During my party's first session in Turtleback Ferry, the party started throwing Lucretia's name around to try and pick up rumors on her - and quickly found that she was the owner of the Paradise. Now, in my game, Lucretia has not sunk the gambling hall because of how smoothly things are going - she wants to keep people calm and greedy until her plans are complete. I also had a good set piece set up for a fight against a dire crocodile on the Paradise for when the party tried to ambush Lucretia, but . . .
Eventually, she confronted their lie and asked who they really were and if they had killed Xanesha. They admitted that they did, and that they had been hired by the Lord-Mayor to retake Fort Rannick. They also said that they found a letter Lucretia wrote to her sister, and had been planning to come meet her to find out more since then - being hired just provided them more incentive. And she asked why they wanted to meet her. To my surprise, our witch said, "I just want to know more about Thassilon and how you could bring it back." Super sincerely. And our bloodrager agreed.
Now, Xanesha tried to figure out if they were sincere, and they explained that they killed Xanesha because she came after their friends and started a ghoul plague, but they didn't necessarily object to Thassilon's return.
This, coming from a party that has done everything they can to learn about Thassilon, including its many, many evils (slavery, sin magic, constant war, and weapons of mass destruction is most of what they've learned about), caught me off guard. We continued the Lucretia scene for a while, I pulled Lucretia's stock line from the book ("Mokmurian would love to meet you.") and they've agreed to give her a night to contact Mokmurian, during which time they'll put their plans to siege Fort Rannick on hold.
So, aside from this being unexpected, I want to come up with an idea of how Lucretia would respond to a group of adventurers who 1) killed her sister and 2) are sincerely interested in meeting Mokmurian and finding out what he has to say.
Here are my thoughts so far:
- Let's say she does contact Mokmurian. How would he respond? Angry at Xanesha's loss? Uninterested? Intrigued?
- If they find the party threatening, Lucretia could simply invite them to Fort Rannick to talk further. Of course, this could be a very simple ambush, but I think Lucretia might take a different approach - reveal her plan for the region, and gauge whether they're really committed to joining their Mokmurian's side.
- If they somehow surprise me again and are OK with sacrificing Turtleback Ferry, how can I continue the game? What complications could arise that push the party back on track? The threat of losing Sandpoint to the giant raid? Lucretia letting slip her complete contempt for humanity and her desire to see them in chains once again?
I'd appreciate creative approaches beyond "Lucretia turns on them and tries to kill them and becomes nothing more than a roadbump," but I'm struggling to see how to do so beyond a simple conversation with Lucretia.
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Wow. Ok, there's some real mental gymnastics going around with your players.
First, something to consider is whether the Players/PCs are lying - are they just trying to draw out enemies, and you as the DM have not been informed this is their intent? This is an important piece of information, and sometimes you as a DM need to know the players 'secret plans' so that you can best help them achieve things instead of just frustrate them.
This being said, here are some 'how to progress' thoughts.
1) Lucretia and Xanesha were rivals, and naturally evil. It's up to you how much your Lucretia might feel a desire for vengeance or revenge at the death of her sister. My suggestion would be that she is amused more than anything - there 'heros' defeated her sister and are now trying to side with her. It's a delicious last laugh against Xanesha.
2) Mokmurian is the servant of Karzoug, and Karzoug has given him orders and goals. I don't think Mok actually needs to meet the heros yet in person - it might be worthwhile for Mok and Luc to enact a magical ritual to allow them to speak, and the PCs to see an Illusion Mok briefly (I'm thinking like the giant Snoak head in Force Awakens). This gives them a chance to see a next-tier enemy, and hear orders passed directly from the End Boss. The PCs learn the chain of command in the enemy forces, and get to hear how uncaring Mok, and Luc, are for the lives they are about to reap.
3) If the PCs still side with Lucretia, and based on their guesses, she reveals some but not all of her plans. She reveals that the Ogres who have the Fort are under her nominal control, but they are trouble to manage sometimes and bumbling oafs. I can't think of a great way to say it now, but in general she should ask the PCs to prove themselves by going and cleaning out the Trolls who are causing problems up on Skull's Crossing. If they do this, it makes it much easier for the ogres to finish the breaking of the dam to wipe out the town. If the PCs go through with killing off the Trolls, Luc can send them to meet Barl Breakbones up in the Kreeg Clanhold. They can learn the same info from him that they would have if they were to fight and capture him alive. If the PCs are in, the other 'nameless' Stone Giant can approach them that Barl is delaying Mok's plans because he likes being overlord here too much. If they were to handle him and take over, this giant would speak for them and Mok would be pleased.
At this point, if the PCs are going all in on joining the return of Karzoug, you can keep moving through the adventure nominally but from the other side - after the flood, Lucretia leaves to take up her sister's work in Magnimar, while the PCs are to follow the Stone Giant, the Hags and their ogre army to meet Mok. When they are nearly there, they receive orders to join Teraktinus on the assault on Sandpoint. If they go through with the attack, now they are firmly on the side of evil. They go back to Jorgenfist with the raiding army and get to see the place as a series of social encounters instead of combat.
Once there, they can explore the Black Tower (the only place unclaimed by Mok). After a variety of social encounters, Mok receives word from Karzoug (the PCs see Karzoug's illusion message/discussion with Mok) and sends these heros to unlock Runeforge to bring back his servants who should have been safe in the Vault of Greed (they can explore more if they want, and since Ordikon is mad you can either change it to a social encounter or play it as written.)
After they return they find out Mok has marched on the southern cities with his army, starting with subjugating Magnimar. He's left an NPC servant (Lucretia, or maybe the hags) to escort the PCs and whoever they ahve brought back from Runeforge to Xin Shalast, to witness the return of the Runelord and provide him information on the lands of mortals he will soon dominate.
They go, they see Shalast, they enter the Spires, they are even brought into the Pinnacle/Eye to speak with Karzoug prior to his return. He activates the Runewell and enters the world (or the Leng device screws him over, your choice.)
