Another story of how Dragotha goes down like a chump

Age of Worms Adventure Path

Six and half years ago (November 2013), I began to DM the Age of Worms campaign in D&D 3.5 with six players. Yesterday (meeting virtually via Zoom to display the map and RollDiceWithFriends to roll dice), five of those players (plus one new addition) faced Dragotha with the same characters they had at the beginning (we've had a few deaths, but revivify/raise dead/resurrection has brought them back to life).

The heroes are:
Mortimer Underwood, Paladin 10/Fist of Tyr 10
Gwilym, Cleric of Tyr 10/Inquisitor 10
Avorr, Focused Specialist (conjuration) Wizard 6/Master Specialist 10/Archmage 4
Muscra, Scout 20
Ravalynn, Cleric of Oghma 1/Duskblade 19
Swift Taylor, Ranger 20

They also brought a couple friends:
Xitomax, Couatl Monk 16 (Gate negotiation with Gwilym)
Reggie, Leonal Guardinal (Greater Planar Binding with Avorr)

The heroes had cleared out most of the Tabernacle of Worms, including Mahuudril, all of the avolokia priests, and the wormdrake. They got a quick glimpse of the final cavern and teleported out. After buffing hard, they returned via greater teleport right into the Writhing Sanctum. They faced the following:

Dragotha, bumped up to Great Wyrm age, and spell list revamped using the Spell Compendium
Two nightcrawlers and two nightwalkers (instead of three nightcrawlers)
Venk and Zyrith
Brazzemal the Burning from Kings of the Rift (the heroes grabbed the Phlactery and fled)

Dragotha had Anticipate Teleportation running, so no one was surprised when the party teleported in. During the round available to Dragotha, one nightcrawler remained in the tunnel to block any advances the enemy might make via the tunnel, and the other nightcrawler and two nightwalkers spread out within the sanctum after hasting everyone. Dragotha used Sending to demand Brazzemal to come to his aid (my expanded Writhing Sanctum is large enough that Brazzemal can teleport in above the door on the ledge and be out of range of Dragotha's Anticipate Teleportation). Brazzemal casts Shield to augment his AC, planning to teleport next round.

The heroes’ plan: Avorr and Gwilym will dispel buffs off Dragotha, then use Dimensional Anchor to stop him from teleporting away. They each memorized both spells so whichever of them went first could begin the process, and the other could finish it.

Dragotha’s plan: The minions in front of him stationed themselves 60’ away from Dragotha, so Dragotha can start by using the 9th level swift action spell Breath Weapon Admixture to breathe a clinging fire/lightning breath (122 fire/122 lightning, then 61 fire/61 lightning next round). With his extra age hit dice feat, Dragotha has Arcane Strike, so he plans to full attack the next round, with the goal of spiking down Mortimer, whose Charging Smite is renowned for doing massive damage against his minions. His contingency plan if he gets into trouble is to Time Stop, Harm up to health, and buff with Lifeward if he has time. If he misses a key roll, he has Alter Fortune on his sorcerer list to give him an Immediate Action re-roll.

Note: In this campaign, the players and DM have agreed to a MAD based decision to not use Mordenkainen’s Disjunction against each other.

Round 1: Avorr uses Chain Dispel on Dragotha, but 7/8ths of it is turned back against him. Dragotha loses Resist Acid, Avorr loses almost all his lower level buffs from scrolls. He uses 2 charges from his Belt of Battle to cast Time Stop, and gets 3 rounds. In time stop round 1 he summons two storm elementals (rapid spell metamagic) and swift casts Assay Spell Resistance on himself to buff his SR rolls against Dragotha. In time stop round 2 he rapid spell metamagic casts Summon Golem (Iron) and draws a potion of Barkskin from his Heward’s Haversack. In time stop round 3 he quickens (Major Spell Esoterica) Sphere of Ultimate Destruction and drinks the potion. The Time Stop ends and Avorr uses his move action remaining from the original action round to order the sphere to enter the space of the nightcrawler near Dragotha, doing 140 damage. The storm elementals use their 1/minute Su lightning bolts to do over 100 damage to both nightwalkers, and the golem swings and misses. Avorr reports to Gwilym his Chain Dispel mostly failed due to spell turning. Avorr’s player apologizes to the rest of the group for how long his turn took, lol.

