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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Over the weekend I picked up the "Pyramid of Shadows" from my local gaming shop for my party to run through. For those unfamiliar with the module, it's a level 7-10 adventure.

    Since then I've been reading it over, getting myself accustomed to the material, but I'm finding that it seems a bit easy at first glance.

    Has anyone run through this module before? If so, how'd it work out? If need be, I can adjust the difficulty fine, but I want to make sure that it's the right move before I do anything.

    For reference, my party currently consists of four characters (three PCs, one shared NPC cleric), all level 7, who are very good at optimizing. For reference, I have:
    - A human Brawler Fighter who specializes in grappling and pinning his opponents
    - A tiefling Avenger who carries a full blade and is very talented at darting about the field and dishing out huge damage numbers. Also has good thievery.
    - A half-elf Rogue who wields a dagger and does all the classic rogue stuff (Stealth/thievery/bluff)
    - A dwarven Cleric who the party takes turns running who serves mainly as support.

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    obryn's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    I ran it. I kind of hated it.

    It's not nearly as bad as P3, but it's a severe step down from H2. It's probably the 2nd worst of the first 6 adventures, and making it work will be tough.

    OK, so first I'll start with the bad, and then make suggestions... It's not irredeemable, but the material is going to work against you, not for you.

    (1) In the worst tradition of WotC's 4e adventures, it's a grindfest. It's fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.

    (2) There's very few NPCs to interact with other than an annoying Eladrin chick in an orb. Even the ones who say they'll negotiate really don't.

    (3) It's easy. This is pre-MM3, and by 7th+, the cracks in monster math had already started to show.

    (4) You're stuck once you get there. Players get bored, want to do something else? Too bad! You're fighting all the way to the top! And when I say fighting, I mean FIGHTING!

    So! With that out of the way, let's see how we could make this adventure better.

    (1) Add in a safe haven of sorts. A mini-town within the Pyramid, probably on the first level. Have it guarded by an impressively powerful spirit or something along those lines. Really, the bandits add nothing to the adventure; replace them. Threaten this town; make it a vital plot point.

    (2) Update every. single. monster. And every. single. encounter. It will be work, but it's necessary at this point. It will make the fights cleaner and less grindy.

    (3) Really, really, really stress the diplomacy and negotiation aspects. The adventure seems to actively not want you to do this, so you'll essentially be ignoring wide swathes of it. Learn that this is okay, and is in fact the only way to make WotC adventures tolerable.

    Now - all of this (except #2) can be safely ignored if your group really just wants to play tactical battles. Go to town; it's great for that. But if you and your group want more out of it, well ... It will be tough. It will be almost as much work as making the whole thing up from scratch.

    -O

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Actually, the already suggested negotiations and motives work really well with my players who prefer to resolve things either by beating the hell out of it or pitting the factions against one another, so I have no problem with those aspects. In fact, I could see my players forming their own faction, they're just like that.

    It was mainly the math I was worried about and it's good to know my suspicions were right. I'll take your advice and make sure to tweak the stats and encounters significantly so they're far more tactically interesting.

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    obryn's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Oh yeah - give some thought to how to bring in new PCs. That "town" I suggested can help. If a PC dies, you're basically stuck, otherwise.

    The negotiation angle can work out. But everyone (IIRC) is either not really negotiating, or will stab the PCs in the back afterwards, according to their text. Like I said, the module really wants you to kill everything.

    The one room I found to be deadlier than expected was the otyugh trap. That one was almost a TPK as it divided-and-conquered all the PCs.

    -O

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Yeah, I was looking at that one earlier, it looks particularly challenging.

    I do like the town idea, it'll add some spice to the entrance pit encounter, making the pit more along the lines of contested territory instead of a slaughter bin like it's originally described. I'll still include the Ettin but likely spice things up as the townies and likely the bandits try to vie for fresh recruits amidst the chaos.

    Also, I'm ignoring some of the suggestions made by the book. While leaders likely aren't going to ever change their motives, I don't see why...say...the bandits wouldn't all join the PCs if they killed off the leader.

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    I have.

