|Joshua J. Frost|
|Neil Spicer RPG Superstar 2009, Contributor|
|3 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,