The Slumbering Tsar - Starting, DM Set up, Questions, and Advice

Advice and Rules Questions

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Yes, Janirov is a cr 20. Rakshasa are super brutal.

My players

XP totals:

XP Totals

Liz +18930 = 246,700/315k Level 12
Jody +18130 = 239,050/315k Level 12
LEVEL! Ryan +18930 = 225,245/315k Level 21
Hinkel +18130 = 211,475/220k Level 11
James +18130 = 205,050/220k Level 11
Brittney +18930 = 196,550/220k Level 11
Trevor +2930 +7740 165,670/220,000 Level 11
George +7740
Mike +7740
Travis +7740

My Notes: Trevor, George, Mike, and Travis have some bonus xp from a few games ago when we had a ton of players. I'm just applying it to their next permanent character. Still doing that thing where when the highest level player is two levels above the rest, all the lowest get bumped up to next level.

As far as XP for Janirov, yeah there's a huge difference, but I went ahead and awarded the XP listed in the book. I'm wondering if they did that because he's by himself. If he's truly a cr20, I'm wondering if I did something wrong since my party was mostly level 11 and they were engaged in another combat at the time. Thoughts?

@James. I think it is one of the scenarios where a Bestiary monster gets associated class skills and their CR shoots through the roof, but they're obviously not as insane as a straight up CR20 critter in the book.

Sounds like in truth, though, your party would have been killed outright if not for a lucky crit by the pally. It sometimes happens.

Edit: I'm at work, so I can't verify the associated/non-associated class rules with the Rakshasa's CR, but I think you get the gist.

I'd say he's probably not much harder than Malerix, exempting the environments of the combats.

I was expecting the party to wipe, so I was trying to make the fight fairly cinematic with all the gore and taunting. The paly that did the critical is built to do those kinds of hits regularly, which I would expect from a fighter too. I did have one player mention to me about his high ac (32+) being justified, but they are in well over their heads. I try to talk to my players about not trying to break the system especially AC, because it can be done. As a part of combat design, single monsters in combat are probably going to "tag" them every time just to balance out the economy of actions. It would seem a little silly when its 1 against 6 for the 1 enemy to never be able to affect the six characters trouncing them.

I will say I'm still gripping about the Smite ignoring all damage reduction, but I'm not going to custom rule anything like that. I had a conversation the other day about how I miss players having to aquire vorpal swords or swords of sharpness, gave them a purpose and made it feel less math gamey. I think smite would have been better served by saying it ignores 1/2 Character level DR rounded down or something like that.

end rant.

2 Points.

In all honesty, the CR system is not an exact science as some make it out to be. I think your situation with Jarinov is the perfect example of this. In my games, I adjust XP rewards accordingly up or down depending on how much the characters are pushed to their limits (or lack thereof).

Secondly, I also do not like that Paladin smites bypass all DR. In my GMing experience, DR is the only thing that keeps big bads up against insane melee damage (even if its a proverbial drop in the bucket, it helps). It is just as important as SR is against casters, maybe more so, since with magic you still get a save in a lot of cases.

The game has gotten more numbers driven, to the point of being frustrating at times. But, I gotta say, its the price to pay to have the best system I've seen yet. (Speaking from starting with AD&D 2nd edition in the 90's.)

I will say I love Pathfinder, it does what it needs to do. Sorry to derail the topic. Hope we see some other campaign updates and questions soon.

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That was nasty on the teleport and the wish! Good job! I don't want to get into edition wars, but did try S&W a few weeks ago and love the simplicity. I will be starting one campaign on it in a week or so. Most will stay Pathfinder.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

Session 5 Summary
The cast: human cleric of Gorum, human alchemist/master chymist, half orc barbarian, half elf ranger/rogue, human sorcerer, human zen archer monk, aasimar paladin (Argos - NPC)

The Ravenous Sleepers

After establishing an alliance with Argos, the party (with Argos's help) found the crypt where his knights "slept". Since I knew the party would make short work of these guys, I improvised some dialogue to give the encounter more context. The rogue opened the secret door and proceeded into the chamber followed by Argos. Torchlight filtered into the dusty crypt from their companions behind them, while the rank stench of rot welcomed them hither. Slumped in the far corner, nested in shadows but not hidden from view, is a gaunt human figure that slowly stirs upon being disturbed. Pure white pinholes pierce the gloom from his sunken eye sockets and with a sepulchural voice he addresses his guests.

"Why does the living despoil my tomb with its foul taint?"

(Surprisingly, both Argos and the rogue failed on their Perception checks to notice the rest of the hidden ghasts.)

"We have come to liberate you from your slumber" the rogue replied wearily, "we have brought your leader..Sir Argos. What is your name?"

"I was Bartholomew the Bold and your arrival is too little too late, Argos. You and your god have foresaken us, we are commanded by another now."

Argos speaks: "We were all foresaken by chance. You are not beyond redemption, Bartholomew. Repent now and Mitra shall forgive you."

"Mitra be damned!" Bartholomew spits, "Do you know what true damnation is, Argos? It is not eternal suffering. It is the endless yearning for the master, hearing his call but powerless to heed it. We need him as the living needs air to breathe, yet he is always just beyond our reach. But no longer, for you have indeed liberated us so we can go forth and do the master's feasting on your flesh!"

A pall of sickly yellow erupts in the chamber as the ghasts emerge from the shadows to attack. Several party members are beset by the stench of corruption as the pack mobs Argos and the rogue, but their advantage of surprise is short-lived. Between the paladin's smite and the cleric's channel energy the ghasts are soon destroyed.

After consecrating the bodies, the party moved on to the brood pit. Skeribar and her partner have agreed to guide the party there but strongly suggest finding refuge at the "Garden of Respite" afterwards. The party agrees, although most of them know something is up from Sense Motive checks. There are a few encounters along the way: another group of vargouilles which are quickly dispatched and a lone wandering ghoul that the party laughed at and ignored.

The Brood Mother's Pit

I love spider bosses and never pass an opportunity to throw one at my players, but I had issues with this encounter. Ashborne arachne are pretty cool I guess, but the brood mother's abilities are uninteresting. Combat-wise, she is just a big spider with a lot of hit points and extremely good senses, but with the same old attack routine (poison bite, forelegs, or web). Given her high AC, I anticipate this would become a slogfest. We've been there, done that. So I switched her for a bebelith with a few extra abilities: an acid web attack that functions like acid arrow and the eye rays of a retriever (sans flesh to stone.) I added some additional dwarf lore to foreshadow Kroma and the end result was a lot more interesting and fun fight for my group, which they managed to defeat without any casualties (but some very close calls.)

The Reclaimers

It took a day of travel to reach the Reclaimers grove (I'm using one mile per square, half speed off the road). Because they were with Skeribar, the party was greeted cordially by the aloof druids. They set up camp and enjoyed the rest, although still very aware this could be a trap. At one point the barbarian PC expressed curiosity of Niva's animal companion, so she invited the barbarian to her hut later to meet Deathmane personally. When he went to visit, he walked into a carefully laid snare spell and the trap was sprung. We ended the session here, with the party being alerted by the barbarian shouting for help.

Our next session is this Wednesday and I have a few concerns. This is going to be a pretty deadly encounter, which I'm fine with, but I want to make sure its fair and square. Here are my dilemmas:

1 - Can the druids use their woodland stride ability to move through the hedge row? It says the hedge row is semi sentient and functions like an entangle spell, but doesn't clarify if it is magically altered terrain.

2 - Given the quickwoods remote sense ability and their 60 ft. reach with roots, I can see no reason why some of them wont attack the PCs. Is there something I'm missing here? It may be a bit overkill, but as I said this is a dangerous encounter so I will use everything at the Reclaimers' disposal.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

1- I would say the druids of the grove can pass through them w/o issue.

2- Yes, I would have them attack the PC's if they get too close!

Argos' Tomb - Loved the change, I look back at a missed opportunity to drop some extra history and flavor. Great job! For my group it was a surprise and a swing fest.

Brood Mother - Yeah she's a combat beast, if it adds some variety to the game and keeps the players guessing its a good change. My players pokemonned her to death with summons.

