Well, as the title may imply the group I GM has finally finished Heroes of Undarin.
And I do mean they finished it, not the other way arond.
So I'm gonna do a writeup on how the heck this all came about as while I do believe the primary factor here was my players' tenacity and resourcefulness, there were also definitely some very lucky moments and some various things that may well fall to table variance and such to where if any of these things were absent it may not have turned out so well.
EDIT: Looking over this now I realize this writeup is really long. Just wanted to give fair warning. In fact I'm going to go through right now and use spoilers to compact and sort it, hopefully without the site messing up on me this time.
EDIT 2: Done!
I'm going to start out with an outline of the party and their key abilities and gear, as well as a general overview of their capabilities, style, and contributions before going into details about each individual fight and break. I'm going to be writing them out in a general pattern of general PC positioning, monster initiation, possibly general opening action of one or both sides, and then deeper explanation of each type of monster's actions followed by each player. I'm not sure how fluidly this will read but it is by far the easiest way to organize my memories with the lack of remembering the exact details. However at the end of this whole thing I will try to do a short narrative of each fight for those interested in just how the fights went/looked rather than all the details I can remember. Failing that I will make and pin a comment with said narrative when I have a chance, assuming I can figure out pinning.
That said, this chapter took us 4 in person sessions and 3 special midweek Skype sessions (The midweek sessions being necessary to keep this from taking even longer IRL) for a total of 4 weeks to get through this gauntlet, and as such my memory of specifics may be failing slightly on early fights resulting in more general descriptions. In case anyone is curious, it went:
Session 1, initial roleplay, temple survey, and wave 1.
2, wave 2 and most of wave 3.
3, the rest of wave 3 and wave 4.
4, wave 5.
5, wave 6.
6, most of wave 7.
7, rest of wave 7, wave 8, wave 9, and ending.
As an initial note, the players were made aware as per the character creation guidelines that they were to be hardened crusaders and were being hired on to fight in the Worldwound. Everyone deduced demons from that and prepared accordingly.
Half-Elf Monk, based on Doomguy from Doom. Key gear included +3 Handwraps with Holy Rune, Bracers of Armor, a Demon Mask,and a Potion of Flying and a Potion of Leaping.
Key abilities included Dragon Style, Dragon Roar and Demoralize, Wall Run, and the ability to beat the ever-loving CRAP out of anything within leg's reach due to high damage and double weakness proccinng (Posts by Mark Seifter clarifying that
you can indeed proc multiple weaknesses at a time. This was fairly vital information.). Oh, also 60 foot movement speed and Elf Step. Doomguy pretty much goes where he wants. And Barbarian Multiclass to get Rage, Juggernaut, and I think
Sudden Charge. Rage was rarely used due to the player regularly forgetting about it, and Sudden Charge was almost redundantwith his mobility, but Juggernaut and also basically-Evasion from Monk were incredibly important for his survivability.
This character was one of our definite mains, with his heavy accuracy and damage and double weakness-proccing he was our best or second-best overall offensive and with his mobility he got where he was most needed easily. He also opened up
enemies for key hits on many occassions by utilizing Dragon Roar and Demoralize, especially on weaker foes. Flurry of Blows was an excellent ability as it allowed him to get his two best attacks each turn even while using two of his actions
elsewhere. Backswing on the Dragon Tail attacks turned a ot of would-be misses into hits as well. His AC was a little low (31 I believe) but he had 18 Dex so it wasn't bad. He also had high HP. Got attacked a lot and took some of the most
damage in a lot of fights but the few times enemies were strong enough to bring him into danger he was able to use the Holy rune reaction to hold out until proper healing came.
Elf Paladin. Key gear included +3 Longsword, Heavy Sturdy Adamantine Shield (Hardness 20, could safely take 4 dents without breaking due to sturdy shield and Shield Ally), an Oil of Keen Edges and a Potion of Quickness. Key abilities included
Blade of Justice, shield use, and Channel Life. He also had Shield Ally and Blade Ally, the latter of which granted his blade the Shifting property which had some good use later on. He also had success=crit success abilities on both Fort and
Will, which proved to be INVALUABLE.
While the Paladin was a solid contributor he unfortunately had some overall problems due to two things. One, he was the only party member without a cold iron weapon and/or a full array of elemental cantrips. He was able to frequently proc weakness with Blade of Justice but being able to double-proc would have probably made him our second strongest attacker. As it was though he was still plenty powerful enough to be a real threat. His defensive prowess was excellent however (AC 35 with shield, good HP), he ended up drawing a lot of enemy fire in some encounters by being in the
right place, drawing enough attention, etc., taking punishment that might have caused others trouble while the rest of us thinned out the enemies he wasn't holding. He also saved the life of the Cleric at one point with his heals.
Dwarf Universalist Wizard. Key gear included a Spell Duelist's Wand (I allowed this to be added to the initial gear choices because there was not any weapon analog for mages. However the player could have gained this item anyway by getting a +3 weapon
and Ring of Energy Resistance and selling them to buy the wand. I did allow players to sell gear to get other things, I am unsure if this was in the intent of the adventure but I found no grounds to ban it. However any instances of using this option are noted for reference.), Bracers of Armor, a Wand of True Strike, and a Lesser Staff of Evocation. Key abilities included a lot of strong spells, including an attack spell of every element and a cantrip of every element. She also had, among other things, a couple castings of Haste, a level 6 Slow, and Disintigrate. The latter two turned
out to be fairly vital to our success. She also had 18 Con, Toughness, and Dwarf Stoutness, resulting in a whopping 154 Hp, more than one or two of our d10 characters. AC 30 was a little low but as good as a Wizard can get at this level, and she mostly evaded attack.
Somehow she ended up being the most unscathed after almost every fight, I think it was
because she only showed herself as a major threat noticably over the rest of the party in a couple fights, and in other fights where she just contributed the same in offense or less in offense and more in buffs and intel the enemies didn't want to bother pushing through other players to attack the Wizard and get themselves surrounded for their trouble. That said she was an absolute key player, using Recall Knowledge to get info on most of our foes, doing good work with AoEs in a couple fights, and absolutely saving our hash with key spells sticking in a few fights. Also her cantrips were hilariously effective in one fight, but that'll come later.
Human Druid. Key gear included +2 Frost Longbow, +3 Chain Shirt, Ring of Cold Resistance, Blessed Oil, like 40 cold iron arrows, and Slippers of Spider Climbing. He also had the Explosive Ammunition but I just realized he completely forgot to use it. Would've been great for the Vrocks. Key abilities included Hunt Target and Hunted Shot from Ranger Multiclass. He had a lot of good spells but there is an irony here I'll get to in a sec.
...The player of the Druid should've probably just played a Ranger. He is very used to Ranger characters and his preferred approach to most problems is to fill them with as many arrows as possible until they stop being problems. This was the strategy he employed here, and as a Ranger he would've had +2 more accuracy and the MAP reduction from Hunt Target, which would have resulted in many more hits. But as it was he contributed well throughout, landing arrow hits with decent frequency, just not as much as he would have liked. He had a lot of spells that might have been very useful in certain fights but come the end of the session about 75% of them were unused because literally everyone at the table, GM (Myself) and the actual player of the character included, kept forgetting he wasn't just playing a Ranger again. Though he did pull
off a cool Chain Lightning and before the last fight he used Wall of Stone to barricade the stairs so they were less of a worry. (Was irrelevant due to the size of the final foe but it's the thought that counts).
Half-Elf Fighter. Key gear included a +3 Cold Iron Orc Necksplitter (I allowed him to sell the Ring of Energy Resistance he chose in order to pay to have his +3 weapon be Cold Iron), +3 Full Plate, Armbands of Athleticism, some Potions of
Leaping, and a couple Fear Gems. Key abilities included Certain Strike (AMAZING with a Forceful weapon and enemy weaknesses, was not very helpful at all against the enemies that had resistances rather than weaknesses), Intimidating Strike, AoO, and Dueling Dance. Was intended to make good use of Trip with high Athletics but rarely thought to use it.
Dueling Dance gave him an AC of 35, making him range from very hard to hit to nigh untouchable by most enemies while top-notch accuracy and Certain Strike made enemies want to focus on him regardless. He often 1v1'd foes but if he had allies joining
him he used Intimidating Strike to debuff foes. He had Shatter Defenses as well but it was rare that he had a foe frightened but not already flat-footed. He was our second best attacker after the Monk and our second best defender after the Paladin.
Didn't have much in the way of spectacular moments but was consistently very useful.
Human Cleric. Key gear included a +3 Cold Iron Guisarme (another case where I allowed a sold item for cold iron, this one I realized later was a mistake as it was a 2 bulk weapon with higher cost. However the Cleric was our weakest physical attacker so I think it's safe to say this did not cause much change in any outcomes.), a +3 Full Plate, a couple Scrolls of Sanctified Ground, and the Wand of 3rd level Heal. Key abilities included Channel Energy, Holy Castigation, copious numbers of Divine Wrath spells, AoO, and a very high Trip modifier (Which put against Reflex being the worst save of most enemies resulted in a LOT of trips). He also had Breath of Life but never had to use it surprisingly.
