Dungeon 178 - HT lv6 The Tyrant's Oath

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DnDi_Large.png   Dungeon 178
The Tyrant's Oath
An Adventure for 6th-Level Characters

By Kolja Raven Liquette

The Tyrant’s Oath is designed to take five 6th-level characters to 7th level. The story offers the chance to liberate the oppressed, duel to earn favor, and participate in a siege. The Tyrant’s Oath can be inserted into any campaign setting.

“The Tyrant’s Oath” places a group of adventurers between two warlords struggling for dominance over the region of Elkridge; a bandit queen who has subjugated the local village and a yuan-ti occultist that transforms the villagers into snaketongue minions. The heroes must decide who to trust and form an alliance that will save the inhabitants of Elkridge. In the process, they'll settle blood debts with their swords, command a battle in the swamp, and face unimaginable danger in the cultists' secret temple.

A towering promontory of rock dominates the center of the marsh. At this range, you can just see a broad set of carved stairs that leads from the base up to a roughly hewn opening. Snakelike creatures enter and exit through this fissure, and many more stand guard outside. Snaketongue warriors on giant lizards glide over the marsh as they make wide patrols.


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A great man once said "If WotC put out boxes full of free money there'd still be people complaining about how it's folded." – Boraxe

I like this adventure a lot.

Kolja did a great job with Remains of the Empire which is one of the few Dungeon adventures I have liked. This one is just as good. I also like William O'Connor's art (again).

I hope we see more from Kolja. He seems to have the knack for designing good adventures. 
Cheers Imruphel aka Scrivener of Doom
I really like the "When Armies Collide" skill challenge...a nice illustration of using the skill challenge system to abstract a large-scale battle.  I might even be tempted to plonk a proper combat encounter in the middle of it.

 One thing..."History" opens up Stealth, but the only thing that opens up History is Stealth.
It's the same thing with Heal: it opens up Ath/End, but you can't use it unless you've already opened up Ath/End.

The intro text suggests that "Athletics, Endurance, Diplomacy, and Stealth can't be used until they are made available", but following the chains it looks as though every listed skill except for Insight and Perception needs to be opened up by something else.

I think this part could use a revision to the way that it's presented. While I realize that the "primaries, then secondaries" format is the standard, the chaining of skill availability makes it an awkward one. Presenting the skills in order of the three (if I've connected everything correctly) chains would be much easier to follow.

Also, I'm pretty sure that Insight/Perception is meant to give +2, not +12...

--

Edit: I have one other concern: Sacharlim as an 11th level (elite) enemy in a 6th level adventure seems like a bad idea; it puts his attack and defense values far above those of the PCs.

I'd strongly suggest either scaling him down to 8th level or thereabouts and adding some more fodder, or perhaps even dropping him right down to 6th level and turning him into a solo (1250 XP; he's currently 1200) since, while that will give him more actions/powers to use against the PCs, it'll also give the PCs a reasonable chance to hit him (and avoid being hit in return).
He does run away at bloodied so you need the extra defenses or he won't get much done before he flees, if I understand the Tactics correctly.
"At a certain point, one simply has to accept that some folks will see what they want to see..." Dragon 387
I realize that he's supposed to flee, but overleveling an enemy like that means that the PCs will be getting near-constant "miss... miss... miss..." results when trying to fight him, and in the meantime they're getting "he hits... he hits... he hits..." in return because his attack bonuses outstrip their defenses just as badly.

Players (rightfully) find that frustrating rather than challenging; if the intent is to preserve him when he gets bloodied then a "the first time this creature becomes bloodied during an encounter" triggered ability that lets him escape is a far preferable option, as would be converting him to a lower level solo who is more durable but is also hittable (and can be defended against).
I realize that he's supposed to flee, but overleveling an enemy like that means that the PCs will be getting near-constant "miss... miss... miss..." results when trying to fight him, and in the meantime they're getting "he hits... he hits... he hits..." in return because his attack bonuses outstrip their defenses just as badly.