    It involved my very first exposure to live 4e over Skype, and subsequently death DMing. The campaign that involved the module lasted well over a year, though it eventually degraded to an arms race between the DM and players as we were able to breeze through a set of encounters through good use of terrain and tactics (we were solidly built albeit not power gamed at this point). Apparently the DM felt we should be struggling, and amped the difficulty such that some of the less conservatively played characters started to die. In response, we began to improve and 'harden' our builds.

    By the time we went from the Thunderspire Labyrinth (another prefab module) to the Pyramid of Shadows we were collectively beginning our transition to power gamers. Unfortunately, there are only a few unaltered encounters I can give you feedback on before we started coming across radically and disproportionately altered CL+6 or beyond fights in response to our characters increasing in power.

    Our party composition was:

    L6 Tiefling Shaper Psion (me)
    L6 Human Wizard
    L6 Goliath Swordmage
    L6 Human Bow Ranger (optimized)
    L6 Dragonborne Paladin of Bahamut (poorly built)

    later the Wizard was swapped for a Cunning Stalker Drow Rogue.

    A L6 Kalashtar Cleric joined us later on who died in a ridiculous encounter and was replaced with a Runepriest.

    The Goliath was replaced just beyond the Flooded Chamber encounter with a Fighter who died, and was in turn replaced by a Dwarven Battlemind.

    The Paladin died (unluckily turned to stone by the Medusa), then was replaced with a Sentinel, who soon died, and was replaced with what was essentially a copy of that Paladin.

    Assuming your characters are well optimized (at the time of these encounters ours were reasonably built but not twinked, Maze of Lost Souls excepted):

    Spoiler
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    Chamber of Doors: Very easy, especially if players 'backdoor' their way into this encounter from the west. I'd add traps, barricades and defensive emplacements like archery slits, and/or more monsters.

    Entrance Pit: Medium. If you run this encounter intelligently, you can definitely menace your PCs unless they're very heavily optimized.

    Ambush Hall: Easy.

    Inner Chamber: Super easy, unless your party gets separated, and only one or two enter. Even then I can't see it getting menaced. I would have additional devils summoned, and/or reanimated members of Gharash Vren's gang that were lured into the chapel and killed.

    The Ice Chamber: Easy-Hard. If your PCs are stupid and stand and fight the zombies in the chamber this will be hard. If they attack at range and pull the zombies to a choke point outside of the Frigid Aura hazard where their melee only attacks and aura damage output will be minimized, this will be pretty easy. Zombies are dumb, and they will generally bumrush the closest thing so manipulating them is simple. The Mezzodemon is the only real 'threat' in the encounter but he will apparently flee unless Vyrellis is visible.

    Chamber of Rats: Super easy. We AoEed the piles preemptively, so this was a non-starter. This might surprisingly be a more difficult encounter for your party since they seem to lack AoE. Doubly true if they trigger the boneslide hazard at a bad time.

    Grand Stair: Easy. I'd add monsters that can use ranged forced movement to toss people into the pits or onto the stair traps from higher up.

    The Bridge: Easy-Hard. Our DM played this encounter well and we had some pretty bad rolls, so it's hard to give a truly objective opinion on this one. No one died, although the Wizard came close. I will say though, that if you have the Raiders grab non-immobilized players with poor Acrobatics/Athletics to keep them submerged in the water, and focus fire the most damaged, immobilized players that are submerged, this encounter could be lethal to at least one PC. The Harpies should fly about, orienting themselves such that the PCs continue to fall back into the water when they use their song.

    The Beast in the Pit: Easy-Hard. If this is a hard encounter, it will be because your players lack crowd control and get ravaged by stacking damage auras of the rats, and/or are separated.

    It's worth noting that if _all_ the players fall into the trap, there doesn't appear to be any way to escape, short of waiting until some third party triggers it unless I've missed something.

    Maze of Lost Souls: Hard - Very Hard. We faced a CL+11 version of this encounter which was the deal breaker before we dropped the campaign. Even as presented though, it will probably menace your PCs if you play this smart, immobilize and wear them down en masse through the walls with the Banshees (they also have auto CA since the PCs can't see them) and focus fire the lowest HP characters. Keep the Banshees phasing through the walls to where the PCs can't reach, while the guardians blockade the exit and exploit chokes so the PCs can only fight them one at a time. Very deadly. This will be easier if you don't conceal the layout of the maze (and you should, it's a maze!).


