Just when you think you understand this campaign and the power of the party you are running, things happen that dramatically alter the party dynamic with disastrous results.
Last night, I had two character killed in the party I run for. The players have decided that these characters will not be raised, so this is certainly a disruption to my AoW campaign.
The strange thing is - they died in a relatively innocuous encounter that did not appear to me to be all *that* deadly. I Threw a CR11 at this party - nearly CR 12 when they were 4th/5th level at the end of 3 Faces of Evil and they beat it. With difficulty - but they beat it.
In comparison, I thought Sodden Hold would be a cakewalk.
Well it sure as hell wasn't.
The fight with the mimics went reasonably well, though it did consume some of the party's resources.
Shortly after, when the party located the chest with the captured PCs gear in it, the doppelganger in the party was exposed and attacked. That fight consumed more resources - and perhaps more importantly - reduced the party's combat strength to 4 characters.
The fight with the next two doppelgangers was nasty and caused a lot of damage. Again - consuming a lot of the healing resources of the party. The meat grinder was on...
The encounter with the Invisible Stalkers proved to be a disaster.
The party entered the room and looked uneasily at the water, spying dark shapes of weapons and spikes beneath the scum in the foul murk. On a bit of a whim - and largely because the party's search rolls have been terrible, the cleric cast detect magic and the wand of spiritual weapon lit up in the centre of the room, a few feet under the dark water.
The warmage and cleric - having the best balance in the party - move across the beams towards the wand. When they were well away from the party's fighter, druid and animal companion - the Stalkers struck against the two from surprise, knocking the warmage in the water for about 16 points. The cleric was far more unfortunate - taking 28 points between the slam and the weapons in the water.
What unfolded over the next 10 rounds was just horrible luck.
The fighter - who is quite competent with a bow - managed a to hit roll of 17 only twice - even then - concealment foiled the attack once.
Nearly two dozen arrows with a +8 to hit, and only once did an arrow score a single point of damage.
The warmage, normally quite efficient, spent off fireballs - or tried to. 5 of them. Two of them failed with horrendous concentration rolls - and the stalkers made their Reflex saves all three times the others went off.
In fact, that's a good summary of the combat. The players rolled 1,2,3 and 4 on a LOT of their rolls; meanwhile, I rolled 17, 18, 19 and 20 on most of the rolls I made for the Invisible Stalkers of Sodden Hold.
Thusly did the law of averages wreak havoc on my Age of Worms Campaign.
A few more hits here, one or two less criticals being dealt out by the Stalkers there, and this post would be very different.
But the dice were filled with malice and I resolved to play the Stalkers with half a clue. They concentrated their efforts on the Warmage and the Cleric and through invisibility, the treacherous beams and the traps under the water, the main melee combatant in the party was cut off from the battle. Despite desperate attempts at healing - by that time the healing resources had become so reduced the cleric was down to a wand of cure lights.
A hit and a critical by the stalker on the warmage for 32 points and he was reduced to -11. The cleric fell two rounds later.
The fighter finally managed to kill the remaining stalker (one ultimately died to the third fireball) but now down to 40% strength and without a cleric or wizard (or rogue) the fighter and druid withdrew - leaving the Psychic Warrior PC somewhere below in the clutches of the doppelgangers.
They have resolved to try again next session and the fighter levelled to 7th as a survivor of the Invisible Stalkers. Still, all-in-all, not the sort of encounter that you might think would kill half the party.
But it did just the same.
Thanks for the head up. My group has just recently realized that their minds are being "probed" while wandering through the streets of Greyhawk. It will be next session that they take on Sodden Hold. We have 5 players and I have opted to not do the "doppleganger swap", so hopefully they will have a better experience.
BTW - I did cringe at the invisible stalker encounter when I read it. The "environment" makes that encounter particularly tough.
I don't know that the dungeon as a whole will end up being as infamous as, say, the library room with all the Knights of Kyuss in "Spire of Long Shadows", or the arena of the Hextorites, but the invisible stalkers do look to presenta challenge in that particular environment.
From your description, sounds more "sour dice" than "meat grinder", though.
Although none of the PCs perished in the fight against the stalkers in my campaign, it was nearly a TPK. My players also lit up detect magic and spotted the wand (the aura). And the cleric went out to get it... fortunately, the player was able to have his PC retreat back and the PCs attacked the stalkers from relative safety, otherwise it would have been disastrous.
But, hey, it's a game... and if the players don't feel like their PC could die any second, then the experience, IMO, is not the same...
For DMs getting ready to run this, just know this going in... if you set the scene well enough, your players will be adequately cautious...
My party was 6 players, pretty solidly built and mostly full strength, and the invisible stalkers were very difficult. I reduced them to a single attack per round and there was almost multiple deaths. Bull rushes off the planking breaks the groups ability to counter attack, and if they focus on the spell casters, bad things happen for the group. The trapped section just adds insult to the encounter.
I would probably drop it to 1 stalker for a group of 4, or at least put some labeled healing potions in the room before.
I did cringe at the invisible stalker encounter when I read it. The "environment" makes that encounter particularly tough.
I did too, but on reading the invisible stalker entry in the monster manual, at least decided that I needed to give them some constraints rather than be the "pets" that seem to be implied in the HoHR text. In the MM, it says invisible stalkers only serve others grudgingly, and then to the letter, so I decided that they would only guard that specific room, so for example they would not follow anyone beyond the room's boundary. And also if the stalkers defeat a group of intruders, their service is discharged and they dissapear.
