The Whispering Cairn

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

Through luck or some fell curse, I happen to have a nearly complete run of both Dungeon and Dragon magazines (and some sundry related things) during their years offering 100% OFFICIAL DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS material for the 3.5 era. There's... rather a lot of content here, ranging from pretty cool to terribly ill-considered, and almost all hobbled by the official stance that, out of the box, a druid and a monk were totally going to be equally powerful and competent. There's a lot of it, though, and it varies from very good to ill-considered and badly balanced (in both directions), so rather than any sort of linear read, I figured I'd just start with something I eagerly devoured as it was released:

Age of Worms , The Whispering Cairn

Age of Worms is an adventure path, the second one Paizo published for Dungeon magazine (although plenty of material also appeared in Dragon to assist it), and the first to have been written for D&D 3.5 out of the gate.

My plan is to present this as the hypothetical experience of a group actually playing through it, taking the campaign as completely out-of-the-box as possible, including advice on what sort of characters to make. So let's meet the cast:

Going through all the provided material, we have a ton of material about the setting (Diamond Lake, a run-down mining town three days away from the big city), local notables, and so on. There's tips on how to tie in various races and classes and how to get people involved. There's sixty guards (how many bandits are in the area?), a group of three rival adventurers, churches and more. The four-page giant map of the town suggests it's going to be a lot more important than it actually turns out.

The three members of the rival adventurer team: Love Interest, He-Man With a Shirt, and Evil Wizard

So, as the campaign begins, the three players stare at Dom for a few minutes as he reads the background material helpfully provided for this first adventure: thousands of years ago, demons led by Miska the Wolf-Spider and Wind Dukes of Aaqa mumble mumble rod of seven parts, fields of Pesh, map discrepancies, and... eventually we get to anything useful for, you know, play. Also, Wally's master's master is the most important wizard in the setting and it's not like Wally is the main character just because of that sort of connection.

After some discussion, it's determined that the three rival adventurers have been announcing their intent to raid a nearby cairn that had been thought to be well-picked-over, but after some mysterious hints have come to light, there might be something left, after all. Roger gets to enjoy a quick high point as the one who misled the rival adventurers to check out the wrong cairn, the Stirgenest Cairn. Meanwhile, our heroes go check out the Whispering Cairn. A ten-minute walk from home and a DC 10 Search check (thanks, Roger!) and they're inside the tomb.

In a weirdly accurate detail, there's already an old bedroll here because, let's face it, horny teenagers and a nice quiet place ten minutes away from the parents. This one belonged to a girl who went missing six years ago and no one was in since. There's some eerie scene-setting, then a quick fight with three wolves, who probably get minced pretty quickly thanks to Sleep.

And... then we've won! Adventure over. No? Roger seems puzzled. They were here to get wealth, and they've already recovered a couple hundred GP of loot, which is quite a lot in most D&D economies, if not in magic item terms.

They walk a little further. There's a fresco that tells the PCs the clue to get past the next section. As they press on, they find a sarcophagus. Roger pokes it, then fails the DC TWENTY SIX check to avoid getting burnt by it. The hell's that doing in a first-level adventure? It only does 1d4, at least.

Finally, we get to the meat of this particular dungeon. There's a series of seven colored lanterns that need to be arranged by ROY G. BIV rules to let you go any further. Some are handy, others we'll have to Zelda our way to. There's some elevators, a couple of which are in good working order, and one of which Cleo for some reason decides not to ride on but Roger explores. A second combat encounter ensues after Roger narrowly avoids falling sixty feet to certain death: a swarm of acid beetles and a four HD aberration boil out and attack. Age of Worms is going to be a bit of a "meatgrinder", if you're not catching on.

There's also a false elevator trap with 85 more GP on it, but if you try to ride it you get crushed to death instead of taken somewhere. This would be kind of cruel if it weren't a DC 0 check to find it, which leads the question of why it's a check in the first place.

The point of all these lantern huntings is to stop a pretty blatant trap. In the next room, there's a long corridor and a screaming angry face done up in stone at one end of it. Roger saunters towards it, and gets hit by a paralyze and a windstorm that knocks him away and towards a pit. The trap is set up to not be particularly lethal in practice. You just get ten minutes of hurricanes and try again later... oh, but look, it has seven eyes and the colors that DON'T appear are the ones that have lit lanterns where they should be. I wonder what the solution is. We still haven't found all the lanterns at this point, so let's check down those elevators.

Down the first one, the corridor has a stone slab blocking the way, and it takes the entire party to knock it over. If the party can't summon a DC 25 Strength check or everyone managing DC 25 Escape Artist, this whole area is stymied. As soon as they do, Cleo books it out of the area, and the boys follow her. What a stroke of luck! There was a strength-damaging gas that triggers by knocking over that block. Yeah, let's do ability damage to our first-level party. And then how about a CR 2 beholder variant that strangles people! Yeah! It only has 11 HP, though, so the party can handle that one.

Past that, there's a room infested by brown mold, so the party takes a night to nap so Wally can prep some Rays of Frost to poke them to death. Brown mold is one of those threats that only really works once ever. The brown mold is protecting a magical (but immobile) gravy fountain, and behind that a squashed corpse who disabled that trap that killed him. He has a +1 chainmail shirt! First magical loot, score! That's a thousand GP, there, certainly that's enough money to get us out of Diamond Lake and into the Free City, right? Shut up, Roger. There's also 600 gp in art pieces, two partially-charged wands, and Goggles of Minute Seeing, which gives Roger some search bonuses.

Another chamber houses an evil earth elemental that only speaks Terran. It attacks the party if they can't talk to it. Once it's dead, there's some loot! One bit is a masterwork quarterstaff and another is a pedestal of unknown red metal that's worth 300 gp but weighs 200 lbs. This part remains un-looted.

Meandering back to another elevator branch, there's another selection of acid beetle swarms to deal with, this time in less disadvantageous situations, who are guarding three potions of cure light wounds, a 1st level pearl of power, and a ring of feather falling. Another room has more beetles to fight, along some stone slab 'beds' placed oddly directly beneath stone statues that have giant greatclubs held threateningly above them. If that wasn't clear enough, there's a corpse on a slab with a smashed-in head. I'm not even sure that qualifies as a 'trap' if it's that blatant. And, no, you're not compelled to sleep there beyond being fatigued while in the room.

Pressing on, there's a partially-underwater section, where an insane water elemental lives. Why is it insane? Well, while the tomb was being worked on, it was in charge of 'sanitation'. It's probably not surprising. There's also a ghoul, who has a ring that identifies its wearer as a member of a wizardly order called the Seekers. Wally, as someone who is not the main character, takes this.

Gathering all the lanterns is proving a little rough on Wally and Roger, and Cleo doesn't recall where the lantern they missed was in all that, so after the group gets thoroughly annoyed, a powerful ancient sorcery solves the room for the PCs anyway. No, that's actually in the adventure.

So on we press. A grick attacks the party as they walk along a path above a ball pit, like this is a McDonald's but with cast iron balls, and some ghostly voice shouts encouragement and/or disparaging remarks as they fight it. Oh, and the walls shoot out more balls if you try to just walk along the path, so into the ball pit for you. This is a weird room. When the grick is dead, the ghostly voice reveals itself: it's a ghost of a kid who died here, named Alastor Land. The ghost first tries to possess Roger, then tries to talk with the party, but it would only use Roger to talk to the other two anyway so... good planning, ghost. See, the door ahead can only be opened from the inside, so if the party will properly bury him, he'll open the door before he's laid to rest.

So the PCs grab the kid's skeleton and go to bury him with his family. They go to the Land's lands, and discover, welp, someone has dug up his family's bones just a bit ago, so they can't bury him with them until they go get another set of skeletons. An owlbear attacks them on the way. It has a chick with it that bonds with whoever--Cleo interrupts here and tells Dom that if he finishes that sentence she's going to smack him. So the party doesn't get an owlbear chick that's impossible to domesticate and wildly aggressive. Dick move to have that there.

Anyway, the non-mother owlbear has a human arm with it, that it tore off of the grave robbers. The arm is tattood with the symbol of a local gang who drink at a certain local bar, and so the PCs head there. A really thorough investigation would have turned up that the arm belonged with someone named Skutch, and the rest of him is in the owlbear.

The party finds the remaining grave robbers and tries to find out where the Land bodies were taken. Either Roger convinces them or Wally Charm Persons one, but either way the party finds the name and location of the guy who currently has these new bodies in exchange for nothing but promising to bring back his eyes. The alternatives here are 200 gp in bribes or trying to fight a group of 4 who are a level or two above our PCs. So, yeah, we're friends with grave robbers now.

Off to the tower of the necromancer who got the bodies. It's sort of a fixer-upper tower, because he's a necromancer who's just getting started. Quickly, the heroes chew through the undead thanks to Cleo, who's rather prepared for this. They also pick up various coins scattered around because... well, there's coins scattered around, silver to platinum. Also the silverware. That's worth money, too. They pick up some nice clothes for Wally, because the necromancer has some nice clothes on a mummified goblin that serves as a noble's outfit for small characters. And Wally also gets the necromancer's spellbook. Some rooms are more like scene-setting, like a dining room of zombies that just hang around and give sychophantic compliments to whoever sits at the head of the table, which is a scene I genuinely like and appreciate its hint of our necromancer's character.

Also here is a plot hook! Seems our erstwhile necromancer host was invited here by a local mine boss named Balabar Smenk, who is the sort of fat villain you immediately thought of when you heard the name "Balabar Smenk", because there's some unkillable zombies and weird worms around.

As you'd expect, the climatic fight with the necromancer is in his workshop. He has some undead with him (including the last Land who hadn't already faced the heroes), and is willing to trade information for his life if he's not killed first. He'll give the PCs information about his deal with Smenk, the Ebon Triad who are behind this, and the Age of Worms. Basically, the Age of Worms is something prophesied, and some guy named Kyuss will arise and usher it in. The Ebon Triad are a cult that worships three evil gods at once. Hey, heroes, go stop Smenk and this evil cult. He'll try to betray the party if given a chance or let escape, so any smart party finds a way to end him here, whether or not they talk first. Luckily, there is an excuse for the lawful: they do sort of owe his eyes to a drinking buddy of theirs.

That's it for the errands, at least. Laden down with bits and pieces of corpses new and old, the party returns to town to dispense them like ghoulish party favors.

Finally. Back to the Whispering Cairn. The ghost is gone, but he did open the door first, at least. The heroes get to see some frescoes that depict the history mentioned in Dom's notes way back when, then as they approach the true tomb, two dual-wielding warrior elementals pop up as a boss fight.

These guys are kind of a nasty fight, too: lots of HD, pretty good damage, elemental typing. At least by this point the PCs should be second level. Once completed, the PCs are challenged by a sculpture to name the guy buried in the tomb, which they might have picked up from previous hints. Doing so lets them get a circlet of Wisdom +2, with hinted-at extra story relevance, and a talisman of the sphere, to control spheres of annihilation.

Well, now our heroes have thoroughly looted the last un-looted bit of the last tomb near Diamond Lake, made deals with the undead, killed countless beetles, redistributed many body parts, and dealt with a necromancer who might have been slightly more vile this week than they have. Off to interfere with this Smenk fellow at his mine next time, for... well, the sheer joy of fucking with people, I guess. We're pretty clearly not in it for the money any longer.

Three Faces of Evil

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

So with every adventure in Age of Worms, the writer trades off. So... yeah, things are going to vary pretty strongly from one update to another. While The Whispering Cairn had a very structured, if insane, plot and site-based obstacles, this next one is a bit more open and has a lot more contingencies, which make trying to run it without making a lot more notes about what's going on difficult.

Oh, and one last thing before I launch the review proper: a correction. Balabar Smenk is not the mine owner, he just wanted the necromancer he was buddies with to go check out Dourstone Mine.

Age of Worms , Three Faces of Evil

So, as the party finally recovers from their journey to the Whispering Cairn, Dom skims the background information silently for a few minutes, then calls for a Knowledge (religion) check. Thanks to some miracle, the party puts out a 30 result, and are informed of the following things about the Ebon Triad cult:

So... we know out of the gate that this cult can't do what their goal is. Yay. There's a DC35 result, too, but this is an adventure for level TWO PCs. You have to do some serious optimization work to get a 35 at level 2.

