately look in that direction, but instruct the PCs to leave them to their work and close the door.
I ran the pathfinder society scenario "Reaver's Roar" for my players as it is related to the starting town of the AP.
Strongly recommend this as an option. It has really important history for Roslar's Coffer that is assumed as part of the Player's Guide. It's also appropriate for level 7-11 characters.
Sometime in the past 4 weeks since last session, the players realized there was a math error and figured out that Dondun somehow hadn't died, therefore the paladin still had Lay on Hands available.
On to the rest of the parade!
The players decided they'd move through the city in proximity order for the remaining encounters. Since they started at the docks, it made the order pretty clear. It also sort of felt like an old school Castlevania game going back to the city map to ping the next location after each fight.
Viper Vines: They attempted to omnomnom, but these things were not very threatening to my players. The front line had mid-30s AC, the will save DC was mildly threatening but I forgot to spray that cloud out, and really it came down to "there's things with reach and no DR, just let the archer do archer things."
Ypotryll: The rare fight at high tiers where it's just numbers. It's kind of a refreshing change, honestly, and although this thing tenderized the PCs like it was making schnitzel, the players enjoyed the combat. This is a very challenging encounter for PCs who rely on AC against enemies. The saving grace for the party was that it failed a save against Calm Emotions, which allowed the archer to take a nice full round attack with greater invisibility and sneak attack.
Wyrwood Soldiers: In the interest of time, we skipped these. They posed little to no threat to the PCs and one of my players wakes up at 5am for work. I wasn't interested in keeping him until 11pm.
Wyrwood Skulks: I got off a grand total of 2 sneak attacks. All 3 died within the span of 12 seconds and I was 1 initiative tick away from the glory of the final one throwing a Necklace of Fireball bead into such a spot that it would have detonated both of the other full necklaces. The one with the arrow pointing at him was the last wyrwood standing.
With that, the PCs are gearing up to head to the Blue Gardens of Tlil.
The starting town (Roslar's Coffer) has a recently-reclaimed temple to Sarenrae. The temple had, until just a few months ago, been occupied by a creature known as a Red Reaver, which was dispatched by Pathfinder agents during PFS scenario 10-04 Reaver's Roar. Lastwall otherwise has many LG religions, but you're also on the border of Belkzen (sort of) and Nirmathas. Roslar's Coffer is a frequent target of the Belkzen orcs over the past decade.
Without getting spoilery beyond the vague outlines you're given, deities that deal with themes of life, death, tenacious survival, crusading, capital G Good, and capital L Law tend to be appropriate for the region. Lastwall is chartered as a defense against the undead to the north and the orcs to the west. While Roslar's Coffer is effectively a backwater frontier town, it's still part of a nation that trends LG.
Realized today that I'm already behind on summary. I ran some of this book almost 2 weeks ago and I'm prepping for another session on Friday!
I had introduced the transition to Xopatl in a prior session, so the characters were effectively presented immediately with the festival. This was...jarring to say the least. They spent time gathering information and were startled that there just wasn't any urgency or concern to speak of. Both in-character and out-of-character, the impression was that the transition was too stark, too fast. If not for the constant insistence to move forward in Arcadia, I'm fairly certain they'd be seeking a Greater Teleport by any means necessary to get back to Avistan. In short, the gravity of the book 4 ending and the levity of the book 5 intro felt wrong to them. As a result, I had to quickly prep some things that I wasn't quite ready for. I had the maps loaded in Roll20 and some tokens down, but I hadn't done the deeper reading to make sure I understood the monster action flow and such.
The PCs then did information gathering via Ears of the City. This gave me the proper vehicle to give them the direction toward action that they were desperate for. We walked through the Clash of Saints as a narrative because none of the party members were interested in the slightest (again, levity vs gravity).
At this point, we went on to the Blossom Parade and I rolled randomly among locations for what their unbuffed encounter was going to be (*cough cough*). I landed on the wizards. This was unfortunate. I was completely unconcerned about the fires as one player has been using a lot of water-based spells, so I was expecting the use of those spells (and was not disappointed). The real problems came from 2 aspects:
1. The smoke is a real problem for PCs, but the NPCs ignore it as a vision blocker.
I ended up ruling that the smoke started dissipating once nearby fires were extinguished and had two primary fire locations. Each wizard effectively stayed within each one of those areas, so one fire being extinguished meant one visible wizard with a 1 round delay on the smoke dispersing. I also assumed that civilians were effectively acting as a bucket brigade.
