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So I thought it might be useful for people to see how I'm running my non-vanilla iteration of TG. Who should read this? GMs interested in running this AP. Who should absolutely not read this? Anyone thinking of playing in this AP. You have been warned. Also, let me know if this thread is inappropriate to this forum.
As a reminder, I'm running a 25 pt, mythic version of it where most of the players are not from Lastwall. If it's ok with everyone, I'll post a wrap-up of where we are after each session. If there are questions, I'll try to answer them as best as I can. To give a sense of how fast we proceed, we play weekly for 3-4 hour sessions. We are a pretty heavy RP group.
The party: We have a party of 5, with a 6th joining in the fall. They are:
Rina - a paladin of Aroden's teachings.
Nico - a cleric of Iomedae from Vigil.
Cole - a wizard with arcanist leanings.
Rava - a Garundi ranger.
Deci - a bard from Roslar's Coffer.
We started our campaign in the kingdom of Veridia (this kingdom was created at the close of the Kingmaker campaign we ran from 2012-2018). I ran a short adventure beforehand, heavily adapting the Night March of Kalkamedes and ending with the party coming into possession of the amulet called the "Grace of the Last Azlanti". The reasons for that and the GM plan for the AP can be found in this thread. The short adventure took 3 sessions and was very light hearted. But it solved the initial problem of getting the party working cohesively and gave them a reason and macguffin to travel to Lastwall. They also had a meeting with a withered old crone (Arazni). At the end, I let them level up to Level 2, which means they started the AP at level 2. Having seen what was coming up, I thought that a 25 pt buy and level 2 were appropriate.
Session 4 was spent travelling from the River Kingdoms to Lastwall and getting some immersion into its culture. The party had a chance to spend their reward from the little adventure and get some nice new shiny objects. They spent a lot of time on this. We ended in Roslar's Coffer where the party met up with Deci's extended family (who owned the inn). Everyone else in the party made friends in town. Then the town got nuked.
Session 5 everyone woke up in the Boneyard. They had none of their equipment. I honestly felt it was more appropriate to the feeling of detachment for that to happen - also it explains a certain encounter in book 2 better. They only cleared the initial room and the next room. They were very resourceful in using whatever they had as improvised weapons.
Session 6 saw the party cutting through the lower part of Roslar's Tomb rather quickly. The paladin with power attack was very effective even with less than ideal weapons. They got all the way up to the mites in the room with the animated hair. I should point out that I amended the treasure here to have loot that the party could use as weapons and armor- for example, craftsman's hammers that could double as light hammers. Daggers. A few first level scrolls that could be used for cleaning and moving things. Things that a clever party could use to their advantage. And they also had the advantage of being 2nd level. All in all, they did very well getting to this point.
(I of course, post that immediately before moving house and a two week session hiatus).
Session 7 saw the party get their first real challenges. It took them a few rounds to dispatch all the mites in and around the puzzle. The took a fair amount of time studying the puzzle (I drew a halfway decent version of it) before figuring it out on the first try. They cleared the rest of the tomb rather easily.
Once outside, they were completely confused until one of the party recognized Groteus and then it all started falling into place. Umble and Thoot came along and explained (in part) what had happened to the town from the perspective of the Boneyard. They made a deal with the PCs to help settle down the townsfolk in exchange for info on how to escape.
The party headed to the Boneyard version of Roslar's Coffer, talked to a bunch of the people, learned a little bit about the circumstances around which the town died (truthfully, not many - the people on the very edge of town recalled a bright flash almost contemporaneous with their deaths. I also used the town as a place where the party could get their basic gear back - not the best gear, but still some decent gear. The whole affair to this point was a bit sad for the party as they'd gotten to know several people in town and were able to make teary farewells.
In Session 8 they meet up with Mictena's avatar (I elected for Mictena to show up as an apparition rather than just as a voiceover). The party then elected to do the house of Nine Eaves first. They reached the house near evening of their second day in the Boneyards and fought their way to the Portrait, completing the first two puzzles. (with two of the characters (Rava and Nico) getting diseased in the process - keeping in mind that all the diseases don't work until you leave the boneyard and then they work retroactively).
