Spires of Xin-Shalast 24

This was the 24th session of our Rise of the Runelords campaign. Over the course of the session, four Hero Points were spent between three characters. At least two PCs would have died if it hadn’t been for those Hero Points.

After spending the night resting (and levelling up) in their Magnificent Mansion, the group discuss how they’re going to get back up to the dome. The problem is that their fighter Grodok has to wear a Sihedron Medallion, so can be easily tracked by Karzoug. They need a fourth ring to protect him from this, but currently have no idea where to get one from.

So they stuff him in a portable hole with a medallion and keep him unaware of their location and plans.

Leaving the Mansion where it is perched on the mountainside, they notice a small group of giants heading down towards the city. The giants don’t seem to be searching for them, so they reach a quick decision to ignore them and head directly up.

The giants were leaving the employ of Karzoug, though I won’t mention why at this stage. I’d put them there as a possible source of information if the group had decided to intercept (without killing) them. Of course the PCs had no way of knowing this, and opted for speed over completeness.

They headed straight into the same entrance they used the previous time, dropping Grodok out of the hole and buffing up on their spells. Though the giants knew they were probably heading here, they failed to determine exactly when they would arrive, so didn’t have all their protections up at this time.

There is a storm giant and a Lamia priestess guarding the door. The Lamia cast Invisibility Purge and everyone’s invisibility went down. On hearing the sound of spell casting through the door to the inner corridor, Esheiri put up a Prismatic Wall across the door, as the storm giant tried to hit Esheiri through her mirror images, Grodok and Solassar moved in to attack.

The inner door opened, and there was the sound of a confused giant over the other side of the Prismatic Wall, so Esheiri flew up and cast Hungry Darkness over the other side, plunging the entire area behind the Wall in utter, biting, darkness.

The Lamia tried to cast Unholy Blight at Esheiri, aiming it somewhere off to her left to avoid also catching the storm giant. I gave Esheiri an Intelligence check to try and realise the significance of this, but she failed. Generally, I set a DC of 20 for these sort of checks – it’s a question of whether they notice these things in the heat of battle. Anyway, it fails to get through her spell resistance.

Eventually Grodok gets a critical on the giant, and it goes down. The Lamia moves into melee, clawing at Grodok with touch attacks and wisdom drain, figuring that he probably has fewer points of wisdom than he does hit points.

It is then that Serena flies across the field of battle and opens a smaller door in the far wall. It swings open on perfectly balanced hinges, revealing a laughing Karzoug image behind it – the image casts a spell, reaching out to grasp Serena’s heart with a Death Clutch spell.

Serena fails her save, though only just, and I give the player an option to use a Hero Point for a +4. She has a contingency up with a breath of life, but that won’t help – she will die, get brought back, but will still be without her heart so she’ll immediately die again. The first Hero Point of the evening is spent, and Serena is merely staggered at the door.

Grodok charges at Karzoug (taking more wisdom drain from the Lamia), and buries his axe in him – destroying the image. By the time the Lamia is taken down, the sound of other enemies within the hungry darkness have faded. It is noted that the storm giant has a Sihedron Ring, so Grodok finally grabs one of those and puts the Medallion away.

Viorian Dekanti

The darkness is dispelled, and the group go over the wall and head left around the corridor this time – to a set of double doors that open into an opulent throne room. At the far end is Viorian Dekanti, the Champion of Greed and one of the toughest opponents in this stage of the adventure. She is heavily armoured, and carries a shield and a golden scimitar. During the fight it is noted that the sword seems to be wielding her rather than the other way around – it is a powerful intelligence artefact, and like the woman who uses it, utterly devoted to the idea of Greed.

There are also three storm giants in the room, so of course Grodok charges through and takes a swing at her, hurting her a bit. The she swings back – getting a critical which takes Grodok down to dead though he saves against the petrification effect which would have looked pretty, but also really complicated things. The second attack would have been a critical as well. Grodok spends two Hero Points and falls to the floor on -1 hitpoints rather than dying. Viorian ignores his fallen body and goes after the others.

Serena summons Zushin and Tyrannosaurs to aid in both healing and the fight, and starts to take on the storm giants. She notices that their holy attacks don’t work against at least a couple of the storm giants – they’re not all evil. This was what Esheiri could have realised earlier – the Lamia had no reason to avoid hitting the storm giant with her spell unless it wasn’t evil.

Viorian goes for Solassar, but he is protected by mirror images. She rapidly begins to take them down, but he spends a Hero Point (the fourth of the evening) to get a +8 on an attack roll, hitting her and getting sneak damage. Eventually he takes her down.

Marilith

By this time Grodok is back up, and Esheiri is harming the giants. The number of critical hits from the giant side this evening was excessive, but that’s sometimes how the dice go. Before all the giants could be taken out, the spell casting yeti and the marilith demon return to the fight, banishing one of the two Zushins, and dropping a blade barrier down the middle of the throne room, hitting the T-Rexes.

At this point one one storm giant was left (though he’s being chewed on by a T-Rex), but it was getting late and with the introduction of a couple of new adversaries things weren’t going to get finished, so we called it for the evening.

As a GM, I quite like the use of Hero Points in Pathfinder. They’re a limited resource that can’t easily be renewed (only one point is gained each level, up to a maximum of three), but they provide a way of avoiding unlucky dice rolls or even death. It does allow me to push the envelope of risk a bit closer to the limits. If things turn out to be too dangerous, the PCs have a safety net to fall back on – but once used it’s gone. This means it’s still a real cost to the PCs, but not one that derails the campaign.

The nice thing about the adventure paths is that they provide a long running story with a goal for the players to aim towards. The downside is that they are a railroad, which can easily be derailed if there’s a TPK (or near TPK). After spending five years getting to almost the end of the campaign, I really don’t want the PCs to fail (or at least if they do, I want it to be against Karzoug himself or by triggering some bad end condition, rather than due to a lesser minion). But I do still want things dangerous and risky. By this point in their careers, death is hardly a limit to characters, but it does tend to cause things to stop and force a retreat. Spending Hero Points allows the PCs to keep on making progress.

I was glad in how this session went. I was hoping that Viorian would turn out to be a serious threat, and she was – somewhat more than I expected. The party missed some possible clues, but have made good progress in defeating one major opponent and finding another Sihedron Ring.

I was hoping to get things finished in October, but I’m expecting things to spill over into November now. Hopefully it will be wrapped up by then.

Samuel Penn

Samuel Penn