Xitomax moves to Dragotha and makes one unarmed attack, missing. Gwilym casts Chain Dispel on Dragotha and strips all of Dragotha’s buffs except Haste (+28 caster level check due to Inquisitor prestige class and karma prayer bead) and draws his rod of empowerment. Venk ends up being useless, as the Mass Spell Resistance blocks his eldritch blast SLA against everyone due to his pathetic CL 10. Zyrith swoops from a ledge to hit Muscra with a talon, grapples her, and via Flyby Attack moves away to land next to a nightcrawler (and within reach of Dragotha). During Muscra’s turn, she realizes she has Freedom of Movement as a class ability, uses it to automatically win the grapple check to escape, and tumbles back toward the other heroes. She then uses two charges from her Belt of Battle to shoot 1 arrow at Zyrith (with +20 bonus from the slayer fragment). Swift Taylor full attacks Zyrith, pin-cushioning him to death. The nightwalkers cast targeted greater dispel magics on Gwilym and Mortimer, stripping about 6 spells from Gwilym, and about 10 from Mortimer. Each also quick casts Unholy Blight for minimal damage. Mortimer charging smites Dragotha, doing 176 damage. Dragotha goes next, sticking to his plan. Spell Resistance Mass does nothing to stop a Su breath weapon, but the group’s crazy high saving throw buffs (including everyone affected by fire and lightning being within range of the Evasion/+10 Reflex Save fragment) saves the party for the most part. Gwilym and Ravalynn each take (122-30 Resist Energy Mass – Electricity) 92 electrical damage, and they will take 31 additional electrical damage next round due to Clinging. Brazzemal teleports in next, surveys the battlefield, and uses a move action to land next to the left flank of the heroes, positioning himself for a full attack next round against almost any of the heroes. The nightcrawlers go next. The one in the tunnel takes a double hasted move to squeeze out of the tunnel to avoid getting trapped, foiling the intended role for Reggie to use Wall of Force to block tunnel reinforcements from coming. He quickens a cone of cold (as does the other nightcrawler), but no one takes any damage due to a combination of cold immunities, Spell Resistance Mass, and fragment enhanced Evasion reflex saves. But the second nightcrawler’s standard action is to cast a targeted Greater Dispel Magic on Mortimer, stripping him of many of his remaining buffs. Ravalynn mutters to herself why she puts herself in these situations, drinks an Enlarge Person potion, and moves into range to hit either Dragotha or the nightcrawler next to the big D. Reggie, seeing no reinforcements left to block in the tunnel, casts a 20’ high 50’ wide wall of force in front of Brazzemal to block him from full attacking anyone.

Round 2: I comment that the party has completely failed to understand how the fragments work. Avorr’s Sphere of Ultimate Destruction finishes off the nightcrawler next to Dragotha, doing another 140 damage. Avorr lands a Dimensional Anchor on Dragotha, uses a move action to draw his rod of lesser quicken, and quickens a ray of clumsiness on Dragotha, reducing his Dexterity by 8 (and his AC by 4). The storm elementals miss the nightcrawlers with their melee attacks, and the Iron Golem takes a 5’ step to swing at and miss Dragotha. Xitomax does his full flurry of blows of Dragotha, landing 3 fully buffed hits for a total of 87 damage. Gwilym casts a purified Righteous Smite, finishing off one nightwalker and damaging the nightcrawler that emerged from the tunnel. He then uses 2 charges from his Belt of Battle to cast another spell (I forget which one) that finishes off the nightcrawler. Venk realizes he is outclassed and Flees the Scene to the 15’ high ledge. Muscra uses her last charge from her Belt of Battle to move to get her Skirmish bonus, and full attacks the remaining nightwalker. Since she has both the Slayer fragment and a Greater Truedeath Crystal in her bow to allow her skirmish damage to affect undead, the last nightwalker dies. Dragotha only has useless Venk and faithful Brazzemal left as allies. Since Swift Taylor goes next, Muscra interrupts her turn to pass the Slayer fragment to her as an immediate action. She has two Greater Undead Slaying arrows, and fires them from her splitting bow. All four shots hit, forcing Dragotha to make four DC 23 Fortitude saves. We read the entry in the DMG to verify they work against undead, even though undead are normally immune to Fortitude saves. My first two saves from the first split arrow include a 1. The party cheers, but I announce Dragotha has Alter Fortune on his spell list, and he takes an immediate action to cast the spell and re-rolls a 12. The second split arrow forces two more rolls, and I roll another 1 on Roll Dice With Friends. Dragotha is destroyed, despite having about 600 hit points left. Sigh.