Session 9 had the party cleaning out the first two floors of Nine Eaves. Lets see... Dessie picked up nervous consumption, and Rava picked up 1 Dex damage. The party is now hyper-sensitive about getting diseased and how it's going to be terrible when they get back to the prime. The only baddie they didn't kill was the wasp swarm. Those they trapped outside the house. They also completely ignored the origami grasshoppers.
Session 10 had the party try very hard to negotiate with Ayuki, almost to their destruction. But they overwhelmed her with sheer numbers and a nice critical hit. Then they try to open up the ballroom door, but talk themselves out of using the correct key and take 1 pt of charisma damage and 2 years of aging damage. Nearly the whole party takes this because, inexplicably, the whole party is crowded around the door. They defeat Vithiz by touching him with the staff in part because the bard is particularly good with the whip (and she was heavily buffed beforehand). But there are some brown trousers moments when the party realizes how very little damage they are doing to him. They free Kishokosh and hit Level 3.
Session 11 cleans up Kishokosh's affairs, lets the party rest and regain spells before heading to the Scriptorium. They spend a bunch of time talking to Salighara (in part because they are deferential and in part because the wizard (coincidentally) has a background in dream studies. It should be understood that the party left a bunch of loot at Nine Eaves - they tread very lightly on other people's property.
The party enters the Scriptorium and meets Berthold. As mentioned elsewhere the party befriends a quite craven and ingratiating Berthold, offering the ratling their companionship and protection in leaving the Boneyard in exchange for information about the place. Then the party visits the writing room and kills about 15 spiders (I've been upping the number of minions as we go on). This brings us up to the present.
Ooh, I should add that the spiders got the jump on the party - they managed to nick a few PCs, but the PCs made all their saves and only a few points of damage were done. Then the wizard, Cole, cast Stone Call on them, and slaughtered all 15 of them in one shot. Took me longer to set up the combat.
Last night we picked up where we left off inside the scriptorium. The party opened the door to the first lounge area and encountered the two wyrwoods with six hands. There was no time for negotiations, combat immediately ensued. Due to the larger party size (5 PCs plus Berthold) I gave the wyrwoods each an additional level in Investigator. Also, at the end of the first round, I had Colulus drop a stinking cloud on the party via shadow conjuration . The combat went rather quickly - the cleric and the paladin make a good front line team and the ranger isn't half bad, either. Only the cleric rolled poorly enough to be affected by the stinking cloud.
I've noticed that this party isn't particularly methodical and they went straight onto the next room, ignoring the wyrwood bodies and items in this room. In the next room they met the handless wyrwoods and were able to negotiate with them, so no combat. Berthold was the only one able to take apart and reattach the wyrwoods' hands, and he was heavily aided by the wizard's use of Inspiring Prediction . That innocuous +4 (which was auto-spammed to the whole party would be key in the next hour or so.
The party loved my description of the RPG game the wyrwoods were developing and there was a great chat about it. The wyrwoods' plan was to finish that game and sell it on numerous worlds, becoming fabulously wealthy. They also gave the PCs some detailed info on the scriptorium, including a partial map. They told the party about the spellbook in the previous chamber and the wizard went to go find it. (He did, and kept that knowledge to himself. Innnteresting.) Near the end of the chat, however, Colulus cast pellet blast into the room (from a darkened corner). To the PC's horror, I rolled well enough to kill more than half the wyrwoods. The party cleric would have been severely wounded had he not saved (I forgot to do the disbelieve on this one - oops!), and he only saved because of the +4 from Inspiring Prediction. The wyrwoods fled and the bard collected all the game notes with the intent to finish the game and return it to them.
At this point I took the opportunity for Colulus to cast suggestion on the party ranger. The ranger would have failed it... were it not for that +4. The ranger felt a compulsion to head southwest quietly and alone towards the printing press room.
The party pushed on to the printing press room, paladin in the lead. The paladin entered the room alone and interacted with the press. The press tried to devour the paladin (I took the haunt as more of a poltergeist-like pull than a mind-effect) but the paladin made his save... again succeeding only because of the +4. *sigh*. I pointed it out to the party, how fortuitous that one use was and what they'd avoided because of it. The party then proceeded to batter the press into submission.