    If you have any questions about other specific encounters, let me know; just be aware that I was presented with distorted, high CL versions of most of them. I also wouldn't mind helping you homebrew some new monsters/challenges, or make specific monster recommendations.


    Though I didn't care much for the specific module, personally I loved the character and backstory of Karavakos, and later ran a prequel campaign with him detailing his rise to power, where the PCs served as champions of a resistance after he'd made his pact. They, not his defeat in the Feywild, ended up being the true reason for his banishment. It was pretty sweet.

    Obryn's comments:
    Spoiler
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    (1) Add in a safe haven of sorts. A mini-town within the Pyramid, probably on the first level. Have it guarded by an impressively powerful spirit or something along those lines. Really, the bandits add nothing to the adventure; replace them. Threaten this town; make it a vital plot point.

    Great idea. I like it. Not sure if I'd get rid of the bandit faction to do this, especially if you're allowing for diplomacy to have material and lasting impacts; I'd just add on a section to the Pyramid at its base. North of the room with the Obelisks strikes me as a good location for a 'safe house', or south of the Ambush Hall or Inner Chapel.

    (2) Update every. single. monster. And every. single. encounter. It will be work, but it's necessary at this point. It will make the fights cleaner and less grindy.

    Yes.

    (3) Really, really, really stress the diplomacy and negotiation aspects. The adventure seems to actively not want you to do this, so you'll essentially be ignoring wide swathes of it. Learn that this is okay, and is in fact the only way to make WotC adventures tolerable.

    Oh yes. This module would have been so much better if diplomacy and interfaction relations were actually relevant, and resulted in lasting, meaningful give and take alliances rather than inevitable and unavoidable backstabs.

    If the PCs could march upon Karavakos' sanctum with a full set of NPC allies, it would make the final encounter that much more awesome and climatic (don't be afraid to give him some more traps/allies to compensate)!

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    This is amazing advice, from both of you. I feel I can really make this module shine with the improvements suggested here.

    Thank you both! I need to keep reading through the campaign but I'll update this when I start making improvements to it.

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    obryn's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sipex View Post
    This is amazing advice, from both of you. I feel I can really make this module shine with the improvements suggested here.

    Thank you both! I need to keep reading through the campaign but I'll update this when I start making improvements to it.
    Glad to be of service!

    One more piece of advice - the adventure kind of assumes someone can use an orb. It's an artifact of sorts, and kind of important. If nobody can, let it be used for any other implement. I had a playtest artificer in my party who started out proficient with orbs, but this proficiency was nuked when the final artificer was released. I let him keep on using it.

    And re-make Karavakos. His end fight is a bummer otherwise. I think I let him trade places with his minions as an interrupt, and kept on generating more every round.

    -O
    Last edited by obryn; 2012-07-31 at 12:24 PM.

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    I've remade Karavakos and his False Shard minions to be in line with MM3/Vault conventions:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1...CWKvM6U2A/edit

    This makes the final encounter significantly more difficult, which should be offset by the PCs gathering allies.

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    obryn's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    I'd love to post mine, but I don't have them anymore... Sorry, man! That was at least 3 years ago.

    -O

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Wow, thanks, that saves me the trouble on completely re-statting Kavakros :D

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    As an alternative to physical confrontation, you may want to consider allowing the PCs to use diplomacy in order to have Karavakos free them with his ritual. This is by no means easy, despite the fact that the PCs have been so instrumental in making its execution possible, because he is a half-mad, paranoid, borderline sociopath who shuns everything but himself. Playing on his gratitude and the notion of his 'debt' to the characters would be a smart angle though nonetheless. More effective still are attempts at intimidation, and appealing to his self-interest: the PCs have clearly proven themselves to be powerful, worthy foes that could certainly ruin Karavakos' plans; it would be unwise to risk this when he is so close to freedom. Note that it's probably appropriate to give your Tiefling a +2 bonus to Diplomacy/Bluff rolls against him as he prefers his own appearance/kind.

