Friday, September 29, 2017

Cult of Undeath—next parts

I'm thinking about what to do with the next part of CULT OF UNDEATH.  Because the structure of the modules are so railroady, I'm struggling to modify them in such a way that they're not—there's literally nothing left if I do that.  I still need to give this one more thought.  My first thought was that Revecca Lechfeld was kidnapped and whisked off to the south, hopefully prompting the PCs to go rescue her.  This better serves the goal of thrifting the modules down to a manageable size than it does eliminating the worst structural aspects of them, however, so I'm trying to think of something else here.  Even the idea of simply Revecca telling them that there's treasure to be found in the woods or something is better than a rush to chase after her kidnappers, where I have to try and entertain them with stuff going on, while somehow convince them that the time that they're taking isn't a problem.  Plus, the whole hunting lodge business is supposed to be a kind of whodunit style mystery (which I may or may not do).  But, at least, let me spell out the encounters and whatnot that they expect you to be able to use, and having them disassociated from some pre-planned plot will hopefully help me to see if they look like they'll be useful at all or not.

The gist of this part three is that the PCs go into the Bitterwood, a deep, thick wood that's heavily infested by werewolves, and then emerge eventually on the other wide to find an abandoned town that was the victim of a massacre in some kind of border war or other, but three coalitions are there now; necromancers digging up bodies and reanimating them, and two tribes of werewolves that both want to take something from the necromancers.  My own earlier summary cuts this last part out completely, and only has vague rationale for why the PCs would be passing through the Bitterwood or having anything whatsoever to do with the werewolves anyway.  So that'll need some help—but I actually think that maybe it's best deferred, honestly.  They'll find reasons in play why going that way is a good idea.  Why lock myself into something now?

ETTERCAPS IN THE WOODS Plus, a weaverworm "boss."  This is just color.  It feels an awful lot like it was literally borrowed from Bilbo's experiences in Mirkwood with the spiders.  Eminently axable.  But, if I wanted to have a giant forest spider-encounter, I'll take the wyvern stats, and make them unable to fly, and treat them as a giant spider.  If I want more of a swarmy type enemy (more like the spiders of The Hobbit than Shelob) then I can take ape or baboon stats, give them some vaguely defined web ability (that honestly, wouldn't be used in combat anyway) and just describe them differently.  I actually quite like the idea of eight-eyed and six-armed spider-baboons that swarm out of the trees.  The wyvern's poison would be a good addition to them, too.
SPIDER-BABOON: AC: 12 HD: 2d6 (8 hp) AT: bite +2 (1d6) STR: +1, DEX: +3, MND: -4, S: Acrobatics affinity, successful bite attacks deliver poison.  Target must succeed on STR+Level check DC 14 or take 1d4 STR damage.  One minute later, a second check must be passed or character takes 1d4 DEX damage.
WEREWOLF TRAP This is merely meant to be a vicious trap that the PCs come across while traipsing through the woods.  It's been set by a spoiled nobleman staying at the hunting lodge to catch werewolves—he's a guy who is meant to be a colorful character with whom the PCs can interact over the course of quite some time, although he's also meant to turn into a werewolf himself before all is said and done, and the PCs will most likely put him down.  I dislike the idea of creating NPCs with such a defined story arc already pre-planned, and I also dislike forcing NPCs on the players, while I prefer to organically interact with those that they end up being interested in on their own.  I also don't really like doing traps.  I'd probably skip this altogether.

INGOMER'S LODGE More like a small stronghold located deep in the woods, this is a place where small numbers of nobility and their retainers hang out, ostensibly to hunt.  Why anyone would come to a forest known to be crawling with werewolves to hunt (unless they're hunting werewolves, which few will be prepared to do) makes little sense to me, so I'll treat it more like an actual stronghold; a small barony, or something.  The werewolves ignore the road that leads to it, mostly.  In fact, in my version of Timischburg (as opposed to Paizo's Ustalav) most people aren't sure that real werewolves still exist (although their descendants, the woses, certainly do.)  There are werewolves in the Bitterwood, as it happens.  But they aren't going to be having some kind of succession crisis, as in the module.  There's only a handful of them.

Rather, the Lodge can be an NPC interaction station, a place of research, and maybe even a temporary localized homebase for the PCs to strike out within the Bitterwood looking for other things.   I didn't list the NPCs from the module in my summary here, although you can if you like.