He was a key player, without his Heals from both Wand and Channel we would have been hosed. Heal was only used 2 or 3 times in battle by him but it and the wand were vital in patching the party up in between battles withi each wave. Other than this
he mostly tripped with a very high success rate and attacked with a LOT of crap luck rolls. The Sanctified Ground scrolls (Knowing the party was a group of experienced Crusaders he figured he would have something like this) was very useful at
first but was dispelled in the third fight. He did contribute Bless here and there as well.
Well, with that out of the way, on to the session proper:
Ironically, this the least roleplay-focused chapter actually had some of the most fun roleplay in DD yet. Well for me at least, I'm less sure about my party. This was because of one little thing I noticed in the module about a week before we played. The heroes you are protecting are the party's main characters. So I had fun roleplaying with the players as their own characters and it was hilarious. I mostly focused on a couple specific ones with very... upfront personalities that I could emulate more easily, definitely with a bit of flanderization thrown in so I could troll my players slightly more.
Actual quote from the Monk player as I spoke as his Druid main: "I'm just sitting here disassociating right now..." XD
But the fun there aside, we arrived at the ruined temple and the Order Heroes went below after warning the party that powerful fiends would likely be drawn to the area and entreating the party to defend the place for as long as they possibly could, no matter what. The party proceeded to explore the area, successfully receiving the altar blessing, detecting the healing blessing on the temple, discerning the purpose and limited use of the stained glass window, finding the magic items in the study, and discerning the threats of the stables and graveyard, resolving to avoid those locations. Meanwhile the Cleric, ecstatic that we were just defending a static location, laid down two Scrolls of Sanctified Ground that covered most of the temple interior.
All that done we settled down in spread out positions to keep watch in all directions and generally have good coverage, waiting until the Kalavakuses ported in.
The Kalavakuses ported in, each about 10 feet from one player as specified in the adventure. The initiative order was fairly mixed, almost perfectly altering between enemies and players. Each fiend did about the same thing first turn: use Enslave Soul (Everyone made the save without fail) and either charge attack with horns or attack twice if their chosen foe already closed distance. They used Haste and continued attacking on the second round. The party response was somewhat varied.
The Fighter and Monk just both laid in with loads of attacks, adding Frightened where appropriate. Both picked off their foes in a couple rounds and moved to help others.
The Paladin kept his shield up mostly and landed one Blade of Justice attack each round. He sometimes went BoJ and two attacks instead. This marked the start of one problem the Paladin had, often having to choose between putting his shield up or using BoJ or a second attack. As such he had a lot of shield-down rounds and was not able to utilize Shield Block as much as would have been preferable. That said he did use Shield Block to good effect this fight. Partway through the fight one foe rage quit their opponent (More on that soon) and Dimension Doored over to the Paladin to get flanking their beleaguered ally. This didn't help much but it did keep the Paladin pretty well occupied.
The Cleric just kept tripping his foe and whaling on it. Typically if starting in the foe's melee reach he would trip, Step back, and attack. This would require the foe to waste 2 actions each turn just getting in reach of the Cleric while said Cleric got an AoO every round. And with the Kalavakus' crappy Ref DC he got trips on a freaking TWO with his first attack. This would've been a curbstomp except that the Cleric couln't roll high on his attack rolls to save his life. Thankfully the Kalavakus was equally unfortunate with Horn Snare. After three or four rounds of unproductive cycles the fiend got so irritated he Dimension Doored over to another enemy.
The Druid had some trouble. He was stationed by the window, wishing to be ready to use it, but this combined with his foe's entry point found him cornered to where he could not safely Step out of reach because of rubble and pillars. So he decided to forgo subtlety, figuring that if he moved the fiend would just follow him. So he ate the AoOs almost every round and just peppered his foe with arrows point-blank (He also had Point Blank Shot from Fighter Multiclass, picked up after taking enough Ranger MC feats and with the aid of Multitalented).
The Wizard had the hardest time. While not caught as much by rubble she was instead cornered at the top of a busted staircase. And unlike the Druid the AoOs could outright prevent her from using her abilities. She spent 3 or 4 rounds in threat, trying to maneuver around, even jumping off of the staircase and taking the fall and prone. But the other fiends were arranged to where she couldn't get clear for a few turns, instead usually moving to a safe square between the threat zones of multiple fiends and then casting a cantrip until she could finally get an opening to break clear proper.
Now in all of this one thing made itself abundantly clear: The Kalavakuses were almost no challenge. Their accuracy was low, ranging from 55% hit chance on the Wizard to 30% on the Fighter and Paladin. For first attack. And this was further hurt by ur Sanctified Ground giving another +1 AC on top of that. They did manage to do some decent damage to the Wizard and Druid thanks largely to all the AoOs, but it wasn't anything we couldn't patch before the next fight. Also they were easy to hit. With the Aura the Fighter hit on 4 first attack, never crit failed a Certain Strike either. Crits and iterative attack Forceful hits were common. The Monk and the Wizard's touch attacks hit on 5, the Paladin on 6. The Monk frequently got d12 damage dice on his attacks from Fierce Flurry.
That said the fight took like 5 rounds because despite landing many attacks and taking few the fiends had huge HP reserves. This fight would have been a little quicker if we had known at this stage that weakness could be multi-procced. But no biggie. The party was sure worse was to come so they fought conservatively and used no daily resources in this fight except a couple of healing items. The combat wasn't terribly varied but one by one the foes fell to their opponents and our party members started ganging up once free of their 1v1s. Not very hard but that was clearly intended given the enemy levels.
After a brief respite the three Glabrezus warped in. They all won init and proceeded to spend their first turns casting Reverse Gravity to catch a maximum number of players as outlined in the AP. This was honestly probably a mistake.
First, some party members (The Cleric, Monk, and Wizard I believe) were able to find purchase on a pillar or other stable object to avoid rising. Second, most of those caught didn't much care. The Druid just got a better vantage with their bow, and the Fighter had Cat Fall (As did the Druid). Only the Paladin had any trouble but I'll get to that.
Also there was the well-documented-by-now ceiling issue. Ceiling is 50 feet up, Reverse Gravity reaches 40 feet up, but the AP says you fall into the ceiling. I ended up going with the ruling that felt least contradictory, that the ceiling and gravity heights were just as written and the gravity shaft just ends 10 feet away from the ceiling. And as the spell allows movement at the meeting of normal and reverse gravity (I guess they create some kind of semisolid gravity plate or something?) this spell wasn't a huge hindrance to us. It awkwardly separated levitated players but of reach of grounded foes and it did do some damage to those jumping off of it but it wasn't too bad. (As an aside I briefly considered having them start the cylinders 10 feet off the ground and reaching to the ceiling, and then grabbing players, holding them up into the cylinder, and letting go. XD)
In actuality this spell was more a hindrance to the Glabrezus, the Huge creatures in a temple clearly designed for large or smaller creatures. See, in hitting as many players as possible with the field they covered most of the main area of the temple. The only place the Glabrezus could move somewhat freely in. From their spawn positions (Which it was tricky to even work out a workable location) it was hard for them to get around. One fiend ended up awkwardly hemmed in by pillars. I think he busted one to get some proper space.
The one on the bottom of the map had a rough time, spending a couple rounds breaking pillars for space and using Dimension Door for relocation before realizing that if he warped in to the main area like he planned he would just be hoisted up by the gravity field. He then decided he didn't care because it couldn't be worse than trying to get around the place otherwise. So he warped into the field and took a swipe at the pillar-grounded Monk before rising.
The one on the right of the map, spawning outside, lumbered up to an entrance and tried to snipe players inside with Confusion for a couple rounds since he was lacking room to effectively teleport in.
As for the players, their response to the situation worked out great. They were less spread out than last time which helped as well. Most of the party just surrounded the Glabrezu and started beating the crap out of it. The Paladin ran and leapt off of the gravity field, trying to land on the Glabrezu. Since this is not rule covered and in the end would have been no different than him just running to the ground and picking up off the floor I adjucated it with a skill roll against a save DC. It worked but he got thrown off a turn later when the Cleric tripped the Glabrezu. It had much better AC than the last foes but between being kept flat-footed and Frightened 1 through various means he wasn't too much more trouble. In fact, despite the fight taking one round longer these guys felt easier than the last fight because these guys had a lot less combined HP than the last set and also because the temple allowed them to divide and conquer. Now that said, the Glabrezus tried their best. The first one gamely threw up Mirror Image on its second turn despite grievous injury and somehow avoided the AoOs before landing a decent attack. It was to no avail though as two images were critted away and then he was killed before the other got hit.
The second Glabrezu was thereafter engaged in melee by the party, with the Monk using Wall Run to get around the cramped entryway and into flanking. This one fell about as fast as the first and with similar methods, he also tried to survive with Mirror Image and failed to do much damage with physical attacks. Monk Flurry, Blade of Justice, and Certain Strike and Fighter crits just were more than it could handle. Near rhe end here the Monk ran off to hold the last Glabrezu.
