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After about four years of playing this adventure path (we alternate with Kingmaker, which we are in Book 6 of also), we have completed Brandon Hodge's excellent module Shadows of Gallowspire and the Carrion Crown adventure path. Since I have reviewed each module individually thus far, I will do the same with this one then move onto my overall thoughts about the adventure path and how it stacks against the others I have played in or ran (Age of Worms, Savage Tide, Rise of the Runelords, Legacy of Fire, Council of Thieves, Kingmaker). It should be noted that my PCs had two Mythic Tiers at the beginning of the module but lost them right before Adorak, affecting how I built some of the encounters, haunts, and other things that I added or changed. Nonetheless, the stuff that I critique mechanically or thematically has little bearing overall on power level affected by these tiers; my biggest problem with the module in terms of power level was the presence of normal spells from the Core RuleBook.
WHAT WAS LIKED
Renchurch as a locale:
We all loved everything about Renchurch, from the history, to most of its denizens, to its various mechanical effects in the game. The numerous haunts were cool, especially for the level they are encountered; they still felt like a credible enough threat that the PCs had to treat the place with the same respect as they would any other haunted place. I absolutely loved the fact that any living creature that dies there becomes a haunt of itself; this let me get extremely creative with reflecting the manner in which my PCs killed some of the enemies. Also, getting one's soul trapped within the walls beyond the prospect of raising kept a imminent threat that kept the PCs on their toes. However, the best thing of all was the Tyrant's Whispers haunt, the ability for the DM every ten rounds to go completely creative with whatever spell or effect adds to the horror of the place. While admittedly I used the haunt to try and dispel my group's buffs numerous times, there were lot of other effects that I utilized as well that added to the ambiance of the place.
Good bad guy roster:
There's a fair amount of interesting enemies the PCs face, and for the most part, they all make sense contextually. We really loved Nathalazar, Lucimar, Marrowgarth, and some of the other named enemies; they all had cool backstory and made for some interesting fights. While there's inherent problems with Adivion due to the nature of the path and its lack of written buildup, even he can be fixed with enough foreshadowing and creative DMing. Overall, most of the written-up enemies were worth their word count. While I had problems with some of the inserted enemies due to spell interactions, this occurred less than half of the time and there weren't too many fights that felt like a waste of game time.
Some addressing of high level play:
Another thing that really worked well was the addressing of some of the tricks of high level play that PCs use. PCs cannot necessarily wind walk directly to their destinations nor can they teleport due to the nature of Virlych. The soul trapping ability of Renchurch stops attempts at raising the dead and escaping the area is a tricky proposition with the presence of the Witchgates. These are all really good ways to keep the standard tactics that high level characters employ in check.. mostly. There are a few spells that I wish had been addressed with equal measure (see below)
Overall, the description of every location in Virlych including the country itself was rich, full of flavor and background. Mr. Hodge did a great job of instilling a sense of ancient dread lurking beneath the surface at all times. The descriptiveness of Adorak will be well remembered.
WHAT WAS DISLIKED
Freedom of Movement/Death Ward/Pro Evil/ Disrupting Weapon ruining the fun:
I must admit that this was due to one of the PCs being an Oracle and able to constantly spam such spells, but buying wands would achieve the same effect for most parties; the constant spamming of these spells made for some really boring fights. Other than Disrupting Weapon, all these spells have a decent duration (at 1/minute per CL, and PCs being 13-15, a minimum of 13 minutes) that can be stretched through an entire run-through of a dungeon. Each of these spells and their interactions with certain monsters are just offensive in terms of what they do to the story narrative, especially in a horror themed game. Let's examine each of them and why they're so bad.
