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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    The Red Handbook of Doom
    A 3.5 DM's Handbook for running The Red Hand of Doom


    Introduction
    The Red Hand of Doom is generally accepted as one of the better published modules for D&D 3.5. It’s that popular that every few weeks it seems someone is either starting a campaign journal about it or asking a query on how to handle some issues on it. On the other hand, it has its flaws and adapting it to different milieu or different parties can be kind of complicated. That’s where this Handbook/resource/FAQ/whatever comes into it. If you’re looking for help on how to better run the game, some fill-ins for some of the background fluff or mechanics, or a few licks that some DMs have tried which seemed to make the campaign run a bit better, this is where we’ll try to provide the answers and resources.

    Yes, it's a Handbook, but always under construction, so please contribute!
    If you’ve run Red Hand of Doom (abbreviated as RHOD from here on in for sanity’s sake) and have some good advice for DMs, we’d love you to share it. As the title indicates: this is to be more or less the subject of rolling updates, so feel free to share content, resources, maps, tips, etc. for running RHOD. Stuff that looks really good (depending on space) will then get edited back into this original handbook. I do have plans to fill out the entirety of the posts that follow, so don't worry: this handbook is to be completed.

    But Saintheart, there's a WOTC Archive which addresses RHOD!
    Just to save you some clicking around: yes, it theoretically does exist, in the same Heisenbergian way that nothing on the Net ever really disappears, but several Fine Minds round here have gone looking for it. Alas; it appears in the Great Upgrade that massive resource was lost except for one or two links that were not connected to WOTC (and which I'm slowly panning for gold as we go.) That's part of the reason I'm spending so much of my time doing this. Just thought you might like to know.

    Table of Contents
    • Post 2: Overview of the campaign, who to run it for, and common considerations
    • Post 3: Fixing the fluff: tips on adapting RHOD for different D&D settings, and filling in some historical loopholes.
    • Post 4: Drellin’s Ferry through to Skull Gorge Bridge
    • Post 5: The Blackfens and Rhest
    • Post 6: The Ghostlord’s Lair
    • Post 7: The Battle of Brindol, sidequests, and other Elsir Vale encounters
    • Post 8: The Fane of Tiamat
    • Post 9: Other Resources, Links, and Campaign Journals


    Thanks in advance to all of you, but I'd also like to unfairly single out AslanCross, Saph, and Kjones in particular since these guys basically did the trailbreaking for this handbook via their excellent campaign journals, which inspired this handbook and are still well worth a read on their own.

    I would also like to add a very special thanks to Lightwarden, who mentored me (and still is!) through RHOD and taught me most of what I know about D&D 3.5. Many thanks, Light.

  2. Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Overview of the campaign, who to run it for, and common considerations and issues that arise

    Always a good idea to be prepared.


    How many players can be run in RHOD?
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    Kjones, who wrote one of the campaign journals referenced below and did a lot of thinking and reviewing of RHoD while doing so, says “the Red Hand of Doom is balanced for a party of four core-only PCs - specifically, a meatshield, skillmonkey, healbot, and blaster. With more than four, action advantage against single foes becomes a problem, though these kinds of battles are relatively uncommon. The solution to this is relatively simple; you can toss in an extra couple of monsters into most battles without too much trouble.”

    On the other hand, as with most published adventures, if you start going above 6 players, you’re going to have to seriously rework of encounters simply because of the sheer weight of numbers. A couple of extra monsters at the same level doesn't really cut it with those numbers.

    It is possible to run RHoD for a party of eight – on the author’s personal experience -- but again on the author’s personal experience I don’t recommend it if you want to portray the party as being under serious threat much of the time. You can safely ignore all but the most vital NPC allies for the 8-man party, simply because the party’s collective firepower is going to stand up to most challenges that the adventure throws at it (and then some).

    You will need to seriously upgrade the encounters with a party of 8. Each time will probably become a balancing act between cakewalk and total party kills because of the party's collective ability in such numbers. With 8, it crosses the line from action advantage to sheer damage output per round that unbalances the campaign. One of the quickest and dirtiest alterations you can make to redress the balance with 8 players is to double the saving throws and hitpoints of every "default" opponent, which notionally makes every encounter an overwhelming one for a party of 4 and presumably therefore able to be handled by a party of 8.

    Alternatively, with this number of players consider starting them off at level 4 rather than level 5, although again you need to just keep an eye on the fights to see that you're not edging into TPK territory. One of our contributors who ran an 8-player RHOD campaign did an XP calculation and concluded it's still relatively safe to run 8 people and not risk them falling well behind the notional level progression of the campaign.

    Note, however, that the same rule doesn't apply in the other direction -- i.e. unless you're going to give the party double digits in levels, I don't recommend trying to run RHOD with 3 or less players. Levelling the party up to 6 simply isn't going to cut it because action economy works against them at 3 characters or less. Gestalting may help the problem somewhat. In any event the first couple of hostile encounters in the game should be used as a gauge for the party's capabilities, since if they get heavily rolled in "Marauder Attack" it's probably going to be tough going for them in the remainder of the campaign.

    Kjones goes on to say “The second issue is more problematic. Any group deviating from this "default" configuration [of the ‘four pillars’ of D&D parties] will find many of the encounters to be unchallenging and unfun if run as written. This, too, can be rectified without too much trouble. NPC spell selections should be completely reworked, in light of the fact that many NPC casters have save DCs that are too low to be considered threatening.”


    What levels of party can RHOD be run for?
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    RHOD itself recommends starting players at level 5 with an expected topping out at level 10. (One of the most amusing sidebars in the book is the one where James and Rich contemplate a party that is able to defeat the entire Horde – giants, dragons, Kharn, mages and all included -- by itself. In such a scenario, they suggest that “you might not be running the adventure for the right character levels.” Understatement FTW!)

    IYou'd be pretty silly to try and run the unaltered adventure for a higher level party than, say, starting at level 6 maximum. For parties starting at level 7 and above most of the fights are going to be cakewalks, or at least won’t seriously threaten the characters. Even at level 5, generic hobgoblin squaddies as written in RHOD (and which the party’s likely to face regularly for 75% of the adventure) are credible threats only in large numbers and backed by spellcasting support.

    After all, the most powerful spellcaster opponent in the entire adventure -- if you exclude the Ghostlord, over whom the party should be seeing a big blinking sign that reads "CURBSTOMPER HERE, DO NOT FIGHT" -- is meant to be Azarr Khul at level 11.

    Disclaimer: yes, you can run RHOD for higher-levelled characters than starting at level 5 or 6. Nothing stopping you except the risk of breaking suspension of disbelief and kicking off the RHOD Arms Race, which you'll see references to later on.

    Also remember that the Vale itself isn’t terribly well-resourced: the highest-level spellcaster Elsir Vale might ever have access to is Aragathos (the sorcerer 10/dragon disciple 2 in Dennovar) but who is also meant to be Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. The PCs are eventually going to wind up equal to, or greater than, most of the Vale’s best spellslingers and warriors assuming a level 5 start. (In particular if you’re running a bunch of immature folk chaotics or neutrals who like to smash the town guard of every settlement they come across, this … may become a problem, to take a leaf out of James and Rich’s book.)


    How much reworking does RHOD need?
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    Kjones says to regard RHOD as a framework to be built upon or expanded, though it can be run “out of the box” reasonably well. I agree with that; you can get by without changing things if your party doesn't have a lot of tactical experience or optimisation experience.

    But ... he also goes on to say: “NPC spell selections should be completely reworked, in light of the fact that many NPC casters have save DCs that are too low to be considered threatening. I did not re-stat the rank-and-file horde members, but given the opportunity to re-run this module, I probably would have done so. The Wyrmlords should be re-statted. Kharn is the most in need of this treatment, but Saarvith and Koth benefit greatly as well. (Ulwai is mostly OK.) The dragons can also be improved by re-working feat selections - Awaken Spell Resistance from Draconomicon is a good choice. Change in age categories are possible, but I'd only recommend it in the case of Regiarax, and possibly Ozyrrandion.

    Finally, all major NPCs should be given items, spells, and abilities to prevent an anti-climactic demise. Potions of lesser restoration are a good place to start, as are luck feats from Complete Scoundrel. … even if the NPCs in the module were more usable, I'd still recommend tweaking them to meet the specific nature of your party. Finally, note that these recommendations are not based merely on the relatively low power of the builds presented in the module. Even if your party is unoptimized, many of the NPCs in the module are fairly uninteresting, and can be made more so without making them strictly more "powerful". For example, some of the rank-and-file have Alertness as a feat. This will probably never be useful in any significant way. Of course, you could swap it out for Power Attack or Martial Study... but depending on what you want them to do, you could also give them Improved Initiative, and watch as they get the drop on the PCs again and again. (Or something like that. The details are up to you. Framework, remember?)”


    And I agree with that, too. After a long, microscopic campaign thus far (PbP for 3-odd years ... don't ask) I do tend to think that the level of alteration required increases by orders of magnitude based on three things:
    (1) the number of PCs;
    (2) the players' tactical experience;
    (3) the optimisation strategies they use.

    Item (1) requires focusing to meet a much larger damage output per round; item (2) requires focusing to meet the raping of the action economy; item (3) requires focusing a little on both of (1) and (2). And again there's PbP vs. FtF play to factor in. PbP is primed for tactical thought since the "decision time" is theoretically unlimited -- a guy could go away for a day thinking about the current round and come up with a brilliant strategem, while the same player at the table might not be able to think of it on the hop.

    In short: RHOD as written is built for a very inexperienced group of four players whose character choices don't deviate away from the classic four. If you keep that in mind, changing the campaign becomes a much simpler exercise since RHOD's problems aren't that hard to fix, they just need a bit more oomph.

    A big element to turn your mind to is the tactics the Red Hand uses from one encounter to the next. As written, you could throw at a relatively inexperienced party and have them cope ... but it does mean you've got more work to do if the party is up at the other end of the spectrum.

    You can tune up Hand troops' reaction times and their grasp of tactics which straddle the line between metagaming and predictable in a world of wandering adventurers and very potent casters. For example, most Hand patrols don't have instructions to target casters or focus their fire. Even allowing for most of the Red Hand being cannon fodder, this is inexcusable for an army whose threat to the Vale is principally because it hasn't been brought together as one force before.

    That’s a pretty good overview of changes to turn RHOD into a really, really good adventure. We’re going to discuss some of those reworkings below. It might sound like a lot of messing around, but it isn’t really. Particularly if you’re running things in PbP, where you’ve got a lot of time to get prepared and rewrite encounters and so forth.

    In summary, if there's only one thing to take away from this handbook, it's that in general, “tune the adventure to suit the party, not the party to suit the adventure” is the watchword when running RHOD. Even being targeted at a very 'classical' D&D party run by inexperienced players, it's also very flexible for accommodating alternatives - but will need some work to do so.


    Timing in the campaign
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    One issue that seems to crop up again and again is that the Horde moves too slowly, not too fast, for adventuring parties given the notional timeline in the book. The ‘countdown to destruction’ is one of RHOD’s best selling points, but the time limits for activities are pretty generous in practice; most savvy parties will meet the deadlines and then some.

    Particularly in the first parts of the adventure, the party can earn itself literally weeks of downtime ahead of the Battle of Brindol, especially if they secure giant owls from the Tiri Kitor in the Blackfens.

    RHOD suggests giant owls can make 56 miles per day, which assumes 8 hours of travel per day at 7 miles per hour. What they miss is that RHOD takes place in the summer, which increases the hours of daylight out to 10 or so (or so savvy players will note) thereby granting more travel time. 70 miles per day is a potent speed advantage to a party that only needs to cross about 150 miles to get to its next major encounter location. Also bear in mind that if the party’s scooting around the countryside on owlback it makes suspension of disbelief slightly harder when assassination squads start jumping out of nowhere to ambush the party. (On the upside, though, hey, no wandering monsters!) It's even more significant once the party wizard hits level 9 and picks "Teleport" as one of his spells: even if he's not boosting his caster level, that's 900 miles of travel per spell.

    Based on the campaign journals and experiences in the various threads we've seen, you’re more likely than not to have your party back at Brindol well ahead of the Horde, and the authors' contemplated race against the clock to beat the Horde there is less likely to come about.

    Your options to deal with a party who gets back to Brindol ‘early’ are basically: sidequests from Brindol; have the Red Hand move faster right from the get-go; allow the party to just rest up and prep for battle; or have the Horde move at the speed of plot. Of these, options 1, 2, and 3 are going to suspend disbelief a lot easier than option 4. In particular there isn't a lot of time to craft items across the rest of the campaign, so depending on how much time they've got this may be a convenient moment for them to get ready. There are also some good options for parties to help prepare for the battle by boosting defenders’ capabilities, which we’ll discuss later on. I don’t recommend suddenly having the Horde pick up speed because at the end of the day it is an army on foot, and armies on foot do move a lot slower than small adventuring parties – logistics still plays a part.

    Parties who are ‘late’ on the timeline are comprehensively dealt with in the RHOD book, so nothing more need be said on that topic.


    Notes on Victory Points
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    The Victory Points 'system' that RHOD builds as a way of seeing if you've done "enough" to destroy the Horde is an variant on the usual thing, and at first glance looks like a good old 'hundred percent completion' challenge in a regular video game.

    Do you have to massage the encounters or set up a railroad in case the players decide to do something off the wall and miss an entire encounter area? For the most part, no: the number of points you pull from various tasks are sufficient that generally where you lose them in one area you can make them up again elsewhere. The biggest area to make up on, though, is the Rhest encounter: if the players decide to thumb their noses at the Tiri Kitor, a lot of VPs go with them, and you (might) need to make a couple more Horde leaders vulnerable to killing.

    Two issues that a lot of DMs seem to get confused on with VPs:

    (a) Does getting more than 40 VP = automatic victory in the Battle of Brindol?
    (b) Do you tell the players about the VP or give them a running count of how many they have?

    The answer is No to the first; Sort of to the second.

    On the first question: you tally up Victory Points if (and only if) Kharn is killed during the Battle of Brindol. Kharn is the linchpin of the Horde, but if he dies and the Horde hasn't been dealt enough 'deaths by a thousand cuts' from the party's earlier victories, someone else will rise to take his place. If Kharn dies and you don't have a total of 40 VPs within the next 1d4 hours, the Horde regroups, appoints a new leader, and launches a second, more determined attack which smashes what's left of Brindol; remember that even if Kharn dies, Brindol has basically 'shot its bolt' defending the first assault and won't have the strength to hold back a second - the remainder of Brindol's forces withdraws to Dennovar.

    On the second question: don't give them the full story. You can suggest that a certain event or events gave an extra X number of VP, but don't tell them the number they're trying to hit. Since the players can't win the campaign before the Battle of Brindol, it makes no pragmatic sense to give them a running total of the VP count ahead of that event, and it's destructive of suspension of disbelief. If you're playing with a seasoned group of D&D players you're already going to have to contend with an attitude of "Adventuing! See strange new places! Meet strange new people! Then kill them, take their stuff, and find out what you next have to do to acquire the Macguffin." Don't shoot yourself in the foot by telling the players what number they have to meet -- just give the impression that their actions count in some way they are not permitted to know.


    Any particular gamebreakers to watch for?
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    Optimised parties are always going to be harder to challenge than unoptimised ones. Most DMs already know this. That's not what this article is about. Here we’re only looking at particular character options which cause serious headaches for RHOD itself - options which reliably turn a lot of fights into annoying timewasters because of what the option does, together with explanations for why the option sucks for RHOD in particular.

    So, in no particular order, I give you the RHOD DM's list of headaches:

    • Mindsight from Lords of Madness. It’s potentially a gamebreaker in general, but moreso in RHOD because the virtually all the dungeons in the game are less than 100 feet across. A Mindsight-endowed character thus can give complete intel on virtually all monsters’ locations – particularly in the Ghostlord part of the campaign – just by standing near the entrance to a dungeon for a round or so. IMHO it also makes an underwater assault on Rhest very easy, makes ambushes on the party non-ambushes, and makes the sniper attack at Brindol almost a nonevent. I suppose if you were really pressed for it you could start dishing out Mind Blank scrolls to some enemies, but it’s easier just to disallow it altogether.
    • The monsters' Will saves could count as a gamebreaker -- many are very average. Conviction or Mass Conviction spells help with these issues. Halfway optimised beguilers tend to have perhaps inappropriate levels of godmode with RHOD, particularly when by the time you reach the Blackfens a beguiler can attain enough spells, Bluff and Disguise to fool Regiarix that he's a hobgoblin (personal experience on that.)
    • The spell Downdraft from the Spell Compendium is a potential headache for the first couple of dragons in the campaign. It's one of the few 'save or be screwed, save and potentially be screwed anyway' spells I've seen which actually works well against a dragon. (Well, it worked against Ozzy, anyway...)
    • Look very, very carefully at the Dread Necromancer class before allowing it. There's a few locations (Rhest in particular) where dead bodies can be accessed with impunity, not to mention that the Battle of Brindol is going to give a DN an ever-increasing supply of fresh corpses to play with. And that's before we even get to the DMly nightmare of having to figure out how to effectively rebuild encounters to take account of a party with a zombie green/black/red dragon in tow.



    Improving the Horde forces generally across the entire campaign
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    Rather than repeat the same advice through five different sections, let’s talk about general improvements that can be made to recurring opponents in the RHOD campaign.

    Before we start, though, there is one note of caution which perhaps should be observed, and it relates to our old friend “suspension of disbelief” once more. In my entirely personal and less-than-humble view, it isn’t wise to turn every soldier in the Hand into an elite trip-attacking fighter who can take several partymembers all by himself. These guys are meant to be a serious threat to the good folk of the Vale only because Khul's organised them, and they have dragons on their side. Even the town guard of Drellin’s Ferry has had a history of successfully seeing off hobgoblins raiders all on its own. Rank and file horde members – the regulars, that is, and possibly the veterans – therefore shouldn’t be given lots of extra levels. Even though the horde’s upper ranks are meant to be challenging, the Horde is still made up of a lot of cannon fodder.

    It’s worth just stepping back for a moment and taking a fresh look at things if you find yourself getting caught up in what I call the RHOD Arms Race – turning your horde rank and file or even patrol leaders into seriously competent warriors who can beat the hell out of party members, which then encourages the characters to seek out ever-stronger character optimisation strategies. This isn’t to say you can’t have the elite death squad that eventually comes after the party – just don’t make every member of the Hand a member of that death squad.

    Onto the suggestions common across the campaign--

    The Hobgoblin Rank and File
    We’re talking here about those walking chunks of hitpoints, the hobgoblin regulars. One feat each, which is Alertness. Boring, and also ineffective. As kjones noted, replacing that feat really depends on what you want your rank and file to do, but here’s some suggestions for replacements and other refinements:
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    - Power Attack, if you want them thumping ineffectively away at the party.
    - Improved Initiative, if you want them to get the drop on the party a decent amount of the time.
    - Shieldmate (Miniatures Handbook, p. 28) for a +1 AC to an adjacent opponent who wants to wield his weapon two-handed rather than use a shield.
    - Phalanx Fighting (CW, p. 103) if you’re prepared to have the regulars wield shortspears or short swords rather than longswords.

    From the PHB 2, on Teamwork Benefits, if you’re willing to get your patrol leader to put 5 ranks in Balance, and rework the skill selections to the regulars so they get one rank in Balance each, you could get the hobgoblin patrol to access Massed Charge, which gives you an attack bonus equal to the number of team members participating in the massed charge. On RAW this could be a brutal tactic to stomp a single member of the party if you get the right moment for it: although the Benefit’s training requires you charge together from one direction, the use of it doesn’t require that team members all come from one direction. They can converge on one point from multiple directions. You get, say, four hobgoblin regulars and their leader all charging at once, and their charge attacks each get a +5 on top of the +2 from a successful charge.
    Not so cocky about mere mooks now, are we?
    And that’s before we start incorporating ToB charge-helping maneuvers like Battle Leaders’ Charge, Leading the Attack, or Leading the Charge.

    Even so, these suggestions are less useful against parties that have good Area of Effect options, since they depend on the hobgoblins bunching up and acting as one. On the other hand, it makes them, act more like their RHOD character hook which describes them as “conditioned to follow orders; accustomed to cruelty and harsh discipline”.

    Hobgoblin veterans can be worked with a little more, obviously, because they've got more feats. Basically, rather than just one of the above options, take two or more. Veterans are harder troops, but they're not leaders, just a bit better than the regulars at hitting things. Tome of Battle fans suggest turning them into Warblades, too, but it isn't strictly necessary as such.


    Hobgoblin Bladebearers and Hobgoblin Sergeants
    In summary: for these guys, Tome of Battle is your friend.

    The general consensus among most DMs is that the Bladebearers are more effective and interesting rebuilt as Warblades of the same or slightly higher level. Go and Do It! Do it Naow!

    The main reason is because it gives them just a bit more oomph in combat and more interesting things to do with them. And once you've built one, creating another unique individual Warblade is as easy as switching maneuvers and weapons around. I've also heard good things about switching all hobgoblin sergeants to Crusader 3, too, which certainly makes them a bit more durable if not respectable.

    As an example, here’s Uth-lar, who would otherwise be a hobgoblin bladebearer and leader during the Marauder Attack at the start of the adventure (hitpoints and skill point calculations will be out of whack due to the house rules I had in place, but aside from that, it should be kosher.)

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    Uth-lar, Hobgoblin Bladebearer
    Hobgoblin Warblade 4
    LE Medium humanoid (goblinoid)
    Init: +3; Senses: darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +1
    Languages: Common, Goblin
    AC: 17, touch: 13, flat-footed: 14
    HP: 75 (4 HD)
    Fort +7, Ref +4, Will +2
    Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
    Melee: +1 shortsword +9 (1d6+4/19-20) or +1 shortsword +7 (1d6+4/19-20) and +1 shortsword+7 (1d6+2/19-20) with Two-Weapon Fighting
    Base Atk: +4, Grp: +7
    Abilities: Str 16, Dex 16, Con 15, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
    Feats: Two-Weapon Defense, Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Focus (short sword)
    Skills: Acrobatics +10, Athletics +10, Intimidate +6, Stealth +7
    Possessions: 2 +1 short swords, masterwork studded leather armor

    Maneuvers: Battle Leaders Charge, Emerald Razor, Leading the Attack, Sudden Leap, Wolf Fang Strike
    Stances: Blood in the Water, Leading the Charge


    This template can be used for every other hobgoblin bladebearer in the campaign, since they’re all Warblade 4s. This isn’t a treatise on ToB, of course, but the maneuvers at least are solid enough choices for hobgoblin patrol leaders at the early stages. Especially Emerald Razor, Battle Leader’s Charge, Leading the Attack, and Leading the Charge.

    Another nice option which takes the best of both worlds is Warblade 1/Fighter 2/Warblade +1, which utilizes RAW to get more feats and maneuvers for less martial adept levels, too.

    If you don’t have ToB, or don’t like it in your campaign, you need your head examined but are entitled to your opinion still are well advised to make these guys’ builds a bit better. Alertness and Toughness are just wasted feats, and Weapon Focus + Weapon Specialisation = suckitude for fighters by comparison with other options out there, even at these low levels.

    If you’re sticking to flat fighters, you could probably get away with an extra level at least on the bladebearers, and certainly another fighter level on the sergeant. In this scenario, the bladebearer should be redesigned to be other than a two-weapon fighter: unless you’re a rogue, it’s a trap at these low levels even with the surfeit of feats the fighter gets.

    Anyway, there’s plenty of good fighter handbooks out there to talk about what feats you put on vanilla fighters; I’m not going to go through them here. But if you’re going defensive, at least consider Phalanx Fighting and have the hobgoblins work as a team – and if you’re going aggressive, charging builds, then consider Dungeoncrasher if only in its 2nd level form.

    Monster Manual V variant hobgoblin possibilities:
    If you've got access to this book, some of the variants actually synergise rather well with the Horde's composition as an army of raving hobgoblins:
    • Consider Warcasters, even with an extra level of wizard or two, as replacements for the Hobgoblin War Adepts.
    • Spellscourges as replacements for Bladebearers, albeit they're 1 CR higher.
    • Hobgoblin Duskblades: AslanCross has only good things to say about these guys, possibly as replacements for Hobgoblin Veterans, and certainly as extra firepower for the assassination attempt on the PCs by the Greater Barghests.
    • Hobgoblin Warsoul: given it's a CR 8, one possibility is to replace one of the hobgoblin clerics in the Ghostlord section of the adventure with one of these guys ... or even replace Koth with one of these, particularly given the Cult of Power extraordinary ability.


    Hellhounds:
    Generally these guys are agreed as underwhelming. Suggestions for replacements range from Dire Wolves at CR 3 and with trip to Rage Drakes. One of the better suggestions comes from Greyfell, who proposes giving the hellhounds the draconic template and switching out feats so it gets Multiattack and Clinging Breath from the Draconomicon. Napalm hellhounds FTW! And it does make sense since most of the summoned creatures in the campaign are coming from Tiamat's home plane, so one would expect some draconic influence there.

    Equipment loadouts: In what is probably a misprint, hobgoblin soldiers get given 3 potions of Cure Moderate Wounds. Leaving aside this is pret-ty generous and invites your squirrely players to store up healing potions left right and centre, it's also somewhat amusing given most hobgoblin soldiers probably aren't going to last more than a round or two to consume said 3 potions.

    One solution for this -- and indeed across the campaign, not just for hobgoblin soldiers -- is to substitute or outright give Potions of Conviction, or have the Hand's clerics cast Mass versions of it. This at least gives the Hand forces some chance they can stand up to encounter-ending spells like Glitterdust or other such spells, since at least their saving throws are buttressed a little.