The Druids - Offhandedly, I'd say the druids have no problem moving through the hedgerow. Even if their woodland stride wouldn't get through, since its alive it would probably move out of their way anyways. I'd try to work in a scene with the capured npc sorceress getting sacrificed for help, maybe they make it in time, maybe not. Depends how vicious you want to be with your players. Might be a bit more cinematic than just rescuing her from a pit.

Overall, this reminds me of when I ran a short Rappan Athuk game. Straight out of the book its just a deadly dungeon (a beautifully crafted one), its all those quirks and little DM spices that make the game really shine.

@brvheart - I was a little worried I let them off too easily on the Teleport/Dweller thing, but since it was unintentional and somewhat forced I decided it should be a lesser evil rather than the full blown wish twisting. I still wish my players would go and make a genuine wish for the "weapon to slay Orcus".

In the future, I'm hoping to have the opportunity to run a regular campaign and use the area of Rappan Athuk as a backdrop. Turns it into a make your own adventure.

So I got this bad boy as part of my Barakus Kickstarter and have begun reading this behemoth. Yah for being slow at work! Other than going home with eye-strain headaches, I've loved every second of it.

Of course as every DM should, I've been turning over in my mind how to tie this in with LCoB. Since that adventure takes the PC's to level 6ish, I thought it would be the perfect prelude.

So far this is what I've been thinking:

LCoB spoilers:
The big bad of the adventure, Devron the Lich, was originally a mage that served in the army of light that sought to eradicate Tsar. Seeing a seed of darkness in Devron's heart, Orcus revealed to him a vision of the fate that awaited the army in the forest of hope. In return for Devron's eternal servitude, Orcus would guide Devron away from the coming calamity to a spot where he could establish his power and even discover a path to immortality.

Fearful, yet intrigued, Devron agreed and as the army traveled south towards the forest of hope, the mage, at Orcus' behest, slipped away to the small, fledging city of Barakus. There, he inserted himself as a co-founder of the mageocracy that grew in the city and eventually went on to the path to lichdom and the rest of the things the module details.

There is also a noble family of vampires in the current city of Endhome. I thought of changing their family history as the patriarch a generation past was an able ex-adventurer who was turned into a vampire by Belishan in Tsar. This gave Belishan a conduit to a large, albeit distant city in the realms of men.

What do you guys think?

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@KaiserDM - As for a lead in to the city, I'd include a few minor spoilers in a book of notes the lich kept or bought detailing the spots on the battlefield that a few powerful people died, in their powerful magical gear. Off the cuff I'd list off King Kroma, the Tomb of Argos (gossip chain rumor), the Last Justicar, and that ghost dwarf at the Fort in the Boiling Lands. I'd also maybe include a line about a magical forge in the city capable of making powerful evil weapons.

If greed isn't enough to drive them I'd have him include a prophecy about how the city will rise again.

Thanks for the input James, all good advice. I guess in reality,the hooks will depend on what the party makeup will be as they hit the starting level for Tsar.

It will be a good long while before I run this, but I'll need all that time just to read it. Soooo glad I bought it.

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Random Game Primer - Probably the biggest departure from my normal games is that I'm always strictly enforcing lighting conditions, food and water, and fatigue. I think my players are getting a lot out of the minutia. I'd include weight early on, but bags of holding negate that after a while. The experience for them is they always carry a way to negate that 20% miss chance due to dim lighting, whether it is a torch (magical or regular), the light spell, or playing races with darkvision/low light vision. To really saddle your players down with some problems use hot conditions in the Desolation to increase their water 3x, per character. At about 8 pounds a gallon this could force the game back into the Camp fairly regularly, except if the cleric is packing create water. Also requiring food means until they can blow a level 3 spell on rations they either have to dedicate a magic item to their provisions or they keep going back to the Camp. Lastly, after 8 hours of hard travel I start making them make fatigue checks, which means every paladin will be taking that Mercy that removes fatigue. Basically, some groups will enjoy the Oregon Trail aspect of this adventure, mine did.

I've probably said this already, but my biggest regret about running the first couple of games is not mentioning the Last Outpost as my players went on that first quest to find Sammar's Caravan. The way it works out is that chasm on the road has to be crossed or gone around, its probably the only good reason the players will have to go into the Boiling Lands, unfortunately there aren't many early game leads to take the players into that region.

I could definitely see how enforcing all the rules people just handwave could be useful in helping the players realize just how desperate travel in the Desolation is, but it seems like that would really slow the game down and we're playing Pathfinder, a game where combats can take hours as is; I stopped running most random encounters as they are non-issues and just take up time for nothing of interest. Have you found that to be much of an issue with enforcing the rules?

Anyway, here's my 8th session.

Session 8: Pointless violence, i.e. business as usual:

Beltin (Aasimar Dirge Bard/Cleric 9).

Bradley Weatherby (Human Dervish Dancer 9/Knife Master Rogue 7/Duelist 2).

Tarl (Aasimar Inquisitor/Paladin 9).

Phox (Kitsune Rogue/Ranger 9).

Johann Kressmann (Hobgoblin Barbarian/Paladin 9). Picture a pre-WW1 German officer in full dress regalia, complete with ridiculous hat. Now picture that officer as a hobgoblin. Johann was an officer in several of the mercenary free companies in the south and also worked as an independent drill instructor for various city states and "nations." He has an impeachable record for efficiency, success, professionalism, as well as for bursts of stunning brutality in the field against his employer's enemies.

He has now been hired to raise a warband to compliment the official forces of the crusade in their quest to cleanse the Desolation, and he has been offered a ridiculous sum to help in the undertaking. He built his forces and headed toward the Camp. Once there he committed many of his men to reinforce the (doomed) crusader camp and after acquiring as much (faulty) intelligence as he could, sent the rest to scout the outskirts of Tsar and setup a forward outpost. The men in the camp were slain to the last and those sent out into the wastes never returned and are now assumed dead, leaving Johann to rebuild his army the best he can using the freelance adventurers of the Camp.

Veldi (Drow Oracle/Sorcerer 9). Yay... two undead menageries to deal with now, but this time in a slightly more literal sense as it includes some actual undead animals, including a Fast Zombie Bat Swarm. Veldi is from a Drow enclave and from a young age demonstrated unusual skill with the magical arts, specifically with necromancy. Her elders were well aware of her talents and eventually it became clear the use they were going to put her: She would create and control them an army of the undead for their wars of conquest. Veldi decided "f*+@ that" and GTFO'd. Now lost with nowhere to go, she heads toward the Camp, mistakenly seeing it as a "safe haven" for a necromancer, as opposed to a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

When she arrived she met Johann, who, like her elders, recognized her talents and wanted them, but with two distinct differences in that this time it would be her choice and secondly, it would be to fight the all encompassing evil of the Desolation. Veldi decided to join up with him.

"Jake" (Human? Wizard/Rogue 9). Don't have the sheet so don't have too much to say (including the character's actual name) except he Dimensional Dervish slices and dices all day, everyday. He's an unaffiliated freelancer from the South looking for work and mad loot and has decided to join up with the party due to their growing notoriety.

Pointless violence, i.e. business as usual, Session 8 - 6/21/14

Day 11, afternoon. Tarl, Beltin, and BW go to see the Usurer and report in on their success with the mission, and the Usurer is pleased. He tells them that the merchants in town will be inclined to gouge them less at his behest and that he will offer his services for some high quality magical crafting. Yay! Beltin then trades in some loot of the arms and armor variety for some in-store credit with the Usurer... no idea how much they actually got yet because we didn't stop to do it then and I haven't thought about it since. Oh well.

The three head to leave, but Tarl stays behind with a proposition for the Usurer. He asks him to allow him to build a jail to bring some civilization to the Camp to reign in the murder in the streets (and backrooms of taverns, not that he knows that); he would of course recognize the Usurer as the legitimate authority and lawmaker of the Camp. The Usurer is thoughtful and eventually agrees on the basis that the Camp could use a thin veneer of respectability due to its growing, no where near peaked, newly found prominence. It's harder to justify massacring a town than a bandit camp after all. With their deal made, Tarl leaves the party to begin preparations to become the Camp's first official sheriff.

