Matt Hardin wrote:
That's a good point. Even after playing for three hours my brain starts to feel like it's slowly being microwaved.
Have you ever played Mechwarrior: Mercenaries? I felt their modular, color-based weapon system was really cool. It might pretty cool when converted to tabletop. However, a chassis-with-modules system might be too complex, so perhaps different classes of mechs based on weight and role?
Long-range light: Sniper
Medium-range light/Medium-range medium/Medium-range heavy: These use all sorts of plasma, beam, and gauss rifles and maybe have some supplemental rockets
Short-range light: Skirmisher that uses shotguns
Utility light: Recon mech that can paint targets to assist other mechs' targeting
Idk, just an idea dump. Hopefully it gets you thinking.
The one true solarian build for actually being a strong and durable combatant, starting from 1st level
I recall playing alongside a summoner in the party. Our party was somewhat low-powered but the summoner ran every fight. Nothing could survive the eidolon and sheer power of summon monster. Combine that with haste and other staple spells and this guy was the deciding factor in almost every big encounter. Cutting spell casting might be a nice change but you have to compensate by giving the summoner something to do with its actions. Maybe a series of scaling cantrip type powers they can spam when they don't want to fuse.
I'll get in on this before it combusts.
A lot of people really like alignment, but the more I play, the less I seem to need it or even mention it at the table. Last campaign I dropped it entirely and didn't miss it one bit. I'd try doing the same as an experiment and just letting things play out. After all, moral ambiguity is interesting and it sounds like that's what your group is shooting for.
A few ideas: Instead of confining divine classes to alignment categories, just tell them to research their respective god and adhere to more concrete things like codes or build their own interpretation of that's god's will. Does it disrespect the canon in some cases? Yes, but as long as they stay relatively close, it saves the table a headache of policing super ambiguous concepts like good and evil. Plus, it creates fun flips on traditional fantasy morality with supposedly-pure-good paladins and angels becoming tyrants or supposedly-pure-evil demons having sympathetic sides. Many people consider this a form of "badwrongfun" pathfinder, but forget them. I would argue the best feature of tabletops like these is that you get unmatched creative control over the setting. Use it to its full advantage.
I'm definitely vibing with what you're doing here. Evolutions seem like a solid way to go. You can grant your undead fiery, toxic, or frosty features. Maybe gnarled bones that harm attackers. Maybe they explode on death (for damage or a curse) or can vampricially transfer hit points when they hurt people.
This may seem small-scale for a lord of the undead, but you might have different 'squad sizes' depending on what type of undead they're using. So you can have 4-5 arthritic skeletons/zombies or you can go for 3 skeleton champions/ghoul type creatures. Or maybe you can stick with one or two stronger golem type creatures like
I think the biggest challenge of this class is controlling the amount of excess actions and time consumption that comes with a player who controls that many minions. I can't remember the name of the blog that did it, but they had a great idea for allowing players to have lots of player-controlled weakling allies in a fight without slowing down combat. Apply this to necromancer minions and you may have something that functions the same way narratively as a horde of undead but takes a lot less time to manage.
-Minions have no actions but can move twice (or just once if they're slow).
(I know it's 4e and that might scare people but their fan base had some of the strongest homebrewers around in terms of understanding what made combat and dungeons fun.)
As someone who ran the last fight, I would have to say my players were a little surprised to see her but they rolled with it. I think they were happy to just fight Lowls at that point after 6 books of teasing him. I added Polar Midnight to her spell list and used that at the start of the fight to make things tougher. I also required the players to adopt curses before they entered the final fight, too. That upped the difficulty to where I wanted it and gave them a strategic choice to shape the final fight. I think I maxed their hp too. Needless to say, the 20-point buy party they were using needed a little bit more of a challenge than the assumed 15-point party in AP's. I did think her reliance on save-or-lose abilities was kind of anti-fun, but it ended up working out.