We finish round 2 and go far enough into round 3 to see if Brazzemal is able to kill Mortimer in melee, but when Brazzemal finishes his second full attack on Mortimer and he remains standing, I announce the hero’s victory (Brazzemal only had about 120 hit points left, and the whole party was arrayed around him ready to act). Heroes 1, Dragotha 0 (no hero deaths at all).

I have the initiative order of the nightwalkers and Mortimer reversed in the post above. Mortimer went first, because he still had his Find the Gap spell running, allowing him to hit Dragotha's touch AC with his charge attack. I believe he applied 12 points to Power Attack (he probably could have applied all 20).

A great battle!

It cracks me up that you have wild stuff like Belts of Battle, Chain Dispel, Anticipate Teleportation and Mass Spell Resistance in use, but what brings Dragotha down is a core rules greater undead slaying arrow. Granted the splitting enhancement is also a bit wild.

Glad you enjoyed the write up. Wasn't sure how many people still visit this board, since its been over a decade since Paizo published this campaign in Dungeon.

The Belts of Battle definitely expanded the action economy for the team. I knew they would use their swift/immediate actions, so I made sure Dragotha could do the same by adding Breath Weapon Admixture (swift action to cast) and Alter Fortune (immediate action to cast) to Dragotha's sorceror list. And Arcane Strike is a free action. Fortunately nightwalkers and nightcrawlers already had good swift action options.

Due to the opponents not being bunched up, Chain Dispel really worked like a plain vanilla Greater Dispel Magic during this fight. The main reasons Gwilym and Avorr used Chain Dispel were:

1) Chain Dispel has no cap on the CL bonus to dispel (Gwilym was CL 24 due to the bead of karma, and Avorr was CL 22 due to Archmage Spell Power (+1 CL) and a Ring of Arcane Might (+1 CL)); and

2) Chain Dispel cannot be counterspelled by a Ring of Counterspell, since the ring is limited to 6th level or below. The team was very frustrated by that ring when they first fought Zyrxog. See the description of that fight here:

I lament allowing the splitting property from the Forgotten Realms splatbook Champions of Ruin. It kept the Scout (an original character from level 1) relevant as we climbed in level and everyone else started getting multiple attacks, but the new player's archer Ranger (joined at level 14 or 15) shows just how broken that property is.

Oof! This kind of reads like a cautionary tale about leaving Dragotha open to brute force Save-Or-Die (again) effects. I'm trying to be careful about buffing her too much in my game—but I definitely don't want her to be a pushover.

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I was thinking (after the fact) of whether Lifeward would have defeated the Greater Slaying arrows, if Dragotha had a chance to get that buff up before the arrows hit. As you can see from my original post, that was part of his plan. Is a Greater Undead Slaying Arrow a positive energy effect? I think I would have ruled that Lifeward protected him from the arrows, just like Deathward protects against Death Magic for living creatures.

So KC, if you are looking for a way to protect Big D from this type of one-shot, perhaps have him protected with Lifeward from the start (or a Contingency to trigger Lifeward the first time the spell would provide a benefit).

Of course the problem is your party might dispel Lifeward (or the Contingency) before it's really needed. In this instance, if Dragotha had used his Anticipate Teleport round to get Lifeward up, Lifeward would have been dispelled in round 1 before the arrows hit in round 2. Gwilym only needed to roll a 2 to dispel spells cast by Dragotha (CL 24 + 4 Inquisitor bonus vs. CL 19) with Chain Dispel.