At any point the PCs could balk/turn on their new 'allies' and the adventure can go back to the way it was written. If the PCs go through to the very end and then when faced with Karzoug try and kill him; well, they skipped a bunch of content and are probably under leveled, but they can give it a shot. It wouldn't be impossible.
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Okay, so, I talked to my players out of the game a little bit to see what their expectations and hopes were from the game in Book 3 and beyond, and they were a bit split (4/2), but the majority hoped to use diplomacy to accomplish their mission and only 1 person mentioned wanting to complete the job they got from the Lord-Mayor to take Fort Rannick. So, here's what I've got working for the next session (so much credit to you @HeftyUpTop, your advice was amazingly helpful).
2. The PCs have a secret conversation (a conversation they've been having over the past week to avoid stalling the session) about whether to try and ambush Lucretia or just try and meet Mokmurian. I haven't been privy to what they concluded, so I'll need something that works for both.
3. The party volunteers to move on Fort Rannick by themselves with some signal to call for backup (Shalelu + the Black Arrows). Depending on whether they spoke to Lucretia again or not, they might just be able to walk in by flashing their sidhedron medallions as per the AP in order to be brought to Lucretia.
4. Lucretia asks about the additional forces the party has brought but won't contest any answer they give. Then she'll ask if they've settled on whether or not to attack her (with a prepared action to dimension door into a more open area if they draw their weapons). If they instead proceed with meeting Mokmurian, she will use a ritual to contact Mokmurian in a two-way fashion that lets him see the PCs (and them see him).
5. After introductions, Mokmurian will ask Lucretia to test them before he makes up his mind to include them in his plans. He holds no particular ill will towards them, as Xanesha had grown lazy in her years in Magnimar (her sin is sloth in my game - one of my PCs enjoys slave to sin so I note the sins of all major NPCs[/i], and he now wishes to have Lucretia take her place as soon as she has concluded her work in Turtleback Ferry. Lucretia asks him if it is 'time to proceed,' and he affirms that and says that, if the PCs pass her test to send them to Barl Breakbones.
6. The party is sent ahead of the Demolition Crew to Skull's Crossing. They already suspect that the dam is critical in Lucretia's plans for the region and want to go there before sieging Fort Rannick anyway, so this will suit them just fine. Lucretia asks them to bring the surviving Black Arrows with them (because they'll be facing trolls).
7. Lucretia meets the PCs at Skull's Crossing after they've dealt with the trolls, along with the Demolition Crew. It is here that she reveals that the horrible rain the region has been experiencing is (loosely) her doing, and that she plans to wash away Turtleback Ferry's greed. This, I suspect, is where the real decision of whether to turn their backs on humanity will come in. If the PCs agree to let this happen, they'll pass the first part of Lucretia's test.
If the party brought the Black Arrows with them, Lucretia will first reveal herself without the Demolition Crew and ask, rather politely, to keep Fort Rannick uncontested. In exchange, she'll offer them two things: 1) their lives, and 2) the identity of the traitorous Black Arrow. This is really just to highlight her sadism - my party hates seeing NPCs mistreat romantic partners, and I think this is more likely to make them turn on her than her planning to kill a whole town. Especially b/c I made Kaven Windstrike into Keyla Windstrike (I didn't like the Black Arrows being only men, and I was getting tired of 'villanous woman puppets a man who thinks she sincerely loves him,' and this was the lowest-effort fix).
8. If the party goes through with it, they'll be invited to the Kreeg Clanhold, work for Barl for a bit (I still want to run the The Haunted Heart), see a bit of how he's stalling things, then get the recommendation to take him out and take over. Thanks again HeftyUpTop for this suggestion - I hadn't thought of it at all and I really like it. One of my PCs was hoping to one day become Lord of the Hook Mountain region for some reason, so this could be a fun way to let him do just that . . .
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Glad I could help, and these seems like some good plans!
One thing I'll note for interest sake is that I really like that you've been fleshing out the Pazuzu/Lamashtu side, but don't forget that theirs is not a 2-way fight.
Pazuzu has another deadly rival in the Empyreal Lord Ylimancha as they fight over the souls of all things that fly, who also happens to be a patron lord of Magnimar. (Campaign Setting: Chronicle of the Righteous, p28 for more info)
Lamashtu has multiple enemies, but of particular note in the campaign already being Desna (Lamashtu stole the Beast domain from Desna's god-mentor, which caused his death).
If any of your PCs are good-leaning, having one of these deities take interest in them as the war between Pazuzu and Lamashtu ramps up will give you an in on giving the party some divine inspiration in what's important to them.
Oh, certainly. Our party has 2 worshipers of Desna (a grippli warpriest who was spontaneously created by Desna to cleanse the Lost Coast of Lamashtu's influence; a synergist summoner who fuses with an azata in Desna's service), and one player has taken an interest into Empyreal Lords, although not Ylimancha in particular. The only NPC I've devoted to Ylimancha who might come up in the future is Tiruvinn, the bronze dragon that Ameiko is friends with. Nualia, when she's revived by the party, might also meet Tiruvinn, but the conditions she's raised under are yet to be seen...
The spoilers below are just notes on the particulars of my campaign, but they might be interesting for other people wanting to flesh out some of the background in the Sandpoint region.
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Tailoring Rise of the Runelords for my players has involved a lot of original content and notes (around 140 pages and 20 character sheets I think), although the Sandpoint Campaign Setting guide has ended up being a big help for fleshing out the bits that only got 1 or 2 sentences in the original book. Some of that is just me - I like to keep my players updated on what's up with their favorite NPCs, and they like to check in with them about once a session if they can.
But a lot of this is the result of my players' curiosity. If there's something that gets my players' attention, it's things they can learn, and they've been careful to collect, preserve, and study every 'clue' they can. They run their ideas past Ameiko and Shalelu, ask for books and tutoring from Brodert Quink, and talk about their adventures with the friends they've made. While they're not super into roleplaying, there's some very organic roleplaying to be found in how much they want to learn.
