Ideas on 3-5 and ending season 2 (spoilers)

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Here are some ideas for DMs as I read over the final encounter.

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Intro
There isn't any introduction to the encounter. It is assumed to just follow the previous one.

I don't think a lot is needed, but it may be good to set a few things down:
  • Recap for any players that missed sessions, especially the first two chapters

  • Establish that they are running towards Tyr and that the Wastewalker's forces they defeated are just some of the ones seaking them

  • Mention the Obsidian Shard storm moving towards them


Depending on your preference, you could let them do a semi-skill challenge to try to evade other forces or even to find just the Wastewalker and his immediate bodyguards instead of facing the Wastewalker on his terms (involving many more Ssurans). Salt to taste.

I am thinking I might start by asking the table how their PCs feel about the prospect of reaching Tyr and whether they are confident they will make it with the Ssurans and Wastewalker on their tails. Depending on the reaction I will choose to either give them a bit more or move onward to the fight.

Tactically, make sure players know they should use every available resource in this fight. They should prepare magic items, get healing fruits to the right PCs, etc. Save no resource! If the PCs are very hurt already, you may want to consider having the Elemental Spirits appear and get them to full health and one surge or something close to that. They will need some resources for this fight!

Combat
The encounter has only a little complexity. The tactics are well-laid out. Note that there are two terrain elements and that one of them is probably intended to be used by PCs. You may want to give a nature check for that or reward good RP or previous comments during the Intro with a check.

One of the issues with terrain is that is really threatening to the PCs is hard to trigger if the PCs start by stepping around it. One option is to give the Ms an encounter "Push a creature you just hit 4 squares" power to balance their loss of the Poison Strike power (can't be triggered in this encounter).

Earthwalk should let the creatures move around difficult terrain easily. It may not come up, but it is easy to forget.

Those Ms are very simple. They just hang out and attack foes that try to close with O. They hit pretty hard and mark, but that is all they do. They work fine as written, though the ectr. push I mentioned could make the terrain work and be cool if the fight takes place atop a rock. They have a good Athletics so they can auto-climb to go after anyone fighting O.

The Ss are cool. The aura and their hover can be used to place them at opposite sides of the PCs so you get a lot of PCs in the auto-damaging aura (you can stop doing this if it gets to be too difficult an encounter). For flavor, emphasize the connection between the aura and the obsidian rain that hurt the PCs way back in the very first encounter - this is the storm made tangible by the Wastewalker! You may even want to have the Stormwalker bring them in as a free action (on S's initiative) for dramatic effect.

The Ss are pretty strong. They can stay out of melee reach, which pressures your ranged PCs to target them and not the O - which is good for the encounter. The bolt is excellent pressure, though you might tone the damage a bit. The concept of being forced to flee the storm is fantastic... maybe the PC sees a stream of shards rise up into the air and are going to come shooting down into their square? Storm Shatter is really strong, but keep them away from the O. You don't want them damaging O unless the PCs are really needing help.

H is a bit of an oddball. I guess his sole deal is getting into flanks, but he isn't particularly useful. I don't like trading out monsters, but an F from the previous encounter or some of the creatures from chapter 1 would be much more interesting. I just hate to see 3 fairly boring creatures in a fight. An easy substitution is to use another Dust Devil (a much more interesting skirmisher) from the previous encounter. You could reskin the devil as being a strange ssuran that can turn into an obsidian shard storm and that explains its damage.

O is not really that interesting for being the culmination of the story. He also does not have the massive health I would expect. The aura is strong (it stacks with other auras... all auras stack and if you have a crazy strong table you could throw 11 damage on more than one PC that is within 2 of two Ss and O! Don't do that to a normal table!). Make the aura into an RP centerpiece, perhaps even having the storm almost have a separate personality. It could call out with 1,000 dark voices of spirits of the land hurt by defiling magic, calling for the destruction of all arcanists. It could whisper of revenge... etc.

Storm Curse will be the main attack until the PCs close. It is fairly boring. I'm not sure what to do here. On possibility is to take the H problem and feed off of that in a story fashion. An idea:
  • Give O a free action 1/round power. When hit with an attack, he spawns H, which appears to be made of solid obsidian (just flavor). H can fly 6. He appears within 3 squares of O and gains an initiative (whatever you would have rolled for H).

  • Each H has 1/4 of Hs hit points.

  • O can do this up to four times total.

  • Basically, H becomes a feature of O and gains a bit of tactical placement via the mechanic, as well as a wealth of story.

  • This can be used once per round, but you could have things like bloodying mean another H shows up.