And now we have "Jake," the replacement character. Having heard of the party Jake finds Beltin's and BW's crude stone shanties and investigates. He finds them not home and lets himself in (teleporting past the undead guards who have orders to stop people from walking inside, which has nothing to do with suddenly magically appearing). From there he rummages through their things to try to get a feel for who they are and leaves a copy of his adventurer/mercenary resume on the door for their consideration and then heads to the Sip of Blood. He nails a copy of his resume on the door their as well, with a note that anyone interested should find him there in a few hours. Jake stops to rob the pockets of the maimed gunslinger hanging outside the tavern, but finds him already robbed but still alive. With that, he departs to look around the Camp, his new home until his inevitable death.

Though he feels he is making good progress rebuilding his forces now that he has a necromancer on his side, Johann is smart enough to know that two necromancers are better than one. He has heard about the party and their exploits and realizes they are probably up for hire. He and Veldi approach Beltin and make their introductions and head to the Sip of Blood (Beltin asks the maimed gunslinger if he learned his lesson and once he is satisfied he has, he cuts him down and lets him go) for a drink and to talk business. Johann explains about his contract to help cleanse the Desolation of all evil, which causes Beltin to laugh in his face and politely suggest he may be crazy, but they hit it off well enough and an alliance is made between the two great organizations of the party and Johann's mostly non-existent free company. Johann and Veldi have joined the party!

While this is going on, a little ways down the bar Phox is loudly and playfully arguing with Lucky about how his rock can't be lucky, but after losing a few coin flips in a row decides apparently he was wrong. For completely unknowable and meta-gamey reasons, Phox then turns the discussion with Lucky toward the possibility of getting one of his girls as a live-in maid. Specifically the one BW murdered a guy for propositioning (which Phox doesn't know about). Phox offers a lot of money to Lucky, who accepts and gives his blessing, but who also explains it's not like he owns them so Phox has to make his own arrangements with the girl. Get a weekly salary that's more than hooking for easy menial domestic tasks? Yeah, she agrees and Phox gives her a list of things to pick up for him, including a special package from Griswald she is not supposed to look in. Spoiler: It's human meat. Phox has decided his character is, and has always been, secretly a cannibal from time to time. Why? Because. And apparently the Griswald arrangement was made in the past, but it's not like Griswald would disagree for the amount he's being paid. And he understands discretion.

The girl leaves on the errands, thinking she will tell the love of her life (i.e. the ruthless murderer who is still effecting her with Charm Monster) about her exciting new job with his business associate if she sees him. With the girl gone, Phox heads to the roof of the Sip of Blood and waits for BW to approach. To ambush him or hide from him or something. Why? Because.

Speaking of BW: After the Usurer meeting, he decided to go check at the Bard's Gate Embassy to see if he got a response to his messages sent to the trade consortium. When he hasn't come yet and he gets agitated. Sammar shrugs and tells him he can't control the mail; there hasn't been a courier since before the party arrived in Camp, but he should be there anytime now. And he reminds BW he, Sammar, still has like three letters to the trade consortium still sitting in his desk: Still want those sent or...? BW takes them back and sits down to write another strongly worded letter to his employers, this time denouncing them for the faulty info about Rupert Smitty job and demanding new negotiations be opened for the contract. He finishes it, hands it to Sammar, and heads out of the embassy and begins to head back to the Sip of Blood.

On his way back a stranger in a trench coat steps out of an alley nearby and beckons to him, complete with a "pssss over here." BW cautiously walks over to the man, who introduces himself as "Marcus," a purveyor of fine and exotic poisons. He opens his trench coat (BW flinches because he was more in mind of flasher than "watcha buyin'?") to reveal many tiny and assorted vials. He tells BW he can spot a man who recognizes and appreciates fine wares such as his and offers to do business. BW is interested and asks for some common, run of the mill poisons and gets a contemptuous stare in response. Did he not understand that this man is a professional who caters to an elite clientele? Eventually he gets there and asks for some Death Blade. Marcus compliments him on a fine choice and asks if he used his last dose when he murdered a man in the tavern last night.

BW's hand goes toward his kukri, but Marcus says that is not necessary and that he has a business proposition. Please follow me, he says, as he beckons further into the alley. BW walks after him, clearly ready to cut his throat. Before he can decide whether or not he should, Marcus introduces himself as a fellow member of the trade consortium and tells BW that he has a problem. And that BW has a problem.

He explains some consortium politics, mainly BW's former associates (handlers) have fallen out of favor, which means by proxy their agents are out of favor. He tells BW that he was told to expect him and another agent, a talented young upstart, but one trained by the infamous Feron Amathy (i.e. Rupert Smitty). He didn't know what he looked like but would know him by the contract he was carrying. BW was meant to be a decoy and lead the real assassin to Amathy, at which point BW would die in the attempt, preferably after weakening Amathy, and the younger man would finish the contract. So, Marcus concludes, that's your problem: You are worse than expendable; you are a loose end. But that can be changed.

My problem, he explains, is that he was to be that agent's handler for the mission and now that agent is dead. He says they obviously underestimated BW, as he sniffed out and murdered the competitor mere hours after he arrived in Camp. BW totally pretends it wasn't a complete and utter accident and stares at Marcus, waiting for him to continue. Marcus seems to be impressed and asks how the agent died. BW explains how he went down like a punk in a fairly obvious trap and Marcus seems thoughtful at that and says he thought a man trained by Amathy would be capable than that. Apparently not. Anyway, the assassination is considered a high priority contract; the Amathy had been a top problem solver for decades and knows too much to go rogue. He offers BW a deal: He will give him all the support meant for the dead agent while concealing that anything is amiss in the operation from the consortium so they won't interfere. BW will finish the mission and be welcomed back into the consortium with open arms. Win win.

BW rolls his sense motive like a good problem solver and realizes Marcus has his own agenda for helping beyond what he said, but hey who doesn't? One more thing says Marcus. By doing this for you I'm putting myself on the line, so before that happens I need to know you're really the man for the job. He pulls out a clear vial and asks BW if he knows what it is. BW pulls out the stopper and sniffs it (and then wonders what if it was an inhaled poison) but smells nothing. Marcus tells him it's venom from the strange giant spiders in the Desolation and it's incredibly potent. In fact, it may just be the next top product on the poison market, but the scarcity...

Marcus got that sample from one of Skeriber's rangers who apparently know where the spider lair is located. Find out where it is and procure as many spider eggs as possible; there are people in the consortium whose job it is to "domesticate" dangers creatures for their biological wealth. Get eggs, Marcus will pass them on, and the consortium may just have a top new product. In exchange for doing so, BW will have the full resources of the consortium meant for the dead agent at his disposal, though the entire operation should be deathly secret. Marcus tells BW to keep the venom sample free of charge as a sign of good faith, even though it's an expensive item.

Seeing the sense in this arrangement (and knowing a set of railroad tracks when he stumbles upon them), BW agrees and heads back to the Sip of Blood to tell the party. Phox silently watches from above as he walks in, but does nothing. Why? Because. Around now is the appointed time for those interested in hiring Jake to be in the tavern so he arrives and meets the party. After learning he is for hire, Johann and Beltin accept. Jake has joined the party!

BW sits down and explains what happened to him on the way back, including the parts Marcus wanted to keep between them, and says it looks like a good deal; kill these spiders to make a fat profit while also building some "good guy" rep for putting a stop to a serious threat in the Desolation. Win win. Johann especially likes it. They decide they should try to make contact with the ranger who sold the venom sample to Marcus and get ready to do that as they heard from Lucky the rangers are finally back in town after a long excursion into the wastes. Before they head out Lucky mentions Phox's new hiring arrangement to BW... yeah. BW says they will wait on talking to the rangers for a little bit and he walks outside.

Phox stands up on the roof and asks BW if they're cool. Why? Because. BW casts Innocence and says yeah, they totally are, and that Phox should come down so they can talk. Sense motive check? Failed? Excellent. Phox climbs down and slowly, warily approaches BW, repeatedly asking if he's really not mad. BW assures him he is not, but that all this yelling in the streets is unsuitable for gentlemen of their caliber: Just come a little closer.