-Death Ward: This one absolutely drives me bonkers, to the point that I changed a feature of Renchurch to at least make the final fights more memorable. Its either blanket immunity to certain monsters, or you gamble with dying from negative energy, ability damage, or other bad effects. It totally shuts down Shadows, completely hampers anyone channeling negative energy (Cenobites, Nightshades, Grey Friar) and hinders anything that utilizes that energy as an attack (Banshee, Devourers, Vampires, Marrowgarth and a host of other undead). Some of these fights might as well not be ran if the monsters don't have a way to remove the protection, and for those that can, it turns into a game of whether or not the monster can waste an action to dispel the protection or use one of its awesome abilities instead. I think there were at least 3 fights where instead of doing something cool, (especially when cinematicly appropriate), the monster was forced to dispel a PC, often to simply have the spell recast the next turn. Doing this is a death sentence for any singular foes the PCs might face.
-Freedom of Movement: While Death Ward can be maintained throughout a dungeon to some extent (healing and other activities can eat up some duration time on min/level spells), Freedom of Movement at high level is one of those spells that's always on every PC; I mean, you'd be stupid to not have this spell up at all times of adventuring since what it stops from happening is ridiculously powerful. I can't think of anything in the 5th-7th level range that even comes close to what this spell does. In a lot of ways, Freedom of Movement is ten times worse in terms of what it shuts down, turning a lot of interesting and awesome creatures into simple melee monsters incapable of achieving what they are thematically designed to do, especially in the context of horror. In terms of this module, it severely hampers, if not shutting down outright the following encounters: all mummies, mohrgs, ghouls, liches, leng spider, the omox, some of the haunts, revenants, quickwoods, the Adorak sinkholes.
Protection from Evil: While the amount of things it stops pales compared to Death Ward, it still is powerful enough (especially for a 1st-level spell) that I can't think of a reason somebody wouldn't have this on them at all times. Stopping possession and domination outright without even a check to remove said protection is pretty darned good. While we're mainly talking about the vampire and the ghosts, anything that gives blanket immunity to any effect really bugs me.
Disrupting Weapon: For not having a lot of save-or-die effects in the game system itself, this one sure wrecks that rule, even if it is against one type of creature that most PCs will never play as. Think about how powerful this is if it worked the other way; every time someone gets scratched with said weapon, they could just turn to ash. Such a spell (if it worked on the living) would be outlawed in every good-aligned community in the world. There is no other version of this spell that effects other creature types ,so why do undead get all the hate? In my opinion, this helped speed up some fights, but definitely took the threat level out of others. I think I rolled Adivion's saves in secret because having him die to the first hit from a weapon seemed super-anticlimatic. Keep in mind I'm not talking about Raven's Head but the actual spell, with the adjusted DC of our group's oracle (DC 24).
High level Bog-Down:
While not always true, high level play is just slower. More numbers, more player options, more possible actions, and more spells added together means a lot more game time per encounter. With this in mind, a DM needs to assess each and every encounter and decide "Is this worth the limited game time we have to run, and if not, should it be substituted or skipped? Does it add to the story, does it deplete resources, and does it have any actual threat level to the party?" This is absolutely true of high level play, which is why that while I hated what disrupting weapon did sometimes, it was good for speeding up boring fights. I broke down the encounters below that worked well for us and those that didn't.
Repeated Save or Die: I guess this balances out disrupting weapon, but there sure are a lot of haunts that just try and flat-out kill you, I think at least 3. I get that Renchurch and Adorak are dangerous places, but I thought that haunts rarely duplicate save-or-die effects. While PCs should have at least a scroll of Resurrection at this point, dying to a haunt and then having one's soul trapped beyond raising seems likely a really disruptive way to end a group's foray into Renchurch, especially since you can't teleport away to acquire such a scroll if you don't have it. I wish those specific haunts had done something cooler than outright kill with an effect. If you're gonna kill someone with a haunt, it should be done with as much horrible flourish as possible (Skinsaw Murders) to give their death greater impact. As it is, it just feels like random death (Roll a save! Fail? You're Dead!).