And I think that's ultimately why they're interested in Lucretia. She presents a very tangible way for them to learn more about the world - most importantly about Thassilon. And while she won't come out and just give them the information they're looking for, she also provides steps to learn.
I think the only thing they might care about more than learning more is their NPC friends, especially Shalelu, Ameiko, Shayliss, and Aneka. But while the continued lives of their friends are very much at stake for siding with Lucretia, I think the conflicts that trying to have both would create could feel a lot more organic and interesting than "go here, kill this, pick up this note" like they've been doing. I'd like to reward the style of play they prefer, and apparently to them, that's more about learning and finding clever solutions than being heroic.
As for your own 'villain game,' the easiest piece of advice I that I've been following for Rise of the Runelords is to figure out what the sin (and virtue) of each major antagonist is, and then give them some actions they take in line with that. If sin/virtue isn't quiet working, just think about their worst quality and their best.
For me, this looked something like:
I like to think about the villains a whole lot to be honest. I make them Youtube playlists and make memes about them with my group. And while that might take file down their teeth as villains, it makes them a lot easier to roleplay, and a lot easier to come up with dynamic choices they'd make as my players deviate from the script of Rise of the Runelords.
These were some really great insight, thanks for sharing.
Unfortunately, the players in my main game aren't quite as diligent in seeking/exploring. It also doesn't help that they relatively frequently do really dumb stuff that leads to bad consequences. I've had to integrate new characters so often I think it's becoming a trained skill for my DM class -.-
To be fair to myself, I've done a lot of work on the Patron/Good Deity side and the machinations going on with the Empyreal Lords to protect the Lost Coast without direct interference - I like to lean into a 'the gods can only do so much because if they invest more, so will the enemy' philosophy. Multiple ELords are having small effects, including an original prophecy that has FINALLY started to hook a player into doing some research about topics. (Now I just need to tease out what he can find out with needing to search for more).
My party most recently got captured by Xanesha's compulsions (they ran in 2 at a time, with 15 minutes in between... ) and so after some discussion out of game they decided to reroll, with only one character returning (he was dead during the compulsions and got rescued by an NPC cleric and raised, providing the seed for the new groups mission). I bring this up because I agree with you - modifying APs and Rise of the Runelords in general is just so easy and satisfying.
Because of the above situation, I'm giving Xanesha two other 'cells' of compulsion-driven murderers - one worships Pazuzu and was his small group of monsters hiding in Magnimar (3 winged evildoers), and the other are Monks and their acolytes, followers of a twisted Therrasic Order spawned by the Black Monk from Book 4 - the AP mentions that he has moments of clarity that led to him training the harpy defenders. What if he had done a similar thing with adventurers decades, or even centuries, ago?
Update after recent session
The party met with Lucretia for what they described as a 'Skype interview' with Mokmurian. He sat at a huge desk covered with books, and they later described him as 'kind of a punk b+++&.' Every single person failed their Knowledge checks to identify his race, and they overall weren't able to get much about him other than he was size large.
Mokmurian acknowledged the party, then expressed his displeasure with Xanesha for her defeat without asking too much of their motives. Instead, he apologized to Lucretia for his 'failed judgement' in assigning Xanesha to Magnimar instead of her, then told her he wanted her to move to Magnimar as soon as possible. Turning his attention back to the party, he asked her to test them, and if they passed her test, to send them to Barl Breakbones to learn of their mission.
Lucretia, rather ecstatic at how this meeting went, gave the party a clear offer: slay the Skulltaker tribe at Skull's Crossing, and Lucretia would meet them there and lead them to someone who could answer all of their questions. They hesitated, so Lucretia offered that Skull's Crossing would be a much better place to arrange an ambush than the Paradise, in case they changed their minds, and then they agreed.
At this point, they consulted with the Black Arrows and told them the truth - that they believed Lucretia was responsible for helping the Kreegs take Fort Rannick, that they had met her 'boss', Mokmurian, and that they wanted to get as much information as possible out of her before killing her. While Jakardos and Shalelu both pushed for killing her as soon as possible to avoid tipping off the Kreegs of a potential threat, the party managed to convince them to wait 2 days, and asked them to keep an eye on Fort Rannick while the party went to Skull's Crossing (so the party could have a heads-up if Lucretia went and brought ogres to ambush them).
At this point, OOC, my players said that they were considering legitimately switching sides if Lucretia / Barl / Mokmurian's reasons for using a Runewell were legitimate, and that by splitting themselves off from the Black Arrows, they were getting a chance to speak to Lucretia one more time alone. This is where I think things might get a bit sticky (but in an interesting way) - Lucretia knows about the runewell, but Barl definitely doesn't. I think Lucretia might end up encouraging the party to turn on Barl before they notice the discrepancy, but that's still in the works.
Now, for Skull's Crossing, I've changed things up a bit:
- I made Skull's Crossing's proportions bigger - about 4x the size, in fact - in order to provide the party a hint that it was constructed by giants, potentially even larger than the giants they've seen. The party got their first sight of it at the end of last session (plus art) and they were both terrified of it and excited to check it out, which is pretty ideal.
- I've modified the stats of the trolls (including Grazuul) following Joey Virtue's guide, making trolls CR 6, and the Ettin CR 8. The party has access to a LOT of fire and a lot of ranged abilities, so anything to make the trolls more than a doormat is ideal here.
- The trolls are now a bit more split up - 3 are encountered where the Demolition crew normally are; there's one wandering about the Battlefield looking for any remaining salvageable meat to act as a reinforcement, and 4 more spread out in their living quarters. The ones outside aren't expected to be much of a fight because the party has access to flight and ranged attacks, but the inside fight should be pretty tough. I don't expect Grazuul to hold up long against our merfolk Bloodrager with Impaler of Thorns, but hey, maybe.