The wizards won the initiative, more or less, and followed their general tactic by using Black Tentacles on the bucket brigade. Hunter/Slayer cast Aqueous Orb and started rolling it over fires, which extinguished one fire. The second wizard then dropped Mass Hold Person, hitting only the cohort (Dondun). The paladin/swashbuckler ran over to the civilians and began using Aura of Healing (Hospitaler archetype) to keep them up. Our new PC (Cleric 14 // Fighter 6/Mortal Usher 8) went to engage, casting a spell for flight (it's a Ragathiel-themed one that I can't remember the name of) and went in the direction of casting noises.
Queue Fireball at PCs, Hunter/Slayer continues orbing, and Wiz2 Greater Dispel at the cleric/MU. Paladin/Swash uses the LoH mercy for Dispel Magic on the tentacles, succeeds, and walks back to the rest of the party. Cleric grumbles and tries to do something mind-affecting, which does nothing to the constructs. Dondun wishes he could do something, but only now breaks the Mass Hold Person.
Queue Maximized Lightning Bolt and a dead Dondun, heavily injured party. One wizard is now visible and begins getting attacked, but the paladin/swash is neither fast enough to approach nor able to fly. Hunter/slayer is the only ranged at this time, but failed the save against Slow. I start pulling punches because this stops feeling fun for any of us. These wizards are too well set up for this situation. I end up more or less letting the players win to move on, but I could have just blasted them into oblivion given the situation as it was.
The PCs gather the loot and revive Dondun via Ultimate Mercy, the paladin/swash says "I'm basically useless for the rest of the day" and I mention the sounds of other violent things going on throughout the city. That's where we ended the session.
So, the rest of Gallowspire:
Jandaroka: Due to the active Daylight spell the party uses for their lack of darkvision, Jandaroka was well aware of the PCs. In case you were curious, Roll20 does a great job of showing just how far the light extends. In the picture, the PC has a yellow aura reflecting the bright and dim light radii. I was still using the Reveal tool instead of dynamic lighting here, but the main thing is that, from the intersection, it extends very far into Jandaroka's room. Keep that in mind when determining when the party draws her attention.
I let the PCs roll perception to hear her order the devils to go investigate, which allowed for the possibility of a surprise round when they used Greater Teleport to move the short distance to the PCs. This left Jandaroka alone to use her Summon Monster spells, drop a Stinking Cloud, etc. from a significant distance. This was the most effective that I've ever had an enemy conjurer be in my history as a GM. The time and distance made a significant difference in this combat. Ultimately, they ended up wiping up her summons and rushing up on her, as one would typically expect. They did not find her phylactery.
Elementals: My PCs are particularly bad at dealing with elementals given the removal of one of the damage dealers in the prior session (RIP rebuilt Jando). I ended up handwaiving this encounter after 3 rounds because it was just going to be a slog.
Bloody Bones: This encounter gave the PCs some challenges due to the relatively powerful attack routines. The PCs tended not to stand near mirrors, so the swift action Dim Door was not usable. The monsters had to rely on standard action casting and then being near enemies who could smash them. Mass Inflict Moderate was a nice damaging touch for the animal companions and Dondun to suffer while also healing the Bloody Bones.
Krobdak: Boy, where they surprised when it Plane Shifted away. Like other critters, it saw the light and moved toward it. I gave the PCs the opportunity to sense motive as things were said, so they played toward the diplomatic aspect. THey never identified the marut. It was a lot funnier later.
Amaretos: Because the PCs had not rested and were down a damage dealer, I removed one of the necrosages. Honestly, this was as much for my sanity as anything else as the necrosages are really, REALLY bland opponents. They all had plenty of time to prepare as the PCs brute forced the ring puzzle due to not being able to make the linguistics check (for reference, the only party member with Linguistics trained was the Courtly Hunter's animal companion, who also has one of the highest int mods in the party due to familiar scaling).