    Improving the dragons across the campaign:
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    We’ll talk more specifically about the various dragons as we go, but the overall consensus seems to be that Regiarix definitely needs an upgrade to the next size and age category, Ozyrrandion also does, Abithriax only does if the party’s optimized, and Tyrgarun does not.

    For all dragons, Alertness, Weapon Focus, and Improved Critical should be swapped out. Dragons are most effective when they’re making strafing runs using their breath weapons because they can hit multiple targets in one strike, or when they're making full attacks; you should be using their standard actions (when they get them) either to breathe or cast, not for single attacks.

    In their places: your choice of Awaken Spell Resistance, Power Attack, Multiattack, Improved Multiattack, Practiced Spellcaster, Flyby Attack, and/or Ability Focus (breath weapon), depending on whether you think the dragon's going to mostly be in the air or on the ground.

    I personally like Metabreath Feats with Enlarge Breath and Shape Breath which substantially improves Regiarix’s range in particular (assuming the PCs are more or less stranded on the town hall at Rhest).

    Also, remember their speed (150 feet = 300 feet at double move or better at run) and give them some credit for their own hides. Regiarix has encountered adventuring parties before, so if he's hit with a serious fusillade he should be heading for the hills ASAP. Ozyrrandion likewise, even if it requires folding his wings and dropping like a rock into the gorge to then level out and get lost as quick as he can. This at least preserves your dragons to fight another day.

    In terms of magic choices: every dragon should know and be casting Mage Armorand Shield. Your players won't like it when you give the dragons Blood Wind and Scintillating Scales, but they'll be a lot more challenging as a result.

    (Varanthian as the fifth Beatle “dragon” of the adventure is a bit of a poser. Her effectiveness depends entirely on the makeup of the party facing her. She's either awesomely terrifying or hilariously simply to take down. Many DMs I’ve seen have watched aghast as cocky parties lose one or even two partymembers to her in a fight, but in my 8 player campaign she went down in one round. See the spoilertag devoted to her for further discussion -- in summary, despite her breath weapon, spells, Spell Resistance, Rake, and Swallow Whole, she remains a big, solo monster seriously outgunned on the action economy, so you need to be aware of it.)


    We caught a Wyrmlord, damn it ...
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    Obviously the subject of prisoners is a well-worn one for D&D parties, but odds are on you’re going to capture at least one Wyrmlord during the course of the adventure, so it pays to be ready for it. Ulwai’s level of knowledge in particular has a capacity to derail your choo-choo campaign, since on the RHOD text she knows exactly where the Fane is, how to get in, and that Azarr Kul is right there, giving players a nigh-irresistible chance to cut off the snake at its head. Dealing with the capture of each Wyrmlord, some suggestions…

    Koth: ride him back to Drellin’s Ferry, put him in the Old Toll House. If he isn’t rescued (see further on) he goes with a detachment of Soranna’s soldiers to Brindol, though I personally reckon you then give him a 50/50 chance of escaping somewhere along the way. With adventurers escorting him, no chance. At Brindol I’d presume he says nothing more than he already knows, and is locked away in a nice quiet dungeon beneath Brindol Keep to await a summary trial and execution by Captain Ulverth.

    Saarvith: if he’s captured, he could point out to the party that he’s nothing without Regiarix, and that Kharn isn’t going to be very happy with him upon reporting back – in fact he might rightly conclude his time with the Horde is over as soon as Regiarix bites the dust. Releasing him at Rhest is an option, though I reckon there’s a 25% chance the Tiri Kitor hunt him down and take him out themselves. If he’s taken back to Starsong Hill, it’s more direct: whilst they’re neutral good, there’s every chance he’d be subject to summary execution by the elves for the misery his razorfiends have inflicted upon them. If the party really wants to cart him all the way back to civilization, there’s I suppose a chance he can be persuaded to help the Horde, but again it’ll take a unique party and unique set of circumstances to do that.

    Ulwai: Really callous parties could leave her to the Ghostlord’s tender mercies, but again, it’s probably back to Brindol with her, where I’d say her knack of diplomacy at least convinces Jarmaath to let her go after the Horde’s destroyed. She can’t talk her way out of a jail cell, though.

  3. Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Fixing the fluff: adapting RHOD for various D&D settings.


    This is not really the kind of adaptation we meant.


    Running RHOD for the Forgotten Realms:
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    From the looks of it, James and Rich had Faerun clearly in mind as an alternative setting for the adventure – it’s explicitly detailed on the RHOD text that you can drop Elsir Vale in between the Forest of Amtar and the Misty Vale "seamlessly".

    It’s not a seamless fit, though. Shining South, pp. 155-158, covers this region, and the locations of various landmarks are only liberally in keeping with the “big map” of the Realms, or indeed with the regional maps of Shining South themselves.) You’re best advised to work round this by suggesting the closer map from RHOD is a better fit to Elsir Vale from local surveys rather than try and explain why it doesn’t fit with the map.

    Do you alter the place names to fit the Faerunian titles on maps you give to the players? No. Waste of your time. Just handwave it that the folk of Elsir Vale are an insular bunch who like to give their own names to their places. But under a full, location-by-location conversion of Elsir Vale to the Forgotten Realms:
    • Brindol becomes the city of Rethmar.
    • The Westdeep becomes the Misty Vale.
    • The Wyrmsmoke Mountains become the Wyrmbones.
    • The Witchwood becomes Shaareach Forest.
    • The Elsir River becomes the River Talar.
    • Lake Rhestin becomes Lake Lhespen, and Rhest itself becomes Lhesper.
    • The Stonewash becomes the River Shaar.
    • Mentions of Rhestilor should become Lhespenar (yes, I know it sounds like Cespenar from Baldur’s Gate. Give me a break.)
    • The Blackfens become the Lhespenbog.
    • The Giantshield becomes the Rathgaunt Hills.
    • The Endless Plains become the Shaar.
    • Marth Forest becomes the Channathwood.
    • Dennovar becomes Channathgate.
    • The Golden Plains become the Swagdar (the Outlaw Wastes).
    • The Wyvernwatch Mountains become the northernmost end of The (Halruaan) North Wall.
    • The Thornwaste becomes the northeastern end of the Bandit Wastes, and avoided by said bandits because of the Ghostlord’s presence.


    You’ll have to erase the entire city of Kormul from existence or at least turn it into a treasureless ruin, since it’s placed right where the Dawn Way and the Old North Road intersect on the RHOD map of Elsir Vale. It’s fun to use the Locate City bomb from time to time, isn’t it? There’s also no sign of the Old Rhest Trail in the Shining South book, so you’ll probably have to play that road as one that’s fallen into serious disuse.

    It’s also important to note that, compared with the “usual” scene of Realms adventuring around the Dales, Waterdeep, or the Sword Coast, the party’s going to be well off the beaten track in Elsir Vale. You’re well into southeastern Faerun; it ain’t the standard medieval setting, mostly because of the climate. You won’t have to fake it as being summer, because that’s pretty much what it’s like all year round in this part of the Realms. We’re in the hot south and close to the equator: the Misty Vale, Shaareach Forest, and Channathwood are described in Shining South as stifling, steamy, jungles rather than temperate Northern European woods.

    You’ll see a lot more “Arabic" and "African" influences in this part of the world. That will affect your description of the world right down to the NPCs. If your PCs are wearing full plate armour without at least an enchantment of Easy Travel or Endure Elements they should be feeling it hard. Also bear in mind the ethnic differences, if they weren’t already apparent: not many pale-faced Illuskans or Western Heartlands folk here out of Lord of the Rings, it’s predominantly Durpari or Arkaiun racial mixes, with a smattering of Halruuans as well. Calimshan merchant caravans are a possibility, too, as are any other nationalities that like to trade far afield.

    You can safely suggest the Tiri Kitor are long-time-gone exiles from the Misty Vale. The Tiri Kitor can be easily said to be exiles because they wanted to reach out to the outside world, which gives them both a reason to get kicked out of Misty Vale and a reason to actually talk before shooting the party when it enters the Blackfens. Er, Lhespenbog.

    This actually could be a religious difference. The Tiri Kitor honour Corellon Larethian rather than a more ‘primal' god like Rillifane or Fenmarel Mestarine. Switches to other gods are pretty straightforward: Lathander for Pelor, Kelemvor for Wee Jas.

    The Ghostlord becomes a former druid of Nobanion or Silvanus, having been seduced by Malar to form the lion cult that plagues the Vale until the coming of Lhespenar’s kings to displace him into the Bandit Wastes.

    For bonus points, consider making Jarrett Nurth (the serial-killing shopkeeper of Drellin's Ferry) a Strifeleader of Cyric, or at least a cleric/rogue of Cyric - I was actually able to get tentacle horror with a Cyricite-only spell going for two nosy rogues in my campaign when they broke into Jarrett's store after dark.

    Another point to mention is when the players get sent north on the (feeble) excuse that the blockade on the Old Rhest Trail has to be broken because they’ll need to get reinforcements from the north. Those reinforcements are going to have to come from Shaarmid, which is several weeks away by road (being, naturally, halfway across the Shaar with no other settlements in between). You therefore might make a point of how utterly unprepared for war the Vale is that it has to basically start buying light cavalry from literally hundreds of miles away, since on the distances involved it would take a very determined messenger to get to Shaarmid and back with a small army in tow by the time the Red Hand reaches Brindol.

    A genre savvy player might ask: how the hell does the Vale continue to exist, lodged as it is between a bunch of exiled Netheril mages to the south (Halruaa) and a half-drow-controlled neutral evil nation to the east (Dambrath)? In short: because both Halruaa and Dambrath are snobs. Halruaa has more reason to be since it’s basically holed up behind three mountain ranges, but Dambrath has “surprisingly nonaggressive” (Shining South's words, not mine) attitudes towards its neighbours. Or it might be the Vale is too small or doesn’t have any resources worth plundering. Or it might just be that it’s too damn hot to fight. Either way, there are plausible in-universe explanations to fall back on to explain why Brindol hasn’t been reduced to a smoking hole in the ground by more enlightened civilizations than the Red Hand in the past six hundred years or so.

    Possibly the hardest question in all this: given Tiamat already has a pretty well-established church in Unther, why does she feel the need to go and start a war in a backwater on the doorstep of Halruaa, a country that has enough resident magical power to blast half the Vale off the face of the Realms if provoked?

    Might I suggest the answer you could give is that Tiamat’s got some precognitive gleam of the impending Spellplague. She also has a good idea of what that disaster’s likely to do to where Unther currently is. The Spellplague also is fated to basically turn Halruaa into a smoking cinder as well. Tiamat is simply trying to diversify her holdings, as it were, against this catastrophe, to emerge ready to face the new era. The war in Elsir Vale is her seed for the future

    Having said that, these are mostly flavor considerations, as are most of the adaptations to Faerun. Setting RHOD in the Forgotten Realms is a homecoming for some beasties here -- Abishai, Spawn of Tiamat, and many other creatures originate from the Realms or have specific notes in the Monster Manuals for how to adapt them for Faerun.

    This isn’t to say you can only set RHOD around the Misty Vale. I’ve seen the odd campaign journal which attempts to set RHOD in more “conventional” parts of Faerun; this is just the most straightforward conversion the authors themselves put forward. Really it's more the narrative structure than the window dressing that is the selling point of RHOD. It’s possible to overdo fluff and flavor; see the Age of Worms adaptation “guidelines”, for an example of how to overbuild a structure around the central storytelling engine of the campaign.


    Running RHOD in Eberron
    Courtesy of the ever-helpful and devastatingly handsome AslanCross!
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    The Red Hand of Doom is written for a fairly generic D&D setting (and as such, is easy enough to incorporate into "vanilla" settings like Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, which primarily use default fluff). However, this excellent module also works very well in Eberron, but adapting it will take slightly more work .

    On the Nature of Tiamat
    Black candles burning/Announce her comeback
    The reign is awaiting/The Queen of the Dead

    --Queen of the Dark Horizons, by Rhapsody of Fire

    Tiamat in Eberron is significantly different from her incarnation in other settings in that she is not a goddess. The gods in Eberron are distant and have never walked the surface of the Material Plane in the flesh as far as mortals know. Tiamat, however, has.

    Tiamat is a demon Overlord, the daughter of Khyber himself. She was born of the Dragon Below and had has the power to corrupt and enslave all dragons, metallic or chromatic (though chromatics are especially vulnerable).

    During the Age of Demons, the dragons who fought against the Overlords feared her the most, for she could turn them against each other. It took the power of the Couatls to imprison Tiamat in the Pit of Five Sorrows in Argonnessen, but even then they feared her return. By tracing her symbol in the skies, the dragons gave Tiamat her own apotheosis, hoping to forever banish her from Eberron.

    Now, the Pit of Five Sorrows is the most heavily-guarded fortification in all of Eberron, considering that it is guarded by the entire Light of Siberys (the dragon army of Argonnessen). Even a horde of ten thousand hobgoblins and a few, relatively young dragons cannot do much to bring down the a single Glorious Flame of the Light of Siberys, who would likely be a Great Wyrm with Prestige Class levels, let alone an entire crusading army of them.

    This does not mean that her cult is inactive. Tiamat's clerics: twisted dragons (some of them fiendish, blessed with fell energy), rakshasas (some of them draconic, blessed with the might of the dragon), and others have attempted to bring her back, and continue to do so.

    As such, the Red Hand Cult should be primarily concerned with setting Tiamat free. How they do so depends on how she is kept imprisoned, and this depends on the DM. For my purposes, I had the PCs discover that the Fane of Tiamat was not actually a temple, but one of the dimensional foci of the great planar seal that powered the Pit of Five Sorrows. The planar seal, a continent-sized pentagram, was drawn using epic magic across the land and sea, and anchored on five fanes. The Elsir Fane, which is where Azarr Kul hides out, is the easiest to access. The others are much more difficult to access (they are either deep underwater or hidden in dense jungle).

    Most chilling here is that if the dragons perceive a threat (and Tiamat is indeed the most significant threat they have faced since), they have a tendency to mobilize en masse and destroy whatever is in the way. If they catch wind of Azarr Kul's plan, they might probably invade Khorvaire and unleash destruction on the already war-torn continent.

    The Wyrmlords and the Talons of Tiamat
    It is certainly well within the realm of possibility that none of the Wyrmlords are actually goblinoids. Since the high cult of Tiamat is often made up of Rakshasas, it is not a stretch to make the Wyrmlords themselves Rakshasas in disguise (or not in disguise at all).
    • I. Azarr Kul: Half-blue dragon Ak'Chazar Rakshasa. On the really high end of the optimization scale, but you could give him gishy spell picks. As an outsider, he has racial proficiency with martial weapons and will do well as a superpowered gish.
    • II. Kharn: Half-red dragon Zakya Rakshasa (no ToB) or draconic (red) Naityan Rakshasa with Swordsage levels (with ToB). Or you could do both and make him a Zakya Rakshasa with Warblade or Crusader levels.
    • III. Ulwai: Bog-standard Rakshasa. Although relatively weak as a full caster enemy (CL 7th for a CR 10 enemy), you could give her martial weaponry and make her a gish instead.
    • IV. Saarvith: As an archer build, he doesn't work too well as a rakshasa. Keeping him as written is fine.
    • V. Koth: Keeping him the same is fine. Warlock or Hexblade could make him a challenging boss if you play it right.


    You could also go the way I went, which is to add extra rakshasa bosses. I introduced a large-sized, half-bronze dragon Naityan Rakshasa with Swordsage levels as Azarr Kul's true right hand man.

    Remember that half-dragons are considered abominations in Eberron, but Rakshasas easily get around this by participating in a ritual that, if successful, gives them draconic might in addition to their existing powers.

    The Mighty Ones
    We goblinoids are just like you humans, except our empire lasted eleven thousand years.
    --Lhesh Haruuc (Races of Eberron)

    Another interesting piece of lore: Eberron's goblinoids, unlike the relatively lowly and reviled mook creatures in other settings, actually once ruled all of Khorvaire in an empire that lasted ten thousand years. They slowly crumbled after a catastrophic war with the Daelkyr and their aberrant hordes. Numerous ruins still dot the landscape of Khorvaire, testament to the fallen glory of the Dhakaani Empire. The goblins call themselves Golin'Dar, or "The quick and shrewd ones" (in fact, "goblin" is a human corruption of the term), the hobgoblins call themselves the Ghaal'Dar (the mighty ones; specifically connoting battle prowess), and the bugbears are the Guul'Dar or "the strong ones" (connoting physical strength). Collectively, the goblinoids call themselves "the Dar" or "the People." Most of them are not happy with their current lot in life, treated as "savages" by the "more civilized" human-dominated Five Nations. There is a lot of inherent racial pride.

    Furthermore, while hobgoblins have a sovereign nation (Darguun), Darguul mercenaries were hired by many sides during the Last War (mostly Breland, however), so it's easy to explain why a large group of thousands of goblinoids is operating independently of the Lhesh Haruuc in Darguun.

    The Giants
    In Eberron, giants are not native to Khorvaire. They mostly inhabit the fallen empire of Xen'Drik, another continent to the southwest of Khorvaire. Since setting RHOD makes most sense in Khorvaire, it makes very little sense for a DM to have Warklegnaw's tribe of Forest Giants in the area.

    Here are some ideas:
    • I personally used Lycanthropes. Purged to near extinction by the Church of the Silver Flame in the past, isolated enclaves could still be discovered by the PCs. If the PCs are working for the Silver Flame, this might even be a chance to offer reconciliation. For irony, I made Amery Vraath a former Silver Flame paladin who got turned into a lycanthrope himself.
    • Trolls: While the main issue with trolls is that they're not intelligent, it might make a lot of sense for them to not want to let the Red Hand Horde pass. They also live in forests.
    • Ogres: Most ogres in Khorvaire are mercenaries from Droaam. In the Last War, many of them were conscripted for various nations, but after the war ended there could be any number of them hiding out in forests and other secluded areas.


    The Elsir Vale
    "If you want to escape the Last War, move to the Elsir Vale."
    --Beggar Dane

    RHOD describes the Elsir Vale as a very isolated and backwater area.

    One major issue here is that in Eberron, long-range transportation is relatively easy to come by (the Lightning Rail and Airships contribute a lot to this). As such, it is more difficult to isolate the Elsir Vale. Thankfully, there are still large stretches of land that are not accessible by lightning rail, and airships are relatively expensive to charter at the PCs' level.

    Another is that the highly-charged political climate left by the Last War makes large massed military movements very sensitive events; this actually helps the DM explain why neither the formidable armies of the rich, technologically-advanced Breland, nor the zealous paladins and crusaders of Thrane, nor the arcane knights of Aundair, nor the undead legions of Karrnath can be bothered to deal with the Red Hand threat. They might be aware of it, but moving large armies close to any borders (three out of the four suggested locations are very close to international borders) might spark the Last War all over again.

    Eberron is a very large setting, and even on the densely-populated continent of Khorvaire, there are many isolated and deserted areas that the game can be set in. The map shows an area about 320 x 240 miles, which can be easily wedged into the following suggested locations:

    The Western Eldeen Reaches
    This is probably the most isolated part of the Eldeen Reaches, being wedged in between the Shadowcrags and the Byeshk mountains.
    Pros:
    -Pretty much the middle of nowhere.
    -This is the best place to explain the elves.
    Cons:
    -Too far from any populated hobgoblin areas.
    -Mostly dense forest, although some rolling plains are available. The geography of the adventure assumes a very open vale with mountainous areas.

    Karrnathi-Talenta Plains Border
    Another isolated area.
    Pros:
    -There is nothing much here; the Giantshield Mountains can fit neatly into the map as part of the Ironroot range.
    -There is enough space to fit in Brindol without overwriting or deleting any town.
    -Irontown can replace Dennovar.
    Cons:
    -The Wyvernwatch and Wyrmsmoke Mountains don't seem to fit in well with the Talenta Plains.

    The New Cyre Periphery in Breland
    This is where I personally inserted the Elsir Vale, as the area is mostly featureless. It's also very close to the Mournland, which could explain why it's so isolated.
    Pros:
    -Isolation, distance from capital ensures difficulty in calling for military support. Close to traditional goblinoid land (Darguun).
    -Vathirond can replace Dennovar.
    Cons:
    -It takes some map rotation to fit properly. I ended up having the compass slightly tilted to the right on the main Elsir Vale map.

    Southwestern Thrane
    Personally, this might be either the easiest or most difficult area to adapt.
    Pros:
    -Thrane's strong militant Church of the Silver Flame could be a good employer for the PCs
    -It is possible to do away with the RHOD map entirely and simply use the map of Thrane; while Thrane is the smallest of the Five Nations, it is not really the weakest, and in this case the Red Hand horde could possibly threaten even Flamekeep, the capital, directly.
    Cons:
    -Southwestern Thrane borders Breland and Aundair. Any massed military movements to fortresses on the border (such as Fort Light) might be difficult to explain away politics-wise, as Aundair is closest to Fort Light, and relations between Aundair and Thrane are not at all pleasant. Breland might be more tolerant, but it also has large fortifications on the border (such as Sword Keep), making this an unpleasant political situation. Perhaps if this were the case, it would be good to insert a political angle, adding to the pressure of solving the Red Hand problem before all three nations fall right back into another war.
    -If you want to keep the RHOD map, it might have to be completely inverted. However, this presents its own difficulties:
    • Lake Rhestin is replaced by the much large Lake Brey; Lake Brey is on the border between Breland and Thrane.
    • There are no mountains in this area; the closest are the rather distant Blackcaps in Breland.
    • There is simply no space for the Thornwaste or the Wyvernwatch mountains.

    As such, if you want a Thrane campaign, I propose the following:
    -The PCs could be dispatched to a small border town (Fort Light) to halt the hobgoblins raiding out of the
    -Azarr Kul's objective is Flamekeep itself! He could plan to free the demon lord imprisoned within the Silver Flame. With the power of a Rakshasa Rajah (feel free to fluff the Rajah as a minion of Tiamat, it would be much easier for A.K. to free Tiamat as he prepares an assault on Argonnessen).

    Conversion suggestions:
    • Instead of the Wyrmsmokes, the Fane of Tiamat could instead be in Khyber deep under the Greenhaunt across the border in Breland. (The border troubles will also make for a lot of political intrigue as the PCs try to deal with Brelish and Aundairian diplomatic/military pressure.)
    • Because of this, the Red Hand's movement will be in a northeasterly direction instead of south, then east, as in the module.
    • Skull Creek could run across the border between Breland and Thrane, and the bridge crosses the road between Sword Keep and Fort Light.
    • Replace Drellin's Ferry with Fort Light. This could make it a great deal more fortified and defensible, but in this case you could have an overwhelmingly large force of hobgoblins coming. The primary difficulty the PCs might have in the module by RAW is persuading an indecisive Norro Wiston--in this case it could be dissuading an overzealous Norro Wiston from making a stand.
    • Replace the Witchwood with the Imstil Forest. You will have to spread the Imstil Forest some more to cover the highway that leads into Breland.
    • Replace Terrelton with Rellekor.
    • Replace Talar with Tellyn.
    • Replace Brindol with Sigilstar. Of course, the Cathedral of Pelor will be a Cathedral of the Silver Flame instead.
    • The ultimate destination for Azarr Kul will actually be Flamekeep in Northern Thrane, but since Sigilstar is in the dead center of the nation, it is a great position to start spreading out.