Much can be said for the denizens of the Camp. They may be cruel, lazy, vicious, and opportunists, but they always have an eye for knowing when something is going to turn violent. And at those times they get ready to watch as long as it doesn't involve them. A small crowd begins to appear to watch the upcoming spectacle.

As he nears BW, Phox suddenly goes back to Kitsune form and the crowd starts yelling and cheering, thinking he has gone into his battle form. BW agrees with this assessment and dances his way over. The party watches this with an air of bemusement and inevitability, but Johann thinks some good sparing practice is good for company morale and Beltin sighs and gets ready to cast Breath of Life. The fight doesn't last long. Phox gets gutted. The crowd laughs. BW slits his throat when he's on the ground. Beltin thinks better of bringing him back to life.

Day: 11. Time in Camp: 71 hours. BW related party deaths: 5.

BW's girl, done with her errands, is returning to the tavern and sees him standing over another dead body, apparently someone slain to protect her honor and she runs over to embrace him. He brushes her off and disdainfully tells her not to touch him, and the party walks back into the Sip of Blood for another drink, leaving her staring misty eyed after them.

Casualties: 1. Phox. Antagonized and tried to pick a fight with BW. Why? Because.

My party finally entered the tower tonight. They Stone Golem was a small challenge, but as they have been collecting adamantine weapons of late bypassing DR was not much of an issue. I had some fun with the unseen servant in the barracks having it move one of the mugs around while they were in the room. It took them quite awhile to figure out what it was. The spear trap critted Lee but he was not pinned. He then decided to slow walk the path which just meant a Dread Raven showed up to grease the path. He missed his acrobatics check on a 1 and plummeted to the bottom slow falling the first 50'. Sandra attempted to catch her with her wings but could not grab hold. She then ferried the party around the grease.

The ranger and the Ogre barbarian missed their saves vs the symbol of fear , but they were the best equipped to run back the path. The party waited for their return before Sandra knocked the doors. Seeing the statues of the birds Sandra decided to play attack the one on the north, but it did strike it even if only in play it was enough for the spell to go off turning them back to flesh. No misses vs petrification before they were easily dispatched.

Lee opened the door and saw 4 dire worgs and immediately closed the doors. One of the worgs charged the doors forcing them open. Sandra managed to charm one of them, but the paladins killed it not allowing her to keep a dire worg. The rest went down on a few rounds. Lee disabled the traps on the false thrown and that is where they broke for the night. Short game, but we got started.

My group has just about finished the tower - it's been 5 sessions but one of those was mostly in the camp and our equivalent of Bard's Gate.

The tower is a dungeon in itself and it's good to make plenty of notes on the maps including to & from on each stairwell, ladder, trap door or shaft. Mapping can be a challenge but it adds to the evilness of the place. (My group moved around in random manner and there are still large sections of the third floor that they've missed.)

I'd missed the mirror of opposition painting and ended up being caught flat-footed when a new character was pulled into it.

Well, I've read this beast up to "The Shanks of Orcus" in the Hidden Citadel and all I can say is...Wow. What a joyride so far. The stuff about the 50 and 1 is brutal to say the least. The crooked tower, Kirash Dirgaut, all that stuff looks awesome.

The only huge pitfall I can see running this beast is parties flying at their leisure to different areas. I can see them bypassing several cool encounters in the city doing so, but oh well. Certainly, there can be airborne random encounters and the Stalker.

Has anyone had any issues with flying parties?

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@KaiserDM - In Tsar, flying parties should be shot to heck by the Stalker, that's just asking for dead party members. Also the Pall limits reliable visibility to 500 feet and as far as I remember in dim lighting conditions, which makes it tough to get much reliable intelligence. I'd easily double up on random encounter rolls unless they were invisible. Doable, but terribly dangerous.

Outside of Tsar - Dim Lighting conditions due to overcast weather, check. Perpetual bad weather requiring persistent, but fair fly checks, check. Getting spotted at range by Assassin and Shadow Demons, check. Flying over the terrain is quick, but dangerous. I'd hate to see what would happen if someone were hit by a Bonestorm or separated from their party by wandering Margoyles who early on are super deadly.

In short, fly at your own risk!

KaiserDM wrote:

Well, I've read this beast up to "The Shanks of Orcus" in the Hidden Citadel and all I can say is...Wow. What a joyride so far. The stuff about the 50 and 1 is brutal to say the least. The crooked tower, Kirash Dirgaut, all that stuff looks awesome.

The only huge pitfall I can see running this beast is parties flying at their leisure to different areas. I can see them bypassing several cool encounters in the city doing so, but oh well. Certainly, there can be airborne random encounters and the Stalker.

Has anyone had any issues with flying parties?

My party has flown using flying carpets, but they have not skipped anything. I wouldn't worry about them skipping because what they would "skip" to can easily end them.

Mostly now, though, they teleport to where they want to go (they are 14th level).

Between Dread Ravens, Harpies, Demons, Dragons and the Stalker I have done my best to discourage flying. The party still does some, but sparingly.

Don't forget: Hell Moths & Arrowhawks & Nightwing & Spitting Gargoyles & Margoyles, & Wyverns & Vargouilles & Manticores....


now I'm afraid to fly

@KaiserDM - Tsar & the desolation contains so much that, in my experience, some things will get missed.

Thanks, Geofix, more to throw at them!

Like RA they will never do it all.

Thanks for the ideas about flying, because I know that my party is just waiting to turn a slain dragon into a fast zombie mount. Now I feel less queasy at the thought :P

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Hey guys,
Just wanted to say “thank you” for all the great messages here. I stumbled completely by chance on Slumbering Tsar on the web a few months ago, and after reading it from page 1 to page 962 in a couple of days I decided immediately that I had to master it for my friends.

Then I found this thread on the paizo forums (thanks google!)

I used a lot of the great ideas in this thread here to fuel my own campaign, and we already played 2 games so far (and it was really great!). I also wrote a campaign DM journal and gaming session logs, but unfortunately everything is in french (so it could prove difficult to read). Here is the link anyway (maybe google translate is not so bad) -de-campagne--resume-des-seances.aspx

Currently, my players just (mostly) finished the last outpost.

Thanks for the advice everyone. There are a lot of critters in the book that can fly for sure.

I was thinking of running Barakus to get my PC's to 7th level, but I'm beginning to have second thoughts. I don't want to run them through a mini-campaign superdungeon, only to do it again in Tsar. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I think my guys would get burned out pretty quick.

I was thinking of home-brewing something. Part of that experience would probably be the massive amount of overland travel to get them to the Desolation from Bard's Gate or wherever I end up placing my campaign. What have you guys done (assuming you didn't start your PC's off at 7th level) or ran your PC's through to get them to 7th?

What reason where you thinking of providing to get your party to the Desolation? If you have that figured out then we can try to backtrack from there maybe to come up with something connected.

It will depend on the characters they end up rolling. I have a ton of ideas as far as hooking them there.

For any religious characters, I was thinking of having Muir and Thy try to use those characters as proxies to rebuild their faith in the Lost Lands. Since Tsar has such a close and intense history with those deities, they see something in the characters that could allow them to regain prominence in the world. I'll probably play up how screwed up the world has gotten after the fall of the Army of Light, and these guys fill the "New Hope" cliche.

Thus, they'll be tasked with rebuilding the church and reclaiming religious artifacts, lost lore, history, etc, by exploring the Desolation and later Tsar.

For Rogues, and/or PC's that are members of nobility, they'll be offered tremendous wealth and prestige if they can secure the Desolation for trade routes north.

I really like the idea of the PC's eventually taking over the camp and ousting the Usurer and establish the camp as a possible real town. Real long-term potential there. I definitely visualize and plan on playing the Usurer like Gus Fring from Breaking Bad.

Arcane casters can be convinced to explore the Desolation by a patron, research the Chaos Rift, the Pall, etc. Knowledge is power and all...

I'm guess I'm kind of stuck on whether to run something published for them for levels 1-6 or build up from scratch.

I am using the Splinters of Faith series to get my player's characters up in level and provide a particularly useful magic weapon that is built over the course of the quests. It contains a large variety of landscapes with a few mini dungeon delves and takes the party from level 1 to 10, though side quests are needed for sufficient experience to level.

