Legacy of Fire Review & Reflection 5

Continuing on from yesterday, my thoughts on the different modules that make up the Legacy of Fire adventure path. The first two modules were awesome, the third had a lot of continuity issues (and some railroad problems), and the fourth was pretty good if a little too easy for the PCs. Now, we turn to The Impossible Eye. This one’s pretty long—again, why I broke up the second half into their individual modules; if I’d been smart I would have done this as I ran them—so beware.

Note: contains spoilers. I’ve actually seen a lot of traffic from search strings looking for a House of the Beast walk-through, so the spoiler note probably amounts to all of jack.

Dramatis Personae

More changeover. I’m not going to list all the various people who showed up only once or twice, which left us with a fairly small playing group despite having a cast of about a dozen PCs.

  • Malak: Ranger/Druid of Saranrae/Dread Commando,  Moldspeaker and gnoll hunter extraordinaire
  • Muji: Cleric of Saranrae, massive mountain of a man and king of the badgers
  • Yantar: Monk/Tattooed Monk, who died more than everybody else combined
  • Kerek: Rogue, two-handed sneak-attack monster, whose main roleplay contribution was to mock the Saranrae-ites’ constant “Praise be to Saranrae”

Matt returned from the harsh reality of his epic job prospect, and having Muji the cleric back was pretty helpful. Originally, he was a Cleric/Monk/Sacred Fist, but the conversion to Pathfinder left him pretty underpowered, so we continued to trim out the Fist and Monk parts as the game progressed.

The Impossible Eye by Greg Vaughn

The first thing I learned about Pathfinder was that constructs are still pretty dang tough. Brass Men have spell resistance and DR 10/Adamantine, which meant Malak was the only person dishing out any damage; though I should say that the brass dudes were less trouble than the big treasure vault riddle.

Two things about the vaults. First, the pictures depict MOUNDS of treasure; the descriptions mention MOUNDS of treasure. What you end up rolling for random treasure, per room, is somewhere around the lines of “3 gp 17 sp 120 cp and 500 gp in gems.” Mounds, I tell you. Easily two inches high. Plenty of running jokes about that. In the end, someone decided that the 500 gp in gems was where the “mounds” came from, being like 500 gold worth of agates or something, so that the characters were neck-deep in semi-worthless stones. (That’s about the closest I could come to having the mounds thing make sense with the random treasure allotment.)

Second, the riddle is really, really fucking obtuse. The only real way to get around it is by rolling a really high skill check, which nobody did; you can explain the riddle in all of its glory, and it still barely makes any sense. It’s a case of the designer being too smart for the players’ good; take note, designers: players always suck at riddles, and obtuse math puzzles, and obtuse math puzzles which are based around riddles, so don’t use them. Players suck at them. Always. Unless they’re Gary Fisting Gygax himself or something.

So we embarked on an entire session of dicking around in the vaults trying to escape. Which was pretty entertaining as a GM, since they got frustrated every time they took fire damage, and then more frustrated when they didn’t, and confused when they entered rooms that were empty. My players actually surprised me near the end and came up with the idea of trying to guess the animal symbols for the different vaults when they entered them… only, they kept coming up with the wrong animals. (“Gnoll” was one popular choice that I spent a lot of time vaguely trying to dissuade.)

Having bested the treasure vaults without casualties, the rogue went home, and the other players fell into the only trap in the entire module series. Then they fought the deadly Get of Iblis–fascinating backstory on those in the bestiary, ties right in with City of Brass—which was less dangerous and died quicker than the brass men. Even though it’s twice their CR.

Moving right along. The challenges in this module were very diverse: there’s a bunch of fire elementals, and all but the biggest three died to one cone of cold, and a number of lizardfolk, which can’t hold a candle to the PCs. Even the hellhounds and hydras are woefully inadequate for a ~10th-level party. On the other hand, there’s a div that put up a solid fight, a bonze giant that handed the PCs’ their ass, and when they first ran into efreet and fire giants at levels 9-11, they had some serious fights right there.

Having multiple factions is interesting, but not much is done with them: the only one that’s vaguely neutral (i.e., mostly non-evil) are the fire elementals who are creeping on Shazatharad, and the PCs’ wasted those with no issue. (I feel kinda bad for them.) Having a pious party meant that there’d be no trafficking with evil monsters, even if they were playing politics against the other factions. Besides, the factions were all kinda far apart, and by the time the PCs ran into the Vizier’s gatekeepers, three of the five factions had been exterminated.

The biggest cool moments were near the end. When the ancient dwarven overseer undead, who’d proclaimed himself king of the manse, dropped his symbol of discord on the PCs… well, it was the only time in the module they failed a relatively decent Will DC (something like 19 or 22 IIRC). Watching them get into fights was pretty awesome; having Malak finish off his fight with Yantar by pitching him into the pit behind the throne was hilarious, because it became the Fourth Death of Yantar due to falling damage. (Muji and Karek were in the pit already, where Muji was helping the dire sabertooth flank Karek, since they got into a heated religious debate. Yantar’s falling corpse almost knocked Karek unconscious.)

The other came at the end, when the PCs had reached the peak of the manse. They’d seen Aberzjerax flying around already, and were gearing up for a fight; given that converting his stats to Pathfinder give him an AC of 34/36 or so, with spell resist and the ability to leave the Vizier’s curse to demand healing, and a twelve-die breath attack, that could have went in all sorts of interesting ways.

