Monday, March 31, 2014

Way of the Wicket 15

So in this play session the PCs fully explored the Cathedral. They poked at the wall of fire and decided it was best to leave it alone for now as they could not find a way past it. They search the rooms on the main floor but really only found a couple things of interest. The first was in the Ghaele's room they fount last time. It was a letter from Brigit of the Bijidine warning that there were Asdomeans at work.

The second item was the Grand-Abbot's journal. It basically said that Ara Mathra had called up a wall of divine flame that was impassable to all but a saint. He just had to wait out the bad guys until help arrives and then he can relight the two other flames that the PCs have extinguished. Meanwhile the Grand-Abbot was going to pray to Mitra for an army of ghosts to cleanse the Vale of evil (kinda like LotR).

Our villains wandered into the lower level of the Cathedral to find that most of the rooms were filled with old bones - former priests of the order. Disturbing them drew the attention of three ghost paladins. The cleric came up with a clever way of rendering the ghosts impotent while the rest of the party killed them.

Aside from the ghost fights most of the basement was solving puzzles and exploring. The could hear chanting going on but could not determine the source. They slaughtered a few acolytes that were waiting in a room and soon discovered a series of trials. The PCs managed to blunder through most of them and not get killed and eventually tracked down the Grand-Abbot who it turns out was responsible for the chanting.

He was knocked out and was then forced to drink a Philter of Love. The PCs managed to figure out most of the riddle and were able to access the Mitrans super vault, recovering part of an evil artifact sword, a Vampire Chalice, and a Mirror holding two bone devils plus lots of loot. They also discovered the remains of Saint Maccarius.

It was a good session for loot uncovering not one, but two well stocked vaults. With the cathedral almost fully pacified, the only tasks remaining are to lower the wall of divine fire and then defeat Ara Mathra.

Barring really poor rolling on my part, the second task is not going to be easy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Beast: Anatomy of a Barbarian

Some time ago the Beast was my PC for the Serpent's Skull adventure path. He was a stupid, stinky killing machine so they party kept him around. After all when you are an adventurer having an effective killer on your side is always a benefit.

Alas, in one encounter with a Hag he failed two consecutive will saves and was slain. He was replaced with my attempt at a combat rogue (who proved to be disappointing from a combat perspective) and I've never played "the Beast" again. He only made it to level 3 so I never really got a good fell for the build and I'd love to give it another try.

He joined an NPC adventuring party that went against the PCs in Book 2 of Way of the Wicked. He traded blow for blow with Gorbatch the Bloodrager but apparently Displacement is greater than a few points of Damage Resistance since Gorbatch proved to be the winner of that contest.

The build is constantly being tweaked as I look at adding in new things or subbing out stuff I'm no longer crazy about. The original Beast was very Min/Maxed with two big dump stats and I didn't really like that. Playing as a Human with Dual Talent means that I could boost Str and Con and not dump Int and Cha into the ground. The new version was slightly less effective in combat but a bit more well rounded PC which seemed a fair trade.

The basics of the Beast are: Invulnerable Rager archetype - grants DR = half your level and a bit of Fire or Cold resistance. The beast Totem line of Rage powers for Pounce and a natural armor bonus. Superstition for crazy high saving throws, Witch Hunter for bonus damage and and Spell Sunder because depending how you read it, you can suppress any spell effect. Reckless Abandon to counter act your Power attack penalties. Oh course the cherry on the cake is the Come and Get Me rage power you can take at level 12.

The latest thing that I've been looking at are the two Stalwart feats. The best way to cover the Feat prerequisites is to take one level of the Unbreakable Fighter archetype. The Stalwart feats change your Dodge bonus when fighting defensively or using Combat Expertise into DR that stacks with regular barbarian DR. Their seem to be two ways to go about doing this.

The first is Combat Expertise. It has the major downside or giving you an ugly penalty to attack which gets bigger as you level even though you maxed out your DR at 10 with Improved Stalwart. Combat Expertise has a prerequisite of an Int score of 13+ - which would normally be a dump stat.