- As per the AP, the Storval Deep is totally overflowing at this point, and the dam is barely holding the waters back. On top of that, it is actively raining as the party is exploring (lowering Perception and ranged accuracy while outside). As such, I've ruled that opening the Floodgates at this stage is as good as breaking the dam at this point as far as damage to Turtleback Ferry goes - the rest of the valley isn't in too much trouble, but the floodwaters will sweep right through the town.
- If the dam is actually broken, a Daughter of Oblivion (instead of Black Maga) will crash into the dam and follow the river down. This is just to introduce the legend of the Black Maga, who, as I mentioned above, is underneath Grubber's Hermitage in my game.
At the conclusion of this quest, I plan on having Lucretia arrive at the top of Skull's Crossing with many ogres in tow (probably close to a dozen). This is... honestly just because I like the image of her approaching them in a storm with an umbrella to give them their ultimatum: leave the dam now to be destroyed and accompany her to Hook Mountain, or die here. While she doesn't think the ogres will be anything but fodder if the Black Arrows have successfully managed to follow her, she just needs them to buy enough time for her to cast some buff spells. In order to make the fight manageable, I plan on having her cast dimension door to get to a visible, isolated spot to try and draw the party into fighting her, but we'll see how that goes.
Or, hey, maybe they do go to Hook Mountain. Get to hear Breakbone's spiel about returning the ancient works of Thassilon to their rightful owners - the giants who were enslaved to create them. It sounds good enough on the tin that it just might make taking over Magnimar (and Sandpoint) palatable.
|The Unfortunate Pumpkin|
I find myself in a somewhat similar situation. During the infiltration of Fort Rannick the party's sorcerer charmed an ogre and convinced him he was working with Lucrecia (he was wearing the Sihedron amulet and everything). Now here's the problem, The sorcerer went alone without the rest of the party. He chatted with Lucrecia and decided to join with her and do her bidding. Now it was partially to stay alive, but I believe the player means to have his character go through with just about any mission she sends him on. Now the other players know he is working for the enemy, but their characters don't. I had her first order to him be for him to prove his usefulness by slaughtering the Ogres currently inhabiting Fort Rannick. I'm not sure where to go with things after that point. I'm not sure how things are gonna work out, I kinda like the angle of Karzoug's minions controlling the party, I'm just not sure where or how far to take it. None of the characters are really by any means good guys, but how should I spin this while still keeping them slightly on the Adventure Path tracks? Things are obviously going to be different, I won't be able to follow the book exactly anymore. I'm going to go ahead and say, I'm not going to punish my player for joining Lucrecia. I won't make him stop playing his character or anything, at the end of the day he won't kill or harm any of the other PC'S, but he may convince them that following Lucrecias orders may be their best option.
|The Shifty Mongoose|
Aw, you could've had Lucretia show the PCs her sihedron tatto and offer to give ones to the PCs.
Also, here's a suggestion in case you don't want Lucretia to just D-door away every time: if Barl's suspicious of her loyalty, or is just mean to her, have him use a Dimensional Anchor scroll on her before the fight. I mean, if she runs all the way to him.
Just because my PCs were unfailingly polite to her but avoided the Paradise. When they met her in the fort, they let her leave to warn Jaggrath, listening for their approach and casting spells on herself when she heard them buffing right outside the door; when they killed Jaggrath, she promised to leave the fort alone and never return, then D-door'd away to warn Barl. (Also, she'd told Kaven she was planning a surprise party for the fort, and he honestly never knew about the ogres until his capture)
She told Barl she'd be able to kill their healer if it wasn't for this spell all over her, and her epitaph was, "Mommy!" The PCs were crestfallen when they met Myrianna and realized they shouldn't have let [Lucretia] get away.
Update: After a short summer break, our group is (mostly) back together - our monk and warpriest have had to quit for now, but their characters are still acting as NPCs for fights off-screen for now. That said, their characters were some of the more morally upstanding individuals in the group, so their loss has skewed things a little.
When they found the floodgate controls and the Skull Ripper, however, it was a different story - they had burnt up basically all of their buffs, and the witch's hexes were useless against it, so our magus was promptly decapitated (for the second time this campaign - he got reincarnated as a halfling this time). While they failed all of their checks to learn about the model of Skull's Crossing, the players themselves guessed that it was a floodgate control system but avoided taking actions they were unsure of.
The witch and bloodrager met Avaxiel, and upon learning how long he had been held captive, promptly destroyed the runes holding him captive and allowed him to escape without asking for any information.
With the task Lucretia assigned them complete, the party decided to head back to Turtleback Ferry - the bloodrager commenting that Lucretia likely wanted them cleared out to access the floodgate controls.
Barely had they said this before Lucretia and 10 ogres arrived on the scene and congratulated them on their fine work. She explained her grand plan, including sharing how many people had undergone the sidhedron ritual , and how she would cause a catastrophic failure to kill them without bringing an army to the land. And she invited them to come with her to the Kreeg Clanhold to meet Barl Breakbones, to 'wash their hands of this business.' Additionally, she offered to out the Black Arrow who betrayed them to 'sate their bloodlust' - actually, to cause strife among the members of the party that didn't come to the dam, if they were somehow spying on the conversation.
Our magus accepted literally before Lucretia could talk, and everyone else agreed to come with Lucretia, with the exception of the hunter, who mutated his wolf and flew off, hoping to regroup with the others. Lucretia let him go, smirking all the while, knowing that her offer would reach the surviving Black Arrows. Lucretia ordered 8 of the ogres to stay and start working on the dam (as bait, so they wouldn't be followed) Then, they set off for the Kreeg Clanhold.
I talked to my hunter player about what his plan was for next session. His plan is thus:
2) They're returning to Turtleback Ferry to start an evacuation of the town in case Lucretia somehow manages to succeed.
