NobodysHome's Strange Aeons (and stranger PCs)...


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OK. Level 12 loot levels are in.

"Expected" WBL: 108,000 x 4 = 432,000
Current party WBL: 252,356

So, they're all the way up to half WBL, which is within reasonable expectations, but Blackwarm's sitting at 31,959, which is amazingly pathetic for a wizard. Losing that 100k for not looting the library really hurt them.

EDIT: On the other hand, don't forget that I did a 58,100 loot drop at the end of Book 3 to bring them up to WBL, so "book" WBL is only around 194,000, well under half expected WBL. All because the party doesn't loot private houses or public libraries.


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So, I'm trying to stop whining and just run the game, but the next series of encounters... <snort>.

Just in case Impus Minor checks the thread:

We first have, "Oh, the party has to squeeze into a cage with a beast tamer and a mastodon, and if they fail their Diplomacy rolls enough times then the beast rages and tramples them."

Then we have, "The party must make ten DC 12 Acrobatics checks in a row."
I mean, what!?!?!?!?!?
And then it mentions, "Oh, and if they can fly, I guess they won't have to do that."
Just... sooooo... stupid...

Finally, "This NPC starts off as indifferent, and can be made helpful, but will not actually help in any way, shape, or form because that would disrupt the plot."
There isn't even a decent reason provided. Just, "Yeah, don't let Diplomacy work on this NPC because it would mess up the plot."

Yep. PCs love to be neutered because "reasons". I wonder what would happen if Blackwarm Dominated her? Would I have to say, "Oh, no, she's Dominated all right, but she won't answer your questions anyway..."

Same stuff that made Book 2 of Jade Regent so very, very terrible. GMing by tying the PCs to an iron rail and demanding they go A, B, C or no way at all...

EDIT: I should really provide the quote: "Even if her attitude is improved to helpful, she doesn’t allow the PCs to move deeper into
the workshop." Except that she's pretty much described as a happy worker who mistrusts strangers, not someone who even thinks there's anything to hide. So on the Diplomacy scale, maybe it hits the level of "reveal an important secret" (+10), but the description of her and the "no Diplomacying her" are at such odds it's really jarring.
Yes. Diplomacy can derail an AP. So either have the person not talk, or have them fear punishment so much you get the +15 (or higher) so you can set the bar too high for the PCs to reach. "Just no" is just a no for me...

EDIT 2: Oh, look at that! All the significant wealth from this section comes from looting a legitimate business! Oh, THAT'S going to go over SO well with my PCs...
...and, "Fight in the next room doesn't alert the occupants of this room"-a-palooza.


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Session 67: The Madness, played 18-Feb-2020

GM Notes for the Session:
Probably the most important decision we came to last night was, "If the PCs don't pick up loot because they're being decent people, they'll just get it as cold hard cash when they level up."
So in what was to be a precursor to a very, very silly evening, those wacky Stardust Augurs ran up and dumped over 120,000 gold pieces in the PCs' laps. (The total they missed was 121,932.5 by not looting the library.)

Unfortunately, Impus Minor is learning what all players eventually learn: No matter how hard you try, you can't turn a rogue into a decent combatant, so he's decided to go the "utter chaos" route: He took the rogue talent that lets him use his Sleight of Hand skill in lieu of his CMB for Disarms, took Improved Disarm, and then got a 35,000 gold piece cloak that lets him do disarms as a swift action. Then, to add even more chaos, he bought himself a Rod of Wonder and spent most of the evening saying, "Rod of Wonder!" and rolling percentile dice. A stricter GM would have reeled him in by forcing him to use it every time he rolled the dice, no matter how inappropriate the circumstances. As it was, he had enough trouble when Neirida made Helden sprout leaves, so I left well enough alone.

The only other "GM Note" is the usual warning when running a party that's feeling utterly, ridiculously silly for the evening. Most of their silliness I let slide, but when their entire plan for capturing a teleporting devil kidnapper consisted of, "We'll dress up Hans, then when the devil comes out we'll all grab it!", I felt the need to ask, "Are you absolutely sure that's your plan? 'Grab it!'? And what are you going to do about the teleportation?"

Because sometimes, if you don't intervene, bad, bad things happen.

'Grab it!" indeed.

Katheer, Day 4: As the party returned to the Mysterium in the morning, Elder Lythiin was rather perturbed. "A group of people calling themselves the 'Stardust Augurs' stopped by at dawn this morning and left this chest for you," he said, indicating a fairly large wooden chest with his boot. Opening it, the party was amazed to find thousands of platinum pieces in it. "Man, why can't those Stardust Augurs just fix everything themselves," Helden asked, "they're obviously rich enough!"

The group asked Elder Lythiin to pause for a few hours as they went shopping. Hans used his share to pick up a Staff of Healing and a Dusy Rose Prism ioun stone. Helden picked up a Rod of Wonder and a Cloak of Disarming. Neirida improved her belt, and Blackwarm picked up a Staff of Dark Flame. Once they were finished shopping, they returned to Elder Lythiin. "Are you absolutely sure you have everything you need," the Elder inquired, wondering why they hadn't asked at all about Okeno nor researched it, but too polite to ask directly.
"We're good! Let's go," the party replied.

As the wizard was preparing, Helden handed Neirida his Rod of Wonder. "See? Isn't it cool? Just don't press the button!"
"Press the button?"
"No!"
Neirida pressed the button, and Helden sprouted leaved over his entire body. He screamed in aggravation. "Pluck me, woman!"
"No!"
"I told you not to press the button!"
"You distinctly told me to press the button!"
"I did not!"
"Blackwarm! You like plucking things! Pluck me!"
"Squawk!"

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, as the wizard was getting impatient, the party got together and scraped off the majority of Helden's leaves. The wizard Elder Lythiin recruited teleported the party to the steps of the Shrine of Thaffaar in Okeno, then quickly held his nose, waved his hands against the heat, and teleported home again.

The party was aghast. The temperature was nearly painful, almost as bad as the heat at the caravanserai of the Dreamlands. Even more oppressive than the heat was the stench: A mixture of the stink of unwashed humanity, human (and other) waste, and the overwhelming stink of a slaughterhouse suffused the city. Neirida wrinkled her nose. "What are we doing here again? And where the heck are we?"

It was at that moment that the party realized that they had absolutely no concept of where in the world they were, or much of anything else for that matter. They all turned to Hans. Fortunately, Hans, being interested in freedom, knew of Okeno, one of the largest slaving cities in the Inner Sea region, and probably the most notorious. Hans knew nothing but rumors, but he'd heard that people wandering the streets had to watch themselves or be kidnapped and added to the Fleshfairs. Helden immediately interrupted, "Hey! Let's split up and go try to find some dangerous parts of town so we can be kidnapped! That way we can find all the slavers!"
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the party vetoed Helden's brilliant plan. The only other thing Hans knew about Okeno was that it welcomed gnolls, as they made excellent slavers.

This was not good news, as finding a gnoll slaver in a slaving city that welcomed gnoll slavers seemed like a monumental task.

Since they had no idea what they were doing, Neirida approached the temple. The first acolyte she spoke to didn't speak her language, but seemed to recognize it, as he rushed in to the temple while indicating that the party should wait. A few moments later, an attractive young woman in a sea blue dress with piercing sky blue eyes came out. "You speak the Northern tongue, yes?"
"Yes! And your dress is beautiful!" Neirida gushed.

The priestess was necessarily wary of strange well-equipped Northerners arriving in town unannounced, especially when they told her that they didn't know where they were, nor how they'd gotten there, nor what they were doing. When Neirida indicated that they were looking for a slaver, the priestess became even less inclined to help them. She explained that as a priestess of Gozreh, it was her duty to bless the ships that came and went in the harbor, and not pass judgement on them, nor assist those who would attempt to stop the industry that was the city's lifeblood. By the time Neirida mentioned that she was a former slave herself, and had only been freed because her master had killed her and she'd come back from the dead to seek him out, the priestess only refrained from calling the guards because this group seemed like such a civilized, incompetent lot that the slaver was likely in little danger. Neirida went on a very… interesting monologue about how seeking her former master wasn't necessarily about vengeance, but about meeting him, talking to him, finding out what he was up to, determining whether he was destroying the world intentionally or by accident (at that the priestess' eyes widened, but she rolled a natural 1 on her Sense Motive check and figured Neirida was lying), and then either being his friend or killing him. The priestess decided that the sooner she had this group away from her temple and closer to somewhere else where they wouldn't be her problem any more, the better. Fortunately, they asked whether there was a tavern nearby, and she directed them to the Rotting Gull, a perfectly passable tavern a couple of blocks away.

Proceeding towards the Gull as Helden toyed with his rod (of Wonder), a welcoming voice boomed out, "You are Northerners, yes? I speak the Northern tongue! I can cook many Northern dishes! Come in, come in!"
The party responded to the man that they were seeking the Rotting Gull, then realized that they were talking to its proprietor, a rather rotund man in a fez and vest named Fallou. Fallou ushered the party into his establishment and offered them cooler-than-outside ale "like the Northerners drink" and lamb made "like you Northerners eat it". It became very apparent very quickly that Fallou had no idea what he was doing, but the party humored him, since they had no other leads. Neirida had some of the lukewarm ale and a plate of what seemed to be boiled mutton on boiled greens with boiled root vegetables (yum?), but Helden ordered some of the local fare (a hot alcoholic beverage with cinnamon and cayenne, and some seasoned chicken and figs on skewers) and declared it very tasty.

Since their meeting with the priestess had gone so poorly, they decided to be a bit more circumspect with Fallou. Neirida slipped him five gold pieces and asked whether he knew anyone who could provide them with information about the city. Fallou smiled and bellowed at what the party had assumed was a pile of pillows and unwashed linens in the corner, "Hey, Darl! Darl! Wake up you lazy slob! You are a bard! There are travelers in search of knowledge! Do your job!"

Darl was an enormous man, but none of that mass was muscle. He was unshaven, and the beard seemed to be growing more from his neck than his chin.
*** GM aside: At this point the kids simultaneously yelled out the name of one of their friends, at which point I named the NPC after their friend and did an excessively cruel and biting imitation of him. Impus Minor was rolling on the floor. Impus Major was wincing and saying, "That's just not right, Dad!" So for the sake of the friend in question, I've changed the name and will vastly underplay just how odious I made this bard.***

Fortunately for the party, Darl was a typical bard: Thirsty, poor, and more than willing to exchange information for food, drink, and coin. They set Hans up to talk to him, and Blackwarm and Helden backed him up as he grilled Darl about Okeno in general (my favorite moment was their realization that they were now over 1000 miles from Ustalav, and the locals' obvious excitement about the possibility of having necromancers to animate their dead slaves), gnoll slavers in particular, and Biting Lash at the end. Hans was on a roll, and his 36 assisted Diplomacy roll was more than enough to learn everything they could about the gnoll slavers of the city: The slave markets were known as "fleshfairs", were the largest in the Inner Sea region, and at any given time almost half the population of the city consisted of slaves. Gnoll slavers were not only accepted, but generally respected, and even had their own market known as the Laughing Fleshfair where gnolls were the only traders allowed. In general, the gnoll slavers were very paranoid and hid their wares, assumed pseudonyms, and were very hard to track down. The most powerful gnoll slaver was Hyena Princess Njano, and she knew every other gnoll slaver in the city. Biting Lash was obviously a pseudonym, and unlike Princess Njano, who operated openly at the Laughing Fleshfair, Biting Lash avoided the fleshfairs in favor of dealing with people she knew personally, thus minimizing her risk. Rumor had it that she even changed per appearance regularly.