Option two is fighting defensively.  Getting a big enough dodge bonus to make this worth while means maxing out acrobatics and finding some other source like the pre-nerf Crane style feats. Pre-nerf Crane style is pure awesome sauce but comes with some complications. It has some steep feat prerequisites on a build that is already pretty tight on feats. So of course the best way to get around this to take two levels of Monk (Master of Many Styles archetype). What? We have conflicting alignment problems? Well I guess that's not going to work.

So there you go. You can go with the less optimal Combat expertise, try to find some way to get the 5 extra feats required to get Crane style (this might be viable in a Mythic game), or do some weird shenanigans to get levels in both Monk and Barbarian. Even this isn't ideal though since that's three non Barbarian levels which is a noticeable delay on the nice Rage powers. That and Crane Style limits you to a one handed weapon (although it can still be gripped with two hands on your turn).

So is Stalwart worth all of the effort? Is stacking DR 10/- really worth the trouble? At this point I'm still on the fence. DR 20/- at level 20 would be pretty great and the barbarian isn't really hurting in the "To Hit" so I'm inclined to say "yes", I'd just like a cleaner way to pull it off.

A few other things are worthy of special mention. In a game where you can really customize your gear there are two weapon enhancements that are no-brainers for a barbarian. Furious is the first. For the cost of +1 it adds +2 to your weapon when you are raging (which is pretty much always). Courageous is the second. This one is a bit more complicated. It adds half of the enhancement bonus of your weapon to ALL of your current Morale bonuses. Wait a minute, you say. The barbarian has tons of morale bonuses. The Strength and Constitution bonuses are both Morale. Will save bonus? Morale. The Superstition bonus is Morale. Got Heroism? Morale. Good Hope is a Morale bonus too. A Courageous Furious +5 weapon adds +3 to all of the bonuses. That's a lot!

The Beast is a walking mass of melee destruction. Easy to hit but with high DR and a metric crapton of HP it doesn't matter so much although you may need a cleric on standby to clean up after any really long battles. Expect to get left behind when the wizard does an emergency evacuation due to you resisting the spell because of superstition. The Beast will have to be strategic about turning off Rage.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Druid: My thoughts

I don't think I have ever seen anyone at our gaming table play a druid. I kinda remember a druid way back in 3.5's Age of Worms but we have not had any since the switch to Pathfinder.

I can think of several reasons this may be the case. The first one is pretty straight forward. Most game session we have 4-6 players present and its a struggle to keep everyone's turn moving as quickly as possible. Any class rolling lots of dice, having many variable modifiers to rolls, and/or pets just seems to take forever. Its fairly common to hear the old question: "Did I get skipped?" and most of the time the answer is no and we just haven't made it back around yet. A straight up caster druid turn should move along pretty quickly but other druid builds break lots of the guidelines. You have lots of different wildshape bonuses and buffs to consider, you have to move around your summoned monsters as well as your animal companion. Nobody likes a turn hog.

This leads into the next difficulty with druids. Some classes are simpler to play than others. With a little bit of guidance any newb can make and play effectively a fighter. Rogues and Monks take a great deal of system mastery to make a decent character but are pretty easy to play. Primary casters just have to know their spell list inside and out. The druid is so complicated. They have 9 levels of spells they need to know and understand their application. They have Wildshape and need to know what options are available (and there are so many). They can convert spells into Summon Nature's Ally. What creatures are on those lists and what are their strengths and weaknesses? And lastly they may have an animal companion that they have to know and understand. That is a lot of class features that are very complicated! Not even the summoner has so many options.

