Yep, Erucidar is a Gabe-ism of Pellucidar. As soon as I decided I wanted dinosaurs in my campaign (because of the prehistoric nature of a land existing inviolate beneath a glacier ever since Earthfall, and because of at least one player character who is really into dinosaurs) I took some time to read Edgar Rice Burroughs’s At the Earth’s Core. (Mini-critique: I couldn’t believe that at one point of the novel the heroes flay a dead Mahar — a dragon-type — crawl into its body, and make their escape by puppeteering their Mahar-suit with poles and whatnot!)
What did I do with my players in Dinoland? Well, I had them fight dinosaurs, of course! That’s what Rahjin’s player really wanted to do, and that’s why he really didn’t want to have to play a different character for three weeks or so while his troll got body modifications. But when I, Jurassic Park-style, beset their camp one early morning with a rampaging herd of prehistoric camelids being pursued by raptors who were in turn being pursued by a T-Rex, the troll promptly learned that he wasn’t up to facing a T-Rex. He ended up within the T-Rex’s jaws. He was about to be swallowed whole. Some quick internet research revealed that he would not survive this — the carnivore’s stomach acid would knock out the troll’s regeneration. Tabi, the Kitsune “Order of the Beast” Cavalier/Hunter, cast a spell that made the T-Rex able to speak the party’s language. Then she spent a Hero Point to change his attitude from Hostile. Reeling from the effects of having consciousness suddenly invade his reptilian brain, the T-Rex sought answers from the party. Then it decided to pack up with them for a bit.
There were encounters, one of which I showcased in a GM’s discussion earlier in this blog. But the jungle exploration didn’t get real interesting until I gave the players a scroll of “Tree Stride” as loot in a Giant Tarantula’s den. Dromar Hero Pointed the ability to learn it, transcribe it into his spell book, and then create scrolls for everyone in the party, including the NPCs, to traverse the jungle as far as it would go (this proved to be as far as a giant chasm separating the jungle from volcanic mountains). Narrative-wise, I was okay with this development: the Irminsul, which dwells at the center of Erucidar, blesses the whole land with the spores of Erastil’s Shot; mushrooms in some theories account for the origins of consciousness; information transfers readily in this realm but not outside of it.
At the edge of the jungle the PCs were noticed by Apemen sentries. Their alarm brought two Girallons. Of course Dromar wanted to go talk to the Girallon leader. The Girallons brought him into the center of the jungle while the Apemen and two additional Girallons looked over the PCs who didn’t seem as inclined to evil as Dromar and therefore were not as well received.
Surprisingly- or unsurprisingly- enough (because my PCs themselves had been the ones to recommend it — or maybe it was me — the session previous), the Girallon leader was Rahjin, sitting on a bone throne in the hollowed-out base of a Bone Tree (a species of tree in this part of Erucidar, bleached white like a bone, bearing needles like skeleton fingers, and growing Anghazani faces in its pale bark) with its crown removed. Dromar really liked the Bone Rod of Empowerment that a High Girallon Cleric had, so he fought (and routinely killed) a Fiendish Girallon champion for it in a wager that risked Ssin’urn Medri herself. Oh, and he helped himself to a lot of the treasure that was heaped at Rahjin’s feet. And I told Rahjin to suit himself up with most whatever he wanted, as well, with the stipulation that it all be composed of primitive material like wood and bone and leather.
At about this time, a storm brewing across the entire jungle, the PCs waiting at the edge of the treeline noticed a thick black cloud creeping up from the chasm. When the storm broke, the Mahar attacked.
This got interesting. The PCs largely just stepped into the trees to avoid the confrontation. In time, Rahjin and Dromar came to the jungle border to fight off the Mahar. I then brought in, earlier than planned, my mass combat rules that I had cribbed from Ultimate Campaign. It went pretty well: Rahjin had to use a Hero Point to prevent himself from being dominated by a Greater Mahar, and eventually the Mahar were fought off. (The Mahar were out to catch the PCs as slaves.)
After this, everyone went back to the Girallon village to celebrate. Then Dromar and Aldis sparred for a bit (or it might have been earlier), which later caused me to create a system for PCs training PCs that never was implemented. This was the end of the session.
By the beginning of next session, I had decided to raise the tension a bit. The Girallon Cleric Mzungo declared that they must hold a sacrifice in gratitude for the victory. He told Kong Rahjin to choose who it would be: the Irriseni witch they had recently captured (because I had forgot about her and she had been wandering the jungle) or the fox person (who, unwittingly to Mzungo, already had escaped). I don’t remember how it worked out, but the whole thing resulted in Rava being rescued (again) by some action of Dromar’s, and the Girallons sacrificed a captive Mahar instead.