3) The druid the party is working with will try and track the path Lucretia took the PCs towards the Clanhold and guide them safely up to Hook Mountain. They'll scout as well as they can, then rush the Clanhold to try and give their allies an opportunity to escape.
I have a general outline for how I want to handle next session, but there's some tricky bits I don't know how to handle. Like, everyone not dying.
- Giants of all kinds were enslaved within Thassilon, and built many of its greatest monuments - such as Skull's Crossing or the Irespan. When Thassilon fell, giants became insular, and shunned the technology and magic of the old empire, while humans adapted to this new world by taking what giants built as their own. As such, humanity has thrived, just as it did during the time of Thassilon, on the backs of giants, while thousands of years of tribal tradition held stone giants back from claiming what was rightfully theirs.
- Mokmurian is an explorer, a mage, an exile who did not shun this ancient power, and has used the magic of old Thassilon to bring the giants of the Storval Plateau together as they have never before been. With this power, they will claim what was always rightfully theirs, the works they created. And if humans stand against them, they will be destroyed.
(Now, interestingly, the party knows more than Barl about one thing - they strongly suspect the existence of a runewell of greed, and Lucretia has admitted to them that she is here to harvest greed. While Barl vaguely knows of Lucretia's plan, he has no idea what a runewell really is or how it works. He simply thinks of the Sidhedron as a re-purposed symbol of ancient arcane magic to represent Mokmurian's rule as wizard-king. If they, by chance, explain what they've learned about the sidhedron ritual, he will realize that this ritual has been performed on hundreds of stone giants under Mokmurian's rule. He'll be disturbed, but not quite understand the full implications of this. At the very least, he'll want Lucretia and the PCs out of his sight so he can think - it won't ultimately affect his loyalties, however, just create suspicion towards Lucretia).
If pressed on the identity of the traitorous Black Arrow, she'll talk about how she seduced them and how loyal they are to her, but not reveal their identity until the Black Arrows come to her. Maybe with a Diplomacy check or something, she'll brag about the plan to take Fort Rannick, revealing how vilely she manipulated Myrianna and introducing them to the reanimated corpse of Lamatar out of sick delight. If she has any clear weakness, it's wanting to share how clever she is, and she's not great at hiding the intense cruelty behind it. A passed check would probably be enough for her to admit that the hags were behind the constant rain as well. She's made such good use of her resources, after all! Unlike her wasteful, heavy-handed sister...
Cut to the attacking party, and they'll realize Keyla's treachery, with Jakardos and Vale growing furious, insisting that, whatever else happens, they want to be the ones to kill Keyla and Lucretia. Shalelu will remind them that Keyla was likely charmed into doing this against her will, but another party member already cast enchantment sight and knows this isn't true, so Shalelu will resolve to help them get their revenge, even if it means they'll likely die. Even with that surprise blown, they'll still resolve to attack. The druid will cast insect spies and animal ambassador to warn the party members inside of what's going to happen and learn their location, then the attack will begin.
At that point, I pretty much plan on making up fights on the fly with a collection of ogres, Kreeg fighters, Oni Ogre Mages, and the other monsters provided in the book. Lucretia very well may escape and become the final fight of the book back at Skull's Crossing (even after her treachery, she'll take Keyla with her if she can), leaving Barl to take out as many adventurers as he can while she enacts her plan.
My party is only level 9, but, well. With such overwhelming forces, the only way I see them failing is if they split (which is possible - they'll be very sympathetic to Barl's narrative if I know my players).
Next week is going to be a heck of a session...
Also if anyone has any advice ahead of time for someone with players absolutely speedrunning Book 3 (this is session 4!), that would be great! I literally can't say what's about to happen despite all this outlining!
|The Shifty Mongoose|
While I would have preferred to have more time to have the players learn about them, they did manage to piece together the relationships between all of the members of Thistletop (Nualia, Tsuto, Lyrie, Orik, Ripnugget, Bruthazmus, that one druid) over the course of two sessions, and they've made careful note of the connections between each villain out of sheer interest. Aldern, Xanesha, Ironbriar, Lucretia, Nualia, and Tsuto are all commonly talked about and analyzed basically for fun by my players, and they'd feel very clever if they knew something a major enemy didn't.
If they somehow don't work it out now, plus kill Lucretia and Barl, then they'll still be able to piece it together once they realize just who Lucretia and Xanesha really are.
If there's one thing I really ought to expect from my party by now, it's that they make intuitive leaps more easily than I ever expect them to. The fact that they called (out of game) that the Skinsaw Man was:
1) Aldern Foxglove who
2) Is part of a pro-Thassilonian cult centered in Magnimar
3) Aiming to revive a Runelord using a runewell
After Session 1 of Book 2...
Then specifically concluded that that Runelord was Karzoug as soon as they defeated Aldern.
More intrigue is fun for them, and fun for me, so I might as well keep developing what the AP already implies.
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The session was a blast - and it lasted for 8 hours! Not something I'd like to repeat, but definitely a lot of fun.
And then, once he gave them his spiel about reclaiming giant monuments for giantkind, I saw a light drain from my bloodrager's face. Out of character, she said, 'Oh, crap, I'm going to switch sides aren't I?' The party present all looked at each other and agreed - they weren't pretending to work with Lucretia now, they wanted to help.
The party asked if Mokmurian's army would spare people who evacuated cities that Mokmurian claimed, and Barl said Mokmurian was no monster (staring at Lucretia, who just smiled). The party caught a few inconsistencies in Lucretia and Barl's stated goals, but took that to mean that Lucretia was informed and Barl wasn't (they trusted her at this point, maybe just because they knew her longer). They said they would like to work with Mokmurian and were dismissed.
Lucretia immediately commented at how displeased she was with Barl's reanimated stone giant guard, pointing out that it was 'terrible personnel management' and 'bad for morale.' One of the players commented that they hoped Lucretia would help them kill Barl, as he was a necromancer (and they serve Pharasma). Later, Lucretia came with exactly that offer - seize control of the clanhold by slaying Barl, and she would vouch for the party to Mokmurian. They accepted immediately.