Also, I used the Wizard's Amulet and Crucible of Freya as well as the Valley of the Shrines (ground surface of Tomb of Abysthor). They didn't have what was needed to open the tomb and didn't explore further. The Tomb of Abysthor is one of the best dungeon adventures I've read in any system. However it is a dungeon, and thus similar in setting to Rappan Athuk, though somewhat less deadly. It is very much connected to Thyr and Muir and needs a priest and/or a paladin of both or either to get the most out of the experience. The first two should get a party up to 3rd level or higher.

Note: I am currently running these with the Sword and Wizardry rules, but I have run Wizard's Amulet and Crucible of Freya in 3.0, 3.5 and Pathfinder with equal success.

I too would use the Stoneheart Valley series (Wizards amulet, Crucible of Freya, and Tomb of Abysthor). Although, I already use two of the three in my campaign which also mixes in other elements from other publishers (who shall not be mentioned here). Might I also suggest Ultimate Campaign rules by Paizo (mixed with Ultimate Rulership rules by Legendary Games) if you plan to expand the camp as a base controlled by the PCs at high levels. It will add another dimension to the campaign.

Thanks Sasha and DMStrikes - I've checked out the Stoneheart Valley Series, I may give it a second look for the upcoming campaign. The region its based in certainly looks right.

What a great thread.

I started mine at 7th level. I didn't want to sit through other adventures to get to Tsar. :)

Out of curiosity are the Stoneheart Valley adventurers meatgrinders too? I can imagine playing a normal, no death every session game from 1 til 7, building my character and coming up an in-depth, meaningful back story just to get one shot to death by Gurg 30 seconds after entering the Camp. And then die again the session after with my new character.

So does the tone of the Stoneheart Valley series match that of Slumbering Tsar? If not your players may encounter a bit of unpleasant culture shock once they actually get past the start up.

Your players learn to play cautious and smart quite early, or they are rolling up new characters, which is easier at lower levels. Every player in my current game has lost at least one character. They are playing much smarter now, trying to think outside the box and/or simply run when they think things are too tough. I think it makes for a more dynamic game with lots of clever ideas coming from players.

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Tomb of Abysthor can match Tsar with death count easily if players are not careful.

I started my group @ 7th. In the past we've always started at 1st level and it was refreshing for them to start out with characters that had some heft from the beginning. Also, with the lethality of Tsar it's good not to start with a character you are heavily invested in.

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I agree, the early adventures in the Stoneheart Valley force the issue of thinking things through before leaping in to "pick a fight". In Crucible, specifically, I remember a passage that describes invading a ruin as best done by sneaking in because a frontal assault is obviously suicide. In following this advice, I have seen more than one group get bogged down when they got overly ambitious and did not respect the abilities of the opposition force (hey, they are just orcs...).

I started my group with RA although only 2 or 3 of the original group remain. At level 6 I moved some of them over to Tsar and the rest later as the group got smaller.

I will likely move my group to Tsar once they deal with the gnolls who murdered the party's paladin and took his sword. I figure they will be around level 8 by then as the gnoll chieftan from the Bard's Gate supplement now has the sword and they won't be able to challenge him until then. Of course we are using the S&W rules, so that means a conversion on my end.

@KaiserDM - I used Varissia as a backdrop to my campaign introduction, substituting Magnimar for Bard's Gate, because my players were familiar with it from RotRL. I haven't swapped anything else out like the gods, mentions of Nations, etc and my players still are enjoying it. Isolating the adventure is a big deal and I saw a really good thread a while back that included a flavorful upriver raft trip which fit really well with the Turtleback Ferry (RotRL) trip. I think its essential to get that Oregon Trail feel to it, I'd recommend they get a covered wagon. (Yep someone's dying of dysentery, better buy enough food!) At about 150 miles out I started heavily influencing the Varrisian terrain with the campaign setting of harsh weather and decreased plant and animal life. I dropped my players in at 7th level, but we had a game or two of travel games just to hammer in how far out they were.

On an unrelated note I really want to run RA too now. I've been following this thread Rappan Athuk in Nirmathas. Which I'd love to drop into a homebrew setting mixed with Kingmaker/Guide to the River Kingdoms, just a horror version.

I'd say you could run your players through 7 levels of RA, but that could take a long time. ST doesn't turn into a dungeon crawl until about a third of the way through, which could take a long time for some groups. I don't think my group breached the city until game 30 or so.

@Abrusio - Hey glad you found it! I'm going to give google translate a go and see if I can follow along.

Thanks guys. It is my group's first Pathfinder campaign as we were late hold outs for 3.5. Not a huge learning curve, but I kind of want them to start fresh to make sure we get a handle on any changes that we will discover, some obvious and some not so obvious.

I have some deciding to do, because I'm the decider!

You will find a 1000 little changes from 3.5. Our group moved over with the RA KS so we are about two years in. Far too soon to consider another game system at this point beyond some dabbling with S&W.

Our biggest problem with going from 3.5 to Pathfinder has been our brains. We remember that X works a certain way and then discover that we've been remembering the 3.5 version of X.

A good example is the Elves not automatically searching for a secret door as they pass it was something we just realized 2 months ago.

(Which makes room 46 of the Crooked Tower and all of it's goodies much more difficult to find.)

Nope, only Dwarves do and only if it is made of stone with their stone cunning ability.

And Tsar has claimed three more victims..... session log soon.

I think my players are in shock. Worst part is they were joking about what was about to happen right before I read the text. They met King Thraestos and it didn't go well.

Did they manage to take him down at least? I kinda wonder what he would be doing after doing his post-party wipe stretches and consuming the PC corpses for breakfast.

That aside, you reminded me that I forgot to post my last log too.

Session 9.1: Desert walking simulator:

Beltin (Aasimar Dirge Bard/Cleric 9).

Bradley Weatherby (Human Dervish Dancer 9/Knife Master Rogue 7/Duelist 2).

Johann Kressmann (Hobgoblin Barbarian/Paladin 9). ABSENT PLAYER

Veldi (Drow Oracle/Sorcerer 9).

"Jake" (Human? Wizard/Rogue 9). Still unsure on race and name because I'm a bad DM.

Phox's replacement, otherwise known as the PC that will probably be dead before the end of session 10 (Human? Sorcerer (Sage)/Wizard 9). Unsure of name and race as player kept the sheet to finalize for next session, but given the lessons history has taught us, it may soon become unimportant. Anyway, Phox 2 is a freelance wizard that is mere months away from his retirement. In order to get the mad moniz before that he has decided to come to the Desolation and join in the big adventuring boom in the area. He will probably be retiring earlier than he expected to his, and only his, surprise. But who knows, he may go the distance and live his twilight years on the beach somewhere... Nah, he's totally screwed.

Unnamed future BW victim (Human Fighter/Rogue/Shadowdancer/Something 9). A temporary character for a temporary player who was invited to join in because Johann's dude was indisposed at game time. Originally wanted to play a Kender (because he's that guy) but decided not to after the Camp is the kind of place where normal citizens torture and murder people who steal from them. Decided to make a human and DM provided why he was there to fit him in quickly and easily. He's a freelancer from Bard's Gate sent by a client to acquire a certain Dwarven artifact that is supposed to be in a subterranean command post used during the war; a command post that is now the home of a nest of horrifying arachnid horrors! Dun dun dun.

Desert walking simulator, Session 9.1 - 7/5/14

Day 11 still. The the girl from the tavern tries to embrace her hero, BW, while the rest of the party and the bloodthirsty crowd watches on. Seeing the violence is over, the crowd begins to go back to their business, but BW has had enough. He tells the girl to relax and let it happen, Charm Monsters her again, and tells her she is nothing to him, never was and never will be, and to get the f%&$ out of his face.

She seems confused for a second, as if trying to get the joke. Then there is a couple seconds of stunned disbelief. And then she runs away crying. BW seems satisfied that she won't bother him again, so the party heads back into the Sip of Blood to continue planning. So they are down a man now... Going recruiting says Yohann and he heads out to do so. Great, says the rest of the party, so about dem rangers. Lucky tells them that Skeriber and his rangers just got back from some long excursion into the wastes; in fact the majority, including Skeriber, had been out for the last two weeks or so. Perfect timing, thinks the party, and off they go.

