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I initially posted a version of this elsewhere on the forum, but I've realized it'll do more good here among its Legacy of Fire fellows.
The issue at hand: Continuing the adventure past "The Final Wish." Right now, I'm only just wrapping up "House of the Beast" and transitioning into "The Jackal's Price," but my players are aware that the campaign ends around 15th level and have already expressed interest in potentially continuing after that point. Initially I'd just planned on transitioning into the City of Brass boxed set by Necromancer Games, but gradually I've shifted gears into a true continuation of Legacy of Fire that would take the PCs through 20th level, as well as resolve certain dangling plot threads.
Right now what I have is just a collection of ideas and a loose outline, but perhaps others will draw inspiration from it. At the rate we play, I might have as much as 4 years to get this thing ready!
Design Goals and Broad Strokes
Defeating Jhavhul at the end of "The Final Wish" is a major accomplishment, one that shouldn't be diminished, so to the goal of these two adventures is to act as a coda to the story rather than a direct continuation.
Beyond that, the adventures have four basic goals:
1. Allow the PCs to keep adventuring right up to the verge of mythic levels.
2. Resolve the issue of Xotani's heart, a time bomb left ticking in the heart of Pale Mountain.
3. Incorporate additional support material that didn't see much impact within the original AP (such as azis and divs), as well as including additional "Arabian" adventuring themes that come to mind.
4. Act as a "victory lap" for the PCs, allowing them to revisit old locales, this time as movers-and-shakers and largely on their own terms.
Lastly, elements of these adventures work off a basic assumption that held true in 3.5 but is less clear in Pathfinder: that outsiders can only be truly slain on their home planes. If killed anywhere else, their spiritual essences seep back to their home planes (or try to) and slowly reform, starting almost from scratch. If you disagree with this interpretation, it can be passed off as div deception (see Seeding the Adventure).
Seeding the Adventure
The epilogue begins long after The Final Wish concludes, so I actually don't want to include too much foreshadowing that the story doesn't end with Jhavhul. In my own campaign, I'm simply adding three wrinkles:
1. At the conclusion of Howl of the Carrion King, based on my assumption that the defeat of Xulthos results not in his true destruction but merely his dissolution and banishment back to Abaddon, I had the daemon's "dying" words (as he dissolved into a black stain) be a heckling taunt that "The Legacy of Fire will never end!" Later (though it was intended that they find it earlier), the PCs discovered a secret shrine Xulthos had started excavating behind the Pale Cascade, in which he'd collected stone carvings of the Genie War and the Legion of Wands battling Xotani (along with an unfinished carving of his own glorious war-mongering cult's planned conquests). When he reforms in Abaddon, Xulthos' account of his discoveries on the Material Plane may be what first draws the attention of the Horseman of War.
2. Concurrent with The Jackal's Price, I'll be running my PCs through a side adventure (Black Marks at the Violet Fire) to resolve the issue of Haleen's debts in the city of Katapesh. In that adventure, one of the antagonists is secretly a member of the div-worshiping Usij. In addition, the head of the Duskwalker Guild, Khafira Blacktongue, is identified as a tiefling; I've decided she's a div-spawn tiefling, originally from Thuvia. These facts doesn't play a significant role in the adventure itself, but way down the line, players may look back and realize that, aha, this may have been when the minions of Ahriman first became aware of them.
3. One issue of the now-suspended Set Piece adventures was how best to work them into the main AP. The Set Piece accompanying The Final Wish is The Decanter of Black Breath, the plot hook basically amounts to "in the midst of defeating the major foe threatening their home town and all the lands beyond, the PCs get an itch to check out a magic bottle."
Here's how I'll be handling it: By the time the PCs return from their misadventures in the Great Beyond, the highly public, destructive emergence of Jhavhul and his army is big news in Katapesh and already spreading to neighboring lands. Somewhere on their way to Kelmarane, or just after they arrive, the PCs are confronted by a sinister figure (perhaps our "leprous lamp-seller" in the wilderness, perhaps in the middle of a short, freak sandstorm. The lamp-peddler has been sent by the Usij, perhaps accompanied by an entourage of divs, who keep their distance. The Usij plays it straight with the PCs--his masters know that the PCs are on their way to stop Jhavhul, and the Usij assures them, truthfully, that those he serves are no friends to the genie. Yet, the Usij points out a basic problem facing the PCs: they will be facing Jhavhul here, on the Material Plane, and not in his home on the Plane of Fire. Virtually no matter what they do, they cannot permanently destroy Jhavhul here, so their victory against him cannot help but be temporary, buying perhaps as little as a few human generations before the Crimson Butcher returns. But by accepting the Decanter of Black Breath, they can rid the world of Jhavhul forever. The lamp is a magical trap created by the forces of Ahriman; when empty, the lingering spirits of the just-slain are drawn inside the bottle, where they cannot escape. Trapped inside the bottle, the spirits of mighty genies are warped into wretched ghuls. But there is one catch: The bottle must be emptied before it can be used again.
If the heroes enter the bottle and destroy Umad al-Waliyya, then the Decanter is automatically primed to be used again. (And is the pairakas are also slain, the bottle becomes a handy bolthole during the final assault.) If the PCs activate the decanter within one minute of slaying Jhavhul, the genie's spirit is drawn into the bottle. (The Usij doesn't mention that anyone else present at the battle and slain within the past minute will be trapped as well.) When the heroes re-emerge from Xotani's Grave, the divs appear, magically reclaim the Decanter, and before vanishing again, congratulate the heroes on their victory, assuring the PCs that thanks to them, Jhavhul goes to face "the destruction that never ends" in the genie hell that is Ahriman's realm in Abaddon.
"The Oblivion Ember" and "The All-Consuming Fire" take place many years after the conclusion of "The Final Wish." Even before the events of the Legacy of Fire adventure path began, there were dark forces in the Great Beyond who coveted the destructive power of Rovagug's slain spawn, Xotani the Firebleeder, and who had even started making efforts to find and revive the ancient beast.
The sudden, shocking appearance of the efreeti Jhavhul al-Batan and his monstrous army in the city of Katapesh, followed by their flight to Pale Mountain and subsequent defeat, rightfully became the stuff of legend, and throughout northern Garund tales spread of the sleeping Firebleeder that had not been heard in millennia.
For the foul beings who coveted the Spawn for themselves, this was a rallying call. Fortunately for humanity, the fiendish denizens of Abaddon despise each other nearly as much as they do all the rest of creation, but the minions of Ahriman and Szuriel, the Horseman of War, have struck an unusual and tentative bargain to achieve what each side claims is a mutual end: The rebirth of Xotani.
For decades, if not centuries, the daemons of War have sought to recreate the carnage created in the epic battles of the Legion of Wands against the Flamebleeder, but lacking the wishcraft of the genies they have researched alternative means of reigniting the spark of life within Xotani's heart. The divs of Ahriman lack this research, but in the House of Oblivion, they do possess the means by which the armies of Abaddon might pour forth to lay claim to the heart, and their desire to see the Firebleeder live again burns just as strong.
Shortly after Jhavhul's defeat, a general from each of these armies--a purrodaemon and an akvan--met in a blasted citadel in Abaddon to broker a rare alliance. Even with their combined knowledge and power, it would take their scheming many years to overcome the downfall of Jhavhul, but the passing of a human generation means nothing to the devourers of creation.
Now, at long last, the time has come and their forces are arrayed. A combined army of divs and daemons is massing in Abaddon at the base of the House of Oblivion, and a black-sailed ship is sailing through the Dimension of Dreams with a portentous cargo. Their destination: Pale Mountain.
Oop! Out of time--the rest has to wait.
I do need to get back to this thread eventually. Here's a quick hit.
As a note, all I have on any of this so far are scratch-notes, so bear with me here. I'll add more detail as I go, and I'd love feedback.
Adventure Synopsis and Advancement Track:
Legacy of Fire, Epilogue One: The Oblivion Ember
As "The Oblivion Ember" begins, the PCs should be 15th level. (Part two of the adventure provides an XP boost to reach that level for PCs who haven't reached that goal.)
Twenty-one years after defeating Jhavhul, the surviving PCs are reunited by a shared dream of Xotani's awakening. When they converge to study this omen, a sinister visitor appears, offering gifts. This visitor, a soul-deadened genie binder and master of the div-worshiping Usij, warns the PCs that within the wastes of Abaddon, daemons have spent a human generation torturing and corrupting the lost spirit of Jhavhul al-Batan, attempting to transform his doomed essence into one of them. That project now nears completion. If any PCs or beloved NPCs died in the final battle against Jhavhul, their souls stand on the brink of the same peril: To be forever transformed into fiends.
Following the genie-binder's directions, the PCs travel to a toppled fortress in Abaddon, within the realm of the godling Ahriman. From this fortress the PCs can see endless fields of ruined structures and, in the far distance, the impossible geometry of some horrible, dark temple surrounded by a buzzing army of flying fiends. Entering the fortress, the PCs find divs and daemons working together in a literal prison for the damned. They also encounter old foes with unfamiliar faces: reformed Xulthos, now granted mastery over the prison, and his favorite prisoner, the great ghul Jhavhul. Defeating the fiendish jailors, and putting a final end to both Xulthos and the fallen Jhavul, the PCs can free the damned souls trapped here--including their fallen friends and a strange peri who has sinister news: This entire gambit into Abaddon was a planned distraction to remove the PCs from Katapesh while their true enemy strikes.