As Dom finally finishes reading three pages of unknowable backstory and begins play, the party aren't particularly sure of what to do. One guy around town leaving a note to a buddy that they murdered somehow didn't provide them enough incentive to go break into a fairly miserable mine. Upon prompting, the party goes back to the necromancer's tower, grab a jar with a green worm in it, and take it back to Wally's mentor. Allustan, a level 8 wizard, fails to actually act much on this, instead merely telling them that the worm is connected to weird undead and a temple buried underneath the Dourstone Mine and asking them to do something about it.

Plans to do this derail when Roger meets up with Tirra, the elven rogue of the rival adventuring team that I totally didn't just dismiss as "Love Interest" before. Why, the whole team is so relevant that I'm not sure if they're ever actually mentioned again beyond "you should totally make them your own!" again until the fifth adventure (out of twelve total, recall). We'll see.

Anyway, roleplaying ensues, a week passes, and Smenk gets annoyed that the PCs are ignoring his plotline, so he has a subordinate sneak into Wally's house and kidnap the owlbear cub ... Wally's familiar. Dom had to work through several possibilities until that was the last resort.

Then Allustan tells the PCs that there's an elevator in the mine, and that's the fastest way to the Temple. Actually, that's presumably part of the initial appeal to them, but this is the order it was written in the magazine.

So. Kidnapped familiar. Meet with Smenk. Roger suggests they might ask Tirra and her friends to help. Everyone looks at him blankly. He suggests maybe Allustan could help, then? ... ... Actually, maybe it should just be the three of us.

The heroes arrive to see Smenk. Smenk gives back Wally's self-propelled class feature, telling the PCs that he's terrified of the Ebon Triad. They murdered his right-hand man and snuck the guy's head into Smenk's bed. His bluster serves to suggest he's mildly more noble than this omnicidal cult, and the PCs should go investigate their temple and put a stop it it. Finally, the heroes get the idea. At least this adventure realized it needed more reason to draw PCs in than the last one, and took the time to give several possibilities. I appreciate that. Anyway, it's time to go to Dourstone Mine.

Dom is slighly at a loss for the next scene, as it's meant to be "relatively free-form". The heroes need to figure out how to get past (small, infrequent, easily-bribed) patrols, avoid having the (pathetically poor and largely indifferent) miners turn them in and get to the elevator in the mine. Today, the PCs are in a fairly noble mood, so for less than the price of that partially-charged wand of unseen servant I didn't even feel like explicitly mentioning last adventure, they reach the elevator.

The elevator has a lot of rules about how it moves for... no real reason I can see.

After the heroes work out the math to see how quickly they can ride down, they find a pair of bored tiefling guards who assumed there wasn't going to be any trouble and who have +0 will and 1 HD. The party chops them down. For some reason, the adventure includes tactical plans of the tieflings, but... they're probably the second- or third-easiest fight in the entire campaign.

Now they look around and see they're in a cavern with exits N, W, E. There is a pool of water here. No, hold on, this isn't a text adventure. Even if the heroes didn't have an everburning lantern looted from the Whispering Cairn (in a fetching shade of green), they are not going to be eaten by a grue.

The adventure opens up again here. Technically. The three exits lead to the three component temples of the Ebon Triad, and we're totally not sitting in a boss room right now. Miraculously, the PCs (at Cleo's suggestion) end up taking the temples in the order given in the magazine.

They crack open the Temple of Hextor first, without using the secret knock. And here... Dom's brow furrows very deeply. This is area 2, but thanks to a typo, it says that the cultists in area 2 arrive in area 2 in 1d4 rounds, but no cultists are in area 2. They probably mean area 3, as there are cultists there.

That's not the only problem. The "cultists" arrive, but also missing is the count of how many cultists there are beyond "a large group". Literally the only way I can find to figure out how many there should be is to work backwards from the total encounter level for the area. So there's probably six. Or possibly nine, given how CR is often eyeballed in this magazine. Two more tieflings back them up, if either one can swing a DC 9 Listen check.

So that's sixteen-ish foes and not a lot that can be done to minimize that unless the PCs know the secret knock. We haven't seen where to maybe get a secret knock yet. Spoilers: I have no idea where you could even potentially learn that, so I don't know why it was mentioned. At least they fight stupidly, since the cultists intentionally do things like "jump on PC swords to provoke an attack of opportunity so another cultist can grapple them" or the tieflings throwing a total of two coins with Darkness cast on them at a party that has three everburning lanterns to cancel them out.

Thanks to this display of military competence, the party wipes out the foemen by standing in the ten-foot-wide corridor and probably just casting burning hands and/or sleep. If any of the humans or tieflings escape, they'd let out the dire boar that's all set up to do a Bloodborne impression towards the PCs, but let's be serious for a minute.

Dom is getting increasingly puzzled by the location-based instructions here, as each one mentions its contained threat, then says the PCs are unlikely to meet them there, because they would already be doing something further, and the editing does not help . For instance, area 7 says it's a barracks for the guards in area 5. Area 5 only contains the dire boar. Cripes.

Pressing on, the PCs kill a married couple of clerics, then the zombies that the wife called before being killed herself. Roger manages to flub another DC 26 trap and get himself blasted in the face again a room further. At least he swings the DC 20 Open Lock check to get into the boss room.

The boss, a 5th level cleric named Theldrick, accuses the party of breaking and entering and also wanton murder. The adventure points out he's right. He's not doing anything illegal! The point of this was to give his followers a chance to set up their defenses, but that was all predicated on them not employing excessively bad tactics and getting themselves killed right away like the tactics section leaves them prone to, so he's the only one left and eventually he evils out and they can get to the killing. He's probably the nastiest fight the party has yet faced, but is eminently a reasonable challenge. Once he's dispatched, they get into his notes. Dom calls for the DC 40 Decipher Script check to read them. The party glares at him. Perhaps they can find a code book somewhere else, Cleo suggests.

The last room in this temple is a big ol' arena where the Hextorites would try to trap the PCs before crossbowing them from safety. But it's at least as easy to sidestep it and go through the order I presented it all in.

Well, that's one temple down! On to the next, so we can meet the Gorons... er, sorry. Erythnul's temple. The main foes here are grimlocks who try to knock out the party's light sources. They have an everburning lantern apiece. The only other threat of note is a fairly neat part that demands the PCs manage a climb while they might be pelted with arrows, unless they can work around it by going another route.

The treasure is pretty much just money and the foes and challenges fairly straightforward. The PCs might wear down here, but otherwise this is just a selection of combat encounters to work through. Erythnul's cleric isn't going to be a problem if Theldrick wasn't.

On to the most interesting of the three. Vecna's temple is a labyrinth filled with secret doors that Vecna worshippers can automatically detect and swing open/shut. The party gets to be ambushed and take the long way around, but in a fairly mappable, understandable, and sortable way. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I have nothing against this dungeon, especially since the DM is encouraged to keep his own map and track how the four enemy groups move through it. Eventually, the party will get to work through the Vecna acolytes and come face-to-face with the current big bad that... they couldn't possibly have heard of before.

As a 6th level wizard with lots of summon monster III, The Faceless One is a fairly hefty fight, and has the best loot of any of the temples, by a wide margin. Also, hey, he has a codebook that lets them read that scroll they couldn't before!

Also then it's time for a boss fight, as the Ebon Aspect, a lesser version of the impossible goal of the Ebon Triad, clambers out of the boss fight room's pool and throws down with the heroes as basically a berserker with large size. The only weird wrinkle of the fight is that if the heroes take too much time to get back to the boss fight room, it smashes the elevator up, which... seems to trap the heroes? Like, there's no other exit, and no one would ever check here, and the next adventure assumes you're out of the mine.

Let's assume that doesn't happen, shall we? Instead, let's conclude with our writer's (auto?)biography:

Encounter at Blackwall Keep

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

After the PCs carefully double-check how fast they can operate the elevator and get out of the ancient temple somehow beneath an active mine, they explicitly have a bit of free time to wrap up their affairs in Diamond Lake. It doesn't say why they need to wrap it up, but I'll go ahead and spoil it: now that they've just pinged level 5, and 3rd level spells are on the table, they've sort of outgrown the place.

So... that's, what, Roger's roleplay with Tirra? The party has no reason to kill Smenk, unless kidnapping a familiar is a hangin' offense these days. The backdrop information provides lots and lots of people and places, but it doesn't overlap with the adventuring portion so we ended up skipping it. Oh, well. Plenty of material there could be stolen if you wanted, though; the jockeying mine managers and corrupt mayor could be their own low-level campaign if you don't level up so quickly. Most of the rest is just names and details, which is its own source of aid for some DMs. It can be nice to not have think up your own memorable quirks.

Age of Worms , Encounter at Blackwall Keep

Once the party has wrapped things up and generally relaxed after their three-fold murder spree, Allustan contacts his protege, Wally, asking him and those two weird friends of his to accompany him. Allustan is ready to do some exposition, and he's happened to be on his way to visit a friend of his, a battlemage who's in a little fort run by the Free City.

The PCs get on the road with Allustan, who starts monologuing. The stuff they looted from the tomb of Zosiel proves that the Cairns were graves for the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, who fought the ancient demon known as the Queen of Chaos using the Rod of Seven Parts. In totally 100% unrelated and never to intersect news, the friend he's going to see has been telling him about weird undead filled with green worms. You know, like that one they dragged out of the necromancer's tower and the Ebon Triad were talking about.

Well, no matter how wordy Allustan is, the road is 40 miles long, so it takes a couple of days. And we have... random encounter table!

Dom shakes out the d100s for a couple of encounters. And gets... 21 and 18. No encounters. Well, that was exciting. The under 75 results are effectively nothing, unless the PCs decide to steal and/or purchase stuff from those they meet. Or convert to St. Cuthbert. The combat encounters are pretty dull, too, given that they have a friendly level 8 wizard backing them up. Allustan is played up here to be as friendly and nice as possible. C'mon, everyone, just like the guy already.

Blackwall Keep comes close. The PCs find hints of a battle ahead. Roger scouts ahead, and finds eight groups of five lizardfolk apiece encircling the fort's tower, beseiging it. That's sort of a "defeat in detail" banner. Luckily, they also have a friendly level eight wizard with them who can


Anyway, the eight groups of five are actually six groups of five ( ), two of which are a cut above the average of the other four, with the assistance of a class level NPC. The PCs rout the seige, eventually, and slip into the Keep to meet with the guards still alive in there. There's no loot here, just the three levels of the tower, the roof, and a door that was padlocked shut and then nailed shut. Cleo insists the locals tell them what happened with that, and reluctantly the guards spill the story: two years ago, they started working on an escape tunnel, but their wizard turned into some weird undead that's a little tough for 1st level NPCs, so they just locked it in there. Cleo demands that they pry it open, and eventually gets her way.

A SPAWN OF KYUSS launches itself at them! It's not too hard to see why they're lauded as 'unkillable' zombies even though they really aren't. 4 HD, fast healing 5, fear aura, disease, spawn-creating mechanic... not a meek opponent. They only really have one weakness, beyond the usual "undead" package of weaknesses. And, wouldn't you know it, Cleo had a readied action to cast Remove Disease on it. Once they get hit by Remove Curse or Remove Disease, they turn into just normal zombies, which turns a CR 5 foe into pathetic cannon fodder. What a lucky break, Cleo. This saved the heroes from coming back here later to find the spawn is killing the fort and already has two more of itself created.

Well, time to chase down the lizardfolk, because it turns out that not everyone is in the Keep. The lizardfolk managed to take a couple of prisoners, including Allustan's friend, the sorceress Marzena. Guess we should get that seen to, too.

The lizardfolk go two days deep into a bog, with the PCs forced to make Survival checks regularly. Also random encounters!

A huge spider (78) attacks the party and they crush it.

Eventually the PCs get to the lizardfolk lair. Wally is amenable to the other two's suggestion of taking this one sneaky rather than massacring everything, so the party slips in, kills an assassin vine the lizardfolk keep rooted to their compost pile, and get ambushed by a very specific lizardfolk patrol. This patrol has one lizardfolk who's infected by Kyuss worms, and a handy Remove Disease from Cleo saves his life! The rest of the lizardfolk tell them to move another room or two on and see their hermaphrodite shaman, Hishka.

(Side note is that this is largely meant to make things worse in a "why didn't you know better by being psychic?" way; although this can be done, it's more likely that the PCs would kill the lizardfolk, get blamed as more worms crawl from his body to try to attack other lizardfolk, and have an extermination situation on their hands.)

Hishka is guarding Allustan's friend Marzena and a redshirt guard. It'll trade both for the PCs getting rid of the current leadership and trying to broker peace with the Free City's leadership because, hey, something's been attacking the tribe's eggs and Hishka, at least, wants to make peace and avoid getting everyone killed. The two leader lizardfolk are a barbarian and a fighter, and both are quite vulnerable to will-based save-or-loses.