In the 'cool move of the night' the diviner wizard had Profession: fortune teller as a skill and attempted a seance to commune with the spirit in the press, using the letters from the press arranged as a Ouija board. The wizard rolled quite well, aided by the +4 and was able to learn about the spirit crushed by the press and how it is distressed because "she did not care I died". There was much discussion about who "she" refers to.
The party moved on through the meditation room (eerie green candles) and into the garden. There they encountered the crab spiders (which I upped to 6). Because they were initially surrounded, this encounter seemed more difficult than it actually was. We ended with that combat.
So far, the party is going through book 1 quite easily. This was to be expected. It's more having 5 people than the higher point build. There's been tough spots, but nothing too overwhelming. I'm pretty good with letting creative attempts get tried.
Using Colulus to hinder the party with random spells, etc... did a great job of keeping the party hyper-aware and giving them a sense of unease throughout this level. Prior to this session I marked out rooms and situations where I'd cast spells. That helped a great deal.
Next week we will likely finish the scriptorium.
We reconvened last night to finish off the scriptorium. Following the spider attack in the gardens, the party healed up some and advanced to the clearing with the spinning sculpture trap. The PCs became fixated on the cocoon-like corpse, although they never rolled quite high enough to notice that the corpse acted as a trigger for the trap. Nico, the cleric, took the initiative to free the corpse and at the moment of cutting noticed the connecting strands of webbing just as the trap was sprung. fortunately for them, I rolled exceedingly poorly for the trap and only Nico took damage and was immobilized by the tangelfoot webs. The party extricated him and pressed on.
They very quickly found Colulus' feigned death. I added some flavor by using some of the metal sheets to make it look as if he had been impaled. It didn't fool the party one bit (the bard didn't even want to come into the area for fear of the trap) and the paladin, ranger and cleric cautiously approached from all sides, weapons at the ready. Colulus won the initiative and used the opportunity to expend his last shadow conjuration on fog cloud . Note - I'd been making these conjuration spells more or less whole, meaning that the PCs felt the full effect of them. This is mostly because of the party size and strength.
In the first round, the PCs rolled poorly and Colulus was able to slip away in the fog. Cole, the wizard, cast gust of wind which reduced the duration of the fog cloud. However, the martials and cleric couldn't immediately find Colulus who had, in fact, circled back around to attack the rear of the party. He appeared between the wizard and the cleric and hit the wizard hard, taking out more than 60% of his HP. At that moment, however, the fog cloud dissipated and the martials were able to converge on him and kill him in short order.
Following Colulus' demise and some more healing, Rina the paladin led the group into the infinitely long corridor. Rina quickly deduced that the key was to appeal to the portraits and so this challenge was quickly overcome. They came to the sitting room at the base of the tower where the paladin interacted with the guardian scroll and was almost grappled by it (I missed a successful roll by 1. Dang.) The two were wrestling while the ranger pulled out a torch and the bard ignited it with spark . The ranger critted and rolled exceedingly well for damage, severely injuring the guardian scroll. The party then dispatched it. I believe Berthold made the killing blow.
The party advanced up the tower where I threw a full nightgaunt at them. By now the party was expecting a trap around every corner (Is that what we as GMs want? Maybe?) and so the wizard, Cole, had Color Spray readied to let loose at a moment's notice. The whole party was moving quietly and keeping their eyes peeled. Which means they saw the nightgaunt before it could attack. The wizard's spell went off, but the nightgaunt saved successfully. The wizard did use an ability to get that spell back AND rolled very high for initiative, so he got to cast it a second time and this time the nightgaunt failed his save... and plummeted to the floor, knocking out about half his HP. A stunned nightgaunt did not last long with a party ranger who is specializing in bow attacks.