Amaretos got his Black Tentacles out, but the necrosages were cut off from him via Wall of Fire. They began casing Protection from Energy to deal with that, as well as Wind Wall to deal with the party archer, but by then Amaretos was absolutely obliterated by the paladin/swashbuckler. 2 crit full attack will do that. I just called the combat at that point. The necrosages were an easy mop up. Amaretos never got the chance to full attack. In retrospect, I had failed to use the time that the PCs were at the door to buff him, but he had attempted to use the Bracelet of Friends while that was going on. I would recommend replacing 1 casting of both Web and Scorching Ray with Bladed Dash to make this encounter a bit more dynamic.
Lich's End: This went about as by-the-book as it possibly could have. My players successfully did all the modifiers via story events, which results in 3 helpful, 4 friendly, and 1 indifferent among the honor guard. The PCs then successfully hit the Diplomacy check on Ulthun. The replacement PC replaced one of the honor guard for the sake of being close enough to accidentally get pulled in by Arazni's teleporting.
We intro'd into book 5 to allow for character introduction time, but I'll basically say that the players are quite varied on engagement. There's a lot of proper nouns being thrown around, which was really rough for my wife, who is not particularly familiar with the setting.
The only other things I'd point out with the direction of sailing are:
1. Sailing east means having a forest on the Ustalav side until the fork in the river at Hallein Town, as well as sailing toward Caliphas and The Isle of Terror. Sailing west has open visibility for a shorter piece of the Ustalavic border, then heading south into theoretically safer Lastwall territory. In these cases, you're comparing about 50 miles of Ustalavic border going west vs 200 miles going east to Lake Encarthan.
2. Castle Everstand could well be an established rally point, much like how real world people have plans for escaping a burning building and rallying after.
The best part of trying to emulate scarcity of diamonds is when the material components just get smaller because the price of diamonds increases. Amazing how magic is responsive to market forces, amirite?
The reasonable concern for death at 17th level is that your party may not be able to complete the particular encounter you died in or have difficulty getting back to town.
I would be really cautious about rebuilding the juju zombies too much, particularly when it comes to a larger party. While my players had an easy time with the encounter based on their composition and the room, setting Valthazar in a larger space is a significant advantage.
I'd recommend using the modification recommendations on page 50 and adding a spell-like ability or relevant piece of equipment. I would very likely not give the gunslinger zombie a gun. Perhaps something along the lines of this:
Cleric zombie: 3/day Channel Negative Energy 2d6 (save DC 14)
If your PCs are particularly capable, consider taking a more aggressive set of tactics for Valthazar. Suffocation is prepared already, but his tactics dance around it like it's not supposed to be used. If he's being aggressively targeted, throw it out right away. If half the zombies go down, throw it out. I wouldn't expect his 3 rounds of hexing wind-up to actually happen. His spells need to come out sooner.
If the PCs are struggling generally, then I would reduce the zombie count. If you think the PCs are going to immediately Control Undead and grab them all (lol +2 or +3 Will save bonus), put the pukwudgie in with Valthazar instead or have a Command Undead cast on each of the zombies first so there's opposed Charisma checks.
Not sure what to do about point 1. My players just sorta rolled with it.
Zi Mishkal wrote:
2. By the time the PCs are back on the surface after killing Yosiduin they should be Level 10. What's to stop them from teleporting straight to the ballista bastion (or out of the city entirely)?
Nothing really "stops" the PCs from doing either of those things. The AP assumes Good (or at least compassionate or patriotic) characters and some amount of appreciation for Iomedae's cathedral sounding a distress signal as they exit the Redoubt. If the PCs don't bite on helping the survivors and instead just leave the city, this should have massive ramifications at the end of book 4 while dealing with the Watcher-Lord's entourage. It may also have an impact on Arazni in the opposite direction - she has no love of Lastwall and would be appreciative of the PCs focus on themselves. She is, after all, a practical woman.
As far as skipping to objectives, it doesn't do so much to advance the story if the PCs go directly to a ballista tower. They probably shouldn't be particularly aware of any single ballista tower being around after the Radiant Fire hits. Lastwall is not small enough that you can reasonably see all structures at once, especially with trench mists and such floating about. If the PCs did avoid Sancta Iomedaea, there's the distinct possibility that the troop + trench mist just rolls through and kills all of the refugees since it's poised to do just that when the PCs arrive on the regular schedule. If the PCs managed to rescue Aylunna, I would consider that adequate success for the book 4 finale because, unless the PCs state otherwise to her, they were just late for the call to arms.