As I said above, at high level your job as a DM is encounter assessment; as I looked over Adivion's stats and compared him to my PCs' stats, I saw a fight that would last less time than some the random fights on the way to Adorak, even with the presence of Nightwings. Narratively, I wanted something more than what was provided, especially for the end fight of the campaign. Had their not been a plethora of printed material on these forums with alternate versions of Adivion, I would have devised something myself. The final fight went really well, with pretty much every spell, ability, and harrow card used to deal with Adivion and his two forms (forsaken lich, then ghost empowered by Tyrant). To make it memorable I recommend the following:
-Involve AA as much as possible in the campaign before this module so he has impact and meaning as a final enemy.
-Utilize extra monlogue as the players ascend the tower, such as what Zhangar did here.
-Work in whatever stats will provide the most climatic fight for your party. I used a version of him from the boards here that I reworked slightly to suit my group.
Linnorn: Hagmouth is a good opener to the module; he's a unqiue menace with an awesome backstory. He's also slightly unexpected, meaning he has a chance to make use of his breath weapon and formidable attack array before the heroes can buff themselves beyond the reach of such threats. Its also worth noting that his death curse can have dire repercussions on anyone going into the coming fights, especially the Witchfires at the next gate.
Banshee: This one's interesting for a few reasons. Its entirely possible that the PCs don't know that they're about to appear at Renchurch if they're teleporting (its not like there's a map showing how the Witchgates connect), meaning there's a good chance that the PCs won't have Death Ward up when the Banshee attacks. In my opinion, the banshee is a poorly designed monster (high level creature stopped by a single low-level spell commonly used with no way to remove said spell), so this setup at least gives her a chance to be effective, and death ward doesn't stop the wail, just gives a bonus against it.
Svoak and the Trees: At high level play, these are the fights that seem to work the best; a trio of opponents at a CR a few levels lower than the PCs, all with inter-meshing abilities that work together well, making the fight like a puzzle that the players have to dissect. While the DCs on the trees abilities weren't super high (and FoM again nerfed some abilities), the combination of ranged abilities with a beefy melee monster made for a good fight. It should be noted that I gave Svoac the divine guardian template and one fighter level so he could use the favored weapon of the goddess that the site he's protecting is dedicated to.
Revenants: Yeah, between their Reason to Hate, Advanced, and Shrine blessed gifts, these guys stats pile up into a very credible threat against their higher level murderers. Coupling near guaranteed attacks with the flavor of showcasing the bloody history of the PCs (I kept track as best I could of which PC had killed which Revenant) made for a really memorable fight.
Totenmaske: Its the monster's abilities that can sometimes make a fight really interesting or really boring. In this case, I used the undead creatures' fleshdrinking ability to have all sorts of decoys and confusion during the various battles, from having a fake Lucimar to a trio of attacking Kendras. It made for some interesting fights, especially when they joined an already occurring one.
Lucimar: Perfect design on this guy as far as a hit and run opponent. I think my group of PCs encountered him four times over the course of the dungeon before he was finally cornered in the room with the Urgathoan fly. Of course, I couldn't help myself and decided to tweak him into an Arcanist to give him more hit and run options, but I think the stats presented would have done just fine, provided my group wasn't Mythic.
Nathalazar: Cool flavor, good abilities, and great support to block for him. Overall, the contents of the room and the powers of the monsters made for a really good fight, especially with consideration to the unusual nature of the opponents. When opponents have multiple options for dealing with the PCs, it makes for a good battle everytime.
Urgathoan Fly: Unlike the Stone Golems (see below) this one really shines for some reason. Maybe its the flavor, the illustration, or the dual purpose as a brazen bull that makes the fly so creepily awesome. This thing got to do a lot of damage, especially when coupled with the Cenobites and the spellcasting threat they possess. A solid fight.
Marrogarth: I must admit that even though this fight lasted five rounds, it was awesome. Marrowgarth was able to use the sinkhole smash, his breath weapon, and his devastating full attack routine to put my PCS on the ropes. HPs swung back and forth, Heal was cast three times, and he even retreated to his lair to recharge his soul energy, only to be chased down and finished off.
Nightshades: Everytime one of these guys hit the table, it was a fight worth remembering. Unlike some of their undead equivalent CR, the Nightshades all possess devastating attacks, powerful summons, and the ability to dispel magic. Every nightshade is worth its salt in terms of actual challenge rating and what it brings to the table. I wish there were more...
