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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 8, Part 2

October 7, 2016

Faced with thousands upon thousands of zombies at one end of the plateau and a single zombie cyclops at the other, the party decided to charge towards the cyclops. They still had a few rounds of haste left, so they were able to close the distance in record time.

The dread zombie raised its weapon and prepared to meet the charge. Unfortunately, it ended up at the end of the initiative order, and never got a chance to attack. The group annihilated it in short order which, when combined with their similar quick victory over the wyvern, perhaps left them feeling a bit invulnerable.

Of Mobs And Men

Now, an individual zombie made from a human NPC is not any kind of threat to even a single 9th level PC, much less 5 of them. When trying to think of how to make the zombie horde compelling, I recalled that there was a Mob template in 3e, found within the DMG 2. While looking around for a Pathfinder version of the template, I found a homebrew conversion but its CRs were way off. I then discovered Paizo’s Troop template, buried within the modern firearm rules that were first published in the Rasputin Must Die! adventure.

Or rather, I found an example of the new troop creature sub-type, and assumed there must be a corresponding template. But if there was, I was unable to locate it. And I couldn’t reverse engineer it from the rifle troop since I did not have stats for individual WWI Russian soldiers. So I cobbled together a zombie mob just using my best judgement and pegged the result as a CR 6-7 threat.

Then a couple of months back, the last book of the Hell’s Vengeance adventure path, Hell Comes to Westcrown, came out and had two more troop examples – a Glorious Reclamation Sergeant troop (basically clerics of Iomedae) and a Hound Archon troop. There are stats for the Sergeants earlier in the AP but trying to reverse engineer the template from those stats produced some odd results, and as humans with class levels who’s to say if the individual Sergeants are meant to be the same as the ones in the troop. Hound Archons, on the other hand, are a stock monster, so finally I could compare and contrast the individual and troop stat blocks and see how to make a proper troop of my own! And, well, the answer seems to be that there’s no rhyme or reason beyond hitting appropriate targets for the desired CR. Which I suppose is why there’s no template. Defeated, I decided to stick with what I already had.

For the session, I had arranged the horde – 30 Gargantuan zombie mobs – into 3 rows of 10. The players looked at this slowly advancing wall of death and considered their options. They had a cleric who could channel positive energy. They had a warpriest that could also channel, albeit not as strongly or as often. The wizard had blown a lot of his fireballs on the wyvern and cyclops, not to mention his buff spells, but he still had some useful tricks up his sleeve. The rulers talked and talked… and talked some more. I started marking down on the battlemat how far away the slowly approaching horde was, updating it every so often in order to put some pressure on the players. When the zombies were less than 100 feet away, the party had finally settled on a plan.

Pinky, Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?

The plan was, Iofur the druid would wildshape into his dire bat form and pick up Remesio the cleric and Orseen the warpriest. He would then fly over the horde, and drop Remesio in the middle of the left half, and Orseen in the middle of the right. Then the two would use their channel abilities to destroy all of the zombies. Basically, if you think of the horde as being 3×10 cells within an Excel spreadsheet, Remesio would be in cell C2 and Orseen in H2. Here, have a picture, courtesy of MS Paint!

varnhold-vanishing-session-8-map-1Later on, Thomas (Iofur’s player) would arrive at the game after missing the first half of the session and ask incredulously why they didn’t lure the zombies into the stairway that led up to the plateau, and then re-enact 300. And the others had actually considered that, but ultimately rejected it. The path was only 15 feet wide, and the divine channel has a 30 foot radius, so to use it there was to waste potential positive energy on the rocks, instead of on more zombies. Here, have another picture!


So as you can see, dropping the channelers into the middle of the horde was really going to maximize their potential damage! Of course, it would also expose them to much more danger…

But I digress. The druid (as an NPC, since Thomas was not there yet) changed into a giant bat and picked up the divine types. He flew over the sea of hungry dead, who had now stopped advancing so that they could reach up towards the fresh brains that were hovering just above them. And from that vantage point, hanging over an endless mob of zombies hungry for their flesh, the passengers were starting to have some reservations… Or the warpriest was, anyway. Remesio was pretty drunk.

Remesio let go of the bat over his designated spot, dropping into the mass of bodies, and was quickly swallowed up. Iofur flew over to the other side of the crowd, and Orseen dropped down as well. Both priests never found their footing; they landed on zombies and were immediately grabbed and pulled and gnawed on from all directions and all over their bodies. It was rather terrifying! Not to mention, it also hurt. Armor and dodging didn’t help much when one was swimming in a sea of attackers.

