Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pathfinder Run #4: The Rat King

I no longer prepare NPC stats. I just key everything off class and level.
  • Level*1.5 for good attacks and primary skill
  • Level*1.0 for medium attacks and good saves
  • Level*0.5 for weak attacks, bad saves, minor skills and initiative
For weaklings/mobs/mooks I don't even determine hit points until a player strikes them. No point tracking it if they'll be killed in one blow. For level-appropriate foes, I assign AC based on caprice, player stats, and how long I want the fight to last; and since I tend to retreat NPCs when the tide turns against them, I counted HP upwards from zero (ie, damage taken instead of health remaining) to save the trouble of working out exact HP and reduction effects.

I should select some interesting spells to use in each encounter, but I don't because reading an encyclopedia of spells is my least favorite part of anything.

The Quest

Retrieve the soul of the "Rat King" for some shady characters. They learned from an oracle that the "Rat King" will appear on a certain day in a certain warlike city. The clients can't go themselves, because they'd be arrested for stealing the head off a 30-ft statue (the head is visible in their wagon when they hire the party). 

The Oracle

A 30-ft statue of the city's founder holds a 20-ft sword and has recently had its head stolen. It is surrounded by a short fence, corpses, and signs which read "do not lie while touching the sword. you will die. if you touch the sword then phrase your statement in a way you want to live for.

The City

Daily life is regulated by a comically corrupt Day Guard - anyone entering the city is told to "stay alert, trust no one, keep your sword handy." It's at least an hour's travel between major landmarks, and four to eight hours to cross from one side to another. Buildings are almost uniformly short because the city sprawls across extensive catacombs (originally quarry mines).

Ten years ago, the city's generals overthrew their evil king. The new king is just as bad but apparently he used to be a decent guy. One of his first acts was to install a system of sewers (which in places overlaps with the catacombs).

Five years ago, most streets were lined with green Cat Lamps: you can go up to one, dictate a message, and several small (but not "Small") gelatinous housecats will slip out and run off in different directions. Small purpose-made pipes allow them to ignore hills, buildings, and most pursuers. These cats meet at the recipient, merge into a larger housecat, and recite the message. 

The Rat King

Five heroes from the last war meet and form a secret League.
  • a rebel general and hero who went missing after the revolution (became a vampire), leader of the ruthless vigilantes known as the Night Guard
  • the gelatinous cats, which are all divisions of a single, enormous, gelatinous, telepathic entity
  • an investigative reporter, who possesses a stone hand which manifests telekinetic "Bigby's Fists" made of hard green light
  • the Flash, fastest florist in town
  • some pirate captain
At midnight in a deserted part of town, the five meet and conduct an hour-long ritual to bind their souls together. An hour before that, members of the Night Watch distract everyone by setting a temple on fire in another part of the city. 

The Red Herring

As the party journeys to the city, a supernatural Hogzilla is traveling in parallel and arrives first. It uses the Graf Method ("do you want THE POWER?!") to recruit cultists, who infiltrate every part of city life. 

How Did It Play Out?

I knew how the NPC groups acted and interacted, and I had a bunch of random little events prepared for the first session, so when they were poking around they found the city fun and full of potential.

Instead of drawing city streets, I only marked major landmarks. Nobody noticed that they formed the constellation Orion (statue for his sword, citadel for his head, temples for his belt, Tannhauser Gate at his shoulder) until they got the clue that the "rat king" would appear at the city's "left foot." Dead simple, yet still a fun Eureka! moment when they worked it out.
  • Their clients sent them the "left foot" clue via cat. I had wanted to devise a puzzle or leading clues for the players to make that first step on their own, but never got around to it. 
  • They split the party between both "feet," which could have made for a cool twist on that fight. I even had interesting spell effects ready, but they were lured away by the temple fire and I forgot about the spells during the next fight. 
The party arrived ~1d6 days before the "rat king" was due to appear. I really, really should have had interactions with one group spiral immediately and violently into progressively more climactic interactions with another group; I guess we're not used to having whole days (of game time) pass between major actions, and eventually the players felt like there were too many things going on, and not enough clear direction for their quest. 
  • The players didn't know what Hogzilla was until - like inspector Legrasse - they came upon cultists dancing about it in a swamp. They polymorphed it into a regular-sized piglet and flew away with it. This was funny, but it's also a good sign that I don't know the party's spell DCs very well. 
  • I seem to do okay at ad-libbing cryptic responses to divination spells. Weirdly, of the two they cast on this quest, the less cryptic one was the one they had more trouble with. Might have had something to do with allergies that day, or maybe they weren't close enough to anything to test their ideas. 
  • When the players started tracking down members of the Rat King, I basically let each member tell them how to find the next member in turn, which on my side felt maybe too easy; the party still had to have actual conversations and figure things out, though, so I don't really know how easy it felt from their side. 
They ultimately decided the "rat king" wasn't too nefarious, and turned on their own shady employers instead. I took much too long figuring out how big a camp a few hundred sleeping orcs would have; and it seems like low-level mobs can't ever be a threat to the PCs without weird group or area spell effects thrown in. (I didn't think to prepare any.) 

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