By the time the PCs complete the Abaddon gambit, they should reach 16th level.
Returning to the Material Plane, the PCs are immediately contacted by Nefeshti, who raises a cry of alarm--her remote mountain fastness is under attack! The PCs race to keep up with a three-part, far-reaching plan of attack designed to wear them down while the armies of Abaddon chase their true prize: the heart of Xotani. Each army is poised to strike when the sun sets at their location.
Nefeshti's tower is the first target, attacked by Usij zealots and an azi.
Next, a gnoll army boils out of the Brazen Peaks to attack Kelmarane, led by a trio of monstrous gnolls who claim to be the true heirs of the Carrion King (but are in fact simple unchosen possessed by daemons).
Finally, divs and devils assault the House of the Beast, clearing a path for the arrival of a strangely familiar airship: The Sunset Ship, returned from nightmarish Leng.
While the PCs battle hordes of lesser foes, potentially on three fronts at once, the Sunset Ship's crew leads their strange cargo down into Xotani's Grave: a procession of emkrahs, each one, like that encountered beneath the streets of Katapesh so long ago, having devoured the souls of powerful cultists of Rovagug.
If it is not Xotani's fate to be revived by 1,000 wishes, then perhaps feeding its heart the germinating power of the Rough Beast itself will do.
If the PCs can prevent even one "impregnated" emkrah from reaching Xotani's heart, then they prevent the Firebleeder from being immediately reborn. But if even one emkrah does reach the heart, infusing Xotani with its share of Rovagug's power, then the spark has been lit. The heart slowly pulses to life. It will take time--how much time (in weeks) determined by how well the PCs fared against the armies of Abaddon in the above encounters--but Xotani is now inevitably crawling back to life. Even worse, through the emkrahs, some foul power has established a link to the heart, protecting it from harm and interference.
It may take weeks or months, but Xotani will be reborn, and something incredibly powerful is protecting the heart until that happens. The PCs must break this connection, then find a way to destroy the heart once and for all before Xotani revives.
Once the battle is over, it's a simple matter of tracing the armies of Abaddon back to their source, be it through divinations or by simply backtracking the swath of destruction they left on their way through the Brazen Peaks. The trail leads to Thuvia, and another dark, impossible structure. A mirror to the fearsome structure the PCs saw in Abaddon.
It is the House of Oblivion, and it is guarded by a teeming army of divs and daemons. At the heart of the House of Oblivion, at the cusp where the Material Plane bleeds into Abaddon, squats Ahriman, feeding his power to Xotani, seeding himself into Xotani. When Xotani is reborn, it will serve Ahriman, and the genies of this world will be the first to burn.
Even for the heroes, this fiendish army is too strong to conquer. There is only one recourse. If Xotani must be reborn, then so must the Legion of Wands.
By the time the PCs have countered Abaddon's assault on Xotani's Grave and traced their enemies back to the House of Oblivion, they should be 17th level.
(...To be continued in "The All-Consuming Fire")
Trying to squeeze in a quick post before Gen Con.
Somehow I managed to omit this in my last post.
"The Oblivion Ember" begins right where "The Final Wish" ended. Mysteriously, the PCs are just as refreshed as they were going into their battle with Jhavhul (even to the extent that expended items are replenished and fallen allies have returned). Within a day--perhaps right as the PCs are leaving Xotani's Grave, or perhaps while celebrating that night in Kelmarane--Pale Mountain erupts and Xotani is reborn. The PC race to stop the Spawn of Rovagug and, most likely, die both horribly and quickly.
At this point, the GM reveals that this battle was just a dream (or rather, an omen). In fact, exactly 21 years have passed since the day the PCs defeated Jhavhul and life has actually been relatively quiet since then. Each PC now applies the appropriate aging modifiers and chooses a "legacy boon" (a more potent version of the "Year in Kelmarane" focus rewards from "Howl of the Carrion King") to represent the passage of the intervening years. Possibilities (which I have not yet started to try balancing out) include:
* Agent of the Pactmasters: The PC has settled in the city of Katapesh and become an influential servant of the Pactmasters; perhaps even the Pactbroker. Along with considerable material wealth, the PC has been granted his or her own charm of aluum control and an aluum to go with it.
* King of the Mountain: Like Vardishal before you, the PC has refused to surrender the field of battle until the war is truly won. Knowing that Xotani's heart still bleeds at the heart of Pale Mountain, the PC has spent a generation occupying the House of the Beast as a remote mountain fastness, drawing followers and fending off the attacks of Rovagug cultists and foul monsters constantly drawn to the site.
* Knight Protector of Kelmarane: The PC entered semi-retirement in Kelmarane, spending the next generation protecting it. An accessible hero to the common folk, the PC gains some social boons and his or her reputation and presence has drawn additional defenders to the town.
* Lover of Life: After defeating Jhavhul, the PC may have had a few more adventures, but all in all she lay down her sword and settled down to enjoy life with their loved ones. As with the "Romance" focus, the PC gains a free cohort. If the PC already took the "Romance" focus in HotCK and their beloved cohort lived to the end of "The Final Wish," then the PC gains a second cohort: Their offspring.
* Master of Bayt al-Batan: Having acquired the deed to Bayt al-Batan in "The Impossible Eye," the PC has managed to support his or her claim as the rightful owner of an efreeti palace in the City of Brass. Over the years, the PC has painstakingly carved out a niche of power and respect within the courts of the efreet.
* Reaper of Gnolls: The PC has spent most of his or her life mercilessly hunting the gnolls of the Brazen Peaks, who now speak of the PC in fearful whimpers as a terrible, avenging god. An extension of the "Gnoll Killer" focus, this adds considerable combat bonuses against gnolls and their kin.
* Seeker of Paradise: The PC is haunted by the memory of glorious Kakishon and has spent most of their time traveling the planes, seeking in vain for the lost paradise.
* Sentinel of the Faith: The PC has become a leader within the Cult of the Dawnflower (or similar religious organization). Haven't thought this boon through yet.
* Templar of the Winds: The PC accepted Nefeshti's invitation to join her ranks and perhaps even found a new order of the Templars. The PC gains the half-janni template and does not age. With the PC's renewed vigor, Nefeshti has rebuilt the Templars into a force approximating their faded glory.
* Shadow of the Fallen: The PC died in the final battle with Jhavhul, and his or her soul was never (or could never) be raised. The PC's spirit is soon rescued from Abaddon and the PC restored to life with some sort of lingering, largely beneficial effects from being nearly transformed into a fiend.
Like the original "Year in Kelmarane" boons, these "Legacy" boons grant both an immediate mechanical benefit and a secondary benefit that comes along later in the adventure path. These secondary benefits come in the form of making specific scenarios considerably easier. Three boons pay off in "The Oblivion Ember," with the rest paying off in the final adventure.
King of the Mountain: Thanks to the presence of fortifications and guards at the House of the Beast, the final push into Xotani's Grave sees considerably more resistance.
Knight-Protector of Kelmarane: Thanks to the town's additional defenses, it fares much better during the gnoll invasion.
Templar of the Winds: Thanks to the PC's boost to morale, Nefeshti gains additional minions who put up much a better fight against the azi and Usij.
At any rate, the beginning of the end: "The All-Consuming Flame," Legacy of Fire Part 8 of 6. (Doubt I'll get through everything this morning, so we'll see.)
This remains really sketchy, with loose ends that have yet to be tied up and plenty of gaps to be filled in later, but here goes.
Oh--one thing: "The All-Consuming Flame" is very much a placeholder title. (I hate coming up with titles.) Other ideas I'm kicking around include "The War for Ashes," "Spark of Destruction," "End in Flames" and my favorite of this nanosecond, "Heart of the Inferno."
The All-Consuming Flame (General Concepts)
The final chapter picks up right where "The Oblivion Ember" left off, with the PCs in Thuvia, staring down a massive army of divs and daemons, and realizing (perhaps with advice from various NPCs) that they'll literally need an army to get at Ahriman.
"The All-Consuming Flame" is conceived as something of a sandbox, with the PCs able to tackle most of the adventure (everything up to the eventual assault on the House of Oblivion) in any order they choose.
Since the PCs should be 17th level (perhaps with a mythic level as well), the adventure is built on the basic assumptions that the PCs have easy access to teleportation and even planar travel. Clerics, druids, oracles, and wizards have just gained access to 9th-level spells; any monks in the party just stopped aging and have no language barriers; sorcerers are on the cusp of learning 9th-level spells; and so on. And of course they may have several genie allies to call upon for aid.
The adventure thus assumes that the PCs can go virtually wherever they want to go whenever they want to go there, and focuses on distinct locations; wandering encounters while journeying from one spot to another are a thing of the past.
If, for whatever reason, the PCs still need help getting around, they do have an ace up their sleeve. Having slain the alien crew of the Sunset Ship toward the end of "The Oblivion Ember," they now possess a powerful airship--a quasi-artifact--that can sail through the Dimension of Dreams when the planar walls grow thin every seven years (which they are now, and will remain so for the remainder of the adventure). The Sunset Ship can basically sail anywhere that mortals have ever seen in their dreams or nightmares, with each voyage taking just a few hours (about the time of a night's sleep). Of course, the denizens of Leng could operate the vessel with ease, but the PCs will have to master the strange device; missteps may take their vessel through the dark seas of nightmare (resulting in random encounters with horrors like animate dreams, Leng spiders, and so on).