I think it's worth noting that the rally at Castle Everstand is intended, in part, to be a means for the refugees to provide the book 4 finale influence. If you haven't read that far ahead in the AP, I really, really recommend doing so. Yes, there's a lot of terrible decisions made by Lastwall. The best answer for that in the post-RF world is that they're desperate and panicking, having lost their purpose, home, and loved ones in an instant. Watcher-Lord Ulthun II, however, was not in Vigil, nor were his top advisors. NPCs such as Aylunna and Ceto would likely be aware of this, which is why the castle "makes sense."
As far as the boat, I'm assuming the survivors are basically packed in like sardines.
Glad to hear that it's been helpful! That's always been the hope with my posts and I did similar things with Hell's Rebels when I ran that.
For a brief update, I've been working with the player as far as a replacement character and the obvious choice from my end was to have it enter as part of the RP scene at the end, having the character be one of the Watcher-Lord's advisors. My guidance to the player was that his new gestalt character must have levels in fighter, rogue, or a non-druid/shaman divine caster. The resulting concept that I've seen so far is Cleric 14 // Fighter 6/Mortal Usher 8 as the player has been really hoping to play with the new prestige class.
Started Catacombs on Friday. Some short notes:
General exploration notes: I'm running on Roll20 and this map is being handled via the Reveal tool. I'm going to dynamic lighting with book 5 (didn't have a subscription when I built the floor). The aura functionality for Daylight is really, really helping with monster trigger conditions. Yes, practically every monster is able to see the light because of its enormous radius, which means literally just walking out of the first room is enough for the simulacrum to see the party and engage in conversation.
Gallowdead: Remarkably difficult opponent for PCs who decide to underestimate the entry. They scoped out things well in advance, knew there was an enemy waiting due to the whispers, but still decided they'd wing it without buffs. Nearly killed the paladin/swash because he didn't smite. Were it not for the obol providing negative energy resistance, he would have died.
Simulacrum: The Finger DC is quite high. The rebuilt Jando PC who went up to 25 pt buy and added Warpriest levels as gestalt had less than a 50% chance of success against it. He nat 1'd and got obliterated. RIP in pepperonis. Looking to replace as of the crusader wrap-up. This will be that player's 3rd character. That was the only turn that the snow puddle got.
Shining Child: I was really worried about this one. Somehow, only 1 animal companion had issues with the blindness save. It was Jando's companion, so we're probably ok there.
Short session last week to finish off Upper Catacombs.
Pallid Sunrise: Didn't survive a round. Archers and low AC, I tells ya! I got a breath weapon off and then it died.
Tycha + Fleshhunters: Really would have liked even a modicum of equipment on the Fleshhunters to give them survivability. Not asking for much here, just like...studded leather. Not even masterwork. I didn't add it, but I strongly considered it. Tycha's tactics make sense for an assassin, but do not make sense given his lack of preparation to use them. Decent enough stealth was helping, but the lack of Invisibility and/or Silence was what got him. He was easily noticed because he couldn't close in on any PCs without getting pinged by Echolocation. The Fleshhunters all fell relatively easy, having only succeeded in damaging animal companions, while Tycha took a couple extra attacks due to his high AC and HP.
Partial floor session last night, heading into the upper catacombs. Party entered via the well rather than external crater.
Bone golems: the party was a lot more concerned about these guys than they really needed to be. I think it was basically 3 rounds of attacks with no way to bypass the DR available. Would have been 2 rounds if they could bypass. I may have landed 2 hits.
Mummified Morrigna: I ran this wrong and assumed the wrappings were semi-autonomous re: grapple. Not sure why I had that confused, exactly, but I definitely ran it as though the wrappings could grapple without taking away from the monster's actions. The vital strike archer (ranger/warpriest) was not thrilled with the Deflect Arrows. It was a strugglebus combat because my error in running, but it certainly felt satisfying to not have a single-target encounter get completely obliterated for once.
Dread Wraiths: Players successfully sensed motive on the bluff/riddle bit, just attacked. These are really one-dimensional, boring monsters and the lack of Ghost Touch weapons in the party so far has been a major problem.
Trapped door: I forgot about this because of where the trap is mentioned (J6, not J7) and the fact that there's a typo referring to the trap as leading to K7. It's a pretty significant trap. I told my players about it afterward and they squirmed a bit at the thought of it.