Near one of the Camp's edges they find another s!~&ty shanty looking building like all the rest, but one that actually large and looks fortified against attack. Around it they see a fenced in area with actual green things growing in the Desolation. As they approach the two men in front of the door, rangers by the look of it, ask them their business and get a dodgy response about wanting to know about some spiders, and then BW asks what they are growing.


With that curiosity sated, the party is led in to see Skeriber himself. Undead have to wait outside. Inside they find a rather roomy, though s*&&ty living area with several rangers milling about doing various things, seemingly ignoring the newcomers. Sense motive says they are actually paying quite a bit of attention. At the far end of the long room is a desk with three people standing around it and one man sitting behind it; there are no other chairs near it. The man behind it is obviously Skeriber. The four seem to be having an intense, hushed conversation but, of course, BW interrupts and spots a familiar face. Why if it isn't Georgia, one of the rangers who had saved his life. BW expresses how it is a joy to see her again, and with a diplomacy check gets a small smile, which is as much as the situation can afford. The two standing men look at the party impassively, as does Skeriber, but a sense motive check says he doesn't like the party at all. And he is not making much of a show to hide it. Perhaps he knows more about the party then they of him.

The pleasantries end quickly and BW gets down to what he wants. The party wants to find the nest of some spiders and the rangers know where it is. Georgia asks why and BW explains they owe him some money; an obvious lie for people who would obviously expect one anyway. There is a few seconds of silence and then Georgia turns and looks at Skeriber. He doesn't seem to react beyond staring back, but she seems to take it as an affirmative and walks over to a chest in the corner. She returns holding a map with the spider lair marked and the party is allowed to study it, but not take it of course.

A low DC intelligence check is made by those who made their sense motive versus Skeriber; he doesn't like you at all, so as long as you aren't trying to take his people into it, on this occasion he is willing to point you to certain death for free. Well, almost free.

As the party begins to leave (BW does his best to make another good impression on Georgia and does), Skeriber stops him and says they have business in private. BW remains behind. Skeriber reminds BW of his motive for seeking spiders and says that is awfully convenient as someone owes he, Skeriber, money as well. Remember way back in session 2 you got your ass saved by rangers and didn't pay? 500 bits. BW, being the obnoxiously rich type, asks if he would take 2,000 gold instead. Skeriber would and does and then BW is dismissed.

Back at the tavern, the party thinks the ranger meeting went better than expected, though they wouldn't be surprised if they did it just so they knew where they would be for an ambush. Oh well. Yohann shows up with his hand on Phox2's shoulder, pretty much leading him to the party. He announces that this elderly gentleman is a master of the arcane arts and has joined up with the company. And there was much rejoicing as Phox2 joined the party. As he gets acquainted with the rest, Yohann walks down the bar and starts loudly and almost violently soliciting more people to join the cause. You go, Yohann, you may need to conveniently find new recruits for next session.

The party debates the merits of leaving immediately and spending some time in the open at night, which the DM backs out of game, unsurprisingly leading to the motion's defeat (one of these days those f&@#ers will face some "sunlight powerlessness" badass creatures); they decide they will sleep the night and then head for that peaceful cemetery to rest before hitting the spiders.

Day 12, morning, they are off. They cut off the road almost immediately and begin the long, slow journey ahead. Wooooooo goes the desolate wind. Step step go the feet. "Enjoy the sunburn, a~*$#@*s," the sun would say if it could speak. But what does the monster say?


No encounters... at least yet. Veldi begins to think everyone has just been overstating the Desolation. I mean, come on, it's just a desert. BW tries to explain how it's an awful, awful place where everything wants you dead, but she seems unconvinced. And then through the haze of sun and powdered bone, the party sees a large group a ways off, just standing, swaying slightly, in the desert. Veldi makes the perception check to notice them while Beltin fails. The way they move gives it away: Undead. Lots of them. But they don't appear to have noticed them yet and they seem inclined to stay or meander if their small area, so the party sets off around them, keeping an eye out. It seems as though eventually the group begins to notice and slowly starts moving in the party's direction, but as the party quickens the pace they seem to lose interest and go back to their pointless, unmoving vigil.

So they're walking and talking, and hey is that a survival check ahead? No, never mind it's just some quick sand, about a 30 foot across patch. As the party saw it before they stepped into it, it's not that big of a deal and they begin to walk around. And that's when they see the glint of sun on steel. On the far side of the patch, mostly submerged in the sand, both quick and regular, the party sees bits of weapons sticking out like someone brought a weapon rack here and knocked it over long ago. Sensing the possibility for loot, the party mages start mage handing one out. It meets resistance at first but then it comes easy. Too easy. And then it's coming on its own along with many more of its friends. The weapons rise and begin to swirl around as if in some kind of whirlwind, ready to slice and dice anything stupid or unfortunate enough to be near. A wild Searing Wind ("I dunno, some kind of construct," says the only person who kinda makes the knowledge roll) has appeared! Roll initiative!

The Searing Wind wins initiative and some people and undead start getting sliced. The party is unhappy with this, especially when they speculate it may be some sort of weapon swarm complete with the swarm subtype; they are happy when the person who sorta made the knowledge roll knows that is not the case. Smack go the undead! Its AC is 30 says the DM! Nevermind, it didn't smack, says Beltin and Veldi! Undead bat swarms go! Oh it has Dr 10? Fffffff. The high AC and DR only protects it for so long, but after slicing and dicing mostly everyone at least once (and sometimes twice), it begins to show signs of not being well, as the weapons begin to chip and rust and then eventually corrode into more dust coating the party: It's only recognizable as different than the inescapable bone of the Ashen Wastes due to the reddish tint. The DM considers a roll versus tetanus but decides against it. Yay, no loot!

Soon after, it is approaching dusk, but in the distance the party sees the border fence and the monuments of the cemetery beyond. They approach the area of tilled earth around the fence and while in it they begin to fill a rumbling approach! Quickly they step over the fence and get ready, but then nothing. Huh, that was weird. As soon as they step inside everyone feels just ever so slightly safer, though Jake notices signs of some sort of magical battle here not long ago. This feeling of well being intensifies as they move inward toward the fountain, well for Jake, Phox2, and Veldi at least. Beltin and BW feel an air of disquiet and anger as they approach the destroyed crusader tents, almost as if something has set its will against them. The new three notice the tents and wonder what happened, but still don't manage to feel unsafe, so the plan to rest there for the night stands. Jake makes some magical accommodations and brings forth his loyal magical hound to stand guard.

The area interests Jake though, so he makes some knowledge checks and remembers hearing about how there are all sorts of monuments in the Ashen Wastes from the Army of Light, created when it seemed that good must obviously triumph over the evil of Tsar, before it became clear that failure was more than a remote possibility. He remembers hearing how a powerful angelic being fell and the ground where he fell was consecrated by his death, leaving behind a small amount of his power and his will to protect. It seems like a good guess to think the cemetery was built on said area to honor him... perhaps the rumbling they felt was some kind of defense mechanism that let them pass.

Day 13. The party sleeps well (or a little fitfully in BW and Beltin's case), but all wake ready to face the exciting, obligatory giant spider adventure ahead. They head south to exit the cemetery the way they came in, but at the fence they see a slightly disturbing sight: Dozens of corpses, broken on the ground in and around the tilled earth, but with none beyond the fence. Pretty sure that wasn't there last night, thinks the party. They look closer and recognize them as undead. The undead they had seen in the distance the day before; they must have been drawn to the sounds of battle with the construct and then just kept walking that direction until whatever happened here happened. The party remembered the rumbling the night before and Jake summons some sheep. He sends one onto the tilled earth.

They hear rumbling approaching and the sheep seems mildly disturbed and then suddenly a giant hand of earth rises from the tilled ground and slams the sheep down, crushing it. What the hell was that, wonders the party as they hear and feel the rumbling move away. Jake commands his other sheep onto the ground and they watch again. Rumble rumble, but instead of a fist, this time the whole body of a gigantic earth elemental rises and smashes the sheep back to nothingness. And now we know, thinks the party, and knowing is half the etc. etc. When the rumbling moves away again they quickly pass the tilled ground and are back into the scenic Desolation, ready for another fun-filled march to "certain" death.