The nice thing about the above is that it means O is a little more dynamic, more clearly a source of power, etc. You can also scale the encounter on the fly. Maybe spitting Hs happens less or more often over time... all based on what you need to make this a thrilling fight. PCs having too easy a time? Hs come out two at a time once bloodied.

Ideally, you want the fight to be pretty cinematic, to be challenging, to force some difficult choices, and to have them run out of resources before they can claim victory. To that end, I think DMs may need to make a few changes along the lines of what I have discussed. Also, apply some pressure to the rear ranks. Keep everyone involved and try to keep the fight from just picking on one PC. Spread out damage with the Aura and ranged attacks. Keep the healer's busy. Don't be afraid to drop a leader early and let the PCs use a standard heal check to bring the leader back. But, do keep in mind that losing this battle will sadden a lot of players. Ideally, the players think they might lose but they are not frustrated and are having a great time.

Emergency Valves
I always like having an emergency valve for a final fight. I want to be able to hit the PCs hard but also have some preconceived notions of what to do if I get close to a TPK. The idea of H coming out 1/4 at a time is one way we could have a throttle on the challenge level.

You may want to use the Elemental Spirits from chapter 2. They could appear in a hazy form as if scrying the battle. If needed, PCs get the sense they could call out to them for aid. This might be temp HPs, or restoring a daily, or regaining a surge. You can make it a religion or nature check to do this as a free or minor action or just let it happen as a result of the prior service. Whatever works based on how much the table needs some help.

Once O is bloodied, you can remind them of what the sprits said regarding turning him.

You could let early diplomacy or other social skills (even nature or arcana or history) be used to weaken the Wastewalker's resolve. Minor actions, gives -2 to a creature's attacks, one creature per minor action. This is actually an idea worth considering early as it could create a lot of RP.

End Game
The ending can play differently based on killing the Wastewalker or speaking to him. There is boxed text on page 8 for what happens when they win. It is a bit more fitting if the party killed him, but you can add-lib it as needed.

The adventure does not say what happens if the PCs talk the Wastewalker down. I would leave this to the PCs. They could convince him to meet with members of the VA, for example. He might surrender and come with him. Perhaps he retreats to find a way to fight the true enemies of the land, perhaps becoming an ally against darker forces. I would encourage the table to discuss how their PCs feel and RP in response to them.

Negotiating with him may or may not change what the other monsters do. Perhaps their rage cannot be sated. This works well if the party fought O and skipped the other creatures; now they can still get a fun fight. If they bloody O and only a few creatures are left, it could play well to have them step down as well, especially if the rest of the fight is a foregone conclusion and boring.

You may want to have the spirits appear at the end. The spirits could congratulate them, say they will be allies in the future, announce they are returning to slumber, etc.

You may want to ask PCs what they hope to do in Tyr. Perhaps Barcan and Phye wish to see if the nobles will embrace freedom. Maybe Shikirr and Yuka can find solace here - they may want to stay with the other PCs as a sort of replacement clutch/family. Jarvix and Barcan can gain the ear of the VA due to all they have seen. Give some opportunity for the players to gain closure.

It can also be fun to remisce a bit - ask each player for their favorite moment in the season, the coolest move a party member made, what they thought was a cool foe, etc.


Don't forget to promote the upcoming season 3! It starts next week! If you are an organizer, consider asking for a round of applause thanking the DMs. Also, don't forget to give out modules to DMs and to give out reward cards for those players that earned them. You likely need extra time for this.

If there are any changes to procedure (how players register, etc.) if you need DMs, or if new volunteers will be involved, this is a great time to communicate the changes.

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I should add a thought on scaling, which led to my modifying the bid bad:

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For a table of 4 or a "weak" table:
(this can include a table that is very hurt)
I would remove the H, as it adds little to the encounter and is not really any better than the lower level M. You could alternately remove one M and move the H to the M's spot so it can act as a bodyguard as well. You don't want a single melee type going out on their own in this fight.


For a table of 6 or a "strong" table:
There is no level 5 monster, and the level 4s we don't really want to see in greater numbers. The more logical choice is to raise the level of O, since he could use some survivability.

A level 5 encounter for 5 PCs is 1,000 XP. For 6 it is 1,200. The difference is 200XP. We can think of this as our budget we can use. (All from DMG p.57). A level 3 Elite is 300XP (the mod has a typo, I am using DMG p56), and level 6 would be 500 (using up our 200 XP). That seems like a bit high a level, so I'll opt for increasing by two levels.