Dispatching the nightgaunt, the party reached Mrs. Pedipalp, who already had undetectable alignment up. She made a rather convincing argument for pinning the blame on Colulus. The party at this point was nearly at full health and in good spirits and her description paints her as a survivalist, so my plan for her was to get the PCs to interact with the dream machine incorrectly, and then have her go into combat. The PCs were very unconvinced about her intentions despite the successful bluff and her not detecting as evil. Cole, the wizard, refused to touch the device without first examining it (and recall, the PCs add their clarity points here). With the clarity points Cole was able to deduce the correct way to disconnect the machine and Berthold was able to actually disconnect it. This horrified Mrs P. who began to look for a means to escape. the Paladin and Cleric advanced on her from different angles as she backed into a shadowy corner under the machine. From there she began to cast Shadow Walk at which point we rolled initiative. The ranger rolled highest and fired two arrows at her. The first went wide and the second hit her.. but for insufficient damage to overcome her DR. So, she fled. Will she return? Maaaybe :)
The PCs went back to talk to Saligahara. She was most upset with the situation in her home, thoroughly annoyed with the PCs and only reluctantly stamped them all on. (even Berthold). The PCs then returned a component of the machine to her (they were holding it as collateral) and we ended after about 3 hours of playing.
Thoughts on this session were that by the end the PCs were expecting traps and surprises around every corner. My use of shadow conjuration to hinder but not conjure creatures made the combats more interesting with the pieces already out there. Also, I think the wizard is done with getting spells for awhile.
Next time, the party visits the tooth fairy castle. We'll see how running the first adventure last works. As of now the party has spent 4 days in the Boneyard.
Over the last session and a half, the PCs rather quickly tore through the Palace of Teeth. While the three stamp quests can be done 'in any order', there is clearly an easiest -> hardest order to do them in. I believe that order to be (from easiest to hardest) Teeth castle, Scriptorium, 9 Eaves. So, of course, my party did them in the exact opposite order.
I played the tooth fairies to be a little less cooperative than the other two. In fact, you could say they were downright intransigent! The tooth fairies at the door (I added a few extra) demanded teeth before any discussion. This quickly devolved into a fight and, with only 5 hp, pretty much every shot was a kill shot. The fairies scattered, the PCs took one as a prisoner and learned a fair bit about the layout of the place and its denizens.
The party proceeded to clear out the rest of the first floor, having more trouble than they thought with the stained glass guardian. Bad rolls will get you every time and they were plagued with them against the guardian. But they persevered and made it to the second floor. Here, they easily dispatched the soulbound doll and confronted Price..erm "King" Uspid. I felt it was completely within character that the Prince refer to himself as king at this point.
Maybe I was telegraphing a little too much, or maybe the PCs simply didn't care for the tooth fairy monarch's imperious attitude, but the party concluded in short order that the monarch didn't have the power to grant the stamp. And when the monarch grew impatient with the PCs increasingly hostile attitude, he ordered his underlings (there were 6 tooth fairies in the room with him) to deal with the PCs. Alas (for the monarch) he really had no defense against the paladin's smite evil. Realizing he was in over his head, Uspid turned invisible, but the paladin spent a hero point (and then another) to locate and strike him down. Seeing the king slain, the rest of the fairies fled or surrendered.
From the king's retinue, the PCs learned more about the castle - in particular the Queen on the third floor. So, the party headed upstairs to confront the queen and get their stamp. The PCs presented themselves as the queen's saviors and (to her view) properly humbled themselves before the crown to receive their boon as a reward. This very much pleased the queen who had the opportunity to be both imperious and magnanimous at the same time! So, the PCs were allowed to pass unmolested and even rest afterwards in the stable on the ground floor. And that's where we ended. All three stamps have been claimed and now the party needs to return to Umble and Thoot and say their final goodbyes and get their final directions. Soon we we be back on the prime!