I guess what I expected with my group of 3 PC's + animal companion + follower, was at least one PC to fall into the water, then the others to work out a way to get them back up and retreat if they had no way to see invisibility and/or felt out-matched. After all, my players are not beyond seeing a sticky situation and reacting to it rather than just march into impending death - they have been in numerous near-misses so far. Full Defence, for example, would be a very useful action for those being attacked by invisible creatures, to help get them out safely - I often remind my players of options available to them they might hav forgotten, and full defense is one that's often forgotten (or used to be).
Now, as it turned out, my group foiled this room quite easily - initially they by-passed altogether by bashing a hole in a wall without ever putting a foot onto the narrow planks, so the stalkers never attacked (their task was to prevent anyone getting across the planks). On the way out of the dungeon, they were fully rested before they went into the stalker room, and cast fly on the fighter who went in to get a closer look at the far corner of the room etc. When the stalkers attacked, the mage immediately cast see invisibility, so could help direct traffic. The rogue/cleric risked a walk on the beams, and did well enough to get a hit or two in before she fell down (she has a ring of feather fall so was OK), but by then the stalkers were pretty much toast as the flying fighter landed a number of hits despite the 50% miss chance and the mage hit with various magic missiles etc.
Well done to my players, good use of magic helped them a lot as did team-work and an appropriate amount of caution (normally they are not terribly cautious, prefering to keep it moving along). I think even if they had gone in to the stalker room on the way down, they would have prevailed, as while the mimics and doppleganger fighters were not easy, the group had lots of resources and didn't use a lot defeating them. In fact, my group cleaned out the whole sodden hold dungeon in one go without rest - they tried to rest, but Telakin's guards found the PC's and so he sent in an ambush and even summoned Zryzog and his thralls. So the stalkers were the only piece of the whole dungeon that didn't get slaughtered in the initial foray. Had the PC's not by-passed the stalker room, I imagine they would have retreated to rest earlier (they only tried to rest in the planning room becasue they thought they had cleaned out most of the place already, and were in a defensible position). Sure, a lot of magic items got used including two wands of cure light (about 30 charges), and at the end only a few cantrips were left uncast, but my guys got a lot further in one go than I would ever have thought possible.
And really, the stalker room is so obviously a trap, that while they don't know exactly what to expect, the players should be expecting *something* bad to happen!
This week we'll see how well they prepare for finding Zyrzog in his lair - I suspect they might not think to use spell immunity, so if they roll badly on their will saves it could be very dangerous for them! But I also expect them to cope well to whatever happens, and given Z's lair is now half-empty because of failed assassination attempts on the PC's, they should get to Z in good shape with close to full resources.
The invisible stalker room almost put them 6 feet under. They had almost no spells, 3/4 hp and a doppelganger traitor.
At least the barbarian decided to bash the wall and hold the door. The bard and the druid weren't so lucky, they investigated the far corner and got pummeled by both Stalkers. Let's just say that the wand of Burning hands from Diamond Lake saw a lot of action...
What didn't help was the fact that my players didn't stop using the planks after the first one broke...not to bright if you ask me.
The other tough one can be Telakin...those traps are REALLY well placed. The druid AND cleric fell, so no healing at the start of combat. By chance the barbarian and ninja had high damage output, or that could have been real ugly.
They're on there way to Zirzog and they didn'T prepare/buy scrolls of Spell immunity...I smell that this one will end badly for them since the first time 3 out of 5 were stunned for 6 rounds (barbarian,druid and cleric...no really!). The octopins are going to tear them apart...
My PC's toughest encounter in Sodden Hold was with the octopus. The drowning rules are brutal. Luckily, one PC managed to reach the drainage device, which saved everyone's from a TPK.
The octopus killed our table's wizard. It didn't help that I bumped up its HD to the maximum scaling suggested.
If you look at its raw stats, an octopus is weak for CR 8, it's the water that makes it tough, so if your party is able to handle the environmental aspect of fighting in water, it's really quite easy to beat.
My group only needed one PC to kill it - the fighter grappled it and won out in only a couple of rounds. I can't remember exactly how he handled the water, but from memory he was lowering himself down a set of ropes, possibly with the bottle of air and ring of feather fall, then when the octopus grappled him he said "oh goody, I'll grapple it back!", held his breath, and pretty soon he'd squeezed the octopus out of hit points (it actually tried to get away near the end, and failed to escape!). About the easiest CR 8 kill they have ever had.
This is now a familiar tactic - anything up to size large that grapples him, he just grapples back and generally wins.
They have resolved to try again next session and the fighter levelled to 7th as a survivor of the Invisible Stalkers.
That's quite the experience. I suggest cooking something up (a feat or PrC) just for the fighter as a survival reward. Perhaps suggest that he take Blind Fight, then give him access to a feat with Blind Fight as a prerequisite that gives Blindsight 10 ft. a number of times per day or something like that. He's earned it.
My party consists of seven PCs of about 6th level. They just beat Telakin and have no spells left and are all in the single digits on HP. If not for the cleric converting almost all of his spells into healing the party would be dead. One other thing, I ran the encounters as written. I didn't scale the adventure for the size of the party.