The last Glabrezu faced down our Monk 1v1 for a couple rounds before backup showed up. The one advantage Reverse Gravity conferred besides being cinematic is that it carried victims out of the reach of Sanctified Ground. That said the Monk actually did pretty well. He gave about as much damage as he took and used that Holy Rune to mitigate some HP loss. It was here that I realized I made a tactical error. I did not realize at first how much more effective the Glabrezu's melee attacks would be compared to their very small selection of spells. The lack of processing this did mean it was a couple rounds before the fiends started using their attacks in earnest rather than spells and while I didn't exactly hold them back from using melee attacks I might have been able to get them into position just a little sooner. Though to be fair this mindset came from a small misunderstanding with the AP about how the glabrezus should fight. The AP says they unleash powerful spells upon the party but aside from Reverse Gravity they don't have many such spells. And that said I believe trying to wreck PCs with Confusion rather than immediate melee focus, it just seems worse because it kept failing. So while it was potentially a tactical blunder it was not an intentional one but rather a 20/20 hindsight.
That said Grab and Captive Rake was quite effective against the Monk but the Monk was also quite effective against them. Using this ability on more instances might have done more damage but given the next fight it would have been no great hindrance and just would have gotten healed during the break after fight 3. Once a couple arty members joined in the fiend fell quickly. But before he did we got to see the beautifully trippy image of a Giant Enemy Crab getting flipped on his back by a Human, ON TOP OF A REVERSE GRAVITY FIELD. As if it wasn't already unclear which way is up... XD
I'm still not sure how duration spells and dead casters work, looking back the spells probably stick around to their duration but I was ruling that with multiple identical monsters if one dies the others can keep the spell from failing but once they are all gone so is it. This was probably a mistake on my part but I don't see that it would have had much effect on the next fight. In fact it would have probably been worse for our foes than for us.
Overall the Glabrezus attempted a lot of strategy, throwing out buffs and debuffs before going in hard, but it almost all either failed or just completely backfired on them and they were quickly overcome one by one. This fight was a lot easier than it perhaps it could have been. Afterward we used healing as needed. I think between the first two fights we used a Channel (It was funny, the Cleric was prone from the gravity field failing, he didn't know how long until the next fight so he just lay there and channeled to make sure we got healed before more trouble arrived.), a potion or two, and Battle Medic may have been used on the Monk by the Cleric. (I specify Cleric because the Fighter has it too due to his backstory).
After the previous fight the party decided to keep their grouping a tad closer together than before, though still somewhat spread out and with the Druid camping by the magic window. As prescribed the Babaus spent their first action on their first turn moving to the edge of the map (As an aside for this fight I somehow derped and assumed the bottom of the map in the PDF was South and the top was North when in actuality those locations are West and East respectively. So the fiends in this fight approached from the west and east instead of south and north. This was my bad but ultimately would have been extremely unlikely to affect anything). I then had them use their other two actions to Dimension Door. Some I sent into the temple, close enough to engage but far enough that the PCs had to burn actions to get at them. Others I sent to various sides of the temple so they could get concealment and then rush in from all directions the next turn. This seemed a fair combination of their Zerg Rush distraction approach and their stealth-based abilities. Once inside they proceeded to try to get flanking and jab players with longspears a lot. It quickly became apparent this wasn't doing s***, because +17 accuracy against 31-36 AC (We still had Sanctified Ground, though not for much longer) an effective attack does not make. They got a few hits in but they weren't strong at all.
Once the fiends realized they didn't stand a chance they tried two different things. First, it was at this point that I realized they could probably sense the Sanctified Ground and potentially try to dispel it. Admittedly if I had considered this the previous fight then the Glabrezus would have easily undone it with their level 6 Dispel Magics (The scroll was only 3rd level), though in doing so the action cost would have likely made them even less harmful to the party. But that ship had sailed and the Babaus fairly easily made the check to identify the spell and proceeded to spend quite a few attempts dispelling it. IIRC they needed a roll of 12 to beat the top DC of a 3rd level scroll with the spell roll on their 3rd level Dispel Magic.
And yet I somehow failed this check at least 4 times in a row.
I eventually got one to stick though, much to the party's chagrin. Near the end of the fight a Babau with the fleeing condition Dimension Doored away to warn the other fiends about our buffs. This ended up being a waste as the last Babau dispelled the second aura on his last turn of existing.
Amidst this the Babaus were also attempting to pressure the party by pressing on the stairs. Our Paladin had decided to stay by the stairs as soon as he saw we were facing numerous weaker foes, and the Fighter soon joined him, guarding the other side of the stairs. The fiends did not simply rush down the stairs as that would be a foolhardy act but they did press in and try to finangle opportunities to slip down while others provided distraction to see that the fiend or fiends that did run down would not simply be cut down from behind. However the party prioritized their targets well and prevented this. They might have managed except that their pressuring prompted the Wizard to use her first non-cantrip spell of the day, Cone of Cold, dealing solid AoE damage and softening up three or four of the fiends.
I think it bears extra clarification here, I did make a judgement call regarding fiends and stairs. Technically they could just run past the players and down the stairs with near-impunity due to the scarcity of AoOs. But that would make no sense. The fiends have no meta-knowledge that getting down the stairs affects the adventure, so as long as the PCs are actively engaging them the only thing they stand to gain from rushing the stairs is a blade to the back. They came here to get at whatever arcane stuff is going on below, but that goal is not well-fulfilled by ignoring the protectors of the area. Incidentally this is a similar situation to Sombrefell Hall where the monsters focus on the defenders, only going after their ultimate objective if the defenders are sufficiently indisposed. This fight was just about the only time the fiends made advances on the stairs, they did so because it was kind of their only hope, as it was clear that the PCs were far outmatching them.
Now all this said, what of the Omox? Another example of bad GM luck procced here and I rolled a Nat 1 for its stealth to remain unheard on its approach. It was approaching near the Druid's position so he got ready to fight. The Omox came around, the terrain prevented him from using Cloudkill effectively on turn 1 as he needed 2 Strides to get even near, so he just spat acid for a hit and the secondary effect failed. Next round he closed in and used Cloudkill after the Druid loosed a poorly-rolled volley of arrows. The Druid continued attacking, landing a few hits as the Omox hit, grabbed, and smothered him. He made the save to negate the effects though and proceeded to continue shooting it rather than trying to get free. This was a slightly silly image but I suppose I could see the full draw weight of his bow being pushed into a sharp point doing some damage to the ooze point-blank. He did have to make flat checks but they were almost always passed. Once the Babaus fell, the Wizard started tossing cantrips while the Monk closed to assist. The Omox managed to grab and smother him as well but the Monk made the save too and the Omox soon fell.
Player action in this fight was pretty simple. The Monk ran around wrecking the crap out of Babaus with flurries and crits (One turn he attacked two Babaus who had I think about 70 and 80 HP left accordingly, may have been a little more. He crits both, smacking each one for 8d12+1d6+24, and rolled high enough to kill both. We ruled that he jumped up and did a Full Split to take both their heads off.), also using Demoralize and Dragon Roar to make them even weaker and also scatter a couple with Fleeing.
Fighter started out just cutting down fiends for a round but then moved to a defensive position to use AoOs and trips to hinder Babau movement alongside other attacks.
Cleric just went in with his trip, AoOs, and attacks, nailing trips easily but still having iffy luck on attacks.
Wizard mostly threw around Recall Knowledge and Ray of Frost, but also threw in a Cone of Cold and whichever cantrip the Omox was weak against (Electric Arc I think).
Druid spent half the fight in an Omox but stalwartly touted his policy of filling all problems with arrows.
Oh, and as for the Cloudkill, it damaged a player or two but was often cut to half damage or even just nixed by the Paladin and Monk due to their abilities. Once the fight ended they cleared out for a couple rounds to let it waft through before regrouping.
This fight was really easy as only one foe was any threat at all, but I think that was entirely intentional given the enemy levels.
This part was kinda funny. The Fighter banged a dent out of the Paladin's shield in 1 round and then asked the Paladin to affix a new Fear Gem to his weapon while he joined the Cleric, Druid, and Wizard in Treating Wounds.
The combined Treat Wounds healed most if not all of the players for an amount in excess of their max HP. So 10 minutes into the 1 hour rest we were done. We actually debated sitting and playing cards briefly before more trouble came. Also in the intermission I had one member of the Order Heroes come up and briefly check on the party. This was nothing mechanical, just some roleplay to break up the fights. (I later used this as an opportunity to give an in-world explanation to why they couldn't get any help from the heroes below and why it would be bad if fiends got by. The Sorcerer from the Heroes explained that two of the party members couldn't leave the ritual because they were non-casters and it took too much effort to get into the ritual for them to leave and re-enter. The other two members were deeply embroiled in the ritual due to one being the most arcane-ly savvy and the other being a Mind Quake Survivor. The Sorcerer however could temporarily exit and re-enter the ritual due to his experience in forcing innate magic to bend to his will naturally and by personal force rather than study. He was as such being assigned to drop out of the ritual if anything got by and fight it off. This wasn't to affect anything mechanical but rather to answer the unanswered questions of "why can't they give us any aid" and "why can they only fight off one wave of monsters slipping by?")