    Recommendations Per Chapter
    I. The Witchwood
    a. NPCs:
    i. Change all references to Pelor to Dol Arrah. As the goddess of the sun and war, Dol Arrah's clerics will be a bit tougher, although they will be fewer. Most of the priests will be experts.
    ii. Soranna can be a Deneith Dragonmarked heir, giving her a great deal more importance to the people.
    iii. I had Delora Zann as a House Vadalis excoriate.
    iv. Kellin Shadowbanks, as a inn owner, could very likely be a House Ghallanda representative.
    v. Avarthel could be a reclusive Orc Gatekeeper druid, or perhaps a civilization-friendly Warden of the Wood.
    vi. Jarret Nurth: As a "red herring" NPC, she could easily be a cleric of the Mockery.
    b. Setting:
    i. If you use Lycanthropes in place of Forest Giants, you could have Vraath Keep littered with the skeletons of wereboars and werebears instead.
    II. The Ruins of Rhest
    a. Setting:
    i. Rhest will most likely be an ancient Dhakaani ruin. It could be sunk in the marshes on the edge of Lake Brey (if you chose the Thrane option) or any other large body of water.
    ii. The Tiri Kitor encampment: Since elves aren't tree-loving hippies in Eberron, making this group an encampment of shifters instead works well. I still kept them elves (Wardens of the Wood), but shifters thematically fit this perfectly. They will be fierce, independent, and possibly difficult to recruit.
    b. NPCs:
    i. Miha Serani: A changeling with sorcerer (or psion!) levels works well, and so does a rakshasa (though this makes her stronger and possibly an encounter for much later in the game)
    ii. Killiar Arrowswift: Being a shifter will explain his rather gruff initial attitude. Also, I recommend that their names be changed. Honestly, I found their naming conventions very WoW-ish. Look up Night Elf NPCs in Warcraft and you'll see what I mean.
    iii. Sellyria Starsinger: A shifter Moonspeaker druid might work well here. Also, she has a pet croc, right? If she's a shifter, you could make her a longtooth/beasthide shifter---descended from a werecrocodile.
    iv. Trellara Nightshadow: Not sure what to do with her. You could keep her as a shifter bard with an unusually high charisma, or simply perhaps make her an emotionally unstable Wilder (see Races of Eberron's Shifter Wilder substitution levels).
    v. Illian Snowmantle: Balinor works well as a substitute for Corellon.
    c. Encounters:
    i. Dirty Rotten Looters: If you played up the "border troubles" angle, these guys could be an actual Silver Flame Inquisitor/Dark Lanterns/Royal Eyes of Aundair/Cyran Avenger/Order of the Emerald Claw hit squad instead of a pathetic bunch of amoral goons.
    ii. The Lizardfolk: Considering that the MM3 Lizardfolk (Poison dusks and blackscales) figure well in Eberron's canon, a group of these guys could have been brought in by Saarvith and Regiarix and bred for war.
    III. The Ghostlord's Lair
    a. NPCs.
    i. The Ghostlord: The heart and soul of this chapter. I wrote him up as an ancient Dhakaani (hobgoblin) Gatekeeper druid who was driven insane by the Daelkyr invasion. He invented the bonedrinkers, inspired by the Daelkyr's often tentacled aberrations.
    ii. Wyrmlord Ulwai: No real suggestions here, apart from [i]please use another depiction of her. I can't stand her "80s dominatrix catgirl" look in the book. She's supposed to be hot.
    b. Setting.
    i. I fluffed the entire Thornwaste as a barren and blasted land stripped of natural life by the Daelkyr invasion, and it's still like that. Most of the animals that live here are aberrant at best and half-farspawn horrors at worst.
    IV. Enemy at the Gates
    a. NPCs
    i. Jarmaath will definitely be a war hero from the Last War, although not quite as strong as he used to be. He could be a lot less noble (perhaps desiring a vainglorious end as he makes a final stand against the Red Hand), however, presenting the PCs with a complex moral dilemma: Do they support the rightful lord of the land and sacrifice the people, or subvert him and side with Lady Kaal, whose methods are reprehensible, yet truly wants to save Brindol?
    ii. Lady Kaal could be a potential primary villain here: She could actually be a foreign sleeper agent, planted to undermine local sovereignty by spreading crime, or to simply be a spy. As such, she might work best as a member of the Royal Eyes of Aundair, or perhaps a Brelish Dark Lantern. Alternatively, she could be secretly a member of House Tarkanan and possess a hidden aberrant dragonmark.
    iii. Tredora Goldenbrow: Aasimar are very rare in Eberron, but she is most likely going to be a cleric of either Dol Arrah or the Silver Flame.
    iv. Lars Ulverth: He could easily be Soranna Anitah's House Deneith superior, or a war hero, or both.
    v. Immerstal the Red: Artificer would work as well as Wizard.
    b. The Siege of Brindol:
    i. Bombardment: I used homebrewed Warforged Titan variants, since giants, as mentioned above, aren't native to Khorvaire. Skullcrusher ogres work well, though. Alternatively, traditional siege engines could work.
    ii. Kharn's Retinue: Again, scrap the giants. Skullcrusher ogres with class levels work well, as do Spawn of Tiamat (Redspawn Berserkers [Dragon Magic], or Whitespawn Berserkers [MMIV] could work well).
    V. The Fane of Tiamat
    a. Setting:
    i. The Wyrmsmokes: I went ahead and just plopped down the Wyrmsmokes in the middle of Eastern Breland, but this could be more difficult in more constrained areas (namely Southwestern Thrane). Regardless, as a volcanic area, it is quite likely that it could be a Fernia manifest zone and as such have a lot of diabolic interlopers.
    ii. Khyber: The alternative is to bury the Fane deep underground. It could be rather eerie for the PCs to travel for days in pitch-dark tunnels, only to see an immense, yawning abyss beneath them, and the vast, dimly-lit Tiamat sculpture stretching from deep below.
    iii. What the Fane of Tiamat Really Is: This is up to you, but I had the PCs discover that the Fane is actually a part of Tiamat's vast prison (or at least its support system). Since Tiamat isn't trapped in the Nine Hells (which don't exist in Eberron), she has no strong ties to devils and extraplanar enemies. Instead, I had Azarr Kul attempting to manipulate the Planes to slow or stop them, causing Tiamat's prison in Argonnessen to catastrophically fail.
    iv. To this end, Azarr Kul was using a large eldritch engine---a planar orrery---to stop the planar orbits.
    b. Encounters:
    i. Tyrgarun: If he's fought in Khyber, this encounter is going to be a lot more interesting. He can see much farther than any of the PCs, and can potentially fight in complete darkness (thanks to Blindsight).
    ii. Laryssa: If you're like me and absolutely hated the "lol Azarr Kul has a cannibalistic night hag cook" encounter, feel free to swap her out with another Rakshasa encounter. In this case I threw a Naztharune Rakshasa with one Swordsage level at them.
    iii. The Fane is Ancient Dragontech: To play up this angle, I had some traps that were part of the original structure. Azarr Kul's forces have found fighting them not worth the trouble, and so have left them in place as barely-controllable guard systems. As such, I had the original dragon constructors leaving a dragon-like iron golem in the main corridor, as well as a Spell Turret.
    iv. Devils: Devils have no true strong relationship with Tiamat, so I fluffed them as fiends who got through the portal as Azarr Kul weakened the planar boundaries.
    v. The Barracks: Instead of having just one dragon, I had several young dragons hanging dismembered and disemboweled here. They were the children of the original guardian of the Fane, a great wyrm bronze dragon tasked to maintain the Inner Sanctum's power systems. The dragon has since died, and it was unable to pass on the true nature of the Fane to its children. The children were overwhelmed by Tyrgarun and thrown to the devil army as food.
    vi. Azarr Kul: There are many suggestions to fix this encounter, but I think that if AK manages to get his buff spells up, the PCs have a full-power Clericzilla on their hands. Whatever the case, when AK dies, I made it so that he uses the last of his strength to shift the planar orrery to directly breach Tiamat's prison, with just enough energy for her to project an Aspect through.
    vii. Aspect of Tiamat: If you really want the aspect to be tough, give her cleric casting equal to her HD.
    c. Conclusion:
    i. If the Aspect of Tiamat breaks free and the PCs don't kill it, she could prove to be a very devastating "optional boss" monster, ravaging the countryside.
    ii. If the border troubles escalate into full-blown diplomatic hostility, you could easily have a reignited Last War.
    iii. If Azarr Kul completes his objective, congratulations. You now have an Elder Evil campaign. The Dragons of Argonnessen mobilize to attack Azarr Kul, likely razing all of Khorvaire to the ground in the process. Thrane Paladins mounted on wyverns will dogfight with dragons in the skies over Flamekeep as the Fiend in the Flame awakens. Flights of great wyrm dragons will airdrop Seren Barbarians onto Sharn. The Fiend in the Flame strides across the ocean to Argonnessen, swatting aside Light of Siberys crusader dragons as he marches. When he reaches the Pit of Five Sorrows, the Current Age will end, and a new Age of Demons will begin.


    Running RHOD under the Legend Homebrew System
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    No space to go into detail on this, but if you're using this new system, Draz74 has been working on a conversion of RHOD into statblocks that can be used with Legend. You will find the thread on this topic here.


    Running RHOD under Pathfinder
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    Glyphstone has been conducting a Pathfinder campaign using RHOD; you can find the journal here.

    Without going through it, though, in summary, Glyphstone makes these observations:
    • Pathfinder base classes are roughly 0.5-1 ECL higher than their 3.5 equivalents, and a 6-person party is about the same. So, when the characters are level 6, they've got the damage output, and more importantly, the action economy, of a level 7-8 party.
    • Hobgoblin Veterans are horribly, horribly outclassed - they're fishing for 20's against the frontline warriors, and of the rest of the group, only the squishy types will have an AC lower than 20. Fights may do better with more emphasis on the monsters and 'special' creatures, with the troopers using Aid Another actions or forming Shield Walls with tower shields to cover archers.
    • On the other hand, Miha Serani becomes interesting. To start with, Pathfinder Araneas are 5th level casters instead of 3rd level, and with roughly 50% more innate HP. Slap 4 Sorcerer levels on her, she'll be CR 9, sporting 4th level spells - a good combat encounter, but not so much on the spy-and-infiltrate role she plays in the story. One possibility is to make her a Rogue 3/Arcane Trickster 3 - CR10 nominally, with the casting output of an 8th level Sorcerer instead and a bit more durability.


    Running RHOD in Equestria (yes. Yes you can. And it is glorious.)
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    Full credit to MandibleBones on this one. Taking his notes verbatim from the thread...)

    On Setting Adaptation:
    1. Where is the Elsir Vale? I put it at the westernmost edge of Equestria, fiat-ed the plains of Zebrica to replace the Endless Plains, made everyting west of the Old North Road and south of The Endless Plains Zebrica “Dragon Lands” (including the Thornwaste), and made a note that the Wyvernwatch Mountains are home to the southern griffon tribes. The city of Brindle becomes Bridle, the city of Dennovar becomes Stalliongrad, and the rest of the towns keep their names.

    2. The ponies of the vale are used to dragons existing, but they never seem to come down from the Wyrmsmokes (until the events of Red Hand of Doom). These “hobgoblins” are totally new to them, however: creatures out of myth and legend from pre-Discordian times.

    3. My party was starting out from Bridle (Brindol), so they were a little more familiar with it to start with. Some of them lived in the city prior to the events of the Red Hand, so they know the basics of the citizenry. I use a wiki to keep track of things; it helps my players as well.

    On Statistics
    1. Initially made the mistake of taking the cover at face value; all my PCs start at 6, and there are 6 of them. Adaptation is obviously required.

    2. I wanted to see how the PCs handled combat together before tweaking too much. Uth-Larr got boosted to be a Spellscourge (MMV), and the cleric remained a cleric, though I gave Zarr level 6 and the Law and Trickery. I took the advice from this thread, made the hell hounds draconic, and swapped out some feat to make them Napalm Hounds. The regulars got to be Fighter 1s instead of Warrior 2s; I gave them max HP. Two of them got Point-Blank Shot and Precise Shot and did some fairly decent damage with their longbow (one of them critted); the other four got Power Attack and Weapon Focus: Longsword.
    - The melee hobs got killed / knocked out pretty quickly; the archers were further back and managed to retreat behind Uth-Larr once he came out. Napalm Hounds got to deal some damage before getting cut to ribbons by the barbarian. Zarr managed to hit the NG Magical Girl and the CG Barbarian with a scroll-based Word of Law from under Invisibility, which wasn't terribly fun for them.
    - Turns out my party is also fairly optimized, and while it was a good fight, the party won it pretty handily despite it being EL8.
    - Because the party has a Magical Girl, they took one of the regulars and Uth-Larr alive. I've been having a great deal of fun running Kerak (the name I gave the regular) and fanatic Uth-Larr as Shining Hope tries to make friends with them. It's not going so well, but at least they're locked up in Drellin's Ferry now.

    3. On the Witchwood: I'ma give that hydra more heads. Hydras love heads. Action-economy being what it is, I figure aiming for a higher CR is better than a lower one, so an 8-10-headed cryohydra is headed the party's way. I actually think this is going to be a ridiculous challenge. Edit: Actually, a cryohydra would kill them outright. A 24d6 (reflex half) breath weapon as a CR9? Really? But an 8-headed hydra is... underwhelming without the scary breath weapon, even with Fast Healing and regenerating heads. A ten-headed is an attack for everybody and two for four of them, so this should go well.

    For further details, watch the thread. Bones also notes that Equestria does materially change stuff because suddenly a good portion of your party ponies will be flying combatants from the get-go.


    Running RHOD under E6
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    While I've yet to hear reports back from anyone running RHOD in E6, we've had the odd query about how this would pan out. Here's my thoughts on the subject:

    Looking at the notes about how E6 functions, it strikes me that what E6 would prrrrobably do to a vanilla, unaltered RHOD campaign is challenge the party on more or less even terms until late in the campaign, since E6 seems to contemplate that CR 7 - 10 can be handled by a level 6 party, and RHOD is meant to run from levels 5 - 11.

    To be honest, my guess is that E6 probably renders a lot of what I say in this guide as unnecessary. The handbook's built envisioning a party of semi-to-decent competence at optimisation, and most of the advice is built around improving the monsters to meet the ever-more-powerful party as it slowly levels up. But if E6 proposes basically no new spells, no BAB increase, no save increases and only extra feats from the point of level 6, which the party hits around Vraath Keep or Skull Gorge on my experience, then there's practically no need to change much else about RHOD given its monsters assume a slowly-improving party as the campaign goes on.

    I suspect the Battle of Brindol probably becomes a lot more brutal and possibly needing a bit more DM support since it takes out the last shelter of the 15-minute adventuring day that the party still has available to it under E6. And the Fane probably becomes a lot scarier given you're sending basically level 6 math at level 10, 11 encounters.


    Running RHOD in other settings
    ...Taking suggestions, people!

  4. Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Part One: Drellin's Ferry to Skull Gorge Bridge

    The Bridges of Madison County. Of Death.


    How to play Jorr Natherson
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    I'll let ThiagoMartell's post speak for itself, because it is the first and last advice on this subject:

    My players met Jorr today. I RPed him like Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino.
    "Get off my lawn"
    They loved it.


    Restatting Koth
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    Koth is the first major spellcasting challenge the party faces. And even Koth, allegedly the weakest member of the Horde, can be made a lot more deadly than he appears. Unlike most of the Wyrmlords, he shouldn’t need a lot of alterations or increases in level simply because his potential is already there. Remember that unless your players are badly spamming roleplaying XP, they should still only be around level 5 when they first hit Vraath Keep. Having said that, some alternatives to the book build--

    Leaving Koth as a Sorcerer: Saph notes one thing that a lot of DMs miss about Koth’s stats: although he’s a Sorcerer 6, he has 9 HD and therefore a lot more hitpoints than normal. But don’t worry about the hitpoints, think about the other part: 9 HD. Can you say Practiced Spellcaster, children? I knew you could! You can certainly lose the Persuasive feat for this, if you make no other changes to him. After that it’s a matter of switching around his spells if you’re inclined to do so, even if you do nothing more than switch his Lightning Bolt spell to Fireball. Although flinging around 9d6 damage spells is a good chance to toast even optimized fifth level parties, so you might even want to restrain yourself a bit.

    If you need a couple of spare feats, the easiest route is to replace Lightning Reflexes and Iron Will. Replace them with one Potion of Conviction, which does the same thing or better depending on the potion's CL.

    Some insightful people have also pointed out that Koth has an empty class feature: a familiar. Or lack thereof. Seeing as a familiar is only going to be laughable at level 6 (as with Saarvith), the better route is to trade it out for the ACF Spell Shield from Dungeonscape and switch out his Move Silently skill for Concentration. This ACF then gives you a chance at enhancing Koth's survivability.

    In terms of spells, Detect Thoughts serves very little in-game purpose, but other than that his selection is actually all right. And bear in mind he’s not alone in fighting the PCs. If you’re determined to hand the PCs’ butts to them, change out his spell selections to debuffs that don’t directly damage the party and just have him go invisible as long as possible. Beyond that, don’t make the work for yourself. Maybe give him a couple of arcane scrolls like Haste, but that’s about it.

    Monster Manual 4 rebuild: if you want to cotton the PCs onto the existence of the Spawn of Tiamat early in the adventure, consider replacing Koth with a Redspawn Arcaniss from the MM 4, who is notionally a CR 6 (and doesn’t even need class levels whacked onto him, so at least he’s less work.) Reading the statblock, it almost looks as if the Arcaniss was the original intended ‘level boss’ for this part, but was reworked to become Koth-drop. :) Me, personally I wouldn’t since it takes away from the novelty and creepiness of the greenspawn razorfiends later in the adventure -- which I would guess is why Koth isn't a redspawn arcaniss on the book -- but it’s up to you.

    Koth as a Dragonfire Adept 6: Courtesy of Draz, who reckons from personal experience that this produces a nice, "close" fight for a four-man party. Less bookkeeping, harder to kill and with a nice battlefield controller feel:
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    LE Medium Humanoid (goblinoid)
    Bugbear Dragonfire Adept 6
    * * *
    Str 16 (+3); Dex 16 (+3); Con 16 (+3); Int 8 (-1); Wis 10 (+0); Cha 14 (+2)
    Init +5; Fort +9; Ref +8; Will +8
    HP 68 (9d8+28); AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 16; BAB +5; Speed 30
    Languages: Goblin, Common
    * * *
    Features: darkvision 60 feet; natural armor +3; Move Silently +4; breath weapon; invocations; dragonkin (+4 Diplomacy; resist frightful presence); DR 2/magic; proficient with simple weapons.
    * * *
    Feats: Entangling Exhalation, Draconic Aura (senses), Iron Will, Ability Focus (breath weapon)
    * * *
    Skills (24 points)
    5 Hide (+8), 1 Move Silently (+8), 6 Listen (+9), 1 Know(arcana)(+0), 1 Spellcraft (+0), 5 Bluff (+13), 5 Intimidate (+13), 0 Diplomacy (+10)
    armor check penalty: 0
    * * *
    Combat
    Melee morningstar +9 (1d8+3)
    * * *
    Equipment
    Wand of Magic Missile (CL 5)[15], mwk morningstar with wand chamber, Type I Bag of Holding, Scroll (Mount, CL 6), Elixir of Truth [2], mwk studded leather armor, 2980 sp
    * * *
    Combat "Spells"
    Fire blast: 3d6 fire damage (Ref DC 18 half); 15-ft cone or 30-ft line.
    Lightning blast: 3d6 electricity damage (Ref DC 18 half); 30-ft line.
    Weakening curse: -6 Strength penalty for 4 rounds (Fort DC 18 half duration); 15-ft cone.
    * * *
    Invocations
    Caster Level 6; Arcane Spell Failure 15%
    Least: Beguiling Influence, Deafening Roar (Fort DC 14 neg.)
    Lesser: Draconic Flight

    The operative tactic here is to use Koth as a true support character: he flies around, breathes fire, and entangles the partymembers so the other mooks can get some shots in at him. It also requires Koth to get out of the barracks and into the air above the Keep, although for most versions of the Vraath Keep fight this is probably an essential anyway. The only downside to it is originality: Koth thereby becomes a de facto dragon, and you've already got at least four of 'em in this campaign to begin with. On the other hand, it is dragon-themed, and the reasoning becomes stronger for why Koth, a mere bugbear sorcerer, is a Wyrmlord: because he's a dragonfire adept.

    Other thoughts:As a serious challenge to a fifth level party, make Koth a Hobgoblin Warsoul (Monster Manual 5). No class levels needed for this one, it's fairly deadly at CR 9 or 10.


    The Chimaera, the Raid, and PbP campaigns
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    I don’t know many people who’ve had a lot to say about the two other major Red Hand encounters in this part of the adventure, mostly because they’re the sort of encounter that doesn’t really inspire a lot of thought one way or the other. The Chimaera is an exercise in dragon-lite, and the Red Hand raid on the west bank of the Elsir is an exercise in dealing with mounted troops.

    For PbP campaigns, bar one instance, I’d actually recommend either skipping both or omitting these encounters simply because of the length of the adventure. They don’t add a hell of a lot to the story; they’re more like plain old wandering monster encounters coming to your doorstep.

    Glyphstone made one very simple and logical change to the encounter which makes it interesting: bring on the chimaera if the party chooses to escort the Ferryfolk back to Brindol!

    Also, if the party manages to capture Koth, there is perhaps one use to be made of these two encounters. If Koth is captured, it stands to reason he’d be kept at the Old Toll House for further interrogation or to await transport back to Brindol. The night this takes place, perhaps the Hand forces figure out he’s been taken to Drellin’s Ferry and attempt a rescue, using the West Bank raid as a diversion (with 3 worg riders and the six hobgoblins and War Adept) while six hobgoblin regulars drift across the Elsir on fallen logs and the chimaera flies in as Koth's getaway car. The players get warned of a raid on the West Bank … but just as they’re about to board the Ferry, someone with a decent Spot check sees the hobgoblins floating in close to the Old Toll House. It’s a nice roleplaying dilemma: help the West Bank, or stop Koth from escaping? I even got my players to split the party on that one.


    Restatting Red Hand operatives:
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    Karkilan: At Vraath Keep, consider giving Karkilan (the minotaur, Koth’s ‘general’) a single level in Boar Totem Barbarian – which drops his speed by 10 feet (it’s fairly close quarters in Vraath Keep, remember) but gives him Diehard as feat. Add Extend Rage, Great Fortitude, et cetera, et cetera as the King of Siam says. Being a single melee type outgunned on action economy with large parties, the focus needs to be on him doing some major damage in the one or two rounds he'll probably live. Combined with Haste and maybe a potion of Bull’s Strength or Resist Energy this makes him dangerous to a fifth level party: a minotaur that goes on rage, charges, and then starts wailing into people with one massive axe and just won’t go down even as he hits 0 hitpoints.

    Runestar and ka_bna respectively built and then tested an effective alternative: Wolf Totem Barbarian 2, armed with a guisarme, and taking Improved Trip. This gives him three AoOs. Rather than wailing in with a greataxe, he concentrates on simple trip tactics.

    Everyone else: Otherwise, the manticore is fine; the hydra’s fine; the hobgoblin troops can be improved as per the general advice above; and the two worg riders are just sucky and aren't likely to get a hell of a lot better at their levels of competence.

    For large (8 player) parties, there's been good reports that a couple of redspawn arcaniss added to Koth's entourage makes for a seriously challenging fight.

    Skull Gorge troops: The troops can be restatted according to the general guides at the top of the thread, but I’d also consider adding in a low level hobgoblin bard into the mix who plays his music on a set of war drums inside one of the tents on the far side of the Gorge. The gorge itself allows an echo effect which gives the rest of the hobgoblins the capacity to draw off the morale-boosting effect, but it also forces the party to make Listen checks at substantial negatives to figure out where the “music” is coming from.

    One thing that I did to make things interesting was to assume that because of the summer heat, the woods out of which the party has to come to reach the bridge are like dry tinder. First thing the hobgoblin archers on the towers did was to light up their arrows and then set the forest on fire behind the party. No retreat for you! I also gave each of the hobgoblin archers a potion of Feather Fall so they could jump off the towers and get to the bottom of the bridge a lot faster.

    Ozyrrandion: Ozzie is the youngest and the least powerful of the dragons in RHOD, but he still has the capacity to be deadly, particularly if he’s beefed up using the general suggestions at the front of the thread. It all depends on the level of optimization of your party: accounts of the Skull Gorge battle range from one-round takedowns of Ozzie to multiple PC deaths at his talons. Using him effectively involves using the terrain: the RHOD book says the Skull Gorge battle really favours archers, but what it actually does favour is Ozzy – he doesn’t have to ascend to get to a good striking altitude, and the terrain favours strafing runs followed by quick flights back to the far side of the gorge to let his breath recharge.

    I personally tended towards the metabreath feats Lingering Breath and Clinging Breath as battlefield control against my players, and Ozzie certainly lasted longer than Reggie did later on. :)



    Moving the party on from Part One to Part Two
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    The only real hook that exists for characters to head in the direction of Rhest is Teyani Sura’s arrival and the indication that there’s a roadblock to the north which needs to be broken if reinforcements are due to come from "somewhere" in the north.

    Many DMs find this hook unsatisfactory, and understandably so. It's the kind of thing you would expect a well-armed monarch's force to do themselves. And it doesn’t give the party a need to go into the Blackfens at all. The blockade is on the Old Rhest Trail, and on the maps as drawn the Old Rhest Trail actually isn’t in the swamp at all; it takes, shall we say, a considerable deal of choo-choo’ing for the party to encounter the razorfiend to begin with.

    It also breaks suspension of disbelief in that Norro Wiston is able to speak for Lord Jarmaath (kind of out of his authority, one would have thought), or that Norro doesn’t simply leave it to Teyani Sura to inform Jarmaath there’s a problem and have him sort it out.

    So how do you fix it? Some suggestions:

    Get Jarmaath to send them out there himself. If you’ve got a proactive party who likes to try and see Jarmaath personally to get him to mobilise, Norro could suggest they go to Brindol to see Jarmaath and ask him what use they might be. Doing so consumes a few useful days on the timeline and allows Jarmaath to dispatch the Company out to break up the blockade himself. This then meshes nicely with Jarmaath being overly welcoming of the characters when they get back for the Battle of Brindol, since he’s dealt with them before.

    Of course, this still presents railroading problems in that the razorfiend encounter happens in the Blackfens, not on the Rhest Trail. One way of dealing with that is to tell the players about the existence of another blockade via prisoners or information from the first blockade, because their most direct route to the other blockade is right through the swamp. Course, that doesn't help if the party decides to just divert right around the swamp altogether to get to the other blockade, even if it takes time.

    One solution for that is to extend the swamp. When the party gets north of Witchcross, they find the Rhest Trail actually now passes through the Blackfens rather than along its eastern edge. When the players start giving you confused looks and pointing to the handout map of Elsir Vale they’ve probably acquired from you by then, you can shrewdly ask them if they know how old the map is. The map is, in fact, a good hundred years old or more and therefore out of date: the swamp has continued to spread over the years since anyone got out that way to survey it. This isn’t perhaps the most elegant of solutions, but it does give you swampy surrounds within which to launch the razorfiend attack.

    Get Norro to suggest they go looking for a Macguffin in the swamp. For this approach, Teyani Sura describes how she and her people were attacked on the Rhest Trail by a party of hobgoblins and ogres, but doesn’t describe a blockade as such. This event should be triggered after the party realizes the Hand’s intent on smashing the hell out of the Vale and has told Norro of it. When Norro hears about the attack, he jumps to the (mistaken) conclusion that the Hand "must be looking for Cromar" (or any name you choose to dream up.)

    Norro explains "Cromar" is a notable, powerful, but retired mage who chooses to live in solitude in the swamplands. Norro posits that the Hand must be looking for him because he’s a powerful spellcaster – “stronger than Immerstal the Red. He was very prominent when Witchcross saw off the last serious hobgoblin raiding about fifteen years ago. They’d remember that.”