Session 9.2: Obligatory giant spider adventure:

eltin (Aasimar Dirge Bard/Cleric 9).

Bradley Weatherby (Human Dervish Dancer 9/Knife Master Rogue 7/Duelist 2).

Johann Kressmann (Hobgoblin Barbarian/Paladin 9). ABSENT PLAYER

Veldi (Drow Oracle/Sorcerer 9).

"Jake" (Human? Wizard/Rogue 9). Still unsure on race and name because I'm a bad DM.

Phox's replacement, otherwise known as the PC that will probably be dead before the end of session 10 (Human? Sorcerer (Sage)/Wizard 9). Unsure of name and race as player kept the sheet to finalize for next session, but given the lessons history has taught us, it may soon become unimportant. Anyway, Phox 2 is a freelance wizard that is mere months away from his retirement. In order to get the mad moniz before that he has decided to come to the Desolation and join in the big adventuring boom in the area. He will probably be retiring earlier than he expected to his, and only his, surprise. But who knows, he may go the distance and live his twilight years on the beach somewhere... Nah, he's totally screwed.

Unnamed future BW victim (Human Fighter/Rogue/Shadowdancer/Something 9). A temporary character for a temporary player who was invited to join in because Johann's dude was indisposed at game time. Originally wanted to play a Kender (because he's that guy) but decided not to after the Camp is the kind of place where normal citizens torture and murder people who steal from them. Decided to make a human and DM provided why he was there to fit him in quickly and easily. He's a freelancer from Bard's Gate sent by a client to acquire a certain Dwarven artifact that is supposed to be in a subterranean command post used during the war; a command post that is now the home of a nest of horrifying arachnid horrors! Dun dun dun.

Obligatory giant spider adventure, Session 9.2 - 7/5/14

Walking, walking, still walking, but what's that in the distance? Through the haze the party makes out what appears to be some sort of massive hole ahead (insert innuendo if necessary). Looks like a spider lair, whatever those are supposed to look like, thinks the party and they advance. They get closer and see the ground steeply drops off down to a hole about 20 feet across that seems to lead into some sort of infinite abyss of both time and space. No ones knows what could possibly slumber in its depths or where it leads. It could be a portal to hell or the darkness between worlds for all the party knows. The enormity of all they don't know and can't possibly know descends upon the party and the burden of such un-knowledge holds them paralyzed. The pit consumes 1d6 adventurers per round.

Or more accurately, a light spell on a pebble thrown down the pit shows ground about 60 feet down, and an bloody skeleton is pushed down a couple seconds later to see what happens. It splats and then stands up. Nothing. With that settled the party gets ready to head down with Jake providing a teleportation taxi service and the undead plummeting. But before they can begin:

"Hail, travelers!"

A merchant of some kind, seemingly lost in the Desolation approaches them... and the party gets ready to kill as it is in the Desolation. Jake immediately teleports behind him and puts his sword at the man's spine and demands to know who he is. The merchant is in fact the unnamed future BW victim, disguised with his Hat of Disguise or something similar. Why? Because. He had watched the party approach the spider den, the place where his goal rests, a fist sized gem with some sort of vaguely defined and totally situational magic, as per the book. Seeing they weren't obviously monsters (though they had undead) he decided to step out disguised and travel with them long enough to steal the thing he wanted, figuring the party would be receptive to helping a lost traveler. Hahaha.

Future Victim ignores Jake and addresses the party and BW immediately thinks he's a trade consortium agent, and they and he don't necessarily see eye to eye nowadays... and they would certainly know he was here if his new friend Marcus was setting him up. FV tells the party he was looking for an item on behalf of a client from Bard's Gate (another red flag for BW). BW asks who he works for and FV, knowing it's more than his life is worth to give away such details, names the first rich person in Bard's Gate who is not his client that he can think of: Pep Siton, an NPC named by looking at the drinks on the table as the DM was taught is the proper protocol by DM BW. BW knows the name and points out that Pep Siton deals in art, not artifacts and says he finds it suspicious. Things escalate and initiative is rolled.

FV, built all for mobility and s&@!, smacks Jake with the butt of his short sword, dealing 1d6+2 nonlethal damage. Jake is supremely not concerned. BW cuts FV in response, non-non-lethally. FV moves away and BW and Jake engage him while the others watch. Getting tired of the show, one of the casters decides to Hold Person FV to stop the fight. He makes it. More fighting with FV clearly being outclassed; Jake decides to try one more Hold Person and if it doesn't work decides to just go for the kill and end it. FV fails. Lucky for him. The party ties him up and takes his stuff away before he breaks free of the paralysis and then they have another conversation.

By then the Disguise Self was shattered and everyone knew what he really looked like. They come to an agreement as only PCs can for other PCs joining the party, in that FV could join and help and even most likely get the thing he was after (and he might have actually believed them, hahaha), but if he ran away from them the party would murder his ass and take his stuff. He agrees and FV joins the party. Yay.

Down the hole they go! Once they are down the party realizes they had come through a hole in a dome over some sort of large subterranean hall. Dwarven by the look of it. Darkness in every direction and only a small circle of light from Light leaves them with the unknown in every direction... except for those with dark vision. Veldi steps out of the circle of light as FV does, who promptly disappears due to Hide in Plain Sight and a stupid high stealth mod; Jake and BW consider this running away and out of game decide to kill FV when they find his treacherous ass. They find him soon. There are four tunnels running in the cardinal directions in the hall, with three seemingly collapsed. Between each two tunnels is an elaborate shrine of sorts, though three seem mostly destroyed. The last one is intact and has a gigantic statue of the Dwarven god Mordin, and from his shield comes a faint glow.

FV goes straight for the statue and the glow, and when he gets there stops hiding and becomes visible to those with dark vision. Veldi leads them over. BW tells FV he ran and FV denies it and they put their differences behind them peacefully. Really. For now anyway. On Mordin's shield they see a large dusty gem, about the size of a fist, imbedded in the shield and it seems to glow faintly. FV realizes that is what he came for, but the party stops him from taking it, reasoning it's not a good idea to piss of whatever is here besides the spiders until they are ready to leave. They're familiar with how this "archaeology" s$~% works.

Speaking of spiders, the party investigates the one non-collapsed passage. They climb a staircase up to the opening and find web, lots of web around the doorway and on the floor. Just might be what they are looking for. The party gets ready and sends the undead in first with commands to attack on sight, which is difficult due to the strands of web everywhere... only Gurg notices something deeper into the room and he charges and is hit with a blast of web. Initiative!

The undead move into the room and break Gurg out while multiple Ashborne Arachnae descend from the walls and columns of the room to join battle. The living dawdle a bit near the entrance of the room except for Jake, BW, and FV. Jake teleports BW with him into the room and they start slicing some arachnids. FV moves into the room and the web, thinking his Hide in Plain Sight will protect him (touching the web, so it won't) and looks around. Clutches of eggs, everywhere. Thousands maybe. Looking up toward the vaulted ceiling, more web, more darkness, and lots of hanging cocoon looking things. Wait, why is the wall above the doorway all squiggly? And that's when the two amped up spider swarms (1d4 str poison, higher DCs, higher HP, intelligence: The benefits of being baby Ashborne Arachnae) swarm their way down the walls and into the entry way.

Eww spiders! Phox2 and Beltin backtrack and Veldi, riding her giant undead lizard, advances into the room. Once she is in a large blast of web seals the doorway behind her, and the brood mother descends into the fray. Right next to Veldi, who promptly gets bitten for 12 strength damage and goes unconscious. Well s#$*. Trapped outside with his archers and Phox2, Beltin does some bard song and they stand impotently at the web trying to figure out what to do before deciding on casting Spark and waiting several rounds for the web to burn up... it doesn't occur to them until a few rounds later to have the archers attack the web and break it, but when they do they see the brood mother and the swarms engaged with all of the living party members while the undead mostly fight more spiders.

