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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 14, Part 1

December 23, 2016

alec_guiness_jacob_marley2Fresh from their victory over Vordakai and the destruction of the strange eye-carving, the group was feeling its oats. And now that they looked over their maps, they realized just how little of the tomb they had actually explored, thanks to their obsession with the eye. With said eye now smashed & cracked, they needed to find a new bit of scenery to focus on – and so they set out to find one!

The adventurers back-tracked through the tar pool room, using the druid to fly them over the gap. They then crept through the hall where the party had battled the blood knight, until they reached the two doors that they had previously refrained from opening.

varnhold-vanishing-session-14-map-1They chose the left door to open first, and were mildly surprised to find that it was not locked or warded in any way. Beyond the brass door the party found a wide, debris-filled hall that turned right after about 20 feet, and then extended well beyond the range of their light. One side was riddled with now-empty cyclops-sized burial niches, while the stones and dirt that once closed up the graves were now carpeting the floor. A human body laid face down in the gravedirt, rotted and stinking. The explorers cautiously approached the corpse, ready for trouble.

Naturally, there was trouble to be found! A mournful wailing noise echoed down the narrow crypt, and the explorers’ lights were suddenly extinguished! (this was just a bit of theatrics on my part) Orseen the warpriest of Iomedae lit up his greatsword with a prayer of sunlight, banishing the darkness and revealing a ghostly man who floated behind the group, cutting off their exit! Despite the figure’s terrible visage, twisted into a rictus of fear and horror, Satampra the swashbuckler instantly recognized the apparition as Willas Gunderson, Marshal of Varnhold and discoverer of the jade bracelet. Willas’ shade seemed to recognize the Emperor of Caerelia as well, for it headed straight for him, its arms outstretched. “They’re all dead! Dead!” the spectre wailed as it advanced. “And it’s my fault! Myyyyy fauuult!” When its ghostly hands grasped at Satampra, an awful chill spread through his body, and a streak of his hair went white.

Satampra and Orseen slashed at Willas with their blades, which mostly passed through his transparent form. Iofur the druid summoned a tiger, which was wholly unable to hurt the ghost. Mestinous the elven wizard resorted to magic missiles, while Remesio the cleric filled the hall with sacred energies that burned away the undead’s essence. After touching the Emperor a second time and screaming all the while, Gunderson’s spirit was burned away.

varnhold-vanishing-session-14-map-2The party searched Willas’ long-dead corpse and explored the length of the crypt, but found nothing of note. They then proceeded to the door across the hall, which was locked and warded with magic. Satampra undid the lock, triggered and avoided the trap, and opened the brass door to reveal a huge banquet hall. And waiting for them inside the chamber were a half-dozen zombie cyclopes! The published adventure calls for 4 dread zombies here, but in bumping up the encounters for my (then) party of 6, I had given the dread zombies the Advanced template, and added some regular zombie cyclopes as well. Even though the group now stood at 5 members, I hadn’t bothered to adjust the numbers down again, which normally hasn’t been an issue. But here it was.

varnhold-vanishing-session-14-map-3Problem #1 was that the players for Iofur and Mestinous were not present, and thus were being run sub-optimally by me. Problem #2 is that Satampra had a bunch of negative levels, thanks to the spectre, and those penalties actually impacted the battle a great deal. Problem #3 is just that the dread zombie cyclopes are killers in groups. Flash of Insight, the cyclops ability that can produce an almost-guaranteed crit, combined with a battleaxe and Power Attack, and then followed up with three more attacks, and then multiplied by four zombies, is far, far too much damage for my group to bear. Throw in some lesser zombies, which also pack a decent punch, and you have a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, the encounter was too much and I have to take responsibility for that, but beyond that I’ve come to believe that Flash of Insight is just a really bad mechanic within the 3E/Pathfinder system. Or at least, not something that should be slapped on a giant weapon-wielding monster.

But I get ahead of myself. The cyclopes, aware that the door was being fiddled with, were waiting for intruders, javelins at the ready. The zombies in the book don’t have any ranged weapons, and they’re not great with them in any case, but it makes sense to give them some way to attack at range and thrown weapons allow them to utilize their Strength bonus. Otherwise they get bottled up at doorways and can’t all attack. The door opened, giant spears were thrown, and the battle had begun! Orseen charged in, as he is wont to do, followed somewhat reluctantly by Satampra and Remesio, while the wizard and druid stayed in the hall and started summoning. The party focused on taking down the mundane zombies first, normally a fine strategy as they were easier to hit and had fewer hit points, but the dread zombies were so dangerous that it turned out to be a mistake. Orseen was soon lying dead on the ground and Satampra was soon to follow. At this point I started “forgetting” attacks, lest the fight turn into a TPK. 😦

Remesio used the breath of life to heal the warpriest’s wounds before his spirit could depart, and the holy knight healed himself up further before rejoining the fray. Satampra went down, and then Orseen went down again. With the front line gone, the zombies went after the cleric and the casters in the back. But soon a wave of spells and summoned monsters turned the tide, and the group emerged (barely) alive and victorious.

varnhold-vanishing-session-14-map-4After taking some time to heal up, the adventurers began to probe the depths of the cavernous room with their light. There was a large banquet table in the center, and seated around it were the decomposed remains of several prominent Varnholders, with the tops of their heads seemingly bitten off; their brains queerly absent from the broken skulls. At the head of the table was Maegar Varn himself, Satampra’s missing father-in-law, looking like a gruesome child compared to the cyclopean chair in which his corpse sat. So much time had passed since their death that the bodies were only identifiable from their clothing or jewelry.

The dead were carefully moved to the floor, whereupon Remesio and Orseen said prayers and sprinkled holy ale/water on them. There was some talk of stuffing the corpses into the group’s bag of holding, but the PCs weren’t certain that they would all fit… and in any case, they smelled really awful. Getting that stench out of an interdimensional space can’t be easy! Satampra vowed to come back and return his father-in-law’s remains to his wife, and then the rulers headed for the grand staircase in the back of the room.

Next: an eye for an eye!

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3 Comments
  1. Pinkius permalink

    i did say back when this arc was starting right? I told you those cyclops were bad news!
    yea, flash of insight is bullshit.

  2. That does seem like a pretty major bump to CR though, is it really only 50% extra XPs?
    And yeah, Flash of Insight is … probably not a good mechanic, especially with scythes and the like (as you’ve mentioned).

    Also, part of Big V’s hideout looks really strangely designed, when you remember it was made by and for Large people, I think.

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  1. Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Session 13, Part 2 | Daddy DM

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