I've been part of 3 finished ones. We almost got a fourth, but serpent skull's fifth book ate us alive.
-I DM'd Kingmaker to completion in 10 months with weekly sessions and about a month on break.
Without modifying the campaign's flow, I would say there is really only one chance for the PC's to do some serious crafting. Because of that, I would probably advise against investing feats or skill points into it. However, there's some potential for cohorts, so if you don't mind the balance issues that can sometimes come up with Leadership, I would encourage it. Nothing quite ups the scare factor more than seeing an NPC meet a grisly fate. I'm not saying you should purposefully annihilate their cohorts, buuuuut they do serve as a potential source of loss and horror should something... ahem... end up happening to them.
My party used a (later acquired) method to return to the Dreamlands and use their dream gold to buy mentally restorative items. Because your psyche carries over, it seemed like it made sense to me. Plus, I thought it was a creative loophole -- especially considering shops get scarcer throughout the AP.
Grats on finishing the AP! Actually closing one of these out is definitely a big deal. Which of Ariadnah's save or lose spells did you change/cut? I ask because I generally don't like them as a mechanic but I left them in because of the insane bonus to saves the Medium gave the party. They succeeded vs most of them making the medium feel awesome but I imagine things would have gotten really lame if 1 or 2 people got taken out right away.
Maybe make it difficult decision-wise. Perhaps the alchemist has a clone they just finished working on. That way the Assassin could kill that one and take credit for it while the actual alchemist goes on living. Could create problems down the line but it definitely mixes the mission up and gives an interesting choice.
I brought down the sanity damage to a heavy (but more reasonable) amount for big B because, as someone (maybe you) pointed out in the GM reference thread, it seems if you run that as-written than it's just kind of an unavoidable soft-wipe. If you really want to keep it, you could make it more targeted, perhaps with big B bringing its will on one particular person. Maybe the SAN damage doesn't happen until they try to sleep and the figures haunt their dreams. Maybe setting the encounter in such a way where the party doesn't quite SEE or make out its form unless they get super close or it arrives (although, I'm 90% sure the Unspeakable Presence does not require sight to activate so you may have to handwave some mechanics around). Perhaps the fact that it occurs in the dreamlands is justification enough to say that things don't quite work the same.
As a side note, I also didn't have them take sanity for EVERY new monster in the AP -- just the particularly hideous/terrifying/eldritch ones. To make up for it, I added a few other sources based off of events in the story or if something particularly gruesome or foul happened to one of the PC's.
If someone told me I'd actually finish running this adventure path (much less in 7 months), I would have laughed in their face. AP's are a serious commitment, and getting several adults' schedules to align on a weekly basis can be damn near impossible. The other two AP's my group has completed each took a year a piece -- with the 6 player roster changing constantly, so I started this one off by mostly expecting the group to fall apart halfway through the first book. You can imagine my surprise as the group chugged on and life managed to stay out of the way. Miraculously, we had few absences and only had to cancel around three times.
I owe a lot of this good 'fortune' to just how well-written and exciting this adventure path really was. I never got the impression from the players that they were just going through the motions and showing up because they had to. I think all of us on this forum have been in a group where showing up as the player or the GM can feel more like an obligation than actual fun, but that was not the case here.
It's been a blast. Thank you to the writers and everyone at Paizo for continuing to churn out the best TTRPG material there is. Being a GM can be a lonely and sometimes frustrating experience, but thanks to the thriving community on these boards, it's that much easier.
Here are our thoughts. Remember, everyone's group is different, and I took a few liberties with some elements of the AP so YMMV in your own run-through. I hope you have as much fun as we did. :)
Investigator (Empiricist): Norin, the Investigator of the party functioned as a high AC "Bufflord" who dominated nearly every skill check the party encountered. MVP extract: Echolocation.