While the priests parachuted into action, Mestinous the elven wizard started creating ball lightnings and flaming spheres. He really just had to park them around the divine types, and the zombies would blindly surge through them to get to their prey. Satampra the swashbuckler hung back for the time being; he definitely didn’t want to get too close to the horde and didn’t think he could contribute much, anyway.

Remesio managed to grab his holy symbol amid the chaos, and invoked the holy power of Cayden Cailean! A wave of amber light shot out from his symbol, turning all the bodies around him to ash. But before he could pick himself up, the opening collapsed as fresh zombies surged in. Orseen tried the same thing, but his channels were much weaker and he only fried a few of the undead. It was looking like not such a great plan, after all.

While Remesio was doing ok on the left flank, Orseen was rapidly running out of hit points and not doing enough damage to take down the mobs. He healed himself and started swinging his flaming greatsword instead, which actually proved to be more effective in slaying nearby zombies.

“This is so metal!” exclaimed Bill, Orseen’s player, as the armored warrior priest cut down swaths of zombies with his fiery blade.

“Heck, your character actually looks like the cover of a <some heavy metal band> album right now,” noted Satampra’s player, our resident metal-head.

But it wasn’t enough. Orseen soon fell under a wave of bodies. The cleric, too, ran out of channels before he ran out of dead people trying to eat him. Remesio attempted what he thought was his sure-fire escape trick – dimension door – but flubbed the Concentration check for casting within a mob. The zombies had grabbed his at his face and mouth and jostled him about as he tried to speak the words, ruining his prayer.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Luckily for the group, by that time Thomas had arrived and was deploying his character’s spells in an attempt to rescue the priests from certain death. He had summoned a couple of ettins to deal with the zombies on the right flank and they, with a sort-of assist from Satampra (who tried to tumble over the mass of zombies, only he fell into their midst, got badly mauled, and then ran away; then he came back with a wand of sound burst, failed his Use Magic Device check, got mauled, and ran away again), killed or distracted all the undead near the warpriest. Then the druid erected a wall of thorns to protect the dying Orseen from mobs that were still active. When the way was clear, Satampra charged back in again and administered a dose of Keoghtum’s ointment to keep Bill from his 4th character death.

Then the ettins and ball lightnings and flaming spheres moved over to the other side, where Remesio was just falling under the weight of the undead himself. His channels had done a lot of damage, though, and that particular rescue was much less dicey.

And so it was that the rulers of Caerelia had faced off against some two thousand zombies and triumphed! True, Remesio and Orseen had almost died, but hey, they pulled it out in the end. The scrub brush of the plateau had been trampled by the horde and then burned by lightning and fire. Blood and gore and body parts from countless zombies littered the field. A layer of ash from those that had been disintegrated by holy power covered everything and everyone. It was a real mess.

After making sure that no more horrors were going to assault them, the champions took a well-deserved breather. Then the cleric huddled in a circle with Satampra, Orseen, and Mestinous, and teleported them back to the Nomen centaur camp. Iofur would follow from the skies, and if all went as planned – hah! – arrive several days later.

Nextinto Vordakai Island!

Human Zombie Mob

CR 7, XP 3,200
NE Gargantuan undead (mob)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +0

AC 21, touch 11, flat-footed 20 (+1 Dex, +10 natural)
hp 88 (16d8+16)
Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +10
DR 5/slashing; Immune undead traits, mob traits

Speed 30 ft.
Melee mob (3d6+9)
Space 20 ft. (4 squares); Reach 5 ft.

Str 28, Dex 12, Con —, Int —, Wis 10, Cha 10
Base Atk +12; CMB +21; CMD 32

SQ staggered (can only take single action), chaos of combat (spellcasting inside mob requires concentration check, DC 20 + spell level)

  1. Pinkius permalink

    HM, aren’t there rule for concentration checks while taking ongoing damage? Were those just not significant enough for being in the middle of a zombie horde for you? ;P

  2. Couldn’t you just have used the mass combat rules?
    Or have you decided those are broken?

    • Mass combat doesn’t really work for armies vs. PCs, IMO. Or at least not in a way that would be satisfying to the PCs. You’d have a high ACR zombie army against 5 very low ACR “armies,” one for each PC, which would almost certainly result in the PCs getting crushed while not being able to use any of their spells or special abilities.

      If the zombies were fighting other armies, sure. That was my original expectation: that the PCs would retreat and use the centaurs to fight them or something.

      • Good point.
        I might have simply warned my players that “that many zombies means using the mass combat rules.” and expected them to back off and come back with an army, but… you point is very valid.

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  1. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 8, Part 1 | Daddy DM

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