What if Xanesha cuts her losses and runs?


Rise of the Runelords


So, here's the situation as it currently stands: my players are coming up to the end of The Skinsaw Murders, having hustled their way to and through the Misgivings in considerable haste, dealt with the ghouls at the Hambley farm, neutralised the Faceless Stalker at the Foxglove townhouse and wrecked the Skinsaw cult at the Seven's Sawmill.

There's a definite implication throughout the module that the various villainous NPCs have "an ear to the ground," picking up on events transpiring elsewhere. For example, aside from Aldern, the Skinsaw cult has no contact or operative in Sandpoint, but events at the Foxglove townhouse, as described, definitely assume that Ironbriar is aware of Aldern's defeat and has enough notice of this to lay a trap for whoever destroyed him and might be following up on evidence that he's left behind.

Similarly, Xanesha is noted to "often spend her nights in other parts of the city," and I think it's reasonable to assume that she'll be keeping an ear open to rumours, news, and other information - if nothing else, she's going to be consistently investigating "greedy" individuals as possible targets for abduction and sacrifice. She's not isolated or insulated from events going on in the city, and she's not foolish.

Here's the thing: my PCs have waited twelve days between wiping out the Skinsaw cult and assaulting the Shadow Clock, and when they attacked the Seven's Sawmill they turned loose one of the messenger ravens, which made its way (without a message) to the Shadow Clock and Xanesha. Between the message-less raven and the spreading rumours of a massacre at the Seven's Sawmill, workers at other Kyver's Islet premises swapping stories of the city watch carting a dozen bodies out of the sawmill under sheets, and whatever rumours are circulating about Ironbriar who has at best disappeared, at worst been exposed, and certainly is out of contact with Xanesha, I think Xanesha has all the information she needs to conclude that her plans in Magnimar are pretty well sunk.

Xanesha is noted as gathering greedy souls "in the wild;" unlike her sister she's not tied to any one location, if her plans in Magnimar have been foiled then she has the option of starting over elsewhere. And I'm hard-pressed to find a reason for her to still be waiting at the Shadow Clock when my PCs climb to its spire, instead of having packed her things, left a trap or an ambush for interlopers, and departed for greener pastures.

My questions are:

1) Does it seem unreasonable for Xanesha to not be there, for the PCs to arrive only to discover that she's cut her losses and run?

2) What sort of trap or ambush might she leave for intruding PCs? I've left the Scarecrow and the Faceless Stalker as-is (maybe with a level of something added to the ugothols to make them a beefier obstacle), but I'd like to have something nasty waiting for them when they get to the top of the tower. My first thought was to set up a bunch of gargoyles (including one with enough racial hit dice to achieve Large size, hiding in plain sight as 'The Angel' atop the tower), since they're urban predators that fit the location and are well within Xanesha's power to impress into service with her charm monster spell-like ability, but I'm open to other ideas if anyone has a suggestion here.

3) Where might Xanesha go if she's cutting her losses? My first thought was to send her north to Sandpoint to make trouble there, since that keeps things "in bounds" of the adventure path and doesn't add any new locations, red herrings, or distractions to the proceedings; but she has no allies there, no real reason to pick that as her destination other than the fact that she sent Aldern there and presumably can "pick up where he left off" in terms of greed-related murders. (She doesn't know yet who has been fouling up her plans, only that someone has.) My next thought was for her to head to Korvosa (a mercantile port city where greed will no doubt be flourishing) and beg assistance from the Red Mantis there, since she's established as being at least aware of the connection of Aldern, the Skinsaw cult, Vorel's legacy/phage, and the Red Mantis, if not the architect of that particular deal. That adds a new and unrelated location to the campaign, though, and may become a red herring dragging things even farther off the rails. A third option is for her to simply disappear to some unknown corner of Varisia and not play any further part in the story, but I don't expect my players to let her go that readily. As above, any thoughts and ideas that anyone might have here are very much appreciated!

