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Level 4 Elf Wizard (Abjuration)
Level 4 Halfling Fighter (Kukri TWF)
Level 3 Human Cleric (Sarenrae - Good Domain)
They've also been dragging Shalelu around with them as much as they can. They are pretty new to Pathfinder, so I've been going a little easy on them, but they also have had some good luck (they managed to kill Erylium by complete accident, with no preparation, first turn), so I want to give them a good scare this session!
So my party has been going through Rise of the Rune-Lords, and have arrived at the Nualia boss fight. They snuck in through the tentamort cave on the side of Thistletop, and in order - Killed Bruthazumus (before he could raise the alarm), turned Orik, and kidnapped Lyrie. Then, tired out from the fighting, they climbed out and returned to Sandpoint. The next day, they infiltrated Thistletop again, this time sneaking past a couple of goblin patrols and heading to the bottom floor. They brought along Orik and Shalelu for this part, although Orik has been reduced to ~16 Hp by the trap (they had him take the lead, and I thought I remembered he didn't like going downstairs, so I decreed he didn't know about the trap).
They caused a lot of noise to draw out Nualia, but she sent out her hound to investigate - they ambushed it and killed it before it could bark, but she knew when it didn't come back that it had been killed, so she cast her buff spells and waited for the enemy to show up. Eventually, the party crept up to her room and burst in, and that's where we called it for the session.
My question is, how do I make this fight satisfying for the group? Nualia, even buffed, only attacks twice a turn, and she hits pretty hard, but the party has a good amount of healing and managed to get to her without using much of their resources - I'm worried they'll steamroll her. I suspect the party is going to try to talk to her to find out her motivations - I plan for her to talk long enough to get a feel for their abilities and make a plan, and then she'll attack them while they're on the backfoot. I have also toyed with the idea of her executing Orik "cutscene" style, to frighten the players and simplify the battle. I've also considered some backup showing up if the fight doesn't go her way - the party made a lot of noise, so some goblins or the yeth hounds from upstairs might come down to her rescue. Alternatively, I have considered her focusing on escaping using her spells and abilities, and having the party confront her later during Skinsaw Murders (maybe she breaks Tsuto out of prison before his hanging).
Ultimately, I just don't know what's the best approach; I don't want her to die unceremoniously (after all, the party managed to sneak past the first floor of Thistletop, so I want them to really earn this win), but I also don't want her to wipe the party, or bail without a fight and cheat the party of their confrontation. Does anyone have any advice or suggestions? I'm open to any ideas.
Since Nualia realized her Yeth Hound was killed, have her mentally summon another one down to her - or have the Yeth Hounds realize their kin was slain, and come to aid her. The Yeth Hound(s) could then attack the party from behind.
Alternatively, since they waited a day before after killing Bruthazmus, Orik, and Lyrie, Nualia would have had to come upstairs and realize they were dead. You could have her bring a few goblins downstairs, hiding behind the door opposite the room she's in too, again, attack from behind and catch them off-guard.
Both of those are perfectly reasonable actions that could be taken in order to shore up Nualia's defenses.
Nualia is level 6 (Cleric4/Fighter 2)
Shalelu is level 6 (Fighter 2/Ranger 4 iirc) as well, Orik is 4 and tanky. With your PCs added in, it'll be a cakewalk (especially if they created their characters with anything above the recommended 15-point stat buy).
Option one- Level up Nualia one level in each class. It gives her a new Feat, upgrades channel negative energy AoE to 3d6, maybe summon III, etc
Add a new Yeth Hound or two hiding in the dark corners.
Option two is messy, but gloriously chaotic. Since the party left and returned, have Malfeshnekor freed (move malf's prison here, maybe they burst in just as she frees him) and leave Nualia as is (Malf may even attack her in his fury if the battle goes poorly).
Maybe beef Orik up one level and have Malf focus on him and Shalelu to buy the group some time. Your 3rd level Cleric worries me in this scenario though, and this option is a bit over the top.
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So, Nualia obviously doesn't stand a chance alone, but I think you've got a few options.
1) Nualia tries to talk to the party, stalling them long enough to call on the Yeth Hounds through telepathy or something similar. The yeth hounds might even bring others, if possible. This leads to a messy brawl in which the party is hit from both sides, and reinforcements arrive either to help Nualia bail out or to keep the party from resting after Nualia's gone down.
2) Nualia recognizes that she can't win this fight, and pleads with the party to acknowledge why she is doing what she is doing. When they won't budge, she offers to forfeit her cause (secretly planning to try again later - although plot will happen before that). This is more cunning than she's typically depicted, but falls in line with her "live to fight another day" mentality. This also might involve her arrest, although things are likely to get more complicated given the party doesn't have an easy way to leave Thistletop without fighting past goblins.
3) Nualia throws everything she's got into escaping, either to rally the goblins on the upper floor or simply to survive. She, of course, leaves her diary behind, so the party will know a fair bit about her when they run into her later (most likely beside Xanesha in Book 2).
I'll make two more general recommendations as well:
- Please don't execute Orik (or basically any statted NPC) 'cutscene style.' As a player, it feels cheap when you're denied the agency to intervene in something you clearly ought to be able to by the book. If you really want that to happen, simply have her target him first for being a traitor - at ~16hp, he should go down in a single swing, and the party hasn't really seen damage like that by this point.
- Your party is both high level and over-large for the fight (by one, but still). If there's going to be a fight, bring all the resources of Thistletop to bear here - the other yeth hounds and Ripnugget at least should make an appearance, even if any goblins end up fleeing due to a yeth hound bay.