Random Blogness: Expedition to the Dragonlands

Not the Bees!I’m way behind on a lot of things, so I figured I would ramble about my long-running Pathfinder game for a while and update the player who missed the last session at the same time.

For the past six years, I’ve been running my Night Below campaign. This started as an adaptation of the AD&D boxed set Night Below: An Underdark Campaign in D&D 3.5 and has since moved on to the Pathfinder system and a high-level adaptation of the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path. Spoilers for the latter are present in this post.

Previously…

With the city of Blackwood destroyed by the resurrected demigod Derrezen, a group of adventurers imbued with some of the dragon-god’s own mythic power were given the task of raising an army to begin the Second Dragon War while the queen rallied the support of the realm’s noble houses. The adventurers traveled to the monster-inhabited city of Ruen, where they met their ally Garyl Shadowslayer, a drow whom they had freed from months of torture not long ago. Garyl had already mobilized the troops of Ruen, making it possible to launch an immediate counter-strike without waiting for the queen.

The Cost of Power

As Garyl led the group and their army through the streets of Ruen, each of the PCs had to make a Will save to ignore the voice in their heads that said they should kill the drow while his guard was down. They all made it except one, and this one’s attack was stopped thanks to a timely dominate person spell cast by the party’s sorcerer. Thus the PCs have learned that there is a price to mythic power – they are now linked to Derrezen and have the occasional desire to follow his will.

Beth Bait

The group was introduced to Lady Janiven Key, the ruler of Ruen (somewhat borrowed from one of the major NPCs in the Council of Thieves adventure path). This is notable only because she is suspected Beth bait: an attractive lady who may or may not betray the group but who will almost certainly sleep with the character played by my friend Beth. Beth recognized this as a possibility, but decided she didn’t care. Thus, the battle planning session turned into a drinking party as Beth’s PC tried to get lucky – something which I suspect isn’t far off-base from real history.

Raising an Army

With intelligence indicating that Derrezen had an army forming in an old ruin called Dragonguard Keep, the adventurers decided to strike fast rather than wait for the Queen. We had already gotten a taste of the mass combat rules last session, but this was a chance to build the army their way. They opted for size over speed, going with a force 400 strong. They chose to make the assembly one of both humans and monsters, which gave the army the dirty fighting tactic at the cost of morale. For NPCs they chose Aron Kir for his scouting ability, Sosiel Vaenic for his healing powers, and Garyl Shadowslayer, who cut their consumption score via his ability to shadow walk back to civilization for supplies but also caused a hit to morale due to his race.

The army building bit is kind of a little mini-game within the campaign, but one I liked. The initial low morale made for some interesting role-playing opportunities, and the rules are simple enough to allow for a lot of army customization without bogging the game down too much.

The Problem of Nurah

Nurah Dendiwhar is an NPC from the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, and she is a traitor, a victim of mind manipulation, or both. Unsure of what to do about her, the group decided to leave her behind. Teranthia, the rogue/inquisitor PC who has had her mind messed with herself, went one step further and tried to convince Nurah to put herself under voluntary house arrest.

This called for a Diplomacy check, and I still haven’t figured out exactly how to handle Diplomacy and Sense Motive yet. In this case, I decided to have the player role-play the scene, then assigned a DC based on how I thought she did. This seemed to work, but I have another player who wouldn’t want that kind of pressure and another one who would be upset to see his excellent role-playing ruined by a bad die roll. For the time being, it looks like I’m going to change how I handle interaction encounters based on the players involved.

Teranthia’s a strange one. She has a +14 Diplomacy which she uses to great effect, but half the time she decides to be as abrasive as possible. It seems that if you don’t insult her horse, she’ll treat you just fine.

Into the Dragonlands

The Dragonlands are effectively my setting’s version of Mordor – dark, shrouded in mists, and teeming with monsters. It occurs to me that, if this campaign is a success for the PCs, I will not only be losing a great villain in Derrezen but also a great adventure site in the Dragonlands (it’s okay, though – I have plenty of ideas for what comes next).

As the army marched into the Dragonlands, they came across an enemy that I took way too much glee in presenting: a hellwasp dragon.

