Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Primordial Threats and Ancient Curses, or Why Epic Tier CAN Be Awesome

*This post contains spoilers to the Scales of War Adventure Path. You have been warned.*

So the current quest thread the party is following is seeking out a magic artifact (MacGuffin if I've ever heard of one), but to do so they have to travel to the Astral Domain of three of the good gods: Pelor, Ioun and Erathis. The artifact is sealed behind a series of locks set by the three gods in accordance with an evil fourth party, the Arch-Devil Asmodeus. In order to unveil the final seal (actually the seal set by Asmodeus), they must first disrupt the seals of each of the other three gods. The party worked their way from stronghold to stronghold, defeating the guardians of gods who the party greatly respects and even robbing them to an extent. The issues that arose while they did this just got worse and worse as more and more of the servants of gods who are generally good start to come after them. They manage to hide, but every time the party breaks a seal they not only piss off a god they bring down a specific curse set into the binding magic of that lock. This was not included in the original adventure and was something that I wanted to make work as a little incentive to give the party pause as they continued down a track with some pretty dire consequences.

Pelor's lock was the easiest. I wanted to capture the feeling of Pelor's curse on the vampiric races so the character who broke the lock unleashed Pelor's wrath and fell under this specific curse. I wanted it to be something that was pretty rough and gave homage to the vampires, but couldn't directly refer to the undeath issues behind vampirism. The vulnerability to radiant has become a real problem given the fact that this is the Astral Sea and pretty much everyone farts radiant damage. They are also in the domain of the sun god so it never goes to night here. It has made for an interesting complication as one of my players now has to explain how he is not a vampire, but he is just wrapped up like a mummy to keep the sun off of him because he is "sensitive."
After destroying the bell which housed Pelor's seal, they went after the secret library of Ioun to find her lock. Hers was sealed away in a vault hidden through a series of  portals (hidden away in book stores of course) and guarded by librarians. Librarians who study the arcane secrets that Ioun thinks should be locked away. So pretty beefy mages. After knocking all the librarians out, they broke the second seal and Ioun's blessings of knowledge were taken away from a character, who happened to be the same one who got hit with the first one! Penalties to skill checks seem like not such a big deal, but losing the encounter power and having it turn into a daily was pretty hard. It actually worked out well that he got this particular curse because the barbarian was the least likely to make a skill check anyway. CURSES! (pun intended)

Escaping Ioun's library (she had lots of alarms that went off when they broke in), the party made way to the most obvious and easy-to-get-to seal. The seal of Erathis was set into the very stones of the marketplace and the party all  lined up to wail on it as a group with a preset trigger to get them moving. This combat eventually evolved into two combats popping up on top of each other so it started to get REALLY crazy, but the party kept putting damage into the seal and once again the same character got stuck with the curse. This one really hurt because he is a melee striker and being in adjacent to the enemy is what he does so this made a big difference in the combats to come.

Finally after spending so much time in the Astral Sea and working their way through three different seals to uncover the artifact they need to defeat the dark Dragon Goddess, they come to the guardian of the artifact and bearer of the final seal that protects the Arrow of Fate. In the Scales of War adventure path, at this point, the party are supposed to defeat the titan Nakheten (who was once a primordial) and then claim the arrow from his chest plate. This is pretty interesting, but overall kinda blah. So to kick it up a notch, I started by giving two options for the party to attack. They could target the chest plate, which bore the seal, or they could go after the primordial who was depowered to merely titan status. Still a big challenge, but not nearly what he could be. If they went after the seal, the seal would break away revealing the Arrow, but he would immediately begin returning to full power and instead of a level 27 solo, he would power up to a level 35 solo who they had no hope of taking on. The only response would be retreat while the devastating monstrosity rampaged across a bastion in the heavens. If they went after the creature himself they could defeat him, but he had a great deal more hitpoints and it would take a much longer time. He still was able to grow to full power once they destroyed the seal, but that was after they left.

But that still leaves the last seal and this one from Asmodeus himself so it has to be a doozy. I decided to go with the concept of a deal with the devil and checking the fine print on this one. I didn't make a power card for the curse because it was more complicated than just that. Whoever broke the seal would essentially be signing a deal with Asmodeus and he would take possession of their soul. This manifested in a way that I had to think about between sessions and I had some major inspiration this time. Fortunately it wasn't the same character this time. The drow rogue shattered the seal on the primoridal and as she did red fluid seeped from the seal and ran up her blade and coursed over her body wrapping her in a fleshy cocoon and as she emerged she discovered that she had become a tiefling. That's right. I changed a character's race without them knowing what was coming. The terror was delicious. She freaked out. The best part was that after she took her first extended rest (and her first time sleeping since she was a drow!) she had a dream visitation from Asmodeus who basically explained what she had done and made her a deal that he would restore her if she would do something for him. It's always more complicated than it seems, but this is how Epic Tier D&D has been for me. Sometimes it involves breaking the way that things are "supposed" to be. In fact it usually does. :)

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