    Norro knows the rough location of Cromar’s home and can describe it to the party. Norro begs the company to go and find him and bring him back to safety in the Vale, or at least try – “He was like a father to me when I was a boy. He was strong fifteen years ago, but he’s getting old; I don’t know if he’s got enough power to hold off the type of forces you say you’ve been dealing with for long at all.”

    This is largely moot. Cromar was a powerful spellcaster, but has been dead for several weeks now, having fallen victim to the razorfiend that the party encounters later in the swamp. Cromar’s (shabby, but not as ruined) home is indeed in the swamp – it’s the ruined wizard’s tower where the party finds its ‘reward’ treasure for killing the razorfiend, since the razorfiend has holed up there. These clues can all be discerned by an inspection of Cromar’s semi-ruined tower, which has nothing really to tell the party otherwise. The encounter with the razorfiend can either take place at this ruined tower or in the swamp nearby – it’s the razorfiend’s lair, and it therefore isn’t far from there in any event.

    Under this hook, the party will probably need some other way of being told Cromar is dead and told about the roadblocks; the rest of the information will come from the Tiri Kitor instead.

    Have Jarmaath send the party direct to the Blackfens specifically to recruit the Tiri Kitor. This obviously takes a lot of the surprise out of the first encounter with the Tiri Kitor, but it might be a stronger hook for the party than breaking up roadblocks. Or you could make it a straight request from Norro (or some noble like Lady Kaal) since he understands the threat all too well and knows they’ll need every bow they can get. Or perhaps the party can be asked to carry a message to Sellyria asking for her help.


    Rejigging treasures
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    Around the time kjones was running RHOD, he and a few other folks noted that the treasure loadout in the first few chapters of RHOD was a bit wiggy if you had other than the default "fighter+cleric+rogue+mage" party ... which most DMs do. For reference you can find the full thread here, but I do propose to unmercifully repeat the guts of the discussion here and most (if not all) of kjones' thoughts simply because I like people to be lazy.

    Basically, the issue comes with the fact there's too little value for what the characters should be getting at their current level. The biggest treasure in this section of the game is a +1 frost bastard sword which is intended for the party tank, along with some other stuff, but it's the single biggest item and it puts the said tank well ahead on wealth by level (notionally at least).

    The treasures of Chapter One also appear somewhat hampered by the fact that RHOD doesn't stray from core in terms of treasure unless it's shoehorning something slightly interesting onto an NPC. On the other hand, James and Rich explicitly tell us on the RHOD text that the heavy loading of treasure in the early chapters is intentional as they're trying to squeeze the party a little by the time they get to Brindol.

    So: what are some suggestions for a somewhat fairer or more workable load of treasures, i.e. replacements or modifications to the treasures of Chapter one?

    Marauder Attack: There's some gold in a burned-out farmhouse nearby. The party may be in need of hard coin to spend in town, so I'd leave this as is.

    If your party knows what's what, they'll loot the bodies - this will be the first of many times in which they will end up with what is commonly referred to as "vendor trash". Sigh.

    Blackwater Causeway: The infamous hydra. In the mud, there's a +1 mithral breastplate. 9th level (!) This is a really good item for a bard, along with a barbarian or any other front-liner who values movement or can't wear heavy armor - but it's a lot of treasure to give to one character this early on. You can swap it out for 2 7th-level items - consider an adamantine weapon (useful for destroying the bridge) or a lesser metamagic rod (useful for pretty much everything).

    Vraath Keep: This is a biggie. The manticore has some gold and trade goods - leave it, it's what a manticore would have.

    Koth has a bag of holding. You want the players to get this, if at all possible. Bags of holding enable all sorts of creative possibilities.

    In the vault:
    Staff of Life
    Huge Spiked Gauntlet +1
    Gauntlets of Ogre Power 8th level
    +1 frost bastard sword 11th level
    and the equivalent of 3,550 gp.

    I would recommend leaving in the staff of life, as your players will not have access to resurrections for most of the campaign - this allows them the chance to make a mistake. Once.

    Very important note: If you've got smart players and you don't want the Ghostlord section of the campaign to be a snickerworthy one rounder, restat the Staff of Life so it can't do Heal spells. The Ghostlord is a lich. In the right hands a Heal can one-shot him.

    (Saintheart's note: in my own campaign with 8 players, we opted for a slight variant on the staff's composition: it can cast raise dead once, revivify about 3 times, and heal once or twice - can't remember the exact makeup. That was mostly because action advantage meant if a character bit the dust the odds were decent someone would be able to get over to him in time. I also went for a couple of lesser armor and/or weapon crystals to even the haul out for people, too.)

    Similarly, the spiked gauntlet is important for plot reasons.

    The problem with the sword is that it's a type of weapon that most characters can't use, and it's too powerful. You'll be giving the fighter-type a massive boost and leaving everyone else in the lurch. My suggestion is to break it down into two 7th-level items (approximately +1 weapons or +2 armor) and a 9th-level item (an immovable rod is great for this). To keep the +1 weapons from being boring, throw in some weapon crystals - least truedeath will come in very useful, a sort of Chekov's Gun if you will.

    Alternately, if you're interested in using legacy weapon rules (I know - but there are some real masochists out there) this is an excellent place to introduce such a weapon.

    Turn the 8th-level item into a wand with 10 charges of some 3rd-level spell that your party lacks, and put the rest of the treasure towards whoever still doesn't have anything.

    When choosing treasure here, try to figure out items that will make the battle for Skull Gorge Bridge more interesting. I gave out a ring of feather falling, with excellent results.

    Skull Gorge Bridge: All the notable treasure here is equipment of either Ozyrrandion or the hobgoblins. Leave it as it is, but if you feel like you sold the players short in the vault at Vraath's Keep, you can put a "mini-horde" on the far side of the bridge. If they take out the bridge before searching the tower, they'll have fun finding this stash...

    Saintheart Note: if you feel you're still short on arcane caster items, consider leaving some treasures with Jarrett Nurth, the serial killer in Drellin's Ferry - make her a cleric/rogue of some random death god who has no connection with the Horde at all. You could easily pass over a Lesser Rod of Metamagic Extend here and/or a Pearl of Power (1st), mostly because that's what we did.

  5. Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Part Two: The Blackfens and Rhest

    "That one burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp!"


    The Roadblocks
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    For PbP campaigns I’d recommend just having the one roadblock on the Rhest Trail rather than dragging the characters through the second one as well. Tabletop campaigns might also warrant the omission of the second roadblock, too, unless you really want to slow the characters down by a day or so. Just remember to give them 2 VP for breaking the one blockade so they aren't disadvantaged by the omission.

    Some campaign journals recommend substituting Skullcrusher Ogres from the MM 4 for the regular ogres at the blockade to turn it into a more challenging match, and I heartily agree. Only thing you then (might) have to explain is why a pair of the most elite ogres in the Horde were assigned to a backwater duty, not to mention the lack of Skullcrusher Ogres later on in the adventure.


    The Razorfiend Encounter
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    For my PbP campaign I upgraded this to two razorfiends and then upgunned the monsters themselves. I also had the encounter happen in the ruined manor where the small group of treasures is found. (I was running my campaign for 8 people with some house rules that favoured the PCs.) I upped the horror aspect of the encounter by having the PCs stay in the ruined manor to camp for the night, and allowed them to discover the encounter’s treasures ahead of the actual fight. Night attacks, of course, adding illumination issues to everything else.

    I managed to get the drop on the PCs, but my upgraded razorfiends were very dangerous: critical hits meant I killed one PC outright and sent the other within 1 hitpoint of death. Even with those advantages, the ugly little buggers didn’t last more than two rounds; Glitterdust appears to be their weak spot, unfortunately.

    Greenspawn razorfiends out of the box against unoptimised or weakly optimised parties are dangerous at least until the party gets its bearings and organises a defence. Having said that, the threat they pose should then drive it home to the party (or you can): if one greenspawn razorfiend can maul a party of level 6 adventurers, how much damage is a full platoon of the little buggers going to do to the city of Brindol?

    For the laughs, here’s the upgunned razorfiend (the feat count, hitpoints and stats will be off because of our house rules on how those things behaved):

    Spoiler
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    Greenspawn Razorfiend

    LE Large magical beast (dragonblood)
    Init +7;
    Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Listen +15, Spot +15
    Languages Common, Draconic, Infernal
    AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 16
    If move 40 feet or more in a round, AC improves by 2 (Expeditious Dodge)
    hp 104 (12 HD); DR 5/magic
    Immune acid, paralysis
    Fort +11, Ref +11, Will +6
    Speed 50 ft. (10 squares), swim 50 ft.
    Melee 2 wingblades each +17 (3d6+6/15–20/×3) and bite +12 (1d8+3)
    Base Atk +12; Grp +22
    Atk Options Spring Attack
    Special Actions breath weapon
    Abilities Str 22, Dex 17, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 12
    SQ water breathing
    Feats Expeditious Dodge, Improved Initiative, Improved Critical, Improved Natural Attack, Spring Attack
    Skills Athletics +21 (+29 to Jump, Swim), Perception +17, Stealth +18
    Breath Weapon (Su)
    20-ft. cone, once every 1d4 rounds, damage 6d6 acid, Reflex DC 19 half
    Water Breathing (Ex)
    A greenspawn razorfiend can breathe underwater indefinitely and can freely use its breath weapon and other abilities while underwater.


    Elusive Target and Bounding Assault are also feats worth consideration, I'm told.

    And for awesome, here's a lovely Wizard's Mansion that someone built for their party...

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    Well, I designed the Wizard's Mansion to not only be an interesting and lively encounter, but also to be a didactic encounter; I wanted to force my PC's to start responding to threats. Because every single time they find something they don't understand the capabilities of, they end up running around like headless chickens and get wiped.

    So, I'm endeavouring to make them do a few things; I want them to, once they realise they're under attack by the Razorfiend, fight it; but not just fight it, fight it smart.

    When they, walking through the Marsh, encounter the Wizard's Mansion (they are aware of it, since they'd been sent into the Marsh to try to gain the Wizard's aid against the Red Hand), I described it as being very eccentric; it was painted bright blue and it looked, for lack of a better word, like it had melted slightly. The dimensions of the House didn't look right, and bits were bulging out; it didn't seem like the structure should be able to support itself. It was all twisted up and was covered in protrusions. When they walked up to the door, the doorknob opened its eyes and talked to them, telling them that "The Master is out, but he will surely be back soon". It was a pre-recorded message, as was all that the doorknob was able to say.

    The inside of the house was likewise peculiar and esoteric. Unseen Servants, marked with blue bow-ties, floated through the air cleaning things. Two comfortable couches sat across the room from each other, one next to a Bookcase and the other next to a sea-chest. The bookcase couch also had two wooden stools next to it. Across one wall was a long table, with a stack of clean plates on one end, a box of cutlery in the middle and three empty tureens where food would be placed on the end. There was a glass with two flowers in it, also on the table. Finally, on the floor was a clearly visible Trapdoor. When opened, it was revealed that it opened to... floor.

    Inside the sea-chest was an Assassin Vine. Its the sort of thing I'd expect a Wizard to keep in his chest of drawers.

    The room was 10ft from floor to ceiling.

    The second floor was a long corridor. You could enter a room to the left of the corridor which contained a very deep swimming pool. At the far end of the corridor was a ladder, leading upwards.

    If you were to jump into the pool and swim down, you would realise that the dimensions of the pool were impossible compared to the dimensions of this floor; it goes down 30ft. You can easily push through the bottom of the pool... which allows you to pop up where the Trapdoor is on the first floor. There is also a highly visible hole in the floor of the corridor, which would allow someone to jump down to a spot in front of the wooden stools back on floor one.

    This floor was 30ft from floor to ceiling.

    The third floor was where the Wizard's bedroom was, and a separate area contained a Gelatinous Cube held captive in a glass container (it had a few hamster skeletons floating inside of it). Next to it was a black space that would magically remove any material tossed into it.

    Like the previous floor, there was a hole that a character could jump down, which would allow them to get into the pool.

    This floor was 60ft from floor to ceiling.

    Finally, there was an open-topped study at the top of the tower that could only be accessed by creatures with the capacity to fly, since the house-side entrance required a character to get up 60ft with no handholds, and the outside side entrance is 120ft up. The effects of the weather were staved off by a magical barrier which covered the top of the tower.

    I designed the House with these four levels to set up a fairly simple principle; each level you go up, makes the fight against the Razorfiend easier.

    The Ground Floor was fairly boxy, and the whole place is really clumped and covered in furniture, obscuring charge vectors. It also has two entrances that weren't easily guarded against; a hole in the roof that the Razorfiend can attack down from (which it did to open the combat, insta-gibbing a friendly NPC) and the one-way trapdoor that you can magically get to from the pool. Furthermore, The Razorfiend is fast enough and can jump well enough to dart down from the stairs, hit someone close by, and the retreat back up the stairs.

    Staying down there puts the party in a killing box. They can't get out through the door; it has locked itself, telling the party that all doors are locked past sundown. Bashing the door down is all but impossible, it being Magically Treated Reinforced Iron Walls (Break DC60, HP360, Hardness 20, Energy Resistance (All) 30), so they're forced to stay in the Wizard's pad and deal with their problem.

    If they go up a floor, they suddenly can't be attacked unaware as easily. It can't get at them from the roof (too far away) and it can't attack from the trapdoor.

    They go up to floor three? The Razorfiend is going to get ruined. It can't attack from the walls or ceiling, it doesn't have the AC to engage in a protracted fight. They get it up there, and keep it up there, and the players win.



    Rainbow Six approaches to Rhest
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    The monsters in Rhest aren’t anything to sniff at if the party wants to try a direct assault, particularly if you remember there’s still another 6 hobgoblins in the belltower. (If you really want to be a bastard, have the hobgoblins let out the caged razorfiend when things get desperate).

    However, the authors don’t comprehensively brief the DM about handling the underwater approach to Rhest -- curiously, since it's the "minimum damage" way to complete this section of the campaign. I’d have thought most savvy parties will consider it: Water Breathing lasts about ten times as long as Water Walking and the RHOD text all but says it’s a guaranteed quiet approach.

    From personal experience this combined with casting Silence on someone allows the PCs to get the drop on the occupants of the bell tower at the very least, thus preventing an alarm from being raised at the tower. If you're into TPKs, obviously you'll need a way of circumventing this.

    Incidentally, since it was something we ruminated on pretty hard in my campaign: the ruined town hall at the centre of the lake does have an entrance into the waterlogged bottom level that's open. Regiarix hasn't sealed it up; it's basically what was the main entrance to the town hall, only it's completely submerged, with its wooden doors rotted away. The rationale we had for why Reggie hadn't fixed this detail up: dragons that only have one way into their lairs are usually dead dragons, and Reggie does have a swim speed and prior experience with adventuring parties. (Also provides a potential moment to cue up the "Jaws" theme on the media player if the party decides to get brash and enter the town hall via underwater beofre checking if Reggie's gone out hunting for the day.)


    Restatting Saarvith
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    Saarvith in his original Ranger 7 form is rather unexciting, like most ranged attackers, especially given he’s presumably going to be fighting from dragonback.

    So, a couple of suggested builds--

    Scout 6/Ranger 2. Nicknamed the "Swift Hunter" build by most people. This build adds one level to Saarvith and basically abandons the route of Saarvith being mounted on a dragon, making him an independently-fighting ranged attacker. To make this work, apply the feats Swift Hunter, Shot on the Run, Improved Skirmish, and Expeditious Dodge (you’ll probably need a flaw or trait to make this work, obviously, though you get Rapid Shot for free from the second level of Ranger.) In terms of equipment, give him a couple of potions of Fly and a Ring of Entropic Deflection. Saarvith under this build starts off on dragonback, but then jumps off and starts standard skirmishing tactics from the air, diving in, shooting, and then retreating so melee types can’t hit him and ranged types have immense difficulty doing so. Dispel Magic is obviously the Achilles Heel here, which is why he’s got more than one Fly potion on him. This build focuses on damage on one attack per round more than spamming attacks as such. Just to give you a sense of what his AC and damage will be like--
    Spoiler
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    AC: 10 + 6 [Mithral Chain Shirt+2] + 5 [Dex bonus] = 21
    (NB: When skirmishing and moved at least 10 feet, AC 23 and 20% concealment chance from Ring of Entropic Deflection)
    (NBB: When skirmishing and moved at least 20 feet, AC 25 and 20% concealment chance from Ring of Entropic Deflection)
    (NBBB: When skirmishing and moved at least 40 feet, AC 27 and 20% concealment chance from Ring of Entropic Deflection)
    Touch AC: 15
    Flat-Footed AC: 20 (Uncanny Dodge)

    Damage: Longbow +1: 1d6+1/19-20
    If shot taken at less than 30 feet of range: 1d6+2/19-20
    If moved at least 10 feet during the round: 1d6+1/19-20 +2d6 (Skirmish damage).
    If moved at least 10 feet during the round and shot at less than 30 feet: 1d6+2/19-20 +2d6 (Skirmish damage)
    If moved at least 20 feet during the round and shot at less than 30 feet: 1d6+2/19-20 +4d6 (Skirmish damage)
    NB: 10 Elf bane arrows: Versus elves, add +2 to attack rolls and a further +2d6 to damage.
    NBB: If elf is the target, add a further +4 to damage (favored enemy 1)
    NBBB: If human is the target, add a further +2 to damage (favored enemy 2)

    If Saarvith gets the opportunity to get into the air and keeps moving, he actually makes ranged attacks look credible, especially against elves in the party with a maximum (noncritical) damage of 1d6+2 +4d6 skirmish +4 +2d6 (Elf bane arrows) = 7d6+6 per shot if he gets into his sweet spot at less than 30 feet and then swoops back out on the same round. Against humans, his maximum shot is 5d6+2, which again is still respectable. On top of that, if he’s taken that shot and kept moving, you’re unlikely to hit him in melee with an AC of 27 and 20% concealment chance as well to get over.


    Ranger 6/Fighter 2. This build focuses on the mounted-on-a-dragon aspect of Saarvith’s character, and assumes Regiarix can actually get into the air for strafing runs. (i.e. if the party gets complete surprise on Saarvith on the ground, he’s screwed.) The basic mechanic is to make full attacks as Regiarix does the moving for him. By eighth level Saarvith has Mounted Combat, Mounted Archery, and Improved Mounted Archery from character feats, Rapid Shot and Manyshot from the ranger’s Combat Style, and Point Blank Shot via trading off his (nonexistent) spellcasting ability through the ACF Champion of the Wild from Complete Champion. His two fighter bonus feats should be spent on any two of the following three feats: Underfoot Combat, Woodland Archer, or Improved Rapid Shot.

    Underfoot Combat is made useful via low-fat cheese: Saarvith is Small, and while riding Regiarix is “occupying the same space” as a “creature” two size categories larger than him (assuming, of course, you take the general advice and upgrade Reggie from Medium to Large). Therefore by RAW Saarvith gets the bonus of soft cover which is an untyped +4 to AC – unlike Confound the Big Folk, Underfoot Combat does not on RAW require you to move into an opponent’s space first. If that doesn’t appeal, Expeditious Dodge gives you +2 AC while Regiarix is still moving. Of Improved Rapid Shot and Woodland Archer I tend to prefer the former since it basically gives you more attacks for no penalty, which given you’ll be full attacking is strictly superior to a feat that only improves your chances of hitting following a miss against an opponent.

    Lastly, max out your Ride skill and trade off Saarvith’s entirely silly eagle companion for the ACF Distracting Shot, which allows your allies to treat the struck opponent as flanked – an indirect buff for the ogres on the ground, and gold given how tight the quarters are around the town hall’s perimeter. This is the reverse to the ‘Swift Hunter’ build above: it spams attacks in the hope of multiple hits via full attacks.

    Other builds and suggestions:
    • Give Saarvith his own mount, so he's not being a liability to the dragon.
    • Make Saarvith a Druid, mainly so his animal companion can be a mount.
    • Houserule Ranger to give a full Druid animal companion, same reason.
    • Have Saarvith take Wild Cohort, same reason.
    • Open up Dragon magazines and options, which tend to make archers better in D&D than core and the splatbooks put together.



    Restatting Red Hand operatives
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    Nurklenak: Nurklenak doesn’t need a lot of messing with other than minor tweaking of his feats. Playing in the Forgotten Realms and under house rules, I gave him Greater Spell Focus (enchantment), Shadow Weave Magic (FRCS), and Sounds of Silence (Complete Scoundrel) to make him a bit more interesting, but he’s basically a very weak character combination and should be running support in any event. If you wanted to do a total reboot of the character, playing him as a Beguiler with one level in Mindbender is a very strong combination.

    Korkulan: As with most hobgoblin patrol leaders, he works better restatted into a martial adept from Tome of Battle. I rebuilt him into a Warblade 5, going for a hobgoblin samurai feel with EWP in katana and the following feats and maneuvers:

    Spoiler
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    Feats: Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Katana - bastard sword), Adaptive Style, Weapon Focus (Katana), Blade Meditation (Diamond Mind): +1 to damage with katana (If using Diamond Mind maneuver)

    Maneuvers:
    Iron Heart Surge (Iron Heart 3) -- as a standard action, shrug off any effect with a duration of 1 round or more. Get a +2 morale bonus to attack rolls until end of next turn
    Emerald Razor (Diamond Mind 1) – melee attack becomes touch attack
    Wall of Blades (Iron Heart 2) – substitute attack roll for AC
    Steel Wind (Iron Heart 1) – attack two opponents you threaten.
    Moment of Perfect Mind (Diamond Mind 1) - use Concentration check in place of single Will save.
    Sapphire Nightmare Blade (Diamond Mind 1) - Make a Concentration check vs. a creature's AC. If succeeds, creature is flatfooted vs. attack, and you deal +1d6 damage.

    Stances:
    Absolute Steel Stance (Iron Heart 2): get +10 enhancement bonus to speed. If move 10 feet in a round, get a +2 dodge bonus to AC until start of next turn.
    Punishing Stance (Iron Heart 1) -- +1d6 to damage, but at -2 to AC.



    Restatting Regiarix
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    Reggie presents a poser since it’s not really clear exactly what his role in battle is meant to be. He’s not fantastic on the ground, but his breath attack isn’t great either. He’s a fairly weak specimen of a dragon, as most people have noted; something as mundane as a Tanglefoot Bag is enough to bring him down even at Large size. If you’re facing a party with any experience, optimisation, or more than four players, you should have no hesitation in upgrading him by one age category so he is then a Large creature.

    Alertness, Weapon Focus, and Improved Critical need to go, as with all dragons. As for what they get replaced with, though, some consideration of the tactics is warranted.

    Reggie's only really got a fighting chance if he's out in the open sky. His underwater lair provides some interesting tactical challenges for the players -- and a swimming dragon might well be fun if the party isn't pimped up with Freedom of Movement -- but the town hall itself is a killing jar and invites the melee types in the party to wail away with a series of charges and full attacks. Your approach with him is going to depend on whether he's on the ground or in the air when the fight happens (and if he's on the ground, he shouldn't be there.)

    For an air-based fight, Shape Breath and Enlarge Breath are useful in that they vastly improve his range. A 90 foot line when the party's out on the walkways is a nice asset to have. Like Ozyrrandion he's vulnerable to Downdraft, so Awaken Spell Resistance at least gives him a chance against getting pancaked into the water. Regiarix is also a good candidate for Blood Wind, albeit he'll have to get close in to make the full attack that the spell is most effective with.

    If you need a close-in combat option at least, there’s also Shock Wave from the same book which, at Reggie’s +8 bullrush bonus, has a decent chance of knocking down half the party, does damage to the town hall itself, and gives Reggie the breathing space of a move action at least to get into the air.


    The Reactory Phylactery*
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    The phylactery, believe it or not, is a potential problem for a DM.

    The reason it's so is a combination of a lack of rules from the module and the fact the phylactery is basically the Ghostlord's gonads.

    As with the party dealing with the Ghostlord, a party with anybody with a lawful or good (or, Gygax help us, both) disposition is going to be seriously tempted to destroy the phylactery right then and there, if not any time before they confront the Ghostlord. The other alternative is that the party might simply decide to hang onto the phylactery without either returning it or destroying it.

    Complicating this is that even though the rules are specific that basically you can't kill a lich without wiping the phylactery first, no rules say a lich knows that its phylactery has been destroyed or that it gets to know anything about who destroyed it. RHOD's assurances that the destroyer of the Ghostlord's phylactery will "earn the Ghostlord's undying enmity" ignore the fact identifying the perpetrators of this deed by RAW rest entirely on inference or propaganda from the Red Hand, since blighters don't get scrying as a spell.

    At the very least, it's worth shoehorning in that the box containing the Ghostlord's phylactery is affected by a permanent spell of nondetection, that the Ghostlord has access to scrying, whether by refitting him as a druid or giving some sort of custom magic item, and that the Ghostlord can sense when his phylactery is destroyed (it being, ultimately, a part of him).

    So, some thoughts ahead of time on these possibilities:

    If the party keeps the phylactery:
    Spoiler
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    In this scenario, the Ghostlord is fanatical about scrying on "the individual who has my phylactery." (This is possible since scrying allows for no knowledge of the subject.) Most of the time these attempts fail since Saarvith, Ulwai, or Regiarix don't "have" his phylactery on them, or alternatively the nondetection effect makes the attempt autofail since the spell can't detect the phylactery that creates the connection. But as soon as the party takes the phylactery out, it only takes him a few castings before he beats the save and discovers the party has it. From there he starts scrying extensively on the party. (Hopefully if your party isn't a bunch of paranoids who religiously cast Detect Scrying every morning.)

    Let's say the party decides not to return the phylactery at all. In this scenario, one possibility is to have him call them via messenger or unsettling dream or whatever. He tells them where he is. He offers the location of Azarr Khul, the leader of the Red Hand, in return for his phylactery (having discovered this from scrying on Ulwai relentlessly). The players should take this up since they then have a chance to cut off the head of the snake. The Ghostlord ending his involvement with the Red Hand is a given since the only hold Ulwai had on him was the phylactery ... once he's orchestrated the phylactery's return.