The party had a lead: They would all get kidnapped.
Shut up, Helden.

While the rest of the group was talking to Darl, Neirida took it upon herself to look for more suitable clothing. Fallou recommended the Feathered Swan, a woman's clothing boutique about three blocks away. The party wondered openly about the number of bird names in the shops, but Neirida went anyway, and her greatsword ensured that she arrived unmolested. The women at the Feathered Swan were more than happy to help her pick out a suitably local-looking, suitably nice outfit for the region.

Needless to say, once she showed up with a new outfit, Blackwarm just had to have one, so he bought a dashing outfit as well, and then Helden used his Glamered armor to look like them. Hans insisted that there was nothing wrong with his old clothing, so he was sticking with it, at which point the rest of the party roared at the grumpy old man who was unwilling to change.

They headed for the Laughing Fleshfair, noticing fewer and fewer humans and more and more gnolls as they neared the market. The gnolls noticed their excessively-pricey gear and avoided them, knowing full well that high-level gear typically meant high-level adventurers. At the entrance, the gnolls blocked the way and growled something gutteral at the party. Hans sighed, stepped back, cast Tongues, and determined that although humans weren't welcome here, they weren't forbidden by law so the party could enter. They moved in. Neirida eyed the nearest stage and saw a naked half-orc woman with rippling biceps being sold off like so much meat. It brought back unpleasant memories. Hans, the least distracted of the group (Helden had his Rod of Wonder and Blackwarm had many shiny things to covet), spotted the princess and her retinue a few dozen yards away, guarded by a surly-looking human and a cloaked halfling. Neirida suggested that they approach the human first, as they would likely have something in common with her and could ask her how to properly approach the princess.

The best-laid plans and all that.

As Hans and Blackwarm walked in front, looking the most harmless, and Neirida and Helden backed them, the female human bodyguard snarled some epithets at them and struck Hans with both hands in the chest. While his breastplate bore the brunt of the blow and he didn't translate her words, her hostility was obvious. The gnolls around them growled and snapped. A single high-pitched bark stopped the hostilities before anyone resorted to violence and the human begrudgingly stepped aside so the princess could address the party. To the party's surprise, she addressed them in Common. "I apologize for my subordinates' unfortunate misbehavior, as I abhor incivility. You are obviously Northerners. From your appearance, you are adventurers. Yet you have sought me out to speak with me. Come, speak your piece, and I will listen."

Neirida explained that they needed help, and Princess Njano quickly decided that subtlety was in order, so she ushered the party into her tent. It was… magnificent. It was at least ten degrees cooler than outside, and incense almost entirely masked the stench of the fair. Luxurious cushions allowed those so inclined to laze about at their leisure, while a chaise lounge allowed the princess to relax as she spoke to her guests. Neirida explained that they weren't seeking vengeance, but they needed to speak to a gnoll slaver by the name of Biting Lash. Very quickly, and without explaining why, the princess invited them to speak with her at greater length as her palace in the evening. With that, she bid the party adieu and sent them on their way.

The human bodyguard was no less venomous on their way out, but the gnolls, eager to see them gone, let them pass unhindered.

With a free afternoon, Blackwarm, Hans, and Neirida wandered the city a bit. The area they were in was in the southern portion of the city, and it was where most of the major fleshfairs were, explaining the stench. Crossing the first river and moving northwards, the city became much nicer, though no less hot. Further north and across a second river the city became downright pleasant, especially in the neighborhoods near a magnificent palace under a huge waterfall. Realizing that they were going to be guests in a stranger's house, Neirida declared that they needed to bring the princess a gift. Hans suggested dates. Neirida decided to ask Darl. He suggested a nice incense box, and even provided the name of a store. Neirida picked up a very nice 50 gp box, had it wrapped appropriately, and brought it with her as the trio continued their exploration.

Helden tried to get himself kidnapped and failed.

In the early evening, they got directions to the princess' palace, and learned that it was none other than the palace under the waterfall. The human bodyguard, with barely-contained hatred, muttered in obviously-memorized Common: "You… are… welcome… here. Please… follow… me…"
Neirida smiled at her and thanked her. When Hans mentioned that she couldn't understand her, Neirida said it didn't matter, she just wanted to continue to be polite, warrior-to-warrior.

The first sign that things weren't quite what they might be expecting was when they were led not into a parlor or a sitting room, but a magnificent bathroom. Sure enough, there, bathing in all her glory, was Princess Njano. On the bright side, she was bathing in milk rather than water, but that didn't keep Neirida from blushing, Hans from ogling, and Helden from averting his eyes. Blackwarm didn't understand what the big deal was. Around her were 8 slaves, fanning her and providing her with candied dates and other snacks. Neirida recovered and offered Princess Njano the incense box. The princess stepped out of the bath, leaving nothing to the imagination, examined the box, thanked Neirida profusely, and ordered a slave to put it carefully on a nearby shelf. Neirida's blush grew more intense.

After the princess finished with the pleasantries and slipped back into the bath, she indicated that she should probably know the name Biting Lash, but she was currently distracted because her love, one Dahab, had been kidnapped, and was being sent back to her in pieces. If the adventurers could see fit to recover him, her distraction might abate enough that she might remember more about this Biting Lash. Should harm come to him or Kisetz (the female guard) or Hakoor (the halfling), who of course would be following them discreetly to ensure their honesty, the Princess would be most wrathful. Neirida immediately agreed to track down Dahab and his kidnappers. The princess smiled and signaled to Kisetz to bring a cloth-bound package. The package included a human ear and a note. Hans cast Comprehend Languages and read the note aloud. "Esteemed Princess, greetings from the unworthy. I am honored to bring your beloved serf to bosom as my guest, but his appetite is so great that unless I act, he’ll eat everything I have. I therefore return him to you piece by piece, part by part, unless you wish to
discuss his fate at the Shipwreck at dawn."

Blackwarm pondered the note for a moment, then muttered, "The author's original language is Infernal."

Everyone stared at Blackwarm in amazement. "What?!?!? I have to learn all these languages to talk with all you people! You think I don't recognize Infernal when I see it?"

The Princess smiled. "Already, I know more than I knew a few moments ago."

Neirida questioned the princess for a bit longer: Would this likely be the work of a gnoll? Unlikely. A human? Most definitely. Did she have enemies? Too many to count. Was there anyone in particular who came to mind? Not at all. The princess did provide them with two leads: A beast tamer named Rahmir at the Black Circus, and a builder named Azeem at the temple of Gozreh.

Once they were satisfied that they knew as much as they could learn, they tried to take their leave. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Princess had almost never seen free Northerners before. She gestured at Hans and Helden and pointedly asked Neirida, "Which is better?"
Neirida laughed. "If you're looking for companionship, I'm a better bet than either of those two."
"Accepted."
Neirida blushed deeply as the Princess led her deeper into the castle. Helden protested loudly, and was promptly provided with a slave girl for the evening. Hans declined and slept with his weasel. Blackwarm still didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

In the morning before dawn, the party headed for the Shipwreck, and asked Hans what he knew about devils. He listed their well-known immunities to fire and poison, their damage reduction against most weapons, their spell resistance, telepathy, their ability to summon others of their kind, and, most importantly, their ability to teleport at will.

Suddenly, just running up and trying to grab the kidnapper did not seem like the brightest of ideas…
They headed for the temple of Gozreh, realizing that their delay would likely be costing Dahab another body part. But isn't that what Regeneration spells are for?


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^ . . . try to get kidnapped? Be careful what you wish for . . . .


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OK. At this point of the AP I'm utterly flummoxed and I could use some help.

Players, don't read this until after the next 2 sessions:

So far, things are going fine, and the PCs are likely to rescue Dehab and get directions to Biting Lash's stronghold. Unfortunately, the author's planned path makes no sense whatsoever:

The party already made a mutually-beneficial alliance with a powerful gnoll slaver, Princess Njano, so they have openly demonstrated their willingness to work with slavers. All they want from Biting Lash is information, so they're absolutely, positively going to go to her place, knock on her front door, and ask to speak with her, offering money or services in exchange for information.

As-written, Princess Njano's bodyguard goes insane for no reason and betrays her master and the party by running off and "warning" Biting Lash that the party is coming...
...except...
...the party has no reason whatsoever to attack.

As I said, I'm sure they're expecting to go to the fortress, ask to see her, and negotiate payment for information, as would make sense. Instead, the AP is written such that the only way to progress is to storm the fortress and kill everyone inside.

I could work around this somehow, but then there's a critical NPC that the players have to free, and they can really only do so by storming the fortress.

So at the moment, the gnolls are going to have to attack the PCs on sight for no reason whatsoever and get themselves slaughtered. And this is out-of-the-book gnolls with no class levels attacking a heavily-geared 12th-level party. It's out-and-out suicide on their part, and they should know it. None of it makes any sense.

Does anyone have any ideas other than "the gnolls attack on sight" or "ignore the AP and just let Diplomacy win the day"?

I mean, this author seriously writes for no one but murderhobos. If you don't loot everything not nailed down, you get less than half WBL. And now in order to progress the plot, you *MUST* attack a well-defended fortress for no sane reason.

I am unhappy and need guidance.


I just had an idea, but it depends on future events:

Does this work?:
The whole AP so far is written around the idea that Lowls doesn't know the party is pursuing him. Perhaps Hakoor is actually an agent of Lowls (I haven't done anything with him yet, so I can rewrite him as-needed) tasked with stopping the party. He first poisoned Kisetz's mind against them (explaining her irrational behavior), then he convinces Biting Lash that they're actually assassins sent by a rival to take her out.

It all works out, and it just means I have to make Lowls know he's being pursued. Does anyone familiar with the rest of the AP know whether that breaks anything later?


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
NobodysHome wrote:

OK. At this point of the AP I'm utterly flummoxed and I could use some help.

** spoiler omitted **...

My group is just about to get where you are in the plot. There is something else they have to pick up from Biting Lash besides information:

Plot Reveals:
Kaklatath, the yithian that has been watching the party from afar, is trapped mentally in a slave owned by Biting Lash: a old Kelish woman named Elari.

Getting her free from the fortress adds a complicated layer to the negotiations.

I like your idea of having Hakoor be an agent of Lowls. It explains the animosity.


Spoiler:
Allow diplomacy to get them in the door. While they are going through the stronghold, have a servant try to get...*sigh*...Helden's attention. The servant NPC can get Helden on the track towards the super-secret necessary NPC. Helden gets to use rogue abilities outside of combat (if he's not in hypermode) to sneak the critical NPC out, and the other party members will have to bluff their way through "Where's your other group member?" and diplomacy. At this point, diplomacy could fail and they might have to retreat/fight their way out, but there would be some logic behind it and they should have their NPC to give them the necessary info.