Bloodrager (Aberrant): What can I say? This guy was death machine with a ludicrous amount of reach. He might as well have had pounce. Combined with the free spells upon rage activation and a meaty chunk of hit points, the group agreed that "Jeffrey the Fishman" was the most dangerous physical threat in the party.
Brawler: Getting out of the Bloodrager's shadow was hard, but Ronan had plenty of shining moments. Pummeling style meant his damage was nothing to scoff at, and there's something be said about the DM stealing all of your gear for one part of the adventure and not even being fazed by it. A few key bull rushes, spontaneous step up/disruptive combos, and grapples saved the party when things were looking dire.
Medium: I had never seen this class in action before, and both me and the player using it were very underwhelmed by its capabilities. Versatility is great, but some of the class abilities he gained upon leveling up were laughably bad. However, once the Marshall spirit reached a certain point, Simon became quite possibly the most incredible buff-totem I've ever seen. Using the halfling favored class bonus, copious spirit surges, and auras that ended up providing a +6 (!) bonus to saves or attack and damage, Simon kept this very martial party a razor-sharp killing machine.
I'll keep this section short because the GM reference sections are already filled with my blabbering about tips and tricks I used.
-Don't be afraid to turn up the heat on the players. When an eldritch monstrosity shows up, you want the players thinking about whether or not they should run -- not whether they should bother blowing any of their spells. Add some HD or throw on some templates if you're worried one of the more dramatic encounters is just going to be a speed bump.
-Find a way to give the player's a sense of accomplishment at the adventure's milestones. (As I get into in the complaints/compliments section, there's a lot of "Whoops! Just missed him!" moments, and I think it would go a long way to really play up the whole 'unraveling the mystery angle'.
-The adventure changes locations a LOT, so bringing NPC's like Dr. Elbourne, Winter, etc. can really add some continuity and feeling of development.
-The only other thing I wanna add is that freedom of movement took a lot of the drama out of some of these fights. Many monsters depend on grappling or swallowing/impaling to bring down players (Shrike Worms I'm looking at you). Even worse, the last set of encounters all took place within a 2 hour time frame -- meaning the party was able to have FoM on them at ALL times. I attempted a few dispels, but they're not a guaranteed success, and trying to remove it ended up wasting the few precious monster actions that I got.
There was a lot of great stuff in this AP. Here some of the elements the players said they really enjoyed.
-The amnesia element and the initial hook is fantastic. There's no adventure quite like it, and Paizo's writers should continue taking bold risks like this.
-Locations. The Asylum, Neruzavin, Carcosa (Paris!) -- They were all amazing. However, the players agreed that Dreams of The Yellow King was the strongest chapter by far. Bokrug's arrival, the people being abducted by webs at the ball and NO ONE saying anything about it, the whole fighting yourself thing at the oasis-- it just had so many memorable scenes and places.
-The Sanity system. While it was often times a lot of book keeping, and, like everything in pathfinder, trivialized at higher levels, I got a lot of positive feedback on it. The madnesses forced the players to concede weaknesses in their characters' personalities and it drove a lot of role playing which they liked.
Out-of-the-box, this adventure took WAY less love than Kingmaker or Skull and Shackles to make it run smoothly. This was very helpful -- considering that I was running these books AS they came out and didn't have time to overhaul very much. Despite this, the players did have a few complaints.
-Your Lowls is in another castle. Chasing this guy around is well-justified considering the whole revenge and (later) doomsday angle, but everywhere the players went they just missed him. It got disheartening at times, and I couldn't do much to fix it because I didn't know a lot of the story's details because I was running the AP as it came out. Early on we would approach the end of an arc and the players would begin excitedly discussing what they were gonna do if they ACTUALLY caught up to him. After a few near-misses, they got discouraged and started making defeatist remarks like "don't get too excited he's gonna TP out as soon as we walk in" or "I swear to god if we don't see this guy until the last book I'm gonna cry." (sorry about that, btw).