Knights of Ozem: A solid role-playing encounter for my group, especially with a vampire PC that had to convince the paladins he wasn't dominating the other party members. There were a few tense moments here, especially when the voice of the possessing demon chimed in on the matter. I ended up swapping the daemon for a seraptis demon since my PCs possessed Mythic tiers still and I needed to up the threat level.
Lake mummies: So paralysis and mummy rot just weren't going to happen to my group (high saves and Freedom of Movement), but man, these guys hit like tanks. Since I ran the banshee fight as a continuous assault all the way up to the doors of the cathedral (incorporating the mummies, the barbed devil's substitute, and Svoac and the trees), these guys were able to pile on some damage before they could be dealt with. Their advanced statistics insure they are capable of that. I imagine that a group without Freedom of Movement might have a problem against their paralysis, but I don't know of anyone who would do that. I mean, that spell is really that good.
Witchfires: The key here is to use absolutely every ability they have, as detailed in their tactics section and then some. I had a number of charmed giants and zombie giants under their control, using veil to disguise them and the weird weather to further assault the PCs. The witchfires got pretty close to taking down one PC before they were wiped out by Disrupting Weapon. Still, a fun, flavorful fight.
Cenobites: Solid, they possess variety of spells and abilities to provide a credible threat to my players. My favorite trick was to try and take control of the PC vampire with their channeling, which one actually succeeded at before getting dusted by disrupting weapon. With a few save-or-sucks, the ability to dispel and capability of going into melee combined with the numerous immunities conferred by their templates made them worth running, despite the fact that I figured they would be speed bumps.
-ENCOUNTERS THAT WERE BORING OR FELT LIKE FILLER-
Bodaks: Death Ward turned them into melee monsters barely worth remembering.
Shadows: I mean, can they sense that the whole party has death ward and that they should just hide?? Or do they pop out, try touching the PCs, then get wiped? A prime example of a spell robbing a monster of its agency. Yet if you fight them without said spell, its a TPK waiting to happen. I love and hate shadows.
Stone Golems: Unfortunately, some of the old tricks my players are familiar with (grease, create pit) work just as well on these golems as they do on their lower -level counterparts. I ran with it because I figured it would eat up resources. It didn't; it simply ate up game time. In hindsight, I think making one of their slams x4 and slashing to reflect their scythes would make the fight a little more interesting.
Invisible Stalkers and Mummies: I get the flavor of this room, but the threat just isn't there. Between StoneSkin and Freedom of Movement, these guys could do absolutely nothing to my party. It got interesting for a moment when a Tyrant's Whispers dispelled a couple of those buffs, but the threat of the monster's DCs and attack bonuses versus the statistics of my party made it into a game of fishing for 20s or hoping the PCs roll a 1.
Ghost Teachers: This encounter needs something else to it. As it is, it just feels like you're fighting a pair of wizards who happen to be incorporeal; the two of them have very few effects that make them memorable as ghosts. Possession is pretty standard fair at this point (as is Protection from Evil); I would have liked to have seen more unique effects from them like imparting dread knowledge, attacking with spectral barrages of scrolls, or trapping PCs in desks. As it is, the two of them at best can hope to focus on a single PC with their spells and hope they get unlucky.
Gallowdead: I LOVE the flavor of these guys, but really wish they could do more. The chains of the dead ability shouldn't require a standard action for a CR 13+ creature, especially with its limited range, its reliance on negative energy (Death Ward), and its inferior damage output for its challenge rating (compared to its melee routine). I feel like these guys are a pale imitation of the Swords of Kyuss; I really wanted an awesomely unique undead specific to Adorak and Gallowspire, and while they deliver in some ways, they weren't exactly what I wanted when they actually performed. One or even two of these guys do not have the action economy to stand up to a group of 13th level PCs dedicated to killing undead.