Contingency sounds like one good plan. It seems like finding ways to buff Dragotha's CL would make sense, especially as something he'd look into—after all, dispelling an archmage's buffs is the first strategy for most attackers. That said, I'm not sure how, other than some "cheap" trick like just letting his hit dice stand for his full CL. My party doesn't have a high-level mage, but they do have an alchemist who likes to use dispelling bombs. It can wreak a lot of havoc.

I've been thinking about reflavoring Venk as some sort of bard who can affect undead. Saving Finale, and other reroll options, will be big for avoiding the Save-Or-Die effects. Actually, one of the PCs is a Warder who specializes in negating status effects, spells, and attacks on his allies. I think rebuilding Venk as a Warder would be more than fair, and sort of "punish" the PCs for not addressing her threat earlier.

Other enemies that could appear in the fight will make a big difference, of course. We're still at the Library, so who knows which NPCs will show up? Moreto and Zyrxgos are still causing mayhem, and the party's started attracting the attention of nightshades with all their shadow walking to get from place to place. Smenk's an alhoun eager for revenge on the heroes who got him eaten by a mind flayer and enslaved by Mahuudril. We'll see how Brazzemal fares.

The other easy way to protect Dragotha from save or die effects with Lifeward would be to bring a couple avolokia priests into the Sanctum with Lifeward memorized, and have them Ready an action to cast Lifeward on Dragotha when needed. They have a Spellcraft skill bonus of +15, so they would be good at identifying most situations where it would be appropriate. For example, after someone casts a Greater Dispel, Chain Dispel, or MD on the big D.

Unfortunately, my OCD party scoured the ground floor of the Tabernacle and killed all my avolokias, even the ones at the top of the corner towers.

Honestly, it sounds like your players worked their asses off to make the fight easier, so if anyone earned it, they did! It is a shame to lose a boss so quick, though.

Kobold Cleaver wrote:
Oof! This kind of reads like a cautionary tale about leaving Dragotha open to brute force Save-Or-Die (again) effects. I'm trying to be careful about buffing her too much in my game—but I definitely don't want her to be a pushover.

indeed. I knew something sounded off there, I guess thats what it was.

I’m happy to report our group completed the Age of Worms campaign on 4/2/2022. Most of the same characters listed above for the Dragotha fight took part. Swift Taylor and Xitomax were absent, but Nik (the original character we began with in 2013 that missed the Dragotha fight) was present. Nik is a Cleric of Tyr 14/Fighter 1/Ordained Champion 5.

The team destroyed the negative energy machine under the graveyard and disintegrated Lashonna, but did not overcome despair. They did some moderate buffing (10/min level and 1/min level spells only) and dimension doored to the top of the ziggurat, with all under the effect of a Mass Fly.

Round 1:
Avorr went first. He reported his arcane sight saw no spell buffs running on Kyuss, and that Kyuss was an aberration, which came as a surprise to the group. Using his Major Spell Esoterica, he swift casts Sphere of Ultimate Destruction, but misses Kyuss with a ranged touch attack roll of 31. Avorr realizes he will need some help hitting Kyuss with the Sphere of Annihilation inside the portable hole carried by Reggie. He also casts Bright worms in front of Kyuss to scrub worms off anyone that approaches Kyuss. Nik uses a Miracle to replicate the spell Giant Size, and grows to over 70’ tall and 30’ wide (Nik previously used a Greater Strand of Prayer Beads to bump his CL to 21). Muscra does her skirmish dance and hits with her splitting bow, but learns Kyuss is immune to crits and thus immune to skirmish damage. Her base damage is insufficient to penetrate Kyuss’ DR, and she wonders why she bothered to join this fight.

Gwilym moves and uses a Wish from a Talisman of Azuth to wish that Muscra’s +1 Splitting bow is Aberration Bane. Since the bow has a chained Greater Magic Weapon cast upon it, its total bonus is now +7, defeating Kyuss’ epic DR. Kyuss uses the whole round to emerge from the monolith. Reggie moves to the right side of Kyuss and opens the portable hole. Ravalynn (Enlarged with a glaive) moves near Reggie and casts Doom Scarabs, doing minimal damage to Kyuss. The team hears flaps of leathery wings as Brood fiends fly from their perches lower on the ziggurat up to the top. They see two of them, but the third flies up unseen from the back side of the ziggurat. Mortimer charging smites Kyuss, doing 136 damage. Kyuss missed his opportunity attack as Mortimer charges in.