So that done we positioned in preparation for the next foes. This time we all stayed clustered close to the stairs, mostly in a single block. The Druid stayed a little off-formation to remain one Stride away from the window and the Paladin tried to stay adjacent to allies as well as possible (Something we later realized, this wasn't a good way to do it. It is actually better for the Paladin to be in front, the Paladin's player was under the mistaken impression that both the ally and the enemy must be in reach for Retributive Strike, rather than just the enemy. So being in front, enemies are more likely to attack you or attack your allies from a direction that allows R. Strike, plus for enemies with Reach you can be better placed to step up to the enemy so that you can stab em' when they reach around to smack your buddy.).
Intermission also feels like a good place to add an important note. As stated this module took us 7 sessions ranging from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours in length. This may have had some bearing on things as the players typically ended up with 2 hero points per session (including the one you automatically start with), sometimes 1 or 3 instead. Just wanted that to be clear. We definitely didn't use all the hero points at our disposal but hero points were used at least once by each player to reroll a clutch save or attack, and once or twice the extra action option was used. Points were never spent to recover from dying, even when players went down.
At this point the Dread Wraiths emerged from the Graveyard and proceeded to attack the closest creature to each of them as per the AP. This resulted in them splitting up among 3 players. The DCs on their draining auras and draining touch sucked and no one failed them, AKA no one rolled a 1. XD (There may have been one hero point reroll involved but I don't recall for sure). The Wraiths weren't particularly complex, they pretty much just blitzed the PCs and used touch attacks. They landed some hits but were largely ineffective. I believe everyone had touch AC 31-ish, putting the Wraiths at 40% to-hit first attack. So yeah, they did some damage but also didn't have good luck.
The party responded pretty simply but did find that resistances are a pain. Especially the Fighter whose Certain Strike did next to no damage and the Druid whose arrows do little damage individually. They stalwartly spammed attacks regardless.
The Monk was chief, Flurry of Blows frequently hit on both attacks, proccing resistance only once. He also utilized Dragon Roar a couple times. It was especially funny when he put Fleeing on the last Wraith. It bolted 120 feet away, we readied actions to attack it as soon as we could, and the ensuing attacks (Any that could reach) finished off the mostly beaten Wraith.
The Paladin was better offensively than the Fighter, partly due to Blade of Justice, and he also got to do a cool play when a Wraith procced R. Strike and the Paladin got a kill with the attack, nixing the blow from the Wraith.
I don't actually remember what the Wizard did after recall knowledge. For some reason I draw a blank. Though she did use a level 5 magic missile on a Wraith. I remember that.
The Cleric used ineffectual physical attacks briefly, and once the party had all taken some damage and he was pissed enough at the undead he used a 3-action Heal, undoing most of the damage from the Wraiths while the Wraiths themselves blew most of their saves. This killed one or two and left the others as easy pickings.
Like some previous fights this one is a little low on threat so we took our time at first but we found an urgency in that their necrotic abilities could be a problem later. As such this fight ended up using more resources than any yet, between the Cleric Channel and the Magic Missile. We didn't need to patch up hardly at all afterwards (Again thanks to a mid-fight Channel) but the Wizard hasted the Monk IIRC.
Now the graveyard goes boom, the Lich and four Ghost Mages rise. He spouts off some mumbo jumbo about the power that awoke him before attacking. The Ghost Mages each spent two actions to fly into range with the party, 20-30 feet off the ground, and one to use Frightful Moan. Over the course of the moaning I think two, maybe three of the PCs got Frightened.
The Lich then spent one action to fly in, keeping greater range, and unleashed Fireball with his staff. A note on the Lich, I stuck to the spells that he is specified in the AP as using since it says "He uses x, y, and z" rather than "He uses spells such as x, y, and z", even though the Bestiary Lich had a couple spells that I personally thought would be more useful. PCs didn't take too much harm from the fireball. The Ghosts went on to all Cone of Cold multiple PCs, I don't remember if they lived to do more than that. They didn't have a whole lot else at their disposal. Also others have noted this but Resist Energy on the Ghost Mages was redundant with their existing resistances.
The Lich hit the party with a Cone of Cold after this, being too far away to get to the Wizard with Dominate. Third round he tried to Fireball the party but the Wizard Counterspelled it, fourth went in for the Dominate since the party's strongest caster was now apparent but it failed, and he didn't live to see a fifth.
As for the party, the flight of the enemies seemed an apparent problem but the Fighter shared Potions of Leaping with the Paladin and Monk. Monk did his usual beating on of things, as did Fighter. Again Certain Strike wasn't so good, but with their low AC meaningful hits and crits happened. Also the party threw some AoE, Cone of Cold from the Wizard, I believe Chain Lightning from the Druid (He finally remembered a spell!), and Divine wrath from the Cleric. This severely softened up the ghosts. (I know the AP states they try to spread and avoid AoEs but I had to decide between directives because they needed to cluster somewhat to land Frightful Moan and then to spam Cone of Cold on enough PCs. Though to be fair all of the spells had above average AoE (40 ft' radius burst, 60 foot cone, and essentially anything within a lot of feet) so it would have been more difficult to dodge them in the temple.
Within 2 or 3 rounds the ghosts were beaten, and they were finished off in an epic way that segues into mentioning another adjucation I made. The Hasted and Raging Monk took one action to Leap 30 feet, taking him just above the ghosts, and then spent his remaining actions to Strike all four ghosts (3 actions, 2 attacks from one because Flurry). He got excellent rolls and hit every one of them (I don't recall if any critted) and managed to roll enough damage on each one to kill each ghost (They were badly weakened). We flavored it as him jumping and pulling an epic whirlwind kick. So yeah, I ruled that when making a Leap like that you could attack multiple times while you were up there. This was the only time someone spent 3 actions in the air, but there were a few times someone used 2. It seemed reasonable enough to me although I lack knowledge of how fast a magical 30 foot leaping person falls and attacks. But this kind of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon BS is what the Monk is built on. XD Ruling only a single attack may have altered things somewhat but given MAP I can say it would not have added more than a round or two to the life of the Ghost Mages and we weren't in any great danger to where that would have likely caused us trouble. Also, ruling a single attack only seems kinda fiddly to me, because then do you allow or disallow single attacks that take two actions like Stunning Fist and Intimidating Strike, and if you do then why can't you just spend those two actions to Strike twice?
The Wizard, as mentioned, used Recall Knowledge and threw in Cone of Cold (Using her level 5 Arcane Focus charge since she used CoC earlier. She used Focus Conservation but didn't have the actions to use the conserved spell on the next round because she really wanted to do something else), I don't remember what else she did before the Lich used Dominate. But after the Lich used Dominate, the Slowed 1 Wizard took this rather personally. Dropped 3 hero points to get her third action back, used True Strike and Disintegrate. One of the rolls was a Nat 20, this unfortunately was only a normal hit because of Mirror Image, but then the Lich crit failed his save (DC 28, had a -1 to his save from Frightened 1 or Sick 1, don't recall, rolled a 2.).
So the Wizard proceeded to roll the absurd crit damage of Disintigrate, and proceeded to roll in excess of the Lich's MAX HP. (The Lich had taken one hit before this, the Paladin who shifted his sword into a warhammer to get around resistance but the Disintegrate would've oneshotted him anyway).
The Wizard before attacking: Liches... get stiches.
The Cleric after: 99 problems but a Lich ain't one!
The Monk: Move, Lich, get out the way! Get out the way Lich, get out the way! (Okay, I made that one up)
He didn't have time to run away like a Lich, but he sure Died like one. (Okay, I'll stop now.)
I don't remember exactly what the party did to recover. I think there was a Channel either in-fight or after, and there may have been one or two potions used or quite possibly some Battle Medic. The Paladin may have done a Channel (Dropped his hammer to do it one round, picked it up the next), I don't remember. But we got pretty well fixed up. This was another fight that burned some good resources, the AoE spam was generally well resisted (Most saves made, Monk had Evasion, Druid had a Ring of Cold Resist, Full Plate Paladin probably got the worst of it) but still hurt pretty good and it pushed us to throw AoEs in turn to try and bring them down before they could do more damage.
So I have discussed here (https://paizo.com/threads/rzs42ckg?Heroes-of-Undarin-a-couple-encounters) how this encounter over-scales when adding for more than 4 characters, but in short this encounter starts as the EXP equivalent of one level-1 foe per player and a bunch of too-low-to-count mooks that cause trouble regardless. But each additional player adds a level+1 foe. With 6 players this equates EXP-wise to one =level foe per player plus mooks. Despite this seeming to be a design error I ran with it (as well as the other overscaling encounter and the one underscaling encounter) because that's how the module is written and I felt to do otherwise would taint my feedback. It worked out alright.