Worm that Walks: Even swapping her stats up a bit (to reflect a previously defeated opponent), this fight was a bit of a letdown; I wanted it to be more but at the end of the day, the worm that walks is only as good as its spells. I utilized some of her damage dealing spells then went anti-magic field on the party, but even an anti-magicked fighter can get some serious damage beyond her damage reduction with two handed power attacking, forcing her to drop it in favor of healing. A singular opponent against a group of PCs is never going to do well, and this was most certainly the case.
FIGHTS THAT I CHANGED OR ALTERED AND WHY
There were a few encounters I swapped out to either fit either the flavor of my campaign or its power level. Some of those stat blocks (including mythic stat-blocks for Hagmouth and The Grey Friar) can be found here.
Barbed Devil: (Shining Child) The occupants of Renchurch know that the PCs are coming and they also have the power to at least cast Greater Planar Binding (Qlippoth). Since one of my PCs is a vampire, I thought it'd be fun to have something that could actually kill him and so replaced the Barbed Devil with a Shining Child. While the vampire had nearly been misted a couple of times, nothing really provided his character with a tangible threat up to this point. This gave the vampire pause and also informed my characters that their enemies probably knew their capabilities quite well at this point.
Ghouls/ Cultists: (Stat change) For the corpulent ghouls, I changed their rogue levels for brawler levels, giving them a bit more flexibility when dealing with my PCs and whatever buffs they may or may not possess. The monk cultists became arcanists for a better way to harry my group of PCs (increase raw damage and the capability of dispelling).
Mohrgs: (Location swap/Festering Spirit) In the Mohrg's location, I placed more cultists, then replaced another area that had cultists with Glutton Spectres (variant Festering Spirits), omitting the Mohrgs entirely. Mohrgs supposably can't control their murderous urges so I found their placement with other living allies strange. Furthermore, they are stopped handily by a readily available buff (Freedom of Movement), so I knew that a fight against them would just eat up time rather than hit points, let alone create any threat or tension.
Vampire: (Mythic Glabrezu) Again, her placement and is a bit odd; I imagine she's meant to be used as a hit and run assailant with her spells, but most of those would prove ineffective against my PCs. Instead, I had the encounter be a diplomatic one, one with a Mythic Glabrezu from Wrath of the Righteous visiting Renchurch to observe the potentially momentous events occurring. This is sort of a mirror of something that happens in that AP, where an undead emissary from Ustalav comes to observe the events taking place, not necessarily to fight the PCs. I used her as a way to drop information the PCs needed concerning their targets.
Omox and Mihstu: (Hellwasp Swarms)I looked extensively at the statistics for the Mihstu but didn't think they stood much of a chance against my group. Since Urgathoa was quite prominent in her role within Renchurch, I though a monstrous callback to her would be more appropriate. I kept the Omox intact but swapped each Mihstu for a Hellwasp Swarm, changing the makeup from wasps into black flies. Everytime one got released, I had it join with any swarms present, having the mass of flies begin to form into a face. My players inferred that if all the swarms were to join together it would have done something... which made me go "Yeah, it totally would have summoned Urgathoa's herald!" (I hadn't planned on that, but sometimes you can't ignore a really cool idea.)
Mirror of Life Trapping: (affects undead) I altered the power of the mirror slightly to allow it to capture undead as well as living creatures. This let me pull a nasty trick by having a Totenmaske that looked like Kendra inside the mirror, making the PCs more likely to shatter it. Also, I put a Glabrezu inside the mirror for added fun.
Qlippoth: (Advanced, feat swap) I altered to Qlippoth into an advanced version of itself, an Augnagur Qlippoth on the verge of apotheosis into a Thulgaunt. Besides the advanced template, I gave it dimension door 7 times per day and swapped some of its feats for the dimensional assault tree. This made for a fairly memorable fight as the thing warped around the room and was able to use the terrain to its advantage.