The basic structure of the adventure is thus: Ahriman has established a mystical connection to Xotani, which he is maintaining at enormous cost; he's basically sitting in the House of Oblivion, gobbling down souls. However, Ahriman can only maintain this connection to Xotani's heart while on the same plane, so if the PCs can force Ahriman back through the portal, Ahriman's grip on the heart will be severed and the heroes will be free to dispose of it. However, at the moment there's no way for the PCs to get to and deal with Ahriman without having a dark tide of nihilistic fiends come crashing down on their heads.
The battle against this fiendish army will eventually take place just off stage, with allies taking on the armies of Abaddon to clear a path for the PCs. This battle could be played out using the Kingmaker rules, but for now I'm just thinking of it in terms of simple numbers. Ahriman's forces are represented by a certain score; let's call that number the Legions of Abaddon. Each time the PCs recruit a significant new ally, they add a point to their own score; let's call that one the Legion of Wands. (Each point is a "legion," is what I'm getting at, I suppose.) If the PCs recruit enough legions to equal, say, half of the Legions of Abaddon, then they buy themselves a certain number of rounds to battle Ahriman before the their own allies are wiped out and Ahriman's reinforcements come flooding in.
If the PCs' Legion score equals that of the Legions of Abaddon, then the furious battle outside keeps the divs and daemons busy indefinitely, leaving them free to battle Ahriman and his personal cadre of fiendish guards.
If the PCs can manage to recruit enough allies to get their Legion score higher than Ahriman's then each extra Legion removes some portion of Ahriman's backup until, ultimately, he's left to face the PCs alone.
The PCs have two large arenas from which to draw allies: the nations of Garund and the courts of the genies. While the PCs can approach these potential allies in any order they wish (even splitting up to do so, if they dare), the mortal nations are easier to recruit and take longer to organize and move into position, so any advisors to the PCs will recommend they pursue those avenues first.
Each nation/ally comes packaged with a short, contained encounter scenario (I'll get into details of those later). The adventure assumes that the PCs are 17th level while they recruit the nations of Garund, and reach 18th level by the time by shift to recruiting the courts of the genies. (If the PCs tackle their recruitment drives in reverse order, they'll have a slightly rougher time with the genies but an easier time in Garund, by comparison.) By the time the PCs mount the final assault on the House of Oblivion, they should be 19th level (with, again, a mythic level or two under their belt as well).
While the PCs are running around, they'll also be dealing with two "soft timers." The big one is Xotani's heart, which is inching back to life. The PCs' actions in "The Oblivion Ember" determine how long they have. While the general available timeframe before Xotani revives is "a matter of weeks," I haven't yet crunched whether the PCs should have a set time, or whether Xotani's revival should just be a number tied to the PCs' Legion score; each time the PCs recruit an ally (or spend a week just cooling their heels, say), the Xotani timer ticks down by one. The PCs won't initially know exactly how much time they have, but the heart should put out some obvious signs of increased life as time goes on/the Legion score rises/the timer ticks down. Since there's really no reason for the PCs to stop trying to recruit every last army they can, the assault on the House of Oblivion will probably be triggered by a final sign that the Heart is on the cusp of reviving; the PCs might have days, maybe hours before Xotani is reborn, so they need to pull the trigger now.
The second "soft timer" are counterstrikes by Ahriman's forces. Each time the PCs add a Legion to their army, there's a chance that the divs dispatch minions (of increasing power and desperation) to try to interfere. It might go something like this: Each time the PCs set out to gain a new Legion, roll, say, 2d10. If the result is under the PCs' current number of Legions, then the fiends of Abaddon are going to meddle in their next recruitment effort.
However, between the forces guarding the House of Oblivion and the initial three-pronged assault on Xotani's Grave, Ahriman's minions are actually spread fairly thin. This whole undertaking is pretty epic and costly, even for them. If the PCs defeat a set number of Abaddon interloper teams (I'll pull the number 6 out of nowhere), then Ahriman runs out of disposable minions and the Legions of Abaddon score drops by 1.
Okay, enough vague notions of math for now; next time, sketchy ideas for each of the recruitment scenarios.
Okay, back to it.
The Legions of Garund
So, as mentioned, the PCs need to recruit as many major allies as they can to help them take on the House of Oblivion. The most obvious places to look for help are the very nations who'll be ravaged if Xotani is reborn. With the "Arabian" focus of the AP, my personal focus has been on the lands of Katapesh (naturally), Osirion, and Thuvia. Geb and Nex make sense as well, and despite kinda just being in the wrong place at the wrong time rather than thematically linked, Rahadoum can't afford to ignore the threat either.
Crossing the Barrier Wall Mountains into the Mwangi Coast brings us into an entirely different style of adventure, and at the same time these nations generally lack centralized power centers for the PCs to appeal to. Long story short, the PCs come up dry if they try to recruit aid from the Mwangi Expanse, Mediogalti, Sargava, the Shackles, or the Sodden Lands. But if anyone else has the good ideas I lack by all means toss them on the pile!
The nations of Avistan are simply too distant to haul in. Have to stop somewhere. So, the focus is on Geb, Katapesh, Nex, Osirion, Rahadoum, and Thuvia.
Recruiting each nation has a similar structure, starting with basic diplomacy. These six nations have no shortage of reasons to stop Xotani's rebirth; historians in Katapesh, Nex, and Osirion might even still have a few records of the permanent devastation left in the Spawn's wake in 2104 AR. The only questions at hand are: How easily the PCs gain an audience with the nation's leaders; How much help those leaders can afford to give; and How much each nation is willing to risk. After all, there is every chance that the assault the House of the Beast will be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Not only will the armies sent there most likely not be coming back, they'll be facing foes who can not just kill them but also literally devour their souls.
That being said, convincing each of these three nations to grant the PCs a Legion is mostly a matter of roleplaying and diplomacy. This is a downhill challenge, and unless the PCs really foul something up, getting their first 6 Legions should be a given. (I'll go into these Legions in a second.) Each nation, however, also includes an opportunity to recruit additional, "hidden" allies. If the PCs complete these side missions, they can recruit another 6 Legions, for a total of 12.
Just spit-balling here, but let's assume that a single Legion represents a CR 15 entity. This might be an actual army of well-equipped mortal soldiers, or a smaller force of powerful champions, or even a single creature of Garundi or Keleshite legend. (And yes, a divine herald conjured to the battlefield with planar ally as the assault begins counts as an additional Legion.)
In Kingmaker terms, it looks like a CR 15 Legion might represent something like 3 Colossal armies of 4th-level human fighters (about 6,000 people in total). So, yeah, this will be war on a massive scale.
In the next section of the adventure (once the PCs are 18th level, if they "go in order"), the Elemental Courts of the Jinn field allies that count as 2 Legions. Again, this might be a particularly large or powerful force, or it might be an individual CR 17 entity.
For now, here are a few sketch-notes on the armies of Garund.
Recruting Katapesh: The PCs must go to the Palace of the Pactmasters in the city of Katapesh and seek an audience with the Pactmasters themselves. If a PC took the "Agent of the Pactmasters" Legacy boon, the Pactmasters' cooperation is guaranteed. Otherwise they're slightly reticent to lend their aid, despite Xotani's heart technically being within their own borders, preferring to focus on the preservation of the city of Katapesh itself. In the end, it isn't difficult to convince the Pactmasters to assemble a force of Zephyr Guards, aluum, and Dawnflower priests from Solku. The PCs gain +1 Legion.
Additional Allies: If the PCs are particularly persuasive, the Pactmasters also agree to underwrite much of the cost of supporting the legions as they amass (perhaps in the form of loans with exceedingly generous rates); while the Pactmasters won't commit more warriors, they'll pay to keep others' fed and supplied, aiding the PCs' diplomatic efforts elsewhere.
While in the city of Katapesh, the PCs are approached by Master Reapesmoor, an exiled horned devil turned dealer in souls. A major mover and shaker in the Nightstalls, he's heard about the situation and sees Xotani's heart as a possible opportunity to get back in Hell's good graces. Reminding the PCs of the legend of Asmodeus helping Sarenrae defeat Rovagug with the Black Key, he offers to do the same for the PCs: Grant him permission, and once Ahriman's protections are broken he will sweep Xotani's Heart off to Cocytus, the coldest place in creation. This will freeze the heart solid, possibly forever, but will not destroy it. Why destroy a weapon of such power, when one can simply hold it in one's grasp until it is needed? If the heroes accept Reapesmoor's offer, then the good news is that they gain +1 Legion (Reapesmoor himself, a CR 16 creature). The bad news is that if they recruit Reapesmoor, he turns on them in the end-game (to be detailed later).
Ahriman's Interference: Ahriman's divs come in the form not of assassins, but of insidious diplomats. They approach the Pactmasters with their own proposal: Simply stay out of the fight, and expel all genies within their walls, and Ahriman will spare their city. Once the other great cities of Garund are razed, all roads will lead to Katapesh. The Pactmasters find the concept of upgrading from economic titan to economic superpower intriguing, so the heroes must silence their fiendish opposition, preferably by demonstrating that the divs are arguing in bad faith--Katapesh might be spared (or it might just be saved for last), but the devastation to the rest of Garund will be so absolute; there will be no reconstruction to profit from, no allies in debt, no flow of trade. An economic desert. Killing the divs doesn't hurt the PCs' chances either.
Nex & Geb
Recruting Nex or Geb: Recruiting one of these countries is no problem. Their leaders are powerful and have long memories, and Nex was already ravaged by Xotani once. To recruit either country, the PCs must travel to its capital and seek an audience with the nation's leaders. Simple enough! +1 Legion.