    In this scenario, it's the three things the Ghostlord doesn't say that are important: first, he doesn't tell the players that Ulwai and friends are at the stone lion. Second, he doesn't tell Ulwai and friends that the party's on its way. Third, he doesn't ever tell the party the password to get into the Fane of Tiamat.

    This sets up the party nicely to prep for battle against the undead, run into hobgoblins, and then spend some of its strength smashing Ulwai and Varanthian. You then come out with the Ghostlord and all his undead allies, and demand the phylactery's return whilst still keeping his bargain. If the party fights and beats you at that point, well, as the writers say, "You might not be running the adventure for the right levels". From the Ghostlord's point of view, this is a win-win: best case scenario, he gets his phylactery back and the party moves on to futilely fight Azarr Khul. Worst case scenario, he has to fight a weakened party of PCs that he knows will have his phylactery, and who have already removed the Red Hand's presence from his home.

    If your players are a bit recalcitrant even on responding to this, Plan C: the Red Hand comes looking for the phylactery, ideally with Ulwai and/or Varanthian leading the effort to recover it. This is a nice tie-in with the "marked for death" encounter in that it gives the Red Hand a plot-driven motivation to go after the PCs -- they have to recover the phylactery because the Ghostlord is threatening to withdraw his support unless they do. It also gives the players the chance to earn a little VP from killing or neutralising Ulwai and/or Varanthian if they don't go after them at the stone lion.


    If the party destroys the phylactery:
    Spoiler
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    Here, one of two options.

    Option one, the party gets scryed on pretty quickly since the Ghostlord feels the pain of his phylactery being destroyed and focuses on "the individual who destroyed my phylactery". Eventually he figures out who the party is. If this happens, he becomes a voluntary participant with the Red Hand and adds his troops to the assault on Brindol. From the mechanical point of view, this will mean the party loses 5 VP, faces a fourth wave in the "Streets of Blood" encounter, and faces the Ghostlord as well as Kharn in the final encounter. However, it also means Ulwai is in that battle as well, and Varanthian is available to the Red Hand -- possibly even met during the Battle of Brindol.

    Option two, the Ghostlord doesn't feel the pain of the phylactery's destruction and the Red Hand eventually figures out that the hatchery at Rhest has been destroyed and the phylactery is gone. In this scenario, Ulwai switches to more lies and bluffs the Ghostlord that they've still got the phylactery. The result, again, is the presence of more troops at Brindol as set out in option one, with the chance that if the party somehow figures out that Ulwai is bluffing the Ghostlord, the Ghostlord might turn into an engine of death against everyone at Brindol -- characters and the Red Hand both, which might make for an interesting encounter.


    * This is a terrible pun, and I am always taking requests for a better tag description

  6. Top - End - #6
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Planetar

    Join Date
    May 2009
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Part Three: The Thornwaste and the Ghostlord's Lair

    First one to say "Thundercats Ho" gets a critical hit to the face.


    Overall map and terrain fixes
    Spoiler
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    On mapping, I recommend working with the Ghostlord's Lair map from RHOD on a different scale to that presented. Basically, rather than every square representing a 5 x 5 foot area, rejig it so each square represents a 10 x 10 area (4 squares to every one drawn on the map.) If you're working with MapTools or any other virtual mapper that allows you to change the size of your grids, this is a piece of cake.

    There are two reasons for doing this:
    1. Detail. Varanthian can't actually fit through her own doorways into her own lair; she's a Huge combatant and takes up a 3x3 space, when the doorway into her den is only 10 feet across. Maybe she needs to stop eating all those Cheerios and watching Oprah.

    2. Tactics, especially for large parties. A group of players 6+ in size will look faintly hilarious trying to squeeze into the small-sized rooms. More space also mitigates some of the Ghostlord's close-quarters problems if it comes to a fight. It also allows you to be a real swine if you're inclined to and have Varanthian come to Ulwai's rescue up the secret passageway when the party thinks it's got Ulwai's fight won.

    I also recommend recasting the stone lion from being a statue on a ridge to being masterfully carved from the ridge. Doing so makes it more plausibly able to be the location of an evil node (see the spoiler'd section on rebuilding the Ghostlord to be truly effective for more details on this.)

    It's notable that the stone lion is subject to the 15-minute adventuring day like almost no other lair in the adventure. A retreat from Vraath Keep might draw a hobgoblin patrol. A retreat from Rhest will draw a visit from Regiarix. But here, the characters can comfortably retreat to their camp a good half mile away from the statue without consequence. There are no defined patrols from the Ghostlord, and not enough Hand troops to plausibly send out patrols. There's only the wandering monster chance.

    The lair's structure also allows the party to control the flow of opponents. At Rhest the players at least have to figure out how to cast Water Breathing and Silence to avoid taking on the whole place at once. Here, the designers stick Varanthian in a killing jar with no meaningful support, and set up Ulwai and the other hobgoblins to passively defend their positions. As designed, Varanthian's purpose is to basically be a burglar alarm, which is faintly ridiculous given she's meant to be the "fifth dragon" of the adventure.

    Bear in mind even at the "scaled up" version of the stone lion with every square on the map representing a 10 x 10 area, a Haste-affected party going with a "kick in the door" approach can easily sprint from the guardroom in the lion's mouth down to Ulwai's area without sufficient time for the hobgoblins to prepare for them coming. There's not a trap in the place. In hindsight, I'd either make reconnaissance a lot harder (Hide from Undead is cleric 1; it has a decent chance of succeeding against the ghost dire lions) or I'd drop caltrops at least just inside the first door into the lion's mouth (the hobgoblin monks' purpose being to tell legit visitors that they're there.)

    With a well-optimised party, consider sending Varanthian and Ulwai's forces at the party at once, albeit delaying one group or the other by a round or two. This will either mean having the fight outside the stone lion, or bringing Varanthian up the secret passage to support Ulwai inside.


    Rescuing the Ghostlord from Orcus On His Throne (and having to fight at all)
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    The obvious question genre savvy players will be asking is: if the Ghostlord’s that powerful and hates Elsir Vale so much, why hasn’t he trashed the place himself by now? Why hasn’t he sought revenge? (This is particularly so if the party takes him on and loses -- some people will reason that he has to have so many levels on him that he makes Azarr Kul look like a rank amateur.)

    The other question they’ll be asking is: what are his stats, and can we kick his butt from here to next Tuesday? See, by the time the party hits the Ghostlord’s lair, most things not human will have been trying to kill them, which doesn't predispose them towards talking rather than fighting. And that's before you take into account the obvious in-character response of any cleric or (worse) paladin in the party with the word "Good" in his alignment to the idea of allowing a scion of Ultimate Undead Evil keep on existing when you've got him by the phylacteries (so to speak).

    The Ghostlord’s not meant to be a combat encounter; how do you get the players to understand that?

    The nutcase: One answer is to use a different archetype to the standard Dark Lord. Play him as a sort of (evil) Dr. Jekyll/(eviller) Mr Hyde. He's solitary and has a lot of difficulty relating to others; he has a rich inner life, tends to speak to spirits, and doesn’t like to take risks; like Jekyll, he's become enamoured of his own powers and works in secret to master them.

    This archetype fits the Ghostlord's activities, i.e. staying cooped up in his stone lion lair, not advancing his interests in the outside world, and not really caring who gives a damn about it. He's a mildly crazy evil hermit, not a Type-A villain in the Darth Vader mode. Don’t run the bold, imperious aggressor the RHOD book describes – have him enter the room talking to himself, mumbling threats, but all the while his eyes blazing with anger. Have him talk to himself, or even to lion spirits that aren’t even there. Or have him coldly assessing the party as new test subjects on the first meeting. In short: play the Ghostlord stealing lines from Gollum rather than Sauron, and he’ll seem a lot more plausible. And hopefully a lot more deadly.

    As Saph puts it: “For roleplaying him, I went for a combination of Emperor Palpatine and Gollum. Ancient, very powerful, psychotically obsessed with his phylactery, and insane (but note that insane doesn't mean stupid). I had him talk a lot, but he'd only respond to the PCs when they said something that matched up with his skewed worldview - otherwise he'd just ramble to himself about revenge and torture and killing, before snapping suddenly back into focus and demanding why the PCs were there.

    I also told the PCs at the beginning of the encounter with him that everything they said would be assumed to be in character unless specified otherwise. The idea is to keep it short and tense. Don't have the Ghostlord stick around and chat while the players talk OOC: it ruins the mood. The PCs should feel that they need to make a deal fast before the Ghostlord decides to kill first and ask questions later.


    The good guy: Another option is to add a twist on the RHOD "book" plot by making the Ghostlord a reformed lich with a Chaotic Good alignment.

    Zarl in this scenario has truly suffered: he did enjoy being a lich at first, even creating some of the undead that now inhabit the stone lion -- but came to regret it as he realised what he'd lost, and what he'd done. Rather than the stone lion being his home of ultimate evil, it is a fortress to secure and defend one thing: the Heart of the Lion, which Zarl knows will be used for great evil if it's removed.

    Zarl therefore has become the Heart of the Lion's guardian; it is his self-imposed atonement for his dark deeds. The undead he commands exist to protect the artifact, not himself as such. He's become fairly addled: he will not allow evil clerics near the artifact, but neither will he allow a good or neutral cleric to try and destroy the artifact, because he is still serving his penitence. The party offering to destroy him also doesn't appeal since it would end his watch over the artifact prematurely. This might prevent a good-aligned party fighting him, since his purposes are noble and he is, in fact, a slave to the Red Hand by creating undead for them, not even a semi-willing participant.


    Running the Ghostlord "as-is"
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    Pretty well everything in this section assumes you've got a party of players who aren't very experienced or have at least one caster who's very experienced at dealing with, well, other casters.

    Blighters are a crap prestige class, appropriately described as being to druids what blackguards are to paladins (i.e. nowhere near strong enough to justify taking the PrC even for the evulz.) The PrC takes some of the druid's best battle strategies (chiefly, wading into melee as a frickin' dinosaur with a dinosaur buddy as you spam Greenbound dinosaurs) and gives you nothing back in return (seriously, an undead-themed druid who can't even control undead until he can cast 6th level spells? What the hell?)

    To top it off, James and Rich in their wisdom then impose the lich template on this crappy PrC and thereby render it seriously vulnerable to clerics or indeed anyone with the Use Magic Device skill.

    Let's repeat the optimal solution: your best way of resolving the Ghostlord encounter, as with Bruce Lee, is to win widdout fighting. Play mind games and build Ghostie up as a lot bigger than he actually is to scare the characters out of attacking him.

    Even so, prudence demands you assume the worst. A party comprised of halfway optimised characters (or halfway experienced players) is likely to trash the hell out of the "book" Ghostlord by force of the action economy and the closed quarters of the lair. Indeed on a straw poll of campaigns I've seen here or read, most parties seem to wind up fighting the Ghostlord. So. How to fight?

    The most obvious solution is to rebuild the Ghostlord so he’s a thoroughly optimized (and therefore deadly) opponent. See the next spoiler'd section on that. On the other hand, if you replace his levels or add levels to him, there's an argument that he wouldn’t be the Ghostlord, and his monastic existence requires even more suspension of disbelief.

    So let's look at our obstacles. He’s outnumbered; he's at close quarters; he’ll be facing a buffed party; and he's vulnerable to positive energy. We need some options to mitigate those weaknesses.

    Very important note: The most crucial thing to remember about the Ghostlord is that the authors of RHOD (unwittingly?) hand the party on a silver platter the one weapon that can just about kill him. Full credit to Malevolence for pointing this out, since before then as far as I can tell nobody's ever picked this up. In short: the Staff of Life.

    Oh, yes it can. It casts Heal, remember? And the Ghostlord is undead. Go and read your SRD again if you don't get this. If you're going in with a "minimal changes" approach to this battle, you have to find a way to remove the Staff from the equation. Either you do this via removing its Heal functions when giving it to the party, having an NPC hold onto it, putting the Ghostlord in a situation where he can't be touched with it, or just crossing your fingers and praying nobody in the party remembers positive energy damages undead.

    1. Prepare the ground. One option is an Unhallow spell, keyed to a Dispel Magic effect targeting any nonevil characters. This allows the Horde agents to still be hanging around inside the stone lion. The spell covers all the rooms of the Ghostlord’s quarters if cast at the foot of the undead lion statue in the central hall (though if you change the scale of the dungeon, the spell's area of effect will be halved, too). Blighters have access to this spell at the Ghostlord’s "book" level. It even gives the Ghostlord a couple of mild buffs since it counts as a Protection from Good, too. Players can’t dispel the Unhallow effect, and probably won't have their own Hallow spell to neutralize it, either.

      On the other hand, an Unhallow'ed Dispel Magic only affects a character once when they enter the Unhallow field, and once again when they leave and re-enter. Thus it'll hopefully take one buff off per character, but that's it. A solution is to have adjacent Unhallow fields all over the complex -- i.e. the characters leave one Unhallow field and then hit another, triggering another Dispel Magic effect.

      A more brutal tactic is to layer the Ghostlord's intended battleground -- or indeed his entire complex -- with Forbiddance spells (this is a Blighter 5 spell). Odds are on the party's going to have a different alignment to him, which means a minimum of 3d6 damage on entry to the spell's area. You can't have overlapping Forbiddance effects, but that doesn't stop you casting new Forbiddance effects five feet forward of the previous one, since the new Forbiddance effect stops at the boundary of the old one. You thereby stand back behind three or four Forbiddance fields and watch as the party's melee'ers get 12-36d6 of untyped damage blasted off them as they charge in to engage. Oh, and since Forbiddance prevents teleportation effects, scry-and-die and some Batman mage tactics like abrupt jaunt are prevented as well.

    2. As to getting overwhelmed by melee'ers: for all their suckitude, blighters get Antilife Shell as a 5th level spell. This does mean giving Ghostie his daily 5th level spell rather than RHOD’s text which deems it already cast, but there are simple enough reasons to do that (i.e. the Ghostlord's been screwed over by the Red Hand once already and will take a round to cast before finding out who's messing with his lair again). Cast this spell before the Ghostlord contacts the PCs and their melee fighters can’t touch him. More importantly, cast this and the Staff of Life can't touch him, either.

    3. Choose the best battleground. Don't fight the party in the chamber expressed as the Ghostlord's last redoubt. A 15 x 15 room with no features, no cover and no allies is a killing jar. In this case, it's also a bit anticlimactic. Fight the party in the main central chamber -- the one that contains the six bonedrinkers. These little buggers get Pounce, remember, even if they're most likely to be one-shot kills. And they're undead, so they're not affected by the Ghostlord's Antilife Shell.

    4. Don't fight alone. Put one or more ghost dire lions in the same room as the Ghostlord. He's a sort-of-wacky druid, he deserves an animal companion by his side. And this animal companion, if you read the text, reappears at its "old haunt" after it's been destroyed on a successful level check. That "old haunt", for a freshly-created ghost dire lion, would be right above the yellow pool in that chamber.

    5. Next, substitute three of his feats: Dodge, Mobility, and Natural Spell. (Mobility in particular is a necessary fix, since it requires Dex 13 and the Ghostlord as written only has Dex 12.) You lose 1 AC with Dodge, but given he’ll be fighting under Antilife Shell (fingers crossed) it’s a minimal loss. Natural Spell is replaced even though it's 90% of a druid's tricks because, well, if the Ghostlord has to go to Undead Wild Shape he's screwed anyway. We're changing the Ghostlord's focus from melee to blasting.

      Replace them with Fell Drain, Spell Focus (Evocation), and Metamagic School Focus (Evocation). Three of your prepared evocation spells -- Produce Flame in particular, but also Flame Strike if you get a second 5th level spell slot by pumping the WIS score -- now can drain levels off your opponents at half the metamagic cost. Fell Drain turns save-or-lose-more-hitpoints into save-and-suck-anyway. Your party's going to be around level 9 or so; a negative level here has proportionately more impact at lower levels than higher up. And they can be done at range, which means the Ghostlord does not have to go to melee and break the Antilife Shell. And, to top it all off, it's thematically appropriate given all the fluff on how the Ghostlord makes undead.

      Important note: You may want to seriously consider the Node Magic options contained in the next spoiler'd section, even on a minimal rebuild of the Ghostlord. These will change the feat selections above to Fell Drain, Node Spellcasting, and Metanode Spell.

    6. The first step in combat, and the only unknown element, will be neutralising anyone who’s got Dispel Magic memorized. The rest of the fight becomes a beating down by your undead allies, followed by touch, paralyse, rinse, repeat when the Antilife Shell finally collapses. (Of course, if someone in the party’s got Iron Heart Surge from Tome of Battle, you could have some problems, but then, that’s another issue entirely.)

    7. Blighters also have access to Stinking Cloud as a spell, which is your primary denial-of-service on spellcasters. These are very effective in close quarters like the Ghostlord's lair and tend to hobble spellcasters and melee types alike with equal effectiveness. They also don't work on undead, which means your bonedrinkers and ghost lion can still get busy.


    Rebuilding the Ghostlord to be truly effective
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    Making the Ghostlord effective in combat necessarily means fixing the blighter PrC altogether or finding some workaround for the fact the PrC sucks badly. Some suggestions for doing so:

    (1) Druid build and tactics: Rebuild from a lich blighter to Evolved Undead, Lich Druid 12. Ditch Dodge, Mobility, Natural Spell, Craft Magic Arms and Armor.

    By RAW nothing prevents an evil druid being undead -- but the druid fluff proclaims that druids of all stripes despise undead, so this can get PHBs thrown at you. So: change how the Ghostlord came to be undead. Rather than him wanting that result, run him as cursed by the nature gods with undeath because he killed a lion cub. Possibly this is why James and Rich had the Ghostlord as undead to start with: it's never made explicit, but the carving of the dead lion cub in his lair is about as big a clue by four as you're going to get. And if you're in the Forgotten Realms this is directly justifiable as Malar's dogma forbids killing the young.

    The Evolved Undead template provides an excellent no-cost investment that can be applied at least once without being unbelievably cheesy. It's also one of the few templates that is explicitly said to stack with itself, and the "chance" comes up every hundred years or so -- Zarl is roughly four hundred years old or more. Confusion and Cloudkill (and indeed Haste for the summoning druid) as 1/day spell-like abilities projected from behind an Antilife Shell are likely to be devastating to an 8th or 9th level party, and remember, this encounter is meant to be a curbstomper for the party if they decide to fight.

    From here, it's a matter of which course you choose: blasting, summoning, or melee (in that order of practicality).

    Blasting:
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    This approach works best with node (ab)use as described in the next section down. Otherwise, a lot of the damage comes from permanent spells already in place. In terms of feat selections, Fell Drain for a start, Spell Focus (Evocation), Metamagic School Focus (Evocation), and anything that boosts ECL or flat CL.
    Spells specifically:
    - Overlapping Forbiddance spells as indicated in the "as-is" section above, Fell Drained.
    - Fire Seeds in the 'acorn bomb' variant placed around the battlefield, again, Fell Drained so you can quick-blast a level or two off the party before combat begins.
    - Antilife Shell.
    - Friendly Fire to defeat ranged attacks.
    - Flame Strike, and indeed a selection of elemental damage spells, again, Fell Drained.
    - Wall of Sand.
    - Life Ward. Nooo positive energy damage for you!

    Here, your undead allies are more for distraction or holding the opposition back so you can just blast, blast, and blast again, draining levels as you go and keeping both melee and ranged attacks out. Freedom of Movement and Blindsight spells will mess with interdiction efforts like Wall of Sand, so have a couple of Dispel Magic iterations up and ready to go as well.


    Summoning:
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    One crucial caveat here: it can be rendered pointless by the application of one first level spell -- Protection from Evil, (and its big brother Magic Circle Against Evil.) The Ghostlord, being evil, gives summoned creatures the [evil] descriptor, and Protection from Evil keeps out evil summoned beings without a save. If you think the party's going to use this sort of tactic, you should dispense entirely with summoning in that case and rebuild emphasising raw, flat-out blasting and debuffing since your only combat allies will be the undead.

    Take Greenbound Summoning, Rapid Spell, and Ashbound Summoning if you can fit it in somehow. Augment Summoning would be nice, but Ashbound Summoning largely supersedes it for attack purposes and greenbound at these levels are already fairly tough.

    Basic strategy is this: Antilife Shell, Greenbound summon, Wall of Sand (it's Druid 5) or spam Stinking Cloud (via Wand - druids don't get this spell, though Blighters do), Friendly Fire from Exemplars of Evil to keep out the ranged attacks, and away you go. Adding in a Lesser Metamagic Rod (Quicken) and then memorising a Summon Nature's Ally III makes for a very nice opening round: you can't metamagic spontaneously-cast spells, and summoned creatures act on the same round as you.

    Thus: use the Rod to Quicken a Greenbound Summoned lion, or whatever. Since it's Greenbound, it can cast Wall of Thorns 1/day as a spell-like ability, at CL 5 (i.e. 5 x 10 foot cubes of thornwall). Your own spell (Wall of Sand) then hits the party at about the same time as the Greenbound's Wall of Thorns spell.
    Ouch.
    The party is now blinded, deafened, taking damage from thorns, and can't get loose of either wall without a full round action of trying and making checks against both spells. That's more than enough time to then buff, get your undead buddies into position, and summon more greenbound.

    Remember quickening past Summon Nature's Ally III won't work because of the lesser nature of the metamagic rod. Also bear in mind that Summon Nature's Ally VI, which is spontaneously available at Druid 12, is hobbled: you can summon a Huge Elemental, but it's 32 feet tall and thus won't fit into the Ghostlord's chambers. You're stuck with 1d4+1-odd lesser creatures, although if they're all Greenbound it's arguably just as good. Also consider Pearls of Power here, too.

    I might note that while the Druid Handbook recommends the dire wolf as the ideal Greenbound animal at these levels, in this particular case it's more effective and (ironically) thematically appropriate to summon greenbound lions instead. Why? More attacks. Lions get Pounce, which includes two rakes. They also get Improved Grab and a rake on the same round -- and the Greenbound template raises Grapple modifiers by +4, before you add in the STR increases which cumulate on that. The greenbound template raises all damage dice for natural attacks to 1d8 since lions are Large and adds a slam attack as well. Your Greenbound lion therefore can charge, bite, 2 x claw, 2 x rake, and slam in the one round; more strikes means more crit chances. And that's all before you add in a Haste from the Evolved Undead template...

    Lastly, you've also got free use of Entangle from the Greenbound. By RAW it makes "surrounding plants" grow to entangle the opposition, and greenbound changes the creature type to plant.


    Melee:
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    If you're really determined to go to melee combat with the Ghostlord as a druid, well, it's going to get more complicated. We are still assuming here an Evolved Undead Lich Druid 12 chassis. But on top of that, take the Druidic Avenger variant. The Ghostlord doesn't have an animal companion anyway, and the whole "rage against the heavens" thing fits nicely with the Rage feature of the class.

    Natural Spell stays in this build. You're definitely going to want Rapid Spell and Greenbound Summoning. You'll be memorising several Summon Nature's Ally spells since Avengers can't cast spontaneously. (Not much of a loss: when raging you can't cast spells and can't use metamagic anyway.) You'll also need to add a Wilding Clasp to the Ghostlord's gear, too.

    Your basic strategy will be to spam allies at the start of the fight with greenbound summoning to block the party from hitting you in the first round, Wild Shape to something puissant (I've always wanted to use that word) then buff and debuff using the Evolved Undead's spell-like abilities before switching on Rage and moving in to attack. When the party moves in to try and swarm you, you back off, come out of Rage and start blasting with direct damage spells.

    As discussed, this build is badly vulnerable to touch attacks or cure spells, so your chosen Wild Shape when on the defensive needs high dexterity or at least a high touch AC. On the offensive, it needs Spring Attack and a good melee attack roll; as a lich, your paralysis attack is the most effective weapon you've got, but it only operates once per round, so unless you've got a Wild Shape that can smash a person into the ground in one pass, there is no point hanging around to make full attacks at all.

    I don't propose to go through an analysis of the best Wild Shape to take for any given situation; the Druid Handbook does a sterling job at that. For defensive purposes, the Legendary Eagle with a touch AC of 21 jumps out at me since it's available at level 12. For offensive purposes, the Ironthorn doubles your paralysis attempts though it's not fast. Or indeed the Legendary Eagle itself since on offense your primary intent is to hit, paralyse and get the hell out of dodge.


    (2) Nodezilla: If you have access to Champions of Ruin, Node Magic (and in particular, Node Magic feats) seriously augment the Ghostlord's casting capacity and effectiveness for less feats than the routes described above.

    You can easily fiat the stone lion (or the chamber in which the fight's going to happen) as occupying the innermost layer of a Class 2 node or higher. If you have Node Spellcasting and Metanode Spell, your Fell Drain spells can be cast out of the unaltered spell slots of the spells they ride, as the node takes the increased spell level load. That is, you end up casting metamagic'd spells out of the same spell slots as they originally occupied, and don't have to use up your higher level slots. This is free metamagic.

    (Optionally, there's also Node Store -- it allows you to chuck two spells of any level you can store inside the node itself and draw on it in combat. Very useful stuff since a Druid 12 is short on Level 6 spells in particular.)

    As if that weren't cool enough, nodes themselves also grant a number of spells equal to its class of that class's level or less. (e.g. a Class 4 node grants 4 spells of fourth level or lower.) The granted spells are "usually" tied by "theme", which in practice means you can chuck any spell of the node's class level or lower in there -- divine, arcane, you name it. They don't give you free spell slots -- they are simply added to the Ghostlord's spell list. Think about it, just with a class 2 node. Any two extra spells to the druid list of second level or lower: Glitterdust. Grease. Magic Missile. Blood Wind. Shield. Improvisation.
    The possibilities get even better as you increase the node's class level.