Leng Spider: (Nightskitters)I get that the barriers between worlds are supposed to be thin at Gallowspire, etc; Why wouldn't any and all undead within the tower just pounce upon this thing and drain its life energy? As it is, it has no protection against the numerous undead threats within the tower and isn't necessarily aligned in goals with the residents.. its just sort of there. I removed it and added two Nightskitters (Undead Revisited) to fit thematically and up the challenge rating. While this did up the number of Nightshade encounters in Gallowspire to 3, each of those fights was interesting in of itself.
Devourers: (Gallowdead) Not a fan of these guys mechanically. Some monsters got really nerfed when they crossed over to Pathfinder, and the reasons behind that nerfing make sense; but the removal of the 'save-or-die' mechanic from Devourers (and Bodaks to a lesser extent) really took the scare out of them. As it is, Death Ward nullifies too many of their abilities, turning them into sub-par spellcasters with an unimpressive slam attack. I swapped them out for Gallowdead, placing them here rather than inside the tower structure. It made more sense for them to wrestle free from their chains and launch themselves at the PCs outside the tower rather than inside.
The Grey Friar (Mythic)This guys has really solid stats, I just wanted to give him mythic to counter my PCs abilities. Oh, I also had two Forsaken Liches at his side to foreshadow Adivion's fate in the final battle.
Adivion Adrissant I utilized the Wizard/Fighter/ Arcane Duelist build of Magnuskn found here, with a couple variations to account for my party build on the first phase, and a host of completely different ghost abilities for his second phase, ending after the 'conjoined spirits of Adivion and Tar-Baphon' were destroyed. I didn't do a third phase since it took everything my PCs had left to take him down, with a couple of PCs going down during the fight. It took about 12 rounds total, which is good in the high level game of rocket tag.
Kendra as Tar Baphon's Vessel
As has been written about on the numerous threads within, Kendra makes a better choice as Tar Baphon's vessel, especially if the PCs can tie this thread to other story elements in the previous modules, specifically with regards to any interactions with Adivion Adrissant.
-A Vampire PC-
As per some of the suggestions in the prior module, I allowed our Dhampir PC to become a full vampire at the end of Ashes at Dawn, realizing that his power level would be about a match with the mythic tiers the PCs already possessed. I ended up removing the vampire's mythic tiers to keep him in balance with the others and for story reasons as well (Desna was the source of the PCs mythic power and the vampire could no longer dream). This made for some interesting fights and encounters (specifically the Knights of Ozem and anyone with the Command Undead feat). Furthermore, since most of the PCs usually walked around with Death Ward, his negative energy affinity didn't really make a difference in most fights. Also, the moments after the final fight were really awesome as the spirit of the Tyrant tried to get the vampire to take his power, which said vampire resisted.
-Mythic PCs- (Mindscape)
I introduced mythic during the final fight of module 4, giving the PCs one mythic tier and a second one at the end of module 5. Originally, this was done to allow me more customization with the bad guys to counter the incredible synergy possessed by my party and also to give further backstory concerning the Dhampir PC. While I kept this intact throughout most of the module, I decided that it would turn the final fights into rocket tag, and decided to remove mythic tiers right before Adorak. I did this by having the PCs mythic power used to suppress the dreams of the whispering Tyrant while they were in Adorak, which I had function as a Mindscape, the details of which can be found here . Nonetheless, I had a few mythic enemies to challenge the PCs as detailed above, which made for pretty good fights.
-Scrying and frying with liches- (Phylactery room)
To start the module off with a bang, I had Nathalazar and two other liches (including the one reforming in the phylactery room) scry and fry my group of PCs, having acquired some of the vampire PCs blood through various dealings. I changed the nature of the Phylactery room of Renchurch to empower undead rejuvenation, minimizing the number of days it would take for any undead that can rejuvenate itself if its source of essence (phylactery) was stored within that room. This let me do a couple of things; I had a solid force capable of kidnapping Kendra and I could harry the PCs every day until they could get to Renchurch and deal with them. I called this a side effect of the power of the negative energy well.
