Three standard skeletons still, but three swapped out to be archers instead (in part to counter-act a bit of the traffic jam and to give the ranged members of the party different priority targets.) I also tossed in a pair of fast zombies based off of the bandit corpses found deeper in the crypt–I figured on this being a nice extra kick of foreshadowing, as well as providing more variety in the first fight through the door (both via DR flavor and attack style) and who doesn’t like spooking players with suddenly speedy zombies? The lighting note is something I started to keep throughout the crypt for easy reference, but the party soon had light going pretty-much constantly thanks to it being an orison. Pandora’s darkvision didn’t hurt either!
Nevertheless, this fight went very quickly–largely thanks to Brother Vang wiping half the room with a positive energy channel and leaving the rest of the party to mop things up quickly. Once they’d secured their entrance, the gang tested the locked door to one end before venturing into the more maze-like stretch to the other–during which Pandora repeatedly fell down into the pit traps, as did Leone; retrieving the lion from his pit proved to be a somewhat humorous exercise of ropes and maneuvering but the gang proceeded quickly enough without incident afterward–key in hand. After this, they had the ‘social’ encounter with Roldare–wherein Meryk utilized his domain ability to peek through doors and the party took a few crossbow bolts for their trouble.
Originally Roldare sends PCs after his sister–but Zantric’s backstory had included his love interest Zerra, whom had also been a member of the Kassen community–and so to add to the sense of urgency and keep Zantric’s player fired up, Zerra stepped in for Dimira for our run-through of the Crypt. This had the side-effect of Zantric’s player getting pretty grumpy with the party whenever someone suggested resting and recuperating over bulldozing their way ahead through the dungeon–but as he got whittled down himself by the troubles to come, this gradually abated in time.
I pulled the fight with the bombardier beetle altogether as I found no way to really make it interesting–and instead placed a Fool’s Flare
haunt in the reshaped room; I wanted to introduce the party to the mechanic of haunts in general, especially considering the presence of three divine casters–and provide an interesting break from the expected trap/monster/monster/trap of a crawl segment. When I was originally writing the haunt in, I had figured on using it to blow any torches or lanterns the party might be using at the time to better effect the lighting conditions–but in practice when it came to pass they’d been relying on light
spells instead. Emma still had her lantern out anyways, however–so it popped and the party was surprised.
Next door from here is a fire pit where ordinarily a run-in with a shadow is found; I’ll level with you here and agree with several fronts who all bemoaned a run-in with a shadow at first level. Sure, it would be challenging enough–but invariably what you end up with is players waiting out the strength damage before proceeding, time constraint or not–and at this point there still wouldn’t really be anyone equipped to deal with the thing, leaving many members of the large party twiddling their thumbs. Instead, I popped a burning skeleton in here to come tumbling out of the fire pit–and decided to foist out a modified version of the Old Ember Maw
haunt from Paizo’s Carrion Crown
Now, the new haunt packed some pretty serious damage–but my thought was sacking hit points was a lot more manageable on party resources than stat damage here while still providing a more mechanical scare for the recipient of a sudden 4d6 surprise. After eating some heat, the party dispatched both threats and went out of their way to figure out how to lay the haunt to rest–handling the remains of the villagers that were written into the fire pit as the original shadow’s origin. This worked out pretty nicely, and I was pretty pleased with it in play. This was the first prompt for rest from the party in their delve, so they trucked back to Roldare and readied for another round.
Heading further around in their loop of the first floor, the party came onto the encounter with Kassen’s Golem before what was originally a little supply cache for adventurers-to-be. With eight combatants, the golem was going to get swamped pretty fast–so in an effort to break up the encounter, I rolled out a rat swarm on the upper level once a portion of the party had engaged the golem on the lower level–effectively splitting the group and tying up the ranged characters while mecha-Kassen pummeled and intoned about family and home to his foes. While the golem is normally made of wood, I gave him a bit of a spit-shine with the clockwork creature template from the Tome of Horrors–although I scaled back the DR a bit to keep it relatively tame, I mostly wanted to present the golem as a somewhat run-down contraption gone somewhat awry at this point.
Although there’s an alternative way to shut the golem off and the party spotted it, they ended up beating it down into submission anyways–perhaps out of spite for all the mechanical characterized droning he was spouting off about the value of family and community…! Just the same, inside the goodies chamber was the first major dip I put in for ‘gearing up’ the gang for the longer-term campaign; providing treasure for seven PCs can be pretty tricky in the long run when one considers all of the item ‘slots’ involved, the distribution of incoming gold and the divide among so many burgeoning adventurers.