We reset to our positions again as we healed, mostly clustered by the stairs but again with the Druid posted out slightly to get to the window. The Demilich arose with his Banshee cohorts and a few corpses. He proceeded to call out to us, expressing that he was impressed that we defeated his chief acolyte. He then proposed that we leave our temple and he leaves his graveyard and we would fight on even ground. He cited that he could just wait around far longer than we would even live if we refused his offered. The Paladin called him on his bluff and said that we would happily wait around until we were done here if he would. The Demilich dropped the pretense at this point and sent his minions to advance and attack while he followed behind.
The Banshees swarmed in, IIRC their speed allowed them to get in the temple with one action and subsequently unleash their wail. The damage dealt by this was not particularly devastating but between these wails and one from the Demilich later the entire party except for the Druid failed at least one save in here and ended up with Drained 2 (I was rolling the 1d4 Drain only once per casting and applying it to all failed saves, unsure if this is how it should be or if I roll drain separately. But given damage is rolled once and applied to all players I assumed this was the same. Some players failed on more than one Wail but Drained 2 was the highest rolled for any of the wails, and anyone who failed against the Drained 1 wail also failed against a Drain 2 wail.) condition. The Banshees and Demilich, all being above our level, had considerably high save DCs. Thankfully neither of the Banshees lived to the end of their cooldown. They spent the rest of the fight swinging touch attacks at the largest perceived threats, landing Frightened a few times. There were a lot of misses but they did solid damage overall.
The Corpses just strolled into the temple and straight for the nearest warm body, the first wave arriving during the second round, and a new wave each round after. Eventually we got pretty gummed up with them and they could barely even maneuver. They did very little harm despite landing a couple hits via sheer persistence but their despair aura was blooming annoying as intended. No one got Paralyzed IIRC (Maybe one player did and I'm forgetting) but the constant -1 was killer when we were fighting foes already above-level. However they got chewed up with AoEs and with being targeted by 2nd and 3rd attacks that players felt weren't likely enough to hit the Banshees. The last one went down the round after the second Banshee fell.
The Demilich flew in as far as he could with his first action and proceeded to trap the Paladin who had angered him in a Maze. The DL didn't know who the biggest threat was but the radiant armored smack talking holy warrior seemed as good a target as any. This ended up being a good choice as the Paladin was the only other Heal-user besides the Cleric (Who was down halfway on channels by now give or take one but the Paladin was still full on Spell Points.). It turned out maybe he should have gone for the Wizard because she proceeded to cast Slow as a level 6 spell, costing the Banshees each an action and having varying effects on a few corpses. The Demilich however rolled really low and failed the save, the second instance of my players lucking out hard, and this one actually had a notable effect (unlike the Disintigrated Lich who would have been killed quickly either way). Since Maze is a concentrate spell he had to choose between releasing the Paladin or forgoing casting any other spells. He let the Paladin out (Paladin player was glad, he needed a 15 to succeed on the escape check and needed to do so multiple times to escape). He got Spell Turning and Blink on early with Countermeasures, the Wizard identified spell turning with an ace arcana check and we avoided activating it until one point later. Second turn he used Polar Ray to drop our Fighter, who was already weakened by AoEs and touch attacks. (Come to think of it this is how he got Drained, he actually made the wail saves) Third turn, Wail of the Banshee much to player dismay. Results as mentioned earlier. After this the Demilich ended up in melee with the Fighter (Blink set him hovering near some broken stairs that gave Aramil an approach, despite flight.), with Slow he was forced to retreat or cast but not both. Went with casting reasoning the feeble mortal would miss him but the Fighter lucked out and disrupted the spell. He didn't make it through to the next round.
The party in general focused on bringing down the Banshees and then the Corpses before going after the Demilich. Fighter and Monk volleyed physical attacks, often directing third and sometimes second attacks to corpses when they felt they wouldn't hit the Banshees. The Druid used level 4 Enlarge on the Monk to give him better reach and damage, since the constant Frightened effect of the corpses meant the Sluggish condition from the spell didn't do anything. However the Monk's luck seemed to be far gone in this fight, rarely rolling even as high as 10 and if he did then it usually wasn't a first attack. And the Fighter got downed in round 2 by Polar Ray after being softened up by AoEs and Banshee Jabs. But the Cleric fixed the thing.
The Druid did some decent damage and very importantly he activated the Light Window this fight, cutting Banshee resistance to 5 and Demilich resistance to 2. After doing so he began relentlessly volleying arrows at the DL, but due to the high enemy level and unoptimized accuracy he needed at least a 19 to hit on every attack. Oh, also he was camping on the ceiling with Slippers of Spider Climbing.
Despite the poor luck the Banshees fell after 3-4 rounds and the last of the corpses just after.
The Wizard opened the fight with Recall Knowledge and I don't remember what but then on second turn she let off her level 6 Slow spell, briefly hindering multiple enemies but its key function was that the Demilich actually failed his save, forcing him to release the Maze spell early on and later preventing Step-cast comboing. I somehow don't remember what else she did this fight. My bad. Saved our hash with that Slow though.
Oh, right. Near the end of the fight she forgot about Spell Turning and tried to zap the DL with Electric Arc. It got shot back but she critted the Reflex save, making it look like she was just showing off. XD This was actually nice because it left him open to the Paladin's Heal later that round.
The Cleric used at least one Channel and one Divine Wrath in his effort to bring down the Banshees while doubling up by harming the corpses and healing the allies. I think he used Disrupt Undead fairly well the rest of the fight. One thing that was really liked is that traditional anti-undead spells target Fort and that seems to be the weakest save on Undead, whereas in PF1 they targeted Will, the best save of Undead. In PF1 it felt like undead all-too-often shrugged Cure Wounds and Channel, while in PF2 it feels like they succumb to the full effects of such more often. Also that Heal brought the Fighter back from his KO as well, and I think the Cleric even threw a second AoE channel in the fight, as we took quite a bit of damage throughout.
The Paladin spent a chunk of the fight in a Maze that would have been very difficult to escape if the Demilich hadn't been pressured to drop it. After he got out he went in on the Demilich, throwing out a 2-action Heal (He had put his hammer away while in the Maze, in anticipation of needing to heal when he got out) to do a bit of damage to the Demilich and next turn he pulled the hammer, leapt in, and nailed the DL with a lucky roll. (Made the flat check on both attacks) It was about then that the Fighter joined in, and between the Paladin, Fighter, and Druid, as the others joined in when able, brought the Demilich down in fairly short order. We harvested his Eye Gems, and Ironically NEVER used them. Same with the Lich's scrolls.
This was one of the two hardest fights in the module. The Drained conditions thrown around were debilitating, the AoEs wore at us, and the Banshees were quite strong. The Demilich didn't have terribly powerful offensive options though.
This break was much more tense, we were fairly beat at this point. The Cleric was down to 2 or 3 channels and 1 or 2 castings of Bless, had used a few Divine Wraths but had a bunch of spells left (Some were not very useful though, like Silence which he didn't realize requires a willing target.). Our Wand of Heal still had 4-6 charges IIRC. Some Potions had been used but we still had some left. The Wizard had used many high level spells but still had some ammo left and a few of her Focus charges. Paladin still had most of his spell points, Druid had most of his spells, Fighter didn't really have daily resources but was low on Potions of Leaping (He started with like 5, they were a favored tactic for him for dealing with flying foes, combined with high Athletics to try to bring them down with Trip.), Monk was fine, doesn't rely on limited resources.
Most of the party applied Treat Wounds in the 10 minutes given, full-healing the party. The Paladin took the time to affix another Fear Gem to the Fighter's blade (Which he ended up never using...).
At the start of this time I did have the Sorcerer from my group's main DD characters come up and check on them again, noting how terrible they looked he ran down and grabbed a couple of the Alchemist's elixirs to help the party heal (I know this is not part of the adventure, I deliberately handled this in a way that it would not effect things. The Fighter and Cleric had already rolled for Treat Wounds, I eyeballed their rolls and knew the party was going to be full-healed, they used the elixirs immediately so in the end they didn't provide any extra healing. This was just stuck in for roleplay.). He also told the party that he was going to set a magical trap below to make it easier for him to fight off fiends if they happen to slip by, warned the party not to descend the stairs.
So the party fully healed and reset positions, ready to go in again. Again, having 3 people successfully use Treat Wounds on a generally high-Con party is hilariously effective. Oh, also, the Wizard used Quick Identification to figure out the stuff we had.
We unfortunately found that we were unable to shake the Drained conditions. Despite having Restoration on multiple players none of them were level 4 or higher so no Drained recovery.
The party was in clustered position near the stairs when the next wave arrived. Two Nalfenshees ported in from the south as six Vrocks came from the North. The party decided to split and deal with them, using the Paladin and Druid to try and occupy the Vrocks while the rest tried to deal with the Nalfenshees.