Forgot to update last week for upper Gallowspire. Notes will be shorter here. Some things modified due to time constraints and the size of the floor.
Skipped the Nightwing and the combat against the Daughters. The Nightwing would have been challenging-ish, but it didn't feel like something that was going to contribute to the experience and was also not a mappable encounter for Roll20 due to 3D combat constraints. Daughters literally can't touch my players. They RP'd and I handwaved the combat.
Gravesludge: it was entertaining to play with, but its tactics were ill-suited to my party. Wall of Ectoplasm has very low HP, so it's easily burst down. Best tactic for it was to burrow/stealth and use its ability to cheat action economy for a 2 attack standard action, so that's what it did.
Otto + Loambones: I accidentally had this combat in I3 because I totally missed the transition to I4. Whoops. The squeeze up made for interesting interactions. I think the combat was more challenging for the space constraints. That said, it's 2 CR 9 critters. They got roflstomped because the PCs are 12.
Players did not approach I5 and due to time, I had to handwave the combat in I6. The Tempest Guards could have actually been interesting as they have decent bonuses to hit and reasonable damage.
Dybbuk: The players made really good use of an Antimagic Field to disrupt the primary tactics of possession and dominate. Combat went relatively smoothly with that in mind. The best part was the hunter/slayer using Hydraulic Push on an animal companion to push it into the AMF when it got possessed.
Yhalas: Players won initiative, she got 1 round of actions. Hilarious build, needed some meat in front of her to work with. Probably "best" if she enters 2-3 rounds into the fight against the Tempest Guards instead of being a separate encounter. Definitely gauge this against your PCs relative damage output. My party puts out pretty high DPR for a party of 3 gestalts.
Tonight was my group's first Roll20 session due to COVID-19. One of my players has somewhat severe dyslexia and had never used the platform, so there was a bit of a learning curve there. He was very focused on getting everything up and running so we can continue the campaign. I'm also just learning the GM side of things there, so I've got my own hiccups to deal with. Still, we made it through 5 encounters in one night, which I think is a rousing success for 4.5 hours. Generally speaking, though, the encounters are heavily weighted to the players' favor initially, then dramatically ramp up in difficulty toward the crater.
It should be noted that the miasma is the real threat here. It's negated by Life Bubble. My players had it.
Flytraps: The players had some nightmares about their prior encounter with the giant flytrap in book 3. I think we were all relieved to find that the party was much better equipped to deal with the situation, both from a spatial and capability standpoint. Barely lasted 1.5 rounds.
Adenos: My players learned from the pegasi encounter that sensing motives and paladin laser sight (Detect Evil) are essential here. Adenos does not have a Bluff bonus to speak of. As such, the shambling mounds didn't get triggered and the party absolutely obliterated the daemon.
Moldwretches: They're speedbumps. The players were extremely grateful that they found diamond dust that they had forgotten to purchase in book 3 when there was still a city to shop in.
Furcifer: This was a little rough, but I think a big part of it was my strained prep for the session. Swallow Whole is a serious issue for the party and I misread the Utopia ability to think that the players still needed to make the Will save to recognize that it wasn't just part of the terrain after it attempted the tongue grab. Still, it was mostly the miss chance that was the problem.
Gustari: I was worried about the possibility of a charge crit. It's ok, the paladin didn't get crit but did crit her back. The fight was effectively over in 1 round. The Daughters of Urgathoa are not a significant threat at this level.
Had the Arazni reveal 2 weeks ago and the journey up until Gardens of Gallowspire tonight. I had set aside most of 1 session to the reveal, thinking that the players would have a lot of interaction with her. Turns out they were scared both as PCs and as players and opted to just let the demigod talk at them so as not to offend her.
Ossua + troop was not much of a threat to the party. Pretty unmemorable encounter. To be fair, it was a rough week out of game and that may have been a factor.
Horse Thing was basically shut down by Thorny Entanglement. The players gave me some guff about how lazy the monster name was as I had zoomed in to only show the name when they ID'd it.
