|Joshua J. Frost|
|Neil Spicer RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor|
|4 people marked this as a favorite.|
Periodically, I circle back to this PFS scenario, just to see how it has run at the gaming table and the reactions/commentary it's received. I don't usually make a lot of comments about original turnovers and manuscripts, but a lot of the disappointments voiced with this particular adventure (based on the reviews I've read and some conversations I've had) stem from significant changes made to how I originally wrote the final battle.
First and foremost, here's the challenge I was given:
The main villain of the Echoes of the Everwar is Khalfani Zuberi, a man who's been cursed to live forever...but not in a hale, hearty young man's body. Instead, he's been cursed to live as an old/venerable man with all the persistent problems the elderly face. The unnatural extension of his lifespan hasn't been pleasant at all. So, he's squirreled himself away in a tomb while he uses his massive fortune to hire mercenaries (or dupe the PCs) into gathering all the things he needs to undo his curse and restore his youth.
Okay. With that as the basic premise, the final showdown with Khalfani isn't particularly compelling if he's still a decrepit, old man. Originally, I wanted to do him as a spellcaster since the ravages of time on the physical body mean very little as long as the mental attributes stay high for an arcane or divine caster. But, the direction I received from my developer indicated he should be a rogue. And therein lay the design challenge. How do you make an old rogue with debilitating age modifiers a challenge for high-level PCs so the grand finale isn't a total letdown?
Here's the approach I used in my original turnover. Khalfani Zuberi had already stolen away all the artifacts (retrieved by the PCs) which he needed to restore his youth. The doors to the final ritual chamber are sealed and guarded by a two-headed ettin (which Zuberi's spirit uses as a magic jar-like receptacle while his actual body is undergoing its youthful transformation. In essence, the PCs get to fight him twice. Once in his ettin form. And again, when the PCs finally bash through the sealed doors.
It's that final encounter that got changed so dramatically from my original turnover. The battle with the possessed ettin was meant to put the PCs on a timer. If they defeated the ettin and entered the final chamber in time to disrupt the ritual, Zuberi remains an old man. To make him a challenge in that situation, I gave him a lot of disposable magic items (scrolls, wands, potions, etc.) and a max'ed out Use Magic Device skill. He even wore a robe of scintillating colors at the high-tier to further screw with those trying to engage him directly. And there was also a cage of sorts and a wide gulf separating him from the PCs when they entered. So, they'd have obstacles to overcome just to close on him. He was also accompanied by a handful of additional guardians (more enlarged living monoliths at low-tier, and actual clay golems at the high-tier). That was going to make the final encounter more dynamic, more challenging, and hopefully, more exciting.
Additionally, I also wrote the final encounter with a entire second set of suppositions. If the timer runs out on the PCs and they fail to reach Zuberi before his ritual is complete, he appears before them as a youthful rogue with none of the hindrances of old age modifiers. This makes him infinitely more dangerous. Not only does he still have access to his stock of magic items (via Use Magic Device), but now, he has much more potent ranged attacks and sneak attacks he can employ against the PCs as they're engaged with his minions.
So, I bring this up to explain that the scenario was always intended to provide a more meaningful (and challenging) resolution to the 4-part Echoes of the Everwar series. Unfortunately, a lot of my original material hit the cutting room floor and I never completely understood why. The approach I took didn't exceed word count in any egregious way. And, as a PDF product, even if the final part of the series ran a little longer (in terms of space), I didn't think that was a bad thing. Perhaps the developer thought it would run too long at the table...or the old vs. young Zuberi would make it too difficult or complex for PFS GMs to run at the table? I simply don't know, but the end result obviously came out as a weaker capstone to an otherwise entertaining series of scenarios. And I certainly never intended for Zuberi to wither away with the PCs never getting a chance to meet him, converse with him, or come to blows with him as he sought to complete his return to power.
Regardless, I do think some of the "easiness" of the adventure overall (in terms of encounter design) are squarely my fault. For one, this was my first PFS scenario...and my only PFS scenario, for that matter. So, I was still learning the differences between writing for the Pathfinder modules and Adventure Paths vs. writing tiered encounters for PFS play. Secondly, I designed the adventure for four PCs using 15-point buy without realizing how many PFS tables run with more than four players and their PCs are designed using a 20-point buy. So, where I wrote something to be moderately challenging, it often came through as too easy for most tables. Were I to write it again, there's no doubt I'd increase the lethality factor by giving the encounters a higher degree of difficulty.