Additional Allies: Ah, but there's the rub. Once one of these rivals is recruited, recruiting the other shifts from easy to nigh-impossible. Nex and Geb are playing the prisoner's dilemma with each other; while they both know that someone needs to go stop the armies of Abaddon, they also know that whoever does go probably isn't coming back, so they'd much rather have the other guy die for the noble cause. Plus, these two nations still carry a grudge and simply don't want to stand side-by-side under a common banner. To recruit both Nex and Geb, the PCs will need to arrange and oversee a diplomatic summit--possibly held in the "neutral territory" of the Mana Wastes?--to hammer out a deal. If they can get both sides to agree, they add another Legion.
Ahriman's Interference: The divs attempt to assassinate the diplomats during the summit. If the PCs fail to protect a nation's emissaries, they lose that country's support. (Assuming the assault on the House of Oblivion is doomed, that country turns its focus on building up its own defenses.)
Recruting Osirion: The PCs must travel to Sothis and arrange an audience with the current Pharoah, who may be an aged Ruby Prince, or possibly his heir; whatever suits your preference. It's not hard to convince someone of the threat a Spawn of Rovagug poses when his palace is literally built inside the millennia-old carapace of one. The heroes gain +1 Legion (a massive army of Osirian soldiers, led by Risen Guard and wizards) if they do a reasonable diplomatic job.
Additional Allies: If the PCs particularly impress the Ruby Prince (or his successor), he lets them in on a family secret: One of his ancestors fought in the original Legion of Wands. (This ancestor was not a pharaoh himself, living as he did during the era of the Qadiran satrapy, but he was a natural leader and powerful spellcaster nonetheless.) Like the PCs, he knew that the defeated Xotani might once again rise to threaten the land, so he chose to prepare for an eternal vigil. The Last Legionnaire's tomb was swallowed by the desert and has never been found--but the Ruby Prince has a map. He grants the PCs permission to break the seal on his ancestor's hidden tomb, which is actually located within modern Katapesh. If the PCs can penetrate the tomb's construct guardians, they can find the Last Legionnaire waiting for them. Now a powerful mummy, the ancient spellcaster and his magic minions provide another +1 Legion. A nice little dungeon crawl.
Ahriman's Interference: No specific ideas yet.
Placeholder; I have no ideas for this nation's legion (or its side mission) yet. Love to hear some.
Recruiting Thuvia: The PCs must travel to the capital of Merab and gain an audience with its leaders, a council of representatives from the individual city-states. Thuvia has been plagued by divs for 7,000 years, so convincing its leaders of Ahriman's threat is virtually effortless. Unfortunately, Thuvia is not a powerful nation, made up of just five city-states spread across a vast, inhospitable desert. The total population of the nation equals about half the population of the city of Katapesh by itself. So, while Thuvia is the nation most eager to commit to the battle, they are the most starved for resources. They commit a Legion, bolstered by magic, alchemy, cultural knowledge of the divs, and downright trickery, but the Thuvians know that this is squeezing blood from a stone. They simply see no alternative. The Thuvian government writes up documents assuring that the presence of foreign armies within their borders will be taken as assistance and not an act of war, aiding the PCs' diplomatic efforts elsewhere.
Additional Allies: If the PCs are particularly persuasive, they can also gain an audience with the Grand Alchemist Artokus Kirran. He is unwilling to leave his citadel personally, but he can offer the PCs two unusual bits of aid. First, if the PCs agree to spare his people from being decimated by Ahriman's armies, he will give them something else instead: this year's shipment of sun orchid elixir, six vials in total. This means sacrificing his entire nation's economy for a year, so it's no small matter. The PCs may do what they wish with the elixirs. Naturally, they can drink them themselves (or save them for their dotage), but these priceless vials might also prove invaluable if used to bait other mortal leaders.
Secondly, he tells the PCs of a possible ally (and repeat customer of his wares): a phoenix called the Firesong (an NPC taken directly from Mythic Monsters Revisited, who dwells in the Underdunes of Osirion. The Firesong is ancient, having partaken of the sun orchid elixir at least twice rather than simply allowing himself to be reborn in flames. The Firesong is a recluse, but also a great champion of Sarenrae, and another vial of the elixir will probably sway him to the PCs' cause. The Firesong's lair is surrounded by the nests of rocs, rukhs, and other great birds, who seem to be instinctively drawn to the mighty avian. While the Firesong is benevolent, these creatures are undiscriminating (and always hungry) beasts.
The Firesong is fighting his fiery resurrection because centuries ago, before the death of Aroden, a prophecy foretold that the Firesong would be reborn only once more. The Firesong is now wise but wizened, and would be much more powerful if only he would become young again, one last time.
While the PCs are working their way to the Firesong, a group of Abaddon minions leap past them, hoping to preemptively eliminate this possible ally. If the PCs save the Firesong's (current) life, they win his aid. If the PCs give the Firesong a sun orchid elixir (or if the fiends slay him, causing him to be reborn, he'll be more powerful, but deep in his soul, the Firesong knows that he now flies to the House of Oblivion to meet his doom. The Firesong counts as a Legion.
Ahriman's Interference: If the die rolls indicate that Ahriman's minions are going to cause additional trouble this time around, then the annual shipment of sun orchid elixir has already been produced and is on its way to another city-state in Thuvia for sale when the PCs arrive. Kirran still grants the PCs the shipment, but they'll have to go retrieve it. They find the caravan just as Ahriman's minions are attempting to take the elixir for themselves (just so they can destroy it).
Taking another bite at this.
Heck with it, I'm switching the title midstream from "The All-Consuming Flame" to "Heart of the Inferno." Hope that doesn't cause confusion.
We're up to the part where PCs are probably 18th level.
Which is to say, recruiting the Elemental Courts of the Genies. Assuming they've been doing pretty well, the PCs should reach 19th level just as they wrap up their recruitment and launch the assault on the House of Oblivion.
Like the nations of Garund, the first question to address is how wide a canvas I want to paint on here. To keep with the "Arabian" flavor, I'm keeping their excursions into the Great Beyond focused on the Elemental Planes (and Abaddon, of course). This limited focus can be somewhat justified by the personal connections the PCs have made up to this point in the PCs; they know a lot of genies, but not many other outsiders.
In case the PCs get ambitious, however, here's a way to steer them back on course.
Recruiting the Upper Planes: The PCs may want to recruit the celestial forces of Elysium, Heaven, and Nirvana. Well, easier said than done. The main problem here is narrative; if the PCs can convince the armies of the Upper Planes to march to their cause, then the PCs themselves become insignificant (and raises the question of why the Legion of Wands didn't pull this trick back when Xotani first emerged).
If the PCs do appeal directly to the powers of the Upper Planes, they quickly discover that the forces of good are kinda busy, what with eternally keeping Abaddon, Hell, and the Abyss at bay. Plus, the PCs themselves had better be pretty squeaky clean to make a good impression.
If the PCs are dogged about it, however, one avenue might prove fruitful: visiting Sarenrae's realm in Nirvana. That imprisoned peri I nebulously mentioned back in "The Oblivion Ember?" Yeah, she's probably acting on Sarenrae's behalf. The PCs shouldn't enter Sarenrae's domain (or actually meet the goddess); they're simply not spiritually ready. But if they really push it, Sarenrae's herald, Sunlord Thalachos, meets them on the shores of the Sea of No Shadows. Thalachos informs the PCs that their plea for aid has not fallen on deaf ears. But the PCs are not mere beggars, asking for alms--they are the mighty heroes Sarenrae has sent to save the world. Who was it that sent the profound vision of fiery destruction to the PC, uniting them after a generation? It was the Dawnflower herself, who sent the vision at the very moment the House of Oblivion opened and the forces of Abaddon started pouring out.
This side-trek should be handled entirely through diplomacy and roleplay; no one's going to attack heroes on a noble quest in Nirvana. If the PCs are persuasive in their arguments, however, Thalachos receives a mental note from his mistress, and then informs the PCs that when the time is right, he will join their armies on the field of battle. The PCs gain +1 Legion without having to cast planar ally before the big fight.
If we're incorporating mythic adventures into this (and it certainly seems appropriate), then perhaps instead of being turned away at the borders of Sarenrae's paradise, persuasive PCs shouldn't just get Thalachos's help and pep talk, but actually be led into the radiant city of High Ninshabur. When they emerge a few days later, they can't really remember anything but an overwhelming sense of awe and forgiveness, but they've each gained a mythic level in the missing time.
If the PCs are still hurting for transportation options, then maybe they could even gain some celestial buraq mounts (on loan from on high).
Ahriman's Interference: The PCs are beyond Abaddon's reach while traveling the Upper Planes. The PCs encounter no fiendish resistance on this mission, but if the die roll indicates that one should have happened, then the divs have been busy elsewhere and the PCs automatically encounter interference on their next gambit.
Recruiting the Lower Planes: We all know that when PCs get their hands on some big-time evil artifact, the suggestion of just chucking it into the sea always comes up. Well, why not just chuck Xotani's Heart into Abaddon, Hell, or the Abyss? Let Xotani have his fun down there, right? Why not let Reapesmoor or fiends like him deal with the mess? And likewise, the fiendish races all despise each other as much as they despise everyone else. Why not toss a few fiendish wrenches into Ahriman and Szuriel's plans?