The encounter in Wrath of the Righteous called for a vescavor swarm, but I decided not to use it for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of the demon-flavored stuff in those books is getting reflavored, since my campaign isn’t that demon-heavy. Second, I have this policy of adding anything that’s not in the core books to my setting document, and I like to keep the page count reasonable if possible. That led me to swap in another monster I have used before: a hellwasp swam. But a swarm basically renders melee characters useless, so I needed something for the warriors to hit. Thus, I added a dragon to the mix.

Hellwasps kill things and then inhabit their bodies. In this scenario, several swarms inhabited the body of an adult silver dragon, animating it and leading it into battle against the PCs. The result was a dragon covered in bees from Hell whose breath weapon was to spit more bees from Hell at the PCs. This encounter was admittedly partially inspired by a warped Simpsons joke. “Or what? You’ll release the dragons? Or the bees? Or the dragons who have bees in their mouths so when they roar they spit bees at you?”

This is one of the few times where I’ve created a creature for a fantasy role-playing game that I would call Gygaxian. A bee-covered dragon that spits more bees at the heroes seems like something that Gary Gygax would have loved.

The PCs got to try out some of their mythic abilities in this battle, which worked pretty well. A mythic cone of cold crippled the hellwasps’ mobility, and Teranthia dished out a mythic attack that allowed her to hit the dragon as if she had struck with a sneak attack even though she wasn’t flanking with anybody. Mythic power seems to be quite cool, but it is very clear to me that hit points are a sucker’s game now. To challenge the PCs, I’m probably going to have to go with monsters that use unique tactics, mobility, and minions to soak up a lot of the damage. In general, single monsters versus a group of PCs don’t work out terribly well, and that’s going to be doubly true with mythic powers in play.

The encounter is also notable because somebody else played Garyl for the first time in…well, forever. With a swarm coming, Beth decided that her fighter wasn’t going to be very effective, so the main force was a group of spellcasters. Since Beth’s PC was sitting this one out, she asked to play Garyl. Prior to that, Garyl had always either been a PC, NPC controlled by me, or my video game avatar. However, I included him in this game specifically so he could provide the PCs with tactical options. (Also because having a 22nd-level henchman is a good way of really driving home the fact that these guys are nearing the top of the power scale.) It was weird seeing somebody else control Garyl, but also good to know that he’s fulfilling his role in this campaign of acting as a resource for the players without being stuck in the GM’s pet character mold.

Next Up: Dragonguard Keep

The session wrapped up as the group arrived at Dragonguard Keep (Drezen in Wrath of the Righteous). The scene is all set for a large-scale siege with some very interesting battles next time around.

Among the foes at the keep are an army of dragonborn. This marks the second time I’ve pulled directly from 4th edition D&D (the first being when I grabbed that edition’s rule of saving every round for effects that take a PC out of the battle such as paralysis). While D&D and I parted ways after 3rd edition wrapped up, the game still does stuff I like every once in a while, and dragonborn are one of them. (Also, I like to pretend that I created dragonborn way back in the 2nd edition days – but more on that another time.)

As the army approached the keep, the PCs did some role-playing to boost the army’s morale. Two of them took the time to get to know the troops and inspire bonds between the humans and monsters in the army, while Teranthia took the time to flirt with Garyl – partly out of genuine interest and partly because by flirting back with her Garyl proved to the troops that he does in fact have a personality. I liked both scenes, and they’re moments that probably wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t using the mass combat rules, so that’s another point for them.

By this time, it’s occurred to me that I’m a book and a half into the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path yet have barely used any of the material as written there. That’s actually quite okay, because the reason I love Pathfinder isn’t because I can use the material 100% as written but rather because it gives me constant inspiration. I’ll probably only loosely follow Wrath of the Righteous going forward, but the books are still good enough that I will happily purchase them.

Thus we reach the end of my long-winded ramble about the last session. The next one’s coming up in a week and a half and should feature some big battles, mythic creatures, and possibly a dungeon crawl as the characters try to infiltrate the keep. Sounds fun to me.

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