Round 2:
Avorr realizes he forgot to pre-cast Moment of Prescience, so casts it now , then uses a move action to control the Sphere of Annihilation into Kyuss, halving his remaining hit points. The team is dismayed that the sphere failed to annihilate Kyuss. Nik uses his colossal reach to make a full attack, hitting twice for 63 damage. Muscra stands still and shoots 3 times (becomes 6 with her splitting bow) and hits 4 times with excellent rolls, doing 84 damage total. Gwilym uses a swift action magic item to swap places with Mortimer, and does a full attack for 80 damage. He is wearing the circlet of Zosiel, so his attacks bypass Kyuss’ DR. Kyuss uses his Divine Blast (which I changed to a swift action) to do 110 damage, then casts Time Stop. It takes him 3 rounds to Harm up to full health (his CL is low due to loss of the negative energy machine), and uses the 4th and last round to cast Anti-Life Shell.

Reggie moves a bit to get line of sight to the stairs coming up from the lower levels of the ziggurat and uses his SLA Wall of Force to block the Kyuss Knight reinforcements. Ravalynn makes a full attack action, powering Vampiric Touch through her weapon, but learns of Kyuss’ Negative Energy Affinity. Ravalynn’s reach was sufficient that she never tried to get within 10’ of Kyuss (and her glaive isn’t alive), so she had no idea the Anti-Life Shell was in effect. She used a lot of Power Attack to ensure good damage through Kyuss’ DR, and did about 90 damage. The three Broodfiends continued to fly up to the top of the ziggurat, and each got close enough to use their acid breath weapon. The team groaned as they learned of the damage type, as they had up Resist Energy Mass for cold, fire, and lightning, but not acid. Most of the team were hit by two breath weapons, but Ravalynn and Reggie were only hit with one. As hit points dwindled, Stalwart Pacts and one Fortunate Fate fired off. Mortimer tried another Charging Smite, but bounced off the Anti-Life Shell.

Round 3:
Avorr reports the unseen barrier emanating from Kyuss, and casts Time Stop. In time stop round 1, he uses a Wish Scroll to add Aberration Bane to Nik’s Sword of Aqaa from the Gathering of Winds. Again, due to the chained Greater Magic Weapon on the sword, it will have a +7 bonus, sufficient to defeat epic DR. In time stop round 2, he casts Limited Wish to automatically hit on his next attack and uses a swift action to cast Assay Spell Resistance to buff his SR rolls against Kyuss. In time stop round 3, he uses a greater dispel magic to dispel the Anti-Life Shell. In time stop round 4, he casts Summon Monster IX to summon a Colossal Fiendish Centipede. Surprised he has a time stop round 5, he decides to cast a Prismatic Wall behind the team to make the Broodfiends fly around it. Time restarts and Telcarr halves Kyuss’ hit points again with the move action controlling the Sphere of Annihilation. The Centipede attempts to grapple Kyuss and succeeds (I mistakenly thought Kyuss already used his attack of opportunity, but he did so in the previous round). Kyuss’ AC falls by 7 because his loses his dexterity bonus to everyone but the centipede.

Nik hits three times with the Sword of Aqaa, each swing doing 66 damage now (he forgot to burn a spell using his ordained champion ability, so he could have done even more). He also connects with his off-hand Lightning Sword. Muscra stands still to fire another barrage from her Aberration Bane splitting bow, and hits 4 times for 84 damage total, and Kyuss discombobulates. The Broodfiends flee, Gwilym casts a Mass Heal, and the tower collapses into the worm eaten pit. The god Kyuss is dead!

Mortimer later accepts Prince Zeech’s challenge, and kills him in a duel, becoming the new Prince of Starmantle. I want to thank all the players for sticking with this campaign to its conclusion. It is the first time any of us completed a full level 1-20 campaign. It took us eight and a half years, but we did it!

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