I think Sacharlim works well as printed. Check out Zehir's Shround. Even though he can hit easily, both of his key attacks (Kukri and Mental Constriction) synergize when the yuan-ti is invisible. Sacharlim can only turn invisible as a Standard action. With the one exception of his action point round, Sacharlim will largely only attack every two rounds.

It's the same thing with Heal: it opens up Ath/End, but you can't use it unless you've already opened up Ath/End.

Perception opens up Athletics and Endurance. Endurance opens up Heal. What does seem strange is that Heal opens up Atheltics and Endurance. If it only works in one direction, how can it possbily work in reverse?

One thing..."History" opens up Stealth, but the only thing that opens up History is Stealth.

Indeed, this needs to be clarified. Right now, Perception opens up Stealth and Stealth opens up History, so it can be reached. That said, how can it work in reverse?
That's what I meant with the skills - some open up things that must have been opened up by the time you can use the skill in question.

--

But Zehir's Shroud strikes me as being part of the problem: his attacks and defenses are already way ahead of the level curve and he'll be spending at least half of the fight invisible on top of that, during which time he has a constant +2 attack (Combat Advantage) and +5 to all defenses against melee and ranged attacks (Total Concealment).
That's what I meant with the skills - some open up things that must have been opened up by the time you can use the skill in question.

I think in the case of Heal and History, they were simply not meant to open up anything else. As such, stating that Heal opens up Athletics/Endurance or that History opens up Stealth merely needs to be removed from the text.

-- But Zehir's Shroud strikes me as being part of the problem: his attacks and defenses are already way ahead of the level curve and he'll be spending at least half of the fight invisible on top of that, during which time he has a constant +2 attack (Combat Advantage) and +5 to all defenses against melee and ranged attacks (Total Concealment).

I do not see the problem. The yuan-ti will still be visible after he attacks, allowing everybody to attack him for one round until he turns invisible again, during which time the party will be harried by Kylar the river hag and direct their attentions there.

As well, blast and burst attacks may still catch the yuan-ti, neither of which suffer from the +5 to all defenses for attacking an invisible target. A standard action devoted to tracking the yuan-ti from where he last visibily stood with a Nature check could certainly pin point where blasts or bursts should be aimed. And that's just off the top of head. What combat role-playing would you do to locate an invsibile opponent?

My players usually have a sack of flour that they would throw either on him or around the area.


The Tyrant's Oath
calls on players to think on their feet a bit more than the typical adventure does. Sacharlim is tough and wily. Some groups of characters might simply be unable to defeat him. If that's the case, then crushing his cult, demolishing his temple, rescuing the villagers, and leaving Sacharlim to skulk away into the swamp is still a fine victory. This one doesn't necessarily tie everything up with a neat bow and drop it into the characters' laps. (You'll probably see more adventures like this in the future. I'm a strong believer that adventures should tax the players' problem-solving chops and pose challenges the characters might not be equipped to handle at this time in their careers.)

Regarding the skill challenge: There are some errors, obviously. Here's how it ought to work.

The challenge must begin with a secondary skill -- History, Insight, or Perception. Each of those opens a different path through the challenge.

History --> Stealth
Insight --> Bluff, Diplomacy; Diplomacy --> Intimidation
Perception --> Athletics, Endurance 
First failed skill check --> Heal

That's how it will be structured in the compilation.

Steve

If your only tool is a warhammer, every problem looks like a gnoll.

I don't have any problem with that adventure design goal. I just feel that trying to achieve it by hyperleveling an opponent is a bad idea because, due to the math scaling being thrown completely out of whack, encounters structured that way (including early 4E ones) generally end up as "frustrating and tedious" rather than "challenging and fun".

--

( Athletics -> Stealth -> History ) seems like a more reasonable chain than ( History -> Stealth ).

The former is what we have now except for the redundant "History opens up Stealth (even though it must already be open)".

It also makes more thematic sense; by contrast it would be odd that you'd have to suggest and attempt a risky flanking maneuver before you could engage in general skirmishing operations ( History -> Stealth ).