Well, that was solved with a minimum amount of massacre. However, there's more that can be done; the lizardfolks' eggs are being protected by some unusually buff kobolds, courtesy of a dragon named Ilthane that the tribe made a deal with, but thanks to things no one in the party could have known except for Dom (and Cleo), now the tribe realizes that Ilthane was the cause of their woes and why isn't this something the party can easily find out?

Also, keep an eye on these images; you can see the same characters repeated throughout the campaign--yes, these are the players of the people at Paizo as they did this. Nice to see the continuity, though.

Anyway, the PCs are talked into going to kill the kobolds and help rescue the eggs. Ilthane's "dragon egg" is the centerpiece of the room of lizardfolk eggs, but, surprise, it's filled with Kyuss worms and more Kyuss-themed monsters! The PCs get to try to save the lizardfolk eggs from getting eaten/turned into weird undead, and thus prove their friendship to the lizardfolk. Hooray! Now, with reptilian friends behind them and two saved captives to return, the heroes return to Blackwall Keep to wait for Allustan to eventually get back. Except he's not going to come back, he's just going to send soldiers and otherwise hang out in Diamond Lake. Thanks, dude.

"Part Three," Dom intones. "Terror Below!"

At this point he actually reads it and realizes, oh, hey, Cleo already stopped this part before it started by getting rid of that one Spawn of Kyuss. Already solved!

Anyone remember what the point of this adventure was? Oh, right, it was to take Allustan to meet Marzena, except he gave up and went home. So the PCs take Marzena to Allustan, instead, and he asks Marzena if there was anything she can add about these weird undead. The answer turns out to be "not really". There's just a few more of them seen in the distance while in the wilderness sometimes. Allustan has another bright idea about now: he'll have the PCs go to the Free City and ask a sage named Eligos about them! No, he's not going anywhere. The PCs are successful enough gofers that he's not going to rouse himself much now.

Honestly, this issue and the next one are sort of 'filler'/setup as we get the PCs leveled up enough for the main threats. After that, things get into what I recall being the cool section of the campaign. But I'm trying not to spoil myself! Let's see if it holds up to my memories from ten years ago.

The Hall of Harsh Reflections

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

With the assistance of some random encounters, the party is now level 7, and 4th level spells are in play. The party has definitely outgrown Diamond Lake; even Allustan himself is only roughly on par, maybe a shade ahead, of his protege Wally. Luckily, the party now has an excuse to head off to the Free City and get involved in the real important stuff of the campaign... you know, after maybe one more outing that's more set up than payoff.

Also, this module is weirdly light on art. It just... isn't very thoroughly illustrated.

Age of Worms , The Hall of Harsh Reflections

The party takes five days to travel to the Free City, and gets in precisely two encounters along the way. As is typical, this means the spellcasters are free to unload their new spell levels into... one incredibly stupid bandit (23 on table is 1d3 bandits) and then on another day another... one bandit (17 is the same 1d3 bandits... I don't cheat these rolls at all, folks ). Sadly, only on a 90+ would the party have met with the two surviving trolls of the five that the rival adventuring team took out some days ago. Roger would have been heartened to hear Tirra is doing well.

The guards at the gate hassle the party, out of hope for a bribe of about 5 gp. They pay. It's easier than strenuously arguing about the equivalent of a dropped penny, and more likely to work than trying to disguise themselves and hope their disguise holds up.

Here the magazine takes a moment to inform Dom that the Free City is intentionally a bit of a blank slate; it could be Greyhawk, Waterdeep, Sharn, or something else based on the campaign. The actual intent, I believe, is Greyhawk. But Dom is playing this to the hilt, so Free City it remains.

As they enter the city, they find their way briefly blocked by a parade. It's to show off a bit and advertise for the Champion's Games (next session, folks!), as the arena's performers are showing off some of the werid beasts they've acquired to fight there. The star here is a chimera, that, wouldn't you know it, breaks free just as two thieves (statistically the same as the fools on the road) try to pick-pocket them. The thieves have a Will of +0, and the chimera of +6. Wally waves his hands and the situation is defused. Wally is thus making a great first impression.

Then they meet a street prophet who rants about the Age of Worms, the roaring of dead dragons, and the worm that walks. He's basically like a pre-recorded message, though; he can only repeat his message in its entirety and cannot offer anything else as far as interpretation. Thanks, that's helpful.

That's enough distractions. The party meets with Eligos, who's in a well-appointed house with rather a lot of wealth on display. If you were curious, Eligos is a Fighter 2/Wizard 7/Loremaster 2, which is kind of a weird build but all right. His manservant is a (N male elf expert 2), which I'm sure is information this review would have been woefully incomplete without. The party exposits to Eligos, and he tells them he's going to look into all this weird Age of Worms/cults/unknown and powerful undead thing, for free, as a favor to his friend Allustan and Allustan's protege and totally not-the-main-character Wally. It will just take up to a week, so... go stay in the Crooked House, a specific inn, and wait for the next plot trigger to show up.

The campaign mentions a few things the party can do here; probably the most interesting is a sidebar on the "Mistmarsh Accord". This is an opportunity for the PCs to make good on their promise to strike a treaty between the lizardfolk last session and the Free City. It tells you how much this is going to matter from here on (not at all) and suggests you take only as much time on it as the party finds fun, from whole stables of politicians to convince to just making one Diplomacy check and calling it a success.

The Crooked House is actually a fairly nice inn, just literally crooked. Wally makes friends with the proprietor, a fellow gnome and friend of Eligos, and they rent single rooms. Single rooms are actually all that's available. No reason, just chance, that.

Now comes an interlude I'm going to praise heavily. There's a doppleganger hired by parties unknown to everyone but Cleo and Dom (I haven't mentioned the name yet, I don't think) who's supposed to try to infiltrate the party. The doppleganger, Ixiaxian (let's call him Ix), is hoping to replace a party member and keep tabs on them while the person he's replacing is kidnapped. Not a great idea, right? Well, the adventure calls out the problems (in character and out of character), offers reasonable suggestions on how to deal with them, and says from the get-go that if the DM judges it would be more disruptive than cool to just cut the subplot and suggests what to offer in that case. So... Ix is going to try to replace someone he can reasonably impersonate. And who won't just be able to actually obliterate him. So that's Cleo and Wally out of the running. Luckily, this is exactly the sort of thng Roger finds fun. So, one night, the real Roger is spirited off, and for the next while Roger is playing Ix, and any other dopplegangers know to avoid attacking him. What a stroke of luck they were all in single rooms.

That's not to say it's perfect . Ix is supposed to try to avoid PCs who have magical abilities he can't copy, those who can make high enough Escape Artist checks or Strength checks to escape being kidnapped. So... it's entirely possible some campaigns would reasonably have no one he could even attempt. The book doesn't address this one, and it misses a few other possibilities for how Ix would arrange this all, including forgetting the single occupancy rooms. Also the payoff is a bit of a misfire. More on that in a bit.

Anyway, a day or two later on, after everyone's gone to bed, another doppleganger walks into the bar in a 'merchant' guise, walks upstairs, shapeshifts to look like Wally, walks back down, stabs the proprietor to dying levels in full view of the late-night drinkers, and walks back upstairs to turn back into the merchant and try to come back down and whip the crowd against the PCs.

The party jumps to try to defend themselves, but somehow Roger, the party face, isn't able to sway the crowd, and now there's another guy in the crowd (the doppleganger) who's trying to spring attack the PCs even as he rouses the startled drunks to anger. Unfortunately, his Will is +6 and his Fort is +9, so there's only one way that this reasonably goes against a viciously accused level 7 wizard with all of his spells for the day. It starts with "S" and ends with "ave or Lose", so by the time the town guards arrive Wally has cleared his name, Cleo has saved and revived the innkeeper, and the party has retrieved a rather distinct-looking key that points at where this doppleganger's hideout is.

It's also possible that the party could get arrested and thrown in jail and then kidnapped by the dopple-gang, but it's telegraphed enough that to do so would involve really poor decision-making on several levels. Once kidnapped, they're on a time limit to escape (and get all their stuff back from the conveniently unlocked chest with all their stuff not far away), and if they don't manage it it's a TPK.

So... it's off to a warehouse by the river to use this key and kill a whole ring of shapechangers because... I guess just because they're evil? The party has no reason to think this was anything but the work of one guy, and that one guy had a key. The first room, the one that's kept sort of legit in case of inspections or the like, has three mimics that attack the party, and a trap with a DC seven points lower than what we saw in the very first adventure.

The party loots a random ring of swimming from the floor, and Roger manages to take 2d6 falling damage from a badly put together ladder before managing to get into the unlocked chest that would have had their stuff, but now just has a periapt of health, a bag of holding, a 200 gp cloak, and another eight hundred plus gp. I should probably mention at some point that the reward for saving the innkeeper was that he gave them free room and board for a month, so they don't owe him the collective 1.8 gp a day any longer.

Pressing on, the party finds a row of cells with four people in them: one is an elf noble they can rescue, one is an insane man who's technically rescuable, and the other two are HOLY SHIT DOPPLEGANGER GUARDS PRETENDING TO BE LOCKED UP I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. The party brushes them off. This is not the dangerous area of the campaign. Even Roger isn't exactly being hurt too much, not that he's fighting much, either.

The saved duo are sent back. The PCs move to the next room in this basically linear dungeon. A pool of stagnant water studded with abandoned weapons, with bad-looking timber bridges on them. "Hm, this could be a sort of deception ," Cleo says, stressing the last word. Dom scratches his head. How could she have known the password? It's not clear why the book even lists the password if you can't know it. "It might be a deception , but we still have to cross," Roger agrees. Wally doesn't get the hint, so the invisible stalkers attack him. Yeah, there's two invisible stalkers that attack people who get on the planks without saying the word. This fight... is actually very nasty. Two permanently-invisible enemies while the PCs are forced to make balance checks all the time to avoid falling into dangerous water is both interesting and threatening. They fish out a partially-charged wand that was thrown into the water once it's safe. These dopplegangers need to take better care of their magic stuff.

A few less interesting traps and fights later, and we're in the planning room. The dopplegangers thoughtfully have a perfect written record and paper trail of their entire scheme (basically: replace people with dopplegangers, get money/power by doing so), so the party adds that to their new bag of holding. Nice to have some retroactive justification for the murder spree. It's just like old times.

And... that's it. There's nowhere else to go. The party can't find any secret doors or anything, so that must be everything. No boss fight, really? In surprise, Cleo leans against a specific wall to steady herself from the shock and falls through. Wouldn't you know it, there was an illusory wall. In the next room is... the party! Everyone is tied up and looking worse for wear. So that's two Rogers, two Cleos, and two Wallys. What's going on here? The prisoners work their way free, and now there's six people who are all insisting they're the real person, and... oh, come on, now. The real Cleo and Wally blast their opposite number with magic. Ix reverts to Dom's control as he attacks them, and thus this is all cleared up with a minimum of fuss. It's not that hard.

It's also worth noting that it's not unreasonable for a party to miss this room entirely; a couple of secret doors would let you skip it and hit the next place, instead. That would be exciting for the poor roleplayer.

Next up is... a retread. Stop me if you've heard this before, but the party gets thrown into a maze and have to navigate it while enemies take advantage of sliding panels to control the battlefield. This one is just smaller and less complex than the one in Vecna's temple in the second adventure.

Well, onto the boss room. It's Allustan! No, of course it's not, it's another doppleganger. How is that supposed to confuse or even surprise anyone by this point? He gets cut down, and the party can loot the magical items he was using to help fund and manage the doppleganger spread. In case the party had any doubts, this includes a mirror that reflects anyone's true form. Yes, that's the real Roger. They also find another note that says this doppleganger was receiving instructions from someone else, and where to meet him. Well, gosh, I wonder if we'll find out who that is.

Yes we will. It's a mind flayer, who with a couple of drow bodyguards ambushes the party as they try to leave the dungeon. He planeshifts away almost immediately.

Whoooo's up for another dungeon? Yup, rest up and let's do it again. The note tells the party where to go, in the sewers of the city. There's some faffing about with Search checks and Track feats and 8%-per-hour encounters. Do you mind if we brush past that? We get to the next dungeon, where the mind flayer lives. It's also very linear, and pretty much excessively boring. The party fights some shriekers, some more drow, and a spirit naga who could instead be bribed for 1000 gp if preferred, and then even more drow. Then we shake things up with a couple of glyph traps. That was a nice change of pace. Back to the meatgrinder. It's a couple of homebrew aberrations.