I provide this having not read this far in the AP, so grain of salt, etc.


NobodysHome wrote:

OK. At this point of the AP I'm utterly flummoxed and I could use some help.

** spoiler omitted **...

some ideas.

Spoiler:
1. "I can see FOREVER!"

Whether it is a individual-only thing where said gnoll ate something/someone he wasted supposed to a few weeks back and his brain is now mush due to failed saves, with noone questioning him because...well, would YOU question a 6.4 ft tall packmate that can kill you with a snap of its jaws(I'm betting no)? or a group situation where the slavers contracted ghoul fever/devil chills/demon shakes/a particularly bad case of plotwistitis from a group of slaves they had no idea was sick(or was intentionally sold to the gnolls because they *were* sick to disrupt slaving activities in the area for good[better to die than live as a slave!]or ill[now that these guys are out of the way WE can sell slaves!]), madness is a good way to cover up mistakes in game.

2. "Do we need another slave laborer at the cannery?"

"We can never have too many slave laborers at the cannery!"

The gnoll in question is part of the Biting Lash's organization's long game in that they want to enslave the PCs. Their contact could know NOTHING about this(it works better if they don't), and finds themselves fighting alongside the PCs to dispatch their traitorous henchmen.

3. "Oh, a wiseguy, huh?"

The PCs show up at the same time a group of do gooders show up to free the slaves. Due to poor visual acuity on the gnoll's part, they think the PCs are among the do gooders.


Freehold DM wrote:
NobodysHome wrote:

OK. At this point of the AP I'm utterly flummoxed and I could use some help.

** spoiler omitted **...

some ideas.

** spoiler omitted **

LOL. I do love, "INT and WIS-draining diseases make ALL irrational decisions suddenly rational!"

I'll have to remember that one...


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NobodysHome wrote:
Freehold DM wrote:
NobodysHome wrote:

OK. At this point of the AP I'm utterly flummoxed and I could use some help.

** spoiler omitted **...

some ideas.

** spoiler omitted **

LOL. I do love, "INT and WIS-draining diseases make ALL irrational decisions suddenly rational!"

I'll have to remember that one...

its how we ruled Suggestion works.


At this point I am actually banging my forehead against the table.

On "normal" days, the entry to the fortress (two portcullises through a bizarre murder corridor devoid of murder holes) is kept closed, with two gnolls in the murder corridor to identify would-be visitors.

As-written, when the fortress goes on alert, Biting Lash orders the portcullises to be raised so they're open, then leaves her two gnolls in the entry corridor.

Which is just a fantastic way to tell the PCs, "OK, this is a huge fight and they're waiting for you, so back up, buff to the nines, and annihilate all of them."

I can see trying to lure the PCs into an ambush in the courtyard so leaving everything mysteriously open. But, "We're going to open up our defenses and then sacrifice two of our own so the PCs know we plan on fighting them," just MAKES NO SENSE!!!!!!!!

EDIT: Actually, as-written she's sacrificing ten of her own plus a bunch of slaves, since that's who she's leaving out in the open for the PCs to just walk into. And I don't care what the author thinks; thirty CR3 gnolls vs. four 12th-level PCs are going to get annihilated in under 3 rounds. Cloudkill and Circle of Death are standard necromancer spells Blackwarm just has lying around all the time.

EDIT 2: And yes, he's high-charisma because necromancer and has a Selective metamagic rod, so hiding from Circle of Death behind a few slaves isn't going to help.


And I'm sure the author deals with the ramifications of the sudden power vacuum after wiping out her fortress...


Freehold DM wrote:
NobodysHome wrote:

OK. At this point of the AP I'm utterly flummoxed and I could use some help.

** spoiler omitted **...
some ideas.
Spoiler:
Freehold DM wrote:

1. "I can see FOREVER!"

{. . .}

I was going to suggest a variation on this in which the bodyguard who wants to turn Biting Lash against the PCs has been brainwashed (for instance, due to too much listening to the Kitsune town criers that work for a shadowy yet brazen conspiracy that seeks world domination through political action).

Note that with proper introduction, Lowls would be a natural fit for such a conspiracy. In addition, such a conspiracy would have more of a chance of accidentally getting some clue of what the PCs are up to than a villain of questionable competence such as Haserton Lowls IV. As part of their effort to recruit him, THEY could be the ones that tip him off to the fact that the PCs are after him.

Freehold DM wrote:

2. "Do we need another slave laborer at the cannery?"

"We can never have too many slave laborers at the cannery!"

The gnoll in question is part of the Biting Lash's organization's long game in that they want to enslave the PCs. {. . .}

Considering the type of people who would be in the above-mentioned conspiracy (namely, those who seek to profit off others' work while doing as little as possible themselves), this is not mutually exclusive with the above, but in fact would fit in rather nicely.

Freehold DM wrote:

3. "Oh, a wiseguy, huh?"

The PCs show up at the same time a group of do gooders show up to free the slaves. Due to poor visual acuity on the gnoll's part, they think the PCs are among the do gooders.

Poor critical thinking skills (which go hand in hand with being especially vulnerable to the above-mentioned brainwashing) would accomplish the same objective.

The difficulty of this approach is that you have to open a portal in reality to a conspiracy even more sinister than the Outer Gods. On the other hand, plenty of source material already exists.


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I posted this on FaWtL, so, since I know at least UnArcaneElection and Tangent101 don't frequent that vast time sink, I'll repeat it here because I love the analogy.

The Mysterium as Batman:

Commissioner Gordon: Batman! The Joker is in the Gotham Museum! Bring him in!
Batman: Right!
<Goes in, kills the Joker, kills all the museum guards, loots everything of value in the museum, and comes back to Commissioner Gordon for his reward>
Batman: There you go, Commissioner!
Commissioner: Thank you, Batman! You're our hero!


Aaaaand... let's add "math" to the things this author doesn't concern himself with.

When the alert hasn't been sounded, "By day, at least eight gnoll trainers put 16 fettered or manacled slaves through their ordeal."

When the alert HAS been sounded, "Exercises are taking place as
usual in the courtyard..."
...but as the PCs enter...
"...A dozen able-bodied slaves are forced into the courtyard to fight, followed by half a dozen gnolls..."

So, either four slaves and two gnolls are just going to sit and watch the fight, or I'm dealing with 28 slaves and 14 gnolls.

Since I have a "Total gnolls in the building" count, I'll work from there.

But sheesh.


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NobodysHome wrote:

I posted this on FaWtL, so, since I know at least UnArcaneElection and Tangent101 don't frequent that vast time sink, I'll repeat it here because I love the analogy.

The Mysterium as Batman:

Commissioner Gordon: Batman! The Joker is in the Gotham Museum! Bring him in!
Batman: Right!
<Goes in, kills the Joker, kills all the museum guards, loots everything of value in the museum, and comes back to Commissioner Gordon for his reward>
Batman: There you go, Commissioner!
Commissioner: Thank you, Batman! You're our hero!

Somebody has GOT to make this into a parody movie . . . .


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So...
...on the one hand, I've finally figured out how I'm going to run the Blossomed Thorn. It's not a horrible variation from the book, but it actually makes the whole thing make sense...

...but this is the kind of thing that's going on in the as-written tactics:
(1) The gnolls trap the PCs in the courtyard and initiate a massive fight that will obviously take 10-20 rounds
(2) On the other hand, inside the fortress, "In the event that the fortress is invaded, the gnoll guards have strict orders to release these beasts by unfastening the tight knots that seal their cages."

So... er... those two gnolls are going to release the hungry beasts at least ten rounds before the PCs get there, and the beasts are written to attack anything near them.

Apparently, I'm supposed to eat a couple of gnolls offscreen because they follow ridiculously stupid orders...

EDIT: And I have to admit, it's really getting kind of fun trying to figure out what the author MEANT to say. All in all, there are 20 gnoll guards, 8 gnoll trainers, 8 gnoll lieutenants, 6 gnoll bodyguards, and Biting Lash.
Yet the description of the barracks is, "30 gnolls sleep here".
Try to get to 30 with the numbers provided...


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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories, PF Special Edition, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

They're hot-bunking. Some of them, anyway. I would not expect officers (lieutenants, in this case) or the boss to be housed in the same barracks as the troops. Unless the barracks has one or two man (or gnoll) rooms for them.


Ed Reppert wrote:
They're hot-bunking. Some of them, anyway. I would not expect officers (lieutenants, in this case) or the boss to be housed in the same barracks as the troops. Unless the barracks has one or two man (or gnoll) rooms for them.

LOL. Oh, if you look at the counts, I would expect the trainers and guards to be in the barracks (28 total), the lieutenants have their own room on the map (with the appropriate 8 beds), and there's no way the elite bodyguards would sleep with the riff-raff.

So it's 30 beds for 28 gnolls. Not a big deal until you're setting up the big fight and trying to double-check your count, and the 28 gnolls you find don't add up to the 30 the author says are there...


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Finished the prep for Book 4 today, and, more than any AP book I've ever run, this one takes a lot of warnings.

Book 4 Gotchas:

Part I: On the Trail of Lowls: This is easily the most-solid section of the text: The PCs can investigate Mun in several ways (asking around town or talking to Ethem Baler) and they eventually get to his house.

Issue #1 (Very minor): Getting in. Unless the PCs succeed at a DC 30 Perception check, they think they're talking to Mun himself, and he's blowing them off. Fortunately, such things are pretty standard AP fare, where the PCs go to the front door, are rebuffed, and then find a way to sneak in and investigate. I wouldn't even mention it as an issue at all, except both the initial description ("windowless first floor") and GM text ("narrow windows with latticed... iron bars") imply relatively easy entrance by window... except no windows are marked on the map nor mentioned in the descriptions until the attic, so the PCs really do have to go up to the attic to start going in if they don't choose to attack the hollow one.

Issue #2 (Minor): Looting. One of Mr. Pett's tropes seems to be, "If I write it in, it's loot." This was true in Trial of the Beast where you were supposed to loot your host's castle while trying to rescue him. It's true in the Mysterium where you're supposed to kill the guards and loot the library you're supposedly saving. And it's true here. The building is done very well, so that PCs can't figure out whether Mun was kidnapped or went willingly until near the very end. But Good-aligned or Lawful PCs might think, "This is a man's house, and he hasn't done anything wrong that we know of yet, so let's just find him first and talk to him."
My party took that tactic, and, similar to Trial of the Beast, walked out of Mun's house without a penny.

Part II: The Mysterium. Until I hit the Blossoming Thorn, I felt this was one of the most punitive, unpleasant-to-run sections of a book I'd ever encountered.

Issue #1: Looting (major). You are basically hired by the librarians to save their library. Yet you are expected to loot everything in the library. Hence my "Batman looting Gotham Library" analogy.

