Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cult of Undeath review

Here's a direct quote from a sidebar from the third Carrion Crown adventure path module, and a great example of why I struggle so much to figure out how to do anything useful with this Paizo material, which is fundamentally unsuited to gaming, quite frankly.
Running on the Rails The sequence of events in this section places this portion of the adventure on a "railroad." You should attempt to keep the PCs "on the rails," but without obviously strong-arming them or manipulating their actions. You can use Duristan, Graydon, and other potential NPC allies to guide and support the PCs’ actions, while still leaving them free to make their own choices regarding their investigations. Should the PCs take some sort of drastic action that threatens to derail the adventure, these wealthy nobles can step in and play the voice of reason. If necessary, they can even offer the PCs a reward or bribe to keep them focused, in the form of money, a minor magic item, or even property or another type of holding (likely worth no more than 3,000 gp), to be presented once the PCs properly finish their business in Ascanor. Regardless of whom the PCs side with, none of the nobles at Ascanor desire to see the lodge destroyed or overrun by an outside agency that would threaten to destroy the sanctity and privacy of their exclusive retreat.
Ridiculous.  As much as everyone knows that railroading is bad adventure design and even worse GMing advice, Paizo still writes what they clearly admit is a railroad—and their excuse is that you can mitigate this by merely not being obvious about it!

Even so, what I find much harder to adapt is the repeated insinuation that the monsters are merely misunderstood and the real villains are transparent proxies for white, male, conservative, Christians most of the time.

It's made it very difficult to figure out what to do with a setting and premises that I actually quite like, because Paizo simply cannot stop crapping in their own bed.  It's been a fair while now since I've routinely bought very much of what they're selling, and I've found completing this CULT OF UNDEATH project was actually harder than I anticipated because so much of it is simply unusable to a normal, healthy, psychologically functional gamer.  This is why it continues to lapse as I get tired of trying to fight the material into being something worthwhile.

But, I committed to doing it, and I'm going to see it through!  I'm reviewing modules three and four for what I want to pull out of them, and I'll have them converted into a bullet point outline of the type that I actually would use to run the game.  Sometime soon.  I am working on it.  I promise.

In the meantime, since I'm lagging so far behind where I hoped to be, here's an image or two from Adrian Smith just for the heck of it, a great fantasy artist who got his name doing Warhammer stuff, and who did a lot of great work for Monolith Games' Conan.  I'm going to use some of this stuff to represent Nizrekh, an island kingdom in the sea south-southwest of Timischburg that represents a different tone of undeath.  While Timischburg has the classic Dracula vibe, set in pseudo-Medieval fantasy—where vampire overlords and tyrants are under the surface of what could otherwise perhaps be mistaken for merely a disquieting normal environment, Nizrekh is much more blatant and overt; it's Warhammer's Nehekhara (host of the now defunct Tomb Kings army; a skeletonized ancient Egypt, basically) combined with the Iron Kingdoms' Cryx—a steampunk undead pirate nation.

A Nizrekh Immortal soldier (a mummy, stat-wise)

Another Nizrekh Immortal, with poisoned claws

One of the Nizrekh Necromancers (and possibly a ghoul)

Nizrekh royalty (think of The Lady from The Black Company)
I'd actually have to hybridize the stats of a lich and a vampire to create the Nizrekh royalty.  Here:
NIZREKH ROYAL HERESIARCH: AC: 17 HD: 10d6 (40 hp) AT: touch +5 (1d6) STR: +4, DEX: +2, MND: +3, S: undead immunities, only takes half damage from non-silver weapons, regenerate 3 hp per round, on a successful hit (MND + level to resist, DC 19) does 1d4 STR damage, can hypnotize (MND + level check, DC 19), avoids garlic and mirrors, immobilized and apparently dead if a stake is driven through its heart, drowns underwater in one round, cause fear in creatures under 4th level/HD, can cast spells up to 5th level 
While the vampires of Timischburg have a powerful undead grip on immortality (of a sort) they are pale shadows of the true masters of undeath, the Royal Nizrekh Heresiarchs.  There are only a handful such that exist, but all are powerful scions of undeath and thaumaturgy, and attack with powerful physical as well as magical abilities when they are spurred to combat.  They rather spend their time in Machiavellian manipulation against each other and other rivals, however—if they are reduced to fighting for their lives, usually something has gone really wrong for them. 
Like Liches, Heresiarchs have horcruxes that make their total destruction extremely difficult, and many enemies that think that they have destroyed one find to their fatal chagrin that they just keep coming back. 
The best literary comparison to the Heresiarchs is the Ten Who Were Taken from Glen Cook's The Black Company.  

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