Next up is a particularly stupid trap. There's a stone brain here, with hardness 8 and 50 hp. It's a trap that attacks one person per turn with dominate person. Save to only suffer 1 wisdom damage, instead. So... ability damage, dominate person, annoyingly hard to break, wording suggests that the DC 30 disable device check doesn't actually break the dominate effect, basically impossible to just run past, no stealth option even offered... let's pretend this isn't here as I genuinely have no idea how you're supposed to handle this unless you have someone stand outside its range and plink it with arrows or a druid/ranger has their pet chew on it.

Two more encounter rooms. Now we're at the boss! It's... well, it's a mind flayer who is yet another sorcerer. The party actually has access to higher-level spells than he does by this point. This entire dungeon smells of a rush job; there's nothing much interesting here beyond the stone brain and it's basically a straight line to be followed. Also, the dead mind flayer had a note out on his desk saying he had been hired by Raknian to kill the party, continuing the campaign theme of "finding the plot thread by killing people and then reading their mail". He also knows Raknian purchased the "Apostolic Scrolls", but we don't get to find what that is yet.

The party wipes some of the blood, ichor and/or other off as they exit the sewers. Well, third time's the charm. Time to go kill this Raknian guy, right? No, no. Go take a couple days to refill your spell slots, then Eligos invites the party to dinner first. Oh, and as the party goes to meet him for dinner, they find boys in the street putting up flyers for "The Free City Champion's Games are coming! Lord Raknian, Director". Welp, time for a cliffhanger. We'll meet with Eligos next time.

So... next time, the party is going to join in the Champion's Games, a gladiatorial tournament and one of the adventures I have strong and positive memories of. At the very least, it's not this weird interstitial sort of adventure.

The Champion's Belt

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

Yes, okay, I don't think there's any real question about the team name.

Age of Worms , The Champion's Belt

All the modules start out with these full-page illustrations. I just wanted to share this one, in particular, because it suggests that, if this was really based on the Paizo team's test campaign, they screwed up rather badly. More on that later.

So: our heroes have a dilemma. Their plan of "killing anyone not-themselves mentioned in the correspondence of people they've killed" has only one entry left, and that entry is Raknian, who turns out to be a rather well-liked public figure, a former gladiator who's running the annual Champion's Games. Oh, and the champions last time? Our rival adventuring team. This is the first time He-Man and Evil Wizard have been relevant, so I should probably mention their names are Auric and Khellek, respectively. Auric the fighter is the team leader and well-loved recognized champion of last year's games. Khellek is literally an evil wizard and has little other distinguishing features.

Rather than immediately attack Raknian, the PCs are going to have dinner with Eligos and his (N male elf expert 2) servant. Eligos shares what he's learned and gives back the random detritus the heroes have determined are Clues. Short version: the Age of Worms is the End Times with a fancy name, Kyuss is a minor deity of undead, Kyuss is the source of several types of weird undead, and all this is mentioned in some dark texts like the Necronomicon and the Apostolic Scrolls. Yes, same Apostolic Scrolls the PCs discovered Raknian purchased.

So it's time to join the Champion's Games and use them as cover to investigate Raknian. Luckily, he's going to be too distracted trying to kill the heroes and run the games to notice that the heroes are joining the games. No, really, that's the logic. Eligos puts the PCs in contact with his friend Celeste (who, incidentally, made a cameo in the last adventure path, Shackled City, and I believe has a larger role in the next, Savage Tide), and Celeste puts them in contact with her friend Ekaym. She then runs out of the campaign and will not be seen again this game. Thanks for your invaluable contribution, Celeste. It couldn't have worked without you.

Ekaym is loud and upfront about his desires here: he wants a team of gladiators who might win, because winning will give him money and let him meet women. He wants 50% of the prize, but a fairly easy Diplomacy check later and he's willing to take just a share, same as any PC. Hm, that was suspiciously easy. Oh, well, I'm sure it's nothing.

The Games, luckily, are fairly varied. It's five days long, with the fighters doing something on four of the days: first day is a four-team free-for-all, second is rest, third is a single match, fourth is an exhibition against a monster, and last is the final, another single match. Ekaym goes over the rules (no flying higher than 40 ft, no killing people who surrender (it's okay if they die first), no looting the dead, don't shoot at the audience, find a team name), and they go off to join the dinner event that kicks this off.

At the dinner, Roger takes a moment to look at Raknian, and makes his Sense Motive check. Raknian has an unusual interest in them! No shit, Sherlock. Of more interest is when Roger looks at Ekaym and realizes Ekaym has some hidden interest in Raknian. And then Tirra shows up. She's in an evening gown this time, and isn't here as a fighter; she's here as a member of the Thieves' Guild, offering a 2500-gp-now-and-we'll-pay-you-7500-when-you-win deal. It's actually upfront; they just need the money to run it through bookies. She also makes a personal appeal that the PCs not actually kill Auric and Khellek. She might not want to brawl for no reason, but they're her friends. All of this is good stuff for roleplaying. I like this scene.

Gladiators have to remain on the premises during the Games, so after this they're led to their rooms underneath the arena. The PCs get to hear bits of gossip and rumors about other teams and their abilities and exploits, and another bit that suggests that at one point there were ghouls in the south area of these tunnels, but Raknian dealt with them and plugged up the entrance to their lair.

Now it's time for the another scene, one with more combat relevance. The PCs meet the three other teams they're going to be brawling with. There's a team of four elven archer women who are surly when approached by men, a barbarian/druid with a couple of gnolls who's got a mild ecoterrorist thing going on, and a swashbuckler janni with a couple of mercenaries who's the most approachable and friendly of the groups. The elves and janni are both potential allies, in a "let's deal with each other last" sort of way. The janni, Korush, just wants to show off, and he's willing to teach the PCs a spectacularly lame feat they can add to their possible options next time they level up:

But he's here to show off, especially to women, and when the elves brush him off, he tries to ply his charm on Cleo, instead. Cleo is equally dismissive, and with Roger to support her, she goes to make friends with the surly elves. Korush accepts this with admirable good humor, and the ecoterrorists don't really care any which way.

The time comes to battle. Now, why did Cleo insist on trying to ally with the elves, rather than the easier-to-team-up-with Korush? Because they're more powerful and more numerous. The battle proceeds pretty much as you might expect: elves and Cheese Dudes take down the other teams, as a couple of gnolls and a mounted team aren't going to carry the day, and that leaves a raging wildshaped crocodile as the sole target for seven people. When the Cheese Dudes turn to the elves, all they have to deal with is a handful of fighter 5s and one arcane archer leader. The Cheese Dudes are ninth level, and this free-for-all is their only fight of the day. It's kind of a foregone conclusion.

After the fight, the party meets again with Ekaym, who shares his story. His sister, Lahaka, disappeared last year. She might have been Raknian's lover before that, in his brotherly suspicions. He's hit a dead end, and needs someone to dig in the areas under the arena. He's able to bring in a lot of free daily healing magic for the PCs, run to Ye Olde Magic Shoppe if they need, and will turn over his share of the winnings, too, if they'll just look for Lahaka. Sounds good. The party has the second day of the games free, since during this day the show is more like a circus than bloodsports.

So, while the party is also free to do this before or after their fights on days 3 and 4, the PCs head off to explore the arena underground on day 2. Officially, they can't be here, but a pretty hefty Diplomacy check (DC 35) or a pittance of money (50 gp) will let them get past guards without being turned in, as would actual stealth. I'm not going to lie: the maps here are confusing me. I'm not sure if that's a problem on my end or the fact that the maps are unintentionally confusing or if the map is intentionally confusing because the PCs are supposed to prowl around the warrens to find the interesting things while hiding from guards and balancing time pressure for the actual games, and the whole thing is sprawling and several repurposed things stacked on top of each other to make that hard. Also... much isn't very interesting.

Out of necessity, then, we're going to assume that the PCs find their way to the Shrine of Kyuss. Yes, there's an actual mini-dungeon here. The party comes upon three spawn of Kyuss, a clear sign that a) yes, Raknian is really in deep on something very bad and b) hey, dig around more here! How about a mohrg and six more spawn?

Okay, time for the boss fight of the dungeon. Raknian's copy of the Apostolic Scrolls are here. The Scrolls are generating a weird sphere of force that's holding a strange undead monster a little further on. And Raknian has a tiefling cleric ally here, who's meditating on the scrolls and communing with the giant undead worm in a magic unhallow/silence field. That sounds like Roger's cue! Assisted by the villain's own Silence effect, said cleric is pretty effortlessly ganked. Could be a very rough fight for a party that came up on him when he wasn't distracted and could buff himself before a fight properly. A level 11 cleric is a pretty impressive bruiser if given a chance for Divine Power and so on. In his room, he has a trunk warded with a pretty impressively overpowered trap: Will DC 20 to only suffer 2 Con damage instead of suffering a nasty protracted death phrased such that you can't be raised. He also has a zombie. It's Lahaka. She was personally strangled by Raknian (for reasons the party couldn't ever reasonably uncover, but which comes down to "another man, the whore") and the evidence is tremendously clear; it even has a perfect print of Raknian's identifying ring on her throat. Well, resurrecting her is rather far beyond the party's capabilities. But they can de-animate the zombie and give Ekaym the body, at least. He might eventually be able to pay for her resurrection. If only he wasn't spending all his money on the PCs, haha.

Cripes, this is a pretty miserable subplot and I think it's getting to me.

There's also a demon in another room that's been called as a planar ally, and it ambushes the PCs with the aid of a symbol of fear trap. To the annoyance of the party, though, the only further thing in this direction is that after the demon's room there's a lavatory where the party can loot a 30 gp silver pitcher. Eh, money's money.

The only thing left, now, is the urgulstasta, the giant undead worm. The Apostolic Scrolls summoned this, and now it's being kept here until the climax of the games where it'll burst out and enact its foul ritual. Or it would have, if the tiefling cleric weren't killed before releasing it. Now the only way to get it out of there is high-level arcane magic or a tolerably simple turn undead check. The party, starting to get worn down on resources, considers what to do. Cleo very reasonably points out that it's stuck behind a fucking wall of force, also known as "you can't get past it by anything but magic". Haha, it's stuck. Why not rest up and come down here tomorrow to finish it off?

So, in another classic shoutout to their first adventure, the party drags Lahaka's corpse up to present to Ekaym next time they see him.

Well, it's time for the next round of combat. The Cheese Dudes are up against Pitch Blade, a pair of dwarven barbarians with a pretty humorous strategy: they'll quaff potions of flight, rage, and fly at the PCs like little dwarven death copters, whirling around their +1 flaming adamatine bastard swords. This team was specifically chosen by Raknian to kill the party, and these two know to focus on the toughest PC, Cleo, since they want to take out the party healing since they're a tough enough fight that... wait, Will +4? Wally waves his hands and the dwarves never even touch her.

A cheer goes up "Cheese! Dudes! Wal! Lee! Cheese! Dudes! Wal! Lee!"

Raknian is angry about this and somehow also surprised. Ekaym drops by again, the heroes hand over their grisly find, Ekaym is devastated but at least satisfied that the Cheese Dudes have given him closure. Once he's properly left to his grief, the heroes go kill that urgulstasta. Raknian has no idea what is happening there; his deal with the cleric didn't include any interaction until the urgulstasta was supposed to burst through the arena floor at the final battle and eat Tirra's friend Auric, which would spread hideous amounts of undead throughout the Free City due to a fell ritual and transform Raknian into a death knight. That will no longer be a concern.

Day 4 arrives. The Cheese Dudes are slated to fight a giant monster in an exhibition match. The evening before/the morning of, guards in the sleeping chambers stage a deliberately-overheard conversation about the frost salamander that is vulnerable to fire that the party will face. The PCs go out the next day ready to fight a frost salamander. The handlers of the monster, known as Madtooth, have to delay; Madtooth is intractable, and the time it takes is deliberately timed to let buffs expire on the PCs. Finally, Madtooth is released onto the field. Madtooth turns out to be a FROGHEMOTH.

It's remarkable resistant to fire, as you might have expected. This monster has +14 fort and +17 will, so it's comparatively resistant to Wally's wiles. Luckily, it's not immune to fiendish giant crocodiles and other flashy summons from Wally, and Cleo didn't deploy her Divine Power and Righteous Might until right when the monster was being dragged in, so given that this is the only fight the PCs will have today this is still a pretty foregone conclusion, but the spectacle is certainly what the crowd paid to see, and they are going crazy for Wally and the Cheese Dudes.