As I've been playing around with different character builds to throw at the evil PCs in Way of the Wicked, I have come to see the power of the druid. I already have an Inquisitor, Barbarian, Cleric PC that I'd love to play, I have now added Druid to the list. Wildshape is just so awesome. Scout the enemy stronghold as a cat. Sit on a branch as a bird and blast your enemies with lightning. Become a Lake Octopus with 8 attacks and 20' reach. Earthglide as an Earth elemental. So many options!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Way of the Wicked 14

With two flames remaining, the PCs sailed down the river towards the cathedral and the gardens. A long dock jutted out from a feast hall guarded by a number of heavily armoured Archons. The PCs dimension doored in behind them and made short work of them.

The feast hall was abandoned. It looked like it had been emptied quickly so the villains spread and searched for any valuables. Unfortunately for them it still held one resident who had not let for the battle but was waiting here to extract revenge. Lea the Huntress clung to the ceiling and opened the battle with her mighty roar. This had the effect of doing a bit of sonic damage as well as blinding and deafening Gorbatch the Bloodrager and Sergeant the Halfling.

She then dropped down on top of the wizard, claws flying and much blood being spilt. The elven cleric rescued his wizard companion by teleporting him out of her grapple before she could finish him off. She continued to wreak havoc but she was severely out numbered and the odds eventually caught up with her. She tried to Heal herself  but was prevented form doing so by the halfling and she rejoined her kind in the Happy Hunting grounds.

Next up was the maze. The PCs quickly deduced that they were in some sort of pocket plane or dimension as the ambient temperature changed and the sky overhead was different. The PCs knew they were going to have to answer some riddles to escape the maze and were rather concerned but then they complained that they were too easy. Some people! Anyway, a fight was had against some Blink Dogs and then it came down to putting the riddle answers together and getting through the maze.

Flush with success, they kept their eyes closed a little too long and got pummelled by the guardians at the centre of the maze. The guardians of the second flame was the head ascetic and an oracle of Mitra. The Monk beat on the party while the Oracle, protected by a heightened Sanctuary, buffed and healed the monk.  Cleverly realizing that Oracles tend to have crap reflex saves, the wizard created a pit beneath her and she fell in. The monk went down shortly after. The bloodrager and anti-paladin jumped into the pit after the oracle and they beat on each other for a bit until she was prevented from healing herself and she died as well.

The second flame was extinguished and the 9th Knot exited the maze towards the cathedral. Climbing the steps to the cathedral they were set upon by 3 angels that looked like floating flaming swords. The party got nuked  by three Holy Smites, blinding people yet again. The wizard teleported almost everyone to the top of the stairs where the angels were dealt with without too many further problems.

The party entered the cathedral and did battle with more armoured archons guarding the entrance. The battle was eventually joined by a Ghaele in energy form that zipped around blasting people and trying to stay out of reach. I made a few strategic errors here and the villains managed to take her down.

Out of Cure Blindness potions and cure sticks, the party has decided to retreat and pick up more supplies before venturing further into the cathedral. They know that the far end of the cathedral is blocked by a wall of divine flame that no being, mortal or otherwise, may cross. Everyone is leveling up to 12 before they return and press onwards into the cathedral in 2 weeks time.

Lots of fighting this session with lots of good outsiders. I expect much of the same for next session where we should be able to wrap up Book 3 - tears of the Blessed.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Way of the Wicked 13

And after a month long break we are back.

We jumped right into the action quickly as the bugbear horde streamed through the wall and deployed into battle formations. The Mitrans brought up their forces as quickly as the could to stop the invasion. In an attempt to slow down the the bugbear advance, the Mitran cavalry advanced a head of the main force, the middle forming a "V" shape to mow down the opposition. The 9th Knot met the center and with the use of a Fireball killed most of the advancing horses making their riders much less effective.

The sacrifice of the horsemen gave the archers time to get into position as well as the main force of infantry to advance. The PCs took the first bridge but quickly found their position under fire from the archers. The wizard Dimension Doored the party in behind the archers and the slaughter was swift. With Archery command dead the remaining archers withdrew into the main body.