So, why am I sharing all of this information? For a couple of reasons. One, I hope it helps people understand that the adventure's finale was certainly written to be an epic showdown. And, two, for anyone who buys this scenario to run it independently of PFS, maybe this information helps inform their home game so it's a bit more fun to run. If anyone cares to see the original encounters for old vs. young Zuberi (with stat-blocks), I can also post those here in another spoiler, provided Paizo has no reservations about me doing so.
My two cents,
When I got to the end of this scenario, [/spoiler] my character was more in a mindset to help Zuberi than kill him. We had one gm for the first three scenarios and a different gm for this one. The way it was explained to me is that Zuberi was cursed to eternal old age because he kept buying the sun orchid elixir, a completely legal and as far as I'm concerned moral thing. He is completely justified in trying to end the curse. So my experience was that we were ambushed by cultists who wanted Zuberi to remain old for reasons that were never explained. Then we talked to a sphinx that summoned the ghosts of the three women who needed Zuberi dead so they could rest. We broke into Zuberis home without any legal authority, killed his living monolith guards who were just doing their job, then killed him during the ritual to restore his youth. I objected strenuously to this, but my party killed him anyway. Is this really how it was supposed to go down? How is a good character supposed to rationalize this? [/spoiler]
|Neil Spicer Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut|
|1 person marked this as a favorite.|
In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. I guess I'll do what I can to help explain some of the motivations a good character might feel when rationalizing their opposition to Khalfani Zuberi:
That's when the Followers of Almaut (an Osirian death cult) took matters into their own hands. These priests believed that seeking an extended lifespan was sacrilege against the natural order. Additionally, they knew the truth about Zuberi and his sinister goals. Allowing him to continue abusing the innocent was wrong. But, in their minds, simply executing him wasn't proper justice for all the pain he'd caused others. So, when they severed his connection to his concubines and rolled back the effects of the sun orchid elixir, it was so they could force him to endure an extended lifetime of pain and misery. He could either take his own life, something they knew he'd never do out of greed and cowardice. Or, he could suffer in his venerable state, never able to truly enjoy the life he'd sought to extend. In essence, it was a fitting punishment for such a villain...and when Zuberi faked his own death, retreated into his tomb with all his riches, and disappeared from actively managing his businesses (criminal or otherwise)...the cultists thought they'd succeeded and kept a watchful eye on him to ensure his punishment endured.
However, hundreds of years later, Zuberi regained newfound hope when he could suddenly sense the rings of his concubines again. After consulting with an Osirian sage about them, he learned it was possible to undo his curse...and, basically, to pick up where he left off. So, with every intention of once again climbing his way back to the top of Osirian society, he instituted a grand plan to dupe the Pathfinders into gathering the rings (via his concubines' bodies) and returning them to Sothis, where he could steal them away and conduct the ritual to make himself young again. But, even to enact that plan, he had to pursue a great many more evil deeds first. In fact, it took him years to establish the right connections, and he used every underhanded, vile trick in the book to do it...i.e., blackmail, sabotage, and more assassinations. In addition, the scenario background doesn't explicitly say it, but I imagine it's a fair assumption that he also started spinning up the institutions and holdings he had in place before his cursed existence...i.e., to start rebuilding his underground empire so he'd have the resources ready to regain his original might once the ritual was complete. That alone would pose a significant threat to Osirion and the rest of the Inner Sea.
Now, that's a lot of plot points to unpack (and try to make available to the PCs via a 4-game series of PFS). But, inklings of that backstory do need to leak out over the course of the finale...whether provided by the Followers of Almaut, Venture-Captain Norden Balentiir, the manifested ghosts of the three concubines, or even the sphinx Sekhmanu. That information should then go a long way in helping good-aligned PCs better understand who they're facing, what his history is, and the kind of danger he poses to the Inner Sea should he be fully restored to unleash his evil on the region again.
But that's just my two cents,