Auric's team defeats Dom's pick of the other teams, the last one in contention, (he picks Druken Devilry, a team that's EL 6 and... that's all we know about them) in what was probably a hellish experience. Since we don't know the team's stats, we can't even beer to watch.

One last night. The PCs wouldn't know about it, but Raknian goes to check on his cleric ally now, and is rather horrified to find that all his effort to get undead immortality has gone for naught, so he actually just packs up and... leaves. We might see him again later, but the poor man is so crushed he doesn't even see the games through to their completion.

Pictured: someone who crossed the PCs and walked away alive

Now it's time for the final showdown. He-Man and Evil Wizard have leveled up from when the PCs first met them; they were level 5 then, but level 10 now, and they've got the backing of three flesh golems to make for a real fight. This could actually be a show-stopper, to be honest; if Khellek the wizard gets a feeblemind off on Wally, the party might have no choice but to back down and take a loss. Of course, going the other way, Khellek has the sort of bad saves that means he'd go down without too much difficulty if that didn't happen. And Wally can throw on some spell resistance or what-have-you as a solution. A fighter isn't going to win after that, even with some golems on his side. Not against a party dumping summon monsters or Walls of Whatever on him. Auric gives in.

Raknian's plot has been defeated. The heroes are feted as the gladiator champions, the undead threat was never even discovered by most people, the rivals have been thoroughly shamed, and this time it looks like evil has gone down for good. There's no more looming threats to take care of now!

Smug with triumph, the heroes return to their friend Eligos, anxious to show off their winnings and... oh, damn, Raknian had him killed while the Games went on. And his (N male elf expert 2) servant. The fiend! Well, the heroes go through his notes. Yes, of course they read his mail. He's dead, what else do you do with dead people? Raise them from the dead?

Cleo asks Dom if she can. Dom's brow wrinkles. He reads the relevant page a couple of times. Finally, he shrugs. No, don't raise your friend, even though you know he'd be good for the material component since, you know, he's rich. Nope, let's just take his notes and ominous, half-written letter to Allustan back to Allustan. That's better than letting him finish up and having him be alive to answer questions. The idea of raising Eligoes and/or (N male elf expert 2) servant is never brought up, which is really weird given that this is the first adventure where the PCs are supposed to have access to that capability. Oh, well.

A Gathering of Winds

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

So, last time our heroes found a dead friend, stole the letter he was working on, stepped back over the body, and left the Free City in a huge hurry rather than raising him, because that's the option the text assumes you'll run with.

Age of Worms , A Gathering of Winds

The PCs return to Diamond Lake as 11th level adventurers, way outclassing the locals they merely rivaled or slightly surpassed the last time they were in town. However, there's been a few changes to their hometown, mainly in the way of Allustan's home (and, thus, Wally's) being destroyed, as well as a few others. The town guards, or what's left of them, come up our PCs bearing shell-shocked expressions and explain a thirty foot long black dragon spewed acid all over everything while hunting Allustan. The dragon's information-gathering methodology was even simpler than the PCs: it found someone, asked them "where is Allustan", then killed people who didn't know.

Finally, it found someone who knew the answer was "The Whispering Cairn". Yup, Allustan decided to go back to our heroes' first-level dungeon. Now, why would he do that? Anyway, the magazine tells us not to feel like we're under too much time pressure

so the heroes drop by to tell fat jokes to Balabar Smenk before they go rescue Wally's mentor.

Now the heroes wander back to the Whispering Cairn. The black dragon is too big to follow Allustan inside, so she's hanging out on the outside. It's a CR 13 dragon, and a little more scary than your average adult black dragon, but it's still got saves that can be beaten, so eventually it's going to get Disintegrated or Held Monster or whatever.

Before that can happen, it perches above the entrance and roars "Dragotha take you all! The wizard is mine!" Dragotha, huh? Well, that's probably the only time we'll ever hear that name. It blasts the heroes with a breath weapon that's been improved to also do strength damage, and, well, that's about where the PCs start unloading. It's only about on par with that Froghemoth from last time, barring the breath weapon.

With that dealt with, our heroes move on. Well, that was pretty random for our first encounter with a dragon, wasn't it? No, of course not. In Dom's notes, Cleo read all sorts of important details about our dragon friend. That was Ilthane, a black dragon serving Dragotha, and Ilthane was the architect of the woes our lizardfolk friends had. She was a powerful alchemist, and had been developing all sorts of scary draughts like the one she used to make the turbo-kobolds the heroes took down while saving lizardfolk eggs. Which was... all stuff that was also almost impossible for the PCs to discover legitimately. Great going, a mastermind that the heroes didn't even know about even as they defeated her.

Well, let's check up on the Whispering Cairn and just see if any level-appropriate monsters have carted in level-equivalent loot. ...Nnnnnope. The only change is a previously-blocked passage has been opened up by Allustan's rock-moving magic, leading to a mysterious portal, so the heroes get close to it, and, wouldn't you know it, there's an extraplanar buffed-up ghoul lurking in it, anxious to drain Roger's Wisdom and Constitution. I guess ability damage is the "in thing" this adventure. The exact set-up of the fight makes it actually a bit of a tricky tactical challenge, though, so I'm otherwise down with this fight. See, it's actually IN the portal. So as you try to step through, there's a concealed ghoul that's using the magic portal for cover that ambushes the party. Good luck fighting it without getting in melee range, where it can take a swipe at you by reaching out of the portal. The ill-prepared or ill-matched are free to use dimension door to skip past, or Overrun it. Yes, Overrun is a mechanic. I know everyone forgets it because this is the only time it was ever used in anything ever.

The next room has howling winds and six belkers. Yup, we're in a proper dungeon again; this would be a grindfest were it not for the lack of time pressure. Nothing is time-sensitive and almost everything stays put.

Beyond that, we find a room with elaborate carved statues and writing on the wall in runes. Cleo asks Wally to translate and read the runes, which talk about "glorious Icosiol" and the "Incomparable Army" he led against the Queen of Chaos and Miska the Wolf Spider in ancient times, one of the first chances our PCs have of discovering much about that backstory. Beyond that, though, speaking Icosiol's name aloud deactivates the traps in this room, which are basically the bigger cousins of that hurricane trap that the PCs had to deal with in the first tomb and eventually got past by waiting for Dom to say "okay, it solves itself".

There's another room that's a dead end off the beaten path here, but its only contents are a trap that drops rocks on chaotic people, which probably isn't our party. However, there's one other thing that could be in here, and it matches the magazine's art, so Dom decides it is: a shadow spider sorcerer jumps out of nowhere to try to truss up Wally's familiar. Dammit, not again! We just finished getting back at last guy who did that! The spider is a magical beast with a single-digit Will save, though, so this guy definitely doesn't survive the attempt. If he had succeeded, he could have been reasoned with and bargained with for the familiar's return and/or given the party some heads-up on the biggest threat in the tomb, another undead who came here to steal the Rod of Law.

Back to the main path. The PCs come up on a four-way intersection with traps that cast Dictum on them, temporarily deafening and slowing Roger and Wally. The PCs back up, Cleo casts Silence in the area and the party grabs a mithral greatsword. They take a left turn, and find a fire elemental themed location. A noble salamander and his fire elemental are here. They could be killed, but the best loot here is a +3 longspear, so they could also just be talked to. He's technically here as a guard, but he's not really "into" it. Once he's befriended, he gives the party a warning about two upcoming threats: an undead and a group of xorn.

The party thanks him, and leaves him here, happily un-murdered but still bored, then wander on past some uninteresting fights and loot, and Roger gets himself energy drained by an urn with Icosiol's courtesan's ashes. They do find a pretty nice set of +2 electricity resistance banded mail in the room with the undead they were warned about, which fits Cleo fairly nicely.

The next area is a river of blood! No, it's just water with red minerals in it. The xorns attack here. They bear a special hatred for gnomes, like Wally, because he's not the main character. Once past them, they find a...

...You know what? This section speaks for itself.

There are four of these. Once Dom is properly chastised for actually running this, and thus making Roger's contributions annoyingly pointless, the party goes back the other way. Yeah, that's just a timewasting dead end.

The next new room they enter has the stained glass in the walls turn into relief golems and attack them when they try to steal some gemstones. Luckily, the remains of relief golems are even more valuable! Score!

In the next room... oh, wait, right, we're here to find Allustan. He's been placed in a sphere of electricity, as he's fallen victim to the trap here that holds him in suspended animation. Wally has the bright idea to try to dispel magic on the trap from safely outside the room. It works! "The room's trap is suppressed," Dom intones, rolling his four-sider out of sight of the party. 3. The party runs in there to check on him. He's at -3 HP! Cleo drops a CLW on him. He's up to 6 HP. "Are you all right?" Wally asks Allustan. "Yes, I think so," he says. Well, all that probably took 18 seconds. "...for 1d4 rounds," Dom continues. Allustan and the party are blasted by 8d6 lightning damage apiece. Allustan's corpse is re-interred in the sphere, and the party retreats out of the room to pull out crossbows and break everything from safety.

Well, that didn't go so well. The party camps out for the night, and the next morning a sheepish Cleo raises Allustan from the dead, since he's allowed to be raised. He doesn't quite remember how he died, and the party is a little vague on it, but he's ready to answer questions now. He explains: he was jumped by a dragon, wandered in here to escape, and managed a path that otherwise kept him out of most danger until he showed up here . That one was beyond him. This is the resting place of Icosiol, one of the greatest of the Wind Dukes, who used a powerful artifact to beat the Queen of Chaos. It's now known as the Rod of Seven Parts. One piece is here. The party tell him Eligos was killed, too, and show him the half-done ominous note. Allustan nods sagely; it's time for him to get his old master, Manzorian, involved. Now that Wally has outgrown him, it's going to be up to Wally and those loser friends of his to keep the world safe from this whole "Age of Worms" thing.

"Now, though," Allustan says, brushing himself off. "I'm feeling weaker than I was before I was killed, so I'm going to go home and..." "About that. The dragon blew it up." Allustan shoots Wally a much more distraught look over this than the death of his friend. The way back is pretty safe, though, so the party lets their now-level-7 mentor go back himself while they press on in search of this great magic that should be buried here.

They deal with a silly trap, then come across a novelty: some undead with low enough HD that Cleo can actually turn them! Hooray!

Finally, they come to the Falling River. The Falling River is a vertical area. The red, not-blood river leads down, and the party gets to follow it down rather than along. Tolerable change of pace. Some advanced wind warriors attack along the way, harrying the party with crossbows and other hit-and-run attacks. That's something that would be very challenging to any party that couldn't figure out how to deal with some Fort +6, Will +4 enemies at range. So... yeah. Not advanced enough.

At the bottom of the Falling River, as far as the map is concerned, we meet a refugee from the Libris Mortis supplement book, a true ghoul named Moreto. The true ghoul tells the party that he's got a really important artifact called the "Seal of Law", that he'll show the party how to use if they'll kill this one shadow spider that hurt him and took out some of his mohrg allies earlier. The party already stepped on that little speedbump. He willingly offers the Seal of Law to the party for doing this, and even teaches them how to use it. Then everyone fights to the death because, you know, evil undead. He's ready to drop a charm person on the party as soon as he knows how to get to the surface; he's trying to get all the way to the surface from an underground kingdom.

So armed with the Seal of Law, which allows one access to Icosiol's tomb, the party goes partway back up the Falling River and through a well-hidden door. We're in the true Tomb! The doors of the Tomb are fifty feet tall and plated with an inch of adamantine. The writer completely forgot that the party would sensibly work on stripping this plating off because, holy shit, that's a lot of money.

The final guardians in the tomb are a couple of greater air elementals that attack people who cheat a jumping puzzle by flying, then a new CR 13 demon that focuses on paralysis and fear effects. It's not going to be that much of a fight because, again, single-digit saves. Welp. Time to loot Icosiol's body!

Turns out Icosiol's soul is okay with this, because the PCs are destined to fight the same sort of chaos he opposed in life. The PCs get new stabbin' toys for Roger and Cleo, a magic ring, and a piece of the rod of seven parts--the part that casts heal once per day, the one that can't find any other parts, too, of course. Also, a piece of random detritus the party picked up some ways back that I don't think I mentioned turns into a talisman of the sphere (for controlling spheres of annihilations) and Cleo's diadem (from Zosiel's tomb) gets a power boost and lets her speak in Auran.

The victorious PCs return to town, but find that the people of Diamond Lake are pretty down, even though the dragon that ate a dozen people is dead. Sheesh. Some people have no gratitude. Allustan reiterates his earlier point: Wally, and those... other two, go see Manzorian the archmage and tell him Allustan sent you. Meanwhile, everyone in your home town will hang around here feeling sorry for themselves.

