Monday, July 27, 2015

Cult of Undeath 5x5

Well, here's the 5x5 matrix.  It actually ended up being 6x5 when all was said and done, but I do have to point out that this ended up being a hybrid between the campaign model and the module model.  I think it's actually best interpreted or seen a "mega module" rather than a campaign per se.  And why not?  One of my big complaints about the Pathfinder adventure paths is that they are too long and end up being big sloggish death marches anyway.

In the campaign model, each box would be the equivalent of a "module" whereas here most of them end up being brief shorthand notes for an encounter or series of interlinked encounters at best.

A few other notes.  Ideally, there would be a lot of cross pollination between the various boxes, but because I did a rather simple "transcription" of the outlines of the various modules in the adventure path into the matrix, there isn't nearly as much of it as would be ideal.  Most of the columns end up being rather discrete "chimneys" that don't interact much with the others, and there is relatively little opportunity to bounce back and forth from one campaign stream (i.e., column) to another.  Assuming I'm happy with the CULT OF UNDEATH experience, I might try to do a slightly more radical restructuring of another one of the adventure paths down the line (Legacy of Fire, Serpent's Skull and/or Skull & Shackles stand out as the most likely candidates for me.)  But for the time being, each column reads a lot more like a traditional module than like something that can be remixed with other modules to create a more organic feeling campaign.

I'll need to add a few new optional monsters; I realized (somewhat belatedly) that while I have wraiths, I don't have any other kind of ghost or incorporeal monster.  Among a few other misses.  I honestly don't want a proliferation of ghostly like creatures, but I do want to have an a la carte option of special abilities that can be added or layered on as needed to basically turn the same monster into the equivalent of wraiths, ghosts, spectres, allips, and who knows what other similar standard D&D monsters.

Playing this as an m20 game, I'd figure that a "mega module" is still only a 4-5 levels at the very most, so if I start the game at 1st or 2nd level, I'd only get to 5-6 or so by the end.  That means we won't be fighting Orcus at the end, I guess.

To start the campaign off, prior to even embarking on the matrix, keep in mind that the PCs are all going to be called to Ialomita for the funeral of an old friend, a professor.  They won't know this yet, but he was murdered by followers of the Black Path, a cult that seeks to resurrect the Charnel God trapped under Grozavest.  They're on one of those rather video-gamey quests to assemble a bunch of artifacts, and the professor had at least one of them.

Anyway, the will of the professor gives the PCs some incentive to stay in town for a few weeks to make sure that his heir and daughter lands on her feet, and column #1 happens while they're still in town.

Cult of Undeath 5x5
Columns 2, 3 and 6 have an optional block, depending on how the pacing goes and what happens.  Pacing can also be modified somewhat, if desired, by throwing in encounters with bandits or the occasional monster or wild animal while traveling, or the proverbial Raymond Chandler advice, modified for the fantasy genre, of course—when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun.

After you're done with the matrix the capstone adventure is a simple set of a few encounters, where the PCs go to the Pit of Neb Ankh where Tarush is buried under a gigantic, enchanted and chained pit.  They won't go all the way down to find Tarush, of course, which would be a foe well beyond the PCs no matter what level you're currently running at, but the Black Path's cult leader Grigore Stefanescu must be faced along with his inner circle of undead.  I thought about making Grigore a lich, but my liches according to the rules I came up are really formidable and are only suitable for really high level opponents to face in combat.  So I'll have to make him a unique statblock, I guess.  That's OK.

Grigore Stefanescu, the cult leader of the Black Path 
Anyway, what's next?  Over the next several weeks, I'll be filling out more details on each of the blocks in the matrix and the steps before and after the matrix, and when I'm done, this will be a complete, ready to run campaign of sorts.

Then, I just need to actually run it!

UPDATE: Have a slightly more detailed version of the matrix in Google Docs, which should be, I believe, made viewable to anyone with the link, which is right here.

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