One of the archers gets a full round off and mostly misses due to the brood mother's 31 AC and then Phox2 reseals the whole with more web, correctly deducing that the DM was about to swarm their asses again. BW and Jake engage the beast but improbably manage to avoid the 2d8 strength poison to the DM's disappointment, and then FV jumps on the back of one of the large undead fighting the brood mother and gets in a good stab. Already hurt, when he does so the beast screams the kind of scream you can only hear in your head (b!$!%es love psionics) and the whole party feel some nosebleeds coming on. And now a good portion of the eggs are shaking violently, as though those that are mature enough heard their mothers call and are trying to come to her aid. Oh s$$+... and who knows how far that call went out.

Jake has had enough of the motherf*&$ing spiders in the motherf$@+ing cavern and teleports around with Damnation Stride; fire erupts all around the brood mother, the swarms, and his allies as he explodes around her stabbing repeatedly. She shakes off the fire and the swarms put up a valiant effort before burning into nothing. The last of the lesser spiders in the room heeds its mother's call and rushes away from the undead it was holding at bay and sinks its fangs into BW. Too little too late. It gets cut up and then, desperately fighting for life or at least someone to die with it, the brood mother falls as well. The eggs continue to shake ominously and some begin to crack; Jake, remembering his previous commitment to having enough of the motherf#&#ing spiders, blasts them into oblivion.

As not all of the eggs were at the hatching stage, BW finds a large clutch of several hundred or so that weren't shaking and takes them and then the rest are destroyed: Genocide mostly complete. Eventually he seals the eggs in an alchemical apparatus with air holes and they make one of the undead carry it. Veldi and everyone get some strength back from Beltin and then everyone remembers what every last person had forgotten: Beltin had cast Communal Delay Poison on everyone before leaving the surface. Well s*&%. No, you're not getting a retcon.

No casualties and Ding! Level 10.

Game 39 07/11/14

Roster: Tiefling Paladin, Dwarf Cleric, Halfling Magus, Suli Sorcerer, half-elf Paladin

Reorganization and Book keeping (Magnimar)
The game started off slow as the Magus was the only attending player from the surviving party. (The druid was the other survivor.) With the stored gold reserves the Magus paid for a local spellcaster to teleport her to Hollow Mountain, where the previous scrying spell had placed him. He had lit a signal fire and they Teleported back without much trouble. (We were trying to get the game going, otherwise there might have been some encounters.) Pulling the corpses of the three party members out of the Tiefling’s Bag of Holding, it took two days to get the party raised and restored. They decided to press on and were interested in shopping with their stolen treasure, but they decided to have their henchmen craft the gear they wanted. (Then they decided it would take to long to wait for it) Each party member was issued a scroll of Teleport, a potion of fly, and cure potions as standard gear. They also purchased several more Wands of Cure Light Wounds. The dwarf used Word of Recall to get them back to “Fort Holy” (the Firebase of the Damned) being more reliable than a standard Teleport.

New and Old Faces (The Dead Fields)
Argos had brought his dozen men to Fort Holy to restock on supplies, while escorting a caravan through the Desolation. (I was trying to give them the opportunity to ask him some questions just in case.) The cleric spent some time trying to decide whether he wanted to add more defenses to the Hallowed ground. (He had leveled the previous game and bought the leadership feat as well.) There was some group discussion about where they were headed and the tiefling and magus decided they wanted to recheck the black iron statue in the pentacle (King Thraestos) in pursuit of trying to find the Anvil for the Justicar. They gave up on trying to go back to the Crooked Tower and decided that Kirash Durgaut was not a threat, nor worth their time.

The Devil (Demon) You Know (The Grunge)
The next day they left bright and early, but the druid was absent so it took them a few hours to cross the swamp. They decided to make their way although the wind was severe and making it difficult to see. They reached their normal entrance into the city the Broken Gate and the cleric cast his normal Hide from Undead when they started seeing the soldiers on the walls. Notably they are still afraid of the rumbling Broken Gate and almost everyone used a potion or spell of flight to get over it as usual. Even during the morning it was dim light and they were being quiet as to not trigger the Stalker, which by this time they assume anything flashy gets his attention. They attracted the attention of a pair of Babau Demons (whom both failed at their summons) which lept in to eviscerate the half-elf paladin (for 81 damage). He survived and the party was able to beat one down and the cleric Dismissed the other. (The demons rolled terribly on their initiative, but great on their attack rolls.) They healed him up after the battle.

Searching for the Shadow Dome
Part of their riddle was leading them “under the Shadow Giant’s Dome” (I’m not sure of the exact quote.) so they were looking around from the Pentacle (G1. Pg 208). They had some suspicions that the statue had a part to play, but since it was safe last time they assumed it would be again. The party was looking around the area when the sorcerer flew up to the face of the statue to look into its mouth. (A lot of joking was going on and then I read the description from, Return of the Giant King pg. 191) King Thraestos shook off the iron prison and immediately paralyzed the sorcerer. The party flew into action taking a few attacks of opportunity; both the Magus and the half-elf paladin were paralyzed. They took a hit from chain lightning and the paralyzed characters auto failed. Though I ruled the Magus was able to “push” the sorcerer to a safe distance even though they were paralyzed. The tiefling stepped up and knocked over half of the King’s life out with a full attack (140 something damage!) and the cleric tried to hit him with a Heal spell, which he saved against. The giant responded by smashing the tiefling who failed his paralysis save and the round after he was pummeled into goo with a critical hit. Over the next round or two the cleric took some hits and tried to heal and buy the party some time, but he was paralyzed as well. When the paralysis faded from the Magus she gave the Sorcerer a Cure Potion and they Dimension Doored out of the combat. The giant took a round to smash the other two, the paladin and cleric, into goo. Game Ends.

Fatalities: Tiefling Paladin, Dwarf Cleric, Half-elf Paladin

Total Fatality Count: 26 (I'm pretty sure that's accurate.)

Note: I think the party could have handled it had the Tiefling not rolled a 1 on his paralysis save, followed by the cleric rolling a 1 on his paralysis save. The DC is extremely high, but the paladin’s should have been making those saves at least. I also think our cleric spends a lot of combats trying to be a damage dealer, which he can, but the party suffers from lack of healing IMO. The Magus and Sorcerer could have stuck around and changed the fight, but they are a bit skittish. For a CR17 the party would have done very well against him had they not been within his reach at the start, especially the Sorcerer. The sorcerer was at 3 or 4 life so running was a good option for him. The Sorcerer was also in a hurry to get to the Midnight Release of his CCG Magic the Gathering. We called game a bit early since the Magus was falling asleep at the table.

So my group finally 'finished' the Crooked Tower. Because of poor mapping and being distracted by ambushes, traps and other badnesses they did miss a fair bit.

Most of the third floor was missed. Sections of the basement. The Larder (room 22) and thereby the Exsanguinator.

They also managed to miss Belishan's main spell books - I've given them to Janirov.

@ James
I'm anxious to hear about the King. My group took him down without much trouble.

@Geo Fix - Well the players of the dead characters were really pushing for the Magus and Sorcerer to Dimension Door in on top of their bodies and escape with them so they can be raised and keep their gear. The surviving players weren't interested in going anywhere near the lightning shooting storm giant. I did warn the players that the cleric had been infected with ghoul fever before he died so he "might" turn into a ghast or that if they abandoned the corpses in the city they would rise very soon as undead. As far as King Thraestos I guess I have a question, will he regain his hitpoints? I'm not sure I ever saw how Undead regain HP. If they wait too long they will likely be facing him with a small army of orc ghasts and ghouls. I'm going to have to do some reading and see where he is going to head next just in case they run. Their chances of retrieving their gear are going to drop substantially after nightfall.

Any ideas on some cascading events from the awakening of King Thraestos?


The Dream - Ok since my players have died so many times with the same characters I think they deserve a dream sequence. I might have to pull some Land of the Dead/Pharasma thing for them. It would be good to find a Hero from the Army of Light who wasn't turned to give them some coaching. I don't want to spoil any Rappan Athuk stuff here. Any suggestions? I might even elude to the Three Angels thing. Is there any reason why I wouldn't want to make some kind of "three lost sons" reference.

@Chaos Effect - The Brood mother fight is one of the tough ones early on, like fighting the Margoyles outside their cliff. Enjoyed the log, keep it up!

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