The Spire of Long Shadows

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

Sorry this one took a bit, folks. For some reason, this writer's style just didn't agree with me, and it took a real effort of will to get through the adventure.

So. Our heroes are off to meet Wally's mentor's mentor, the archmage Manzorian. Manzorian is... pretty much intended to be Tenser, as in "Tenser's Transformation" and "Tenser's Floating Disk". Just the writers are only allowed to mention that in "conversion notes" for Greyhawk. Yup, it's time for the group to become the gofer of a wizard significantly more powerful than them! Really moving up in the world. Wait, no, I mean "now we're 13th level with multiple major artifacts and we're right back where we started".

Oh, well, same diff.

Age of Worms , The Spire of Long Shadows

So: the PCs have the largest of the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts, an artifact where each piece can find the next-largest. Which means someone can find theirs . A group of barbed and bone devils ambush the PCs on their way to meet Tenser/Manzorian. It's a pretty hefty fight, but not beyond the reach of a party that can cast 7th level spells. This is the only time this will come up, but this could be a subplot: a pit fiend is the holder of the next piece larger, and his minions can menace the party whenever you want it.

Of course, he has nothing to do with the Age of Worms and this is never prompted for again and the PCs just got Plane Shift .

I could see campaigns derailing here.

For our part, though, Cleo suggests they pretend it was just random that they were trying to steal the Rod fragment. That probably will never come up again. No, really, it won't, because Dom is very by-the-book.

When the heroes get to Manzorian's town, it turns out the archmage is out. This can be downtime for crafting, recuperating, adding new PCs, recruiting cohorts, whatever. Our team is pretty self-sufficient, though. Maybe they can go meet Manzorian where he is. He's just on another plane, after all, and the PCs just got Plane Shift . Whoa, hey now. Don't go getting any funny ideas. We're not here to explore other realms of reality. No, stay here and wait. Maybe meet up with some other associates of Manzorian while we have time.

Like... Celeste! I was wrong about her leaving completely; she has this cameo, too. And so are a couple of Manzorian's mentees. Including Eligos. You know, the guy that the party decided not to raise when they were stealing his notes. Why is he back? And how, if the PCs weren't allowed to do it?

I, and thus Dom, am completely befuddled as to how you're supposed to present Eligos here, beyond "well, shit, don't pay too much attention to him because we're here for other NPCs today". Oh, and that Agath there? Cleric 19. And Celeste is an angel with class levels, as it turns out. And another of Manzorian's trainees is an eldritch knight on par with the PCs by levels. Basically, somehow the team is back to being medium/small fish. Also apparently Wally was learning from the only one of Manzorian's pupils who didn't take prestige class levels. Or fighter levels, but that one is dumb.

Eventually, Manzorian returns from more-or-less Heaven where he was doing who-knows-what, and deigns to meet with our team. Only Roger seems to feel properly honored by this. Manzorian lets the heroes exposit to him, then exposits back in return:

The Age of Worms is a prophecy that's weirdly resistant to being re-written by later authors, its precursor signs happened in the last Adventure Path and various other Dungeon adventures (hey kids, remember to order several copies of Dungeon magazine back issues you don't have three copies of!), Kyuss was once mortal and then got his divine powers stapled on, the Ebon Triad are more like useful fools than the real power at work here, one of Manzorian's other pupils, Balakarde, is off doing something else that might be involved and the PCs are never going to run into him, and there's only two more prophecies that need to happen for the Age of Worms. Manzorian suggests the PCs may have already averted those two, but Cleo dismisses that for no reason. Manzorian shrugs; when you're a 21st level wizard with an impenetrable fortress, you don't care too much if people don't believe your guesses. The Rod, though. That would be swell to have. Manzorian offers the PCs individual magic items worth 40k gp apiece for the Rod fragment. Cleo refuses. Manzorian is, luckily, a good enough sport to not just wrest it away. Because, you know, epic wizard.

Regardless, he wants the PCs to explore Kyuss's home town and see if that has any clues. He lets the PCs look at a painting of the area, good enough to let them Greater Teleport there. Our PCs can, but if your party at home can't cast that, he'll offer a pair of scrolls of Greater Teleport, instead--one there and one back. If the party still can't manage that (no UMD or the like), an annoyed Manzorian just uses Teleportation Circle and lets them find their own way back the 1800 miles involved. That's what you get for not having arcane magic. One way or another, the PCs will go do this.

The centerpiece of the ruins of Kyuss's former town is a ziggurat topped with a stone cactus, and as the party approaches, we find one of the big gimmicks of this adventure: as the PCs wander around and/or beat up bosses, they get flashbacks that conveniently fill in the details of Kyuss's history. In the first one, they get to see Kyuss in life, as a cleric of Nerull. His nationality is... Flan.

Well, that just killed a lot of the drama.

As the heroes approach the center of the city and the black stone cactus, they find in the way an artifact that they won't pick up. Because it's a single piece of obsidian sank into the ground surrounding this center. It's 5 feet thick, 30 feet high, and over a thousand feet in diameter. Slightly out of our carrying capacity. Its only use is blocking Kyuss and Kyuss's minions, which is why it has "Kyuss forever bound" written all over it in Draconic. Inside this circle, there's countless Kyuss worms as an environmental hazard, and a death knight and a couple of high-tier beetles to defend the ziggurat's exterior. The PCs crush them and begin exploring the exterior.

Another vision. There was another part to the stone cactus at one point; a black monolith that was its centerpiece. Suddenly, an enormous red dragon dives down and grabs it, making off with it. A good history roll and the PCs realize this was a famous dragon: Dragotha! Hm, so the very key to Kyuss's power is in the hands of this thing. Of course, this is a dungeon, so there's some nagas that harass them, a group of undead warriors, and (by far the most interesting) some corrupted celestials that were broken by Kyuss's worms and forced to be guards here.

Roger is starting to get very annoyed with combat; even without the fact that we're facing more and more undead and other stuff that's just flat immune to sneak attack, the terrain for the last while has not been kind to him, so his ability to contribute is falling, even without that whole "bad saves in the important categories" thing. Regardless, beyond the expected haul of magical material, the party is rewarded with more visions: Kyuss is introduced to the worms of Kyuss by an undead spell weaver. Of note, though, is that Kyuss here is still in his mortal state; the worms might obey Kyuss, but they are not his creation. In fact, this undead spell weaver is certainly his teacher, introducing this cleric of Nerull into something darker than merely the death god's cult secrets.

We break up the monotony of undead + worm swarms next with a fountain of wonderfully clean green water and a compulsion to drink from it... psych! It's actually full of green Kyuss worms, and drinking them lets them eat your brain and turn you into an undead creature. Thank goodness for Protection from Evil/Magic Circle Against Evil. This gives us another important vision: Kyuss's monolith firing off a weird inverse of normal divine faith. Rather than the god granting spells, his monolith stole their souls and faith to fuel his apotheosis. Something went wrong, however; the newly divine Kyuss found himself trapped in his monolith.

One more naga tries to get the party to teleport him outside the obsidian ring he can't cross, but, well, NE aberration who plans to attack the party anyway. Most of the time in this adventure path, when someone tries to talk to you in a dungeon rather than attack, they still plan to attack later.

Overall, the problem with this dungeon is just that it's so same-y . The same few enemies are repeated, and the situations and terrain don't make up for it. More undead warriors, more worm swarms, more wormcallers... The team moves on to the boss. Who is, of course, immune to Roger's sneak attacks. The six-armed spell weaver lich that taught Kyuss his secrets rests here, having waited two thousand years so far for the obsidian ring to break so he can leave. This guy, at least, is legit willing to talk to the heroes, mainly to see how many more prophecies the Age of Worms has left before it happens (and incidentally releases him), and then let them leave. This is because he doesn't have a phylactery any longer.

That would be really dumb, though. Even if we weren't talking about a chaotic evil undead, this being is the Harbinger of Worms, the architect behind Kyuss's ascension and the various horrors of the Age of Worms, both so far and in the future and thus the murder or attempted murder of tens of thousands, including those the PCs may have come to feel fond of. It's hard to even think of a more deserving target to fight. The Harbinger is killed, breaking a number of long-standing magical effects in the temple, and giving the PCs a final vision.

Hey, it's more evocative than a letter on his desk.

The last vision is the PCs getting to go over the prophecies concerning the Age of Worms that Manzorian talked about before. It turns out Cleo was right--two prophecies remain to be fulfilled, not averted. One involves the union of a three-part spirit, and the other involves a hero giving a city to the dead. What could those mean? Also the PCs see the shade of a foe they'll have to face later: a worshipper of Vecna attaches the Hand of Vecna to his own severed wrist.

Well, we've learned much of the history behind Kyuss and the Age of Worms, and actually defeated a key figure behind it. Back to Manzorian. The archwizard listens, thanks them, and perfunctorily assigns them a new task: they have a lead on that Balakarde fellow, now. He went to meet someone named "Lashonna". Wally, take your friends and go track this one down. Manzorian has important wizard-y things to do and you can't come because you're not an epic-level NPCs. So you get the grunt work instead. That's literally the excuse at this point. This epic NPC is too busy doing something undefined to save the world and/or help out his closest associates.

Oh, well. Next adventure I believe has some really cool stuff!

The Prince of Redhand

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

Last time, our heroes found out about the events which kickstarted the Age of Worms, and discovered a mighty red dragon has made off with the monolith restraining the godly Kyuss, whose freedom shall herald the end times.

So, this adventure is a bit... different. It might actually have been even better earlier in the campaign, before the PCs advanced to 15th level and the sort of world-shaping power that 8th level spells and an effectively unlimited pocketbook for mundane matters entails. Oh, well. Also of note: the adventures themselves ran in Dungeon magazine, but Dragon had "Wormfood" articles, as well, trying expand and offer more material for DMs. This month's article actually has some things I want to explicitly drag in. So that's going to shake things up, too.

Age of Worms , The Prince of Redhand

This adventure picks up exactly where the last one left off. Like, a breath later. Last time, our heroes reported their findings to Manzorian, and Manzorian told them to follow a lead to Balakarde. We pick back up in that same conversation. This gives us a little more detail. Balakarde was researching more about the Ebon Triad (remember them? the cultists who were trying to glue together three different gods?), and his research has led him to Alhaster, the capital city of Redhand, a bandit-y nation. Lashonna, an elven noblewoman, may have been a further goal. Off we go, to pursue this lead while our angels and archmage and near-epic cleric friends sit at home.

Our heroes arrive in Alhaster via teleportation one week prior to a gala being thrown by Prince Zeech, Redhand's ruler. There's an almost desperate air to the merry-making and preperation. People are furiously working on getting everything prepared for, and banners to Hextor are sproutint from almost every window. Oh, yeah, turns out that the patron god of this country is Hextor. And Cleo? A cleric of Heironeous . If you're forgetting your 3.5 core deities, the two gods are brothers and archrivals. Cleo quickly tucks away her holy symbols and glances around to be sure no one's noticed. She's clear. Actually, officially all religions are welcome. It's just that, in practice, Hextor, Wee Jas and Kord are the only ones who are accepted.

The party begins trying to track down Balakarde, but, whoops, turns out that they didn't just miss him or something. Balakarde was in town literally years ago, and the trail has gone somewhat cold. Lashonna, then. The party calls at her mansion, but the guard tells them the earliest appointment to meet with her is two months from now. Well... that or get invited to Zeech's banquet. She should be there, and that's only a week.

Okay, who has invitations? Well, Zeech turned over filling the tables to a friend, Loratio, owner of the Deluxury. Loratio is looking for "heroic types", because Zeech likes having powerful people at his table. The PCs count. Even the gnome in the robe. Loratio takes Roger aside, though, and explains that he really thinks that only Roger really counts. If the other two cause any problems or disruptions? Roger is in trouble. It's a nice change from Wally being the centerpiece.

Now, what should the party expect when they visit the banquet? Well, weapons aren't allowed. Armor can be acceptable, though! Redhand is kind of a martial culture, after all. Also... Zeech doesn't officially expect gifts. Unofficially? 2k gp a person is a good baseline.