The Vrocks didn't have a whole lot of creativity (I would have utilized Dance of Ruin as that is an epic-looking ability but the AP specifies they only use it if the PCs keep away from them. They all dove in through the North and tried to get in positions to hit maximum number of players with Screech and/or Spore Clouds over the first round or two, throwing attacks around like Halloween candy after that. The DCs were very low, Screech didn't stick on anyone (Though I think one player used Hero Points to avoid failing the save), Poison Cloud was mostly resisted but a couple players got hit with the persistent damage for a bit. The Vrocks mostly focused on the Paladin as he was the first target they could reach, though some attacked the Druid or switched to the Monk once he came up and started wrecking them (He drank his Potion of Flying this fight). But for the most part the Vrocks tried to surround the Paladin and bring him down, and almost succeeded. (I know the Vrocks have flight and reach, but the Vrocks got into melee reach to use their opener abilities, which is when the Paladin started attacking and drawing their ire, and the airspace quickly got crowded to where at least one had to stay in melee reach in order for all of them to keep in their melee reach.) Also the Paladin and Fighter drank the last two Potions of Leaping at the start of this fight so they could get around regardless.). Their accuracy was poor, especially after first attack, but they did damage by sheer volume of beating. The Vrocks took a bit to bring down but between solid hits by the Paladin, Druid arrows hitting three weaknesses at once (The Druid used the Blessed Oil this fight, had Cold Iron Arrows, and a Frost Rune on his bow. The weakness damage often equaled or exceeded the damage of the shot itself. XD), the Monk slamming Dragon Tail attacks everywhere, and some Cleric AoE, the Vrocks went down for good in round 4 or 5 of the fight.
The Nalfenshees were the true threat though. They had similar issues getting around as the Glabrezus did, starting outside the temple with no entrances that fit them. But they had Dimension door and no wonky gravity inside so while this cost them some actions they didn't have trouble beyond that. First round, Nalfenshee 1 moved to get line of sight and unleashed Light of Avarice on four players (I believe it was Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Druid.) Nalfensee 2 couldn't get line of sight on the players in one move but was able to get line of sight on the room so he spent his turn getting inside, coming in 10 feet off of the ground. Next round Nalfenshee 1 warped in and attacked the Wizard while Nalfenshee 2 used Light of Avarice (Hitting the two previously unaffected players and reafflicting the two who had already shed the debuffs) and attacked someone. Might have been the Cleric, don't recall.
After that they mostly loosed attacks and moved around as was fitting. Their attacks had solid accuracy (at least against the less armored players) so they were not averse to triple-attacking but they did usually have something else to do. They tried the Divine Wrath-Attack combo once or twice but it wasn't as effective (Good party Fort all around plus two party members had success=crit success) so they mostly quit that. They primarily targeted the Cleric and Wizard as they made themselves big threats early, they actually downed the Cleric at one point but never managed to get the Wizard down. Insane Dwarf HP contributed here, as did my rolling 1-3 on attacks against her more than once. One of them prioritized the Monk once they realized he was the biggest offensive threat (The Wizard did major damage but was no longer contributing such spells this fight, and the Cleric likewise was running low on spells. They did try another shot to put him down but decided they had bigger problems when that failed), and the other went all-in on the Paladin as he had shown himself a capable healer when he brought back the Cleric and healed several Vrock attacks worth of wounds on himself with some 1-action heals. They figured both healers needed to go down or one would just fix the other, but the Monk was also dealing enough damage to be an urgent threat.
The main play of the enemy was holding the party off with their severe opening debuffs so they could get a head start on damaging them. They successfully held of most of the party for a good two rounds as players tried to shake the Sick debuff and subsequently the Slow debuff. This put the party in a catch-up position which they pulled off admirably, as will be detailed in a minute. In the end the party almost got pushed over the peak of the slippery slope (my term for a turning point in a fight where while the party may still be good on HP and such they have crossed or almost crossed a point where debuffs and/or resource drain leave them in a position where the enemy will likely be able to wear them down before the party can do the same.) but once they collected themselves from the debuffs they started healing and attacking and took down the enemies at a rapid clip, finishing the job somewhere in round 7.
As for the players, the Wizard was a massive help, identifying enemy weakness early with an ace Arcana check and sticking one Nalfenshee with an Acid Arrow for that sweet 2d6+15 persistent damage per round thanks to weakness. Later in the fight (The first one was before she got hit with Light of Avarice and the second was after she recovered) she dropped her Wand of True Strike to draw her Lesser Staff of Evocation to use its charges and stick the other Nalfenshee with 1d6+15 persistent damage. These together did loads of damage over the long fight, though they got her targeted early on. The Nalfenshees switched to more imminent targets though when they realized she didn't have anything quite so harmful left to unleash and the damage was already done. I don't remember for sure what else she did in the fight, I think it was just hurling cantrips and using Shield because she was really hurting for spell slots by this point and had the feeling we weren't done yet (She may have found time to Haste the Monk in here, don't recall.).
The Cleric used a few spells this fight, letting off at least two Divine Wraths over the course of the battle and at least 1 Channel (I don't recall if it was one or two, but I do recall that he was down to 1 Channel after this fight. Also I think he may have actually pulled out his Wand of Heal in this fight to do minor healing and damage while trying to save his last Channel.), slipping in attacks and using his Guisarme to knock down low-hanging Vrocks once or twice so the Paladin could reach. At one point he knocked one out of the sky, swept it onto its back, and stabbed it, all in one turn. Took some lucky rolls (Well at least for the stab. His Athletics bonus was pretty solid) but it was awesome.
Druid probably had his best showing here. The AC on the Vrocks was low enough that his hail of arrows strategy was more effective here, and with proccing 3 weaknesses every shot he was really picking them off. (He also had plenty of Cold Iron arrows at this point as he had been conserving them up until now by only sing them on his first shot each round). I think he also used his Cone of Cold here. I think he got targeted by one or two Vrocks for it but things were to crowded for more to really get at him (He was kind of in the shadow of the Nalfenshees for much of the fight, thank God they didn't have AoO.)
The Fighter focused pretty exclusively on the Nalfenshees, generally using a leap-Strike-Certain Strike combo. He got a lot of work done that way and had the AC to handle any reprisal from it. Thankfully he never crit failed against the Nalfenshees. His backup weapon (The +1 Cold Iron Dagger) wouldn't have been quite so effective.
Paladin was occupied with the Vrocks almost the entire fight. He kept them busy (And conversely they kept him held down most of the fight), lashing out with enough damage from Blade of Justice strikes to keep a few Vrocks on him while keeping his shield up to stave off the blows. The shield really saved him, making a few misses and blocking almost 40 damage from two separate shield blocks (one dented the shield, the other failed to break Hardness).
Once the Cleric went down though he realized he couldn't keep hacking at the Vrocks and tanking hits while he got healing from off to the side. So despite being dangerously low on health he ran for the Cleric, just dodging the AoOs from the Vrock or two that still hung around (two or three were dead by then, one or two had slipped off to other targets, and I think one was scared off by a Dragon Roar) , dropped his sword, and proceeded to hit both the Cleric and himself with 1-action Heals. The battle didn't run much longer after that and I forget what else he did.
The Monk more or less did what he has enjoyed doing this entire session. Kick stuff. If it keeps moving, kick stuff harder. If you get hurt, just keep kicking stuff and you'll feel better. (No, really, Holy rune reaction is awesome.) He started out on the Nalfenshees but switched to the Vrocks early as we decided it would be good to thin them out first while the Acid Arrows worked on the Nalfenshees. His accuracy resulted in a lot of hits, especially with Dragon Roar and Demoralize softening them up. When he turned on the Nalfenshees he had some meh attacks but a couple of really good 70-100 damage rounds (When his average damage is 57 on Nalfenshees it works out nicely. Again, multi-proccing weakness is mad good.).
This was probably the toughest fight in the module. The Demilich was a contender for that position but I think it seemed that way more because of the lasting debuffs. We were definitely in less danger than we were here. The Nalfenshees were extremely effective foes, with Light of Avarice being an extremely strong opener and brutish physical attacks to complement. The Vrocks, despite their number, felt like dead weight but realistically they absorbed a lot of hits, kept players busy, and almost downed our best defender.
Afterwards we had a generous 4 rounds to recover thankfully. We used Potions and Wand of Heal as needed to recover, I think the Paladin may have also popped off an AoE Heal. We were definitely running low at this point, 1 or two charges in the wand, a couple potions left, 1 Channel from the Cleric and 3 Spell Points on the Paladin. The Monk Flight and Druid's Blessed Oil all ran out by the next fight, as did any Haste we had.
We got in our huddle at the stairs once again, as the Hezrous warped in. One from every direction except South where we had 3 come in. As per the AP, they opened with Divine Decree when possible. 5 of them moved and blasted for their first turn, the sixth had too much moving to do and couldn't blast. As they closed in it also put us in their Caustic Stench, but everyone except the Paladin made their saves and were Bolstered. Everyone also made all of their saves against the spells, the DCs were low and our party had really good Will saves (That said we had a few hero point rerolls thrown in to avoid failing those saves.). Before running the session I was really worried about this part as AoE spam can be highly effective. And it is, but with overall good luck on the saves against weaker enemies it's also manageable.
