Thursday, December 07, 2017

Deconstructing the Serpent's Skull 5: The Thousand Fangs Below Part I

The adventure that I looked forward to the least of the series.  Sigh.  Might as well bite the bullet, read it all the way through, and summarize what's here.  After this, I only have one more adventure to do and then my spread of all of the raw materials in The Serpent's Skull will be complete.

But before I reassemble those elements into my own creation, like a LEGO set where I'm building my own thing, I'll go and finish that same task for CULT OF UNDEATH; the last step which I kind of never really did.

Anyway, the official summary of the adventure before it starts goes as follows:
Once they have repaired the magical portal in the Vaults of Madness, the PCs find themselves in Ilmurea, far below the city of Saventh-Yhi. From Juliver, they know that Eando Kline is held prisoner somewhere in the city, and that an ancient and terrible evil is about to be awakened. The PCs must find the captured Pathfinder and learn what he knows, so that they can take action to prevent the serpentfolk from rising to their former power and threatening the rest of the world.
Entering the city, the PCs find out that Kline made contact with a group of morlocks, but before they can talk with these “friendly” morlocks, they must fight through a group of morlock barbarians controlled by intellect devourers. After lifting the morlock siege, the PCs discover that Eando Kline went on to meet with another group inhabiting the city—a race of vampirelike outsiders from Orv called urdefhans. 
To find Eando, the PCs must somehow deal with the urdefhans. Whether they approach the urdefhans peacefully or with force, the PCs have the opportunity to learn that the leader of the urdefhans, a half-fiend named Izon, met with Eando Kline. In exchange for the urdefhans’ support against the serpentfolk, Eando went into the serpentfolk-held portion of the city on a mission for Izon, but was captured and never returned. 
The PCs finally learn that Eando Kline is being held in the great fortress of Thousand Fangs in the center of the city. They must infiltrate the fortress, sneaking past or fighting through the degenerate serpentfolk guards to reach the captive Pathfinder in the dungeons below the fortress. Once the PCs have rescued Kline, they must escape the fortress and Ilmurea and return to Saventh-Yhi, where Kline will reveal the true magnitude of the serpentfolk’s plans.
In general, I'd suggest that that's too complicated, with three power groups of different races all squabbling in a full-out gang war for a single city, and other shadowy puppet-masters (the aforementioned intellect devourers) involved too.  Plus, the intellect devourers were done fairly thoroughly in the last module, making it also repetitive.  But that's always been my biggest beef (well, in the top three of my big beefs, at least) with these Adventure Paths—they're way too long, and they drag on and on and on like a tedious death march.  But, again—that's a structural problem that'll be addressed at the end when I reconstruct the elements into something I can use.

PART ONE: THE SHIMMERING SPIRAL Ilmurea is an Underdark (or Darklands, to use the Paizo proprietary version of the same concept) serpentmen city built on the shores of a vast underground lake.  This is a fairly transparent reference to the Serpentmen of Valusia, which Lovecraft hinted at, in "The Mound" lived underground now.  Along with "The Mound", Lovecraft's longer story The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath is often credited with being the source of the concept of the Underdark in the first place.

This section is really just an overview of the city, the factions, and the rest of the encounter areas.  There is another section after the module proper that gives a proper description of the city.  It's an interesting city map.  I'm always a fan of good city maps, and Serpent's Skull provides at least three of them that are all quite good.  There are a few areas that are "outside" of the "further detail" sections which are described here, though, such as the vemerak; a kind of "scorpion-centaur" of sorts.  For some reason, there's an area mapped and shown which is not described and you're supposed to discourage the PCs from exploring it (sigh), a gigantic sea serpent on the upper (and northern) lake, where the serpentmen control the city, and a number of gugs (8, in two groups of 4) that hang out in some giant fungus fields.  I clearly don't have anything like a vemerak, since it's a Pathfinder monster and quite weird, but I've got a sea serpent and gugs both already and have had since FANTASY HACK was first formulated.

PART TWO: THE FORGOTTEN PEOPLE  The Forgotten People being debased descendants of the Atlanteans who built the city described earlier, who have now become morlocks.  Unlike the cannibalistic morlocks of The Time Machine fame, these are meant to be sympathetic (yet ugly.  Maybe that makes them more sympathetic to the SJWs at Paizo.) The sympathetic ones are allied with Eando Kline, the Pathfinder that the writers expect the PCs will be there to rescue. They are also living in the worst part of the city, because they are the least powerful faction, and to make things even worse for them, they are undergoing a civil war of sorts between the nominal leaders of the group and those who have been taken over by the intellect devourers.  Encounters with pairs of morlocks with an intellect devourer inside (who comes out and fights after the morlock itself is killed, which is admittedly a cool idea) wander this area.