So. That's a week to kill. What other leads do we have? Well, Balakarde left a book he had been reading, and Cleo suggests maybe looking up the author of the book, who turns out to have been forgotten by people. Well... he was a cleric of St Cuthbert. Is there a temple to St Cuthbert? Yes. It's a half-burned-down ruin. Score! Maybe it's time for a mini dungeon! The PCs slip into the condemned building and find that, well, it's not really even that. Rhorsk, the author, has died and come back as another ghoul variant from Libris Mortis. The writers must have really loved that book. Anyway, DC 40 diplomacy or any way to command undead, and he's still lucid enough to share some information. Yes, he did meet with Balakarde, and his account of the Ebon Triad's founding skipped a bit. There was another important figure, Mother Maggot, who had been supporting the heretics with wormy undead. He points out where to go to meet her. And... well, why not leave the poor guy here? He's not hurting anything, though he has gone mad sometime during his unlife as a ghoul. The party gets a lot more experience out of getting information than killing him, since he's not on par with any of them. Even killing him and raising him would be kind of cruel at this point.

Well, our heroes get back to the non-condemned parts of the city. A hobgoblin mercenary swaggers up to them and greets them as guests. Yes, it's a facade of politeness. He observes just how lawless Diamond Lake and the Free City are, compared to the excellence of Redhand. What have the heroes even done to be 'heroes', anyway? Won a gladiatorial contest, slain a dragon, slain a very large and fireproof frog... the hobgoblin tries to belittle all this and talk up his own accomplishments in turn. Why, he bets he could even beat the heroes in a contest! Why not take up his challenge? He suggests... oh, riding, jumping, wrestling a dire boar... our heroes notably probably can't win these without significant magical effort, and Cleo isn't really eager to wave around her divine focus just now. So our PCs actually lose this. The hobgoblins leave, smug.

Dejected, the team visits the market square, just in time to see a public hanging of some Ebon Triad cultists. Zeech does not like the Ebon Triad, and the Triad is present in town... but only just. No one knows anything about them, but everyone's learned it's a good thing to publically curse the name.

Okay, fine, take a night to recover from the stinging loss, then go explore that location that the ghoul told them about. Above, the building is a sickhouse run by a madwoman who's not a very good doctor. The PCs make friends with her, then find a handy ladder down. Okay, surely this is going to be a mini-dungeon. The PCs climb down the ladder, then a pile of rope reassembles as a hangman golem, a refugee from Monster Manual III. A neat opponent, but not too challenging. Past this guard, there's a pool with a bunch of writing scrawled around it. Wally gets to work decoding it. It turns out to be the work of avolakias, worm-like horrors, as prayers to Kyuss and confirming some of the visions they saw last adventure. The new information here is the Writhing Tabernacle, Kyuss's most holy site, which is referenced but not placed, and Dragotha, the dragon that stole Kyuss's monolith, referred to as the Voice of Kyuss and called an "eternal dragon". Well, that's weird. Dragotha was clearly a pretty normal dragon and just greedy when he took that monolith. Wonder what happened?

Well, the dungeon isn't over. The PCs drop past this room and find a statue of the overgod, the same sort of creature that they had to beat up at the climax of Three Faces of Evil. Wait, no, it isn't a statue, it's a boss fight! This is actually a pretty hefty fight, but not beyond a properly-leveled party, so there we go. Behind a false wall, the heroes find a cache of magic items, literal bags of money, and a ledger that contains a complete listing of the Ebon Triad's membership. Well, that's handy. It even has crossed-out lines for those the PCs have killed already, like The Faceless One, Raknian, and... oh, wait, Ilthane? Wasn't that the one dragon that jumped the party? Hey, it lists her lair, and it's in the area.

What the PCs can't reasonably figure out without some leaps of logic here is that this is, yes, the actual source of the Ebon Triad. Some person or persons unknown encouraged the cult, using them as a front to cause some of the necessary prophecies for the Age of Worms to come true. Who was it? Well, the magazine tells Dom (and Cleo), but I feel like I want to hold onto that one just now.

Let's go loot Ilthane's lair next! Her lair was hidden in a bog not far away. Four of her kids are here; they're juvenile black dragons who were fighting over the stuff she left behind, and managed to break some of it and make a worse threat. Now they're observing a sort of truce and waiting for someone else to handle it. They try to trick the PCs into helping them clear out "their lair" for a good but unspecified reward, but they're bad liars, so the PCs kill or drive them off, then have to lift a thousand pound cap on the lair. A dragon might lift that. For our group, a magically-buffed Cleo and some telekinesis from Wally and they can shift it.

The lair is filled with toxic gases that sicken people in the area, and the undead that the dragons accidentally created by knocking stuff over attacks visitors, as well. I like this; it's pretty unusual a challenge, but not in a bad way. The loot is a certain amount of money and art, plus three of Ilthane's remaining alchemical vials, capable of granting inherent bonuses to ability scores. Cleo takes the +1 Str/Con one, and Roger gets the other two, granting +2 Cha and +3 natural armor. Well, now Roger has some black scales plating some of his body, but otherwise a complete success.

Okay, that's about as much as we can do before the banquet. Time to flip over to Dragon magazine. This article gives us expanded style details; a PC who's properly suited up, has her hair done, and has a mint bath gets a bonus to her charisma rolls to making friends with high society. The Temple of Wee Jas offers much of this, and here's several other groups in town that can offer one thing or another.

So: Roger sneaks around, buying some nice ancient military badges for himself, gets a frazzled mother of nine to sew his outfit, and finishes up with a meeting with a prudish scholar to teach him the intricacies of Alhaster etiquette in particular. That'll go some way to balancing out the scales he's suddenly sporting. Wally gets a pure white ettercap-spun tuxedo, gets a flamboyant tinge added by a dramatic hairdresser, and some cuff links tinged with the faerie fire spell. Cleo gets the attention of a prudish and elitist specialist in women's fashions, and tops it off with a fancy hat made from dangerous animals. Let's pretend Cleo saved the froghemoth's skin for this, in fact. The hatmaker in question is big on that sort of creation, and his centerpiece is a hat hung like a chandelier that's sized for a cloud giant. I love this little derail, even if it only amounts to basically a circumstance bonus level of change to your rolls, if you don't take the cues for what will grab and turn off particular people.

The day comes. The PCs make their way to the palace. Here, we're going to have to make things up a bit. There are lots of important guests here; over a dozen given names and motivations. I'll just pick a few, including of course the plot-relevant ones. So we have (in the order given in the book) Prince Zeech (fallen paladin/blackguard), The Ominous Fabler (weird little jester thing of Zeech's that does more talking than he does), B'kruss (the hobgoblin that defeated the PCs at dire boar wrestling), Hoff (fat dwarf, here for the food, wants to arm wrestle), Lashonna (they're here to talk to her), Mahuudril (secretly an evil worm monster that's dressed up like a human to keep an eye on people), Marat (former Diamond Lake resident; willing to put the PCs up for a few days while they're in Redhand just as a friend for their shared history), and Quemp (half-orc barbarian with lots of violent stories, angling to find someone to supplement his two current wives).

The main thrust of this adventure is to gain Authority Points, that represent how accepted and well-viewed the PCs are by Alhaster's finest. I'll brush this off for now, but know that that's the reward for making friends, doing good things, and so on here.

The guests arrive before Zeech, who rides up 20 minutes after they've assembled to let The Ominous Fabler announce the start of the gala... and telling the guests to present their gifts now. This is the first official notice that a gift is expected, but our PCs were on top of this, and present some gifts looted from the Ebon Triad lair and the dragon's lair. Now: where is Lashonna? Zeech announces to the group at large that, sadly, he's heard from Lashonna, and she's going to be late, but will join them later. Dang it.

The first entertainment of the evening is a silent play by skeletons, acting out the manner of their deaths in accidents that weren't quite accidents. Oh, and each of them was an actor whose living performances annoyed Zeech. The threat is not very subtle. The next event is a Duck Hunt inspired event: release ten birds, shoot at them with masterwork repeating crossbows. Well, everyone but Zeech gets masterwork; Zeech's is +3. Doing better than Zeech's 6/10 can offend him, but a good diplomacy check will let him take it in good humor. Roger attempts to win, but fails to bag that many. Moving on, the challenge is to take control of a cockatrice and turn more cats to stone than a cockatrice controlled by Zeech (which you have to admit is creative, if nothing else). Cleo takes this one on, and the results are basically a coin flip, since the cockatrices are identical, unless the PCs fail a Fort save to control it well. A flipped coin, and she does win, winning a 1000 gp golden egg for it. This one Zeech is okay losing. The final event is one where Zeech throws a skull into the distance, and people are challenged to throw other human skulls, trying to land as close to it as possible. Well, nothing says this is an evil act. I actually went ahead and did some basic rolls on that, and it turns out Quemp and Roger tied for first place, and Hoff placed last.

That was the fun; now onto the main meal. Lashonna arrives, taking a seat opposite Zeech. The first course is "The Feast of Worms!" One of Redhand's founders got here by shipwreck, and was desperate for food. They honor that by opening meals with a not-quite-Kyuss-worm, but something that looks similar. It's noted as very tasty. The Ominous Fabler continues with a story of a dryad who metes judgment on a noble who transplants her tree, then Zeech challenges anyone else to match the Fabler's tale-telling. Well, who here just got a charisma bonus, is a rogue, has weird black scales on his body, and two thumbs? This Roger! Roger is also bold enough to taste the "it's poisonous if they messed up the cooking directions" dish, and wins a bragging contest about who's done the most for Redhand when he pulls out and slams down a tome of the Ebon Triad's member rolls as a punctuation and gift to the Prince. Lashonna seems shaken by this. The dessert, a badly built cake with a topping of Zeech in marzipan, falls apart on serving, and nearly falls on Roger, who with a deft Dexterity roll and Perform follow-up, makes light of the issue and avoids a bad symbolism for Zeech. It's still enough of an embarrasment that Zeech is going to bow out as soon as he can after this.

The evening concludes with a dance, where Roger gets in close enough to Lashonna to whisper that they want to talk to her. She whispers back "save the questions for later". The PCs will meet with her in a few more nights' time, though. They've secured their audience.

Navigating the entertainments and meals nets the PCs XP as if they'd slain a CR 20 creature. The PCs have made a spectacular first impression on Redhand, and we've gotten the set-up for the last third of the Age of Worms, where things ramp up fast and hard, and gotten through one of the best adventures in the campaign, even if it is, sort of, a filler piece.

The Library of Last Resort

posted by ZeeToo Original SA post

Last time, our PCs got themselves snappy dress, had a meal, and didn't uncover the other party guest that was a worm monster. Today, they'll check out a library.

Age of Worms , The Library of Last Resort

So, our team is already 16th level, and will advance to 17th and eventually 18th level in the course of this adventure. So, even if not quite out of the gate, our PCs will have access to Gate and a nice selection of other level 9 spell for most of it. There might be a significant amount of story left, but the PCs are hitting close to their peak of power. In fact, the Dragon magazine companion for this adventure is entirely dealing with how to handle high-level divinations and movement spells.

But that's another matter. For now, the team is ready to go meet Lashonna, the elven noblewoman who's their lead on Balakarde, who they're chasing after, on the say-so of an epic wizard. She invites them over at midnight. She greets them effusively, then just outright hands them Balakarde's journal.

So now we know the story. Dragotha was corrupted by the monolith he stole from Kyuss, then slain and raised as a dracolich. Then, a thousand and a half years ago, a team of druids known as the Order of the Storm stole his phylactery and hid it surprisingly effectively. So here's the challenge, as Lashonna explains it: Dragotha's phylactery exists. He can't make a new one while it exists, and if it's destroyed while he's dead, that's game over, so he's been very cowardly. But, well, just killing him isn't going to carry the day, either, because if nothing is poised to destroy his phylactery before he regenerates, he'll be back, have his phylactery, and then we've had a fifteen century setback in this "stop undead doom" thing.

After writing down the journal, Balakarde then ran off to try to deal with Dragotha... somehow. And no one's seen him since. Great, are we supposed to go look for him? No, no, Lashonna has a better idea, and we're definitely still collecting quests from NPCs. Go get the phylactery first. The information about where it's hidden has probably been hidden on an island called Tilagos. Lashonna has just uncovered this. Oh, and uh... it's not just her. She has enemies who can glean information from her sometimes. One of her agents, Heskin, has been wooed by a Vecnan priest, for example. Why don't we scry on that guy? Lashonna stole some of his hair to help with that, because that's not creepy at all.

Heskin is on a boat in a nasty storm. Two lithe tieflings slide into view, then an incredibly brawny efreet, a humanoid bird, and finally a hooded man. The hooded man examines Heskin, then realizes he's the subject of a scrying spell! Well, we know how to handle that. He touches Heskin with a rotten hand, and Heskin dies. End of scry. That was the Hand of Vecna. This is the antagonist we've previously seen in the Spire of Long Shadows.