Bad idea! Ahriman and Szuriel (and more specifically, the two "generals" who concocted the scheme) have been planning this for years, and now that events are in motion, they're playing out very quickly. The lords of Hell and the Abyss don't know anything about it, and Szuriel's even kept the other Horsemen out in the cold. (Partly because Szuriel has a scheme up her sleeve, which I'll get to in a bit.)
If the PCs are crazy enough the lords of the Lower Planes, though:
The Abyss: If the PCs are actually foolish enough to alert the demon lords to Ahriman's plot, then they get what they deserve: The demons are all for the destruction of Garund, and heck, Rovagug's playing for the home team. Several interloping demon hordes suddenly appear at the final battle and jump in, mainly focusing on the PCs' mortal Legions but taking opportunistic shots at the Legions of Abaddon as well. In effect, the addition of the demons adds, say, 1d6-3 to Abaddon's Legions score. Might help, might hurt.
Hell: The razing of northern Garund and the loss of many thousands of lives does not serve Hell's goals, but the Archdevils aren't exactly choked up about it either. The Archdevils decide to just let it all play out and see what happens, but then get in touch with Master Reapesmoor, giving him an alternative route to get in on the action.
Abaddon: Well obvious you can't go to Ahriman or Szuriel for help, but that does leave the other three Horsemen. Szuriel wants to keep the secret of the House of Oblivion's existence a secret, so the PCs are guaranteed to face intense daemonic resistance if they try to recruit Disease, Famine, or Death. Even the most foolish of PCs should instinctively understand that telling more daemons about the House of Abaddon will just add to the daemons pouring out of it.
Okay, but that's all side-mission stuff. The bulk of the PCs' time at 18th level should be occupied with recruiting the Courts of the Genies. There's five routes to pursue here, one for each type of genie. Right off I'll say that I haven't put a lot of thought into the specifics of these mini-missions, but here's the theme that unites them:
The Courts of the Jinn have far greater resources to offer, but (with the possible exception of the Jann), the rebirth of Xotani is Just. Not. Their. Problem.
"Do you truly believe," rumbled the ruler of the City of Brass, "that the Grand Sultan of the Efreet should fear a beast of flame?"
Each Genie Court recruited sends a wondrous show of force, counting as +2 Legions. (With five Genie Courts, that's a potential +10 Legions in total for five missions.) But to get that help, the PCs will need to jump through some enormous hoops. I'd like to place the largest focus on the City of Brass, so I can definitely see my way clear to having the Grand Sultan throw the most troublesome hurdles in their path, but then generously providing a full 3 Legions of aid once he's satisfied. In addition, the Genie Courts don't require time to mobilize. Win over the Grand Sultan tonight, and he can deliver his Legions wherever you like in the morning.
Other problems facing the heroes include that, not unlike the rivalry between Nex and Geb, these genie courts kinda hate each other. Or rather, most of them hate the efreet. An alliance with the djinn will put a damper on forging an alliance with the efreet, and vice versa. Plus, Ahriman's minions continue to interfere.
In dealing with each Court, the PCs start with their known allies and work from there.
The Janni: The janni the PCs really need to be dealing with are the wandering tribes hidden deep within the wastelands of northern Garund. The PCs may have a solid connection to these genies through Nefesti and whatever remains of the Templars. In fact, scouring the jann from the face of Garund is one of Ahriman's primary goals with this whole project, so convincing a few jann tribes to lend their arms shouldn't pose a huge problem. Nefeshti and any NPC templars would fold into these +2 Legions.
The Djinn: The PCs don't have many strong connections to the djinn by the end of "The Final Wish." Obviously, there's Nefeshti of course, but she herself is an exile from her people and thus can't help pull any strings. The PCs' best contact is probably Iavesk, a prisoner the PCs rescued from Bayt al-Batan in "The Impossible Eye" and who may have gone on to serve one of the PCs for a year and a day.
To appeal to the genies of air, the PCs must travel to Armun Kelisk, the djinn capital on the city of air, and once there... well, I haven't figured that out yet. I note that the djinn's ruler, Sultan Zafer XXXVIII likes adding exotic extraplanar beings to his harem. "Sneaking into a harem" is a mission concept I'd like to include somewhere, so maybe this is it--fetch the Sultan some lovely creature and he'll be entertained enough to help out.
The Marids: The PCs' best connection to the marids is, naturally enough, Shazathared herself, assuming the PCs rescued her from Bayt-al-Bazan. At CR 16, Shazathared arguably counts as a Legion all by herself, and so right now I'm thinking that when the PCs successfully appeal to the marids, Shazathared is the sole ally to come to their aid. The second "Legion" the heroes gain here actually comes in the form of the speech Shazathared delivers to the amassed armies on the eve of the battle, painting the night sky with immense, vivid illusions telling the tale of Xotani's emergence and defeat at the hands of the Legion of Wands, as well as the tale of the Pharaoh of Forgotten Plagues; how he built the House of Oblivion 7,000 years ago and brought forth Ahriman and his divs, resulting in the destruction of Jiksta, but also how the Song Pharaoh then defeated his evil predecessor and drove Ahriman back into the pit, not to return for 350 generations of man. Shazathared's presentation is such an awe-inspiring spectacle that the entire army roars with cheers and enjoys a morale boost during the big battle (equating an extra Legion, in effect). Or maybe, more likely, Shazathared turns up with a couple of keepers, grating +2 Legions, and then her rousing "song" provides a third Legion.
Before that can happen, however, the PCs need to get to Shazathared in the first place. After parting ways with the PCs in "The Final Wish," Shazathared returned to her family's palace in the Plane of Water. Fearful that other efreet or capricious marid rivals might steal their princess away for yet another 600 years (my estimate for how long Shazathred spent imprisoned in Bayt-al-Batan), they've basically kept her in ultra-lockdown ever since. It's a far more comfortable and well-meaning prison than the efreeti's palace, to be sure, but her guards will not allow anyone not of her blood to get anywhere near her. Somehow, the PCs will need to maneuver around the shaitans' defenses.
If Ahriman's minions interfere here, it might be to impersonate the PCs, trying to make it seem like they're attempting to abduct the princess for nefarious means. It doesn't fool Shazathared herself, but her house will be out for the PCs' blood.
Shazathared provides the PCs with additional vital help in another way, but I'll return to that later.
The Shaitans: By the end of "The Final Wish," the PCs haven't necessarily made any shaitan allies. If they did, then it was Dilix Mahad, who alternatively has either returned to the Plane of Earth, remains hidden in lost Kakishon, or didn't survive the AP. Even if Dilix is on hand, she in turn doesn't have many connections here in the really-real world. The PCs will basically be starting from scratch with the shaitans, so enlisting even a small force of them will prove difficult.
Since the fate of Kakishon itself is so fluid in the AP, I'm hesitant to pin plot points on its involvement, but I'd certainly like to. (Likewise, I'd like to involve the proteans somehow, but I haven't seen a clear road to that goal. I think my favorite option, if the events of "The End of Eternity" don't rule it out in my game, would be for the PCs to find their way back to Kakishon (now a demiplane somewhere in the Astral Plane) and recruit the shaitans they left behind there, offering them a chance to put the boot to Jhavhul's master plan one last time. A PC who took the "Seeker of Paradise" Legacy boon might see it come into play here, somehow.
The Efreet: As mentioned above, I'd like the PCs adventures in the City of Brass (now free to move around as they wish) to be the centerpiece of this section of the adventure. The leaders of the City of Brass know of the PCs and don't much like them (though a PC who took the "Master of Bayt-al-Bazan" Legacy boon demands a certain level of respect in efreeti politics). Furthermore, they really could not care less if Garund burns to ash, and while Ahriman is certainly an enemy, they can't conceive of Xotani being used as a weapon against them. A burning leviathan in the Plane of Fire? Find a spot for it on the shelf with the others! However, the two primary leaders of the City of Brass, the Grand Sultan Hakim Khalid Suleiman XXIII and the Grand Vizier Abdul-Qawi, have an ancient rivalry going. If the PCs are going to get any help, it'll probably be by worming their way between these two and playing them off each other.
Next time, a few additional events to cover, and then we dive into the final act.
Another update; I'm right up against another period where my attention will be drawn away from gaming for a few months, so let's see if I can't get this all out before I end up leaving the thread hanging till Christmas.
To this point, I've covered the bulk of the adventure, but there's a few more events to cover before I move on to the final acts.
The Abaddon Conspiracy
I've already covered that Ahriman dispatches minions of escalating power to harass the heroes while the latter are recruiting their Legions. If the PCs defeat all of the fiendish interlopers, then they knock a point off the Legions of Abaddon score. But there's a second way this can play to the PCs' benefit...
When I say Ahriman's forces, I mean it -- these teams of don't include any daemons. Szuriel's minions are supposedly all assigned to guarding the House of Oblivion, but in fact, some of them have been quietly keeping tabs on the PCs.
There may come a point when the PCs get over their heads and are in danger of falling to the combined challenges of their actual missions and Ahriman's interlopers. If it does ever look like the PCs are going down, then a group of daemons (perhaps even led by the "general" of Szuriel's forces, a purrodaemon deacon) step in to lend a hand (by wiping out the divs, perhaps taking them alive just to drag them back to Abaddon and there silence them forever). With what amounts to a wink, the daemons' leader tells the PCs to "keep up the good work" before the force withdraws, leaving the PCs bruised, but alive and free of interference. If the PCs aren't ever seriously endangered by the divs, then the daemons pop in to stop the final, most powerful group of Ahriman's forces.