WEREWOLF ENCOUNTERS  I've condensed all of this werewolf action down to this listing.  If the PCs strike off of the road, they are at risk for werewolf encounters.  I'm not messing with different tribes like the Primals or the Demon Wolves or the Silverhides or whatever, because there aren't any good werewolves in any setting I'd ever develop—monsters are monsters, and the only reason you'd ever not fight them is because you can't defeat them.  You don't make common cause with them because they're just misunderstood all-around good folk.  The thing with werewolves is, of course, that you need silver to handle them (the same is true for demons) and rumor has it (or perhaps research from Alpon's notes and library) that there is a huge stash of it in the Bitterwood and an abandoned churchyard a few miles away from the baron's castle, but who's exact location has been either lost or deliberately obfuscated in just the last few years.  There you have it; a stash of silver treasure, including weapons that the PCs may well need in the future, and you've got an excuse to go chasing after this stuff.  The werewolves, of course, don't want people finding the churchyard, which they are reluctant to enter themselves, because as cursed creatures, they still have an aversion to hallowed ground, even neglected hallowed ground, but they'll try to keep anyone else away.

THE BARON'S PARANOIA (I'm obviously replacing the Lodgemaster with a minor baron, Stefan Turcitul.  But otherwise, he's very similar to as presented in the module.)  The baron knows all about the church, but he's made a deal with the werewolves, because he is himself a warlock, and he's searching the church when he can get away from his retainers without arousing suspicion, for clues to help him on his quest for necromantic eternal life—such forbidden tomes are reportedly still lingering in the libraries below the church.  Baron Turcitul hasn't found what he's looking for yet, but there's a lot of material to go through.  If the PCs start getting too close, he'll get anxious that they'll either 1) steal the secrets themselves, or 2) report him to the inquisition, which will result in his burning at the stake.  He starts trying to head them off.

THE GHOST WOLF I'm not 100% sure that I like this concept, but the concept from Monster Hunter: Alpha is more my speed.  The ghost wolf isn't the ghost of some poor werewolf schmuck, I'd rather have werewolves being a curse of those who come across the master of the Wild Hunt, which occasionally touches down in the Bitterwood from back when it was Murkwood, the primal forest that covered all of Timischburg in prehistoric times.  He has the spirit of the wolf, a primordial avatar of the Master, who created the first werewolves during the Stone Age.  But this is backstory—I'm not sure that I want to involve the Wild Hunt already at this stage, or primordial, Ice Age wolf spirits that corrupt humans unfortunate enough to cross them.  I'll probably ax this part, but I'm not 100% sure that that's what I want to do.  I reserve the right to keep this in my back pocket for... something.

THE STAIR OF THE MOON In the original module, this is the place where the competing werewolf tribes come to meet.  In my version, it'll be the abandoned churchyard where Stefan Turcitul does his research, and a massive armory of silver weapons used by the Old Inquisition was stored in underground vaults (don't get excited.  This isn't a dungeon, just a locked cellar.)  Finding the place almost certainly means fighting werewolves in the woods (and maybe evil woses who are their hangers-on), it might mean fighting the baron and some of his men-at-arms at the church itself.  And the baron is no slouch when it comes to foul warlockry—although he hasn't unlocked the secret of becoming a lich, as he hopes to find, he's managed to learn how to summoning some nasty critters; there will probably be skeletons around as well (from the bodies of ancient clergymen buried in the graveyard outside), servitor daemons, and he probably has an imp daemon familiar and maybe a succubus daemon advisor/temptress. (Although the webguide doesn't have imps listed a subclass of daemon, I did make that change in my master file.)

Not only the werewolves, but the daemons all are much more vulnerable to silver weapons, which the players may not really have until they find the stash of silver (and magical) weapons blessed by the Old Inquisition—but I don't want to give the PCs something useful after it's useful.  We'll see if they find a way to get to the vaults before fighting everything that the weapons will actually help with.

I'm cutting THE HANGING TREE and  FELDGRAU completely.  They have no role in my revised version of the adventure.  With this list, I've got a lot of potential little adventure material, but the whole thing carries with it the vibe of a side trip.  This is usually considered a bad thing in the world of scripted entertainment—books, TV shows, movies, etc.—but it probably is exactly what this needs as a game to give the PCs something to do that isn't intimately tied to their bigger Black Path conflict.  And actually, the church's old library is a target of the Black Path too.  I think it's important that the PCs eventually find out that Stefan Turcitul traded one of the forbidden books from the church's library to the Black Path in return for... something.  I don't know exactly what yet.  The PCs should be able to discover easily enough that the two were in cahoots in some way or another, even if they can't determine exactly what the Black Path is up to, even if they somehow manage to get Turcitul to confess to everything that he personally was involved in.

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