Gibrous + Boggles was remarkably painful to the PCs. 2 archers + 1 animal companion failed a confusion from a boggle due to horrid rolls. Because of this and how the combat started, I had Gibrous randomly targeting and generally using bad tactics. The PCs eventually turned this around, in large part due to having taken Dondun as a companion via Leadership and getting a dispel magic against the confusion. The warehouse was set on fire and I had Gibrous jaunt out through the wall and mentally reset so that the PCs could actually get down to the story. They ended up mercy killing Gibrous with the realization that he was a terrible liability to leave alive. They had some feels as players about that, which I thought was pretty satisfying for everyone.
We skipped the tomb giant and the haunt. The party was just two well structured to do anything other than waste valuable play time dealing with these encounters.
DRAGON! This was a rough encounter for the party. Dragon landed a dispel on the paladin/swash after eating a 50 damage hit opener, then followed it up with a shadow breath against both archers. Pally/swash drank a potion of fly while slowly falling to re-engage. Archers started to deal with the situation when the dragon moved in with an Imp Vital Strike bite + snatch. They took him down to the morale condition before I could do anything else and he escaped with 2 HP. It felt glorious.
Pegasi were funny, but they're just not a threat against my players. We did the social part of it and I had realized during prep that the "right way" to handle the bluff was for 7 pegasi to use Aid Another on Dawnwatch's bluff, giving him an effective +28 to the check. The party fell for it, but they all had means of flight so it was no big deal.
Ron Lundeen wrote:
I haven't decided how to handle that fully, but I think that's ok given the parting of ways in book 4. Just gonna leave that one loose for now. Who knows? Maybe she decides to set out with the watchknights in book 4.
We wrapped up book 3 this weekend and it was fairly anticlimactic from the GM seat.
Writhing Reed was a bit of a joke. The PCs spotted it at a significant distance (Perception 48 or some such nonsense), so it had to close to engage. The hunter/slayer used Thorny Entanglement and made that fairly impossible to accomplish. It did nothing to the PCs but expend a spell slot and some arrows. That said, from a system mastery perspective, that's my weakest player so it was a great choice that played out amazingly well.
The PCs then began the Nightwing prep. They were very cautious with the book before engaging with it, so they discovered the trap and disarmed it successfully, though were stymied by their lack of ability to identify the effects on Veena.
The PCs then asked Evni for relevant assistance before firing the ballista. She committed Prayer and one use of Bit of Luck to whoever was going to fire the ballista. The party quickly realized "oh yeah, smite doesn't have a range, so it's the paladin/swashbuckler's job."
He crit. Anabarondyne failed the save with a nat 1. 164 damage.
Turns out that CR 14 critters aren't very threatening when they don't get a turn. The hunter/slayer landed a follow-up crit on the next initiative tick that felled it.
Moving on, they got everyone to the boat. It is at this point that we discover the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad truth: the draugr troop has evasion. While the turtle is a reasonable melee threat and Charkavo a deadly one, the troop is effectively immune to most effects from spellcasters due to the combination of decent saves, undead traits, and evasion. Given that my party's most dedicated spellcaster during this encounter is Dondun, the troop is sort of a weird threat to them. If they had a specialist caster, the DCs would be higher, but the NPCs best choice abilities all look primarily at the troop, which just sorta matrix'd their way out of the path of a lightning bolt.
The turtle ties up the attention of pally/swash and one animal companion for a few rounds, which is enough for the troop to flood up and engage everybody while providing the flank for Charvako against the ranger/warpriest. The turtle went down in round 3, freeing up those two to engage elsewhere, but ranger/warpriest had to withdraw off the side of the boat while staggered to go heal himself.
During this time, the only character engaging the troop is Roscasco (who Dondun had dominated in the Redoubt). He's not great at it, but he flurried his heart out in those rounds and did quite a bit of damage. Once Charvako fled and the turtle died, the PCs dealt with the troop and helped the wounded.
In 2 weeks, we begin book 4 and all the excitement it contains. We'll see how that turns out.
2 session update
The Grim Dawn
The party avoided the Greater Shadow encounter by treating the place with respect and went to Urketikus first. Hydraulic Push remains a mainstay spell for the party and was used to push Aylunna out of the circle, but she was promptly confused by the skull swarm. By the time the confusion was over, the party had obliterated the opposition, so she never really got to help.