To increase by 2 levels we would:
  • Add +2 to attack and +1 to damage for all attacks

  • Add +2 to defenses, but we will use just +1 to favor the PCs and prevent grind

  • Add 32 HPs (twice 8 two times). Total becomes 126/63

  • Add +1 to any skill checks and initiative


That leave us with 100 XP. We could increase the Ms by a level or add minions, but I prefer to just add a monster theme or two so that the Wastewalker is a more interesting opponent:
Shake It Off (Dark Sun Creature Catalog p.127) lets us shrug off a save-ends effect.
Elemental Dissipation is really thematic, but not incredibly useful. It works ok, or we can make it a free action triggered by being bloodied, which works well - the Wastewalker when bloodied dissipates into a storm of damaging shards and then reforms on its turn.

We also will give him common, which I suspect was intended. We also will include standard damage bonuses on the attacks but then modify down a bit to work better with his role. We give him low-light so he isn't suffering from his own storm-imposed lighting conditions (and extend them to the other Ssurans as well).

Here is the finished monster for strong tables. (Includes pdf and Monster Builder XML file)

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And, possibly my last offering for the season (and for a while since I will take next season off).

I made up a power card for each PC as a boon based on actions they took or background they RPd. These will be given to them at the start of the session and they can use them in the final encounter. This does give me permission to wail on them more!

I run tonight, so I will report back on how these ideas all played out.

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Great ideas, Alphastream.  I'm actually considering changing the encounter dramatically

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To make this final battle more epic, I'm thinking of replacing the lizardmen and stormshards with two KesTrekel flocks and a giant sand worm controlled by the Wastewalker.  The sand worm is a Purple worm scaled down to level 5. 
www.4shared.com/file/i-Msnm29/Sand_Worm....
I've made the AC of the inside of the sand worm much lower than the external shell, so that players who are grabbed and swallowed will discover that, although they take acid damage when swallowed, they can more easily injure the creature from the inside. 

Initially, the Wastewalker appears and calls upon the flocks of Kestrekels, which have been stalking the PCs, to attack them.  Then, after a round or two, he calls upon the sands of Athas to send a champion to destroy these defilers.  The sand worm bursts from the earth to attack the PCs, at the Wastewalker's commands.  I will make clear that the wastwalker is controlling the birds and the worm, speaking and waving his arms.  If the Wastewalker is blinded or dazed or stunned, he loses control and the kes'trekels begin to attack the worm.  The worm for it's part begins to attack creatures at random. 

The xp works out to 1500, which is within the bounds reccomended for a level 3 party of 6 by the DMG.

For a mini, I would use OneMonk's crypt worm
onemonk.com/Downloads_files/Crypt-Worm-8...
It stands about 4 inches tall and is available here:
onemonk.com/Downloads.html (second from the bottom)


I'm still toying with this.

"As the good archmage often admonishes me, I ought not let my mind wander. It's too small to go off by itself"

Danilo Thann

I like that, Afet.

Comments on Afet's thoughts:

I am always worried about swarms because of half damage. Two swarm is almost always a recipe for a very difficult fight. So, I have some concerns. I think that if you spread them out and don't get the whole party in them then they can be good. I have run them before and these are fun swarms.

The worm is awesome as a creature. I can't comment on it too much, but I think it could work really well. The only thing is to make sure the Wastewalker can shine - he is the centerpiece.


Also, here is how my changes played out:

Spoiler for 3-5 changes discussed above:

I really liked my Wastewalker changes. He needed it. The extra levels kept him alive despite a Fey Strike Weapon bringing him into an instant ambush, as did the new bloody I added to him. He went from boring to a lot of fun with those changes. I RPd him constantly, but the table still did not negotiate with him. They did at first and I tried to make the change in his demeanor obvious, but the players were really into the combat and I think just wanted to win the fight. Still, I heartily endorse the Wastewalker changes. You can even drop the H and run it with a table of 5.

I gave out the cards I posted above and that played really well. Almost every card saw use and they had a good effect on the game. For example, Jarvix was hit by my cruel double whammy of dazed, adjacent to one shard, and forced to move by another. He took the damage and heroically attacked (awesome) which then killed him, but his special RP boon brought him back up. Pretty cool. The cards let me run it as a strong table despite only having 5 players.

The H, even divided up as 4 Hs each with 1/4 HPs, were not all that interesting. I ended up converting two of the Hs into healing for the Wastewalker. Basically, instead of conjuring two more Hs he just healed that amount and kept himself in the fight.

It was a brutal fight with everyone PC bloodied most of the fight and with two going unconscious. And I didn't even roll that well. The auras were excellent, though I forgot what should happen when the Ss go down. That would have dropped a few PCs.

There was some good RP and they kept the Wastewalker alive to learn about his reasons for chasing them (which I had prepared). In the end they took him to Tyr and gave him to the VA to help reform him.

Overall, I was pretty pleased. This was a very good conclusion (with the changes) to a really fun 15 weeks. I am happily exhausted.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

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