Just before this occurred, a Girallon Druid enticed the rest of the PCs outside of the interior of the Bone Tree to ask them a favor. This Girallon, Nibotek, explained that something terrible had happened to his holy tree, his personal bone tree, a short walk from his hut at the edge of the Girallon main camp. He wanted the Druids help. As they proceeded to Nibotek’s as guests, they met up with Tabi, who had escaped from the Girallons and was on her way to her animals. The other Girallons had confiscated them from her, given them to Nibotek, and now they were being kept at Nibotek’s lodging. At Nibotek’s they met the rest of Nibotek’s family and retired for the night.
In the center of the Girallon main camp, Rahjin and Dromar retired for the night.
Come morning, a hot wind blew from the east. A rustling that seemed more than wind filled the trees. Drums began to play, and then the ape-men shrieked. Something was coming.
It was Hunu, the rightful Kong of the Girallons. He and his elite chieftains had been captured by Mahar some weeks past. That’s why rule had been left in the hands of the Cleric Mzungo. But just that morning, Anghazan had freed Hunu from bondage. Hunu had swam a river of lava to get back to his kingdom. He emerged scarred and burnt raw. He was a fiendish Girallon, with horns sprouting out of his head. He was a Bloodrager Girallon, so he carried two flaming magic greatswords a size category too large for him (he grew a size category while raging, and wielded both of them, one each to two of his four arms). I loved him. He was an awesome creation.
Hunu appeared and commanded Mzungo to kill the other interloper, Dromar, the “Merlin” to Rahjin as Mzungo was supposed to be to Hunu. When calculating spell resistance, I anticipated that Dromar would elect to fight Hunu himself (who had less spell resistance, and Dromar would perceive that with his arcane sight and KS arcana) than Mzungo, directing Rahjin to fight Mzungo. As Dromar entered Hunu’s threatened square, I got a lucky roll — a critical. Dromar said that put him down. I later learned that Dromar actually died then.
Dromar’s player then used a Hero Point to reroll Hunu’s critical (I later learned that this was an illegal use, and I suspect that Dromar’s player knew this at the time). This resulted in Dromar not dying, then in Dromar getting to “go nova” and kill Hunu.
Meanwhile, Rahjin cried out, “You want a demon lord? Then I’ll give you a demon lord!” He then used his Monkey’s Paw to make the following wish: I wish to be bestowed with the power of Demon Lord Kostchtchie to slay all who would oppose me.
Oh, so much to be done with wish interpretations! How to read this? What is Kostchtchie’s power? (We found stats online, but was that really his “power”?) Was “to slay” a natural and contractual termination of the wish? And was “all who would” oppose Rahjin specific to the moment or did it include any one who would given the right situation, which could be interpreted to mean anyone and everyone?
Rather than upset the players too much by forcing Rahjin to kill everyone, I gave Rahjin Kostchtchie’s full stats and set him loose. He might have been the one who killed Hunu. I don’t remember. Mzungo promptly stepped down. He knelt before Rahin and used is two upper arms to break his two lower arms as a sign of his humiliation.
Then it got weird (if it wasn’t weird enough). I’m not sure whose idea it was or what they were trying to do, exactly, but Rahjin asked Dromar to use Ssin’urn Medri to contact Nocticula so that he could try to convince her to deliver a message to Kostchtchie. Ssin’urn Medri of course was not open to this, so Dromar convinced her with an Ego check.
And it happened…
Telepathically, Dromar and Ssin’urn Medri found themselves in audience with Nocticula. Through this, Dromar learned that Ssin’urn Medri is “Vinicula,” twin sister to Nocticula, who unaccountably was transformed into a sword and given to House Zenzolar. Nocticula kept asking for their whereabouts, but Dromar cannily dodged that question, though the message for Kostchtchie gave a clue. The message was: In the words of the one who asked me to speak with you, “Tell Kostchtchie that I have matters that I need to speak with him about. If he wants the White Witch dead then I can help in his endeavors.” The one who asked me to speak is known as Rahjin.
Nocticula replied, “The White Witch? Baba Yaga? Thank you, that helps me immensely. Irrisen, I believe they call that region of Golarion. Nice to see you cognizant, Sister. Perhaps you’ll speak to me next time?” During the entire interview, Ssin’urn Medri had refused to say anything to Nocticula, and Dromar didn’t compel her to.
Dromar and Ssin’urn Medri’s consciousness drifted back to the material plane. I allowed Rahjin one more action with Kostchtchie’s powers — they were fading now that no one was immediately “opposing” him. He used them to teleport Dromar and himself to the mountain on the other side of the volcanic chasm, Mahar territory.
Meanwhile, the Druids had come to the dead Bone Tree of the Girallon Druid. The entire base of the tree was the semblance of a Anghazani demonic ape. The root structures formed a gaping maw — a cave — that delved underground. Out of this throat streamed an all-too-familiar freezing mist. The Druids created a stream that flowed right down into this maw, they cast plant growth on the tree, and contributed some Erastil’s Shot. The ground trembled and something roared — something was coming out! They entangled the Ice Drake in the cave opening and defeated it with spells. This ended the session.