Personally, I'd probably rather use some stuff that I already have, maybe with a slight variation.  I have my Cursed race, which are conceptually like Paizo's fetchlings or Wizards of the Coast's shadar-kai; that's close enough to morlocks that I'd rather just use them instead of creating morlocks from scratch.  If I wanted do create morlocks, though, the RTP race creator rules could do it for me—give them the kemlings night vision, the wall-climbing ability mentioned below and an Affinity for stealth—because it uses three, it will take the negative RTP of being at a -2 to all d20 rolls when in the presence of bright light.

But I'd probably just used Cursed.  And instead of intellect devourers, maybe just use succubi, but give them the ability to possess people.  They are incorporeal when possessing someone, but if their host is killed, they emerge and work as normal.  I might describe them differently than succubi, but daemonic possession is certainly a classic trope.

There is also an area with two gigantic elephants-sized spiders who attack without warning, and wrap people up like Shelob.  Most of these are dead, but there is a morlock with a Pathfinder symbol who's only mostly dead, and Miracle Max can revive him and he can fill the PCs in on what's going on.  He's also supposed to become a PC groupie in thanks for being saved, I guess.  Apparently the witch shaman priestess who rules their tribe has been put under siege by the possessed morlocks, and now you're expected to go rescue her first, although he's a terribly hideous damsel in distress (I do not recommend a kiss afterwards.)  They have to fight there way past ancient Atlantean stone golems (I keep reminding myself that I need to do stats for them some day), two elder earth elementals who are only there because of some bit of backstory that the PCs will never find out and four cloakers; a bizarre D&Diana monster.  You start to reach the possessed morlocks, fight some of them (and their intellect devourers), including their best warrior, who is possessed, and his flunkees, and some leftover alchemical golems that the intellect devourer from the last module made.

Not that's it's necessarily the PCs fault, but by this time, you will have slaughtered at least half of the remaining morlocks, and they're down to less than twenty individuals.

PART THREE: CITY OF FIENDS  The next step up to the next level of the city takes us to the next least pathetic group in the city; the urdefahn.  These are some weird "Orvian vampires"—fiendish people with transparent skin, big vampire-like teeth, and a thirst for human flesh and blood, which drains strength from the victim.  They can also go out with a bang by exploding in a bomb of negative energy if they're about to die.  Honestly, I think these guys are a little weird.  It's an attempt to merge the concepts of the vampire and the tiefling, and come up with something that's a little of both.  I'm not sure if I'd want to recreate them in m20, or just have them be kemlings, or something, if I were to adapt their role here.  They also frequently fly around on gigantic undead bats called skavelings, which is an idea I quite like.

Anyway, supposedly you're to make an alliance with these guys against the snakes, which is what Eando Kline was trying to do (although he never came back.)  There's lots of encounters of both scattered about.  There's also the ruins of an old Atlantean cemetery with some mummies hanging around.  Why the PCs would find them and the people who live here wouldn't have isn't ever adequately explained, but hey—D&D.  Whatcha gonna do?

There's also an independent player in the area, hiding out in an old building; a drow assassin.  She's not home (although you meet her later) but she's got an entourage of some driders. She's on the hunt of a mark that is in the prisons of the urdefahn, and might work with the PCs, since she doesn't care in the least about anything other than getting at him as easily as possible. There's another gate going deeper into the Underworld, and to keep the PCs from going that way, there's a rather silly unexplained neolithid with some charmed gugs, which is supposed to be more powerful than the PCs can handle, hanging around by it doing... I dunno what exactly.

The chief of the urdefahn is a winged half-fiend version, named Izon (which is, admittedly, kind of a cool name.)  The building that he's taken over for his "palace" has, as you can imagine knowing what kind of game this is, a bunch of monsters in it, only a few of which make any sense.  These include:
  • more urdefahn guards
  • giant-sized morlock slaves
  • more guards, along with "piscodaemons" which, in spite of their name, are actually humanoid lobsters with little Cthulhu heads. (I guess to Paizo writers, anything that lives in the sea is a "fish.")
  • the drow that the assassin is hunting
  • more "piscodaemons"
  • Izon himself.
Presumably, the PCs talk to at least one of the two; Izon or the drow, and get more information about Kline.  They also learn that a defector who is an enemy of Izon fled and joined the snakes.  Kline went to go kill him as a show of good intent to Izon, but hasn't been seen since.


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