So, a couple GM thoughts on this part of the AP. Your experience in the three stamp quests can vary tremendously. I know my party likes to talk rather than fight (although they'll happily roll initiative to slay the enemy too), and so I left opportunities for them to talk their way out of encounters. It didn't always work. In the first encounter the tooth fairies demanded teeth and the wizard rather cheekily presented them with a comb (a comb has teeth). This only enraged the tooth fairies to attack. But in other places, playing along with the 'powers that be' helped the party immensely. I imagine a group of murder-hobos would have a far more difficult time going through these encounters (although they would have wound up with more loot). Talking also provided more depth and RP opportunities to the party. I believe it's worth it to RP around a third of these encounters out rather than just diving into combat every time. And I know, looking forward, there are opportunities for further interaction before we exit 'The Dead Roads'. Get em' in now! It's harder to reason with the undead!
Over the last two sessions the party encountered Mictena's garden and earned their passage back to Golarion. Compared to previous dungeons, this final dungeon is comparatively short and only took two sessions to complete. In both sessions we were down to four PCs, so even though I added to the mob count a little it didn't slow the PCs down.
Our Vanaran ranger tried to climb the hedge walls, took a fair amount of damage but eventually made it to the top, getting a decent look inside the garden before the walls "threw him off". I had the walls actively fight any PC climbing it. At any case, the party encountered the first group of monks and beat them, although they were quite bloodied afterwards. In particular, I'll call out the ranger again who failed his save and could not resist the compulsion to strip down to his monkey-butt before joining combat.
Following that, the group came to the statue, triggered it and fought it, again getting bloodied. The wand of CLW was passed around frequently throughout this dungeon, using nearly 2/3rds of its charges by the end. After the statue was the animate willow and the witchcrows. This combat went poorly for the PCs due to several bad rolls in a row (the ranger dropping to 1 HP at one point) and necessitated the party bard to go from player to player during combat to keep up HP. Timely intervention with fire at the end saved the day (but ruined the scroll of false life in the tree's branches). The party was progressing, but the attrition was nasty.
Again employing stealth (thanks to the ratling) the party managed to observe Aydie and plan a meeting. At this point I should explain that I RPed the denizens of Deathbower as being professional and courteous in their conversations. I think after the third encounter the party felt a little frustrated by this (if you're so reasonable... why are we fighting?) but that's just the way some NPCs are. Regardless, I went to great pains to express the fact that Aydie understood the PCs perspective and might even be sympathetic to them, but duty is duty. In the ensuing combat the PCs decided to focus exclusively on her. Good thing too! I had her summon a giant owl beforehand and that thing packs a punch! Nearly took out the ranger again! (down to 2hp this time). But the paladin made up for innumerable bad rolls by critting Aydie and doing almost max damage. She crumpled and yielded, expressing her admiration for the PCs nobility and grace.
I gave the party one round to act before the 4 monks from the next area advanced forward to see what the ruckus was. The party should have dispatched them easily, but they seem to have incredibly bad rolls when facing them. Perhaps its the tinted skin? Regardless, they survived, used more healing from channels, spells and the wand and soldiered on. they didn't know this, but they were actually past the worst of it. They rolled really well to befriend Reedreaper (I wish he was there earlier on for more interaction) and then quickly dispatched the oozes.
This left Mictena. The party paused before reaching the gazeebo, considering (of their own accord) that she might be reasoned with still. They wanted to get an idea of what they would say to her. Quite on their own they decided that the crux of the problem was that even if they died, the reason that caused them to arrive in this unusual way in the boneyard was still unknown. Moreover, it could happen again and again. So armed with logic, they confronted her and presented their argument. Bolstered by this as well as the presence of Reedreaper and Aydie (and at least one nat 20) they eventually convinced her (the paladin threw off his breastplate and allowed Mictena to inspect his chest to see what was lodged inside him. Suitably shaken in her belief, Mictena admitted her error and granted them passage before fading away. In her place Barzhak the Passage appeared and ushered the PCs along the last of the dead roads before depositing them in another darkened room.
So it's at this point that this campaign takes a turn for the extreme. I'd decided early on that these PCs would earn some mythic tiers tied to uses of the Radiant Fire. They are aware that they now have one mythic tier. I've explained the mythic rules as "no longer being most concerned about your own safety but instead being most concerned for those around you". The mythic character has to worry more about the ramifications of their decisions and the decisions become less black-and-white. The party will get their first taste of it next week when they realize that not everyone is Roslar's Coffer died.