In the middle of the night, our witch with a ring of sustenance went to go see Lucretia. They ended up finding Lucretia along with Keyla Windstrike, kissing in some tunnel. They immediately put together why Keyla must have betrayed the Black Arrows, and the party got a big 'ooh' once they recognized the betrayal. Now aware that there would be an imminent attack on the clanhold, they set about preparing for a big fight.
Skip forward to the start of the attack on the clanhold, and the attacking party immediately dumped a bunch of non-damaging control spells on Lucretia, Keyla, and all of their ogre companions. Lucretia (in initiative order), cast message to ask to parley, and the party approached to be able to talk. She offered Keyla, was rejected, offered a duel to Jakardos, Shalelu and our hunter managed to persuade him not to, and then, out witch flew out to talk to the attacking party, persuading them to leave Lucretia be, kill Keyla, and take out Barl.
They agreed, and Lucretia allowed them to execute Keyla on the spot before giving them directions to Barl. Though they wanted revenge, they were talked into letting her go - for now.
The last the party saw Lucretia, she was lifting up Keyla's corpse, as she promised to 'take care' of it. They figured she meant ate and bailed to avoid watching, but she actually went to lay her to rest, as well as take a lock of her hair to potentially resurrect her someday, when Lucretia is powerful and unquestionable. (I've had the idea that Lucretia really does love Keyla, but recognizes that anything she loves will be used to manipulate her, so she trades her now to protect herself).
The party moves in as a huge mob, and ends up in a massive brawl against 15??? ogres. They split up, with the Black Arrows and some controllers locking down the forge room while the rest move ahead to take on Barl - they didn't even slow down to heal or allow any spells to expire (not even haste!) What followed was an intense 9-round fight of Barl controlling and slowing down one party member at a time until they finally break through, defeat his guard and zombie, and finally crowd him. Unfortunately, he got hit with curse of magic negation early on, and ended up failing to cast a critical fireball that would have evened out the fight, and the party ended up chewing through his 200+hp in two rounds of melee without letting anyone drop. The sisters showed up to support at one point, and immediately got hit with feeblemind (rolled a 2 and failed despite mind blank )and gave up, retreating to Lamatar for safety.
Finally, Barl dropped to his knees with 4hp and begged for his life, sobbing when they said they saw no reason not to kill him. He promised to give any and all information that he knew, and the magus replied, "Sorry, but it looks like your friend knows more than you," and as soon as he Barl tried to ask who he meant, the magus finished him off with trial of fire and acid leaving him little more than bones after a few rounds.
The party all grouped up again, healed up the Black Arrows and Shalelu who were all in a sorry state (or just unconscious), and looted Barl and all his treasure, taking a moment to assess their situation while identifying magic items. When they found the note about the raid on Sandpoint, the party became split on whether protecting Sandpoint or protecting Turtleback Ferry is their priority, finally going with 'Well, whatever we do, we have to find Lucretia.'
They returned to the entrance to the Clanhold, found a pool of Keyla's blood, and Lucretia gone along with a single ogre guard. They thought nothing of it just yet, and our witch wondered aloud if Lucretia really loved Keyla, and why she had taken the body. The session ended there, with the party unsure of themselves, and finding themselves truly pulled in very different directions - towards Jorgenfist to meet Mokmurian, to Turtleback Ferry to save its people, and to Sandpoint to repel a raid. It largely comes down to the witch, who just learned teleport upon reaching level 10.
And, well, that's how my party beat the Clanhold (following Joey Virtue's stat blocks and guidelines) at level 9! I'm very proud of them for figuring out how to make their extremely aggro approach work for them.
I'm waiting for them to decide their approach, but my rough ideas for what to prep are:
1) The party confronts Lucretia at the dam to try and prevent her to flooding Turtleback Ferry, forced to kill her (also, I'd be leveling her up to Sorcerer 4 to make her more of a challenge). Probably pick up covetous aura for the flavor as well as the crazy fast buffing it allows.
2) The party teleports home to Sandpoint, leaving the Black Arrows and Turtleback Ferry to its fate. Perhaps they meet up with Lucretia later, or try and negotiate to avoid a direct attack on the town.
3) The party finds Lucretia, but instead of attacking her, asks her to speak with Mokmurian on their behalf. They take over the Kreeg Clanhold and allow Lucretia to complete her plan, telling the Black Arrows to leave with their lives. They try and convince Shalelu that this is the only way to save the lives of their friends and families, but she leaves in disgust. The party is drawn into the mystery of The Haunted Heart.
4) One idea the party brought up was exchanging favors with the hags, promising to support them and reverse feeblemind if they'll let them access their coven magic. I figure this could also potentially lead them down The Haunted Heart.
My players afterwards said they absolutely loved Lucretia and Barl Breakbones this session, and several of them mentioned that they'd be willing to become an evil party if it meant that Lucretia could hang around in the campaign. Which like. Really funny after they silenced Xanesha and killed her immediately upon meeting her.
This past session was... tough, and potentially the end of this particular thread to the campaign.
Eventually, they decided to talk to the hags, and apologized for using feeblemind on Larastine. The hags had Lamatar on alert, and were prepared to fight if they had to, but they were intrigued to find that the Bloodrager wielded a consecrated sword of Lamashtu, as well as demonic armor (all Nualia's). The (companion) summoner's azata eidoleon immediately tried to pick a fight with them, but she just dismissed it so they could talk peacefully.
The party explained that they had conspired with Lucretia to kill Barl... basically because Lucretia asked. But they'd heard he'd treated the Kreegs poorly, and the hags agreed - they'd been banned from conducting worship for a year after all, and they were rather upset about it! The witch then explained what magic was necessary to remove a feeblemind, then happened upon the solution of simply killing and reincarnating Larastine, and the sisters said they would consider it.