Grand Lodge

1) This really depends on how you're running your game vis a vis "realism." I personally really like to emphasize timeliness as having an impact, especially as far as information-gathering goes (for both the PCs as well as their opponents). Other players might appreciate a more gamey approach, where Xanesha will reliably be there.

That said, it's definitely not unreasonable for her to have bailed if her assets have expired. If she thought she could easily win through brute force, she might settle for that, but considering what a massacre the sawmill seems to have become, it's reasonable for her to be scared.

2) Depending on exactly how long the PCs wait, Xanesha's trap may expire if she's relying entirely on charmed subjects. Her charm monster lasts 12 days, and if she left after a few days, that clock is ticking. Here's my 'Xanesha is prepared for the PCs' scenario, in brief:

- A charmed Nightscale Assassin (unique variant, Slayer 6/Shadowdancer 1) stalks the PCs as they move through the Underbridge, hiding in crowds where possible. When the PCs head towards the Shadowclock, she follows them, waiting for them to run into the Scarecrow before ambushing them as well. Like Ironbriar, if she is released, she'll be interested in removing Xanesha permenantly (although all other charmed subjects will flee).

- 6 charmed humans ("lovers") have been brought into the Shadowclock and convinced to protect Xanesha. However, a seventh "lover" is actually a Faceless Stalker (Unchained Rogue 2).

- The Xanesha at the top of the Shadowclock is instead a succubus named Vex called through a planar ally scroll. Xanesha may have packed her bags and left, but she'd still like to see the PCs pay - and if Vex, Ironbriar, the Scarecrow, and the Nightscale Assassin all can't make that happen, Xanesha will have to seek revenge another way than relying on charmed creatures.

3) I'd recommend Jorgenfist for Xanesha's retreat. She's explicitly unwilling to retreat to Turtleback Ferry where Lucretia might learn of her failure, but Mokmurian could make use of her. He might even advise her to go to Korvosa, or force her to dispose of the PCs to redeem herself. While I personally like having her returned to Xin Shalast and fleshwarped for her failure, it won't have much impact if the party never met her.

All of this said, there is a possibility that Xanesha is too arrogant to consider that the PCs could defeat her no matter how many charmed subjects they defeat. She might even bring the fight to them - if they've been staying in the same location each night, it might not be that hard to approach with the Scarecrow and Faceless Stalkers and sweep the building, killing everyone inside.

Hope some of this was helpful


TheOrganGrinder wrote:
She doesn't know yet who has been fouling up her plans, only that someone has

She might want to know, which is something of a reason to stick around, though she might work through intermediaries rather than coming out herself. So I can imagine her staying in Magnimar, though not necessarily in the tower.

I like the gargoyles, though she might have to stay nearby to keep them charmed. She'll make a run for it as soon as any real danger shows up; having her there does at least let the PCs see her, without which it's a rather unsatisfying dead end. For a start, you need to leave some clues about what happens next.

She might flee back to Mokmurian, but I think he'd want to get her to do something useful rather than hanging around in Jorgenfist. Maybe find some greedy merchants or miners where the PCs coincidentally go, or investigate the ruins in Sandpoint.


I can't remember if I read it in the AP, or if I put there myself, but in my head both Xanesha and Lucretia have rooms saved for them in the Pinnacle of Avarice. It's a nice throw-back when the PCs get there, but it also means that Xanesha has a home to go back to and start over: you can place her anywhere along the trip back to Xin-Shalast, if you make that her ultimate destination. She may need Mokmurian's help in getting back, or she might go back to being one of Most High Ceoptra's minions in the final book.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I think that Xanesha might stick around, trying to get some more information on the "trouble-makers", etc. (as someone suggested above), but that she'd also be ready to de-camp at the drop of a hat as she knows that they are dangerous. Therefore she'd be ready to put up a fight at the Shadow Clock, but also ready to flee as soon as things don't go her way. (Maybe give her a one-bead-left Necklace of Fireballs, that she can smash before jumping off the tower edge and using Feather Fall, or something similar that sufficiently damages the party so that they won't feel like chasing her.)