After this round, they closed the distance if it wasn't already done, setting up a couple Swamps of Sloth while the rest used Poison Minds, throwing in physical attacks where able. Going on from there Poison Minds was used a couple of times with more physical attacks added in. There ended up being some grappling (The Monk, Paladin, and Fighter all ended up glomped on to) but in all cases it wasn't too bad. It served as a defensive debuff and hindered attempts to get flanking or other good positioning, and Nauseating Sweat gave us pause, but it didn't stop the Paladin and Fighter from prodding the Hezrous with sharp objects or the Monk from hook-kicking them in the jaw. Overall while they did some damage, after that initial assault they just couldn't hold up against the party.
The party split up after the initial assault, going in groups of 1 or 2 to cover different directions and keep us from getting swarmed. The Fighter and Monk had an easy time with the Hezrous, as did the Paladin. The Cleric did pretty good as well, sing similar trip-and-strike tactics to what he did in the first fight. The difficult terrain was tricky, but we were able to work around it. Fighter and Paladin used the Potions of Leaping to get around and the Monk's movement speed just says screw difficult terrain. Failing that Wall Run was useful.
Now through this fight our Wizard was hilariously effective in an odd way. Electric Arc was MVP. 2d6+5 with weakness 10 against 2 targets isn't a lot but it's good. Especially when they only make their save on 15. But it's not stellar. But what was stellar was the Wizard using this to pick off a total of FOUR Hezrous throughout the fight, two of them in the same turn! When they got to the point where they were nearly dead the players fighting them would move on to a new target and leave the Wizard to mop up. Or the Wizard would just cut in with it before the player moved on. This lead to some kill-stealer jokes. This was definitely the first fight where one player got 2/3 of the kills. XD
The Druid had a fun time and used more spells in this fight than the rest of the chapter combined. Before combat he used Summon Monster to get a Quetzacotl on his side, riding it to get a good vantage point. However, during the initial spamming it crit failed a save and then failed the secondary save, becoming paralyzed and plummeting. Druid was fine due to Cat Fall, and actually continued spending actions to extend the spell because he was using the thing as a platform to keep out of the Swamp of Sloth while the Abyssal critters slowly ate his steed. There were questions raised about the morality of this. Meanwhile he used Electric Arc and dropped a couple Lightning Bolts (Hey, forgetting abo-I mean conserving those paid off!) to great effect. He did end up letting the summon go as he ran out of the swamp finally.
Overall this fight was pretty easy once we got past the gritty beginning. It was probably a minor miracle that we escaped the initial spamming without any Enfeeblement, and thankfully the spell does absolute crap for damage. Even if we had gotten one or two people tagged I don't think it would have made the difference, and it would have worn off shortly into the next fight. Poison Minds and Swamp of Sloth were cool abilities but did little to us. As a not though, the Swamp of Sloth spell actually fails to list the save effects. I ruled the standard half, none, full, double array but there could be a rider effect meant to be there for all I know. Needs cleared up for the final book.
We almost had a scary moment when the Cleric blew his Paranoia save but he had held on to his Hero Points and got it on a reroll. There was a moment's panic at the realization of the implications of "The supporter/healer no longer has friends" though. XD
After this we regrouped, used the last of the Wand of Heal, following it with Battle Medic where it wasn't enough, and stood ready. The Paladin also decided it was time to put on his Potion of Quickness and Oil of Keen Edges after we waited a round or two. The party didn't know how much was yet to come but they hadn't missed the previous pattern of three clustered attacks followed by a break. They also knew full well we were drained to the point that if this wasn't the last assault we had to deal with then we were hosed. And so the party resolved to pull out all the stops and go all in to make sure that our next foe fell, because while being wrong here would mean we were screwed, if we held back in our state we might fall here and if this wasn't the last fight then, again, we were probably hosed.
So now the big boss comes, the Shemhazian. This was the encounter I was most worried about because of the heavy numerical advantages of solo bosses and even more so the Enfeebling Bite ability, as this would turn a very hard to hit foe into a nigh impossible to hit one for any foe that failed their save. I was concerned that he would just shrug attacks off left and right while tearing the players apart with concentrated heavy attacks (While I don't send most monsters after downed players the Shemhazian is a monster I very much read as one who would do just that.).
I was frickin' wrong.
Also an initial note before I go in here, unlike every other fight in this AP this one doesn't scale for more than four players. I could've added in a couple Omoxes to keep CR equivalency but I left it, for the same reason that I left the overscaling encounters. The Omoxes would not have made the difference given what happened though.
Shemhazian ports in as prescribed, I put him in the middle of the main room so that when he revealed himself he would be able to reach anywhere in said room. However, his init fell just after the Wizards which was hilarious because if it had used Perception instead of Stealth for init it would have gone first. But as it was, he ported in and the Wizard spotted him because she had a level 5 See Invisibility on. The Wizard warns that there is something big here, turns to the Shemhazian, and unleashes True Strike Enervation.
First die, 15. Second Die, Nat 20.
Shemhazian rolled crap on his save, got a success but not crit, so it was a failure. The Shemhazian was slammed with Enervated 2 before his first turn even came around, absolutely crippling his dangerous numerical advantage.
I had this little speech planned where the Shemhazian would taunt the party by asking if any of them really thought they were strong enough to take it down before it killed at least one of them in front of the others. After this it decided it did not feel like talking anymore. Also it's worth mentioning that when this happened I admittedly lost the stalwart state I was trying to take on while doing my best to end the party and I burst out laughing because with as much time as I spent sweating over this stat block I KNEW the thing didn't have a prayer with that debuff. I was admittedly quite happy, as while I had certainly not been taking it easy on the party and in fact went in very much feeling they would likely fail despite their best efforts, I was never looking forward to the prospect of them failing and when they started tearing encounters apart I really did hope they could somehow pull through despite my efforts to the contrary.
The Shemhazian did go second, unleashing Divine Decree and Focus Gaze as prescribed. The Fighter and Cleric succumbed to Enfeebled 2, not having any hero points left, while the rest made their saves, as did the Wizard who was targeted with Focus Gaze. And yes, some of these saves only made it because of the DC drop for Enervated. The two turns he survived for after that were a bit hectic, the first time he bit at the Wizard to land Enfeeble, successfully getting her with Enfeebled 3 (Before this the Wizard had hit him with Disintegrate using her level 6 Focus Charge, though he made the save for half, he was even more pissed with the Wizard now.). He followed this by trying to Paralyze her with his gaze, I don't recall if he succeeded or not (I realized later he should've done that first but it would have made little difference), he then turned his last attack on the Monk as the Wizard was now heavily debuffed and the Monk was being a serious threat as well. His last turn he bit at the Monk trying to land Enfeeble (and failed) before using his Gaze to Paralyze the Cleric and Fighter. (While again this would have made no difference in the end I realized this was a silly decision. My logic was that he was using two actions to cancel two full turns, but in reality I was using two thirds of the enemy side actions to cancel one third of the ally side action.
The players responded to the initial weakening of the Shemhazian efficiently and brutally. The Paladin went to run between its legs to the other side to establish flanking. He was summarily slammed to the floor by the beast's tail but got right back up and finished the run. The Cleric, Fighter, and Monk all moved in and began volleying attack after attack, with the Cleric throwing in a Trip (Unfortunately it failed). The Fighter did good as usual with Certain Strike, but he actually crit failed one or two Certain Strikes, an almost entirely new experience for him. XD). And again the Monk started laying down massive damage with good rolls against the fiend's hamstrung AC (I mean he still had AC 34 after enervated and flat-footed which was really good, but compared to its initial AC 38 this just couldn't stand up against the volume of attacks for long, especially with Monk blows doing ~60 average damage and Certain Strike ringing in at 28 or 32).
The Druid had a poor time, as he spent his first turn to use his Slippers of Spider Climbing and get partway up the wall, trying to get a good vantage point, and his second turn he tried to finish moving but was surprised by the reach of the Shemhazian's tail and was knocked to the ground (No damage from the landing because Catfall) and took the rest of his turn getting back up. And then before his third turn the Shemhazian was dead.
The Paladin actually got to use Retributive Strike twice this fight. Unfortunately he missed both times. He was bummed because he was angling for that persistent Good damage, and the Cleric was irked because if he had used Bless on his first turn (He forgot and then remembered here) then one of them would have hit. But then right after the Shemhazian's third turn the Paladin got a Crit with Blade of Justice (He rolled a 19 but had the Oil of Keen Edges active) and easily got the killing blow on the weakened foe.
And so the big final boss, due to a lack of extra player scaling and the insanely lucky opening debuff, was actually the shortest combat in the entire chapter, ending early in the third round and beating the previous record of the Dread Wraiths ending in round 4. I believe the longest fight was the Nalfenshees and Vrocks, going into round 7.
And that was it! As the players settled in awe that they had survived the massive onslaught the Esoteric Order Heroes came up from below- oh wait... forgot one thing. Before the last fight the Druid used Wall of Stone to seal up the entrance to the stairs, so that whatever was coming wouldn't be able to charge down if such a tactic might be attempted. I mean the Shemhazian is like four times the sixe of the opening but it was a good thought. So the scene became a little anticlimactic (Much like the Shemhazian itself) as we went and chipped away the stone to let our cohorts out. They proceeded to express awe at our work and than us, I read the cheesy "This was just part of our job" read-aloud text, and that was it!