Eventually, everyone present got into praising Lucretia for how well she had been handling things around here, and Grelthaga mentioned that Lucretia had so kindly gifted them this man, Lamatar (the leader of the Black Arrows, and handsome to boot!), as well as done them the favor of tearing 'their awful sister Myriana.' When they asked more about Myriana, the sisters launched into a whole fit about what their sister had done - casting them out 90 years ago after they had used blood magic to protect the forest.
"She called us monstrous and vile, but look now at what she's become!" Grelthaga said. The hags explained that they had received a vision of Myriana's return, of how she's been twisted into a dark and vengeful spirit, and that she is now the biggest threat to the health of the land. They also mentioned that they might be able to control weather a blizzard that would stop Myriana's influence from spreading, they just needed to wait until their deal with Lucretia was finished (and thus the party found out that Lucretia had orchestrated the rain months in advance).
Finally, the party said that they wanted to talk to Lucretia, and asked if the hags knew where she was. "No... but I suppose we could just ask our Mother if need be," Briselda said, gesturing at the statue of Lamashtu. The party quickly drew up some questions they'd like to ask Lamashtu (and excused every member of the party who wasn't comfortable speaking with Lamashtu, leaving only the bloodrager and witch).
"Where is Lucretia, the lamia?"
A: "Turtleback Ferry."
"When will Skull's Crossing break?"
"Who is Xaliasa?"
"When is the giants' raid on Sandpoint going to happen?"
"Where are Teraktinus and his forces located now?"
A: "The Tors."
The party tried to discuss a follow-up question, but after 18 seconds, the commune ended.
The last conversation the remaining party members had with the hags was to ask them if they knew anything about the hags from the Lost Coast - and they immediately did! They started complaining about the creepy Yggra and the viciously territorial Peggy, and how frustrated they were at their lack of cooperation. They had been told, after all, that a general under Lamashtu's command would soon be rising in the region - now was the time to band together!
"I... think we know that general," the witch said.
"Really? Did she... have violet eyes and white hair?" asked Grelthaga.
"Well, where is she now!? She was supposed to be here by now."
"She was killed by a man named Orik Vancasterkin, but we've been preserving her body to have her brought back... wait. Are you capable of reincarnating people?"
"Yes... although it is a rare - and expensive - gift, we have this power."
The witch offered a deal, then - they would research the magic necessary to reverse feeblemind, and cast it as soon as they could - in exchange, would the sisters bring Nualia back?
The sisters agreed to this deal, and the party set out on the two-day trip back to Turtleback Ferry.
And they did! On the bridge north of Turtleback Ferry, they ran into Lucretia and an oni ogre mage who was carrying a large leather sack over his shoulder. She asked if things had gone well at the Clanhold, and they said that they defeated Barl without issue, as well as met the hag's coven. They asked about what she'd been up to in Turtleback Ferry, and she said, "Oh, you know, just grabbing the last of my things from town to make sure they don't get drowned with the town. Here to pick up your horses?" They said they were, and they were hoping to run into their party mates (the grippli warpriest Tad and the half-orc monk Oz). She offered to meet up tomorrow at Fort Rannick, and said that they should stay off the road to avoid the flooding.
And they waved good-bye.
Immediately, Shalelu and the party huddled.
Shalelu: "Why didn't we attack them right there?! They had nowhere to run."
Bloodrager: "Well, she was being nice, so..."
Hunter: "But like. It was definitely Tad and Oz in that bag, right?"
Shalelu: "Should we follow her?"
Everyone veto'd this, and instead headed into town. They picked up their horses, checked out of the inn they'd been staying at, and asked around town for their friends, who they discovered had been working out of the local chapel of Erastil to aid evacuation efforts.
Inside the chapel, they found no sign of their friends, but they did find the corpse of the local priest who appeared to have been stabbed seven times. With a Heal check, the witch said that some of the wounds looked like the wounds had been partially cauterized, and the flesh around the others looked frost-bitten.
Magus: "Looks like she has magical daggers. Why'd she kill the priest though?"
Bloodrager: "Probably to kidnap Tad and Oz..."
The party left the chapel, then noticed that Lucretia and the ogre had tracks leading to the chapel's entrance coming from the nearby Boneyard. They followed the tracks to a recent grave with a hastily-made wooden marking but no name, as well as a discarded shovel.
Our bloodrager immediately pieced together what happened, but kept it to themself and urged the party to leave town as soon as they could, to which they all agreed.
Then, realizing Tad and Oz were staying in the church, she entered it and told them it was time to leave - the town would be gone in less than a day. They refused, of course - every person they could help evacuate counted.
Lucretia: "I'm afraid I can't have you doing that..." and a fight broke out. She beat them, made sure they were stable, and rested before leaving town around noon with them stuffed into a bag. She'd promised their lives, after all.
After running into the party, she made her way to Fort Rannick, said that she had brought important guests (gesturing at the sack), and that they should be treated well but not allowed to leave until they were retrieved by someone bearing a sidhedron medallion. Furthermore, they ought to expect such a person within the next day, whether it was her or someone else.
Finally, she made her way up to Skull's Crossing, cast an alarm spell outside of the door of Grazuul's domain, and spent the next few hours studying the mechanisms of the floodgates. Just when she thought she had it figured out, her alarm went off.
"It's gonna be a fight," the Hunter said, and started casting buffs. The rest of the party hesitated, but soon followed suit. The bloodrager's buff routine included see invisibility, which would become relevant... immediately.
Arriving downstairs, the party saw nothing unusual about Grazuul's domain - except for the bloodrager, who saw a translucent Lucretia crouching in the opposite corner of the room. Realizing she'd been spotted, Lucretia slowly rose to her feet, and put her finger to her lips in a "sshh" motion.
"Is something wrong?" asked Haast (the magus).
"It's just me," Lucretia said, appearing from one of the side rooms. "I hadn't realized it was you coming downstairs - you had me worried. What are you all doing here?"