The gargoyle imitating the angel sounds like a good idea. In my two campaigns I added a will-o-wisp minion to assist her. Most PCs would find it hard to hit, and it's useful for removing pesky Mirror Image copies so that Xanesha knows which one to hit. I'm AFB right now (so I don't recall if it was in her list of described tactics), but I had Xanesha use her abilities to create the illusion of a succubus in the her lair, while Xanesha hid herself with Invisibility.

As for where she goes when she does flee ... my choice is the Pinnacle in Xin-Shalast, and adding some character class levels.

Both my groups are missing one lamia matriarch kill, but different ones. So I will have to upgrade both Xanesha and Lucrecia for the (non-)delight of my players. :)

Shadow Lodge

Another thing to consider: how will the PCs get the plot hook about Fort Rannick? If they never go to the office of the Lord-Mayor, and don't read Lucrecia's letter, what will nudge them in that direction?
They could always track down Xanesha, but that might send them in the wrong direction, and add even more of a delay on the AP. They could encounter her in a bipedal disguise, either so she can safely meet the interlopers who killed her useful idiots, or to plan a way to get the jump on them. Or possibly to send them off to Turtleback Ferry herself, in the hopes that she'll get to save face when they go after her sister.


Xanesha is a Lamia Matriarch. Here's what the Bestiary says about them in general:

Quote:
The queens of a race consumed by bitterness and predatory instinct, lamia matriarchs mastermind all manner of foul plots in hopes of breaking the bestial curse that afflicts their race. They move with shocking ease from silken-tongued temptresses to dervishes, striking with all the deadly precision of vipers. Quick to covet, enslave, and overindulge, lamia matriarchs luxuriate in gory feasts, violent trysts, and bloody entertainments, reveling until their playthings are broken or until they tire and move on.

Based on this, she might be angry that someone wiped out a piece of her cult, but would she just abandon all the work she has put into it? Probably not. She still has whatever connections she formed to get this whole thing going. She may have lost Ironbriar, but he's obviously not talking to the authorities because she'd know about it. More than likely, she would want to find out who was responsible, and what their motives were. Is it just bad luck? Were the people at the mill taken by surprise? Outmatched? Incompetent? Do the people who did this know there is more going on than just the mill? Were they after the larger plot or did they just stumble into it? And so on.

She may beef up her security, bolster her defenses, hire a few spies and so on. But just leaving empty-handed with no answers? Would Mokmurian accept that kind of defeat? Would Lucrecia tolerate it? Probably not. She needs to take action here, and more importantly, she needs answers. If the players are foolish enough to sit on this for nearly two weeks then she should know quite a lot about them, and they should be facing a much harder fight than before. She might even bring it to them.

Edited to add: Though she can set up her operation anywhere, Magnimar is the largest city for hundreds of miles. Riddleport is a messy and unstable place and not so easy to corrupt because it's already there. Korvosa is a little too closely tied to Cheliax and a cult just popping up may not be tolerated. Kaer Maga is an option, but it has its own secrets and problems. Magnimar is the ideal place: it's a city that harbors a lot of screwball religions and it's a big-ol' melting pot of humanity. She'd try to salvage it if she could.


I am curious, what did your party do for twelve days? My party entered the Shadowclock yesterday, and it took me great effort to stall them a litte. As my players try to do each possible sidequest (even if there is none), I had to deode the ledger faster (they found 3 people, who knew one language each and the barbarian has Linguistics). Two words - "Xanesha" and "Shadowclock" - were enough for party to try to rush as soon as possible. The only reason they decided to spend a day was to enchant some weapons, as ruomors about the tower mentioned ghosts and other "immune to normal attack" monsters.