    If the overall design of this section of the adventure was basically "Wow, that's unusual", then a caster who can effectively draw on the node should achieve that against even optimised parties (who won't even have taken Node Spellcasting).

    Taking this route obviously means changing from the feat combinations mentioned above for blasting/summoning, but being able to Fell Drain any of your damage-dealing spells at zero metamagic cost all day long is gold when you're fighting from a fixed position as the Ghostlord is. And again, these benefits scale exponentially the higher the class of the node.

    The only drawback here is that this approach is going to burn up 2 feats (Node Spellcasting and Metanode Spell). Odds are on you'll have to go to flaws to make this all work.

    Some choices and thoughts on metamagic feats:
    • Fell Drain. Thematic and effective. Best used on save-for-less-damage spells rather than save-for-no-damage.
    • Silent Spell. Silence effects are very pesky since you won't have much room to maneuver and the radius of the effect is big enough for a melee type to stand off outside your Antilife Shell and still deny you spellcasting.
    • Rapid Spell, if you haven't already got it, is extremely useful for summoning spells.
    • Sanctum Spell is a +1 DC to all spells. At the Ghostlord's character level the sanctum will be about 120 feet wide and high, which covers most of the stone lion's interior.
    • Heighten Spell might be handy, Empower Spell is not. Node Magic allows you to boost the ECL of a spell by up to the class of the node on a successful Spellcraft check - see p. 96, Champions of Ruin which obviates the need for Empower Spell.
    • Maximise Spell. +3 to spell level, in effect. Now consider putting the Ghostlord in the centre of a class 3 node, and making the Spellcraft check required to take a Flame Strike to its absolute maximum damage of 15d6. 90 damage against a level 8-9 party ought to impress someone. If nothing else, it's one hell of a way to end the encounter via self-immolation.
    • Chain Spell. Another +3 to spell level in effect. Now consider having the node grant you Shivering Touch as a spell.


    (3) Fixing the blighter: Change Blighter casting to add levels of existing casting, re-open the original Druid casting, and add Blighter spells to the list. This at least preserves a blighter feel, although mechanically you could do much the same thing with a couple of extra levels of Druid. Under this variant, build as druid, again skipping melee options due to the fact that although the Ghostlord is no longer a purist blighter, he's still a purist undead.

    (4) Evolved Undead Druid 5/Ur-Priest 7: Arguably the quickest and deadliest build for a straight out blasting cleric type, mostly because an Ur-Priest has access to seventh level cleric spells (albeit few unless you pump WIS). Under this build, the Ghostlord abandons nature entirely when he kills the lion cub, and from there takes the path of the Ur-Priest, denying all the gods. Obviously he's not even druidic anymore, but his effectiveness as a curbstomper increases and arguably Ur-Priest fits the Ghostlord's "abandon nature, become undead, go insane" shtick better than a blighter does. Note that Practiced Spellcaster is required for this build so the Ghostlord can build a phylactery at all, or Magic Knack if you're playing in Pathfinder.


    Restatting Ulwai
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    The quick and dirty way to make Ulwai better is to give her another level in bard, change a couple of her spells, and don't use her unique bardic abilities. Why in the name of Gygax is any bard wandering around the landscape without Glitterdust, for crying out loud? (For that matter, how the hell is an effective 9th level bard still putting out only a +1 to Inspire Courage?) Even if you're not inclined to go with party pwnage by that route, that single level of bard and picking Confusion makes her a dangerous spellcaster.

    Fixing her properly requires turning her back into a straight class bard and optimising with Dragonfire Inspiration or Inspire Courage in mind. The Stormsinger thing is flavourful, but it comes down to a very modest caster level boost and a single-target Lightning Bolt, neither of which are terribly inspiring to a level 9 party.

    Discussing the module, James and Rich mentioned they built Ulwai like that for the coolness factor of "Wow, I didn't know a bard could do that" ... which is admirable, but if you're playing with a seasoned party, probably won't impress quite as much in combat. Fair enough, this "fix" will attract the argument that "she's not Ulwai anymore" -- but the Stormsinger PrC still alllows you to optimise IC and have the Thunderstrike. Alternatively, you could preserve the lightning theme by taking the right feats to make her Dragonfire Inspiration electricity themed, which would still be more effective than Thunderstrike.

    If you're determined to preserve the Stormsinger flavour and you're against an optimised, seasoned, or large party, I recommend shoehorning in the Doomspeak feat from Champions of Ruin, fiated as a swift action (the action required is generally presumed as a standard action since it consumes a bardic music use, but the feat is silent on it by RAW.) Ulwai thereby becomes a lot more effective at least against melee types who try to punch her in the face because Doomspeak reduces their ability to hit her and resist her spells.

    Oh, and you know that whole "Ulwai is a masterful liar, especially with Glibness cast" thing on the RHOD text? Well, considering she doesn't actually have any ranks in Bluff, you can presume this as another fine example of a WOTC statblock that matches neither the fluff nor the rules. Trade out Knowledge (Nature) for this skill.

    Lastly, if you go with Node Magic as set out regarding the Ghostlord above, don't forget that Ulwai, as an evil spellcaster within the radius of the outermost layer of the node, can access higher caster levels for her spells as per the rules set out in Champions of Ruin. (i.e. she has to make an INT check.)


    Restatting Varanthian
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    Speaking from my single experience running Varanthian (with some anecdotal evidence from other DMs) she has the same drawback that all big solo D&D monsters do: a crippling deficit in the action economy. Opinions do vary wildly: many campaigns I've seen have Varanthian responsible for at least one PC death or serious injury, but in my own PbP she got one grapple in and then got royally clowned in a fusillade of melee. So this is one that does depend heavily on the experience of your players, and the size of your party.

    Varanthian's spellcasting is weak, as is her breath attack: 7d6 line is a maximum of 42, assuming you've got one schmuck who stands right behind another one within 20 feet of her face. More likely it's a maximum of 21 or zip against the Evasive types in the party. Not very threatening. Her spellcasting comes down to a few random cleric debuffs, but again nothing that affects more than one target at a time. Her flight speed is also a joke at 20 feet per round.

    I suppose you could add spellcasting classes to her, but it's a waste of time unless you're going to add in Practiced Spellcaster as well -- which, it has to be said, probably renders her a lot more dangerous given her 10 HD. But even then you have to contend with having to avoid combat not to attract AoOs. It's trying to put an airfoil on a bulldozer.

    Varanthian's best attack combination looks to be designed as "bite, grapple, swallow whole, cleave to bite and grapple again". To be fair, it's not a bad idea: at levels 8-9 people generally aren't optimising towards ubergrappler builds (or if they are you can see them coming) and few characters will have built up a grapple modifier to beat her +27 check. By design, most of the time if she hits, she'll get a grapple going.

    The crippling fault with this combination is that it takes more than one round to get through. Varanthian can't start a grapple and then swallow or rake in the same round. And while she's grappling, she doesn't threaten squares and therefore can't make AoOs. This means her ten-foot reach becomes functionally useless as the rest of the party's melee types run into strike range (or even charge) while she sits there with her face stuffed full of hot dog (so to speak). Because she's Huge size, most people will metagame that she's got a ten foot reach, too, so you're unlikely to snag a caster this way.

    And that's before you consider magic use and the fact that while chomping on the party's cleric she has no DEX bonus to AC and therefore is open to sneak attack damage.

    Some changes are therefore required for her not to be entirely hilarious:
    • Improved Spell Resistance
    • Improved Natural Attack (bite)
    • Increases to her natural armor via item, spell or feat.
    • Get her Freedom of Movement somehow. Slowing her even makes her single best attack combination functionally useless.
    • Give her Quicken Breath from the Draconomicon -- it makes breathing a free action, which might have some potential even in spite of the fact she only breathes once every 10 rounds and with the feat applied would breath once in every 14. This gives you a fear-inducing round of strike, grapple, and breathe lightning on the grappled target, since the breath weapon is coming from her mouth and either doesn't get a Reflex save or has a seriously nerfed one. This way at least you might imperil at least one character and force some respect from the party.
    • Houserule that she can rake a couple of times on the same round as she grapples - stock standard lions from the SRD can do this, so it's ludicrous that she can't.



    Restatting Red Hand operatives
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    What follows is chiefly commentary based on an experience with a party of eight who had solid scouting done ahead of time but no scouting of the room in which the Hand forces are present.

    The Monks: If you've got Tome of Battle, you should change these guys to the unarmed swordsage variant. (Let's leave aside this is a general comment which can be made about monks in general.)

    If you don't have Tome of Battle, the builds could still stand improvement as per the various guides around here for improving monks. Frankly, the three monks in the lion's mouth chamber could stand being turned into more straight melee classes like fighters, since their primary purpose is merely to survive for more than one round while one of them sounds the alarm to Ulwai in the halls below. In hindsight I'd have probably focused a little more on tactics or items that would've slowed the party down: tanglefoot bags, thunderstones to deafen and tell Ulwai that something's wrong, and so on.

    To make any of the monks serious challengers to the party they will need several levels on them. Monk 4 (or Unarmed Swordsage 4) ain't impressing roughly level 8 or 9 players, no matter how many uber moves you pick up for them. Personally, I had Unarmed Swordsage 6 against a party of eight and they had singularly unimpressive experiences against the PCs.

    Bear in mind also that you can build unique individuals within the unarmed swordsage concept. Consider the monks who are in the stone lion's "mouth" part of the cave: wouldn't it be nice to build them towards mastering out throws from the Setting Sun discipline, and then start chucking partymembers clean off the the stone lion (albeit this isn't likely to happen without serious upgrades on class levels and a relocation of the opposition to the lion's mouth itself.)

    The Clerics: You would think, being tier one classes, the clerics in theory don't need major restatting. Clerics are nice right out of the box in D&D for a reason.

    The problem is comparative levels. Level 3 hobgoblin clerics are mindblowingly overmatched to meaningfully debuff or engage a level 8-9 party of PCs. They can't cast Mass versions of any spells; they're down to a couple of level one spells and maybe a second level spell before they're out of action. If your party sets off some sort of alarm and allows the Hand forces here time to prepare, they'd probably be more useful, but with kick in the door parties on Haste there's no time for that.

    They have scrolls ... of Summon Monster III which on the text they're required to use to bring hellhounds in against the party. These creatures are entirely underwhelming on the first encounter of the whole campaign, there is no reason to think they would be less so here. The clerics are also are useless in melee, comparatively speaking; their smite good feature merely gives them a slightly more spectacular means of failure (particularly against the neutrals of the party).

    If you use the Blasphemous Incantation ACF from Exemplars of Evil, it gets a bit more interesting. 30 foot range supernatural ability in place of a Rebuke Undead ability in this case is an acceptable change: these guys aren't meant to last past this fight anyway.

    If you're broadminded enough to recast their spell selection (i.e. to one that clerics on guard duty shouldn't really be memorising since they aren't expecting full-powered combat) then Incite and Inhibit from the Spell Compendium mess with the party's capacity to coordinate and manipulate the action economy. Close Wounds might give your NPCs one more round. Resurgence gives another chance at beating a save-or-suck. Hand of Divinity and Faith Healing both work on any of the hobgoblins here since they're all worshipers of Tiamat.

    Having said that, two is probably pointless. They just don't cast anything strong enough to warrant both of them being there. If your party isn't pulling out one-shot kill strikes against Monk 4s by this stage, they're doing something wrong.

    Replacing one cleric:
    A Hobgoblin Warsoul (MM 5) with two out-of-the-SRD hobgoblin warriors to power up his Soul Tyrant ability makes for a much, much more interesting option: it decreases the (weak) divine casting capacity of the Hand forces, but gives the arcane casting capacity one hell of a boost -- the party at least has to target two arcanists rather than one. If you're not minded to add a couple of hobgoblin warriors into the mix, the Warsoul at least gives the useless monks a reason to live for a round or two (i.e. powering him up via Soul Tyrant.)

    In terms of the Warsoul's spell selection and tactics: switch out one of his feats for Practiced Spellcaster; that raises him to a 10th level caster. Then go to town with debuffs -- Web-and-Fireball is a sniggerworthy scare for your players, and the Warsoul's Dimension Door will be handy if you had a mind to get Ulwai out of there and make an escape. If you want to add more bastardry to the equation, see the Nodezilla section of the Ghostlord sections above: give the Warsoul Node Spellcasting and your Warsoul can now potentially cast 13d6 Fireballs on a Spellcraft check.

    Also bear in mind that if you've got a Warsoul who lasts more than a round, the entirely weird RHOD tactics of trying to keep the door shut and whatnot are utterly unnecessary. Have the Warsoul Web the door and the swordsages stooge around or charge up and then perform as much speedbump duty as possible.

  7. Top - End - #7
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Part Four: The Battle of Brindol, sidequests, and other Elsir Vale encounters

    ...No, we don't know why the giant's throwing rocks at the wall and not at the gate, either.


    The Mercenary Gold and/or Marked for Death missions
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    Depending on how your party fares against the timeline, you might be better served setting these later in the piece rather than earlier.

    For PbP campaigns, you might consider fusing these two encounters together. This is particularly so where you have a party that needs to kill some time ahead of the Battle of Brindol. Escorting the gold to the Hammerfist Holds, even on the back of giant owls, is going to take about a week there and back. Better yet if you have the party escort the gold via caravan, since this makes the party sitting ducks for the assassination squad that might originally be tasked with getting the gold rather than getting the party.

    In either event AslanCross recommends replacing the regular hobgoblins with Hobgoblin Duskblades (MM 5). The Barghests usually don't need a big upgrade, with teleportation and greater bull's strength they at least can partially keep up with the party at this stage.


    Training the garrison ahead of the battle
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    As indicated earlier, savvy parties will probably wind up back at Brindol well ahead of schedule. Sidequests from Brindol and the party's own crafting of course can take up part of the intervening time, but kjones found a novel way to try and avoid the whole "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're out there raising the troops' morale, we're telling the kid with his dad's old sword how to swing it properly, but is there anything mathematically we're doing to help these morons?"

    Yup. Under this option, when the players are in Brindol, awaiting the arrival of the Horde, they'll have the option to train the soldiers and militia, and prepare the defense of the city. They can do so in one of four ways - melee combat, ranged combat, defense and tactics, and first aid.

    Here's how it works. For each day of training a character leads, they make a DC 25 check, with the following modifiers.

    • Melee combat: Base attack bonus + Strength modifier + Charisma modifier (and must have relevant proficiencies)
    • Ranged combat: Base attack bonus + Dex modifier + Charisma modifier (and must have relevant proficiencies)
    • Defense and Tactics: Base attack bonus + higher of Int or Wis modifier + Charisma modifier
    • First Aid: Heal skill + Charisma modifier
    • Magical Defense: Make a check with a bonus equal to caster level + relevant ability modifier.


    A successful check means that they can put 1 point into that category. A failed roll means that they can retry in the same category at a cumulative +2 DC, or change categories (and someone else can take the bonus for that category if they want).

    During the Battle of Brindol, they can spend their points on NPCs as follows:

    Melee combat:

    * 1 point: +1 to hit / +1 damage on a single attack roll
    * 2 points: Grant the use of the Mobility feat for a single round
    * 3 points: Automatically confirm a threat
    Ranged combat:

    * 1 point: +1 to hit / +1 damage on a single attack roll
    * 2 points: +1 to the damage of a standard volley per archer (volleys as per Heroes of Battle)
    * 3 points: +1 to the damage of a concentrated volley per archer
    Defense and Tactics:

    * 1 point: Before a combat, mark a single square as filled with rubble (difficult terrain)
    * 2 points: Delay the arrival of enemy reinforcements for 1 round
    * 3 points: Before a combat, place a single 5-foot section of waist-high palisade
    First Aid:

    * 1 point: Automatically succeed on a single DC 15 heal check.
    * 2 points: An NPC gains the effects of Diehard for one round.
    * 3 points: A stabilized NPC is disabled instead of unconscious.
    Magical defense:

    * 1 point: Add +1 to any saving throw against a magical effect.
    * 2 points: An NPC gains the effects of Evasion or Mettle for a round.
    * 3 points: An NPC gains the effects of Improved Evasion or Improved Mettle for a round.

    The DCs are chosen so that a person skilled in that area should have about a 25% chance of making the check in a given day. Thus, if they're in Brindol for 20 days, they'll have an average of 25 or so points spread around. There are 5 main encounters in the Battle of Brindol, 3 of which involve NPCs prominently, so we're talking about 8 points per battle - that's enough for 2 or 3 cool things per battle.


    The Audience with the Lords
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    This is the meet-and-greet you do with Brindol's lords ahead of the battle, when you're deciding strategy. In passing: this is probably the big roleplaying opportunity of the adventure. You should be pulling your hardest to make the party care about your NPCs in this meeting. There are three big problems with the encounter as written:

    (1) Mechanically it's largely insignificant. It comes down to a series of Diplomacy rolls and the party gets a maximum of 8 VP if they choose right. If your party has skipped big sections of the adventure to this point, that will make a difference, but it's entirely possible to pass the "victory" line in terms of VP before the party sets foot in the Great Hall.

    (2) The choices here as written don't make any difference whether you have the given encounters in the Battle of Brindol or not. Kharn will still try to step on a church in your town whether you staged the clerics there or not. But this meeting is also fertile ground for players to come up with any number of wild plans for better defending a city.

    (An important side note here: if they do come up with such plans, honour those plans by having them make an impact on the battle in some way. I can't emphasise that enough. If your players are making those sorts of plans, it means they are invested in your game's world and you're succeeding as a DM. I'm not saying let them win the entire battle before it happens, but at least tell them something like "The Red Hand would have fielded chimaeras in the battle, but since you burned up the meat trucks in the Hand's baggage train, you won't be facing any of them in the battle.")

    (3) Some of the tactical "decisions" to be made are so blindingly obvious you'd have to be a Blathering Idiot 20 to not cotton onto the fact they're misconceived. I'm talking here in particular about (a) whether or not to station Brindol's entire army outside the walls and engage the Red Hand in the field, and (b) whether the lords have any sort of plan for the wall being breached at all. By this stage the lords will know they're heavily outnumbered and that the Red Hand is fielding dragons. Jarmaath is an ex-adventurer and fought Regiarix himself once, so he would be aware of the destructive capacity a dragon can bring to a battle. Engaging outside the walls breaks all suspension of disbelief for those reasons, as does the failure to even contemplate the walls falling or make contingency plans given the force against them.

    So what to do? It seems to me there's three possible approaches one could take:

    (1) Make the consequences of the Audience more strategically significant. You could commit that the course of the battle, including where and how the encounters take place, hinges upon the decisions the lords make in this meeting. For example, no clerics holed up in the Cathedral means Kharn doesn't push for the Cathedral, but instead pushes for Brindol Keep, which is where the final battle takes place. Not recommended unless you've got a lot of spare time, but the five encounters can be window-dressed to take place in different locations without a lot of fuss.

    (2) Make the consequences of the Audience more personally significant to the party.At Brindol you've got several NPCs that hopefully the characters have come to know. You can set up choices for the players where they have to weigh up putting NPCs they've gotten to know at risk, so the players then have to balance the risk to those NPCs against the risks to themselves. The key is to give the players a choice that has a benefit to the party personally and a detriment to the city strategically (or indeed vice versa).

    For example, the cleric decision: if you station all the clerics at the Cathedral, then they can heal people better (+2 VP), and Tredora Goldenbrow survives because she's not exposed to enemy fire. But the healing potions available to the party in battle may be cut or entirely lost. The reverse applies if you station out the clerics: the party has more healing potions available, but Tredora Goldenbrow's going to die. (-2 VP)

    (3) Make some cosmetic changes to the Audience so the more obvious dumb decisions aren't quite so, well, bleeding obvious. For example, the decision whether to fight a field battle against the Red Hand becomes a decision whether or not to send the cavalry out to get a quick punch in against the army before retiring to the city gates. Still gets a -2 to VP if chosen, but it's nowhere near as asinine as putting Brindol's entire army out in front of the walls.


    Streamlining the battle
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    Glyphstone came up with a novel approach to avoiding having to go through every melee encounter in the Battle and also to bring back home to the party the sense that their decisions count. You can find the full discussion here, but adapting it in a more general sense...

    This assumes your players have 'done the right thing', by breaking the blockades near Rhest, recruiting the Tiri Kitor, and made sure the Dwarven Mercenaries were recruited.

    There are four 'crisis points' during the narration of the Red Hand's initial attack - key attempts to breach the city or cause havoc amongst the defenders. At each point, the party could assign one of the four groups of allies they'd collected to deal with the problem, if they didn't want to go by themselves. Every ally was effective against two of the problems, and ineffective against two - if they picked the wrong matchup, the Streets of Blood encounter becomes a bit harder.

    For this, there's an assumption that the Red Hand first tries to wear down the defenders by assaulting the walls of Brindol with ladders and a big dose of cannon fodder, simply to beat Brindol's troops by attrition.

    The dwarven mercenaries would be effective against ground-based targets, and useless against airborne enemies.
    The northern reinforcements (light cavalry) would be best-used against big targets, since they had a limited supply of javelins.
    The elves would be most useful against large numbers of smaller enemies, coordination and formation making up for the smaller damage of their projectiles.
    Immerstal the Red would be best-used where his ability to fly and use magic would have the most effect.

    {table=head] | Dwarven Mercenaries | Northern Reinforcements | Tiri Kitor Elves | Immerstal the Red | Loss Effect on Streets of Blood
    Initial wall assault | Win | Loss | Win | Loss | Extra wave of Cannon Fodder
    Hill Giant Battery | Win | Win | Loss | Loss | Random boulders falling on defenders
    Manticores | Loss | Loss | Win | Win | Fewer friendly mooks
    Abithriax | Loss | Win | Loss | Win | No barricade
    [/table]


    Saving (or not) the Walls
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    Since playing this encounter through, I've come to the view that it does need some alteration -- but not necessarily to the monsters. See, in this encounter, what generates the tension and drama of the encounter is the following question: Is the wall going to break?

    On the 'book' RHOD, it won't. 25 rounds of uninterrupted throwing by the giants is never going to happen in a real campaign unless you have a Fail Party. Brindol's own troops can sally from the walls and statistically beat that time limit with crossbows just fishing for critical hits.

    In short, you have to inject a real time constraint to the encounter. You can do this two ways: make the walls shakier, or make the monsters a bit more capable. (Indeed doing both might be a good idea depending on your party).

    Simplest fix I'd suggest is: let the wall fall after 15 hits from boulders, give the Hill Giants a single level in Hulking Hurler (Complete Warrior), use that book's rules on thrown objects, and have two of the giants chuck real boulders at the PCs while the other two concentrate on breaking the wall as you describe audible CRACK noises from the wall as the boulders rain on it. The Hill Giants probably won't last any longer, but the players should sweat more.

    Other thoughts--

    Skullcrusher Ogres and proper catapults: It's also a popular option to use MM4 Skullcrusher Ogres in place of "big" regular opponents like hill giants; they present a more credible threat against the party. Combining them with a proper siege engine makes things a bit more interesting. For bonus points, consider a Siege Golem out of Heroes of Battle for a living catapult - albeit its challenge rating and immunities mean there'll really be only one or two ways to kill it, which can be unfun.

    Spell turrets: From the DMG 2. Awesome idea in theory. Lasts a lot longer than giants and has to either be destroyed entirely or disabled by a rogue to be stopped. But forget being able to them by RAW. Spell turrets have a "radar" limited to 120 feet and they don't target objects, only unidentified creatures. And that's before you have to find four spells, each of a different school, all of the same level, that damage objects at Long range. Try; it's like looking for a word that rhymes with "orange."

    More troops: Stick another ten-odd hobgoblin squaddies in to function as speedbumps against the big or well-optimised party; given the levels the characters will be at by the time they reach this encounter it's worth considering.

    The Batman Gambit: You could play this encounter as the Red Hand's attempt to distract or draw off high level adventurers from the West Gate, which is the Hand's real target, or indeed it was a distraction to get Abithriax above the city unopposed causing mayhem. This makes Abithriax's role a bit bigger in the story and makes his use in the battle a bit less random.


    Abithriax's Rampage
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    Leaving aside the fun and games of trying to build a whole section of a city to have combat over, bear in mind the general advice applied to dragons - you can and should switch out a lot of Abby's feats. Size can be changed as well. Abby is Large, but given most experiences he can easily stand to be upgunned to Huge -- i.e. young adult or even adult if you're dealing with a big or uberoptimised party.

    Possibly the easiest way to make the fight a little more challenging is to have it take place over (or in, rather) a section of town that's on fire -- not because of the fires as such, but because of the smoke that comes with a fire. Fort saves for all PCs, starting at DC 15, increasing in difficulty round by round, imposing no actual effect to be cured by a pesky cleric, makes things much more interesting, especially if you have fiated that smoky-nosed dragons are immune to smoke as well as fire. And then there's the 20% concealment chance; you won't be making icky melee attacks, or if you do, you'll surely have cast Blindsight from a scroll.

    Tactically, your aim should be to skirmish and wear the party down by attrition. There's very little chance Abithriax will have the opportunity to get a full attack option off, so just breathe, then break contact with the party until you're ready to breathe again, or just hit with a single bite attack before moving on. In theory you could take this fight all over the city and annoy the snot out of your players if you use double moves or better to best advantage. At the very least use your 150 foot movement allowance per round to make huge jumps around the battlefield, and remember you can hide behind buildings since the wall of Brindol is 30 feet high, buildings are between 10 and 25 feet therefore, and you are a 10 foot high dragon at best. No line of sight means no line of effect, after all.

