Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Extended Review Material: Undead Unleashed

So, after reviewing Undead Unleashed, I decided that it would be fun to add in a lot of the notes about adventure ideas that I’ve drawn from it.  I didn’t want to include these in the review itself, but I did think that some of them were pretty cool and wanted to include them in a separate post.  These notes aren’t as well-written up, so forgive me.  But, I made ten pages of hand-written notes.  I didn’t want to make everyone slog through ten pages worth of material, but I do want this stuff written down (and not in my bad handwriting!).

·      Like his backstory and how his spells have been redone as alchemist spells to avoid having to give him class levels.  I also like that despite the change, he still “casts” spontaneously.  This is an excellent example of the way that good design (which Paizo excels at) can really make the experience more immersive without sacrificing quality.  The players here will never know how much work happened, but they should certainly appreciate the results.
·      You could also use this guy as the basis of a campaign.  The entry presents a nice mid-level boss in the Water Lord that works for the ravener as well as the alchemist from a nearby city with whom the ravener is close.
·      The idea of a dragon seeking immortality is kind of awesome.  I mean, why?  Don’t dragons live forever anyway?  Also, what happens if a dragon takes a potion of eternal youth mechanically?  Do the dragon’s age functions actually slide back down?  There are cases for the argument both ways! 
·      There’s a nifty item in this entry, the cauldron of transmutation (p. 6) that turns any 2 potions into any potion that is the same level or lower as the weaker of the two original potions placed inside it.  This is just the sort of nifty thing a mad dragon alchemist should have in its lair and it would be fun to roleplay it with the party as they discover what it is and what it does.  It might make sense to try and make this stuck into the landscape though (perhaps that’s why the ravener’s lair is here?).
·      The haunt here makes you fall prostrate or feel like you are being hit with whips wielded by ghosts.  Making haunts feel real is hard work.  When I was first writing my notes on this review I was really excited that they’d thought to include a haunt in Undead Unleashed because it was thematically so important.  Imagine my surprise when every entry then had one!
·      I like this lair—it’s in line w/ the ravener’s personality and it has the stuff you’d want both mundane (supporting suspension of disbelief) and appropriate for the game.  In other words, you can rationalize an ancient undead dragon living here while enjoying looting its valuables.  I also like that not every room in a lair has to have an encounter—that may be a function of space, but it’s not a failure in the product design at all.

Arnlaugr the Fearless
·      Thematically undead as a cautionary tale are good—so long as you can work it into an ongoing story in an interesting way.  I felt like this entry managed to do so spectacularly.  Here was have an undead that’s normally created by accident that’s been basically made to order by a greater threat.  That’s interesting and makes me want to run this encounter.  This guy went hunting for pretty beyond his skill and now he’s paid the price.
·      A couple of things I’d like to have seen changed here: first, I don’t know why but I feel like cold water environments should always try and incorporate hot springs—it’s just a weird quirk of mine.  No deductions for failure to do so, just on the wish list/things I’d do when incorporating this.  I also wish that this guy did some patrolling work for his new master.
·      I also really like that this entry is about a henchman in an organization rather than the ultimate boss.  That can actually be a bonus for working this into a campaign because the design decisions about what the campaign’s major themes need to be aren’t made.  I do like that the entry gives an idea of what she is but with just a name and a one-line stat block, that can be changed easily.
·      Magic item: Rixbrand (+3 wounding dragon-bane greatsword) aka what every barbarian is lusting after.  I love that our villain here wanted to slay the dragon and failed.  I also love that the PCs might, after defeating him, be able to use his weapon to fulfill his original quest.  It would be a cool story development to have this guy return as a ghost after he’s slain as a draugr.  The ghost could then charge the PCs to slay the greater threat to set his spirit free.