My group actually really enjoyed HoU, much to my surprise and relief. We've had a few hard fights in DD so far but no real high-risk super-trial like this. They really enjoyed the different combats, the siege-style setup, working out and exploiting the weaknesses of their foes, etc.. Combat got a bit sloggy at times, mainly due to my not memorizing enemy stats beforehand resulting in much reference (I fixed this decently in later fights and the latter half of the module flowed much better for it), but the party really enjoyed it. Not what they'd want for every game but for an isolated incident it was great.
I know the purpose of HoU was NOT fun, but my group was able to prove that an optimized and well-prepared party -can- potentially make it through a ridiculous gauntlet (Even if it required a few stupidly lucky moments to happen) and had fun doing so, so I call that a win! I'm sure there were many various TPK reports for HoU to feel out where the general limits are so hopefully there is also some feedback value in an outlier resulting in actual success.
If you actually read through all of this madness then I greatly salute you, thanks for reading and I hope it wasn't too much of a slog!
(PS I haven't had time to write the shorter narrative versions of the fights yet, I will do so ASAP but I REALLY want to get this out now because I have been working on this on and off for hours literally ALL WEEK.
Congratulations on defeating the insane challenge of part 5! Our group gave it a go, but we were thwarted at the Demilich. We had only 4 players, and we didn't manage to exploit the demons' weaknesses all that well. I think having more players to contribute actions and spread damage around is really helpful to ensure success in this adventure.
For more information, our group had:
Human Fighter: With a +3 Holy Falchion, the Fighter did the most damage to the monsters. I had some really lucky crits which did upwards of 70 damage a pop, leading to some enemies being killed in 1 round.
Half-Orc Divine Sorcerer/Paladin/Cleric: Our main healer and support. He helped keep us alive with channels and heal spells, and provided some aoe support with Cone of Cold and Black Tentacles.
Human Barbarian/Wizard/Fighter: Our other frontliner. Outfitted with a shield, he relied on his Shield Boss and Spirit's Wrath to provide additional damage while soaking up the hits.
Dwarven Druid/Rogue: Our Storm Druid likes to shoot Cold Iron arrows and throw cantrips around, but I don't remember him casting many actual spells. There was maybe a Tempest Surge here or there.
Right away, we lacked heavy hitters, and we also didn't have a lot of healing resources to throw around.
Our Barbarian couldn't do too much damage, being restricted to a d6 weapon. Rage being 3 rounds didn't help, and even when it was up, we felt the damage it added wasn't worth sacrificing the round of fatigue. He was also stuck in a Reverse Gravity for most of the fight vs. the Treachery Demons.
Our Sorcerer was swamped with trying to keep people alive, and the Black Tentacles didn't do as much as we had hoped. Not only was the damage not up to par, the lack of accuracy meant it didn't actually hit most of the time. He managed to Dispel the Lich's Mirror Image, which helped immensely in bringing it down. However, he wasn't able to spot the fact that I was Dominated in time, and his counteract check failed when he tried to Dispel it.
Our Druid kind of... was just there. He either shot some arrows that are hit or miss, or he cast a cantrip. The 2 actual spells I remember him casting was Entangle and Cone of Cold (and a Tempest Surge once). Oh, there's some Sneaking around trying to make enemies flat-footed as well.
I was given the holy rune by the group, and the combination of the Forceful property and Certain Strike meant that I almost always did damage. I also had up to 5 attacks in a round, using Potions of Quickness and the feat Desperate Finisher, leading to some big turns. However, when the Lich arrived, I failed to save repeatedly against his Dominate, and we lost a lot of resources trying to kill him while I was disabled.
Once the Demilich came, our party was kind of split. The Druid had been permanently paralyzed by the Lich (by failing to save vs. his paralyzing touch, which critted), and the Sorcerer and Fighter decided we would make our last stand inside the crypt. The Barbarian, however, chose to go out fighting outside, buying us some time. We all quickly fell to the dreadful undead, but we put up a fight before going down.
Kudos for the epic write-up.
It strikes me that if the druid's player forgot that he wasn't playing a ranger, the classes might not be sufficiently differentiated. Certainly they feel that way at low levels, but I'm surprised to see it here.
I won't deny the possibility but honestly I think it's more just how that player is. He isn't very used to playing casters and when he does there are usually shenanigans. It is entirely in his style to give a character a fancy bow and then just forget about other options.
Even more so here becase he had Hunted Target and Hunted Shot, a cornerstone of pincushioning enemies, so he mostly just did that and kinda had to be reminded he could do other things. Other things being mostly just spells because he spent the majority of his feats multiclassing (3 Ranger MC feats and 2 Fighter, one of which was gained from Multitalented), the only Druid feats he actually had were Storm Born and whatever gives you Thunder Shield and Stormwind Flight.
He never even used Tempest Surge which makes me sad.
Not that it would have made a difference here, given how much time was left over in each of the intermissions, but Treat Wounds specifically states that a character can't benefit from multiple applications in the same ten minute period, so everyone piling on healing like you describe doesn't actually work.
|Chris George 204|
This is cool, thanks for breaking this down.
One thing that is interesting was your use of Dispel Magic. When looking at this one issue I ran into is the fact that while I believe that the Demons can sense the presence of the Sanctified Ground, they did not have detect magic, and I feel like that is important when trying to dispel something that you did not see cast.
Was just wondering how you believed the demons were able to pinpoint the spell.
Again thanks for this, sounds like a lot of fun, my group has just finished the first 2 fights and boy are they a slugfest.
This is cool, thanks for breaking this down.
One thing that is interesting was your use of Dispel Magic. When looking at this one issue I ran into is the fact that while I believe that the Demons can sense the presence of the Sanctified Ground, they did not have detect magic, and I feel like that is important when trying to dispel something that you did not see cast.
Was just wondering how you believed the demons were able to pinpoint the spell.
Again thanks for this, sounds like a lot of fun, my group has just finished the first 2 fights and boy are they a slugfest.
Thanks! Good to know people are getting something out of this.
Hmm, that is a good question, I had more or less assumed the fiends could dispel the magic by targeting the area in general or that they could feel the centerpoint. I guess I hadn't really considered it fully. Maybe my party didn't need to lose that buff after all. XD
And yeah, they can be a bit of a slugfest. Demons are clearly built with the assumption that their weaknesses will be exploited.
Is your group aware that you can proc multiple weaknesses on one hit? IDK if any of your group has the means to do so bt it is a thing that can be done but it's easily missed. Really no one knew until Mark Seifter posted about it. ^^;
Wow, what a read. True heroes, indeed.
Awesome to see that even with the monster math weighted against you, a well-built party with solid tactics can survive even insurmountable odds. I bet your players felt like rock stars when you told them they were supposed to TPK. :)
Wow, what a read. True heroes, indeed.
Awesome to see that even with the monster math weighted against you, a well-built party with solid tactics can survive even insurmountable odds. I bet your players felt like rock stars when you told them they were supposed to TPK. :)
Yeah, they were pretty darn hype. XD I think even more so when they turned the severely dangerous final foe into a serious anticlimax with that clutch Enervation. Like I literally burst out laughing when it landed because I knew that all but sealed the win for them. The thing only had its massive AC, accuracy, and DCs going for it against the party's numbers and with that tanked he didn't stand a chance and went straight from me worrying about player deaths to the shortest fight in the module. XD
Still put up a big fight but so many things went against him from that -2, a lot of successful saves and hits.
Really my players have always been crazy about surpassing expectations at the best times. I've seen a lot of bosses fall surprisingly well to something crazy they pulled out, it's gotten to the point where I build my bosses tough enough that it's EXPECTED for them to do something insane if they are to win. And it works much better. XD
One time I put them up against an even footing battle (Custom built NPCs equal in number, level, and wealth to the party) with the full expectation they may well die which was intended in the story I made (They were going to die and be sent to some extraplanar prison where they would find the spirit of a previously-lost ally and break out). They proceeded to rightly own the fight with no deaths while simultaneously pulling some Hero Point+Dispel bullcrap to blast a curse off of an NPC ally who was supposed to die heroically to said curse trying to aid the party (the hero point was spent for a +8 on the dispel roll and the resulting total would have ended a CL20 spell. The party was 6th level.). This resulted in a running joke where I'd point out how something was thrown off down the road by that NPC living and the player who dispelled the curse would just go "YOU'RE WELCOME!". XD
And because they won that fight they were abe to save an allied king from a coup d'etat and they died facing off against the planned final boss of the campaign (Who has since been demoted to something of a Disc 2 final boss as the story has developed and the party's choices have changed the flow of the story). They lasted a whole 2 rounds. Their rabbit-plling does not extend to a level 6 party beating a level 20 homebrew boss. XD
Okay, a bit off topic there but I wanted to share how my party pulling nuts stuff like this isn't entirely new. XD