On a seperate line of thought, I'm curious to hear peoples take on Kylar's actions in encounter 6 - Fangs of the Snake. 

Once released, how long would she continue with the ruse of being the victim?   Would she feign fighting againts the yuanti until the characters are in a vulnerable position, would she try and hide in the rising water or would she outright attack the party?  I think I'm leaning towards waiting tilll she can attack a party member in a vulnerable position.  Have I misssed something in the text that described this?

I don't think it was spelled out very specifically in the text, but I think the implication is that she bides her time until they are in the chamber below (8-Belly of the Beast), where she drops the pretense and monologues a bit.

If they were particularly vulnerable in Fangs of the Snake, I might consider having her try to finish them off, fleeing down into the Belly if she takes more than 1/4 health.
I gather that she's still faking it at that point, and/or hoping that the rest of the fighting is enough of a distraction that the PCs aren't paying much attention to her.

That's correct. Kylar isn't going to risk her life over a bunch of acolytes when she has a golden opportunity to deliver the intruders directly into the hands of her much more powerful mentor. 

As to Sacharlim's level; I posted more about this on my blog, but I'll repeat it here.

Making the villain 'hittable' only encourages players to stand toe-to-toe with him and keep trading blows until he hits the floor, which is exactly the ending the encounter is trying to avoid. Players have been trained to think that way; they have the rat cornered and all they need to do is hack him to pieces. This climax breaks that mold. At some point, players need to realize, "we have him where we want him but we can't seem to kill him or even hurt him; this isn't working and we need to try something else." If their attacks keep hitting home, they won't try something else; they'll just keep banging away. Removing the 'frustration' would actually be counter-productive, because the frustration serves a purpose; it leads (or at least encourages) players to try something besides brute force -- which may or may not create the opening the villain needs to escape. 

Steve 

If your only tool is a warhammer, every problem looks like a gnoll.

Of course, that is assuming the players actually understand why they are missing instead of becoming so frustrated that their brains lock. In my experience the last happens just as often if not more so then that they start looking for alternatives, and what is worse, once they found the alternative they remember the frustration and not the sense of victory. You cannot break players' expectations in a single encounter, nor the DMs DMing style. It is something the DM must do through descriptions, and sometimes by being pretty obvious about the intent. Or better yet, just let the monster flee after 1 or 2 rounds to make clear it is a coward or does not want to fight. Make it high level, and do not worry about setting flight conditions based on hit points.

Another big downside of high defenses is that the fight becomes much more swingy. A couple of good roles form the players and the monster becomes bloodied at the right time. A couple of average rolls, and the monster is nowhere near bloodied by the time the PCs are in the at-will territory. I am not much of a fan of swingy fights ;)

Perhaps it would be better to scare the players into looking into alternatives instead of frustrating them into it. Damage output is a good tool to do so, although it is hard to balance since too little damage and they don't get scared (and win) and too much and they end up dead before they realize they should really flee.

O well, it is one of the more difficult situations to implement in a D&D game...
Well, I ran this adventure with my group over three sessions and they cleaned up nicely. They particularily enjoyed the When Armies Collide skill challenge and the Fangs of the Snake encounter. The warlord in their party had the presence of mind to ignore everything else except for reaching the snaketongue celebant, killing the snaketongue celebant, and disarming the water trap. Such unyielding focus! I think it might have played on the natural human fear of drowning.

As for Sacharlim's level, the heroes landed attacks a little more than half the time and didn't feel the least bit frustrated by the threat he posed. They could tell that he had no difficulty hitting them, and so pulled out all the stops (read Daily powers).

I should mention that their warlord is the "inspiring" type who has chosen several abilities that grant bonuses to attack and damage. This group is behind the magic item level curve, but managed to overcome all the obstacles regardless. The frustration and hitting-your-head-against-a-brick-wall syndrome that some posters have mentioned never came up in the final battle. They even spared Kylar's life.
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