·      As James Jacobs is always saying on his “Ask Me” thread, one of the most important rules of designing an intriguing campaign setting is to have every mystery answered create two new questions.  Now we know Erum-Hel’s history from the crusades and how he hunted down the lich queen’s bodyguards up until his little encounter with She Who Would Later Be Very Stern in an Adventure Path Adventure.  But, what is this guy’s origin?  Was he raised by the biggest, baddest necromancer of them all?  Was he created by a wizard in thrall of greed?  Has he been hanging out in that wizard’s former hideout/tomb?  Is he related to the urdefan and their genesis at the very bottom of the caves that exist underneath so much of the world?  We don’t know!!
·      We do know what he wants today and it’s a rematch with a goddess.  We know he’s studying how he can become a god himself.  Or maybe he’s risk averse and would be willing just to destroy her church?  That’s a good campaign villain.  Maybe he decides to go the cautious route—if the PCs foil that, he may get reckless and rush off down that risky path towards godhood.  Of course, now that needs to be stopped as well!
·      I’d want to use this guy in a campaign with neutral characters.  Over time they’d learn more and could help or hinder his goddess-hunting quest.  He’s CR 20+, so he makes a good end of the campaign bad guy (not to mention the amount of work necessary to reach his lair—though its location can certainly be moved). 
·      I like that he’s the super mohrg that creates other mohrgs rather than creating zombies.  These guys need a genesis and Erum-Hel provides that.  Why does he create mohrgs?  That’s part of the backstory.  And, for a super-duper bonus for the PCs, could killing him in some special way as a campaign goal mean the end of all the mohrgs in the world?  Wouldn’t that be fun (until the church of the goddess of undeath found out and went after you)?
·      Right now his lair is inside of a petrified dead thing in the bottom of the deepest pits beneath the world.  It’s insane even getting through his encounters—and getting there will be half the fun.  This will also be good for giving bad dreams to players that have issues with bodily fluids.
·      We also get two new diseases!  Blightburn, which uses radioactivity rules and Scarlet Leprosy, which is as unpleasant as it sounds.  Also, these are higher CR diseases.  They’ll be a nasty shock to unsuspecting PCs.

·      I didn’t give this one a very in depth note taking session.  But, I do like the idea of an undead party girl who wants you to play with her!
·      The haunt in this entry is awesome!

·      Tied into the biggest, baddest necromancer there ever has been.  Dude, he even outwitted a god to come back more powerful.  Jolanera and her designed lair also has lots of opportunities for intrigues in addition to straight up fighting.  We’ve already got a statted up flying undead dragon in this book, but Jolanera’s rival bears checking out.  She’s weaker in combat, but clearly smarter.
·      Fun magic item, the void funnel: Basically 1/day use of item to attune a 30’ radius area to positive energy, negative energy, or an alignment-based planar affinity.  Seems like a useful magic item for GMs (and it is totally one the way it’s used here), especially for GMs with players that will be travelling across the planes—this is a nice way to dip your toe into that space without up and leaving the planes.

Mirik the Drowned
·      First of all, yay that we actually see the largest city in the Inner Sea appearing in the Campaign Setting line.  It can’t always be the playground for Pathfinder Society.  Mirik’s story is evocative of themes of greed and gluttony and getting your just desserts.  He could be moved to AP #2 pretty easily as an encounter in the city there to start playing up the greed themes with ease.
·      Mirik’s lair is also well-integrated into the city.  I think I will actually like adopting this in use for a home campaign idea, so Mirik will be traveling to the River Kingdoms.

Mother Comfort & Poor Eledia
·      Person reason I’m a bit disappointed here—I heard a news story this spring about Nigerian children being kidnapped from orphanages and wrote an adventure related to a similar situation.  But, the entry is still well done.  This does a good job of calling up the “creepiness factor” that’s important when using undead.  The story behind this orphanage is believable (in a fantasy folk-tale way).  We have a lot of their backstory, but I’m wondering how the two undead interact with each other today in the orphanage. 
·      Magic item: Ghost Mirror: Awesome flavor and crunch.  Allows you to see all undead, but only in the mirror.  Because you’re so busy looking into the mirror, you take a 50% miss chance when using this while fighting.
·      I like this adventure in general.  It’s self-contained, but I like that the items found here will remind players of interesting encounters while still coming in useful in later encounters without the GM having to try and design encounters where they can come up.

Ordelia Whilwren
·      We’ve returned to the iconic large city in Paizo’s signature country.  One of the founders lives on in undeath as a ghost.  I’ve never really sat down and thought about putting together a mini-campaign in this particular city, but if I did I’d certainly want to bring in this character and the portion of the city named after her.
·      I like that we have a ghost here, and her backstory is cool.  Most importantly, though, I like that as a ghost she remains tortured.

Prince Kasiya
·      First of all, points for using a vampire in an ancient Egyptian setting instead of the traditional Gothic horror.  In this case it works well.  Kasiya could work very well as a big bad or significant troublemaker NPC in a campaign related to finding and destroying one of the artifacts described in the Slave Trenches of Hakotep.
·      Neither Egypt nor vampires are normally that interesting to me, so I’m pleased that Paizo was able to put together something that did draw my interest to two topics I’d normally give a minimal read to. 
·      The Prince’s dungeon is also meant to be (or at least able to be) expanded into lower levels for similarly corrupted souls that are now entombed for their misdeeds in life.  I like the idea of the prison tomb being multilayered.  The PCs would have to progress down a level at a time to find out what portions of the mystery they need to deal with next.  I’d want to put lots of creepy stuff on the walls that would include a lot of (possibly unnecessary) backstory, interesting clues, and red herrings to keep them on their toes.  As the PCs get lower and lower into the dungeon, they’d get closer and closer to learning the ultimate secret…a secret so sinister it might be able to shake the current powers off of their throne (thereby ratcheting up the danger they are facing).
·      This encounter’s layout is very similar to that used in Risen from the Sands.  Maybe that’s because both relied on information about ancient Egyptian tombs, but the encounters in here (though not the creature choices) feel done.  Or maybe that’s just fatigue from Mummy’s Mask.
·      There are a couple of magic items here, but none that really caught my interest.