    Awesome Blow, Flyby Attack, Wingover, and Power Attack can be dispensed with. (Abithriax doesn't have a two-handed weapon, so why bother?) By way of replacement, consider Knowledge Devotion and a couple of metabreath feats. Empower Supernatural Ability (Tome of Magic) will make your breath more potent without increasing its recharge time. Possibly Improved Initiative as well if you can fit it in there. And if like most of us you're irritated by the "suicide by adventurer" that Abby is required to do on RHOD's text, provide a reason for it: Final Strike out of Savage Species for a post-death raised middle finger to the party.

    For magic: Wings of Cover, Nerveskitter, Conviction, Scintillating Scales, Blood Wind, and anything else that a red dragon with access to both the cleric and arcane lists should use against a target.


    The Streets of Blood encounter
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    You should have a decent handle on your party's strengths and tactics by now, so modifications made to this encounter are going to vary substantially depending on party numbers, optimisation, and collective battle nous of your players. Remember that it doesn't necessarily require vastly upgrading monsters; as written this encounter is meant to contain a decent crop of NPC allies including elves, owls, and Lions of Brindol, so one way to raise the difficulty level -- particularly in the case of parties 8+ in size -- is to just cut NPCs and thereby focus the monsters' firepower on a fewer number of targets. Depending on how effective the party's been, they'll be facing between three and five waves of troops, though assuming a party that doesn't metagame or go researching stuff on the Internet you could just throw five waves at the party even if they've foiled the Hand's efforts in Rhest and with the Ghostlord.

    The main thing to remember is this: like all the others prior to the final confrontation with Kharn, this encounter is only meant to wear down the party's resources, not TPK them.

    A lot of DMs seem to instinctively realise that the third wave (or the last wave in any event) should reach some sort of crescendo with a pretty decent opponent thrown at the party. AslanCross in Eberron went for a Warforged Titan; another popular suggestion is to replace the Bluespawn Thunderlizards with a straight out Bluespawn Godslayer. This same popular suggestion is also a bit controversial, since whilst a godslayer's certainly thematically appropriate, it's also a pretty powerful option -- perhaps even anticlimactic. Personally, I'd reserve any Godslayer for the Fane of Tiamat, where it has a more dramatic impact.

    One might also note that another way to enhance the difficulty here is to simply swarm. Raise the number of monsters who are just running to get to the far end of the street rather than engage the party. Remember the party also loses if 20-odd monsters get to the far end of the street, and if they have to move more than five feet, full attacks at least disappear.


    The Sniper Attack
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    Fixing the Kulkor Zhul War Adepts:
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    Bearing in mind that the players still have two encounters to go, you might not greatly alter the adepts; their main purpose is to inconvenience the party long enough for Skather to get his buff on, so they don't need to really be rebuilt as such (besides, aren't you getting tired of all this paring back and reworking? )

    The only real change needed is to their spells. One possibility is to replace one of their Lightning Bolts with Shatterfloor -- difficult terrain all around makes thing a bit more interesting. On the other hand, Shatterfloor is a third level spell -- their only third level spell.

    Instead, I suggest you substitute one of their first level spells for Sticky Floor from Races of the Dragon. Sticky Floor has a low-ish Reflex save to prevent being stuck in place ... but even if they save, party members are considered entangled while they're in the area of that spell: move at half speed, -2 to attack rolls, and -4 to DEX ... which also affects Reflex saves, AC, and Initiative, synergising nicely with the casters' lightning bolts. Thematic and appropriate. Coating the open areas of floor with a few of these effects is logical stuff for a hit squad to do -- at worst it slows down intruders until the hobgoblins have time to beat it.

    Another possibility is to replace one of the adepts with a reasonably high level Swordsage for more martial protection.


    Fixing Skather:
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    As written, Skather is just plain old underwhelming. He's a cut and paste Blackspawn Exterminator from the MM IV, with an alleged CR of 10 and a suck value of A+ since he relies on 6 levels in ninja for most of his combat skills. (He also gets one more attack than seems possible by the rules, but hey, that's WOTC for ya.) He can poison, but it's subpar as written. At level 9-10, parties' saves are usually too high or too buffable for sassone leaf residue poison with a DC 16 to make an impact, much less the buffed-up-to-the-nines party.

    The solution to this problem is drawn from the Poisoner's Handbook.

    Basically, take a stock blackspawn raider from RHOD and add one of the following builds:

    • Rogue 2/Assassin 5. Feat selections (using 1 flaw): Weapon Finesse, Master of Poisons, Poison Expert, Poison Master, Venomous Strike, Staggering Strike, Terrifying Strike - swap out Power Attack, Track, and Improved Initiative. Replace his poisons with Black Lotus Extract, and an Assassination short sword (along with other refinements the Poisoner Handbook suggests to his weapon).

      You now have a character who can reliably apply poisons to his weapons as a swift action. With the spell Increased Virulence, Poison Expert, Venomous Strike, and the Assassination properties of the weapon, those poisons now have roughly +8 or so to their DC, on top of an indirect -4 to saves that Terrifying Strike and Staggering Strike impose. Even sassone leaf residue is looking a bit more impressive at DC 24 rather than DC 16. And Black Lotus starts at DC 20, does 3d6 Con damage primary which affects Fort saves...before the Assassin's Death Attack kicks in.

      Bear in mind Death Attack is going to be tricky to arrange unless you can keep Skather hidden from the party for 3 rounds while they're in the same room as him. This can be fixed by giving a mostly-spent Wand of Deathsight (Complete Mage 102). You've still got +4d6 sneak attack damage to play with and spellcasting which includes True Strike and Obscuring Mist.) In terms of HD, this Skather has only 1 more HD than his RHOD book counterpart does, and a whole lot of extra toys: Evasion, Improved Uncanny Dodge, and all the rest.

    • Duskblade 7. This build is much more "tank and spank" with a poisonous flavour. Feat selections (again, using 1 flaw): Master of Poisons, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Draconic Aura (energy: acid) traded for Track, Poison Spell, Smiting Spell, Knowledge Devotion, and Combat Expertise.

      Keep him two-handed with his falchion, but make it a whirling weapon. And give him a few doses of Black Lotus or Darklight Brew. He can still poison his weapon as a swift action, but he can channel stuff like Chill Touch with Poison Spell metamagic'd into it, resulting in multiple poisonings from the one pass -- one from the weapon, and one from the spell. And then Smiting Spell, which gives you one more poisonous touch spell a round. And he also has a 7d4 breath weapon at DC 19 if you really needed it.

      Did I also mention that Dimension Hop can be channelled and that Skather is operating on the second floor of a building? Or that he has Knowledge Devotion, and that Knowledge (Local) covers pretty well every PC in existence since most are humanoids? Or that a falchion's a two-handed weapon and thus synergises with Power Attack?


    For a large party, it might actually be worth taking both the above builds: the Duskblade "Skather" engages the party while an "assassin" Skather hides and waits for his moment with the Death Attack.

    Bear in mind also that built like this, Skather makes a very rich, in WBL terms, opponent. Poisons are expensive, as are custom magic items, so you might want to either just give these as bonuses or restrain yourself on equipment elsewhere.

    Don't go an archer build. There's no point (and no pun intended, either.) If you really must, consider stretching a lot to the Dragon supplements and other exotic options that make ranged combat work - or at least, work a lot better than they otherwise would.


    Restatting Wyrmlord Kharn
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    Kharn seems to need restatting on most people's experiences of the campaign. This is mostly because he gets most of his levels from a "meh" (technical term there) class, and then for an encore goes on to PrC into a similarly "meh" class.

    Most specifically, with a hitpoint count of 68 points, he's well and truly within possibility of being one-shotted by even a half-optimised barbarian build. Not that rebuilding him is all about the hitpoints, but he needs to be a warrior befitting the leadership of a rampaging army. That is, the action economy, attack accuracy, and doing damage to the PCs are the important part.

    Tome of Battle, once again, is your friend. The general consensus is that Kharn does well as a martial adept, specifically the Ruby Knight Vindicator, or Ruby Knight WINdicator as the PrC is often referred to on these boards. Most of that comes from the PrC preserving most of your divine spellcasting levels and advances martial maneuvers.

    The two shortest paths into RKV are via cleric or paladin. The difference fundamentally comes down to whether you want to keep full cleric versatility on spells, or go down the path of Battle Blessing from Complete Champion and rely on quick casting of Paladin spells and a somewhat higher baseline BAB. (Remembering, of course, that if a cleric abuses DMM, for the purposes of BAB they are Paladins.)

    Builds using Tome of Battle:
    • Crusader 1/Cleric 4/Ruby Knight Vindicator 5. (Needs a refluff because RKV is solely a Wee Jas PrC on the prerequisites, but other than that, this is one of the more popular builds. If you really want to make your players cry, give Kharn two more levels to reach RKV 7, which unlocks the PrC’s most powerful and possibly most abused class feature: Divine Impetus, allowing you to get additional swift actions per round by expending turn undead attempts. But that’s an option reserved only for well optimized parties.)
    • Crusader 1/Paladin of Tyranny 4/Ruby Knight Vindicator 5. (This one’s more devoted to getting a higher BAB at the expense of versatility with your spells. Has to be a Paladin of Tyranny because of the alignment issue. If you’re going down this line, as mentioned, I'd strongly recommend Battle Blessing from Complete Champion. The feat lets you cast most paladin spells as swift actions – that’s basically Divine Metamagic (Quicken) for paladins without spending turn undead attempts. The Spell Compendium is a must for this build, since it considerably expands the paladin’s selection.)
    • Cleric 3/Crusader 2/Ruby Knight Vindicator 5. Nice alternate if you want a different feel to Kharn. Domains: Trickery, Domination. Feats: Power Attack, Spell Focus (Enchantment)--Bonus from Domination Domain, Divine Defiance, Divine Vigor, Practiced Spellcaster. Here the maneuvers focus on high-damage blasters, like Divine Surge, which gives Kharn a different focus than just being the most uber fighter on the field.
    • Crusader 10 or Warblade 10. Don't make Kharn one of these. Even Kharn in his RHOD "book" form has spellcasting options, and he's the only one in the encounter who's got them.


    (In passing, by way of refluffing the Ruby Knight Vindicator to the Eberron world, AslanCross came up with arguably one of the best-sounding alternative titles for an Tiamat-based RKV: the Knight of Five Sorrows, which just sings with High Fantasy and locks in with Tiamat's five ... well, you get it. I thoroughly recommend y'all steal that title for Kharn in your own campaigns. )

    Builds not using Tome of Battle:
    • Cleric 4/Ordained Champion 5/X 1. (Ordained Champion functions like a Paladin … only better. "X", of course, standing for pretty well any class you feel like.)
    • Paladin of Tyranny 7/Blackguard 4. Extra two levels are in here because Paladin of Tyranny can't qualify for Blackguard until he's got enough Hide ranks on him. (Although a better name for this build is “Paladin of Heisenberg’s Cheese”. A Paladin of Tyranny has levels in “paladin” and thus qualifies to “fall” and become a blackguard. Thus on RAW he gets all the extra benefits ex-paladins get. But in doing so, a Paladin of Tyranny never commits a good act and does not contravene his code of conduct. Therefore he never “falls”, thus retaining all his Paladin of Tyranny class abilities and spells and adding in all the blackguard’s abilities, which effectively means double the normal spells per day, and several more Smite Goods than he should otherwise have. It is literally the RAW best of three worlds, since he keeps all his paladin abilities, gets bonuses for not being a paladin anymore, and gets blackguard levels.) Vorteld teamed one of these guys up with a Redspawn Firebelcher, and it apparently made for an interesting fight.
    • Favored Soul 10. (Nothing that fantastic to write home about, but it’s an improvement on splitting his levels up between Favored Soul and Talon of Tiamat.) For building better Favored Souls, consider these two GITP threads.
    • Cleric 10. (CoDzilla being the operative build here. And strictly speaking more powerful than at least two of the options above. It would maybe rate higher if only for the fact this doesn't make Kharn that much different to Azarr Khul, and it's important to keep the Wyrmlords distinct from one another.)


    Here's a sample Kharn build, from kjones' campaign:

    Spoiler
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    Wyrmlord Hravek Kharn, CR 9
    Male hobgoblin Crusader 1 / Cleric 4 / Ruby Knight Vindicator 4
    LE Medium Humanoid (goblinoid)
    Init +4
    Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Listen +3, Spot +3
    Languages Common, Draconic, Goblin, Infernal

    AC 24, touch 10, flat-footed 24 (29)
    HP 66 (9 HD)
    Resist fire 5 (cold 10)
    F/R/W +12/+6/+7
    (+17/+11/+12)

    Speed 20 ft.
    Melee +1 wounding heavy pick +12/+7 (1d6 + 4 + 1 Con / x4)
    (+16/+11 [1d6 + 7 + 1 Con / x4] )
    Base Atk +8/+3 Grp +11 (+13)
    Maneuvers
    7 known 2 readied 2 stances

    4th: White Raven Strike (+4d6 damage, target becomes flat-footed)
    3rd: Revitalizing Strike (You or ally heals 3d6 + 7)
    2nd: Shield Block (+8 to AC for adjacent ally)
    Tactical Strike (+2d6 damage, adjacent allies move 5 feet)
    1st: Vanguard Strike (allies gain +4 bonus on attacks against target)
    Stone Bones (DR 5/adamantine)
    Crusader's Strike (heal 1d6+5)

    Stances
    Leading the Charge (+7 damage to charges)
    Martial Spirit (+2 HP / hit)

    Spells (CL 7, domains Destruction, Evil)
    4th (1 + 1, DC 17):
    Unholy Blight*, Air Walk
    3rd: (3+1, DC 16):
    Magic Circle Against Good*, Wind Wall, Invisibility Purge, Dispel Magic
    2nd: (4+1, DC 15):
    Shatter*, Bull's Strength+, Resist Energy (cold)+, Bear's Endurance
    1st (5+1, DC 14):
    Protection from Good*+, Shield of Faith+, Conviction+, Remove Fear, Divine Favor+, Bless

    *: Domain spell
    +: Already cast, currently active

    Other Special Attacks
    Smite (+4 to hit, +4 to damage) 1/day
    Divine Recovery (Recover a maneuver as a swift action 6/day)
    Furious Counterstrike
    Steely Resolve 5

    Equipment 2 potions of cure serious wounds, potion of fly, potion of remove blindness/deafness, potion of lesser restoration

    Abilities Str 16 (20), Dex 8, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 16, Cha 16

    Skills Concentration +15, Intimidate +11, Knowledge (Religion) +8, Hide +3

    Feats Power Attack, Survivor's Luck, Unbelievable Luck, Lucky Start (4 luck rerolls, apply to init, saves)

    Possessions combat gear, +2 red dragoncraft full plate, +1 light fortification heavy steel shield, +1 wounding heavy pick, masterwork light crossbow with 20 bolts, gauntlets of ogre power, cloak of resistance +2, ring of protection +1


    Bear in mind this "Kharn" template is down one level on the RHOD standard because he was resurrected from a PC-led assassination earlier in the campaign. Even so; you get CL 7 and maneuvers as a 7th level Crusader - that is, just access to level 4 maneuvers & spells (remember, classes other than martial adepts count for 1/2 an IL). Even though it gets him slightly fewer skills and HP, it'll give him ability to pick 2nd level maneuvers on level 1 of Crusader (as he only gets 2 new maneuvers out of Ruby Knight, bulk of his maneuvers are going to come from level 1 of Crusader so not being limited to level 1 on them is very good).

    In terms of tactics, consider changing the hill giant escort Kharn's got into the ever-popular Skullcrusher Ogres with some class levels and some interesting weapon style feats on them, so it isn't quite the generic melee grind.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Part Five: the Fane of Tiamat (and beyond)


    Ya think they got her best side?

    Rebuilding the Fane of Tiamat
    Spoiler
    Show
    The Fane is a bit of a weird postscript to the Battle of Brindol. Some DMs have been so underwhelmed with it that they've actually just slung Azarr Kul directly into the Battle of Brindol and leave the overall climax of the adventure right there.

    There's any number of reasons why (the chief one being that the Battle of Brindol is a pretty powerful climax all on its own) but one of the campaign journalists put their finger on it: compared with the rest of the "dungeons" in the game, the Fane is very large and contains a number of encounters that don't really add anything to it.

    One example (and usually first up for DMly deletion) is Laryssa the Night Hag the party encounters in the kitchen. Yeah, it shows the Fane is a "working environment"; yeah, it's a Night Hag; yeah, you might get a laugh if a dumb PC brews up a tea out of her nail clippings, but, well, so what?

    Another element that seems to crop up as making the Fane a little cheesy is the bad-videogame-AI method of "monsters only trigger when you enter their room" that's explicitly laid out by the text. Even if (say) Laryssa is having unmentionable things done to her by a party of twisted PCs and is screaming her hagly head off for help, not one guard in the Fane is permitted to come and help her. It's like something out of Terry Pratchett. "Sorry, they only pay me to stare at the doorway. Don't care if the dragon's yelling 'intruders!' outside." Whatever suspension of disbelief the writers were going for of a working dark temple, it gets smashed by that fact. These are meant to be the most elite troops Azarr Kul's got.

    Of course, there's obviously a balance issue to be had here since swarming the PCs with every guard in the place is also most likely to be fatal to them.

    The solution is straightforward, though: cut down the size of the Fane and streamline it. The following things could be included:

    * Tyrgarun, of course, and the trap on the front door
    * The foyer, more heavily defended
    * The torture chamber, more or less unchanged
    * The barracks and the priest's chambers, merged into a single area somehow
    * The temple, guarded by the dragonspawn from the cave (I think my selection of dragonspawn worked out pretty well)
    * The treasury, guarded by the barbed devil, combined with the bedchamber - put the erinyes in the Inner Sanctum with Kull himself
    * The inner sanctum, of course

    This leaves out the kitchen, the altar beneath the Inner Sanctum, the cave (not thrilled about this, but I like the temple and wyverns are just lame at this level), and merges the barracks and the priest quarters. I think this would result in a much tighter, more satisfying Chapter V.

    Here's some funky ideas that folks came up with for redesigning the Fane, too:

    • Make the Fane itself mostly deserted. Maybe every so often the PCs could encounter a band of hobbo guards, but they'd be terrified and probably just refuse to fight because: Azar Kul has, knowing that the PCs are coming, sped up the ritual. As a sideeffect, the portal has begun to spit out fiends at random points throughout the fane. Because of DM handwavium ("unpredictable magical energies, whatever), these fiends are mostly demons, which means they've pretty much been tearing the place apart.
    • Some parts of the Fane just lead straight into Hell. The PCs would have to navigate the infernal environments. Although I realize it's cliche as hell, I can see them having to pass through several gates, each of which requires defeating a guardian in a battle that revolves around some gimmick, be it mental environment manipulation, riddles, whatever. The guardians would be devils, hyped up superhobbos, teams of spawn of Tiamat assassins, hordes of raving goblin cultist, bugbear ninja, etc.
    • The final gate leads back to the Material Plane. Azar Kul and the actual portal exist in a sort of "eye of the storm" situation. The PCs can see crackling hellish energies within spitting distance as they fight Teh BossMonster.
    • If you keep the cavern, increase its size and throw a Bluespawn Godslayer at the party here.


    And because they're just awesome and specific, AslanCross's changes made to the Fane:

    I really dislike the Night Hag encounter. It seems to me like a half-hearted attempt at levity in the final leg of the adventure. I prefer to keep the Fane spooky and very intimidating. I took it out and replaced it with a Naztharune Rakshasa assassin (it fit the story of one of my party's characters: his wife was murdered back home by a Rakshasa that was working with Azarr Kul).

    As for what to add, I had the battle with Tyrgarun happen along a bridge that crosses the canyon. Naturally, a narrow, rickety, hanging bridge.

    I also threw out the Blackspawn and replaced them all with multiple devils: mostly legion devils and chain devils. Chain devils are FANTASTIC for the barracks room due to the large number of meat chains hanging from the ceiling.

    I also dramatically increased the power of the Bone Devil by giving him class levels, though in my run he wasn't meant to be a combat encounter. He gave the PCs a deal, offering to step out of the way if they took out the Glabrezu at the other end of the complex (I put the Glabrezu's prison chamber beyond the priest cells).

    I also added a very annoying spell turret in the center of the main hallway of the Upper Fane, along with an Iron Golem (had to challenge my party due to it being fairly optimized and having 5 members; I do not recommend this for weaker parties). The Iron Golem was draconic in design (shaped like a Large half-dragon humanoid) and dealt slashing damage instead of bludgeoning thanks to enormous claws. It was actually left there by the original creators of the Fane. Thanks to a couple of deadly run-ins with it, the Red Hand squatters decided to just leave the golem alone and chose paths that circumvent it instead (there are many).

    I also disliked how empty the council room was. I piled up lots of books on the table and had a very large map of Eberron pinned onto it. The giant Pentagram depicting the planar seal was drawn on it, with the Fane of Tiamat as one of the star's points. The map meant that there were other Fanes, and thus more locations for Azarr Kul to raid and perform his rituals at.

    To make this room more interesting, I added a very large throne in a corner. It was big enough for an ogre. What for? You'll see later.

    To round off the council chamber, I added a fire summoning trap (DMG 2). It basically incinerated the entire room along with the documents, and dropped a Fire elemental on the PCs. The trap was in Azarr Kul's throne.

    Instead of wyverns, I put in a single Abyssal Drake in the Great Temple of Tiamat, along with mezzoloths and canoloths. Cloudkill as a spell-like ability is AWESOME.

    What's a final dungeon populated by Spawn of Tiamat without a Bluespawn Godslayer? I replaced the razorfiends with this single butt-kicker. I dramatically increased the size of the Cavern of the Guardian Spawn, putting the eastern half on a rock shelf 200 feet up. The PCs had to scale a rickety, dangerous ladder to get up to the tunnel to the Outer Sanctum.

    This ladder had a Blackspawn Stalker's web all around it. The Stalker itself was waiting on top beside the Godslayer.

    Remember that throne in the council chamber? The really big one? For the Outer Sanctum, I added one last Rakshasa in it along with the lesser clerics and a hobgoblin crusader of Tiamat. (In Eberron, Tiamat's cult is primarily run by Rakshasas; particularly favored ones undertake a ritual that turns them into powerful half-dragon rakshasas.) This one was one of them: A large, half bronze-dragon Naityan rakshasa with swordsage levels. (Dragons in Eberron aren't alignment-color coded.)


    Restatting Tyrgarun
    Spoiler
    Show
    By this point, at least on most people's experiences thus far, you shouldn't need to upgrade this dragon. He's older and has more abilities than the youngsters encountered elsewhere, so the fight with Tyrgarun shouldn't need a lot of reworking to the dragon himself.

    Even so, there's an intriguing opportunity for bastardry available here. Remember how the module says that if you haven't been diligent in killing dragons, they'll show up again here? Well, suppose the party has been killing dragons but hasn't been doing much damage to the corpses...

    Consider, in other words, having zombie Ozyrrandion and zombie Regiarix showing up here to support Tyrgarun in battle.


    And The Adventure Continues
    Spoiler
    Show
    As something of a postscript, what are some thoughts for where characters can go after having killed Azarr Khul and/or the Aspect of Tiamat?

    Some suggestions people have made based on a 10th to 11th level party by the end of the adventure:
    • Scales of War, being a 4e adventure path that follows on from RHOD, although obviously it would require back-conversion.
    • Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. Roughly level-appropriate, and if you wanted to pull some kind of "the planes themselves are put out of alignment as the Aspect dies and the portal to Avernus closes, and with a sudden darkness, you find yourself ... somewhere..." Ravenloft is a lovely place to wind up. :)
    • Someone with clearly a very sick sense of humour suggested the Tomb of Horrors.
    • Expedition to the Demonweb Pits. Jair Barik had some good thoughts on the transition to this: go with an ending of "the players jump into a portal and end up in Sigil", which allows you to segue into EttDP with the motive of getting home rather than just being out to get evil -- or alternatively, just give the players some downtime after RHoD and let their climactic battles there fade back a bit, since EttDP just starts off with fairly deadly opposition to begin with. There are some nice thematic concordances with the two campaigns - notably, more Aspects, and the players dealing with Demons rather than Devils from the RHoD Fane and consequently some plot intrigue stemming out of the Blood War.
    • Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.


    Other plot hooks you could draw from:
    • Clean up. While Azarr Kul and Hravek Kharn may be dead, the Horde is far from gone: while scattered, hobgoblins and other monsters are still rampaging across the Elsir Vale, causing a great deal of havoc. If any Wyrmlords survived, they might reorganize the troops and prepare another assault; even if none did, a powerful Red Hand warpriest might seize control and begin their own invasion (or they might find a way to resurrect a fallen Wyrmlord).
    • The fifth Beatle dragon. Why were only four dragons present in the invasion? Simple. Azarr Kul had, in fact, made an alliance with a powerful white dragon from the frosty mountain peaks north of the Endless Plains, but he simply didn't have time to delay the invasion long enough for the dragon to arrive. Instead, the plan was that the white dragon would help him solidify his rule across the Elsir Vale, crushing any remaining resistance. So now, unaware that the Red Hand horde is in fact routed, this dragon arrives on its own...followed, of course, by a retinue of enslaved soldiers and monsters - and finds, while not perhaps the easy victory he had expected, a decimated land ripe for the picking.
    • The Fane of Tiamat. Azarr Kul didn't quite manage to complete his infernal gate, but his work and the arrival of the Aspect of Tiamat significantly injured the fabric of the Material Plane within the inner sanctum. If they can, remaining Red Hand warpriests might try to complete the ritual - or the hordes of Baator might break through themselves. Either way, Elsir Vale now finds itself under a new threat: ravening armies of Hell swarming out of the Wyrmsmokes, bent on destruction.
    • Vraath Keep. The PCs are heroes of the Elsir Vale, and as such Lord Jarmaath might see fit to grant them lordship over Vraath Keep and Drellin's Ferry. If they accept, the PCs will not only have to cope with rebuilding and repopulating the town and castle, but also clearing the shadow-filled eaves of the western Witchwood and driving back raids by remaining Red Hand warriors. To be sure, it will become a game that's quite different from the standard campaign, but nonetheless an interesting one. If you're prepared to do some work, it could even be a nice opportunity to segue into Pathfinder's Kingmaker adventure path, since the themes of "own a piece of the rock" are the same.
    • Lady Kaal and/or Rillor Paln, being the shifty powers in Elsir Vale. There's a wonderful account in this thread of one DM who teased out these two into causing a further major threat to the Vale themselves.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Other Resources, Campaign Journals, etc.