(Side note: Lashonna will beep if you point Detect Evil at her even if she doesn't want to see Dragotha rise again. If the PCs decide that they're not going to trust Lashonna and try to steal in and ransack her place instead of talking, she drops some token undead resistance in the house, leaves town, and leaves the journal and such for the enterprising if murderous heroes to get as a 'reward'. This makes her the most genre-savvy person we've met yet, as she's apparently well aware of our propensity for reading letters left lying around after we've killed everything in sight.)

How to get to the island? Well, the writer suggests that the DM feel free to spice it up with sea monsters and sinking ships and there's a permanent hurricane that surrounds the island to protect it and maybe you can fly in by taking Leadership and having your cohort be some powerful flying mount... But Lashonna knows where it is, and we can get a rough idea of what's at the location, so either Teleportation or Wind Walk will zip the team there in no time flat and basically without danger.

On the island, the team finds an orc crew trying to rebuild their ship after a shipwreck. The PCs could fight them, sure, but it doesn't take much diplomacy to get them talking instead. We're not in a dungeon yet! The orc captain explains what happened: they were hired by Darl Quethos, the so-called Hand of the Lich Lord, to get his team here. Darl ran off to the ruins that are the only other feature on the island. The orcs tried to follow, but "loud, angry rocks with lots of rope" attacked them and they gave it up.

Well, good luck getting your ship patched up, guys. We'd help, but you're CE and this doesn't grant XP. Off we go to explore the island. There's an octopus tree guarding a pool of glowing red crystals. The party grabs that. Next they trip over some ropers with writing on them detailing things like the eating habits of sharks. Apparently the Order of the Storm had been... actually, no. Dom stops himself. The PCs can't know the details behind this. Why is it still included? Anyway, the ropers the orcs couldn't beat aren't as much of a challenge for our group, and they were guarding a different color of glowing crystal. I think I know where this is going! Yes, indeed, there is a place with glowing crystals in a third color. But, uh, they're broken. This one was guarded by golems, and the Vecnans smashed them and all the crystals. Darn. Luckily, Cleo just so happened to have a Make Whole spell prepared, so the smashed crystal works fine.

Eventually, Cleo leans against a very specific rock, and happens to fall through. It was a permanent image! Guess there must be a rear guard left by Darl. This one isn't actually unfair; a party with True Seeing or the like (and the party is close to if not actually 17th level) can get this hint with no trouble. A random roll tells us that the guard isn't actually in this camp, though, so they must be stalking the group instead, waiting for them to split up.

Now, onto the very far side of the island. There's a disc here with three carved, stylized eyes, that keeps chanting that it wants its eyes returned. It's chanting in Druidic, though, so all the party can understand is a creepy chanting stone. Still, three glowing crystals, three slots. I've played video games before. Once the party does that, it spits out multiple Antipathy effects, driving the party to step away from the portal before it activates. It also consumes the crystals to start up, one way or the other. Still, nothing a little Protection from Evil or Magic Circle Against Evil can't hard counter. Off we go!

We're now in the Demiplane of Last Resort, the ultimate secret of the Order of the Storm. Cleo suggests it might be wise to hang back near the portal for a bit. And, wouldn't you know it, it activates a few minutes after they come through. This is their stalker, chasing them. It turns out to be Krekie, a kenku and the humanoid bird they saw when Lashonna scryed for them. She's an assassin with a repeating crossbow and could be an interesting challenge for a party that couldn't beat her +8 Will save.

I doubt she's going to last long.

Once she's dealt with, the team can look around Last Resort and notice how it's been infused with a bit of positive energy. Bright colors, more intense sensations, no undead possible. As they take a look, four weird fey with banners behind them symbolizing the four elements step out of nearby plants and regard the PCs carefully. They try to be enigmatic in a fairly tiresome way, so let's jump to the conclusion: hidden library knowledge is in something called the Fountain of Dreams. If someone drinks it (think that pool in Dragon Age: Inquisition), secret knowledge will slip out and can be discovered by normal means again. And, because they're overachievers, the PCs will have to do four tasks to prove they're worthy to drink the fountain. And the only clues that they give to what the tasks are, are their titles. Claiming Krathanos's Golden Belt, Silence of the Doomshroud's Mournful Song, Death of the Thorn Vale Nightmare, and Harvest of the Living Feather of the Roc King. Well, that's clear as crystal. In that you can't see it at all. It takes a quick action from Roger to convince the fey to stay long enough to even ask about the evil team, and all the fey offer there is "yeah, sure, if they manage first, they get the prize". They won't offer anything else to help figure out the trials.

Still, a party with sufficient access to divination magic (and maybe a magazine sneak peek) can start to get things rolling. Krathanos. Locate him. South-east edge of the island (it's about 80 miles across at its largest). And maybe roll some Knowledge as we do so. Krathanos? That was a titan from antiquity that disappeared 1500 years ago. Hey, look, there's half a titan-sized compound on the horizon. It looks like someone occasionally smashes the walls with a titan's warhammer, and gargoyles rebuild it when he's done. Okay, maybe that's not all apparent at first glance, but as the party gets close it all becomes clear, especially when his six gargoyle minions come up to the PCs and demand they come meet "Krathanos the Conqueror, exiled by the gods for his designs to rule all of creation, and shackled by the treacherous druids of Tilagos until such time as brave stalwarts arrive to free him". Well, that explains everything very succinctly. Why couldn't the quest givers be so efficient?

Well, it's time to meet with Krathanos. He's 25 feet tall, wearing a porportionate-sized belt with gems in it, and playing with a spiked warhammer. Titans are hideously powerful, enough that our barely-17th-level trio might not win a fair fight, even without their Gate ability (this is why Krathanos is actually imprisoned here). But, well, maybe we can talk to him. Roger tries, explaining that there's an evil priest on the island, whose minions--Krathanos interrupts. Are we talking about this guy? He rummages through a sack and pulls out the head of a minotaur. Darl sent him to talk to Krathanos, but Krathanos hates people whose heads don't match their bodies, and... fixed that. Okay, so Krathanos is insane, violent and will sometimes take offense at imagined slights. Let's look for another angle. Roger clears his throat and mentions the Age of Worms they're trying to stop, where... Krathanos has to think about this one. Hm, oh, right, a worm priest was kicking up a fuss for a while, then got imprisioned.

Well, shit. Krathanos, what would it take to get you to give us that belt? Well, he'd willingly exchange it for one of you all. The party looks around at each other. Maybe they could offer money, instead? Cleo doesn't like that idea. They could also... maybe free the titan, Wally suggests. That's actually a harder method than it sounds, as he's more anxious to intimidate the PCs into freeing him than bargaining, and even if made helpful enough to accept the trade, absolutely will not give it up until he's off of Last Resort, so the PCs would have to plane shift with him, then make their own way back, and it's kind of a detour to do that. Why not give him Wally, instead? They aren't going to miss him too much, after all.

So, the spellcasters stuff the belt into a bag of holding and leave. Krathanos laughs uproariously, but sticks his new toy in a cage. Early the next morning, after the duo would have had a chance to prepare their spells and be ready, Roger picks his lock and flees back to his friends. An enraged Krathanos chases after, warhammer at the ready. He runs into a series of Energy Drains and Imprisonment. Imprisonment is the easiest way to deal with Krathanos, but you gain nothing if he's imprisoned with the belt.

Okay, silence the doomshroud. Might involve Doomshroud Forest, a forest just north-west of Krathanos's keep. Yeah, there's a weeping, twisting tree monster in the middle of it. Okay, Wally, cast Silence on a rock and toss it over there. What? It doesn't count unless it's a more permanent silence? Fiiiiine. This monster is not particularly scary if the party can make Will saves, so the lumberjacking detour is a quick one.

We're running low on landmarks. The only other thing on the island that isn't just empty grass is a little craggy area. Luckily, one way to solve the trial is just to examine every point of interest on the map. The third trial finds them as they try to navigate a crevasse filled with thorns.

It has a Will of +7. Who cares what the rest of the sheet says? If you believe the magazine, this is a cunning beastie who knows about the trials and has destroyed previous adventuring parties. I'm not sure how. It's not actually that imposing even without the one-shot potential.

Well, anyway. One more trial. Get a feather from the roc king while he's alive. Shouldn't be too tough. They climb the tallest peak, and find the Roc King. It's dead. That's going to be a bit of a setback. It looks like Darl's team wasn't just sitting idly. Of course, they only got as far as "kill it", so a Raise Dead is enough to get it back in action, and it is so grateful it attacks the party on sight. All these humanoids look alike and it thinks it's still the same fight. Huh. A good charm or dominate effect will get it to play nice, though. The party could also have talked to it if they had a druid or ranger, but no matter how charming Roger might be, the roc is still just an animal.

As they party makes their way down, Darl's team ambushes them. I appreciate Darl Quethos's portrayal here; the Vecnan priest has been a shadow the PCs have had to chase after the entire time they're on Tilagos, with a suitably ominous air to his methodology. He brings with him a mostly fiendish team as back-up. The tiefling monks we saw in the vision, a devil trying to earn the ability to obscure his true name so he won't keep getting conjured and an efreet with class levels riding an advanced nightmare. Darl, too, knows our PCs well after much divination spells, and is ready to whisper any sort of embarrassing secret or childhood trauma or any such thing to throw the party off as they fight. This is the climatic fight of the adventure, though it can actually come at any time. Darl's team is tough and varied, though not as instantly lethal as our PCs tend to be. It's possible Darl would flee if the fight goes badly, but this would run into some difficulties, since his saves aren't insurmountable and, well, D&D 3.5. So there we have it. After an actually really harrowing fight, our party has the Hand of Vecna, and Darl is dead.

So the party goes back to meet with their fey hosts. Three of them congratulate the PCs. The fourth explodes with anger. He challenges the PCs to a duel because it shouldn't count if the roc king dies and then comes back. Roger is swift to the point, though. Not only were they not the ones who killed the roc king, they brought him back. The fey is forced to concede this, and withdraws his challenge.

The PCs are granted access to the Fountain of Dreams. It takes them somewhere. A vision, perhaps? Hey, this is Rift Canyon, 150 miles north of Alhaster, where they were previously at. But something's wrong. The real Rift Canyon is far more barren. As they look far away, the PCs realize there are armies of humanoids fighting undead in the distance, including a couple of the Kyuss-derived types the PCs have handled before. And, uh, more and worse sorts, like wormy dragons and some sort of giant scorpion that turns the living on each other.

The PCs discover that, in fact, they're back at their peak: they get to reprepare spells, and all their wounds are healed. This isn't just a vision, it's thrown them back into the past. A millenium and a half in the past. Right when Kyuss was last ascendant, and when Dragotha was last seen. "You have arrived." Some somber druids consider the PCs. And, hey, those four in front look like the fey we were just dealing with! This is them in their living state.

The druids explain quickly. Thankfully, the trio are here in time, as the heroes of prophecy they've been expecting. The druids have Dragotha's phylactery. If they take it far enough away, Dragotha will realize it and quit the field, to save his own hide when his immortality is challenged. The PCs just need to hold off his ground forces, while another ally holds off his aerial threats.

The ally comes forward. It's... Lashonna?

How is she here, this far into the past? The elf doesn't recognize them, of course, since it's the first time they meet, by her reckoning, but she does explain that she's here to fight Dragotha in the sky. Then she transforms into a rather heavyweight silver dragon and takes to the skies. Oh, so that's how she's still alive. Once she's out of earshot, the druids turn back to the PCs, telling them the phylactery will be hidden in Kongen-Thulnir. Just... it's going to take a bit to travel. Protect the druids; fight the undead.

Ten swords of kyuss appear. Then ten more. Then, finally, an advanced boneyard, an undead amalgamation in the shape and approaching the size of the classic sandworm. The PCs might lose here. Cleo can turn the swords, but not destroy them, and Roger is almost useless save as a meatshield. They win, but the result is a mess, and Roger dies in the process.

Finally, just as the battle concludes, they see the end result of Lashonna's battle with Dragotha: Dragotha delivers a killing blow to Lashonna, whose body collapses to the earth below. Well... shit. That's a second undead dragon we're going to have to deal with, isn't it?

The fight concludes. The party wakes from their vision, restored again, even Roger no worse for wear. The party finds themselves not in the world beyond the portal, but back on the original beach where they met the orc team. The Order of the Storm's secret knowledge has slipped back into the world, and over the coming days old tomes and forgotten books will rewrite themselves and begin to again include the secrets they had hidden... which includes Dragotha's phylactery's location. The PCs have only a slim lead on that.