·      One of my favorite NPCs from the entire sourcebook.  Razinia’s backstory means that she can function as both a nice roleplaying function and also as an enemy.  She’s great because she can be an enemy from the beginning of can be developed as one when necessary for the plot.  Also, this oasis’ layout begs for a big battle between the various characters laid out in the entry.
·      Razinia’s in Paizo’s Persian setting on the eastern side of the sea rather than the general Arabian setting, where I feel like she’d be a better choice and could easily be worked into the larger plot of something like Legacy of Fire.  As the PCs traveled between the coast and the inland areas where much of the action happens, they might have to stop off at Razinia’s oasis for supplies.  While there they’d catch rumors and could even find hooks for adventures for things that they might want to seek out.
·      As a villain in a low-level type campaign, the PCs could slowly learn a little about Razinia’s true nature each time they encounter her until the ultimate reveal causes them to have to make decisions about Razinia’s ultimate faith.
·      I haven’t looked up the details about whether or not a ghul can be redeemed, but depending on PCs interactions with her it would be amazing to see if they tried to bring her back into the light before releasing her to the death goddess’ embrace (at Razinia’s request, hopefully).
·      The assistant is a nice touch.  I like that not all of Razinia’s folks know what’s going on.  What’s the fun of a shadowy organization if every member of it already knows the big reveals.  As you get higher and higher up the chain, it’s fun that the NPCs the PCs are rubbing shoulders with know more and more about what’s going on (not unlike the real world, I guess).
·      If the PCs do fall for Razinia’s ultimate lure, I also like the idea of them being tracked across the desert by Razinia’s muscle as detailed in the encounter.  In a Legacy of Fire campaign, this could result in the PCs being accused of theft while back in their main stomping grounds with some interesting roleplaying options for character development.  Do the PCs submit to the law?  Do they believe that it will vindicate them?  My favorite roleplay encounters are those where morality is up for grabs and that happens with Razinia in spades.
·      The encounter site laid out can also make a great home base, especially since there are ready-made NPCs here that fulfill most of the functions that PCs need filled at early levels.  The map is also great—though it would require some pretty involved Photoshopping or drawing on your own to make it player ready—there’s way too much GM-only info listed on it.

·      I started off reading this entry thinking that I wouldn’t be that interested and got interested really fast.  We’re also located in a desert here (though this time we are outside of the usual Inner Sea location where most of Paizo’s material occurs).  Since I prefer their Arabian setting, I’d move him back to that particular desert land—what if he’d somehow degenerated a tribe of Pahmet dwarves into worshipping him.  I like the idea of some fiendish dwarves tending to their creepy master’s worldly needs while he continues meditating forever.  I like the Irorian-gone-made motif already and this would just move things a little further along on that spectrum.  Obviously, he’s not with his original monastery—he’s gone out and found new rubes acolytes.
·      Other things line up nicely for moving this to the Arabian setting.  Rudra’s worshipped by people afraid that he will wake up one of the children of the destruction god.  This would be an interesting encounter in the Legacy of Fire AP to stick in as a mini-adventure between books 5 and 6 (except for the haste between those books issue).  Perhaps the PCs can learn more about their final enemy and the monsters that slumber beneath the ground by engaging with this mysterious devourer.
·      I’m also a big fan of this setting because you could pull out some of the pre-done templates from the Monster Codex for gnolls!  Unlike Tom the Dragonborn, I love gnolls!  Good MC encounters include:
o   Night terrors (CR 10) but changed to worshippers of the destruction god or
o   The Warden & the Witch (CR 14)
·      This entry also relies pretty heavily on three NPCs from the NPC Codex.  Their backgrounds also make sense here:
o   The barbarian stalks the PCs because she’s trying to use the gate Rudra’s dealing with to bring her tribe back from the Shadow Plane.
o   The nature-focused one could interfere (or not) if the PCs respect the desert or attack them for defiling a holy place if they don’t.
o   The magic user believes she can ultimately control Rudra through her spells, but she’ll be wrong.  Imagine how poorly that will go for her…She wants to use him and the creatures on the other side of the gate to create an army of shadow undead led by him to attack the town that’s the PCs home base in Legacy of Fire because she perceives there being some slight given her by the NPCs the PCs have befriended and helped found the town with.