Issue #2: Murderhoboing (moderate). You find six mind-shattered guards. You are supposed to kill them. You find four axiomites who are doing their job. You are supposed to kill them. You find four clockwork mages who are doing their job. You are supposed to kill them. The solution to every problem in the Mysterium as-written is to kill anything that gets in your way.

Issue #3: Taste (minor). My party hated the constant oozes, constructs, the Guards and Wards, and everything else that was just an eternal litany of save-or-sucks with permanent effects if you failed. Maybe some players like permanent effects, but my players don't.

Part III: Okeno. I read a lot of people in the GM thread talk about how they rewrote sections of this, but I don't think anyone was as appalled as I was.

Issue #1: Dead ends (moderate). If you fail your initial Diplomacy check and don't find out about Princess Njano, you're stopped. If you fail to recognize the ransom note as Infernal, try to ambush Nikta, and watch helplessly as she teleports away to kill Nahab, you're stopped. If you get mad at Biting Lash and bring her whole tower down, crushing Kaklatath in the process, you're stopped. For some reason, my impression of this section was that it had far more show-stopper fails than any other section I've seen.

Issue #2: Murderhoboing (minor). If you go to the tannery, you're supposed to slaughter a bunch of innocent guards who are just doing their job. Oh, and loot the tannery. I only give it a minor because you can do the ambush instead and avoid the fight.

Issue #3: WTFery (must be removed). The mastodon encounter. The twelve Acrobatics checks in a row. Enough said. I've never played with a group that would have considered these "reasonable".

Issue #4: Kisetz (must be rewritten). As multiple people have noted, Kisetz' behavior is absolutely irrational. Why does she hate the PCs so much? Why would she go to her beloved mistress' bitter rival and then fight at her side just to stop the PCs? No matter what her motivation is, she has to hate both Biting Lash and the PCs, so her best tactic would be to let them fight it out and then try to kill the winner. Mr. Pett tries to throw the editors under the bus by blaming them for removing a sidebar. But I don't blame them, since the sidebar was basically, "Well, the previous author gave all the PCs their memories back, and that doesn't work for me to motivate this otherwise-insane NPC, so I'm going to go ahead and wipe their memories again." I mean, seriously. Mr. Pett writes, "The Ketz is an old, old friend of the PCs, and of one in particular. At least she was a friend—until in her eyes one PC betrayed her, breaking her hardened heart in the process. These events happened long ago, of course, before the PC’s memories of their lives".
At the end of Book 3, you're told, "The mist coils beneath the water, rising to the surface; when it breaks the surface, the PCs suddenly regain all of their lost memories in a dizzying flash."
They asked me whether this meant they could write up backgrounds for their characters. I said, "Absolutely."
There are no take-backsies in APs just because you don't like what the previous author did. There are especially no take-backsies when all you want it for is to motivate an utterly irrational NPC.

Issue #5: Poor planning (moderate). Blossoming Thorn is a mess. The barracks say there are 30 beds, but there are only 28 gnoll guards. One section says there are 8 gnoll trainers and 16 slaves in the courtyard, another says 6 gnoll guards and 12 slaves are shoved out to fight. The guards with the animals are supposed to release them as soon as the PCs get into the fortress, long before the PCs are anywhere near the animals. The entire fortress is written as a long-running fight, but at the end it has a section on, "If the PCs manage to bargain with Biting Lash."
Er... how, exactly? You've written the entire building as an "attack the PCs on sight" encounter. You've had Kisetz warn Biting Lash of an imminent attack by the PCs, so she has everything set up to fight them. Considering Kisetz' behavior so far, she cannot just let the PCs and Biting Lash talk it out, because it would expose her betrayal to Princess Njano.
There's no diplomatic solution unless the PCs stop Kisetz from leaving Princess Njano's. And they have no rational reason to do so, because she has no rational reason to be doing what she does.

EDIT: Oh, forgot to mention: If Biting Lash is so paranoid, and hates Princess Njano so much that she attacks the PCs for even mentioning her name, then why the heck would she allow Princess Njano's personal bodyguard into her fortress and believe anything she had to say?!?!?!?


Book 4 Gotchas:

NobodysHome wrote:

{. . .}

At the end of Book 3, you're told, "The mist coils beneath the water, rising to the surface; when it breaks the surface, the PCs suddenly regain all of their lost memories in a dizzying flash."

This actually impairs a character concept I had for which it would be very dangerous (for everyone else) for them to get back all their memories at once, because their past life was seriously evil.


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UnArcaneElection wrote:

** spoiler omitted **

Well, my point is:

(1) Is it absolutely fair (and necessary) for a GM to change the AP to match their players' tastes and playstyles.
- As a corollary, any AP module that doesn't take differing playstyles into account is poorly-written, in my mind. The three that immediately leap out at me are Carrion Crown, Book 2 and Strange Aeons, Book 4 ("If you're not a murderhobo I have no use for you"), and Jade Regent, Book 2 ("You have to perform an investigation. Follow the clues tn the exact order I expect you to or you fail.")

(2) On the other hand, it is inexcusable for one AP book in a series to contradict another. "I know you did this in Book 3, but now I need you to go back and change it in Book 4 because it doesn't work for me."


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For the record, no game tonight because Impus Major has midterms tomorrow.

I call it a valid excuse...


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories, PF Special Edition, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Midterms!? Already? :-)


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Ed Reppert wrote:
Midterms!? Already? :-)

Back when I was a math professor in the days of abaci and counting stones, I gave students 3 midterms and a final and dropped the lowest midterm because "everyone has a bad day occasionally".

So in an 18-week semester, you'd expect the first midterm to pop up in week 4 or 5, and that's exactly where we are.

"Midterm" doesn't mean what it used to...


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So... no surprises last night.

Even with some amazingly poor planning, the group managed to capture the kidnapper, deduce the location of the hostage, and sneak in.

They found the safe full of the company's payroll for the month. Helden started looting it and Neirida and Blackwarm said, "Put that back! We have no indication that anyone here has done anything wrong!"

Yep. Setting up your entire AP around players being willing to loot and steal everything not nailed down a la a Borderlands game just doesn't work for some groups.


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Session 68: Falling Into Winning, Played 03-Mar-2020

GM Notes for the Session:
On the bright side, my changes to the NPCs' behavior is making the story make more sense and getting the group to do what they're "supposed" to do without it being a mindless, "You must do xxx next," railroad. On the downside, GothBard is getting really frustrated at the sheer number of, "Roll well or you fail," situations in this AP to the point that she's just not having much fun any more. This left it to the Impii to decide on tactics for the ambush of Nikta and the subsequent exploration of the tannery, and let's just say those tactics were, um, "interesting".

But I *did* get to skip the whole idiotic mastodon encounter, plus the "make 12 Acrobatics checks in a row" encounter, and I managed to fit in a reason for the PCs to show up at Biting Lash's guns blazing, so as I said, at least things make sense now.

SOOOOOO looking forward to finally throwing this author's book in the trash (or at least putting it in permanent storage) and moving on to a different author.

Okeno, Day 2:
As the party set out from Hyena Princess Njano's castle in the early light, Helden started discussing plans for the ambush. Hans was taken aback.
"I thought we were going to go to the temple of Gozreh to talk to Dahab's friend!"
"No, we changed our minds."
"But I didn't prepare the right spells to take on a devil today."
"Oh, well. That's your problem!"

Unfortunately, Blackwarm hadn't prepared the right set of spells, either, so the party had to pause in the road for a bit to discuss what they did have. They noticed Kisetz and Hakoor following them at a discreet distance of around 120', but the sourpusses ignored any attempt at communication so the party ignored them. After a few minutes of discussion, they had a plan: Helden would disguise himself as the princess and Hans would cast Tongues on him so that he could try to pull off the disguise. The rest of the party would follow in Blackwarm's Invisibility Sphere, hoping the devil didn't have True Seeing, and would jump it once it made its move.

So… that was it. That was "the plan".

Helden spent some time making himself look like the princess, but no one was impressed. One Hero Point later he looked MUCH more like the princess, and they decided to give it a try. They got near the Shipwreck and Blackwarm protected Hans and Neirida with the Invisibility Sphere while Hans put Tongues on Helden. He proceeded forward, leaving the party 70' behind him so that they would be beyond the range of a See Invisibility spell, and it was almost a catastrophe before anything had begun. At 200' away, Nikta's natural 20 on her Perception let her see everything, including Kisetz and Hakoor. Fortunately, she could not see the group in the Invisibility Sphere, and Helden's Disguise roll of 33 was enough to beat her 45-20 = 25 due to distance. In her guise as Fazar the tanner, she Dimension Doored up to Helden-as-Princess-Njano and said, "Do not resist and let me teleport you if you ever want to see Dahab alive."

Aaand… Blackwarm was asleep at the switch. When no Dimensional Anchor appeared to stop the man from teleporting away, Helden did the only thing he could think of and… stabbed him?

Luckily for the party, an extremely fortuitous set of initiative rolls let Blackwarm get off a Dimensional Anchor on Nikta, using a Hero Point to make sure he hit, and she was stopped cold from teleporting away. Nikta, unconcerned at the moment, used Charm Monster on Helden and purred, "Your friends will be fine. Let's go off together and you can come back to them later." Helden was ready to go.
Neirida used her Boots of Speed to Haste herself and run up to get in a decent hit, and Hans had to burn an action moving up and using Greater Dispel Magic to free Helden. (Fortunately, he just so happened to be the only one to roll a Spellcraft high enough to recognize exactly what had happened to Helden, so he got to target the specific spell.) Helden stabbed her again. Blackwarm added insult to injury with some Magic Missiles.

Seeing that she was outnumbered and surrounded by casters who could undo her charms, plus getting hit by a bloodrager with a Holy weapon that was cutting right through her DR, Nikta withdrew upwards, accepting the attacks of opportunity to get some space between herself and her attackers. Hans called out to Neirida to hold until he could go, and he performed a classic, "Alley-Oop," moving four squares closer to Neirida and declaring that he'd cast Fly on her the moment she was within touch range. Neirida obliged, and with her Haste was faster than Nikta, catching up with her easily.

Seeing Neirida as her only threat, Nikta tried to charm her, but barbarians don't charm so easily. Helden, deciding that things were going too well, used a Feather Token: Tree to surround Neirida and Nikta with a tree. Blackwarm used a Fireball to further injure her (and Neirida), and Neirida gave her another solid cut.

It was time to flee.

She took another withdraw action, but Neirida's reach meant one final attack of opportunity, and this one was a beauty: A critical hit that dropped Nikta to -18 hit points with a Con of 20. Neirida dragged her down and had Hans stabilize her, but by this point they had quite a crowd, including a few guards: It's not often you see a well-respected businessman flying around in an aerial battle with a barbarian, with fireballs blazing and an inexplicable tree appearing mid-battlefield.

The guards demanded to know what was going on, and Helden's ridiculous hemming and hawing nearly got the party in a second fight in as many minutes. Fortunately, just as the guards drew their weapons to attack, Helden came up with a monumental Bluff: "Ok, OK. I'll tell you the truth. This is my friend, and he gets drunk a lot. And when he gets drunk, he tries to kill me. So we had to knock him out, and now we have to get him back to bed so he can sober up before we can heal him up."