Between this session and the next, a bunch of nonsense occurred. I found out that Dromar had been killed by Hunu’s single attack of opportunity, and now he wanted to use the Hero Point not to reroll Hunu’s attack but to allow himself be killed, to have Hunu’s magical fire awaken latent intelligence in his breastplate, and to rise again as a Graveknight with an intelligent item cohort — his armor.
Now is the time for some discursive comments: if you’ve read earlier posts, you know what a headache Dromar has been for me. His power gaming — and his continued arguments for why he should be able to have things that aren’t “technically” rules-legal — have been a challenge. I’m the type of GM who wants his players to have what they want, but when the power gaming, the min-maxing, whatever you want to call it, creates a character who is nigh-near indestructible (excepting a GM act of the gods) at eighth level, there’s a bit of a problem. This problem occurs because of what I’ve been calling “power equity”: if one character gets too powerful, particularly if that one player is good at “everything,” the other players begin to feel like their activity doesn’t matter. And it largely doesn’t. If all the encounters can be handled by a single character, why — for game considerations or for narrative consistency — do the PCs all remain together? They shouldn’t.
Dromar’s player says he won’t quit. He will power game. That’s just how he sees the game. That must be how he enjoys the game. I’ve learned what to do differently next game: don’t give anything and just endure the wheedling and bargaining and pleading and conniving that I feel comes from this one particular player. It’s not enough to hear me, the GM, say “No.” He insists on a reason why. He appeals to earlier precedents. He appeals to understandings he’s received from other GMs. At the last extremity, he looks for ways to get what he wants while bending or stretching the rules. Through this player, I have learned a lot about the Pathfinder rules system, I have learned why it is so important as a social contract between GM and players, and I have learned that with certain players the GM holds a position of judge and a legal analyst. Early allowances can result in synergies that result in unforeseen, maximized power effects. Again, I wouldn’t care if this was a game with one player, but when you have five others who are relegated to observers of someone else’s story, someone who makes the story about him even when it is not meant to be… Ugh.
These High Girallons I made were CR 14 (Hunu) and CR 13 (Mzungo). They were pretty much designed to fight a single character. A. Single. Character. They were Dromar fighters. Now, Pathfinder GMs know that these challenge rating are supposed to pose significant challenges for a party of those level players. Okay, so I learned that I one-shotted Dromar. I got lucky. When Dromar’s player later with the Graveknight template had time to prepare for a solo fight with an Ice Linnorm (CR 17), he ended up beating it. Alone.
So dumb. And so, as the kids say these days, “broken.” When a character gets like this, there’s no scale. And here is the other thing: after I allowed Dromar to have the Graveknight template — which is a CR +2 — he wasn’t willing to hold or go down two levels to create at least the illusion of equity with the other players. I nearly lost it. I decided I would give all the other players whatever magical gear they wanted, and I also decided that I would give all the animal companions Celestial templates. This last I followed through with. The rest resulted in a discussion.
Because of Dromar’s players wishes and play style, we voted that all characters would rebuild their characters with only average wealth at their character levels of eight. We decided they would not get treasure throughout the adventures but would get this gold upon completing a new level. Later, when Dromar’s player dropped the Appraise skill because it no longer had any use in the new system (which also awarded level increases based on the GM’s discretion, by the way, and not by xp), I decided that players would get 500 gp for each rank that was placed in a money-making-related skill like Appraise, Craft, and Profession. They would get this money upon putting the rank in it, and it was a one-time bonus.
So how did Dinoland play out in the end? In the lair of the Ice Drake, a Valkyrie came to the Druids to give their animals braided collars that gave them the Celestial template. She then stepped into the rift, to close it from the other side, in battle with whatever terrible Nidhig power was over there. Before that, though, Dromar’s player convinced me to let Dromar come out of the rift, after for some reason being diverted from Rahjin’s teleport, so that he could have an audience with Nidhig, but really so that he could show off his new cool to the other players. The players tried to hurt the undead freak, but nothing even touched him. Then Dromar told Aldis that he is his shadow. And then Dromar killed Nibotek (just) in four vicious swings, saying that there must be a sacrifice (I didn’t quite understand it, but I don’t care). Good show, Dromar. Then the teleport successfully seized Dromar and returned him to Rahjin so that Rahjin could assume Kostchtchie’s power again when Mahar “opposed” the troll and drow’s invasion of their territory. There was one more Mahar encounter, which came to little, before Dromar found a little piece of Irminsul (my convenience) to reconnect him with the rest of the party (Rahjin’s player was out that session).
As you will see when I blog the next adventure, the Irminsul took the party out of Erucidar. I had so, so much more planned for the magical region under the Winterwall Glacier, but no work really is wasted work, especially when the work is so enjoyable! And especially when it’s not all that unlikely that the PCs would find opportunity to visit Dinoland yet again!