    Unfortunately, even if this approach succeeds, the ritual can only liberate a small number of subjects besides Karavakos, leaving the rest of the pyramid's denizens to their fate in the prison. Obviously, if the PCs have rallied NPC allies to a final confrontation with the tiefling wizard, these allies will viciously turn on them for this betrayal once the fact becomes known. Naturally, the Head of Vyrellis will also immediately rebel at any such deal, teleporting away in a last ditch attempt to assail the PCs with a horde of occupants desperate to escape.

    When this happens, the PCs will have to defend Karavakos while he conducts the ritual as most, if not all of the surviving denizens of the pyramid come at them in waves, though they will be assisted by the False Shards. They must last 10 rounds before the ritual finalizes and they are freed. You might consider having Karavakos give each party member a unique 'Potion of Vigor' that acts like a short rest when consumed as a minor action to be used at some point during the fight. Characters with Ritual Casting and training in Arcana can aid Karavakos, each reducing the number of rounds required for its execution by 2, to a minimum of 6.

    Those conducting the ritual grant combat advantage, can't leave the ritual area with the energy orbs, and can't take any actions but free and minor actions lest the ritual abort in failure. Whenever any creature takes damage while performing the ritual, that creature has to make an Arcana check against a DC equal to the damage dealt + 10. On a failure, the ritual is disrupted, and the precious components needed to conduct it are lost, making subsequent attempts impossible. Karavakos will then attack the PCs out of rage for their incompetence, and fear that he will be struck down so that they might escape, catching them between opposing forces.

    Karavakos may also attempt to make this offer in a bid to save himself if he's on his very last legs. If refused, he will make his last stand upon the step pyramid within the orb chamber as normal after cursing the PCs as fools, threatening that there will be no escape should he be slain (a complete and desperate fabrication of course). If the PCs are fooled or willingly accept, Karavakos will truthfully reveal that the ritual can only save a select few. He hopes that the PCs and their NPC allies will kill each other off for the privilege of escaping, while any survivors will be weak enough for him to quickly destroy with his recharged powers. If not, only then will he keep his word and free the remainder alongside himself.

    Above all, unless the PCs are tricked into it, aligning with Karavakos at the expense of everyone else, including the innocents trapped within the Pyramid is a very evil act whether or not explicit betrayal is involved, given that there is a perfectly feasible and morally acceptable alternative.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    While your idea is sound and very interesting, I don't see it happening in my instance as my PCs aren't the type. By the time they reach Kavakros they'll be itching for a climactic showdown with the guy.

    I'll keep notes around about it, just in case, but more likely they'll either be fighting him on their own or it will be with a faction behind them (at which point I'm going to have to figure out how to give Kavakros his own faction).

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    It should be easy to grant Karavakos a supporting faction: have him appear to a group of monsters and promise them salvation with his ritual, if only they hold off the PCs and their allies long enough for its completion. He might play rival factions against each other. Alternately you can always make the final encounter more difficult with additional Shards, traps, or constructs like golems. Perhaps not all of them will be in the Sanctuary of Light, many scattered at makeshift blockaides throughout the pyramid, trying to thin the numbers of the PC's group as they march upon Karavakos' refuge. Karavakos also has a measure of control over the internals of the pyramid itself, which could present further problems, as terrain suddenly changes and becomes difficult or hazardous.

    Keep in mind that the final encounter with the stats I've presented will be pretty difficult, especially as Karavakos can replenish, albeit slowly, his number of False Shards, so a couple of allies won't tip the scales unless they're exceptionally powerful. They will face be facing him at roughly level 10-11 (though that might change since I assume you'll be adding more monsters/challenges).

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Added tactics sections and updated the terrain hazards/traps in the Sanctuary of Light to be more MM3 compatible.

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Reworked the S1: Ice Chamber encounter to be more MM3 compatible and challenging:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1...NGgSrBzS8/edit

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Very nice, I like how that could potentially play out. I'm very fond of encounters where the monsters play off each other well.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Wow, that's some bang up work there, very nice! Provided you're okay with it (I'm guessing so since you're linking it) I'll definitely be using this for my campaign.