-Okeno. Everyone pretty much agreed this arc of the AP was a complete tone-break. While slaughtering your way up a gnoll slaver tower would be awesome in some storylines, it just didn't fit the feel of the adventure. The location was well-fleshed out, the descriptions great, and the Gnolls were well-statted, but The Whisper Out of Time could have just ended at the Mysterium and it would have made a lot more sense.
-The Necronomicon. There was a lot of hype for this item, so when the players finally got it, they were not that happy when they heard what it actually did. From a more objective power-level standpoint, it has a ton of abilities and bonuses so it fits in alongside other artifacts. However, my players weren't having it. To them, unless you're a wizard who is in need of a scary-looking new spellbook, it's pretty underwhelming. On top of that, the ability drain you get trying to unlock its power makes it even more unattractive.
We're approaching the end! Last night the party finished the once-beautiful city of Paris in one fell swoop. Hearing them put on their best French accents and reference Croissants incessantly was pretty great and I think they really like that there was a "real-world" city they could play around in. They diplomatically made it past the Gendarme's and met with Armel who wasn't very pleased to find out that the party had a way to bring Zane back to power. Funny enough, Armel didn't get very much done during the encounter because he made the mistake of thinking the mirror-imaged Medium wearing a ring of Displacement was actually killable. However, the squad of Gendarme's were pretty gnarly. That many attacks vs. touch AC with deadly aim chewed the party up very quickly.
I decided to make the Eiffel Tower encounter even more of a set piece by making it a straightforward 11-turn "defend the ritual" type thing. Zane offered 9 Gendarme's to aid the defense but the first wave of attackers (a pack of Shantaks) kept them occupied and unable to assist party in beating back the rapidly ascending Bhole. I made the Bhole rotate around the tower every round and use only its bite attack to make it more of an environmental attack that kept them moving. Meanwhile, they focused on the true enemy of the encounter -- an ancient void dragon that I added. I decided to include it for 3 reasons. It fit the space theme. One of the players was really hyped for a dragon after seeing (what he didn't know was a) shantak on the awesome cover art. Lastly, book six of a pathfinder AP didn't feel right without one. I realized during the fight I may have gone overboard with the CR here, but before the party's luck ran out (no, seriously, they were dealing with back to back prismatic sprays and suffocating breaths) the Ancient Void Dragon rolled a natural 1 on its save vs. possession and it was easy breezy from that point on.
I sincerely doubt we'll finish the campaign next session as there's a lot of stuff in pet 5 but it's getting very close to the end!
As long as they keep up with updating the character sheets, ABP should be great. You can replace some of the more boring "+X" items with weird tomes and cursed objects. Out of the four AP's I've ran/played, I'd rate this one third in terms of wealth/gear -- only ahead of Skulls/Shackles and behind Kingmaker/Serpents Skull. There are decent places to buy/sell gear -- especially when you hit the fourth book and dump all of your goods in Cassomir. I will say, part of the excitement of the sword Red Destiny (besides its dope name) is that it's a +2 sword you stumble upon at level 2. Of course you could give it all sorts of "destiny" powers instead to make up for that (rerolls, divination, etc.) The only book that seems to really shut down the players' ability to buy/sell is book 6. I've got players doing weird loopholes to get around the lack of "shop" in Carcosa. To cure things like mental ailments and curses, they use the Necronimicon's "Enter The dreamlands" ritual and use their consumables there.
I ran it benignly but one of the players was so disrespectful things ended up escalating into combat anyways. To up the challenge, I designed the fight so that the rows of foliage "pulsed" every round for 8d6 negative energy damage to nearby PC's. That let the Kudimmu use its drag ability to greater effect by repositioning them in the "blast zone". By the way, they need to make more monsters with the Dimensional Agility tree because that is just way too much fun :).
