So, with the Thursday night Pathfinder game waiting to take its more final form going forward, May is One Shot Month. Months ago I was going to make a One Shot based on the Northlands Saga adventures from Frog God Games, but I decided to tinker with some things instead and made something a big more "mine."
We used the 15th level pregens of the Pathfinder Iconics that appear in Hero Lab, so the group we had were 15th level versions of Amiri (Barbarian), Ezren (Wizard), Harsk (Ranger), Kyra (Cleric), and Valeros (Fighter).
Basically we haven't gotten up to the lofty heights of power in Pathfinder for, well, ever, so the one shot was a chance to test drive some high level characters and see what shakes loose. Using the pre-gens also allowed me to conduct a bit of an experiment, as the pre-gens have their equipment . . . i.e. no meta-thought about "hm, Viking themed adventure, what should we have for equipment?"
Since we had pre-gens, we had a lot of over the top, vaguely two dimensional role playing based on the background information on the sheets, which was actually quite amusing. I think Harsk's player explained his hatred of giants and his desire for revenge for his brother as often as Psylocke explained what her psychic knife was in the 90s. Also, Amiri does not conform to gender expectations . . . EVER!
The first encounter had to do with one of my favorite monsters from the Bestiary 3, the Akhlut, which is a killer whale dire wolf hybrid monster thing that likes to grow legs as it charges beaches. Thus, the creature charged the beach, in a surprise round, almost killing (as in past -con) the wizard in one charge, and seriously injuring the group. It was a fun fight, basically ended by sniper ranger Harsk being able to ignore armor when he targets his shots.
Ezren learned to not stand near the edge of the boat. Felt like a CR 14 encounter, so that was nice.
Inland, the party ran into a group of sneaky frost giants that the ranger saw coming rather easily (cold environment + favored enemy giant), and I promptly forgot that you only get one action in the surprise round, but that's okay, because I forgot it for both sides.
While six advanced frost giants were suppose to be a CR 15 encounter, it didn't really feel much like the last encounter in overall challenge. Perhaps due to the fact that the spellcasters had area effect spells and the like to disable or set on fire half the group. Perhaps if I had ignored the fact that the giants would put themselves out instead of attacking, but I have a hard time picturing a frost giant not trying to put itself out if it's on fire.
Some bumps and bruises to some of the characters, but I will admit it burned some fairly powerful spells.
The cursed barrow mound was up next. The massive CR 14 lightning room trap did not do quite as much as I would have expected, but traps are tricky. They have the same CR of a monster, but you can't really do the same thing as you can with a monster of that CR. It's been a quirky thing since traps were given a CR to put them in the old standardization matrix.
The next part of the barrow had a strange curse on it, which reacts badly with Pathfinder rules. One area gets you lost if the lead person doesn't make their checks, then everyone wanders and takes wisdom damage from the looming shadows and endless passage ways. However, what kind of magic is it, can it be dispelled, etc?
No matter how much time you spend making a dungeon seem interesting and unique, the more you stray from the standard pattern, the more you either have to hope your players don't use stuff like dispel or detect magic and just roll with "this is an accursed place," or you have to wing it when they do (which makes it look like, no matter how much time you put into the place, you weren't prepared), or you have to spend even more time looking for similar effects in order to translate the picture into your head into the language of the game.
In fact, it's one of the thing that does get frustrating to me in Pathfinder (and D&D of various types). Once you have rules for 98% of all things that will happen in the game world, when you come up with something that falls in that 2%, the expectation (not surprisingly) is that whatever happens in that 2% grey area also has the same kind of structured rules that govern what happens there and how it interacts with the game rules.
Anyway, let us be off. Another "dread room," this time a room of restless spirits that aren't quite expressed as undead, that just whisper to the PCs to run and that the place isn't quite right, causing them to want to either not go forward, or be shaken and loose a level from the dread weight of the dead. See above for frustration between atmospheric description and interaction with game rules.
The group, a bit creeped out and sans some Wisdom, comes face to face with the massive cairn linnorm that corrupts the barrow mound.
I will totally admit something here. I really like linnorms. I like them much better than "true" dragons these days. Don't get me wrong. Smaug is great and all. However, there is something creepy and primal about Norse dragons that makes them less "color coded encounters" and more story elements. It could just be me, or the general phase I'm in in my own head regarding fantasy. Take my preference with a grain of salt.
The linnorm is a CR 18 encounter, epic for 15th level characters (or at least for a party of four of them . . . the group has an extra). Overall, it did seem pretty epic. The barbarian went down (dead), the wizard appeared to go down (negatives), and if the fight had gone one more round, at least three out of five of the PCs would have been toast from the creepy acid/negative energy breath weapon of the cairn linnorm.
By the way . . . how have I gone this long and never noticed that Earthquake (the spell) seems to have a huge hole in it, in that it doesn't tell you how hard it is to get out of the rubble created? Now, go back to the above (98% of the game world rules detailed . . . yadda yadda). I ruled that a creature with constant Freedom of Movement and gargantuan size could shrug it's way out pretty easily, but at the same time, I almost felt like I was being an arbitrary GM when I made the ruling. I guess I need to reread the whole Earthquake thing and see if I was missing something.
The session was fun. It wasn't quite as slow and plodding as I was afraid a 15th level one shot would be. I know on the GM side of the screen I sped things up using an app on the tablet that let me throw all of those 12d8 rolls together pretty fast, so if you aren't using short cuts like this, perhaps things wouldn't be quite as fast, but it still seemed a bit quicker than other high level escapades I've been involved with in the past.
Quick summary: fun night, high level more efficient than I thought, still running into quirky rules anal retentiveness in Pathfinder that makes an otherwise completely enjoyable session slightly less so, but only slightly (in this case).