In an utter demonstration of dice over reason, Helden's Bluff beat the guards' Sense Motive by nearly 30, and the guards accepted the explanation as perfectly reasonable. They carried their prisoner back to Princess Njano's, too worried about his/her spell resistance to try to teleport him/her.

To their surprise, Princess Njano was not pleased to see them. "I asked you to do a job. The job is incomplete. Why are you back? I will not aid you. I expect people doing services for me to take care of things for themselves."
They explained that all they needed was a cell to put Fazar in, since he'd be unconscious for at least a few days by Hans' estimation, and the princess supposed that that was not providing them "aid" but simply "common courtesy". Out of courtesy, she also informed them that they had captured Fazar, the new manager of Salir's Fine Leathers, a well-respected shop that produced excellent leather of all varieties, though Salir had taken a mysterious "vacation" two months ago and hadn't been seen since. The princess opined that she had suspected Salir's demise, and now she was sure of it.

But at least the party had a lead. Looting the unconscious Fazar, they found a ring of keys. Helden immediately took possession of them. Then they went to Salir's Fine Leathers, walked in the front door, and Helden immediately started shopping. Abren the shopkeep was sorely tempted to throw him out, but he showed her his excellent leather armor, told her he was looking to upgrade, and when she showed him the hippopotamus leather at 1000 gold pieces a yard and he seemed genuinely interested, she started getting interested as well.

Unfortunately, Blackwarm happened.

As Hans and Neirida looked idly at the leathers, wondering what on Golarion Helden was up to and what the plan might possibly be this time, Blackwarm reached into his Handy Haversack and pulled out his isitoq to let it explore. Unfortunately, he had to interpose himself between Abren and the isitoq, so all she saw was him trying to hide something from her. His Sleight of Hand was a full 20 points under her Perception, but the isitoq, using Blackwarm as cover, managed to roll even higher and escape detection by moving among the leathers. Abren screamed for the guards. Neirida, having no idea what was going on anyway, turned and walked out of the building. Hans, also clueless, followed Neirda, didn't see her around the building, and wandered down the road plaintively calling for her. Blackwarm fled after them. Helden was extremely nonplussed, because he'd acutally wanted to buy some leather, but when four armed guards demanded that he leave he went ahead and left.

The party walked down the road a ways and decided that walking in the front door had been a poor tactic. Blackwarm's isitoq didn't manage to report much: It got into the guard's room, but it was just a sitting room for guards, with no kidnapped prisoners nor any other indication of nefarious activities. It settled in for a long day of hiding. Since Blackwarm could, he used Detect Magic through the isitoq and sensed magic to the north of the guardroom.

Deciding on a new plan, they moved a bit away from the building and Helden used his wand of Invisibility to make each party member invisible. They hurried up to the building, Neirida climbed to the roof and lowered a rope, and the rest of the party clambered up. From there, they could see the tanning yard and all the guards, workers, and leopards(!!). There was a covered passage going northward towards where the isitoq had detected magic, so Helden and Neirida climbed down while Blackwarm and Hans used spell-like abilities to remain silent and move into the building proper. The first room they checked was a strangely-unused bedroom. The next was an office with a pair of safes. The third was another bedroom, this one obviously used and having two beds. They went back to the room with the safes and Helden opened them with the keys they'd taken off Fazar. Unfortunately, their Invisibility wore off while he was doing it. One safe contained nearly 2000 gold pieces, while the other had a bit of gold, gems, and jewelry, but more importantly several magic items. As Helden began to help himself, Neirida stopped him.
"Hey! You can't just loot that! That's probably this company's payroll, and we don't have any evidence that they've done anything wrong yet!"
Blackwarm agreed with Neirda, so Helden put all the loot back.

They were now stuck with a problem: They'd explored the entire west side of the building, but to get to the east side they needed to cross the covered passage, and they'd be in plain view of the guards in the tanning yard. Helden suggested that Blackwarm use his arcane bond to cast another Invisibility Sphere, but Neirida and Blackwarm pointed out that the casting itself would make a lot of noise and alert the guards. Hans pointed out that he had both Wall of Stone and Antilife Shell prepared, and they could probably make a break for it as he sealed out the guards. The group agreed.

Running into the passage, Hans used Wall of Stone to block the entry into the courtyard, and ran it all the way around so that it blocked the door they had just come through. They ran through the door across the passage and into a large sewing room with four extremely alarmed-looking seamstresses at tables in the room. Neirida gestured reassuringly as Helden, Blackwarm, and Hans raced for the southern door on the opposite side of the room to block it off, as it quite obviously led to the courtyard where the now-alerted guards were. There was a door to the northeast as well, but the group figured it could wait until they'd stopped the guards.

Hans simply said, "I've got this."

The guards first opened the door to an Antilife Shell preventing them from entering. As they drew their bows to shoot Hans into oblivion, he cast Calm Emotions, which, rather hilariously, affected all the men but not the leopards, so there was a great deal of chaos as uncalmed guards tried to pull the calmed ones and the leopards out of the way so they could get off some shots. Unfortunately for them, even though Neirida had found the door locked, Helden quickly identified the key and opened it, and there in the corner of a bedroom was the bound-and-gagged Dahab. The group ran up to him, joined hands, and Blackwarm teleported them all to the princess' palace.

Where?

The bath where they'd seen the princess in all her glory, of course. Dirty bird brains.

The servants in the bath shrieked in alarm, but Dahab managed to quickly calm them and the princess arrived soon thereafter. She was extremely pleased with the party, and invited them to dine with her that evening and she'd tell them everything she knew of Biting Lash. First, she wanted to get a debriefing from Dahab. And oh, by the way, now that their mission was complete they could consider Fazar to be the princess' issue, and they need no longer concern themselves with his fate. They found this perfectly reasonable. They were all provided slaves to entertain them in any way they pleased for the afternoon. We left it at that.

Dinner was a magnificent and cheerful affair, with fantastic food, exciting entertainment, and the princess as promised provided them with the location of Biting Lash's fortress. Towards the end of dinner, the party noticed Kisetz and Hakoor leave. As they were moving to their respective bedrooms, Hans told them that he'd noticed that Hakoor had Kisetz charmed. They rushed back to inform the princess. She was nonplussed. This almost certainly meant that the party could expect a hostile reception from Biting Lash.

She spoke rather carefully about Biting Lash's prospects, as assassinating one's rivals is a delicate matter. She simply informed the party that if she had been betrayed and Hakoor and Kisetz had warned Biting Lash of the party, and, even worse, told Biting Lash lies to make her attack the party on sight, then the party might as well live up to their reputation and arrive prepared for battle. She did owe them a reward, so was there anything that might assist them?

Hans asked for Incense of Meditation. Because Hans is a b*****d.
Helden asked for a wand of Silence.
Blackwarm and Neirida wanted to think on it, and the princess granted them some time.

She looked deeply into Neirida's eyes. "Oh, and about Kisetz? She has been my loyal servant for some years now, and I am quite fond of her. But if, as your friend says, she has been Charmed into betraying my hospitality, and therefore me, to Biting Lash, then I must say this.
"Charm Person is not Dominate. She had a choice. She made it. If you see her, kill the b***h."

Neirida had no issues agreeing to this request.


I should note that the party burned a HUGE number of Hero Points fighting Nikta. Blackwarm used one to hit with the Dimensional Anchor, then two to reroll initiative with a +8 to try to prevent her from teleporting away. Helden used one for his Disguise, and I'm pretty sure he used a second in there, and I know Neirida used one.

They really came in handy.


Hero Point depletion might become a problem in the future . . . .


UnArcaneElection wrote:

Hero Point depletion might become a problem in the future . . . .

The "one temporary Hero Point per session" has been working really well to prevent that. Last session was just an utter lack of planning that led to the need to burn tons of Hero Points.

I'm hoping the lesson has been learned...


So... starting prep on Book 5, it's very clear that the overall plot all the authors were given (John Compton calls it the "campaign outline") had the PCs convincing Biting Lash to help them, since Mr. Compton spends a full page of his book on how to proceed based on how the PCs interacted with Biting Lash, with only a single mention of "if they killed her".

And yet in Book 4, unless the GM decides to mention that the PCs notice Kisetz and Hakoor leaving, and unless the PCs decide to follow them and use force to stop them, the pair goes to Biting Lash's fortress, warns her, turning the entire fortress into a running fight, and then under Biting Lash's tactics we have, "Biting Lash can’t imagine a scenario where she falls to the hands of puny humans and loses the empire she has built in Okeno. Her arrogance drives her to fight to the death."

Yes, there's a "Development" section that discusses the possibilities if the PCs somehow use Diplomacy, but that's kind of out the window once Kisetz makes her move... or if *they* mention that they're working for Princess Njano.

(Yes, it still burns me that, "If the PCs let Biting Lash know that Njano was the one who told them how to find her, the gnoll slaver goes into a fit of rage and immediately lashes out at one of the PCs. She hopes to kill agents of her greatest rival and send their broken bodies back to the Hyena Princess as a lesson to not meddle with her affairs," and yet somehow Kisetz and Hakoor don't garner the same reaction.)

EDIT: Aaaand... already loving the ash giants! Looks like Book 5 is going to be a significant upgrade...


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Of course, considering the Necromantic pursuits of one of the PCs, killing Biting Lash wouldn't necessarily put an end to her interaction with the PCs . . . .


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One more rage post before the final battle, since we're waiting for Impus Major.

So, we get no combat tactics for Kisetz or Hakoor because they're "just" NPCs. The start of the Blossoming Thorn reads, "In the final part of this adventure, the PCs must find a way into the paranoid Biting Lash’s fortress while facing her small, but well-drilled, private army. Standing against this army in open combat is a rash move, and if Biting Lash receives a warning from Kisetz, infiltrating the slaver fortress suddenly becomes much more dangerous."

So, it's pretty much impossible for the PCs to know that Kisetz is going to betray them; she's written as hating the PCs but utterly loyal to Princess Njano. If I were a player, I wouldn't suspect for a moment that she'd betray us to Biting Lash; I'd expect that we were going to get framed for doing something to Princess Njano and THEN she'd fight us. There's no Sense Motive nor Perception DC given to notice she's leaving; it's pretty much, "If they stay for dinner they're hosed. If not, if they don't leave immediately they'll catch Kisetz in the act. The only way they can beat her to Biting Lash is to just dump the hostage, refuse the princess' offer, and leave immediately."

For one last time, being in the least bit diplomatic in the book gets you hosed.

Not a fan.


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OK. I love my players. This is TOTALLY off the rails!

EDIT: Guess who just got a critical hit with a Disintegrate spell?

Eeew!


NobodysHome wrote:

One more rage post before the final battle, since we're waiting for Impus Major.

So, we get no combat tactics for Kisetz or Hakoor because they're "just" NPCs. The start of the Blossoming Thorn reads, "In the final part of this adventure, the PCs must find a way into the paranoid Biting Lash’s fortress while facing her small, but well-drilled, private army. Standing against this army in open combat is a rash move, and if Biting Lash receives a warning from Kisetz, infiltrating the slaver fortress suddenly becomes much more dangerous."