    Very much under construction.

    Campaign Journals hosted here on GITP:
    AslanCross's RHOD campaign journal, set in Eberron.
    Saph's RHOD campaign journal, set in the Forgotten Realms.
    kjones' RHOD campaign journal, set in a generic (?) campaign world.

    The author's own RHOD campaign, played in PbP format:
    http://boards.theforce.net/non_star_...08372/p1/?5200
    The current player roster and other resource material for the author's campaign: http://boards.theforce.net/role_play...0918874/p1/?18


    Alternate builds for various NPCs or opponents in RHOD:
    From Inkeyes, using Tome of Battle, in an Eberron setting - hobgoblin rank and file
    Spoiler
    Show
    Hobgoblin Regular
    Hobgoblin Archer
    Goblin Worg Rider (Uses Dragon #336 variant)
    Warbeast Wolf
    Hobgoblin Sergeant & Hobgoblin Veteran
    Hobgoblin Chain-bearer: Instead of being a blade-bearer Inkeyes thought it'd be funny to make him a spiked-chain tripper.
    Super Cheerleader: This build uses the Sublime Way Marshal which seems to have disappeared from the web. Here's the full fix in a word doc. I also made a weaker version as an alternative to archers with the Regulars.
    Doom Fist Monk: He's an unarmed Swordsage.
    Kulor Zul Mindbender: I rebuilt him into a telepath Psion. I went with this so the Ardent in my group would have the chance to find some nice psionic items.


    From Inkeyes, again in Eberron - dragons and Wyrmlords
    Spoiler
    Show


    Dragons:

    Ozyrrandion is a mercury dragon. He comes out to the same CR as before, but if anyone thinks he needs upgrading I'd love input. I figured that a glittering metallic dragon would throw the party off since most of them probably forgot dragons can be any alignment. It's also very likely they'll mistake him with a Silver dragon and attack him with fire spells (which he's immune to).

    Regiarix is a Topaz Dragon from the Monster Manual 2. He's the same CR as well, according to the 3.5 update of the book.

    Vaaranthian is a dragon now! My first party was confused and disappointed in the end when there was no fifth dragon to fight; facing the draconic servants of Tiamat meant five would show up, right? Feel free to ignore this one if you prefer the Fiendish Behir. I think Fang Dragons are pretty awesome, though. She comes out to the same CR, and gets a bunch of interesting goodies. Due to their nature, fang dragons get larger damage die, Con drain (instead of a breath weapon), and cool SLAs. The source I used was the Draconomicon, but they're in Monsters of Faerun too.

    Abithriax is a half-white brass dragon. I picked a brass as a base creature because the idea of a Beige Dragon always amused me. According to the MM, he actually comes out to a CR 12 with the template on top, but all it really gives him is some stat boosts and a cone of cold 1/day. If anyone thinks he needs downsizing feel free to speak up.

    With Tyragun I'm undecided. I statted up a CR 10 Ethereal Dragon, but I'd only have half a chromatic dragon to fight the party with if I used that. They might also be completely baffled by a dragon that can go ethereal 3/day and hit them with a breath weapon on another plane. I'd also have to rework the five talking heads thing, but that's not hard.

    Wyrmlords:

    Wyrmlord Koth is a Wizard focused on debuffing. His strategy is to go invisible and cast as many non-direct damage spells as possible before he has to hit anyone. If cornered, he'd try to escape. Like any good batman wizard he has prepared for the possibility of being captured with several escape spells on his Spell Mastery feat.

    Wryrmlord Saarvith is a Martial Ranger with Fax's Falling Star Discipline. He's meant to hop on Regiarix and rain arrows down on the party while airborne.

    I should also note that the last three Wyrmlords each have one flaw. At that level I figured that unique NPCs deserved the extra feat to rival my party. I give PCs 1 flaw and 1 trait.

    Ulwai Stormcaller is a sunscorched Hobgoblin Bard. Her strategy is to go invisible, pump her inspire courage, then belt out Dragonfire Inspriration so her allies hit enemies with +4d6 electrical damage.

    Wyrmlord Hravek Kharn is a Cleric/Ordained Champion. There's not much to his strategy other than buff and smash.

    High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul is a Cleric/Crusader/Ruby Knight Vindicator. He makes liberal use of Divine Meta Magic to pile big buffs on himself and rip and tear in combat. His build could also be adapted for Kharn and vice versa if you prefer. This version of Azarr Kul assumes that his father is an Ethereal Dragon (like above), but the only difference is what energy his cone uses and what he's immune to.

    From Endarire, a, shall we say, more challenging Aspect of Tiamat Download It Here.

    Couple of links I did manage to salvage from the WOTC Archive and which still work:

    All maps in RHOD with secret doors removed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36844791@N00/
    A fanbuilt map of the bell tower at Rhest: http://dundjinni.com/forums/forum_po...d+hand+of+doom
    Dundjinni map of the Rhest town hall: Here.
    Nice image of the Cathedral of Pelor in Brindol: Here.



    ...And that's all, take it away guys!

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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    This should be interesting.

    Particularly the sentiments on adaptation.

    That reminds me though, I need to find those three journals so I can finish them...x.x
    Last edited by Coidzor; 2010-10-09 at 10:23 AM.
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    +3 Girlfriend is totally unoptimized. You are better off with a +1 Keen Witty girlfriend and then appling Greater Magic Make-up to increase her enhancement bonus.
    Homebrew
    In Progress: The Totem Shaman (Totemist/Divine PrC) And Friends!
    To Do: Reboot and finish Riptide

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    Default Re: The 3.5 RHOD Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP

    Thanks so much for doing this. I am so disappointed that so much of the good RHoD work was lost on the WoTC site. I wish I'd preserved that stuff when I had the chance, because the material there made the adventure so much better. With luck, we can see the same kind of interest here and rekindle the lost fires that supported this work.

    Have a cookie.
    Last edited by ShriekingDrake; 2014-04-05 at 03:09 PM.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Players keep out!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Damn, you've discovered my Kryptonite... *munches down on the cookie*

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    I've played through RHoD once, talked about it extensively with my DM, and I was going to run a PbP game of it before it fell through due to unrelated stuff. My notes:
    -The Wyrmlords, as stated, need reworking. Koth was incredibly underwhelming in our campaign, and our DM rebuilt Kharn as a Warblade, which made the fight very cool. My idea was to rework them into a sequence going from pure martial to pure caster - I had Koth statted out as a Barbarian 3/Frenzied Berserker 3, use Saarvith in a ranged build like the Swift Hunter build in the guide, Ulwai is decent as is, use Kharn as an arcanist specializing in summoning (probably Malconvoker), and Azarr Kul as a divine caster.
    -One of the biggest issues is motivating the PCs near the end of Chapter 1 and getting them into Chapter 2; it can be difficult to motivate them to see the horde at Cinder Hill, then it can be hard to get them to Rhest. We used the blockades as our hook, and just kind of wandered up to Rhest, but there's got to be a better way.
    -The dragons mainly need better feat selection, and can use a better spell selection based on how powerful/optimized you want them. Awaken Spell Resistance, as noted, is nice. If you want to make them very very strong, give them access to Blood Wind and Scintillating Scales from Spell Compendium.
    -The Battle of Brindol was a fantastic session for us. A couple of changes our DM made - using Skullcrusher Ogres instead of the giants, (which he had used in several places previously) using 2 Bluespawn Godslayers as the third wave in Streets of Blood as much more dangerous and impressive opponents then the Razorfiends, and Kharn's bodyguard was 4 Wilders, who tanked up with Vigor and potions of Barkskin, then hammered us with some blasting powers and ego whip.
    -After Brindol, the Fane of Tiamat was incredibly anticlimactic. It's a somewhat boring dungeoncrawl. The Aspect was...very powerful, and killed the other two members of our party (a Knight and a healbot Cleric) very quickly, but I was a Warlock and just kited it with Flyby Attack.
    -One idea I had, to make Brindol the full climax of the adventure and to address issues we had of feeling like Azarr Kul was Orcus on His Throne, was to switch around the Fane and the Battle. The idea was to have the horde besiege Brindol, then wait for reinforcements from the interplanar portal. Azarr Kul would lead the horde himself, while Kharn would be in charge of opening the portal. (tying in with the Malconvoker-ness) The PCs would learn about the issues at the Fane from divinations by, say, Immerstal - teleport or travel by Owl there, take care of Kharn, (with no Aspect) then head back to Brindol for the climactic battle. Azarr Kul would summon the Aspect with some kind of contingency and/or desperate prayer.
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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Here's a link to the RHoD game I'm currently running on these boards.

    When I originally played through it in RL as a PC, my DM changed several things (which was good, since we were a powerful party of 4). He bumped up the dragon's age categories, reworked Kharn and Azarr Kul, doubled the razorfiends, and did various other things to up the ante. We were able to overcome all the challenges and emerge victorious.

    In the game I'm currently running, I'm mostly running it 'out of the box,' just to see what happens. So far, the party has been routinely stomping the encounters, although the beguiler was killed by Ozyrrandion at Skull Gorge (they brought him back to life with the Staff of Life).

    The only thing I've changed so far is that I've replaced all Hobgoblin Badebearers with warblade levels, and made the Hobgoblin Sergeants level 3 crusaders. I've also made the Doomfist Monks sword sages, but they've yet to encounter any of them.

    These are pretty minor elite NPCs, though, and they've not even really had the chance yet to shine. The party's fighter/barbarian has been particularly devastating, especially when combined with the bard (who is currently AWOL, but his absence hasn't stopped the party's ability to own).

    I've noticed that in general the enemies have poor Will saves, and spells like Glitterdust have been winning tickets.

    Also, the outdoor, wide-open nature of several of the fights has proven to be somewhat detrimental to the party's dragonfire adept; the limit on their breath weapon's range is really hard on more open-area combats. Now that he can fly, he's coming a bit more into his own, though.

    Also, despite their many successes, they've been unable to take down any of the Red Hand's leaders. Koth and Ozyrrandion managed to escape; I played them slightly more conservatively then the book suggests. Ozy's escape in particular will cost them victory points when the Battle of Brindol comes to a close, as they won't see him again until the Fane.

    I'm intrigued to see how they'll handle the ruins of Rhest. When I played through it, it turned into a gigantic clusterf**k, and we barely managed to scrape by with our lives.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    If anyone has the original link to the old guidebook, I SHOULD be able to find it on web achive... I'm surprisingly good at that i I have the original link!

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Quote Originally Posted by Gavinfoxx View Post
    If anyone has the original link to the old guidebook, I SHOULD be able to find it on web achive... I'm surprisingly good at that i I have the original link!
    You mean this? http://community.wizards.com/go/thre...Resource_Links

    That is to say, I found the old index of such threads, but when I went to look again I got that.

    The links within that thread are in the old style, so could be checked in the web archive?
    Last edited by Coidzor; 2010-10-09 at 06:34 PM.
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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Qualifier: DM'd RHoD

    Always bothered me; why would the party not just destroy the Ghostlords phylactery?

    I mean, they have an evil, undead item holding the life force of a min 11th level caster. What party, that should be working against the Evil Horde, would want to converse with such a creature?


    Even made of adamantium, players are creative enough to find some way to accomplish it.

    Trapping the thing just slows the party down, even if it resets. At most you kill the person who hits it, then the wiz stands back throwing orbs o' Force at it.
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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Quote Originally Posted by cZak View Post
    Qualifier: DM'd RHoD

    Always bothered me; why would the party not just destroy the Ghostlords phylactery?

    I mean, they have an evil, undead item holding the life force of a min 11th level caster. What party, that should be working against the Evil Horde, would want to converse with such a creature?


    Even made of adamantium, players are creative enough to find some way to accomplish it.

    Trapping the thing just slows the party down, even if it resets. At most you kill the person who hits it, then the wiz stands back throwing orbs o' Force at it.

    You could destroy it, certainly. The key point the PCs need to realize, however, is that the Ghostlord might not realize it. Even if his phylactery is destroyed, if he believes it is still being held hostage by the Red Hand, he'll commit his ghost troops to the assault on Brindol. The objective is to prevent the horde from getting undead reinforcements.

    In order to make sure the Ghostlord doesn't commit, he needs to know one of two things: either that the Red Hand no longer possess his phylactery, or that it has been destroyed. Either way will result in him withdrawing his troops. However, should he learn his precious phylactery has been destroyed, he's likely to fly into a rage, and probably shoot the messenger.

    When we played through the Ghostlord chapter in RL, we brought his phylactery to him, but tried to draw out a negotiation, to which he simply responded by attacking us, even though we still possessed his phylactery. Eventually we managed to trap him, and then decided to destroy his trinket right then and there. In the end, he did not support the Red Hand, and we left him trapped and screwed. Later on, he attempted to kill us out of revenge, until we eventually destroyed him once and for all, but that was after the events of RHoD were over.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    You might want to add a section on dealing with Victory Points: For some DMs it isn't really clear with them whether the PCs should be aware of their running total, or even if the PCs should know about the VPs at all.

    There's also the misconception about their effect on the campaign overall:
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    ie: "If we get enough VPs, no matter what Kharn does, the Red Hand runs screaming into the woods." The end of Chapter IV is pretty clear on this: The PCs HAVE to kill Kharn for the VP score to affect the campaign. Either the death of Kharn causes the horde to break up and go into full retreat, or the horde regroups and attacks once more, giving the PCs a chance to kill enough of the brass to scatter the rank-and-file, or Brindol is overrun.
    Last edited by AslanCross; 2010-10-10 at 12:24 AM.


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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    I will. In case anyone's wondering, I will be watching the thread even if I don't answer queries straight away. Most likely I'll post indicating what, if any, updates have been made to the front of the thread. The VP points inclusion is a good suggestion, and I'll put that in. Likewise the phylactery discussion, though there's one tangent I wanted to run off that:

    Quote Originally Posted by CockroachTeaParty
    When we played through the Ghostlord chapter in RL, we brought his phylactery to him, but tried to draw out a negotiation, to which he simply responded by attacking us, even though we still possessed his phylactery. Eventually we managed to trap him, and then decided to destroy his trinket right then and there. In the end, he did not support the Red Hand, and we left him trapped and screwed. Later on, he attempted to kill us out of revenge, until we eventually destroyed him once and for all, but that was after the events of RHoD were over.
    On this one (again, it's a topic that could use a note above somewhere I guess) I've seen a couple of campaigns mentioned where the Ghostlord tends to really attack if not at the drop of a hat, then as if he's got a hair-trigger temper. Although it's armchair quarterbacking, I actually think this isn't the right way to go about playing him.

    Reason being that he's not supposed to be a combat encounter, even on the RHOD text. The stats are there in case the party gets a bit silly, but I think the level of provocation it should take before the Ghostlord wades into combat should be considerably higher than it's perceived to be.

    I mean, on RHOD:
    • He doesn't know where his phylactery is.
    • He's therefore extremely vulnerable.
    • He doesn't know what connection the party has to the Horde.
    • It's Ulwai he has cause to kill since she stole his phylactery - not the party.
    • If the party mentions his phylactery, then from the Ghostlord's point of view they have him by the undead proverbials.


    That combination of factors, I would have thought, should keep him from attacking the party at all unless the provocation is extreme. The Ghostlord doesn't really care about material possessions anymore: that much is clear on the description of his 'treasure house'. What he does care about is his continued existence and his continuing ability to create undead.

    Just because you're evil doesn't mean you've necessarily got a hair-trigger temper; quite the opposite, the most enduring villains know very well how to hold their anger in reserve until the right moment. And the Ghostlord isn't a paladin of evil -- he has no obligation to go out combating good wherever he finds it; insofar as he might consider the question, it's probably just as acceptable a victory over the forces of good to continue his survival and watch clerics of good deities go slinking away at his behest as it is to wade into battle and hand their rears to them.

    I think also that while the possibility of the Ghostlord turning around and killing the party once he's got his phylactery back should be constant, the reality of his character should be much different. I've seen instances where the Ghostlord has turned and tried to kill the party immediately on return of the phylactery. I never really understood why: he's not chaotic evil. He's neutral evil, which means out for himself - not out to Destroy Good, and not out to Destroy Everything, either. The party might be scared of him, but he doesn't know the strengths of the party either, and he wouldn't have got to roughly 600 years of age without having some idea of discretion being the better part of survival unless you know exactly what you're dealing with.

    Played as a more detached, reclusive villian who only cares about himself and his ghosts, I think most of these problems disappear.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Great work! I'm running RHoD now (playing once a month), but this guide will be extremely helpful! (and it's nicely written too)

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    If you have MM4 or MM5, I think Koth (act 1) can be replaced with either a redspawn arcaniss (MM4, cr6) or if you think your party is up to the challenge, a hobgoblin warsoul (mm5, cr8!).

    As for the bladebearers, warblade1/fighter2/warblade+1 could work as well. There aren't that many of them, so they shouldn't complicate combat too much.

    Duskblade is very tempting, but I can't think of a suitable npc to replace.

    I thought of remaking Sarvith as a swift hunter as well, and going one step further by letting him mount the black dragon and engage in an aerial assault against the PCs, but my grasp of air combat wasn't very good, so I decided against it at the last moment.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    I added in Hobgoblin Duskblades as shock troops. I called them "Kulkor Zhul Arcknights." They work great with the Greater Barghests in ambushes.

    Btw, IMO the most dangerous monsters in the early part of the game are the Greater Barghests. Their (Sp)s are incredibly powerful buffs, and they're probably the primary reason why the Marked for Death encounter is so dangerous out of the box.
    Last edited by AslanCross; 2010-10-10 at 09:03 AM.


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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Some matters added in, including VPs, a brief word on ToB replacements, and other minor changes.

    EDIT: Also, as a general thought, I'm considering turning all the subheader sections of each of the posts into spoiler blocks for ease on the eye. Any problems, gang? For? Against?

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    @Saintheart:

    Oh, I agree that the Ghostlord should be a role playing encounter. I was not DMing that campaign, and it was his decision to have the Ghostlord attack us; I think he knew we were skilled enough to handle him. It was a close fight, and actually one of the more memorable ones for a variety of reasons. The only reason we won was the fact that the Ghostlord did not have Stone Shape prepared, and we trapped him in the stone of his own lair with no way to escape for at least 24 hours. That was when we broke his phylactery and left him to rot.

    Still, it's difficult to convince players, especially in a campaign were almost everything fights you, to not fight something. Red Hand of Doom is pretty much a series of battles stringed together, and some groups may have trouble getting out of the battle mindset.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Let's see, a few of the things I learned:


    The Blackfens

    Put Regiarix up an age category to Young Adult, making him Large. He's far too weak otherwise.

    Adding a couple of Warrior levels to the Ogres and giving them the Brutal Throw feat makes them much more effective, but they're still mooks and they'll die pretty fast if the PCs know what they're doing.

    Advanced razorfiends with Improved Critical are highly entertaining.


    The Wyrmlords

    Koth is actually quite dangerous on his own, due to the nonassociated class levels giving him the spells of an equivalent-level Sorcerer along with twice as many HP as a pure Sorcerer would have. If you want to be really cruel, give him Practiced Spellcaster, but 10d6 area-attack spells will probably toast even an optimised 5th-level party.

    Saarvith is kind of a wuss, but pairing him up with Regiarix makes him a lot more dangerous. I found that the most effective thing he contributes is probably Mounted Combat.

    I put Ulwai up a level to level 10 and gave her confusion as a spell known. Makes her pretty dangerous, and her thunderstrikes hurt too.


    The Ghostlord

    My solution for toughening the Ghostlord was to put him up a level (giving him access to 6th-level spells), giving him a couple of ghost dire lion bodyguards, and redoing his spell selection, most notably loading him up with a bunch of stinking clouds. The fight (if there is one) will take place in cramped conditions, so the Ghostlord can quite easily fill the entire combat area with stinking cloud. The Ghostlord doesn't care, the ghost lions don't care, but the PCs will care a lot; one failed Fort save and they're out of the combat, while the ghost dire lions Strength-drain them.

    For roleplaying him, I went for a combination of Emperor Palpatine and Gollum. Ancient, very powerful, psychotically obsessed with his phylactery, and insane (but note that insane doesn't mean stupid). I had him talk a lot, but he'd only respond to the PCs when they said something that matched up with his skewed worldview - otherwise he'd just ramble to himself about revenge and torture and killing, before snapping suddenly back into focus and demanding why the PCs were there.

    I also told the PCs at the beginning of the encounter with him that everything they said would be assumed to be in character unless specified otherwise. The idea is to keep it short and tense. Don't have the Ghostlord stick around and chat while the players talk OOC: it ruins the mood. The PCs should feel that they need to make a deal fast before the Ghostlord decides to kill first and ask questions later.


    General advice for running dragons

    • Dragons are most effective when doing strafing runs with their breath weapon, or on the ground doing full attacks. There's little reason for them to take the attack action.
    • All dragons should have mage armour as a spell known. There's just no reason not to. Shield as well if you want to really make them hard to hit.
    • Good dragon feats: Power Attack, Multiattack, Improved Multiattack, Practiced Spellcaster, Flyby Attack, Ability Focus (breath weapon). Useless feats which should be swapped out: Alertness, Weapon Focus, Improved Critical.
    • All the dragons in RHoD have a fly speed of 150 feet. That means 300 feet on a double move/withdraw, or 600 feet on a run. Take advantage of this. There's really no reason for a supposedly intelligent dragon to stand and fight to the death if it's obvious that it's not going to win, unless the encounter requires it. In my campaign, Ozyrrandion and Regiarix both survived 3-4 encounters with the PCs simply by fleeing whenever they needed to.
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    Post Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    i actually don't think the encounters need that much upgrading if played right.

    i have just started the adventure and i intend to slow advancement a bit and maybe cut the treasure down but other than that i think its all about tactics. the only thing i intend to change is the save dcs

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    If people already have revamped NPC stats on their computers, could they post them here? I'd love to see them. Making NPCs is always the most time-consuming thing for me, especially making ToB characters.

    To contribute (sorta) to the thread, I'm following PId6's RHOD PbP over here on the forums. I'm not fully caught up yet, but I've noticed that he's revamped Koth's spell selection at least -- Wings of Cover greatly helps with survivability when you're outmatched in action economy.
    Last edited by Dralnu; 2010-10-20 at 02:10 PM.

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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Quote Originally Posted by nihilism View Post
    i actually don't think the encounters need that much upgrading if played right.

    i have just started the adventure and i intend to slow advancement a bit and maybe cut the treasure down but other than that i think its all about tactics. the only thing i intend to change is the save dcs
    That entirely depends on optimization level. My party referred to Ozy as "hellen keller", due to in a single round inflicting a hexblade curse, blindness, deafness, and destroying the wings. So yeah, no retreat there. Some of the fights are pretty good, all in all. I liked the Koth fight.

    However, you've got a few fights that end up being pretty much fodder if your party optimizes at all, including some that clearly aren't meant to be. It's ok for a random scout patrol to die horribly in a single round, but when you have significant encounters dying the same way, it's time to beef things up.
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    Default Re: The 3.5 Red Hand Of Doom Handbook for DMs [Major spoilers!] - WIP, PEACH!

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    Let's see, a few of the things I learned:

    The Ghostlord

    My solution for toughening the Ghostlord was to put him up a level (giving him access to 6th-level spells), giving him a couple of ghost dire lion bodyguards, and redoing his spell selection, most notably loading him up with a bunch of stinking clouds. The fight (if there is one) will take place in cramped conditions, so the Ghostlord can quite easily fill the entire combat area with stinking cloud. The Ghostlord doesn't care, the ghost lions don't care, but the PCs will care a lot; one failed Fort save and they're out of the combat, while the ghost dire lions Strength-drain them.
    My party got gobsmaked by the ghost lions with Strength drain and no cleric of high enough level for restoration; bloody multi-class dip'n...
    As such, I limited the ghost lions as guardians of the ramp entry.

    It was REALLY hard, and ultimately failed, to convince the PC's they did not 'need' to kill the GhostLord.

    Blighter is like a -2LA. I gave him the Evolved Undead & Swarm shifter (Libris Mortis) templates as a means of survivability. And they fit the background for him.

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    For roleplaying him, I went for a combination of Emperor Palpatine and Gollum. Ancient, very powerful, psychotically obsessed with his phylactery, and insane (but note that insane doesn't mean stupid). I had him talk a lot, but he'd only respond to the PCs when they said something that matched up with his skewed worldview - otherwise he'd just ramble to himself about revenge and torture and killing, before snapping suddenly back into focus and demanding why the PCs were there.

    I also told the PCs at the beginning of the encounter with him that everything they said would be assumed to be in character unless specified otherwise. The idea is to keep it short and tense. Don't have the Ghostlord stick around and chat while the players talk OOC: it ruins the mood. The PCs should feel that they need to make a deal fast before the Ghostlord decides to kill first and ask questions later.
    This seems a very good mechanic for the scenario.
    Last edited by cZak; 2010-10-10 at 04:13 PM.
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