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Yeah, that's fine. All of these encounters were made with you and your party in mind, particularly if you intend to allow them to recruit allies.

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Quote Originally Posted by Surrealistik View Post
    Reworked the S1: Ice Chamber encounter to be more MM3 compatible and challenging:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1...NGgSrBzS8/edit
    At what initiative count does the cold temperatures hazard attack? At the start of each creature's turn? Or is it just a one-shot?
    Last edited by Snowbody; 2012-08-10 at 11:30 AM.

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    Surrealistik's Avatar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Quote Originally Posted by Snowbody View Post
    At what initiative count does the cold temperatures hazard attack? At the start of each creature's turn? Or is it just a one-shot?
    It doesn't have an initiative; it attacks entirely through triggered actions.

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    GreataxeFighterGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    I ran Pyramid of Shadows a while back. As stated, it is extremely grindy and with any sort of party optimization fairly easy. I believe prior posts have addressed all the issues but I want to stress buffing Karakavos, he is otherwise really lame.

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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Hehe in out game one of the PC a tiefling paladin /wizard was Karavakos or one of his aspect, every time a Karavakos dies he would loose a healing surge , although in the game he have no name and no memory of his past, it was a fun twist , he was wandering why he was attracted to the chick in the orb, in our game he is the spark of good of Karavakos that somehow escape the pyramid in one of karavakos experiment to leave the pyramid :) but I still think its kinda cheesy I made that way though

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Thanks again Surrealistik! I'm running the first session tomorrow with the heroes actually INSIDE the Pyramid so I'll be able to report back on how some of these encounters work out :D

    I've also created a safe haven/town of sorts in the Pyramid in response to previous recommendations, a place where the PCs will (likely) find themselves among more friendly forces and be able to formulate an approach which can be described in more detail than 'endless grindfest' and I'm thankful I did. Adding a town has given me so many different options for expanding the story and giving the characters side quests which are important to different members of the party.

    I'll report back after the weekend!

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    Planetar

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    So in my game I'm creating my own pyramid of shadows (currently floating menacingly above Suzail) but I wanted to pop in and say that I plan on shamelessly stealing some of these encounters. Wonderful work!

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Reworked the Beast in the Pit encounter:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1...LmDHVxwg/edit#

    The zombies are meant to replace the Charnel Rats, but you can use them as well if you like.


    Now for something different, a completely custom encounter:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1...lNfW6F9ZE/edit

    Baar'zuul is a solo design I've had for awhile. You might see fit to feature him in the campaign as a sort of Asmodeus appointed 'warden' of the prison meant to thwart the PCs when they are close to success. Certain NPCs may know of him, and warn the PCs of his presence and mission, citing perhaps the fate of others who sought freedom through the destruction of Karavakos' splinters, only to die at his hands. He may even contact the PCs after the destruction of the first splinter, warning them to proceed no further. Baar'zuul will appear to stop the PCs in a place of your choice after they have destroyed the second Karavakos splinter. Be sure to allow them an extended rest before starting this encounter if they have expended many of their dailies and action points, as it will be difficult. Baar'zuul also works best as an encounter in wide open spaces. He will be accompanied by 4 Legion Devil Guardians (see the succubus encounter), or more as appropriate should the PCs be accompanied by allied monsters.

    Levelling up Baar'zuul to be an appropriate challenge for your PCs is easy. Simply add +16 to his Skirmisher form HP, +20 to his Brute form HP, and +1 to all attack rolls, damage rolls (+1.25 for the brute form; round up the total increment) and defenses for each level he is to gain, and +1 to all skill checks for every two levels he is to gain.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Anyone played the Pyramid of Shadows module?

    Cool! I still haven't run any of your new encounters yet, we just did the Entrance Pit, the Refuse Room (the room with all the rats) and we're in the midst of the first library area.

    I modified the Entrance Pit only slightly, just threw in a couple of trolls who worked together to split the party up while the Ettin (name escapes me) cornered the target he wanted.

    I didn't do anything to the rats encounter to make it memorable, but the libary encounter, with only a couple of additional Thought Stealers seems to be working out great.

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