Did Bohlvarai the other night. I was a little bummed the Mutate didn't get any awesome art or really much of a description at all. It also seemed pretty one-dimensional in terms of its abilities too. However, the pair of alchemists accompanying it were monstrous with their confusion fast bombs. It was very nearly a wipe and they had to call Cassilda in for a favor. As a side note: The "19" puzzle took ~6 minutes for them to complete. I had them fight 1 Larvae, plus 1 more for every 5 minutes they took as a way to make the puzzle have higher stakes.
@ Iron truth: Thanks for your response! My understanding of the #3 issue comes from Simon's "Elite Deviance" book:
"... $7,000 coffee pots, $900 Allen wrenches, $700 toilet seats, and $400 hammers have been well documented."
I get what you're saying about costs being misrepresented but how did they fudge the numbers on those mattresses?
You've got the Army Corps of Engineers misplacing 1.3 billion dollars of equipment, the airforce over-reporting the cost of ammunition by 375 fold, and contractors frequently overrunning their costs by up to 800%.
More military spending? I'm pretty ignorant of military policy but a lot of it seems like a money pit. Maybe you guys can convince me it's all not just expensive chest-thumping.
- Air superiority fighters seem so niche, considering dog fights are a thing of history so shelling out 200 million each on so many of them seems silly. Obviously the F-35 is a multipurpose fighter so it's not as guilty of this as the F-22 was but it's price tag is even more hefty.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know damn well no politician is gonna get elected proposing the cuts to military spending I'm talking about. I also know that production and maintenance of these "obelisks of might" means lots of jobs for lots of people. But doing something "cuz jobs" is not a good enough reason in and of itself to justify billions of taxpayer dollars.
You could definitely stretch out the AP. There are some spooky/cool locations and taking the time to hang around and really soak them up would probably be pretty fun with the right group. The only problem is the "chase" aspect of the whole AP that somewhat discourages the players from doing that. If I wanted to run this AP again and make it more atmospheric, I would probably have to change that element.
Another week another step further into Carcosa. The group arrived at Avaric's mansion and did their best to behave in a civilized manner. A lot of hilarious roleplay exchanges took place, with Medium getting put in time out for attempting to steal the ioun stone, Brawler attempting to woo Delamaria, Bloodrager attempting to socialize (while rendered deaf from a greater madness), and Investigator attempting to avoid Avaric who took a great liking to him. I do wish the published material had a more detailed, hour by hour outline of how the night goes (kind of like the museum auction portion of SWRPG's incredible Jewel of Yavin adventure) but I managed to whip up a series of events that created some immediacy and conflict to the way the night played out. Half the group teleported Delamaria out after convincing her to leave, but they also made the mistake of bringing the "poor, innocent twins" who were in danger as well. Fighting them 2v2 was rough but they managed (even though sticking a couple levels of antipaladin on most monsters is sadistic, thanks to CHA bonus-to-saves).
I decreased the number of encounters and smushed them together/rearranged them to make it less repetitive/predictable. One thing I found was effective was making some encounters a bit over-the-top CR-wise but giving the players a way or two to avoid that fight through stealth, puzzles, diplomacy etc. That way they don't get the impression that everything they meet is easily dealt with by just clubbing it over the head.
We kicked off book six last night and I thought I'd share some of the highlights. I ended up swapping around some of the initial encounters so that Cassilda could help them before they encountered the Pallid Mask.
"The Death Coach delivers it corrupting touch! Does 34 beat your touch AC?"
I had it run away so they could follow it once it hit half health but two rounds was enough to convince the players that this creature was likely the most powerful thing they'd fought so far -- and it was just their taxi!
Closed the fifth book out the other night with the big fight with Xhamen-Dor's husk. I decided to take a great deal of liberties in redesigning this encounter, mostly because I wanted a battle with even the husk of a Great Old One to feel different. I'm sure the mechanics of the fight may seem a little too MMO-ish for some and they require a lot more prep and upkeep for the DM than the as-written version. However, I figured I'd put them up because the group had a good time with this encounter. Enjoy!