The general consensus is that Ahriman and Szuriel have pooled their resources and gone all in on this deal because they share a common cause: a lust for widespread death and destruction. Certainly, Ahriman's divs think they and the daemons are (however briefly) united by their cause. But in fact, the divs and daemons don't share the exact same goals.
What Ahriman wants to achieve with Xotani's rebirth is pure destruction: the razing of as much of Garund as possible and the extermination of Garund's resident genies. All Ahriman wants out of life is the peaceful oblivion that will follow the destruction of all creation, and the spawn of the Rough Beast is begging to be used toward that end.
Szuriel's goals, however, are a little more nuanced. Yes, the countless deaths Xotani will cause will doubtless feed souls into Abaddon, but what Szuriel really wants to revive is not Xotani but the Legion of Wands. As thousands of mortal souls line up to assault the House of Oblivion, Szuriel and her minions are practically drooling at the feast being laid out before them. And once Xotani is reborn, thousands more souls will pour into the Horseman of War's clutches as nations frantically assemble all the defenses they can. In addition, Szuriel covets the House of Oblivion for her own armies, who now stand ready just beyond the edges of Ahriman's realm, ready to sweep in and assail the godling's weakened forces after the battle.
If the heroes can shatter the tenuous alliance between the divs and the daemons (and a prime opportunity will arise during the final assault), the the Legions of Abaddon score instantly drops (some significant amount; several points at least) as word of the betrayal telepathically spreads like wildfire, the fiends turn on each other, and divs flee back into Abaddon and off to the edges of Ahriman's realm to brace against Szuriel's assault.
While the PCs are racing around Garund and the Elemental Planes assembling their army, they'll simultaneously need to figure out exactly what they plan to do with Xotani's Heart once they pry it free of Ahriman's clutches. At 18th level, discovering the secret--that the Heart must be drowned in the deepest, coldest depths of the Plane of Water--is probably no more difficult than casting a divination spell. Legend lore could do the trick, and that could have been in the PCs' repertoire as far back as "The Impossible Eye." However, if by some means the PCs remain oblivious, then they can do research in any of the cities, but a straight-up Knowledge (arcana) check should probably have to be in the ballpark of DC 50 at least.
Shazathared is an invaluable piece of the puzzle here; not only can she simply tell stumped PCs what needs to be done with the heart, she's also a link to the Plane of Water. After all, ultimately, the plan boils down to saving the PCs' home by dumping the Heart in Shazathared's home. And while the PCs might rightfully argue that the Plane of Water is unthinkably vast in comparison, that doesn't mean that it's uninhabited. The Heart's death throes will instantly boil everything within a 100-mile radius. Even in the frozen depths, that means that without warning, many creatures might die, and the region will most likely never be the same.
But really, figuring out what to do with Xotani's Heart is not the problem--it's getting it done. The Heart is native to the Material Plane, so spells like dimimssal and banishment are no use. Retaining a spark of malignant life, it's a creature, not an object; its default state is "unwilling" and it retains Xotani's immunities and SR 30. And lastly, it's flipping big and constantly seeping lava. Gate might be the best bet, and even then someone has to roll it through the portal. But now the assault on Xotani's Heart offer another possibility: The plane-hopping Sunset Ship. If the PCs can somehow load the Heart into the ship's hold (once Ahriman's multiple magical protections are severed), they can sail the Heart straight into the Plane of Water. If the PCs don't come up with the plan themselves, one of their allies eventually suggests it.
If, for whatever reason, the PCs need a boost to keep up with the adventure, a few problems might arise while the Legions of Garund are amassing in Thuvia. GMs can toss these in for some extra XP.
The Camp Followers: A group of disguised pairakas have infiltrated the troops as harmless "camp followers." Avoiding the powerful individuals, they're preying on the common soldiers, seeding diseases and dissent. Once the PCs step in, they can probably mop up the situation pretty quickly, but otherwise, the pairakas' efforts sap the armies' will to fight, costing the heroes to the tune of -1 Legion.
Burn them All, and Let Dahak Sort Them Out: From the cauldron of Pyre Crest, the efreet who dwell within the volcano have watched one army after another march westard past their mountain. Sensing the presence of genies and drawn by curiosity, they decide to investigate and, perhaps, have a bit of fun by challenging any genies they encounter. If the PCs do not stop the raid, they may lose a Legion; but if they can convince the efreet to join forces, they could gain one.
And with that, we're now truly up to the final assault. The PCs should reach 19th level on the cusp of the battle.
If nothing else, this thread's allowing me to think out loud and evaluate some of my prior decisions. Looking back on what I've written so far, were this in any way intended for publication I now think I'd split it into three adventures rather than two, with the first two encapsulating everything I've covered to this point.
Here's my new internal approach to the Legacy of Fire epilog.
Legacy of Fire, Chapter Seven: The Inferno's Spark
For characters of 15th-16th level.
The PCs are united by an omen of Xotani's rebirth, delve into a prison of the damned to tie up loose ends, and face a massive incursion by the united forces of Ahriman and Szuriel, culminating in a showdown at Xotani's Grave.
Legacy of Fire, Chapter Eight: The Damnation Crusade
For characters of 17th-18th level.
With Xotani's remains now crawling back to life and its heart protected by a nihilistic demigod, the PCs quickly trace the incursion back to the House of Oblivion in Thuvia. Unable to surmount the massive army of fiends assembled there, the PCs race around northern Garund and the Elemental Planes to gather legions to fight by their side before time runs out.
Legacy of Fire, Chapter Nine: Heart of Oblivion
For characters of 19th-20th level.
While armies clash for the fate of Garund, the PCs delve into the House of Oblivion to shatter the fiendish alliance and seek out and stop Ahriman, Lord of the Divs. With the godling's protections now lifted, the PCs race back to Xotani's Grave even as Xotani's heart pumps back to life, melting its way into the deadly Wormhollows. Defeating the last, frenzied remnants of the Carrion Tribes, the PCs finally reclaim the Heart of Xotani and race it to the Plane of Water to drown it forever.
Home stretch: Legacy of Fire, Chapter Nine: Heart of Oblivion
The PCs should have just reached 19th level as the adventure begins. They'll most likely also have a few mythic tiers under their belt as well. And it's a good thing--they'll be up against some truly epic opposition.
At the start of Heart of Oblivion, the PCs have spent weeks (perhaps even several months) racing around northeastern Garund and the Great Beyond, recruiting an army to join them in an assault on the House of Oblivion in Thuvia. I've already covered how exactly that battle will play out, though I haven't worked out the specific numbers. The PCs' level of success in The Inferno's Spark (and now I've decided I don't like that title, and am switching to Spark of Destruction -- see what I mean about hating coming up with titles?) determines in some fashion how much time they have to spend recruiting allies in The Damnation Crusade, and the legions they assembled there determine the opposition they'll face in the House of Oblivion.
As the PCs went about their business last adventure, they hit certain benchmarks (used up half their time, used up three-quarters of their time, etc.) that would indicate that Xotani's Heart is indeed pumping back to life. Eventually, the Heart starts beating and all evidence indicates that it's a matter of days before Xotani revives. If the PCs are still recruiting allies, their time is up; otherwise, the Heart starts beating as soon as the PCs "max out" their legions, transitioning them into the final push.
Part One: The Eve of War
Heart of Oblivion opens the night before the final assault on the House of Oblivion. The PCs meet with the leaders of their various legions to draw out a battle plan. The specifics don't need to be very detailed, since the battle will be playing out off-stage, but if the players are interested in a Kingmaker-style mass combat, that's fine.
But really, what the PCs' Legions score determines is this:
If the PCs' Legion score is less than Abaddon's Legion score, then the PCs' armies are outmatched and will eventually be overwhelmed by the gathered divs and daemons. The PCs face full opposition within the House of Oblivion, and when they finally reach Ahriman, the battle outside only buys them a matter of rounds before reinforcements come pouring in.
If the PCs' Legion score equals Abaddon's Legion score, then the battle becomes a Pyrrhic victory; most of the PCs' allies will die, and the forces within the House of Oblivion are unchanged, but the battle keeps the forces of Abaddon busy indefinitely; once they reach him, the PCs can fight Ahriman to the finish without interruption.
In a best case scenario, the PCs should be able to beat Abaddon's Legion score by, let's say, 4 points. For each "extra" point the PCs earn, Ahriman is forced to divert the House's internal defenders to the battlefield, removing them from the encounters the PCs will face. If the PCs completely max out their Legion score, then the House of Oblivion is nearly deserted, and the PCs can reach Ahriman without having to fight their way through waves of minions first.
This brings me back to the tactical briefing on the eve of battle. If the PCs don't think of it themselves, then their many advisors should point out that once the battle is joined, the forces of Abaddon will know that the PCs are the single greatest threat to their plans and will crawl over each other to take them out. The PCs' real target sits at the heart of the House of Oblivion--but there are two paths that lead to that grim chamber. While the Legions of Garund fight on the sands of Thuvia to draw out the House's defenders, the PCs could enter the House from Abaddon. Few of the PCs' allies are capable of following them into the Lower Planes, so doubtless most of Ahriman's defenses are arrayed here on the Material Plane. If the PCs brave the "back door," they might slip past Ahriman's forces entirely. The PCs receive full XP for fiends "diverted" from their path in this manner as though they had defeated the fiends in combat.
However the PCs coordinate with their armies, they should shift to Abaddon and enter the House of Oblivion just as the battle is joined.