Ceto...she hits hard. She went directly for the hunter/slayer as a weak target and temporarily killed him due to a First Aid Glove BoL use. I never had the opportunity to put up Battle Lust because Ceto had to furiously heal with swifts after the first turn to stay relevant. The fallen were pretty ineffective overall - they're probably the most appropriately CR'd critter in B6 - and did very little except soak up actions from the animal companions, but the party did use the incense of corporeality on them. Ceto was ultimately captured alive, stripped of gear, and left with Aylunna for judgment as we ended the session.
I realized I forgot to post about the sewer journey 2 weeks ago (I was mentally on a work trip already). It was remarkably unremarkable, though I did get 2 smite good hits on the paladin in succession, giving him a serious case of daaaaayyyyyyyyyyuuuuuuuuuuummmmm. They were fine, though, because they went invis and flew past the croc.
Party reminder for those not familiar with my group: I'm running a 3 player gestalt table - pally/swash, ranger/warpriest, hunter/slayer.
Redoubt storytime GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I had session 1 of the redoubt tonight. The PCs did all of the outer section and arrived battered and bruised at the inner portion. Smartly, they wore the holy symbols to avoid the graven guardian encounter and the Demigod's Demise haunt was noticed and promptly neutralized.
Nobody felt like using their Sense Motive skills on the sump steward and they gleefully walked straight into Snapper. I was kind and did not use AoOs constantly, but nearly killed 1 PC and 1 animal companion. The real problem with the encounter is that the creature had enough mouths to engulf the entire party. Complicating factors included the swash/pally not being able to rapier Snapper because of the climb speed and reach. Quoth the players: "this could be the most embarrassing TPK ever." I had cast a picture of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors up when the fight started because it just felt appropriate.
There were a lot of suspicions about the lung jar. It's creepy and fun.
And now, for the grand story of "THIS TOWER IS ***************************S!"
First off, thank you Larry. This was a blast. As much as my players suffered, they really did enjoy everything this had to offer.
So the party sees the boats and decide this is a much better option than a bridge. Cleverquill sees them, comes over, and tells them to leave for face CERTAIN DOOM. I played him as goofy-stupid and the players sufficiently angered him to start the combat. Half the party decided to jump over the water to the island, while the remainder was getting ready to boat. First available target to CQ: the halfling swash/pally, who I unceremoniously Awesome Blow into the water, angering him into blowing many resources to finish the fight. The fight does not go much longer because there was a Smite Evil blown. I call that a success.
The party goes up the stairs, the ranger/warpriest notices the haunt and blasts it before it can do its schtick, they proceed east toward the geist. Open door, combat starts and the geist (amazingly) wins initiative, using the laugh to panic the hunter/slayer and his bird. The hunter/slayer jumps off the bridge into the water to flee, swims ashore, then waits there for the rest of the combat. The rest of the party pretty handily take out the geist, they find the rapier, and ranger/warpriest fails to identify, so they call up the hunter/slayer to give it a shot.
THIS TOWER IS ***************************S!
The haunt has reset because of the geist. Hunter/slayer gets to the top of the stairs, fails to notice in time, and fails the save vs telekinesis. While he's healing, the rest of the party heads over to south bridge to check out this interesting door, then throw a rope down so hunter/slayer can climb up instead of dealing with the haunt again.
THIS TOWER IS ***************************S!
The party notices the Blade Barrier trap and hunter/slayer goes to disarm...and botches, failing by more than 10. Trap goes off, nearly killing the ranger/warpriest's pet (it had failed the save) and soaking the party yet again. It is at this time that they decide to use the bridge. Some expletives are used, not least of which being the bold title of this section of my story.
We ended with the door and the easy avoiding of the rock trap, which I had requested for the sole purpose of being able to erase the map. In 2 weeks, we wrap up the Redoubt and the real fun of book 3 begins. By far, this has been the most laughter and joy of the table so far, with most of the game being practically slapstick in the face of otherwise heavy content.
Had a session last week, but it was quite short. Basically, all we did was the Dyeworks and NPC interactions. They were well aware of the ooze and avoided it entirely, 2-rounded the spectres, and had a jolly romp with not-Hats (the otyughs). As they had completely gathered all evidence and one of the PCs has a Diplomacy modifier in the high teens, there was no issue presenting evidence to the NPCs and soliciting their aid.
Tomorrow night, I get to see how dead the paladin will be when he gets the triple Smite Good thrown at him since the front line is him + 2 animal companions.