Stat Block Changes:
Maximized X-D's hit dice in order to make the fight last enough rounds for counterplay/strategy revolving around its mechanics to come into play. To compensate, I made some changes that overall lowered X-D's damage output as I'll get into below. Also removed fast healing 10.
Party must be near the crater lake and call him with contact entity. At the beginning of the encounter, Xhamen-Dor erupts from the ears and mouths of the party and swirls around them forming a 80 ft. diameter hemispheric "thunderdome" made of fungus, plant matter, and hair (Gross!). This triggers the unspeakable presence save and X-D begins lifting this enclosed arena into the air over the lake at a rate of 10 feet per round. Because drama.
Around The Wheel We Go...:
Eight evenly-spaced nodes form along the inside wall of the dome (Think like the places where the spoke meets the rim on an 8-spoke wheel). At the top of the round, X-D uses one of his spell-like abilities as a swift action on a single target, and the DM rolls 1d6 for each node.
- On a 6, Xhamen-Dor's serpent-like "head" appears at that node's location, allowing the players to damage him. At the end of the round, a head uses X-D's bite attack at a foe within reach of its position.
- On a 5-2, a seeded one appears at the node (Same stats as the seeded lamia but has no attacks, only 15 hp, 30 ft. movement, and has evasion). At the end of the round, any seeded ones take move actions to get as close as they can to a PC. If they reach one, they use their standard action to explode, dealing 1d4 wisdom damage in a 5-ft radius (DC 20 reflex to reduce to 1).
- On a 1, Xhamen-Dor consumes a 10x10 patch of floor in that node's general area and heals 10 hit points. That area is now a "hole" in the floor, where PC's and seeded ones can fall through.
Tentacool or Tentacruel?:
Lastly, I modified X-D's 4 tentacle attacks and made each of them "own" a quadrant of the hemisphere, where they attack at the end of each round. This punishes groups that spread out too much, but also allows for a 20x20ish area in the middle where they are free from all of X-D's attacks (except the seeded ones, of course).
This all obviously changes the fight a great deal and your mileage may vary unless you adopt it with the party's composition in mind. The players will have to constantly run around "chasing" where ever X-D's head may appear to get in a hit or two before it changes location. My group did not have a ranged character but had a 20 ft reach bloodrager and a pummeling style brawler, letting them full attack adjacent nodes in certain cases. Feel free to knock down X-D's hit points if your party lacks any options to full attack outside of a 5-foot step or encourage that member to focus on eliminating seeded ones. If your party has a powerful ranged archer-type that you feel may negate the whole point of this mechanic, feel free to grant X-D's heads the 50% ranged concealment that his true form has to encourage that player to focus on seeded ones.
The seeded ones are there to threaten groups who bunch up to tightly to avoid tentacle/bite attacks, and their guaranteed wisdom damage means that even the mightiest of parties will eventually succumb to madness if left in this fight too long. Having a player or two dedicated to cleaning them up (they go down in about 1 solid hit) will be necessary.
The 10x10 holes that constantly appear are there for a number of reasons. I added them as a way for the battlefield to change as the fight went on. They begin to limit movement, making chasing the heads more difficult and may make reaching some nodes impossible without the aid of flying magic or ranged attacks. Lastly, they interact in a nasty way with his unspeakable presence and his 3 single-target Sympathy spells he gets. Affected creatures will be compelled to move towards the "heads" that appear, which might not matter if one is a fighter-type who's chasing them around anyways, but may be problematic should any 10x10 chasms be in the way. A reflex save to avoid falling through is recommended.
If the fight is going too well, or if one of the players doesn't really have any job to do, feel free to have the "create a 10x10 square" roll also create an actual seeded lamia or any other comparable large creature to up the challenge. Bull rushing one of these creatures into a hole could be a lot of fun.