Seldeg Bhedlis
·      Not going to lie, when I read this guy’s name it sounds like something I’d come up with and be unhappy with as an inauthentic NPC name.  It’s going to have to be changed.
·      But, from a plot standpoint, this guy is the most obvious penultimate opponent in a campaign to collect the artifacts created when an angelic herald was corrupted into a lich queen.
o   Side note: You’d been considering this as a traditional quest to fix her, but what about an evil campaign where the PCs are looking for these items themselves!
·      This guy has spies everywhere—with the knights watching the sealed away necromancer lich’s tomb far to the north, in his master’s rival’s magical kingdom in the north, and in other plot-appropriate places.
·      He could be a fantastic recurring opponent (or opponent hiding in the shadows behind the story).  Maybe he gets to some of the minor artifacts before the PCs do or maybe (in the last case) just as they do.  PCs would start the campaign by coming across one of her former organs by accident or finding a clue to one of their locations.  News about something like that spreads fast though and the PCs will be targeted by all sorts of both good and evil organizations.
·      If find clues to one of minor artificact’s locations, it was placed there by a pair of a knight of the order for guarding away the evil necromancer/lich’s prison tomb up north and a wizard from the same order.  The wizard teleported to the minor artifact’s hiding spot, hid it, and then returned.  Then, per their agreement, the knight/paladin slays the wizard on consecrated ground without ever finding out where the artifact was hidden away.  Unfortunately, the paladin’s act did turn out to be evil (though effective)—he died far away from where he and the wizard sent the stone off, but he can direct the PCs to a location where they can learn the proper ritual to trace the wizard’s teleportation spell and then find the artifact.
·      I don’t really love the location in this entry.  It kind of makes sense, but also kind of doesn’t.  I think I’d prefer that the inn/spy house remain intact but with transport (tunnel or magical) to Bhedlis’ real headquarters.  An inn where a graveknight hangs out is pretty obviously more than just an inn.  Plus, someone of Bhedlis’ social stature in the undead-dominated kingdom should have some sort of estate.  It’s just as important that he maintain appearances as a secret spymaster as it is that his spies do so.

·      I’ve always thought that Walkena the child god mummy was a fascinating concept.  I love that his cathedral in his inland jungle town has been laid out.  Walkena would be a fantastic feature to add into any campaign exploring this area, especially a Serpent’s Skull campaign.
·      Feat: Mark of the Devoted: this is a neat concept, but somewhat overpowered and therefore best reserved for NPCs (why must they get the best toys?).  This could, however, be an interesting choice for a PC that had been part of Walkena’s organization and has since “seen the light.”
·      Between the entry here and the one in Heart of the Jungle for the child-mummy god’s city, there’s enough information to create a truly fascinating city.  It’s a shame that Pathfinder hasn’t been able to develop really functioning army rules (no knock to the ones developed in Rasputin Must Die or used in Ultimate Campaign, I just happen to agree with James Jacobs that anything ultimately adopted ought to be able to make the PCs more central to the action), because playing out the war between the child god’s forces rising from his city and going after the nearby city of the colonials would be epic!

Wight Mother of Isger
·      I love that this has a devil cleric that the PCs could actually be friends with and would set up the PCs to come here.  I don’t find the undead goddess or the country that they’ve used here particularly interesting (though I do think that the Daughter or Urgathoa is a fantastically cool monster that’s so obvious and fun to use in any campaign where there are lots of undead themes.  I’m also excited that the Daughter of Urgathoa is being included in the upcoming Dungeons Deep set).  The Wight Mother could be interesting in a political campaign, but there’s not a lot of politicking to be done in this part of Golarion.
·      The country here just isn’t that close to any of the important places, so who cares if the Wight Mother’s plans come to fruition?  You’d have to really get the PCs attached to this backwater to make them care about saving it.
·      New disease – Red drip: This one is fungal and finally is one with a decently high DC!

Meyi Pahano
·      I saved this one till last because Meyi has been interesting to me ever since we were first introduced to her interstellar undeath project back in Lost Kingdoms.  I like her as an NPC, but there’s some story work to be done her.  She’s described as having incredible persuasive powers, but somehow when it really mattered she wasn’t able to convince everyone that what she was pushing for was really important.
·      Major spoiler about the massive hurricane in the setting revealed in how she got her powers too.
·      This entry and the corresponding one in Lost Kingdoms inspired this entire return to the rainy country as expats campaign.  I pictured those who left this land as being like the Jews—with a highly developed sense of being a people set apart who would form diaspora enclaves in the cities to which they fled.  The PCs could end up being descendants of hers—how crazy when an aunt or uncle who returned to the rainy country writes back asking for some help from his or her adventurous younger family members in tracking down a still living family member who’s the last known surviving member of the prophetic brotherhood (Pharisee/Sadducee connection, much?) that used to run the country.  How horrifying when the PCs learn what their ancestor is up to!