So, it's pretty much impossible for the PCs to know that Kisetz is going to betray them; she's written as hating the PCs but utterly loyal to Princess Njano. If I were a player, I wouldn't suspect for a moment that she'd betray us to Biting Lash; I'd expect that we were going to get framed for doing something to Princess Njano and THEN she'd fight us. There's no Sense Motive nor Perception DC given to notice she's leaving; it's pretty much, "If they stay for dinner they're hosed. If not, if they don't leave immediately they'll catch Kisetz in the act. The only way they can beat her to Biting Lash is to just dump the hostage, refuse the princess' offer, and leave immediately."

For one last time, being in the least bit diplomatic in the book gets you hosed.

Not a fan.

Freehold will read this ap to see what the hubbub is about.


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Freehold DM wrote:
NobodysHome wrote:

One more rage post before the final battle, since we're waiting for Impus Major.

So, we get no combat tactics for Kisetz or Hakoor because they're "just" NPCs. The start of the Blossoming Thorn reads, "In the final part of this adventure, the PCs must find a way into the paranoid Biting Lash’s fortress while facing her small, but well-drilled, private army. Standing against this army in open combat is a rash move, and if Biting Lash receives a warning from Kisetz, infiltrating the slaver fortress suddenly becomes much more dangerous."

So, it's pretty much impossible for the PCs to know that Kisetz is going to betray them; she's written as hating the PCs but utterly loyal to Princess Njano. If I were a player, I wouldn't suspect for a moment that she'd betray us to Biting Lash; I'd expect that we were going to get framed for doing something to Princess Njano and THEN she'd fight us. There's no Sense Motive nor Perception DC given to notice she's leaving; it's pretty much, "If they stay for dinner they're hosed. If not, if they don't leave immediately they'll catch Kisetz in the act. The only way they can beat her to Biting Lash is to just dump the hostage, refuse the princess' offer, and leave immediately."

For one last time, being in the least bit diplomatic in the book gets you hosed.

Not a fan.

Freehold will read this ap to see what the hubbub is about.

I think you'd be wasting your time just reading it; you'd have to run for a group of players who are NOT of the "loot everything not nailed down" mentality.

You end up with NPCs who have no rational motivation (Kisetz, Biting Lash) and virtually ALL of the loot placed in neutral-to-friendly areas (the library you're saving. The innocent workers' payroll in the tannery). The whole mindset is just, "The NPCs do this because I wrote them to. The loot is takable because I put it in."

Do not like.


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Session 69: The Annihilation of Frustration, Played 10-Mar-2020

GM Notes for the Session:
The frustration with the AP is really boiling over into open frustration at the table now. One conversation last night was along the lines of, "So, what are you going to do next?"
"We attack the fortress."
"Well, what does that mean? What buffs are you casting? How are you getting there? Are you making any plans at all?"
"Nah. We attack the fortress."

GothBard put it really well: I went out of my way to make Okeno seem like an alien, hostile city where no one spoke their language and they couldn't trust anyone. After two books of pain, the party's natural reaction was to say, "To hell with you, Okeno," and not want to roleplay through anything having to do with the city.

So when the time finally came to act to end this fiasco of a book, it wasn't pretty at all. Neirida didn't get to take a single action last night, because everything around her was dead before she could move. The notion of the gnoll headquarters being remotely challenging for well-prepared 12th-level PCs was put to the lie last night. Kisetz is a head shorter. Hakoor's remains are in a nice decorative urn in Blackwarm's Handy Haversack. 4 of Biting Lash's elite guard are down and the other two are in single-digit hit points… and we didn't even get out of the surprise round!

Yeah. Frustrations are being taken out. In spades.

But one of my favorite moments as a GM is when players get to roll more dice than they can possibly hold. I still remember Hi dropping a Fireball onto a Necklace of Fireballs in the midst of an army of hill giants. Even Hi's player, a gangly 6'4" tinker, had all kinds of trouble holding that many dice. So when Blackwarm critical hit with Disintegrate and Hakoor failed his save, Impus Major was hard-pressed first to find 48 dice, then roll them all at once. Because you have to. But yes, it was the happiest moment of the evening. And no, Hakoor did not survive 48d6. Go figure.

Okeno, Day 3: Once Blackwarm and Hans had finished their morning preparations, the party breakfasted with Princess Njano. She asked how the party intended to attack the fortress, and the overwhelming response was, "I dunno."
Then Neirida came up with the single-most-brilliant plan ever: "If they're all on alert anyway, why should we bother attacking today? Why don't we just hang out for a week and make Kisetz and Hakoor look like idiots?"

The Princess loved this plan, especially since Kisetz and Hakoor would have to return to her before the week was out, and the party could deal with them at their leisure. In fact, she suggested that the party remain with her for the morning, as the pair would likely return to report some horrific lie to her this morning. She warned Blackwarm that Hakoor was a sorcerer of some ability, so Blackwarm should probably Disintegrate him before he could start casting any high-level spells. Blackwarm was busy preening, but might have heard. Helden asked the Princess for a table leg. She was a bit confused, but obliged.

The party made their preparations: The Princess would give them roughly 5 minutes' notice. At that point, Blackwarm would use Helden's Wand of Invisibility to turn the party invisible and they would lie in wait for the betrayers. The Princess wanted to watch the whole thing, but warned the party against putting her person in danger. They agreed. Hans put Greater Magic Weapon on Neirida's sword, but refused to put it on Helden's table leg. As Helden begged and pleaded, Neirida whispered to Hans that perhaps any spell might do, so Hans cast Light on Helden's table leg. Helden, failing his Spellcraft roll in spectacular manner, was delighted.

Eventually, the bell notifying the Princess of her guards' return rang and the party put themselves into position. As Kisetz and Hakoor approached the Princess, the party put its plan into motion. Helden sneaked up behind them and stabbed Hakoor in the back. Hans used his Slumber Hex on Kisetz, knocking her cold. Once her only loyal minion was down, the Princess started singing and Inspired Courage. Blackwarm put a Dimensional Anchor on Hakoor. Neirida moved into place. Once the surprise round was over, Helden continued stabbing Hakoor and Hans moved in to provide him with a flank. He might as well not have bothered. As Blackwarm prepared to cast, the Princess coughed pointedly and aimed her snout at Hakoor. "Oh, is that the guy I'm supposed to Disintegrate?"

You could HEAR the Princess' eyes roll.

Blackwarm cast Disintegrate. A natural 20 followed by a natural 18 confirmed the critical hit. Hakoor's 6 on his saving roll meant he was about to take 48d6. Considering he was down to 53 hit points from Helden's attacks, it didn't look good. 183 hit points later, Hakoor was a small pile of dust and gear on the ground.

The party tied up Kisetz and Helden tried to talk to her. Once the Princess could see the problem, she cast Tongues on Helden. His Diplomacy was sufficient to convince Kisetz not to hate him, but not sufficient to get her to talk. Neirida stepped in, the Princess put tongues on her, and I learned a great deal about the Intimidate skill. (I thought it was just an unfriendly form of Diplomacy. I have no idea where I got that notion, since it's completely different.)
Kisetz spilled her guts. Hakoor had arrived about 2 years ago, and had quickly become her closest friend. It was clear from her story that he had Charmed her for months to get her to put in a good word for him with the Princess. A few weeks ago, he'd told her that four adventurers would be coming and likely want to meet with the Princess. They would act like allies, but they would betray the Princess and bring her reign to an end. And the Princess would trust them over her own loyal guards, so the pair had to take matters into their own hands. Hakoor convinced Kisetz that their best hope was to use Biting Lash against the party, and to come with him as he warned her.

For reasons she didn't quite understand, she didn't question when Biting Lash's army welcomed Hakoor with open arms; he was just a charming guy, right? Even more puzzling was Biting Lash's willingness to immediately accept his word that the adventurers were coming the next day and to set up her defenses accordingly. After a sleepless night of nothing, Biting Lash's patience had worn thin and Kisetz's concern at abandoning her mistress for so long grew overwhelming, so she insisted that the pair return to the Princess and check in.

In all of this, it was always her loyalty and devotion to the Princess that had driven all of her actions.

The Princess spoke quietly. "And yet in your devotion, you betrayed me and joined with my greatest enemy, breaking my word to these adventurers who have been with me all night with no protectors by my side, and who have done nothing to harm me.
Neirida, if you would?"
Neirida beheaded Kisetz cleanly, and the Princess delicately stepped out of line of the spray of blood. "Thank you. And, as I never leave debts unpaid…"
She barked a few orders that Helden and Neirida understood thanks to Tongues, and the party received 2000 gold pieces for slaying the two betrayers.

Blackwarm asked for a little urn for Hakoor, as it was his first-ever Disintegrate victim. The Princess delightedly gave him one.

It was time to deal with Biting Lash.

The party hiked the several miles to her fortress, then Blackwarm put Invisibility on his isitoq and sent it in scouting. The fortress was a curious design: A tall cylinder with a single tunnel leading in and no outside defenses, but an inner courtyard ringed with arrow slits. It was clearly designed to let people in and then slaughter them. It seemed to be three stories tall. In the main courtyard, eight gnolls were training sixteen slaves. On the rooftop was a large pleasant garden. Under a yellow tent was a female gnoll with an eagle on her shoulder lecturing six well-equipped female gnolls. Blackwarm figured he'd found Biting Lash.

Hans asked whether there would be any negotiations. "No," was the firm reply. "OK, then." He put Fly, Barkskin, and Protection from Evil on Neirida and Helden, then Bull's Strength on Helden and Barkskin and Magic Circle Against Evil on himself. Neirida had See Invisibility, and Blackwarm put up an Invisibility Sphere.

As they got near, Neirida recognized Biting Lash. It was time for payback. The half-dozen slaves on the rooftop were far enough away from the cluster of gnolls that Hans' Maximized Flame Strike hit nothing but gnolls. Blackwarm's Chain Lightning added to their woes, and four of the six gnolls fell, and Biting Lash's eagle was severely shocked, though Biting Lash herself remained unharmed.

It was time for Neirida and Helden to move in and finish this.


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NobodysHome wrote:
Session 69: The Annihilation of Frustration, {. . .}

Truth in labeling.


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In case anyone is wondering how the lockdown will affect my journals:

(1) Trig's campaign is already over, so I'll continue to try to post those journals weekly.

(2) The Strange Aeons campaign is family-only, so it will continue, likely with longer sessions since the kids aren't as overwhelmed with homework and GothBard no longer has a commute.

(3) We're going to try to do the Shattered Star campaign using Roll20, but Shiro doesn't care for it all that much, and it'll be Lara Croft Guy's first Roll20 campaign, so we'll see how they react.


Actually had a thought: When you get done with Strange Aeons, have you formed an idea of how you would like to rewrite the AP to address the problems you found with it?


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UnArcaneElection wrote:

Actually had a thought: When you get done with Strange Aeons, have you formed an idea of how you would like to rewrite the AP to address the problems you found with it?