Part Two: The House of Oblivion
Ahriman's Realm and the House of Oblivion: We don't have much existing information to work with on these location. As far as I know, all that's been said is that the House of Oblivion was built about 7,000 years ago by a pharaoh of ancient Osirion. It's hundreds of feet tall and pure black, reflecting no light. It emits a constant, unnerving drone, audible from miles away.
Ahriman's realm is a barren place of lifeless deserts separated jagged mountain ranges, like black veins weaving across ashen skin. Haunting mirages conceal, salty, poisonous oases, where ghawwas and ghuls lurk. The desolate realm is littered with ruined monuments dragged here from the many worlds of the Material Plane, then defiled and carved into new structures befitting the divs' purposes. (The toppled fortress prison the PCs infiltrated in Spark of Destruction was one such wonder laid low.) On a smaller scale, the land is dotted with the remains of countless twisted wishes--monuments to the folly of mankind and the weakness of genies. The skies above are a constant swirl of angry, tortured clouds. There are few petitioners to be found here; divs rise not from the souls of mortals but from the corrupted spirits of dishonorable genies.
Ahriman's temple-palace sits atop a mountain at the very heart of the domain, looking out over the desolation. The House of Oblivion rises nearby, an impossible structure.
Along with Abaddon's usual planar traits (divinely morphic, strongly evil-aligned, enhanced evil magic, impeded good magic), Ahriman has imposed a few rules on his realm as well. Spells like wish, limited wish, and miracle deliver what is requested, but inevitably in a twisted, rueful form. Ahriman's realm is also steeped in achistem manah or "worst thinking." Targets of charms and enchantments gain none of the usual benefits if ordered to act against their own best interests.
As for the House of Oblivion, I picture it as a towering black obelisk, with several wings sprawling out from its base. In Abaddon, its surface is dotted with the bulging, wasp-like nests of countless divs. The first time the PCs laid eyes on the House of Oblivion in Thuvia, is was mostly clear of these nests; by the time of the battle it's grown an infestation to rival its mirror in Abaddon.
The House of Oblivion actually floats high in the air, held in place against the otherwise normal gravity by Ahriman's desire. Abaddon's House of Oblivion is a literal reflection of that built by the Pharaoh of Forgotten Plagues in Thuvia; I imagine both structures as using the same layout maps, but the House in Abaddon has been flipped upside down. I don't imagine there being an actual portal located within the House. Instead, the entire House is the portal. As soon as you enter the House, you are partially in Abaddon, partially on the Material Plane. Spell effects dependent on your planar location start to fail, and it's impossible to teleport or plane shift into the structure, because the interior isn't entirely on one plane or the other; in a way, it doesn't exist as a fixed location. You can, however, teleport or plane shift out, and you can conjure creatures to your location. At the very heart of the House of Oblivion lies a vast, barren chamber, surrounded by impossible architecture. Within this chamber, one is both in Abaddon and on the Material Plane, and if one reaches this chamber, then retraces their steps, they emerge back out of the House at the other end of the "portal." If they entered in Abaddon, they emerge in the Material Plane. Gravity is also inconstant, sometimes reversing as one moves from one chamber to the next.
Or something like that.
Ahriman, of course, is currently squatting in this planar nexus, surrounded by his unholy servants, who are feeding him a constant stream of sacrifices and souls to maintain his strength while he protects Xotanti's Heart. (These minions may or may not be gone when the PCs arrive, depending on the PCs' Legion score.)
The House of Oblivion is lightly occupied at the moment, with the bulk of Ahriman's forces gathered out on the plains of Thuvia. In total, there should be enough divs, daemons, and damned creatures born of twisted wishes so that the climactic showdown with Ahriman gets the PCs to 20th level. While the PCs can clear out most of the House's occupants with enough Legion points, a few encounters still await. Countless lesser divs (mainly dorus and aghashes) lurk in nooks and crannies, in shadows along the ceilings, but they fearfully shy away from the PCs' approach. Mopping up these lesser fiends just drains the PCs resources; the divs won't attack under any circumstances, and try to flee if attacked.
One encounter waiting for the PCs isn't such a pushover, however. As soon as the PCs enter the House of the Beast, finding themselves within a huge antechamber, the two "generals" of these fiendish armies--the true masterminds behind this plan--emerge to block their path. The leader of the divs is an akvan (CR 20), probably even an akvan prince (CR 22). Let's call him Mudymmir of the Unbalanced Soul; it was his plan to use Xotani to wipe out the jann of Garund, whom he particularly despises. His daemon counterpart is a purrodaemon (DC 18), perhaps even a purrodaemon fighter 4 (DC 22), a deacon of Szuriel. Don't have a name for him yet, so let's just call him the Daemon Amir, Servant of War.
These two generals are Ahriman's last line of defense, and they are intent on stopping the PCs at all costs. Combined, they're a CR 24 encounter, which isn't necessarily deadly for 19th-level PCs with a few mythic tiers, but it will definitely be a severe drain on their resources going into a major fight against Ahriman. If the PCs have convinced any genie allies to accompany them into Abaddon, Mudymmir of the Unbalanced Soul focuses entirely on their destruction at first. There's a tactical reason for this--any genies he kills rise a few rounds later as ghuls--but more than that, he's psychologically compelled to do so, even knowing that the PCs are the real problem.
The PCs may have an ace up their sleeve, however. During their exploits in The Damnation Crusade, the PCs may have learned that Szuriel's daemons are planning to turn on Ahriman's forces. Not immediately, of course, but the daemons' desire for war without end will both spread the destruction and potentially stymie Ahriman's goal of exterminating Garund's genies. If the PCs are aware of this and have any kind of evidence to back it up (Szuriel's forces are indeed massing on the borders of Ahriman's realm), then it proves surprisingly easy to turn the generals against each other. Treachery is in their nature, after all; even without evidence they've been wondering not if their partner would pull a fast one, but when and how. With Ahriman's realm promoting "worst thinking" at every turn, the generals can hardly stop themselves from immediately turning on each other. They also telepathically call out to their reinforcements, causing discovery of the betrayal to spread through both armies on both planes like wildfire. In Thuvia, the divs turn on their daemon "allies," then many of them flee the battlefield, streaming through the House of the Beast and out into the wastes of Abaddon to defend Ahriman's realm, knocking a leg out from the Legions of Abaddon (and giving the PCs one last chance to improve their odds). The PCs can simply step back into the shadows, let the retreating army rush past, and watch as Mudymmir and the Daemon Amir tear each other apart. After mopping up the winner, the PCs can move on to Ahriman. And the good news is that this close to the entrance, the two generals have been slain on their home plane and are gone forever, their alliance dying with them.
From here the PCs move on to the heart of the House of Oblivion and Ahriman himself. He's statted out in Pathfinder Adventures #24, and I did a Pathfinder conversion in my other big thread. According to that write-up, he's a CR 22 foe. He should definitely be a mythic opponent, however, particularly here and now. All Ahriman needs to do to maintain his connection to Xotani is to remain on the Material Plane, which at the moment means remaining in this chamber. He knows the PCs are coming and fights to the death, holding nothing back. During the battle, Ahriman also rails at the PCs to break their will:
"I am Oblivion! I am the Antithesis of Creation! All that is, I am not! I that was, I never will be! I am the Silence that Was and awaits at the end of all things! You cannot defeat that which has never existed, and never will! All that you are, all that you have built, returns to my Nothingness in time!"
The PCs are, of course, invited to go full nova on the nihilist. When Ahriman is destroyed, he seems to be consumed by his own bottomless maw, dissolving as his gullet disgorges the writhing, shadowy evils of countless ages (which, fortunately for the PCs, simply dissolve into the wastes of Abaddon). Of more immediate import to the PCs, Ahriman's link to Xotani has now been broken. Unfortunately, so has his will, which is the only thing keeping the House of Oblivion in the sky. It starts to sink, then plummets, giving the PCs only a few rounds to escape before it crashes to the ground. Whether or not the House of Oblivion has been permanently destroyed, I cannot say, but as it shudders into the rocks and cracks under its own weight, its planar connection to its reflection in Thuvia is shattered. The House of Oblivion on the Material Plane suddenly cracks, and the maddening drone dies out. Whatever fiendish forces are still on the battlefield instantly know that their cause is lost and scatter in all directions, by whatever means they can.
The survivors of the PCs' legions throw up a massive cheer, particularly if the PCs emerge from the House of the Beast (or plane shift) to join them.
After the PCs defeat Ahriman and his forces, they should be 20th level. Defeating the Abaddon Gambit is definitely worth a mythic tier as well.
But the world isn't saved just yet; Xotani's Heart is crawling to life even now. (By my count, Xotani is a CR 27 encounter, and probably should be mythic as well.) Without Ahriman's protection, however, all the PCs have to do is load the Heart into the Sunset Ship's hold and sail it into the icy heart of the Plane of Water. However, the beating Heart is spewing lava at a furious rate. This will be the final voyage of the Sunset Ship, since the journey will flood the vessel with lava and eventually destroy it--even if Xotani doesn't burst fully grown from its hold.
However, one last, unseen obstacle remains.