-The negative energy well (Renchurch, Age of Worms callback)
Death Ward was getting really annoying, to the point that I saw it completely destroying the mood, theme, and tension of the final fights within Renchurch. I wanted the last fight against the Grey Friar and the rescue of Kendra to be special, so I had the negative energy well within the building's last room be empowered. There is something similar in the final module of
-Keyboard room in Renchurch- (It's Good Enough For Me? Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah..)
I can't help putting callbacks to certain movies when thematically it absolutely fits, and in this case, it's The Goonies. I had the keyboard be one of the few ways to open the path ahead in the room, needing 3 DC 25 Perform checks to unlock the door, with a failure forcing a save against Crushing Despair. Besides this unlocking the door, I then had the keyboard reveal a secret compartment with a second musical sheet. Playing this required 2 DC 35 perform checks, with failure causing the keyboard to produce a Wail of the Banshee effect. This unlocked another secret compartment that contained a number of magical musical sheets (Scrolls for the Bard PC since there wasn't really a lot of treasure for her) as well as the phlactery of the Lich Bard that's originally in the phylactery room. I had the lich able to telepathically bargain for its life with the bard (which worked since it was able to impart knowledge about what was in the complex and weaknesses of some of their enemies) and made for interesting role-playing considering the makeup of the PC (dirgesinger bard) and the backstory of the lich himself. In the end, she kept the phylactery and moved on after the campaign to pursue forbidden music.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON MODULE:
For the word count, the writer does a good job presenting a decent high level romp within a uniquely dangerous environment that contains numerous flavorful enemies. The locations of Renchurch and Gallowspire were well detailed and a blast to run through. My only criticisms are leveled at the obvious, the lack of development of the end character and the difficulties presented by the interactions of certain spells and certain monsters.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE CARRION CROWN ADVENTURE PATH:
While individually the modules are strong, there is a lot of work for DMs trying to tie the adventure into one cohesive path that is something more than the monster of the week coupled with a "we go here next because.. bad guys" linear plot-line. There was no one like Vanthus Vanderborn, Lashonna, Queen Ileosa, the Skinsaw Man or any other bad guys that really struck a memorable cord. The enemies, while all well crafted with decent backstories, just sort of show up and then die rather ran having continuity through the campaign. Adventure Paths beyond this one seemed to fix this problem, but I wished that some of the enemies spanned multiple encounters, let alone modules. Even foreshadowing some of them, most of the time the bad guys wouldn't have any history with the PCs and therefore not a lot of context to make the fight as meaningful as it could be. The modules also seem to forget at times that the PCs are aware that they are in an undead heavy adventure path, so the presence of certain spells and abilities can take a lot of excitement out of it. I get that it is all supposed to be balanced for a group of four PCs with little experience, but once you figure out what works, its hard to go back to other tactics, and the spells that are mentioned in the review destroy this and the previous module. Heck, I had problems with Freedom of Movement all the way back in the fourth module, forcing me to add Mythic to at least give the monsters some agency. It is afterall, a horror path, and should be about how horrific the monster is, not how it ineffectually tries to grab you but can't because... magic.
Also, I made a lot of additions to my campaign over the time I ran it. All of my extra material can be found here
Hope this review and everything else there helps anyone else running this AP!
|Brandon Hodge Contributor|
We finished Gallowspire a few month ago I'd like to add to your excellent post some of the way I dealt with your frustrations.
Protection from evil/Death ward is easily dealt with by use of targeted dispel from the tyrants whispers haunt. I recall this may have even been a suggestion in the book for Renchurch. It annoyed my players but they accepted it as part of the locale's power.
Stone Golems: I added 2 statues identical to the stone golems at the front of the room and I made the DC to realize the back 2 weren't just statues without specifically investigating them fairly significant. The party was very cautious about the 2 regular statues, but after nobody got attacked and destroying one revealed it to be mundane they relaxed. I waited for the party to walk right between the golems and opened up with a surprise round.
Halfway thru Renchurch I replaced all of the cultists. They were just annoying and posed no threat to the party or their resources. Instead I littered the floor with advanced ghosts, shadows, and things form the random encounter table.