My whole party wiped on a 5th AP book boss (who mopped the floor with us at the top of a tower). I was the last person standing so I ran downstairs, she followed, I gaseous formed out the window, came around the side and flew inside of a huge cannon facing out of the tower. Once inside, I took my (very cramped) original form and began using my summon monster wands to send out mephits (the one with the 1/day magic missile) to fly out of the cannon and find her to deliver their 1d4+1 payload. Rinse, repeat. On the brink of death, she called out to me that she would kill my unconscious friends if I didn't show myself so I did. And then flame striked her to finish her off.
Magic is fair.
Mine did the exact same thing but trig'd its location in the other direction after they heard about the glowing witch lights across the lake. Funny how too many clues at once can confuse an investigation.
Just out of curiosity, which encounters did you/will you cut?
After obtaining the Necronimicon and realizing that their Lowls was in another castle (again) the party encountered the angered spirit at the stelae. I gave the party medium the opportunity to communicate with it and they opted to go retrieve it's sword rather than slay it. They left the tower and immediately were set upon by the archons who interrogated them on whether they had found the Necronimicon. Unfortunately, their gauntlet of lie detection techniques were too much for the party's bluff checks and the conversation turned violent. They put up a good fight (considering they were a 3-person party because the investigator had to miss the session) but the archons quickly chewed through their hit points with flame strikes and fireballs, forcing the medium to teleport his two unconscious allies back to the Ash giant camp. I later remembered that the Necronimicon was supposed to prevent teleportation, but considering Lowls did the same with it in the Mysterium. I just left that particular restriction off of the artifact.
While his allies recovered, the party Medium eagerly cracked open the ancient text and opened his mind to madness. While he saved vs. the ability score drain, the sanity damage sent him over the edge and he crumbled to the floor, Catatonic. This unfortunate turn of events slowed the adventure to a halt as the party debated for about 30 real-time minutes on how to best deal with this complication. Eventually, they settled on leaving the medium under the care of Grim Mother Moon until he recovered enough sanity to participate again. The remaining members set off back towards the city. Along the way, they encountered a Lammasu paladin named Amrivast. To brighten the mood, I played the creature as an over-the-top, Lawful-Stupid crusader who was eager to kick some evil butt. This ended up working out because the Medium's player got to run this NPC rather than sit on the side and watch.
The party dodged the fog of death encounter and headed into the Snarl (or as my players affectionately titled it, "the nihil-zone"). After a depressing history lesson from aept, the broken soul, the party got to meet the area's twisted inhabitants. They appeased the Saffron King but his escalating violent demands eventually causes both sides to draw swords. The encounter with the Heresy devil didn't go much better. I role played him like a sleazy used car salesman -- obsessed with getting his hands on the Necronimicon. The party was afraid he'd betray them and steal it so they passed on his forgery offer. As written in the aventure, I had him ambush them later but even with the element of surprise, he didn't stand a chance against the Brawler's pummeling charge.
Miles away, the Archons tracked the party medium to the ash giant camp and threatened the Giants to hand over the medium and the book. The Giants resisted, but crumbled to the Archons, forcing Mother moon to take the catatonic medium with her and escape.