What I did here first was to tally up the original cash value of the items the module provides–which consisted of masterwork weapons, some potions and so on; from there, I scrapped the starter list and instead pieced in a variety of useful utility items–cure light wounds wands, potions of bless and magic weapon, a wand of burning hands, scrolls of bull strength and bless water and so on–as well as a wand of lesser restoration. All of it was bound to be burned through -very- quickly and in all practical sense would ultimately serve to keep the party rolling at a brisk clip more than anything else. Once these utility items had been spread out, I put in a mix of scaling items–specifically, several Badges of Faith
from the Rite Publishing
line and a Legendary item
from the Purple Duck Games
line, with a few tweaks.
Specifically, the Badge of the Bull, the Badge of Glory and the Passport Badge alongside the Tesseract Stone, a scaling ioun stone.
Now, here’s why I did this: first off, all four of these items are at first blush pretty benign for a low-level
adventurer–the bonuses aren’t earth-shaking, they’re pretty straightforward and they require some investment to make better on the part of the PC. Gold-wise, their initial value does not fall tremendously outside of the original cash in the goodies room or eschewed treasure from encounters and challenges faced thus far. Second, the intention was to provide ‘unexpectedly interesting’ finds to perk and pique curiosity around the table. Finally, wealth for a large party is always a big challenge because sooner or later you end up with the sense that you’re handing out ‘enough’ gold–only to find that, once it’s been divided up and everyone has covered recurring expenses such as recovery, healing, et cetera–that very little is left over for them to keep themselves outfitted and ‘up to speed’ with the encounters and challenges they face.
From inception I wanted the low levels of the campaign to feature as much variety in the treasure as I could manage while avoiding the usual bevvy of +1 this and +2 that or inundating the PCs with random potions and scrolls. Lastly, these items ‘scale’–some more than others, granted–but in a much longer-term goal, my intent was to begin to gradually introduce items which grew with the characters not unlike the old Legacy items system, for a number of reasons: it makes it easier to cover individual characters more reliably in their ‘share of the wealth’, it helps to ‘ensure’ a particular type or ‘slot’ of item is kept in good standing for an individual character, and most importantly–the intent was for it to be fun for each of the players to have pieces of treasure they recovered grow with their characters (and as practice later found, their characters to grow with said treasure–but more on this in future entries).
My goal by the end of Crypt of the Everflame was for every character at the table to have at least one piece of scaling gear that they could take away with them; in this regard, the stuff I placed throughout the dungeon was ostensibly there with particular characters in mind (with a bit of wiggle room, depending on who ended up more interested in what). This in particular proved a bit of a surprise when Zantric ended up vying for the Badge of the Bull over Emma (a minor example) or later in the dungeon when Pandora ended up with a legendary sword (more on that in Part II!)
With goodies sorted out, the party now doubled-back on their broad loop, braving a corridor of traps which went largely as originally written–with the caveat that I employed the Determined Device haunt from Rite Publishing
‘s #30 Haunts for Objects
. This one threw the party for a loop briefly and was fun to implement–I definitely recommend the supplement if you’re keen on utilizing haunts in your campaign, they’re very well comprised! From here, the gang hit up the puzzle room with the pool key, which Meryk was able to deduce fairly quickly, rounded their way through the mural room and then faced off with the Pillar of 1,000 Arrows trap.
Originally, this trap fires off blunted arrows and was setup by the village elders as part of the trials for the young adventurers; instead, I’d reasoned that Asar made his way up from the second level and had the thing refilled with bonafide deadly arrows to make for a properly harrowing experience for the party of seven. I debated for a while also including skeletons in this room to harass the party on their way through, reasoning that their damage reduction would allow them to ignore -most- of the incoming arrow fire–but ultimately decided to just leave the pillar by itself. This was probably for the best in the long run–the party got separated as they made grouped runs across the room (admittedly I’m a bit surprised even now they didn’t just wait for it to run out of arrows!)
This left Emma and Pandora in the last room of the first floor, which was originally written as an encounter with some bloody skeletons. To cap off the floor, I wanted to spice things up a bit–so alongside the four bloody skeletons, I incorporated Gaspar, a named Huecuva to which I overlaid the perks of being a bloody skeleton on top of the typical bag of tricks; the intent here was to be a bit of a ‘mini-boss’ for the floor–and to toughen the bloody skeletons up against the potential of them simply being channeled into dust, thanks to the Huecuva’s built in Faithless aura–which augments saving throws made vs. turning undead!