Part Three: Heart of the Mountain
It's been more than twenty years since the PCs slew the Carrion King and smashed his Carrion Tribes. Since then, the various packs united under his banner have dissolved and reformed, rearranging themselves with the passing of at least two generations of gnoll leadership. Some turned back to Lamashtu, while others dashed themselves against the rocks of Kelmarane's defenders or the PCs themselves. Today, only one major pack from the Carrion Tribes survives in a recognizable form: the secretive, devious Wormhollow. When the Carrion King's other minions fled or swore vengeance, the ashen-furred Wormhollow, as a group, simply retreated from view, holding their deadly fastness within the Wormhollows and melting away whenever the PCs came near.
The Wormhollows are a vast network of caves in the bowels of Pale Mountain, said to be crawling with gnolls, lined with traps, and as deadly to invaders as White Canyon. According to outside legend, the Wormhollows are bottomless, winding down into the Darklands. All of this is true. The Wormhollows are also located roughly 2,000 feet directly beneath Xotani's Grave, and this is not a coincidence.
When the Legion of Wands destroyed Xotani so long ago, its body dissolved into lava and sank into the earth, forming Pale Mountain around itself like a rocky cyst. In the heart of the mountain, Xotani's remains continued to seep a constant trickle of lava, which ate away at the softer rock around it, eventually forming the volcanic caves now known as Xotani's Grave. For centuries, Xotani's Grave was completely flooded with magma, but as the Heart continued to bleed, the magma slowly melted away veins of weaker stone. One such vein eventually formed the Mountain's Maw, which was also completely flooded with lava for a time. Another vein, however, gradually ate its way down, down, down, until it hit a large network of weaker stone. Dissolving this stone, the magma created the Wormhollows, flooding them and partially draining Xotani's Grave and the Mountain's Maw. Eventually, the magma again ate its way down, eventually opening into a fissure into the Darklands. The Wormhollows drained out, forming an extensive new volcanic cave system, and was eventually discovered and claimed by monstrous beasts drawn to Rovagug's power and, eventually, gnolls.
Lava still pours from the roof of the Wormhollows in several locations, then flows through natural channels before emptying into the Darklands. The Wormhollow gnolls learned to incorporate these lava channels into their defenses, a development that gradually led the pack to become notoriously clever and devious. While they were late to convert to Rovagug, they always knew that some great source of flame lay buried in the mountain above them. When they eventually learned that this source of heat and death was a Spawn of Rovagug, they turned to worship of the Rough Beast.
Xotani's blood has poured through the home of these cultists for generations, and when the Heart started to crawl back to life following the Abaddon incursion, the power of the Rough Beast began to seep into the gnoll's minds and bodies. Twisted beasts have been drawn to the mountain like moths to the flame, and the Wormhollow's shamans have started to... change. They now eagerly await the rebirth of Xotani, and welcome the cleansing flames.
Just as the PCs return to Pale Mountain (still unable to teleport directly into Xotani's Grave), the Heart enters the final stage of its rebirth. It now spews lava at a furious rate, completely flooding Xotani's Grave with lava. Shortly thereafter, the Mountain's Maw and the Pit of Screaming Ghosts follow suit. The PCs may be driven to despair; it may seem that for all they've done, it's too late--the Heart lies in an expanding sea of lava, and is currently eating its way into the earth. Is there no way to reach the Heart before Xotani is reborn?
Well, there is. As the Heart devours the House of the Beast and the mountain's core, Jhavhul's ancient magical protections fail, allowing unobstructed planar travel and scrying within the mountain. Divination spells may reveal a way to intercept the Heart, as might existing knowledge about Pale Mountain. Ethereal characters can safely observe the Heart up close, and if they race ahead of the Heart's downward trajectory, they emerge in the largest, central cavern of the Wormhollows, where deranged gnoll cultists are gathered in frenzied prayer. The PCs don't have much time, but if they place the Sunset Ship in the Wormhollows, directly beneath the Heart, then when the Heart eats its way through the cavern roof it will fall straight into the cargo hold and away they go. (Of course, the Heart will also bring a deluge of lava with it, so you don't want to be standing on deck at that moment.)
Doing so, the PCs now simply have to fight off the frenzied Wormhollow gnolls. Their leader, who is essentially possessed by the raw destructive power of Rovagug, is not just high-level but also loaded up with mythic tiers. He and his followers have been driven mad, and launch themselves at the heroes not so much to protect the heart as to simply unleash their boundless fury. This gnoll certainly isn't a match for Ahriman for raw power, but with Rovagug's blessing, his monstrous minions, and maybe even a shrieking, panicked pugwampi chained to his back he might just give the PCs a few headaches. More problematic for the PCs is the environment itself; the Wormhollow cavern is a multi-level hollow that starts out with one or two cascades of lava pouring from its ceiling. As the battle progresses (and the Heart approaches), additional cascades of lava burn through the ceiling, pouring down onto random areas without concern for the combatants below.
But really this fight is just a chance for the PCs to flex their capstone muscles and stick it to the Carrion Tribes one last time. The Heart drops into the ship as planned, and the PCs sail away into the Dimension of Dreams. Moments later, the sea of lava following the Heart bursts through, flooding the Wormhollows and immolating everything in its path before, finally, seeping away into the Darklands. The evil at the heart of Pale Mountain is dead, the taint of Rovagug having burnt itself out at last.
Part Four: Drown the Fire
The PCs have now defeated the last of their epic foes. All they have to do now is guide the Sunset Ship through the Dimension of Dreams for a few hours and make sure they deliver their payload to the Plane of Water. The Heart is not yet truly alive, but it still isn't going to allow the final voyage of the Sunset Ship to be a pleasant one. It immediately floods the below-decks compartments of the ship with lava, then starts eating its way through the magical hull, with streams of lava draining away into the swirling darkness of dreams. The Heart's beating now feels more like a beast thrashing away at its cage, as if it knows what's coming and is trying to escape. The Ship's pilot finds it increasingly difficult to maintain their course, and finally, just before completing the journey, the entire ship jerks violently to one side. It no longer feels like the Heart is thrashing around; it is. Xotani is reforming here and now, and it's a matter of moments before it bursts free of the ship.
(There's an additional wrinkle; if Master Reapesmoor allied with the PCs and stuck with them this far, he now turns on them, expecting them to now be exhausted from their endeavors. His goal is to wrest control of the ship and steer it to Caina, delivering Xotani-on-ice to the lords of Hell to regain their good graces.)
With the ship out of control, it bursts back out of the Dimension of Dreams and into the Great Beyond. But it's off target; it hasn't yet reached the icy heart of the Plane of Water. Instead, it's still in the Plane of Air, at least 100 miles above the icy surface of the boundless sea below. At this point, no matter what, Xotani is doomed. Whether it bursts free first or not, Xotani and the Sunset Ship smash into the surface of the Plane of Water, its demise waiting for it hundreds of miles below. The question is whether the PCs are doomed; it's definitely time to abandon ship! The PCs should bug out just as Xotani starts to reform. Completely engulfed in flame, the Sunset Ship plummets into the sea, erupting into a pyroclastic explosion that instantly boils everything within 100 miles of ground zero. Within the steam and flames, the PCs can see Xotani writhing and reborn, struggling to escape. If the PCs feel like they want to take Xotani on, have at it; they can probably take it at this point. But they can also just sit back and watch. Wherever Xotani turns, the ice cracks and bursts into steam, disintegrating beneath the Spawn. Clawing madly, snapping at the air, and spewing flames, Xotani's attempts to escape the ice merely hastens its destruction as it melts its own grave into the heart of the sea. As it passes, the steam cools back into water and the icy walls surrounding it crack under their own weight, sending cascades of icy water pouring down on the dying Spawn. As the Plane of Water collapses onto it, the wailing Spawn is extinguished, forever.
(If a PC wants to guide the falling ship to its target, opting for a noble death--again, go for it.)
Concluding the Campaign
The heroes have raised an army the likes of which have not seen since the height of ancient Osirion. They've defeated the combined forces of Ahriman and War. They've personally destroyed a Spawn of Rovagug.
And they've saved Kelmarane.
No matter what the heroes' final fate might be, the people of Garund will never forget them, and the Courts of Jinn will sing odes to their glory for a thousand and one generations.
As for the others:
The nations of northeastern Garund have been united in a common cause, if only for a single day. Ancient foes may have fought back-to-back. Perhaps a new era of harmony awaits. Perhaps, as the divs would insist, mankind will find away to erode even the greatest glories.
As for Ahriman, none can say if he has truly been destroyed. Sages could spend decades arguing the finer points of his ties to Abaddon within the House of Oblivion. Was he on his home plane, or was he not? If not, then he will someday reform, but that day will not come for many generations. It took Ahriman 7,000 years to return to Thuvia after the first time he was driven back; let us hope it takes him that long to return again. But even if Ahriman was truly slain, some sages argue that as the Antithesis of Creation, Ahriman can no more be destroyed than Creation itself, for if one exists, so must its shadow. Someday, long, long from now, he will reform from the void, for what is death to that which has never existed, and never will? But perhaps he is in a place of oblivion now, and will find it to his liking.
In Ahriman's absence, his divs are left rudderless for generations, cut off from Thuvia by the loss of the House of Oblivion and distracted by the need to defend their realm from daemons who sense their weakness.
As for Szuriel, she withdraws from the battlefield, her belly full from the repast, but saddened to have lost the House of Oblivion as her prize. She has lost the battle, but War never ends.
And as for Rovagug? Poor Rovagug. Someone should tell him about all of this some day.
And done! So, eh, what do you think?
|DM Dan E|
Sorry for all the typos and mental lapses by the way; this is definitely rough first draft material. Hopefully folks can suss out my meaning when I occasionally refer to marids as shaitans and the like.