Book 1 was excellent as-is. The design of the asylum so that PCs could spend their first 3 levels in a single building was magnificent. The dreams of the Tatterman were apparently a high point for many groups. Other than providing a bit more advice for the GM on the memory loss ("Don't let them have names. Give them flashbacks of their former lives from their time in Iris Hill or with Biting Lash,") I think it was a very solid book.

Book 2 had one major failing: The PCs had no reasonable reason to go to Fort Hailcourt before going to Iris Hill, but that extra level is critical to get through Iris Hill. You have to come up with a good reason the PCs go to Hailcourt first. Also, more hints about the fate of Winter's party, more hints about the PCs' past, and a greater emphasis on all the mysterious books are in order. Book 3 depends on the PCs performing the Dreamlands ritual. My party saw no reason whatsoever to take any of the books from Iris Hill, so I pretty much had to say, "These books are important. You need to take them."
Just a really clear indicator to the PCs, "These books are plot-critical so you need to take them."

Book 3 was train wreck #1. "Perform a ritual that requires you to successfully make 3 of 5 DC 25 skill checks or be attacked by an animate dream while on a small boat with a crew that could be entirely slaughtered by this creature," isn't something most PCs would do. In fact, my group failed their first attempt, declared the ritual "stupid", and refused to do it again until I (as GM) told them that the plot of Book 3 depended on them doing it. The separation of sections of the book reinforces this: By providing all the details of the river journey first, THEN the section on the dreams, it's easy for a linear-thinking GM such as myself to completely miss that they're supposed to do the dreams during the voyage.
The dreams themselves were really interesting and fun, -BUT- giving the party such amazing loot that they couldn't use in the real world, then having ALL of the real-world loot be dependent on killing government officials was a really bad idea.

Fix #1: Give the PCs a very solid reason for performing an abominable ritual. "It looks like this particular ritual takes you to the Dreamlands, where you might be able to find your memories," or something to motivate the PCs to actually DO it, beyond, "The plot requires it. Heck, my group didn't even see a reason to be researching the books. I can't think of any other APs where you find a set of books and you're supposed to spend days translating and reading them, so PC motivation is utterly lacking here.

Fix #2: Rewrite the river journey encounters entirely. From the random fanatical priest attack to the tax collectors to the inquisitor, it all just feels like, "This is a terrible, terrible part of the world," and my group just wanted to avoid every encounter. With a divine caster of high enough level, preparing Control Water every day for a river journey is a no-brainer, and it renders virtually all of the encounters nonexistent. The dreams were interesting. The river journey was terrible. Other than the meeting with Naerel Twice-Born (mildly interesting) and the pursuit by Captain Vadrack and the Bloodwind, I'd throw everything out and start over with fights with things that are actually obvious "kill and loots". The PCs could encounter a black dragon, some marsh trolls, etc. Anything other than, "We're duly-appointed agents of the local government, but we're evil, so you have to kill us and loot us, in spite of the fact that this is a route that the Sellen Starling uses regularly."

In short, the book treats the river as a one-and-done trip where nothing the PCs do can possibly have any consequences. Intelligent players will say, "Well, we're not going to be using the river ever again, but Skywin will be, so we should be cautious," at which point they lose out on most of the loot in the book.

Book 4 deserves its own special post when I have more time...


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Quote:

After a sleepless night of nothing, Biting Lash's patience had worn thin and Kisetz's concern at abandoning her mistress for so long grew overwhelming, so she insisted that the pair return to the Princess and check in.

In all of this, it was always her loyalty and devotion to the Princess that had driven all of her actions.

The Princess spoke quietly. "And yet in your devotion, you betrayed me and joined with my greatest enemy, breaking my word to these adventurers who have been with me all night with no protectors by my side, and who have done nothing to harm me.
Neirida, if you would?"
Neirida beheaded Kisetz cleanly, and the Princess delicately stepped out of line of the spray of blood

..what alignment is everyone again?


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Session 70: Perfect Obliteration, Played 17-Mar-2020

GM Notes for the Session:
I've noted in multiple posts that 8 CR 6 gnoll lieutenants, 30 CR 4 gnoll guards, 8 CR 3 gnoll trainers, 8 CR 3 dire hyenas, and 22 CR 2 slaves (76 creatures all told) aren't more than a barely-noticeable speed bump for a well-prepared 12th-level party Sure enough, when the lowest AC among the visible PCs is 27, and your best ranged attacks are +8, you just don't matter. Hans channeled 3 times and cast one healing spell, and the party ended the fight just as they began it, at full health.

They did enjoy themselves, though.

And developers? Weapon Snatcher?!?!? What were you thinking?!?!?!

I allowed Impus Minor to rebuild Helden because he really wasn't enjoying the character, So he took Weapon Snatcher, Improved Disarm, and Greater Disarm, plus a Cloak of Disarming. So with a +28 Sleight of Hand, he was disarming two opponents a round (at +28/+15) while floating around with an armor class of 30 when he wasn't trying (he could boost it to 38 when he felt threatened). It was… humiliating.

But everyone had a great time, I had to pull half a dozen fumble cards, and the final toll was complete gnoll annihilation without a single hit point done to any slaves. (My favorite was when Neirida picked up the one that was attacking her, carried him bodily over to the 'slave safety pen', put him in, and returned to the fight, all while he was trying to kill her.)

Anyhoo, let's get this mess out of the way...

Okeno, Day 3: Enraged at the injury to Kahree, Biting Lash hurled her spear over and over again at Blackwarm, but his extreme distance reduced her accuracy enough that she only hit him once. Plus, the party learned that she had a Returning Spear. She ordered Kahree to flee, and Kahree dutifully flew below the line of the citadel wall, out of view of the PCs. Neirida buffed herself even more (putting both fighters over AC 30 for the fight), activated her Boots of Speed, and got ready to charge in. Helden used his Rod of Wonder and it turned him invisible, so he moved in, while Hans healed Blackwarm of his injuries. Blackwarm, deciding that cruelty was the order of the day, sent Stitch after Kahree and then cast Greater Invisibility on himself. The two conscious bodyguards hurled their javelins at Hans, since he was one of the only two visible, but they couldn't hit him either. The slaves, neither dressed nor armed for combat, fled as fast as their legs would carry them.

Biting Lash first ordered Kahree to return to her for protection from Stitch, then used her spear on Neirida this time, again hitting only once, and this time Neirida closed with her and hit her for about twice as much as she'd hit Neirida. Then, the wheels fell off entirely. Helden flew up and stole Biting Lash's spear. Hans dropped a carefully-placed Ice Storm to turn the whole area into difficult terrain, and in spite of the fact that I forgot all about the Incense of Meditation, Kahree dropped quivering to the ground. Blackwarm hit Biting Lash with a Ray of Enfeeblement. And the two bodyguards were exactly as effective as I expected them to be, the first missing and the second fumbling and damaging his weapon. Biting Lash pulled out her backup spear and Helden immediately invoked a Hero Point, took an action out of turn, and stole that one as well. She punched him fairly hard in the face, but he thought it was well worth it.

Neirida gazed Biting Lash carefully in the eyes, remembered all the times that very bird had clawed at her back and pecked at her eyes while she was down there on the sands, fighting under Biting Lash's tender ministrations, and chose her first attack to hit the downed eagle, killing it instantly. Then she tore into Biting Lash. Hans channeled and healed the party entirely. You'd think that might have impacted morale a bit, but apparently not. Stitch started in on the bodyguards, and Blackwarm noticed that more gnolls were coming up the nearby staircase, so he moved over to ambush them. He called out to the party that reinforcements were arriving. Neirida told the slaves to hide at the safest place on the roof, and the party would protect them. They headed to the eastern side, away from the staircases at the north and south end.

From that moment on, it was mop-up duty. The bodyguards yet again had one miss, one fumble, this time blinding himself. The weaponless Biting Lash fell the next round, and Helden relieved both bodyguards of their weapons in short order. Hans used a Hydraulic Push to knock the two guards who were coming up the stairs back down again, and then he and Blackwarm headed for the northern stairs, while Neirida and Helden took the southern stairs. Yes. They split the party in the middle of the fight.

Up north was bad. The 16 gnoll guards from the barracks? They had to come up the spiral staircase. Hans' Maximized Flame Strike got most of them, and Blackwarm's follow-up Fireball killed the rest. Since the lieutenants on their dire hyena mounts were taking too long to come upstairs, Blackwarm dropped a Cloudkill in their ready room, and another Maximized Flame Strike/Fireball combination had Hans and Blackwarm wondering what to do now. (Yes, Hans had FOUR Maximized Flame Strikes and THREE Walls of Stone prepared. He was actually expecting to have to do some terrain control, but that never happened.)

The other side was die-rolling. Lots and lots and lots of die-rolling. 2 guards. 8 trainers. 22 slaves. All needing natural 20s to hit Helden or Neirida. And Neirida just herded the slaves to the safe zone while Helden disarmed the gnolls. About the only amusement was when Helden decided he was bored and started using the Rod of Wonder on the gnolls, getting Darkness twice in a row and effectively blinding himself and Neirida but not the gnolls. And they still couldn't hit. When they finally decided to start killing the slaves in frustration just because the party was trying to rescue them, Helden made an amazing, appalling speech of amorality the likes of which I have rarely heard at a table, indicating he really didn't care whether the slaves lived or died, and he was just collecting them all in case he felt like using them later, and maybe he'd just kill a few himself, or sell them, or whatever, but the gnolls should go ahead because it looked like there were plenty enough for his depredations. His Bluff roll was enough that both the gnolls AND the slaves were shocked, but there was Big Scary Lady up the stairs who wasn't even attacking the ones who were attacking her, and was even carrying them to safety, so the slaves ran for her, figuring she was better than any of the alternatives.

Once Blackwarm and Hans arrived, a Greater Dispel Magic from Hans dispelled both Darknesses AND Helden's Fly spell, so the gnolls had a bit of hope. So of course Helden started using every trick in the book to raise his armor class to a ridiculous 35, sat there taunting them, and Neirida mopped them up.

The fight was over. The gnolls were all dead. The fortress was theirs. Now, why were they there again?


NobodysHome wrote:

Session 70: Perfect Obliteration, Played 17-Mar-2020

** spoiler omitted **

Okeno, Day 3: {. . .}
{. . .} The fortress was theirs. Now, why were they there again?

Um . . . uh . . . Ionno . . . .


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Session 71: Pets!, Played 24-Mar-2020

GM Notes for the Session:
I was expecting a short session because there wasn't much left to do in the fortress: Free the slaves, deal with the animals, find Kaklatath, and move on. But with MY party, there was no way that would last only ONE evening!

As I think I've mentioned, I found the whole idea of gnolls willingly releasing wild animals that would proceed to tear them apart and kill them utterly ridiculous, so I didn't do it. Of course, that made the fight somewhat easier, as a dire tiger is nothing to sneeze at, but Blackwarm and Hans still had plenty of long-range AoE spells left, so the basilisks wouldn't have been able to do much, and the dragonne has an Int of 6, and that's smart enough to tell the gnolls apart from the people slaughtering the gnolls, and to choose the correct side.