I am fairly new GM, but I guess after 12 days, Xanesha would for sure find out who is responsible, and as she did not try to kill the PC, she might have moved on to gather souls somewhere else or to warn everybody about a possible threat (though at this point this would seem like a very small problem for all high level enemies). It will be very anti-climatic for PC not to find anyone on the top. Perhaps, a faceless stalker as Ironbriar (if he is alive, but dissapeared), who will take all blame? There is still a letter, that will give some insight.
Although, reading other GMs thought, there is not many good places to go. She could hide, wait until the PC are gone and come back to keep killing.


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The Anniversary Edition suggests that PCs who drag their feet will wind up framed for murder by Xanesha. She sends out her faceless stalkers to continue Aldern's murderspree, but,looking like the party. That seems like a viable counter attack for her which lights a fire under the party and doesn't require her to skip town.

It also mentions that she might send her Scarecrow after PCs who take too long. Everything points to her not bailing just because she loses Ironbriar. Call it arrogance if you want. After all, most of the cultists were CR2. She herself could have slaughtered her way through those mooks easy enough. Or call it fear of failure in losing to Lucretia and failing their boss. Or call it vengeance for anyone impudent enough to take her toys. But she sticks around even if it isn't the "smart" thing.

You are of course free to change this if it breaks your immersion, but it is worth noting that this adventure is full of points where the enemy doesn't use optimal tactics and changing that lay not make the game more fun. She could call her faceless stalkers to her side after they drop the bell instead of just watching them fight the PCs to learn their tactics. She could hang from the roof and use ranged spells to wear people down rather than fight in melee. But all of these changes may turn a climatic final encounter into a disappointing slog.

Grand Lodge

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Oh, probably one last note from me: 12 days of party delay means more than 12 days for Xanesha to learn the party's tactics. Not only could she conceivably have picked up scrolls or other small advantages to counter the party's tactics, she also has 12 days with at-will charm monster to accrue allies.

For the sake of still having a climactic fight, I'd probably just try and balance the party's additional planning time out with some extra Faceless Stalkers - maybe even just one disguised as Xanesha, if the party is prone to ambushing people. Give her 1 little scroll or potion that signals "hey, I've heard about how you fight and it's not going to work this time," then proceed with the fight as normal.

Even if it's easy enough to continue the story as normal without killing Xanesha, at least having a major confrontation with her gives some closure to Book 2. You have plenty of excuses to make her stick around, and I think it's worth using them instead of having her make a strategic decision.


First up, many thanks for all of the responses and interest here! I'll try to address some of the highlights here, but please accept my gratitude for every bit of input that's been offered.

Askar Avari wrote:
2) Depending on exactly how long the PCs wait, Xanesha's trap may expire if she's relying entirely on charmed subjects. Her charm monster lasts 12 days, and if she left after a few days, that clock is ticking.

This part at least isn't a worry for me; my PCs have already committed to investigating the Shadow Clock, so if Xanesha has used her charm monster ability at any point between their attack on the Seven's Sawmill and the present game-time, it still ought to be in effect.

Captain Morgan wrote:

The Anniversary Edition suggests that PCs who drag their feet will wind up framed for murder by Xanesha. She sends out her faceless stalkers to continue Aldern's murderspree, but,looking like the party. That seems like a viable counter attack for her which lights a fire under the party and doesn't require her to skip town.

It also mentions that she might send her Scarecrow after PCs who take too long. Everything points to her not bailing just because she loses Ironbriar. Call it arrogance if you want.

This is definitely something I could have considered! I was underprepared for the span of time between Ironbriar's death and the assault on the Shadow Clock; consequently, the point at which the last session concluded (and at which I was able to take stock of the situation) was immediately after the defeat of the Scarecrow at the base of the tower; I'm not able to retcon interference with the (relatively) uninterrupted preparations my PCs were able to make, so my ability to make changes here is limited to "What has Xanesha been doing, during those twelve days?" (or what might she have been doing) rather than a more active "What can Xanesha do to react to this setback?" But her motivations and personality are worth keeping in mind even so and I'll definitely do that.