Once the party had managed to group up again, Gaspar and his bloody buddies were soon put down and the group was eager to descend to the second level of the crypt; there, they made a quick assessment of their options–with Meryk checking out through the door and discovering the big bundle of zombies in the adjacent chamber. Utilizing hide from undead, the party staged some fairly clever scouting of the area–which also led them to a bit of a preview of some of the encounters that they’d ultimately be facing in the forthcoming session.
Originally, a few plague zombies are positioned in fairly tight confines within a burial chamber–but given their limited movement coupled with constraining terrain, it just wasn’t going to be tenable for the larger party. Instead, I worked the burial room out to a much larger space with a lot of open ground in the center and mixed in some more fast zombie bandits to be fought alongside the plague zombies; with the disease they were packing, the plague zombies were still fairly nasty–and would really punish any clumping the party did with collateral fortitude saves. Finally, for a bit of added flavor I kitted one of the zombies out in Razmiran duds, a bit of further foreshadowing for the Masks of the Living God module to come!
I left the reflecting pool trap as written with the plopped in portcullis after it; ordinarily the following chamber featured a bat swarm, but as discussed at some length in the Chronicle podcast–they’re a really nasty and aggravating fight for a low-level party. I wanted to keep a threatening encounter in the room, however–and took it as another opportunity to cook up something fun with the Tome of Horrors! The end result: a juju zombie giant black widow spider. Now -there’s- an enemy to spook players with low-level characters! As an added bonus, Emma was beholden to arachnophobia for another bit of extra spice to the mix. But the juju spider would wait until session 2; instead the party trucked further downstairs in pursuit of the mechanism to open the portcullis.
Downstairs was originally a flooded room with some giant frogs–the room needed some redesign, as did the layout and spacing of the corridors to accommodate the head-count–but the encounter stayed the same save for a simple addition: a giant dire frog, also courtesy of Frog God Games
. With big frogs already present, how could I resist the opportunity for an even bigger one to fit in? The azure fungus hazard remained as written, as did the general gist of the skeletons protecting the portcullis controls–though here I again swapped out some skeletal archers for flavor; otherwise, the main hazard of the room had been unseen 20ft drops under the surface of murky water.
The real twist is sneaking some brine zombies into the hidden dead-fall under the water. I’d intended on this to be a pretty rude awakening for the first PC to go rushing across–but hadn’t anticipated on the hide from undead maneuver for the group’s scouting foray. Pandora was able to swim deftly across the room unnoticed to activate but the control–but Brother Vang all but stumbled right into the mouth of the dire giant frog and the party was left with a mad scramble of a fight along with contending with the azure fungus in their rush to save their friends.
Inside the frog room I plopped a legendary item cooked up by one of my VTT players and utilizing the Purple Duck legendary item mechanics–a set of gloves for the druid with his affinity for wildshape. As a bonus, here’s the Fault-Line Gauntlets for your own perusal and usage!
To unlock the full potential of the fault-line gauntlets a character must fulfill the following criteria:
Skills: Knowledge (nature) 5 ranks, Perception 4 ranks, Wildshape class ability
Feat: Power Attack
||+2 Enhancement to Dex, +2 Bull Rush & Trip Combat Maneuvers made with unarmed or natural attacks
||On scoring a critical hit, cast Cl 5 Natural Rhythm as a free action.
||+4 Enhancement to Dex, Shattering Strikes 3/day; When you make a charge, you may activate this ability to attempt an Awesome Blow combat maneuver as a free action that does not provoke
||Bonus Feats: Improved Critical (Unarmed), Improved Critical (Claw), Improved Critical (Slam)
||+6 Enhancement to Dex, When you successfully use Shattering Strikes, make a trip attack against all adjacent creatures as a free action.
With that, I’m going to wrap up the first ‘issue’ of Behind the Screen–I hope that you’ve found reading this interesting! If you’ve any thoughts, comments or suggestions I am eager for feedback on future issues–I plan to catch up alongside the sessions we’ve run so far and continue to offer a look behind the screen at what went on to make them happen! Thank you for reading–next up in part two we’ll cover finishing the Crypt of the Everflame, more third-party supplement implementation and further ideas for handling treasure and rewards for a large party!