But soooo much hilarity last night...

Okeno, Day 3: Looking around at the carnage they had wrought, their first question was, "Why are we here again?"
Helden suggested, "Profit?"
Neirida chimed in with, "I hated her."
Helden suddenly realized that they were looking for a yithian in the body of an old woman, because she'd talked in his head just as the fight started. Blackwarm said, "Oh, yeah! Yithians! They're those guys who crawl into your body and make you do things. Like American tourists!"
Helden turned to Hans and said, "Hey, old man! You're good at finding stuff! Why don't you search this whole place for loot and let us know what you find! And keep your eyes out for an old lady!"
Hans grumbled and headed upstairs. Neirida made sure the remaining slaves knew to go with him to the eastern side of the rooftop garden, and Blackwarm, chuckling a bit, followed.

It wasn't until Neirida and Helden were heading down the ramp from the supply room to the slave pens and they heard Blackwarm casting something horrible that they realized he was raising the dire hyenas as undead. The terrified slaves watched as the reanimated hyenas galumphed up and licked Blackwarm's face. He giggled. "They're still warm!"
He immediately mounted one and started riding it around the fortress. "Hey, Hans! Want one?"
Hans looked balefully at Blackwarm. "No, thanks. I don't ride abominations."
"They're not abominations! They're cute!"
The slaves had learned enough in their time with Biting Lash to stay absolutely, positively still and silent.

As Hans continued his painstaking searching, looting, and sorting, and Blackwarm pranced about with his horde of undead canines, Neirida and Helden reached the ground floor, where two musky-smelling cages with blankets over them caught his attention. "What do you think are in these?"
"I don't know, Helden," Neirida responded.
Helden peeked under a blanket. Three pairs of glowing green baleful eyes stared back at him. Unfortunately, the poor basilisks were dealing with Helden. His natural rolls of 15, 18, and 15 ensured he didn't turn to stone, but instead he put the blanket back down and said, "Neirida, don't look in there!"

He tried to describe the creatures to Neirida, but she couldn't figure out what they could possibly be. Worried about them, they went back upstairs to consult with Hans and Blackwarm. No one could figure it out. (Yes, I have three party members with Knowledge: Arcana. Yes, they rolled a 2, a 3, and a 2. Apparently basilisks are rare where they came from.) They decided to start making friends with the slaves.
"You! What's your name?"
"Chimney sweep."
Helden quickly decided he was an idiot, and turned to a big, burly man. "What's your name?"
"Wagon lifter."
Neirida sighed. "And there's a 'Wheel Fixer'?"
"Yes! Yes! That's me!"

Giving up on getting any useful names, they asked Wagon Lifter about his time at Blossoming Thorn, and his time before that. He had been a slave his entire life, but when his master had died, Biting Lash had bought him for his size and strength and forced him to fight both other slaves and animals for her presumed entertainment. In his eight days at Blossoming Thorn, he had killed "many, many" other slaves. Neirida had heard enough; she didn't want to know any more.

They took Wagon Lifter with them downstairs and asked him about the creatures under the blankets. "Yes. They turn you to stone. That is where the statues in the garden come from."
Neirida decided the creatures had to die, whatever they were.

Moving past the slave pens, they came into a room with animal pens. The six nervous camels tied up in one cage were easy enough to identify, as was the dire tiger snarling at them from within a solid-walled cell. In the third cell lay some kind of lion with dragon wings. Neirida recognized it as a dragonne, and knew that it was intelligent.

She decided to start with the tiger. She spoke soothingly to it, and amazingly, it soon calmed down. It was clearly starving. "Wagon Lifter. Please bring me a gnoll!"
"Yes, mistress!"
The huge slave ran off. While he was gone, Helden spoke to the dragonne. "If I open this door, we're good, right? You're not going to attack me?"
The dragonne made some kind of gesture that seemed like it was saying, "Yes," and presented its bound wings to Helden. He took this as a hint, unlocked the door, and went in with Neirida. Neirida cut its wings and its muzzle free. "My neck… please."
She freed the device from its neck and it shook itself. "What do you want of me?", it asked suspiciously.
"I was a slave of Biting Lash as well. I killed her. I am freeing all of her prisoners."
"Then we have a bond."
Neirida took her dagger and cut a slash in her arm, letting the dragonne lap up her blood.
"I will fight for you."
"I only want you to be free."

Wagon Lifter chose that moment to return with not one but TWO gnolls. Considering the creatures were easily 250 pounds each, Neirida and Helden wondered at the slave that was Wagon Lifter. She let the dragonne have one of the gnoll corpses, and cut up the other and slid chunks of it to the ravenous tiger. Once she was sure the tiger was sated, she, Helden, and the dragonne moved on. Helden and the dragonne started in on a rather hilarious conversation along the lines of, "What's your name?"
"I do not have a name."
"Then what should I call you?"
"I do not have a name."
"Where are you from?"
"My territory in the desert."
"Where is it?"
"I don't know."

Helden finally gave up and went in search of a Headband of Vast Intelligence, but no one had one. Neirida simply named the dragonne Freewing, and he accepted the name graciously. Helden told him that the party consisted of Neirida, Helden, Jerk, and Old Man. Freewing memorized the names.

Neirida asked Freewing how he had come to be captured, and he described feeling a sharp pain in his flank, falling asleep, waking in darkness to the smell of sea water locked in a crate, falling asleep again, and waking here. Neirida realized he had been shipped here, and they might never find his homeland again. She felt sad for him.

As she, Helden, and Freewing stepped into the second room of slave pens, the chained slaves whimpered but did not run. Freewing had killed many of them, but he did not seem to be attacking them at the moment. Neirida had Helden free them and they sent them all upstairs to Hans and Blackwarm. The last few rooms were locked, but these locks were utterly meaningless to Helden. Helden opened the first door and nearly fell over from vertigo: There was the little old woman he'd seen and heard in so many images. As he tried to look at her, her image shifted back and forth between her own and that of a Yithian. A voice spoke in his head. "Thank you for rescuing me, Helden. I am Kaklatath. We do not have much time. We must stop Lowls."
Neirida stepped forward, and Kaklatath greeted her telepathically as well. "Can you walk?"
"Not well."
Neirida offered to carry her, but she looked at Freewing. The two were clearly communicating. Freewing looked at Neirida, then at Kaklatath, then trotted over and knelt so she could mount him. Neirida immediately objected. "You are NOT to use him..."
Freewing interrupted. "She says she is here to help you. You know her. But she cannot move. I can carry her. She weighs nothing. And she will help you. So I will help her. That is my bond."
Neirida accepted this explanation. Helden couldn't take it any more. 23 slaves downstairs. 22 slaves upstairs. A starving tiger. A starving dragonne. Basilisks. Camels. He ran back to the storeroom and started cooking.

At this point, Impus Minor said, "Remember that Futurama episode where everyone was turning stupid and Fry had to save the universe? I think we're playing through that episode. And I'm Fry, and Neirida is Leela, and Blackwarm is Doctor Zoidberg, and Hans is Professor Farnsworth!"

Neirida spoke carefully to Freewing. "I can only speak to you because of magic. Once it wears off, I will not be able to speak to you any more. Do you understand?"
"Yes."
Kaklatath offered to translate for them. Freewing said, "See? She will help you."
As Helden cooked and they gathered all the slaves on the rooftop, Neirida sent Blackwarm and Hans to deal with the creatures with the stony gazes. One Acid Pit and one Maximized Flame Strike and they would never threaten anyone ever again.

Once the slaves were fed, the question was: What were they going to do with a tiger, a dragonne, six camels, and 45 slaves? Kaklatath suggested that Okeno was always under attack by Andoran freedom fighters, so maybe they could get a ship and send the slaves to Andoran. But they could not spend the time to go there themselves, and no ship would willingly carry slaves from Okeno to Andoran. So they would do the most ridiculous thing possible: They would march their entire mini-army straight through town, buy a ship, teleport Skywin Freeling to Okeno to have her pilot the ship, and let her keep the ship as payment.

Brilliant! Simply brilliant!

Except they'd have to wait until the next day for Hans and Blackwarm to have all the necessary spells prepared. They didn't want to risk spending the night at Blossoming Thorn, so they marched to town. Hans used Slumber Hex to put the tiger to sleep long enough for them to muzzle and hobble it, then they had a bevy of slaves carry the tiger gently on a litter. As a guard approached, Helden said, "Don't worry, I got this!"
Helden's most comprehensible statement to the guard was, "Common?"
Fortunately, Blackwarm chose to pipe up with, "Helden, you're an idiot," and Helden retorted by turning to the guard and saying, "Wives. What can you do?"
...5 minutes later, after the GM and other players picked themselves up off the floor after laughing too hard…
Neirida took over, said they'd taken the slaves, and they were taking them to the shipyard. The guard wanted a 100 gold piece bribe. Helden borrowed the money from Neirida and paid him.

They marched through town, and no one dared attack such a massive menagerie. As they got to the shipyard, they learned that a galley cost 30,000 gold pieces! Neirida and Helden said, "We don't have that kind of money!"
Hans smiled. "Don't worry. I got this."
Dozens of bloody and burned bits of gnoll armor, weapons, and shields poured forth, all masterwork or better. A dozen Cloaks of Resistance +1. Hans had been a busy fellow. The harbormaster, realizing just how many gnolls had died at the hands of these four adventurers, decided that discretion (and profit) were by far and away the order of the day, especially considering just how thorough the burn marks were, and exchanged the items for the ship.

The group spent the evening on board the ship, and Kaklatath told them the story of the flying polyps: Many millenia ago, they had come to Golarion to destroy it. In Thrushmoor, they had met the serpentfolk empire and the two forces had destroyed each other, leading to the rise of humankind. Near Neruzavin, the polyps had managed to establish a base and build a city. Fortunately, a yithian was inhabiting a human near the invasion site and called in a force of yithians to drive the polyps away. Kaklatath was one of those warriors. Unfortunately, in their final strike she had become trapped in a stasis field, and had been body-hopping across Golarion since then.

But now she could no longer body-hop, and stopping Lowls would likely be her final mission.

The party asked why, and she said, "It is something I should not, I cannot speak of. An even greater evil than the polyps fell from the sky with Earthfall, and is also near Neruzavin. It corrupts all it touches, my body included."

The party didn't ask any more.

In the morning, the party leveled up to level 13.


Biting Lash definitely deserved to die.


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*SIGH*. It continues.

OK. Book 5 is well-written; I really LIKE the NPCs, the monsters, the motivations, and so forth. It's nothing like Book 4.

But...
Book 5: You have to travel 250 miles across a barren, hostile, desert environment, you need preparations, plans...
Hans: I cast Wind Walk. We're there in a little over 4 hours...
Book 5: Well, I guess I'll just tear up and throw out the first 10 pages of the book,then...


^Need something nasty that likes to intercept Wind Walkers.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

...Maybe Hans is afraid of heights?

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