Instead, the PCs were pretty surprised—and a little annoyed—when Ezer popped out and attacked. Ezer’s melee attacks make him a tank, but the sad part is that the players technically dropped him on one round: Karek tagged him with his Hunter’s Surprise, and dealt over 200 damage in one round (dual-wielding with improved two-handed, plus full sneak damage per hit).

That being damn anticlimactic, I upped Ezer’s DR from 15/magic to 15/epic, which dropped the damage dealt to… roughly 60% of his total. Sigh. These boss NPCs will last at least two rounds, no matter how much I have to fudge/manhandle/outright cheat. Instead, the dragon dropped in and began to breathe in for his breath attack; he didn’t get a chance: everybody ran away except Malak, who blew Ezer away in one swing.

After some haggling over the titular Eye, the module was done, and the PCs planeshifted back to Katapesh for some shopping, because they lacked Malak’s “child of the nightstalls” trait to give them discounts on the Plane of Molten Skies.

The Set Piece that I can’t be bothered to name

This set-piece was so much of a waste that I didn’t bother running it. While I like its flair and creativity, it reads like an aborted Pathfinder Society module and not like the previous, actual set-pieces. Literally, the PCs show up, either piss off the azer and attack, or barter for a way to go home; then there’s a 50-50 chance the PCs either get planeshifted or fall into a fiery pit and are attacked by a purple worm. There’s really nothing to this module: it’s an interesting locale, but one thoroughly unnecessary for two reasons.

First, it requires is also if the PCs are total chumps and can’t figure out a way to get back to Golarion, when both Rayhan and Muji—not to mention Iavesk and Shazatharad—have plane-jumping spells. As written, there’s no need for this set-piece, unless three of the major friendly NPCs bite it and aren’t raised somehow. Oh, and it also requires the PCs to have no wizards or priests. Ugh.

Second, there’s still a 50% chance that the PCs will walk up, roll diplomacy, and suddenly be transported home. That’s right. Statistically, half the adventurers who use this set-piece don’t need any of the description or stats or anything; they just walk up and bam, they’re home. At that point, you’re only using about two paragraphs of a five-page set-piece. And if the PCs don’t have a route home, this set-piece is worthless: either they get home, all’s well, or they kill some stuff and have to find yet another way back to Golarion.

You could argue that the PCs could always just fail, and make it into an encounter area that’s always got a combat sequence. (Of course, again, this assumes they don’t just have Shazatharad wish them home, or have one of the casters pull a planeshift, and actually stick around to find out about this place.) At this point in the game, my players were level 14, and would have crushed that purple worm in about one round. The lake of fire would be more of a problem, as it was right before they went out and bought themselves carpets of flying (5′ x 5′ ones, so they’re really more bath rugs of flying).

TL;DR: I really, really dislike this set-piece. I think it’s a waste of space, and given the amazing stuff in the City of Brass box set—published by Necromancer, who is really, really close to Paizo—there are much more interesting locales to explore. This is the city that has the Minaret of Screams for frak’s sake, and we get a group of weird azer who worship a fiery purple worm, with a 50-50 chance the PCs will fight them. I can see why set-pieces were dropped from later paths, which is a shame, since the first three were phenomenal, and the fourth was pretty awesome despite the fact it didn’t really fit in with the path as-written. This one is just… lacking.

The Bottom Line

In hindsight, this one had a lot of great moments. The sub-basement/vaults was particularly memorable, even though the puzzle flies above the heads of MENSA members. Finding the efreet statue from the cover of the original PHB was great. The end battle with the dragon and Ezer was great. Some of the battles were pretty interesting; previously, the PCs had just steamrolled everything in their path, but the bronze giant, the div, and some of the other big monsters really put up a fight here. When they first ran into fire giants, that too was challenging, and the efreet are great for their various tactical spells. (I love casters.)

In the end, though, it all got a bit tedious for me. I have a love/hate relationship with D&D, and the hate is mostly towards big dungeon crawls: open a room, traverse some 5′ squares, kill some monsters, take their stuff, repeat. For several months. There’s not much to do in here, roleplay-wise, since one NPC is trapped (Shazatharad) and the other is feebleminded (Iavesk). There are a lot of azer Mamelukes, and kobold croupiers/baristas, and Gilbans the fire giant, but that’s it. Not that I don’t get bored with high-roleplay games, which I find a bit pretentious at times, but pure combat can be the most boring thing imaginable. When I close my eyes and start to see 5′ squares and attacks of opportunity floating by, it’s about the time I know I need some more gaming variety.

I think it could have used a lot more info on Jhavhul, too: the backstory has largely eliminated Jhavhul, focusing more on the end-boss and Jhavhul’s brother. In hindsight, I’d add in some more of Jhavhul’s past; currently, the only big bit was the pyramid to Ymeri that the PCs’ largely ignored. (Because there wasn’t much in it.) This is his house, after all; finding something in here to use to his disadvantage (other than Shazatharad) would be pretty cool.

For what it’s doing, Impossible Eye is impressive. Exploring the manse is pretty fun, and it’s a reward to the PCs all in itself. And if you’re into a good hack-‘n-slash adventure, this one will make up for the rest of the series’ location- and plot-based encounters. It’s easily on-par with the Howl of the Beast dungeon, but by this point in the game, I’m getting a little tired of doing nothing but rolling dice for monsters that are only a challenge a third of the time, and who last three rounds or less. Not so much a complaint about the design, and more my love/hate relationship with d20.

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