The Phylactery Gambit: an Alternate Outcome [spoilers]

Tyrant's Grasp

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Here is a small adjustment that GMs could make to Tyrant's Grasp in order to offer PCs a more compelling reason for the final suicide mission.

Arazni is a lich; and she was obliterated by the Radiant Fire. Twice, in fact. The first time she re-formed. The second time is unclear. Certainly she hoped to die a true death, but the adventure leaves it open as to whether or not she succeeded.

When she prepared her spells for that final battle against the Whispering Tyrant, Arazni abandoned her protections against divination. It was at that point too late for her graveknight jailors to stand any chance of stopping her; and she would need every spell slot for the fight to come.

Thus, when she went to face the Tyrant, she did so knowing that anyone at all might watch her doing it. Perhaps she even voluntarily failed her Will saves against scrying effects. Let them watch! Let them see that for all their posturing, she was the one taking the fight to the Whispering Tyrant! She was truer to her vows than all those fools who spent these last millennia condemning her for things that were never her choice!

And so, when the Tyrant invoked the Radiant Fire and wiped Arazni away, one of Lastwall's strongest diviners saw it happen. They saw the faint smile of hope cross her face before the white energy washed over her. They saw her dissolve away.

The diviner was struck by a thought: "I am watching the dissolution of a lich. Her phylactery must surely be performing its perverted task at this very instant. But that weapon ... it's so powerful ... I wonder if ..."

And so, in that moment, they cast: Discern Location targeting Arazni's phylactery.

And it worked.

No one has ever been able to find Arazni's phylactery. Arazni herself doesn't know where it is, despite being one of the most powerful wizards in the history of Golarion, and having it bound intimately to her very soul. But the concentrated burst of positive energy resonated along the magic threads binding her tattered soul to her phylactery, and the sheer power of it momentarily disrupted the protections that have for so long shielded it from detection.

The diviner noted down this startling information immediately. When he tried it again, less than a minute later, the spell failed, as it always had before. Perhaps the phylactery was destroyed. Perhaps its protective wards reasserted themselves. Regardless, what that diviner learned was that when the Radiant Fire strikes a lich, it can reveal the location of its phylactery -- even one hidden by extremely powerful magics.

This did not seem terribly important. Arazni was gone from the battlefield. The location of her phylactery -- while certainly of great interest -- seemed moot. And the diviner couldn't really think of a good way to induce the Whispering Tyrant to vaporize himself with the Radiant Fire. Surely he would simply teleport away via a contingency, as he did when destroying Arazni.

But then the PCs return, with the obols gleaming in their hearts, and the assurance that the feedback will turn the Radiant Fire's power back on the Tyrant regardless of whether he has teleported away or not. And suddenly it becomes very relevant indeed ...

That is what the PCs are buying with their souls: information. The location of the Tyrant's phylactery. The hope that some day, someone might be able to destroy it and finally put an end to the vile lich who has warped millennia of Golarion's history.

Now, I don't know a lot about 2e lore so far, but I gather it presumes that the Whispering Tyrant is still around. If continuity with 2e world lore is important to you, then you can't just assume that all the armies in the world converge on the phylactery's location following the PCs' heroic sacrifice. There has to be a reason that can't happen.

Naturally any GM can invent reasons for this; I think, in my case, the reason that it's impossible for people to just go there and destroy it is that it's not on Golarion at all.

It's on Eox, buried deep in the heart of an airless mountain guarded by a ton of powerful constructs and warded by about a thousand layers of spells, including some unique ones of the Tyrant's own devising. When he reforms there, he has to prepare Interplanetary Teleport to get back to Golarion. He thought many times about destroying himself in Gallowspire just to get out, but wasn't sure whether the wards his enemies put in place would trap his soul there and leave him disembodied forever. If he tried it and it failed, what would that do to his connection with his phylactery? Would it even still work? He opted not to find out.

Once they know the location of the phylactery, the leaders of Golarion may not immediately launch an expedition to go deal with it, especially if the Tyrant goes and sulks on his island, as per the default outcome of the AP. A failed attempt on his phylactery would instantly alert the Tyrant that his secret got out somehow, after which he can just relocate the phylactery. He can put up more wards to conceal its location, and this time there's no more Radiant Fire, so their trick for finding out its location won't work again. They get one shot at it, and so they're not going to commit until they've done everything they possibly can to prepare. In the meantime, the Tyrant can continue doing whatever he does in 2e lore, and all is well.

So there you go. This little scenario gives you:

  • A better reason for the PCs to sacrifice themselves.
  • A hook for a high-level campaign to destroy the Tyrant's phylactery.
  • Plausible continuity with 2e world lore.

And it requires minimal adjustment to the AP as written -- basically, the addition of one high-level diviner NPC to cast Discern Location and later brief the PCs on just why it is that they're laying down their souls.

I hope this helps future GMs.

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I slightly prefer this to the AP but it still pisses me off that super perma oblivion is meant to hit the PCs and they don't get to kill the BBEG. It doesn't feel sUrVivAl HoRroR, it just feels spiteful and dumb.

If I'm ever roped into this AP, I'll just take Leadership and play the Cohort as the main and my "sidekick" can go ahead and stop existing.

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