The bloodrager stepped inside, looking back and forth between the illusory Lucretia and the translucent Lucretia, and said, "Sorry, I'm confused, what's going on?"
"It's a fight," said the Hunter, and he rolled initiative.
Cordelia, the witch, who had said multiple times in the past weeks that they considered Lucretia a friend and an ally, won initiative, and immediately tossed out a feeblemind at Lucretia's illusion. Lucretia laughed, and a few other people tossed out spells before Lucretia's turn came, and she cast a wall of stone to split the party in half.
"And here I thought we were all friends," she said, her illusion disappearing, also revealing that the back door of Grazuul's domain actually had an oni behind it. "But I suppose I can only expect so much."
The fight from there was nasty and long - Lucretia and the oni got hit with black tentacles, stinking cloud, spiked pit, and a bunch of damage effects while the party enjoyed the comfort of fly and life bubble to dodge a lot of these effects. Lucretia's invisibility, mirror image, stoneskin, mage armor, shield, shield of faith, and haste at first too much for the party to deal with. She used her scroll to summon an invisible stalker, commanding it to stand in one of the circles in the back room, and she stood in front of the model of Skull's Crossing (which is where I also put the levers controlling which flood gates would open), taking something like 15 attacks/round for 6 rounds before dropping to 30hp.
She used her mage's tattoo to cast wall of stone to seal off the model/console without getting destroyed by the arcane bloodrager, and soon afterward ended up isolated with the witch as the party got split up by a spiked pit.
"This is such a disappointment," Lucretia said, bleeding from more than twenty wounds at this point, but refusing to go down (even without stoneskin, which was dispelled). "You were to become one of Mokmurian's favored. Goodbye, Cordelia," and then she used the last of her 5th level spell slots to cast a stilled dimension door out of Skull's Crossing, her oni companion following after her with gaseous form. The party let them go, throwing all of their resources at tearing down Lucretia's wall of stone, and switching all of the floodgates to closed. They made it with only 3 rounds remaining before the floodgates were fully open.
And then Cordelia blew up. "Yeah! Because we attacked our friend to save a bunch of people we don't even know! And now she hates us. We stabbed her in the back."
That left a bit of an awkward pause, and Yllemsa (the bloodrager), said, "I was thinking about just stopping the entire time. I didn't want to fight her."
Haast said, "Well, at least we saved those people. We'll probably see her again."
Too pissed to deal with the party, the Cordelia (with Yllemsa in tow), shut themself inside the chamber where they had released Avaxiel and cast akashic communion to try and understand what was going on.
Q: "What is the function of these magic circles on the floor - not the planar binding ones, the other ones?"
(Roll Arcana 23): Cordelia couldn't understand the images in their mind, especially as it was their first time seeing things in the fashion of the Akashic Record.
Q: "How do the floodgates of Skull's Crossing operate?"
(Roll Arcana 38): Cordelia saw flashes of the pit fiends, over and over, having their vital energies being torn out while surrounded by a bright blue light, saw the energy passed through the model of skull's crossing, and down into the gears of the floodgate. They understood this to mean that the floodgates were directly powered by the life energy of two creatures in the circles, and that they, as a dhamphir, would likely be unharmed by being used as a power source.
Q: "Where is the fortress known as Jorgenfist?"
(Roll Geography 22): Cordelia saw images of great towers rising hundreds of feet in the air, which descended into a fortress of black stone. Surrounding it, Cordelia saw flat terrain of largely limestone - and recognized it as the Storval Plateau, though they couldn't guess more precisely than that.
The party decided to rest there, in Grazuul's domain, rather than risk Lucretia coming back. They figured that the dam had enough power to operate for 1 day, but decided just to stall for the night - in the morning, they'd go find their friends at Fort Rannick.
Haast: "We're walking away from this region pretty empty-handed because we didn't take Rannick. What do we do after this?"
Ithil (the hunter): "We kill them and teleport home. We need the money, after all. And the Masters of Dungeons are attacking there with the Black Arrows tomorrow anyway, right? It should be easy."
Nualia would understand once she was alive again, right? How awful this idea of 'goodness' really was. Under the veneer of righteousness, 'goodness' is used as a tool to exterminate anyone who could be a threat to humanity. Cordelia had read Nualia's journal over and over, and the people who hurt her had also been 'good,' and they scorned her, isolated her, and then killed the child she'd had because it was fiendish. They hated 'monsters' in every form, whether they were beautiful or ugly, whether they were kind or cruel. Why was Cordelia even protecting them?
And so Cordelia, overwhelmed by the sin of envy (player's choice), has made a decision. The people they care about will get their protection and their help. They'll do everything in their power to make sure they survive the coming war. And to hell with everyone else.
As a helpful addition, Cordelia's player also gave me a list of who Cordelia would protect from now on no matter what: Ameiko, their classmates at Turandurok, Brodert Quink, Lucretia, the hags' coven, and Nualia. The party members were not included in this list, I noticed.
With how things have gone, my PCs are having a major rift, and the players also can't decide on how to proceed from here. Half of them want to work with Mokmurian and negotiate for Sandpoint safety, and the other half say they'd rather kill Mokmurian and be done with any possibilities for war. Real soon, siding with or against Mokmurian for the duration of Book 4 is going to make a big difference in what sort of story I need to tell and what I need to prep, so I plan on offering a suggestion:
As players, pick a route to the game here. The "party" will split up, each side taking some of their friends and allies along, and the PCs who have split off from the chosen side will be replaced with new PCs. If they choose to side with Mokmurian, Yllemsa and Cordelia (and maybe Haast) stay, and if they choose to fight Mokmurian, Ithil and Haast (and maybe Yllemsa) stay and Cordelia (and maybe Yllemsa) are replaced.
I'm not sure how to handle things after the raid at Sandpoint (our next session, where the players will be playing the citizens of Sandpoint), so if you have any other suggestions, that would be incredibly helpful!