The bugbears continue to hack their way through the Mitran infantry until an ancient Dwarven call went up and a Dwarven Thane, their priestess and several nobles began to turn back the horde single handedly. Again the 9th Know DDoored into the fray and dispatched the annoying Dwarves.

With only a few moments to catch their breath further trouble was spotted on their left flank. Acolytes of the Serene Order were pressing them hard and so the 9th Knot rushed over to provide assistance. The monks proved to be trouble for the Asmodean archer cleric as they kept deflecting the arrows. They had no such defense against the Bloodrager and he cut them down with his few remaining rounds of BloodRage.

Only the final bridge - SaintsBridge lay now between the force of Bugbears and the town of Sanctum. The bugbears continued to cut down the remaining forces of the Mitrans and advanced upon the bridge. The initial wave was cut down by the bridges defenders - two shield archons. The bugbears backed away allowing the villains to do their thing. The 9th Knot opened with a Dismissal and took out one of the Archons at the start of the fight. The remaining shield archon proved to be quite tough. The PCs had largely exhausted their resources by this point since they had first cleared the watchtower and then acted as the tip of the spear for the advancing bugbear horde. The bridge was now clear and only a single figure guarded the far end of the bridge.

The Mitran commander had watched the 9th Knot advance, and was ready for them. He buffed himself and met the party head on. Fully buffed, the commander was a towering giant of Justice. His glowing glaive hacked and hewed through the villains until they were finally forced to retreat back to the bugbear horde. They consumed what little healing resources they had remaining, and Sergent the halfling was hellbent on vengeance and approached alone the Mitran commander. By this point most of commanders buffs had faded and the two of them slugged it out with the halfling the eventual victor.

A day of slaughter followed and once the battle rage had subsided the villains took stock of what remainined. The bugbear forces had suffered about 50% losses but there were no enemy combatant survivors. About 2000 civilians had been captured, and a good deal of treasure had been looted. At a council meeting the 9th Knot instructed the Headtakers (Tribe of Bugbears) to begin torturing the survivors to discover what could be learned. With that completed all survivors would have their heads removed and stacked in the middle of town - a gory message for the Mitrans to find come spring.

They learned a few things. There really is a phoenix on top of the mountain. The three flames can be found on top of the mountain, in the middle of the garden (Labyrinth), and in the cathedral. Some bugbear went down the river towards the cathedral looking for loot and never came back.

With a weeks rest the villains decided to go after the Mountain of the Phoenix first. The wizard was able to scry the area but all attempts to teleport in failed. Attempts to fly up to the top of the mountain failed as well. The third day had them scale the mountain the old fashion way. It was a long but not an overly difficult climb.

They first reached a temple that was guarded by a flaming woman. Since the 9th Know was expecting a phoenix they were well warded against fire and many of her attacks had little effect. She hacked up a few of the PCs but was force to jump into one of the large flames in the temple and retreat. The party did not waste much time rushing up the stairs to the top of the mountain were the sacred flame waited.

The flaming woman was waiting for them at the top almost fully healed. She stepped into the flames as it healed her while she battle the PCs. Things were complicated for the 9th as a screech echoed across the mountain as the Phoenix took flight. While the Fighter and the Bloodrager tried to cut down the Peri faster than she could heal, the Phoenix began doing flyby attacks against the remaining PCs. The wizard cleverly stopped the first pass with a Wall of Force but was grabbed on its second pass and dumped in the lake.

In the meantime, the Bloodrager managed to score a critical hit and dispatch the Peri. The halfling spotted another path down the far side of the mountain and ran to investigate. He found the Phoenix's nest and threaten the Phoenix's egg. In return for its egg the Phoenix promised to leave the valley and to never return. It apologized to Ara Mathra as it flew away after revealing to the 9th how to extinguish the sacred flame.

They put out the flame and ended a game night that stretched long into overtime but one in which I think everyone had a good time - even those players whose PCs that I had pretty much killed.