Wibs wrote:
I am curious, what did your party do for twelve days? My party entered the Shadowclock yesterday, and it took me great effort to stall them a litte. As my players try to do each possible sidequest (even if there is none), I had to deode the ledger faster (they found 3 people, who knew one language each and the barbarian has Linguistics). Two words - "Xanesha" and "Shadowclock" - were enough for party to try to rush as soon as possible. The only reason they decided to spend a day was to enchant some weapons, as ruomors about the tower mentioned ghosts and other "immune to normal attack" monsters.

It took them twelve days to decipher Ironbriar's encrypted journal (2d4 days per attempt at the DC 25 Linguistics check; I'd need to check my notes, but I think they failed two attempts and succeeded on the third). During this time, they were also finding a druid to reincarnate the wizard who'd met his end on Ironbriar's sword, who then spent a bunch of time enchanting weapons and armour. They had sufficient clues to lead them to the Shadow Clock after casting speak with dead on Ironbriar's corpse, but I think they were wary of what might be waiting there and wanted to find out more from the journal; if not for their back luck with Linguistics checks and determination to decipher the journal before making their move, they probably could have hit the Shadow Clock maybe a week earlier.

The Shifty Mongoose wrote:
Another thing to consider: how will the PCs get the plot hook about Fort Rannick? If they never go to the office of the Lord-Mayor, and don't read Lucrecia's letter, what will nudge them in that direction?

My feeling here is the hook doesn't depend on Xanesha's personal presence, just the letter from Lucrecia, which tells the PCs everything they need to know. One option is to bump the DC on the Perception check needed to find it - perhaps it's buried unseen somewhere in Xanesha's "nest" - and assume that Xanesha simply cleared out in too much of a hurry to remember that she still had this discarded scrap kicking around somewhere. The other option is to not bump the DC - depending on just how deep the rivalry/bad blood between Xanesha and Lucrecia goes, Xanesha might have left this clue to her sister's whereabouts sitting out in the open on purpose, hoping to divert those investigating her onto her sister's trail instead and mess with the smooth running of Lucrecia's plans, as well as getting them off her own back. Either way, it's possible for the PCs to pick up the hook to the next module without Xanesha herself being present.

Askar Avari wrote:
Oh, probably one last note from me: 12 days of party delay means more than 12 days for Xanesha to learn the party's tactics. Not only could she conceivably have picked up scrolls or other small advantages to counter the party's tactics, [...] Even if it's easy enough to continue the story as normal without killing Xanesha, at least having a major confrontation with her gives some closure to Book 2. You have plenty of excuses to make her stick around, and I think it's worth using them instead of having her make a strategic decision.

I figure Xanesha's got plenty of time to prepare, but the trick is going to be how she might have learned the party's tactics during that window of opportunity; there aren't many reasons for the PCs to do "high profile" things that might attract her attention or demonstrate their abilities between the fight at the Seven's Sawmill and the visit to the Shadow Clock, and with the Skinsaw cult decimated I feel like Xanesha's primary information-gathering network has also been shut down. I certainly take your point about Xanesha being a much more suitable dramatic climax to the module than any substitute she might have arranged or trap she might have laid, though.

Thanks again everyone!

Scarab Sages

When I ran this, Xanesha barely escaped the fight on top of the Shadow Clock. That was a fun and difficult fight for the party. But, the next time they ran into her, the party was 1 level higher, with more gear, and they completely wiped the walls with her at Fort Rannick; it was quite a letdown.

Like others mentioned, if there is that much time between the assault on the Shadow Clock and the takedown of the Cult/Ironbar, she should have time to really get to know the party's tactics but ultimately, she should feel she can take 'em with the right preparation. I, personally, dislike removing prepared battles, especially with the BBEG of the book, even if, logically, the party will stomp over them. It is just like PC hiring NPCs to help them with battles - the PCs are the heroes, they're the one supposed to do the hero stuff.

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