While they still had not activated any of the stelae, they decided to head to the under city to address Kaklatath's concerns about the polyps. There were some nasty encounters down there but the most memorable fight involved the hunting horror. I stripped it's advanced template but had Weiralai ride it into battle. She sent the bloodrager tumbling into the abyss by crushing the bridge. Luckily, he had a magical flight method and floated back up to join the fight. Quickly after, the brawler jumped up and whiffed his knock out punch. She responded with a bestow curse (50% daze curse, of course) and severely hampered his ability to contribute after that. The horror spent its turns laying the hurt on the party. I was saving it's limited wish spells for later, but that ended up being a mistake. Amrivast's charging smite pounce of holy awesomeness absolutely pulverized the hunting horror and it only got one more round before succumbing to the bloodrager. Weiralai attempted to greater dispel the bloodrager's flight source but missed the check by 2. After that, the fight turned sour, as Weiralai abused her flight to single out the party members. Amrivast was relegated to ambulance duty, and had to save the bloodrager from tumbling into the abyss again after Weiralai cut him down. Afterwards, she sent a horde of animated objects after the paladin to keep him busy and turned her attention to the investigator who had been quietly buffing in the corner this entire time. They clashed and spent the next 5-7 rounds mostly missing but occasionally getting in a hit on one another. Unfortunately for Weiralai, her damage potential without being able to utilize her sneak attack was pretty low, and she had to burn her heal to keep up. By then, Amrivast and the brawler had regrouped and closed in to seal her fate. Before dying, she managed to take the brave Lammasu with one final rapier strike and both of them dropped to their deaths on the cold, distant stones below. Amrivast's noble sacrifice was not in vain, and they cleared out the under city and sealed the polyps below with the Lightning gun. Unfortunately, the party investigator's knowledge check wasn't high enough to obtain Kaklatath's original body from the leng ghouls. They reluctantly traded the slave woman's body as food but soon realized they lacked the capability to restore the Yithian's body. Kaklathath informed them that the seeded corruption in its original body will soon overtake it's mind much like the slave woman's. They will have to find whatever remnants of Xhamen-Dor rest in Neruzavin's crater lake. Next session, they will eradicate the Inmost blot, once and for all... ... well, on Golarion anyways. They'll have to contend with it later in the next volume.
I'm making some additions to the Husk of XD fight so I'll let you know how those work out.
You're not supposed to leave the asylum. If you step out the door, the GM is supposed to intimidate the players to stay inside by constantly spawning monsters and describing the fog as impenetrable and filled with unthinkable monsters. The GM should probably be more explicit with their warnings next time.
I was musing over ways of making the ending even darker. This is just brainstorming but what if the fact that knowing so much about Xhamen-Dor creates a problem for the PC's who have enjoyed immunity to its effects throughout the AP? That protection must wear off at some point -- meaning that they're ticking time bombs. They may have temporarily banished him but eventually their intimate knowledge of him will make them succumb to his influence and spread him further. Perhaps this will cause them to have to surrender a portion of their minds once more to the Mad Poet in exchange for blissful ignorance.
When the rest of them return to Golarion, they will not remember the great deeds they performed and neither will the townsfolk who they saved from being absorbed into Hastur. However, their minds will be scrubbed clean of X-D's influence and they can live happily from that point on -- probably with some inexplicable nightmares occasionally. You could make the final scene of the AP them emptying their bags of holding and celebrating all the treasure they "somehow" came across. Of course, that's when they stumble across a scrap of paper that they missed when ripping up and burning Lowls' notes on the Inmost Blot. On it is a strangely familiar name...
Haha, yeah my group is pretty lucky in that regard. This will be our 3rd AP completely ran through (we got 4/6 of the way through serpents skull). We meet consistently every week for about 4-5 hours. On top of that, the players are very familiar with the system having played for years and blaze through turns and those daunting late-game calculations with dice apps.
I trim about one or two encounters from each dungeon to keep a more consistent theme and in order to challenge their 20-point buy optimized characters I combine a lot of the encounters. For instance, I removed the advanced template from the hunting horror and allied it with Weiralai during the under city dungeon for a much more deadly encounter. Similarly, in book 2 I combined the keeper of the yellow sign, some of the cultists, and the big bad together for a more intense final fight. I find this makes the fights for memorable but at the cost of straining the way pathfinder is balanced (5 encounters a day). Considering they lack full spellcasters, this doesn't seem to create too much of a nova problem.
All of these little changes and cuts to each book have added up to a much quicker than usual adventure experience. However, I think the fact that I have such eager and enthusiastic players who WANT to come back and play and see the next part of the story every week just shows you how exciting the adventure has been for them.